Use of a field-tested evaluation protocol can augment the evidence base for the green schoolyard movement as a health-promotion strategy

Gerstein, D. E., Bates, C. R., & Bohnert, A. M. (2021). Evaluating a green schoolyard transformation: A protocol utilizing the RE-AIM framework. Children, Youth And Environments, 31, 187-198.

Green schoolyards are multi-functional school grounds designed to be used by students, teachers, parents and community members during both school time and out-of-school time. Previous research documents individual and school-wide benefits of green schoolyards. Not studied to the same extent are community and environmental benefits. A potential community benefit is the reduction of health inequities experienced by many people in low-income communities. The Space to Grow initiative was designed to address such health inequities by transforming barren schoolyards in low-income communities in Chicago into green spaces for all community members to use. The research-based understanding supporting this program is that increased access to quality greenspace can promote the health and well-being of people living in the community.

This paper describes a multi-method, theory-driven health and wellness evaluation protocol for the Space to Grow (STG) initiative. The protocol uses the RE-AIM framework to evaluate the five dimensions considered most relevant to real-world implementation: Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance. The protocol based on this framework “assesses the comprehensive public health impact of green schoolyards on children and their communities and the transferability of the various elements of the initiative.”

Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to evaluate the impact of STG green schoolyard transformations at the individual, school, and community levels across all five RE-AIM dimensions. “Reach”, the first dimension of the RE-AIM framework, focused on measuring characteristics of children and their communities receiving the initiative. “Effectiveness” focused on changes in student health behaviors, academic outcomes, the school environment, and school-community relationships from pre- to post-schoolyard transformation. “Adoption” focused on how often the renovated schoolyard was being used both during school and in out-of-school times. “Implementation” measured the extent to which STG was implemented as intended across schools. “Maintenance” examined the long-term individual and community-level health outcomes, as well as the sustainability and maintenance of the physical space.
Information for all five areas was obtained from publicly-available city and school records, as well as surveys and interviews with school and neighborhood personnel. Outcomes provided evidence-based support for growth of STG in the Chicago area and for investment in other green schoolyards initiatives.

The methodology used in evaluating the STG initiative can be used with other green schoolyard initiatives to build a strong and cohesive evidence base in support of green space interventions. Such research is needed “to determine if reducing inequities in the built environment can reduce health disparities.” Results can then be used to inform public policy and priorities regarding green space development.

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