R2G in Action

Education

Towards Green Citizenship, Education, Schools, and Schoolyards

Questions we need to be asking...

How can we reimagine schools and schoolyards to foster individual and community health and vitality?

How can we create school environments that teach and learn how to live in a sustainable world?

How can we foster environmental stewardship and responsibility through education and curriculum and learning experiences that empower youth and adults to take charge of shaping their communities and neighborhoods?

How can empower future generations to imagine and conceive solutions to societal and environmental challenges and problems?

One of a community’s most important assets, and a vital ingredient of any city’s renewal and reimagining are its schools. In Utica’s public schools 31 languages are currently being spoken due to the fact that 1 in 6, (over 10,000 residents) are refugees beginning life anew after experiencing displacement from their home countries due to war, genocide, or other social, political and economic upheavals. Utica’s schools open doors to learning about the world and ones capacity to navigate it.

Schools are hubs of community life and learning for students, teachers, families and neighbors. They are places that bring community members together with the common goal of enriching and preparing emerging generations for engaged, independent and productive civic lives.

Throughout the United States and the world, schools are reimaging their exterior spaces and surroundings to reflect and support changing environmental and cultural values and integrate such things as creative play, social, cultural and environmental learning, food systems and engaged pedagogies (Danks 2011). The City of Denver Public School Board has fully embraced what has come to be known as the Learning Landscapes Model to regenerate their schoolyards. This model is being implemented as a Learning Landscapes Program under the auspices of the UC Denver School of Landscape Architecture in partnership with the Denver Public School District. The Learning Landscapes model relies heavily on citizen engagement and participation and has resulted in the creation of 48 new learning landscapes create with 39 million in public (Sheriden Group 2005).

The Boston Schoolyard Initiative launched in 1995 and is an exemplary public/private partnership designed to reclaim Boston’s schoolyards into productive community spaces during after-school hours and dynamic learning spaces throughout the school day. As a result of the Boston Schoolyards’ Initiative, Boston has become recognized as a leader in the emerging field of sustainable schoolyard development. The Initiative brings the broader community into the schoolyard, integrates school and neighborhood objectives and focuses on the community building aspects of both the process and product of creating a sustainable schoolyard (http://www.schoolyards.org ).

In cities like Denver and Boston, asphalted playgrounds and neutral lawn areas are transforming into vibrant interactive outdoor community learning and play environments. These common landscapes of communities are being recreated into unique “habitats” where key learning experiences for children and adults occur. Their designs, features and elements help to foster ecological, and cultural learning, place-attachment and knowledge related to living sustainably in the world. Each smaller schoolyard joins a larger assemblage of sites contributing toward transforming the bigger asphalt jungle into a green productive oasis.

R2G NY is currently working with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County and a group of Utica teachers and stakeholders to develop an R2G Utica Ecological Citizenship Curriculum to be used by the Utica School System to educate and activate area youth to become involved in sustainably shaping their neighborhoods and communities. Additionally, R2G is at work on the design of sustainable schoolyard at Utica’s MLK School in the city’s Corn Hill Neighborhood.

Transforming Utica's Martin Luther King Schoolyard

Through his interactions with Rust to Green NYS and the Mohawk Valley Food Action Network, Utica’s Martin Luther King School’s Principal, Mark DeSalvo, has begun to take the initial steps toward transforming his elementary schoolyard and grounds into a sustainable site and edible organic garden. He envisions the schoolyard transforming into a community and neighborhood hub– an outdoor learning and living classroom or laboratory– for hands-on learning related to sustainable food and environmental systems. Such a place will engage students in new ways of learning such subjects as math, science, art and social studies while also enabling them to discover, co-create and regenerate the world around them. The school’s landscape will be a catalytic component of a larger agenda involving changing school lunches, teaching food and nutrition and incorporating environmental and sustainability learning into the curriculum. The MLK Sustainable Schoolyard project, its design, implementation and subsequent evaluation, stands to become a model for reimaging other school and institutional landscapes in Utica and advancing the integrated goals of R2G NYS, Rust to Green Utica, the Mohawk Valley Food Action Network (MVFAN) and the Utica Schools. The partner organizations believe that accomplishing a successful demonstration project like the MLK Sustainable Schoolyard and garden is a critical first step toward leveraging additional resources and community support for changing the landscape of Utica’s schools, renewing neighborhoods and advancing sustainability in the larger city and region.

Martin Luther King Jr.
School Yard Project

Students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School enjoy lunchoutside.

R2G Civic Reasearch Fellow Liz Kushner spends time outisde with students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary school. THe students were a critical part of the concept development and visioning phase of the design process for the schoolyard project.

MLK students play outside during recess.

A student shares the drawing he made depicting his vision for a new and improved schoolyard.