Home Outdoor education Los Angeles schools are replacing hot asphalt playgrounds with green spaces for children – Daily News

Los Angeles schools are replacing hot asphalt playgrounds with green spaces for children – Daily News

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The sun had been out for hours and today’s forecast called for a high of 91 degrees. But amid the mid-morning heat, dozens of young children didn’t seem bothered to be outside, so engrossed in painting, playing with building blocks and enjoying the sandbox – all while making discoveries.

Elsewhere, an instructor led students in activities at a dirt digging and watering station. A few young people were walking around with watering cans, tending to the plants on campus.

The scene at the Vaughn Early Education Center in Pacoima could have looked dramatically different last summer, before this eastern San Fernando Valley campus underwent a redesign to convert its black schoolyard roof to heat radiation into cooler green and recreational spaces.

In the past, on a hot July day, children in this working-class community might not have been able to spend long periods outdoors if the hot conditions were unsafe.

As part of an initiative to plant more trees and gardens and install sports fields, playgrounds and shade structures, the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to transform a number of campuses, so they can serve as outdoor learning classrooms or recreation areas – while lowering schoolyard temperatures to combat worsening “heat islands” in the city , caused by too many buildings and too little shade.

The district has approved more than 100 such projects worth about $276 million that have been completed or are underway, according to a report to the Board of Education in March. The district has identified an additional $1.8-1.9 million in future programs and projects.

Some see it as a moral imperative for the school district, the largest landowner in the greater LA area, to do its part to reduce urban heat – the effect when natural landscapes are covered in heat-absorbing asphalt and buildings that make local environments warmer.

The old school of thought was that it made more financial sense for schools to pave and cover their grounds than to maintain green spaces. Less attention has been given to environmental and health impacts, but this line of thinking has changed in recent times.

“Schools that were built years ago were driven by cost considerations rather than environmental needs in those schools,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

“As a result, we have seen a disproportionate number of schools that lack green space, shade. They lack usable playgrounds, he said. “The heat index in some of these spaces is excessive.”

Additionally, schools lacking green space tend to be in neighborhoods already considered park-poor, based on a park needs assessment conducted by LA County staff in 2016. At that time , 51% of LA County residents lived more than half a mile from a park.

A separate survey by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land ranks LA 78th out of the nation’s 100 largest cities in terms of resident access to parks. The trust uses a “ParkScore” index to rate the 100 largest cities in terms of access, area, investment, amenities and equity.

  • At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Tacoma, a Nature Explore classroom includes a garden and plants that students tend to, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, students explore a...

    At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, students explore a water feature in the Nature Explore classroom, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, a nature exploration program...

    At Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, a nature exploration class includes a garden and plants that students tend to, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, a student kisses...

    At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, a student kisses Principal Sheila Hardy in the Nature Explore classroom, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, students jump from...

    At the Vaughn Early Ed Center in Pacoima, students jump from stump to stump in the Nature Explore classroom, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A view of the outdoor area of ​​El Dorado Avenue...

    A view of the outdoor area of ​​El Dorado Avenue Elementary School in Sylmar on Monday, July 11, 2022 shows a large paved area. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A view of the outdoor area of ​​Sylmar Elementary School...

    A view of the outdoor area of ​​Sylmar Elementary School on Monday, July 11, 2022 shows a large paved area. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The fact that so many of Los Angeles’ park-poor neighborhoods are in communities with high concentrations of low-income residents or people of color makes it a matter of fairness, advocates say.

Tori Kjer is executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, which was formed two decades ago to address inequity in parks. His organization is one of many partners with LAUSD on a greening project slated for completion next spring at Esperanza Elementary School in Westlake, a dense and historic community near downtown LA.

The school already has a habitat garden with native plants that attract wildlife like insects and birds. It even attracted a burrowing owl, Kjer said, adding that the Esperanza project is a good model for other schools.

“We would love to put this on all LAUSD campuses,” she said. “That’s where the kids spend their time. And Los Angeles is getting so hot. It’s just not really a safe space for kids to play outside.

With limited land available for open space in Greater Los Angeles, and with most people living within walking distance of a school, it makes all the more sense to create green spaces in schools that can be enjoyed by the entire community on evenings and weekends, she said.

Socio-emotional benefits of green spaces

Advocates cite the multiple benefits of creating green spaces in schools. On the one hand, green spaces are more welcoming and pleasant than tarmac and can provide shade or help cool the “heat islands” that pavement and dense buildings can produce in the immediate vicinity.

“When you make schools more welcoming and beautiful, you want to be there,” said LAUSD School Board member Jackie Goldberg. “If you don’t have it, you’re less excited to get up and go to school.”

For children in urban areas who often live in apartments or cramped neighborhoods without outdoor play areas and who don’t live near a park, a school campus may be their only access to nature.

In working-class Pacoima, Vaughn Early Education Center principal Sheila Hardy estimates that about 70 percent of her students live in apartments or other accommodations with no room for grass or plants.

Since his school became a “Nature Explorer” campus – where students have the opportunity to learn by exploring nature – Hardy reports a noticeable difference in student behavior, including fewer fights, and they seem more engaged in activities. They also learn to better regulate their emotions, she says.

Children who are having a particularly difficult day are allowed to spend more time outdoors.

“They are more in tune with nature. They are calmer,” she said.

Claire Latané, lecturer in landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona and author of Schools That Heal: Designing with Mental Health in Mind, said decades of research show that access to nature can reduce heart rate, anxiety and stress – and even reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy due to higher self-esteem. It can also reduce disorderly conduct and student crime, she said.

“There is good evidence to show that green school grounds also make those schools safer,” Latané said.

Marcella Raney, associate professor of kinesiology at Occidental College, tracked students’ physical activity during recess at Eagle Rock Elementary School before and after her schoolyard renovation in 2016. The result after the renovation of the schoolyard: an increase in the number of students who participated in moderate to vigorous physical activity, which helps with brain development, improves students’ ability to concentrate in the classroom and helps stabilize the mood of autistic children, Raney said.

Eagle Rock Elementary also experienced substantial enrollment growth after undergoing renovations. Although Raney said it was unclear to what extent this was due to the greatly improved schoolyard, she noted that enrollment had increased – even though other LAUSD schools in this area have seen their population female student lower.

“The renovation at least attracted some of the neighborhood students who previously went to private school,” Raney said. “They see the schoolyard as a place where students can learn, play and grow. »

For three straight years after the renovations, the achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income students has narrowed, Raney noted.

Green school grounds improve learning

Creating outdoor spaces on school campuses can also provide academic benefits.

At the Vaughn Early Education Center, students are in the middle of a six-week gardening program. The school has an edible garden, where students hope to use their vegetables in salads at harvest time.

Later in the year, students will learn about trees and recycling, with lessons related to the outdoor environment.

A University of Michigan study found that high school students who had a view of trees, shrubs, or other natural features — through their classroom windows — had higher standardized test scores and higher graduation and university attendance rates. Similar results were found among students allowed to eat lunch outside.

Carvalho said the fact that some students – and staff – are being relegated indoors due to the extreme heat makes it paramount to address inequalities between neighborhoods and schools.

LAUSD staff is in the process of ranking each campus’ need for outdoor classrooms or green space based on a “Greening Index.”

“If you believe in a holistic approach to education and the whole child, then education and the environment should not be limited to four walls and an air-conditioned space,” the superintendent said. “Children in healthy environments do better.”