Eagle Rock Elementary Living Schoolyard
June 11, 2019
June 11, 2019
Eagle Rock Elementary School in Los Angeles is being honored for innovation to improve human and environmental health and education with a US Department of Education Green Ribbon School Award. Eagle Rock is one of four schools and one school district to be honored by the Department. The awards honor Pre-K through 12th grade schools that reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.
California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said, “Congratulations to these schools and district for engaging kids to understand and act on environmental issues. The great programs they’ve created help students gain the knowledge they need to lead the way on global-sized problems like climate change and local challenges like water quality.”
Eagle Rock Elementary School, a California Disadvantaged School nominee, adopted an environmental manifesto that teaches students about the interconnectedness of Earth’s water, energy, and life support systems, as well as technological systems. At its foundation is its new living schoolyard, which replaced 21,000 square feet of asphalt with native learning gardens, rows of shade trees and a park-like lawn to capture and clean urban runoff, and a variety of nature play opportunities.
The renovation was done in collaboration with the school community, health professionals, environmental economists, and ecological designers. Landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA, known for its role in many LA River planning and design projects, managed the design and implementation of the living schoolyard for environmental non-profit Los Angeles Beautification Team and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The design broke up the large expanse of asphalt to create smaller, shadier play spaces and includes native trees and plants, boulders, logs and stumps, and mulch areas.
Studio-MLA worked closely with Occidental College kinesiology researcher Dr. Marcella Raney, who studied student behavior and physical activity levels before and after the schoolyard improvements and environmental economist Dr. Bevin Ashenmiller, who is researching other student outcomes such as academic performance and attendance.
Dr. Raney found student’s physical activity levels increased on the new green spaces compared to a control school, and that anti-social behaviors decreased. Before the living schoolyard project, the most popular recess activities included handball, kickball, tetherball, and foursquare.
After the asphalt was replaced with green space, the most popular activities were tag/chasing, gymnastics (handstands and cartwheels), climbing, jumping, and making up games. After the improvements, physical and verbal conflicts decreased by half, and there was a significant increase in students spending time in small groups rather than alone.
Before the changes were made, the play area was primarily asphalt and just six percent was protected by tree canopy. This impacts student health by exposing them to high temperatures and the sun’s radiation. The Council of Watershed Health released a report in 2016 analyzing sun exposure on 509 LAUSD elementary schools. The report found on average just 4.5% of play areas were covered by tree canopy, and that 20% of schools had 100% paved play areas and zero tree canopy.
Eagle Rock Elementary’s new living schoolyard helps cool and clean the air, absorbs and cleans stormwater runoff, provides wildlife habitat, and sequesters carbon in addition to support student health and wellbeing.
Link to nomination package: https://www.greenstrides.org/sites/default/files/webform/nomination-package-200.pdf
Link to Council for Watershed Health study “An Environmental Assessment of School Shade Tree Canopy and Implications for Sun Safety Policies: The Los Angeles Unified School District”: http://www.mdpi.com/2220-9964/4/2/607/pdf
Link to Dr. Marcella Raney “Physical Activity and Social Behaviors of Urban Children in Green Playgrounds”: https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(18)32388-2/fulltext