Building community engagement with neighborhood playgrounds
Supervisor Mark Farrell’s fondest memories of growing up in San Francisco always come back to playing ball with his friends and neighbors on the colorful yards of his local school. Years later, balancing one son on his hip, the other holding his hand and his daughter pushing ahead, Farrell tried to enter his local schoolyard, Roosevelt Middle School. This time, a heavy lock barred them from the schoolyard. The hopscotch chalk marks, the painted four-square lines and the winding slides were left untouched while the Farrells walked back home.
Of course, it made sense—with no staff present to supervise activities on the campus—things could happen and the schools were maintaining them for children who would be returning to school on Monday morning.
Yet Supervisor Farrell turned to City Hall and to then-Superintendent Richard Carranza, hoping to open schoolyards across the city for the community’s use. With the help of school district staff and by raising private funds, Supervisor Farrell was able to revamp the limited “Community Hubs” project into an expanded, citywide program called the Shared Schoolyard Project.
In the years since, San Francisco Unified School District and the Shared Schoolyard Project have collaborated to open over 30 schools across the city to the public, with an end goal of opening over two-thirds of the schools in the city. By utilizing public schoolyards and bringing together the services of a variety of public agencies, the Shared Schoolyard Project aims to ensure that every family and child in San Francisco lives within walking distance of an clean, safe space to play.
Through the program, the Recreation and Parks Department unlocks and locks each yard, so that they all are open every weekend from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. To ensure that the yards stay clean and safe, each school has “high priority” status with 311 and the Department of Public Works. Lastly, to help promote an active, safe and fun community space, the SF Shared Schoolyard project donates $1,000 to each school’s PTA every year, and maintains a Weekend Activity Fund to fund activities, lessons, and events on each yard. Schools have made excellent use of the additional funding, using it for everything from a Spring Festival at Hillcrest Elementary School to organizing soccer clinics or garden clean-up days.
The expansion of the program has been a huge success, with schools reporting increased engagement with their surrounding neighborhood and more attachment for students who go to their neighborhood schools. Schoolyards often become even safer and cleaner once they enroll in the program, as community engagement with the space builds investment and neighbors begin to take care of the yards during times when they otherwise would be neglected.
In order to kick off newly opened schoolyards with the surrounding neighborhoods, the Shared Schoolyard Project hosts community events around the city. These events, which bring together school families, neighbors, and neighborhood organizations, are always free and fun events for San Francisco families. In seemingly perfect symmetry, the kick-off at the same schoolyard that the Farrell family tried to visit, Roosevelt Middle School, will take place on Saturday, October 29th, 2016 from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.