Two Atlanta Community Schoolyards were unveiled in celebratory ribbon cutting ceremonies on Feb. 9, thanks to a community partnership between Atlanta Public Schools, The Trust for Public Land, the Urban Land Institute Atlanta, Park Pride, and Delta Air Lines.
The schoolyards at Kimberly and Dobbs elementary schools will not only provide students with places to play and exercise, but the sites will also be open to the surrounding community.
A national effort of The Trust for Public Land, the Schoolyards Program is specifically designed to expand community access to school playgrounds during non-school hours, thereby increasing the percentage of people in the city who live within a 10-minute walk of a park.
Principal Joseph Salley said the event was particularly significant for Kimberly students, who have been enjoying their schoolyard since its completion in 2021. From the beginning, students were engaged in designing the community playground, all while delving into architectural design, financial planning, impacts to the local environment, and learning the art of negotiation.
“This ceremony marked the culmination of three years of work and anticipation for creating a space for our kids to be able to enjoy themselves outside and even during school hours,” Salley said. “It’s also a place for our community to know that they can come and be safe and have some recreational space for their kids.”
“And one of the reasons why Kimberly was asked to be a part of this is because our community didn’t have a play area within a 10-minute walk for any of our families or communities, so that’s what this provides for them,” he added. “And I’m just excited that this is finally open to the public. They can finally come out here and utilize it.”
Dobbs is a STEM-certified school where students learn by doing hands-on projects, and their new schoolyard is no exception. Students provided their input driving several key design elements during design workshops.
At Dobbs, the new schoolyard includes three new trellises with benches, an expansion of the playground, and a dozen new shade trees and a pollinator garden.
“The students helped to budget, they had to do the measurements,” Principal Tiffany Ragin said. “They had the opportunity to decide what they wanted out here, whether it was a basketball court, a playground, or the reading trellises.”
During his remarks, George Dusenbury, Georgia/Alabama State Director for The Trust for Public Land, said schoolyards like those at Kimberly and Dobbs elementary schools give residents and students the opportunity to learn, recreate, and connect with one another.
Dusenbury noted that when people have access to public parks and schoolyards they know more of their neighbors, and that helps to build and strengthen the community.
“The true measure of our work is in the lives we touch and the communities we impact – just as relationships formed in schoolyards – we know that the social fabric of communities and social connections to people matter,” he said during his remarks. “At Public Lands, we are proud to create cleaner, safer neighborhoods where all families can thrive – to make communities more resilient and prepared to change, to open creativity and cultural connection.”
Dr. Herring described the occasion as one of connection and collaboration, and praised students for brainstorming and designing their own re-imagined schoolyards in partnership with organizations.
“The Community Schoolyards Program is such an innovative way to show our students how they can envision and appreciate land use. This is another important part of connection,” Dr. Herring said. “The pandemic has shown us the vital importance of having access and proximity to safe and vibrant outdoor spaces. It has also shown us just how important developing connections with one another can be. Our scholars and building leaders are so deserving of this time and place, but the neighboring community is just as deserving, and I definitely welcome the opportunity to share our school spaces as a community hug.”
In Atlanta, 29 percent of residents do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Over the past three years, The Trust for Public Land has worked with 10 APS schools to design their camp use so that they can be used as parks during non-school hours. Reimagining community schoolyards is one proven strategy designed to help cities reach that 10-minute walk goal. The Trust for Public Land has worked in dozens of cities to transform hundreds of schoolyards and make them available to the general public during non-school hours.