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Expanding Opportunities for Play: Open the Schoolyards

Expanding Opportunities for Play: Open the Schoolyards

Picture of Marice Ashe

Editor's note: In March 2011, Public Health Law and Policy Executive Director Marice Ashe blogged about using government purchasing policies in schools, local government offices and elsewhere to help improve community health. Here, she updates how cities are working to open up school playgrounds after hours and create new parks to give families more opportunities for exercise.

marice ashe, reporting on health, community health, school playgrounds, obesity, children's health

Get more exercise? In many neighborhoods, it's not so easy.

Kids have to compete with speeding cars if they try to walk or bike to school. Safe parks and playgrounds can be few and far between. Of course, local schools have gyms, fields, tracks, basketball courts, even swimming pools — but when the school day ends, these facilities are often locked.

School districts have reasons for keeping their property closed after hours. They're concerned about security. They're afraid of getting sued if someone gets hurt. They can't afford to pay for extra maintenance.

That's why, across the country, school districts are joining with local agencies — often for the first time — to work out a way to open their gates to the public after hours.

These agreements aren't always easy to carry out. People who aren't used to working together suddenly have to agree on scheduling and staffing, maintenance, and what to do in the event of injury. But the contracts are critical for making sure that all partners are clear on how to share the costs and responsibilities of expanding access to property. New partnerships like these are even helping communities secure funding for innovative projects to encourage kids to get more exercise.

In Niagara Falls, New York, a shared-use agreement was essential for creating a state-of-the-art basketball park and incorporating community programming, including a nationally recognized mentorship program for kids. In the high desert city of Adelanto in California's San Bernardino County, a new partnership between the city and school district recently transformed an empty five-acre field next to a school into a park that's open to the community after hours.

And in the small town of Earlimart in Tulare County, a new agreement between the county and the local school district was the key to getting state funding to help turn a dry, dusty lot on school property into a community park filled with walking paths and space for kids to play.

For many communities, agreements like these are essential for creating new opportunities for exercise and play in neighborhoods with few other options.

For more on agreements opening school property to the public, see www.unlockpossibilities.org.

Related Posts:

A New Lever to Combat Obesity: Government Purchasing Policies

Photo credit: Ben Chaney via Flickr

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