Thu, 06 Apr 2017 14:06:00
Ribbon cutting at the Rosa Parks community kickoff for the SF Shared Schoolyard Project on July 30, 2016. Photo courtesy of David Aldridge, the Outreach Program Manager at SF Shared Schoolyard Project.
If you were to see two images — one of a schoolyard on the weekend with a locked gates, or see gates swung open wide and the sight of kids on bicycles and parents standing together — which would you rather see as a member of the local community?
In the changing demographics of San Francisco, the latter view is becoming a reality in every district in the City. Playgrounds are opening, and those who should not be there — who would jump fences to gain access — are now deterred by the friendly presence of laughing children, parents and guardians connecting socially — and children get a familiar place within walking distance to play outside of school hours.
This is all an outcome of the San Francisco Shared School Project.
According to the website at http://www.sfsharedschoolyard.org/, this program is a partnership between the City of San Francisco, the San Francisco Unified School District, and neighborhoods where children and families have a place to play and gather within walking distance of every child within the city.
Supervisor Mark Farrell of District 2 spearheaded fundraising efforts, inspired by his childhood of growing up in the city and playing on San Francisco schoolyards. The project brings together many different organizations to make the dream of every schoolyard opening a
reality. Among those integral to this project are the mayor’s office; the San Francisco Unified School District; the San Francisco Park and Recreation department; the Department of Public Works; and the San Francisco Police Department.
The concept of the project is to make schoolyards accessible to those communities in which they are located. The initiative first made waves politically in 2009, but there was no budget for it. Now the project is privately funded. Each school receives a stipend of $1,000 to be used as seen fit, and each school utilizes the space they have in a creative way, allowing for maximum enjoyment by the students.
The project has hired on a full time program manager with experience working for the school district to streamline the process and expand the list of the 40 currently participating schools. There is already an impact in the Fillmore, as well as in other Western Addition and Bayview neighborhoods.
Jacob Hodgson, the principal at New Traditions Community School referenced his initial apprehension at opening the playground’s gates on the weekends. But soon enough Hodgson came to “appreciate it [the shared schoolyard project] being there.”
“It is a great benefit for children and parents to have a familiar place to go in the neighborhood.” Hodgson went on to detail his school’s proximity to the Panhandle and his worry that vagrants would wander in. But he switched corners and realized that the presence of an impromptu group of children learning to ride their bikes acts as a successful deterrent.
“They are off the street, in a familiar, safe place to learn how to ride,” Hodgson said. He mentioned parents getting groups together to teach their children how to ride — a rite of passage and freedom in any childhood.
Hodgson stated there was occasional trash, but no noticeable damage. There are upcoming events, such as the Discovery Festival on the First Sunday in May, which will host a Petting Zoo, an Acrobat Camp, and live music. The festivities will come from the $1,000 stipend provided to each school for the calendar year by the Shared Schoolyard Project’s private donors. As of now Hodgson sees students and parents alike coming together to utilize the open space on the weekends, an action that — however incalculable — strengthens the bond of a community.
Paul Jacobson, the principal of Rosa Parks Elementary School in the Fillmore, lauded that “any kind of use by his students of the playground through Shared Schoolyard Project is good use.” The Project kicked off in September for the school on O’Farrell Street. Jacobson noted the attendance of the event by Supervisor London Breed of District 5 and Matt Haney of the San Francisco Board of Education.
Although reticent about possible damage to school’s garden, Jacobson has seen people using the adjacent play structure appropriately. Overall, the principal had very positive things to say about the project. Despite having several of the children bus to school, he anticipates use of the playground to grow more as the word spreads to those in the community.
Emmanuel Stewart, the principal of George Washington Carver Elementary School, spoke emphatically about the role the San Francisco Shared Schoolyard Project plays for the school and the neighborhood. He sees the project as a key cog in providing the services a school should in a community.
“The SF Schoolyard Project benefits George Washington Carver by opening the schoolyard up to give the kids a familiar place to play on the weekend,” Stewart said, adding that the project kicked off at the school in May 2016 with a “huge” web campaign.
Located on Oakdale Avenue in the Bayview District, the playground is backed by a cul-de-sac on one side, so parking can be limited. But the school has three separate playgrounds, a basketball court, and plenty of open space.
Stewart heralded Supervisor Mark Farrell for raising private funds to push the project forward. A parent’s group allocates the $1,000 stipend — in particular to provide activities for two special upcoming events: the upcoming Carver Carnival on May 6 and the Resource Fair on May 18.
“Here at G.W. Carver we see our school as a community school,” Said Stewart. In his eyes, the school should provide more than classroom education; it must be a stalwart of the Bayview community. He was quick to mention the Shared Schoolyard Project’s role in giving children a haven to play on the weekends as another crucial piece in the school’s mission.
In addition to operating a food pantry every Wednesday, partnering with the YMCA and the Bayview Opera House, George Washington Carver Elementary School is utilizing every means possible to do more for its diverse neighborhood.
Stewart invited everyone to the upcoming Resource Fair and Carver Carnival to see the school’s playground and lively community in action.
These playgrounds can be places to swing on a swing set, run around on a jungle gym, shoot hoops, kick a soccer ball, or learn to ride a bike. It can be a nexus for parents to hold joint play dates. It is a familiar place for kids to come play. For families that live near the school, the schoolyard can be a reassuring spot to have access to on the weekends. It cannot be any of those things if the locks stay on, but that is rapidly changing.