After attending the 2011 Engaging Our Grounds: International Green Schoolyard Conference last month in Berkeley and San Francisco, California, I can say with confidence that the worldwide movement to enliven school grounds is thriving and gaining momentum! Our conference keynote presenters and participants from across the United States and around the world, spent a memorable and exciting September weekend discussing the latest developments in this field and the amazingly rich mosaic of school ground activities taking place near and far. What a wonderful, rare opportunity to engage in discussions about the ways in which we can work together to collectively shape this movement and help it reach “the next level”.
The Engaging Our Grounds conference was attended by roughly two hundred people from twenty states across the USA, and six countries around the world. Conference participants included teachers, parents, school administrators, designers, nonprofit organizations, foundations, corporations, environmentalists, and community members. The conference was co-hosted by New Village Press/ADPSR, the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance and Bay Tree Design, inc.
Engaging Our Grounds, held September 16-18, 2011, brought visionary leaders of the school ground movement from Europe, North America, and Japan to give presentations to share the latest trends and innovations in this field, as well as case studies, best practices, and creative thinking in green schoolyard design, maintenance, curricula, and advocacy. Each of the six keynote presentations was inspiring, passionately delivered, and packed with ideas that are relevant for schools around the world. We plan to post summaries of each of these presentations on this blog in the coming months, and we are also working on a short video piece that captures the essence of this movement from our speakers’ diverse perspectives.
In addition to the six keynote presentations, the conference included a resource and networking fair on our opening gala evening, and tours of outstanding local school grounds on the two weekend afternoons. On Saturday, September 16th all of the conference participants boarded buses for tours of four exemplary green schoolyards and school gardens in San Francisco, California that have made major investments in transforming their previously paved landscapes into greener environments. The schools we visited included: Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, Commodore Sloat Elementary School, Sherman Elementary School, and Tule Elk Park Early Education School. On Sunday, September 17th, the schoolyard tours were held in Berkeley, California and included the Edible Schoolyard’s flagship garden and kitchen classroom at King Middle School, the community-built green schoolyard and school garden at Rosa Parks Elementary School and the City of Berkeley’s child-built Adventure Playground. (To learn more about each of these outstanding sites, please follow this link for written notes about each location.)
Engaging Our Grounds was the first international green schoolyard conference held in the United States, and the second in a new series of international school ground conferences. The series began last summer with a three-day symposium called The World Outside the Classroom, hosted by Learning through Landscapes in Winchester, England. It will continue in 2013 with an international school ground conference organized by Evergreen in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Stay tuned for more information about this in 2012!)
The international dialogue that’s sparked by these conferences and the ongoing conversations that will occur between the events, enriches practice, unites the members of this field in our work to improve children’s environments across the globe, and enhances the resulting children’s landscapes that we collectively produce. It’s so important to share our work with one another, learn from each other, and share our passion and energy to help this movement grow and prosper in the coming years.
I’m thrilled to announce that the 2011 conference has resulted in the formation of a new, fledgling organization called the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA), dedicated to supporting the worldwide movement to improve children’s learning and play environments. We invite you to join the conversation by participating in the new Public Forum set up by the ISGA on LinkedIn.
We are at the forefront of a new paradigm that blends education, imaginative play, ecology, urban sustainability, and community stewardship of school grounds. We invite you to join us and become an important part of this exciting movement. If you would like to participate in helping with post-conference projects, please let us know! We hope you will join the conversation that is beginning on the LinkedIn discussion group, and visit this blog regularly to receive more updates about related projects.
To all of our conference participants, near and far, we send a warm THANK YOU for taking the time to join us and sharing your work, expertise, and ideas with your colleagues during the event!
To the conference committee, hosts, and volunteers, a personal note of gratitude and THANKS for the time you devoted to making this event so special!
To our conference sponsors, we send a warm and heart-felt THANK YOU for making this memorable and important event possible. You have truly helped to support the movement and encourage it to grow. It will continue to blossom in the coming years, and will bear fruit for the next generation.
Conference Director, Engaging Our Grounds
Principal, Bay Tree Design, inc.
Berkeley, California, USA