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Green Schoolyards: Healthier, Happier, Cooler Kids

Aug 14 2019

Measuring ground temperature at Bunche Academy.

Measuring ground temperature at Bunche Academy. (photo credit: Kira Maritano)

By Caroline Beckman '21

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Major: Earth Systems

Parks for People Intern, Trust for Public Land

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog



Think back to your elementary school playground. What sort of playstructures did your school have? Were there places to sit? Shade? I know that mine certainly didn’t have much of either – but it had much more grass and trees and much less asphalt than the four Oakland schools that I have visited this summer.

First – a bit of background on Oakland. It’s the third largest city in the Bay Area, and the eighth largest in California. 63,000 Oakland residents do not have a park within a 10-minute walk of home, according to TPL’s annual ParkScore data. East and West Oakland both shoulder an extremely high pollution burden due to heavy truck traffic on I-880 and close proximity to the Port of Oakland. Residents are exposed to ambient diesel PM concentrations that are nearly three times greater than average. This results in high rates of asthma, stroke, and heart failure; moreover, people living in East and West Oakland and unincorporated Alameda County die an average of 9 years earlier than residents in other areas of the county.

Map showing the five pilot Oakland schools. (image credit: Caroline Beckman)

The Trust for Public Land is working with the Oakland Unified School District to transform asphalt covered schoolyards serving disadvantaged communities into “Living Schoolyards” – green spaces that incorporate nature-based play, shade, gardens, and native vegetation. The benefits that stem from such exposure to nature are multifaceted: increased community cohesion, lower crime rates, enhanced focus and attention in young children, a reduced likelihood of being overweight, lower stress levels… I could go on and on. And even beyond these social benefits, increasing access to green space has numerous environmental benefits. Green space reduces air pollution, resulting in lower rates of asthma and stroke (both can result from pollution exposure). Tree canopy and vegetation increase climate resilience by capturing carbon, reducing temperatures, improving water quality, and reducing flooding and runoff.

This summer, I’ve had the chance not only to compile all of the facts I’ve listed above, but also to conduct research of my own. I’ve been tracking how ground temperature changes in the transition from mainly asphalt to more natural surfaces. This has been an amazing project for me – it has allowed me to bridge my work here at the Trust for Public Land with my academic interests in Earth Systems.

My first step was to conduct background research and develop a methodology. I learned that measuring ground temperature is extremely straightforward if one purchases an infrared temperature gun (you just point and click!). I’ve gathered “before” data at three of the five pilot schools. These measurements were pretty shocking. At one school, on a 74° F day, several spots in the schoolyard registered above 131° F – the threshold temperature at which human skin receives a second degree burn. Even on a cool morning, I found that the asphalt was about 25° warmer than the air temperature. And it heats up fast. Because of construction timelines, I’ll only be able to conduct “after” measurements at one school. But this means that students at the schools can continue on with this work – after all, one amazing part about a green schoolyard is the hands-on learning opportunities it provides. It’s been an honor to participate in a project that has the potential to increase climate literacy and environmental stewardship for future generations.

An aerial map of one of the schools overlaid with temperature measurements. Ground temperatures ranged from 93 degrees to 132 degrees on the day the data was collected. (image credit: Caroline Beckman)

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »



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