78 | Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly
Strong local and regional networks across both
countries have been instrumental in expanding
the movement and shaping its growth.
Organizations such as the International School
Grounds Alliance, Child in the City, and the
International Play Association help professionals
in this field share best practices across geographic
and language barriers, learn from one another,
speed up innovation, and scale their work.
The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance,
described in the sidebar, is an example of how
community partnerships can drive change and
innovation within a school district.
Many schools across the U.S. and Canada have
greened aspects of their school grounds and
established routine outdoor learning. School
communities have led the vast majority of these
improvements, often with the collaboration
of landscape architects, civic and nonprofit
organizations, public agencies, and their school
districts. Schools with gardens and other green
schoolyard-related elements are not yet the
majority, but have reached critical mass and the
movement is growing. The Toronto District School
Board is an example of a school district leading
this change with a strong partnership model
that has bridged the facilities and instructional
departments and is described in the sidebar.
Despite all the efforts to date, most green
schoolyards in North America are small,
demonstration size projects, supported by
grassroots fundraisers, and led by a few
passionate individuals. Very few schools have had
the capacity to enrich their whole school site.
Only a handful of school districts around Canada
and the U.S. have built citywide support systems
for school ground greening and integrated
them into their broader sustainability programs,
ecoliteracy curricula, and student mental and
physical health programs.
As a field of practice, there are no widely
accepted standards to evaluate and assess the
success of individual green schoolyard projects,
and so it remains difficult to compare and assess
impact between sites or districts.
Where are We Heading?
In our own work, we have personally witnessed
the evolution of the field over the last twenty
years and are both deeply engaged with a shift
toward larger scale projects and more systematic
planning for green schoolyards at the school
district and regional levels. When planning is
accomplished district-wide, education and health
priorities can connect with schoolyard design
and management. Desirable outcomes include
better and more specialized service to schools,
more effective and efficient communications,
Case Study 1: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
School ground greening as part of an integrated sustainability strategy
In 2001, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada’s largest school board with almost 600 schools, made a bold
move to bring their individual sustainability initiatives into an integrated certification program they called EcoSchools.
The program began with four components that included two usual (and worthy) suspects – energy conservation and
waste minimization – along with two relative newcomers, ecological literacy and school ground greening. It has since
evolved to include topics such as active transportation, health and safety, and leadership. The program’s success has
relied on the cooperation of the board’s facilities and instructional teams – two groups that previously had limited
collaboration with each other. Adding the school ground greening component was bold given its complexities and TDSB
teamed up with the nonprofit organization Evergreen to build it. While both groups had to stretch to make it work, the
program and partnerships continue to this day. The surprise was how much school ground greening added incentives
to schools to engage in the program. As a result, the School Board has made school ground greening benefits a part of
their strategy to encourage schools to strive for a higher level of certification – such as free trees and mulch or access to
design support. A Board staff team has also been designated to specialize in supporting school ground greening, and
installation quality has dramatically improved over the years.
TDSB’s EcoSchools program is an exceptional example of the power of an integrated partnership between schools,
administration, and NGOs to advance sustainability and educational goals simultaneously.