Playing Smart: A New Guide to Help Communities Open the Schoolyards
We’ve never needed safe play spaces in our communities more than we do now. Nearly a third of kids and adolescents in America – and two-thirds of adults – are overweight or obese. Many are urged to get more exercise but can’t follow this advice very easily where they live.
Schools, of course, have all kinds of exercise facilities – gyms, soccer fields, tracks, basketball courts, playgrounds, even swimming pools. But when school lets out, these spaces are often locked to students and the rest of the neighborhood.
Administrators have reasons for keeping these spaces 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.
But communities around the country are resolving these issues through what’s known as a joint use agreement: a written contract between a school district and, usually, a city agency, spelling out a formal arrangement that lets the two share the costs and responsibilities of expanding access to school property.
- In Boston – where many schoolyards were paved over in the 1950s when city leaders realized it would save maintenance costs – joint use agreements have helped reclaim more than 130 acres of asphalt, transforming schoolyards into vibrant new spaces for play and learning.
- In Niagara Falls, NY, joint use agreements were essential in creating a state-of-the-art basketball park and incorporating valuable community programming, including a nationally recognized mentorship program for kids.
- In Mississippi – recently named the most obese state in the nation – a new statewide joint use program has provided school districts with resources for play equipment and other improvements while helping to ease school administrators reservations about liability and vandalism.
Although many communities informally agree to share facilities, a well-crafted joint use agreement can help things go smoothly – from coordinating scheduling and staffing to handling maintenance and the possibility of injury.
Check out Playing Smart, a nuts-and-bolts guide to opening school property to the public. Playing Smart was developed for school staff and other community leaders, whether they’re new to the prospect of joint use or looking to institutionalize an informal arrangement long under way.
Download this new toolkit today at www.unlockpossibilities.org.
Playing Smart was produced by KaBOOM! and the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Children Obesity, a project of Public Health Law & Policy.
Manel Kappagoda is the deputy director of the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, a project of Public Health Law & Policy (PHLP). She oversees a team of staff attorneys and policy analysts providing support to communities nationwide on a range of policy strategies to promote healthy eating and active living. For more information on Playing Smart, you can contact her here.