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Landscape Architects Assist Schools To Create Outdoor Classrooms

Many of us are preparing for school at all levels of education to begin.  Families are caught in the middle of in-person, virtual, or hybrid learning decisions hopefully with up-to-date information from the authorities.  Learn how landscape architects along with expert education leaders and our communities are making a difference for the future of our children of all ages. 

This article originally appeared in LAND, the American Society of Landscape Architects email newsletter on August 11,2020.

Photo By:  Golestan Education, El Cerrito, CA 
Provided By:  Green Schoolyards America
Green Schoolyards America (GSA) and their partners are organizing a national COVID 19 Outdoor Learning Initiative around the idea of using outdoor school space, parks and other outdoor areas as assets as schools make plans to re-open in the fall. 

The initiative, led by Sharon Danks, MLA-MCP, CEO of Green Schoolyards America, has created several working groups to develop strategies, ideas, and frameworks to assist schools across the country.  This initiative was launched with an online public forum titled "Outdoor Spaces as Essential Assets for School Districts' COVID-19 Response", held on June 4, 2020.  The event was co-hosted by:  Green Schoolyards America, The Lawrence Hall of Science, San Mateo County Office of Education, and Ten Strands. 

Among the working groups developed through this initiative, a new pro bono landscape design assistance program called COVID-19 Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers is matching schools with landscape architects and design students.  

The Design Volunteers working group is led by Claire Latané, ASLA, LEED AP, SITES, AP, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona.  So far over 130 landscape architects and designers from twenty states and four countries have signed on to assist.  Seventy schools have requested design assistance so far, and that is with no real advertisement.  The first school/design partnerships are testing the Outdoor Learning initiative toolkits and process to refine the launch this month.  Other design volunteers are working on plant lists for providing shade, defining and adding to experiential learning areas, and screening. 

Green Schoolyards America
Los Angeles Area Elementary School
Case Study
As the interdisciplinary effort to reopen schools using outdoor spaces moves forward, schools across the country will need help designing and diagramming outdoor learning areas.  While schools ultimately may want living landscapes full of shade trees, the immediate focus is on emergency outdoor classrooms -- anywhere on their school grounds or in local parks where classes can safely take place.  GSA is looking for landscape architecture students, faculty, and professional volunteers to help interested schools across the nation make site plans for the fall.  To learn about the COVID-19 Learning Initiative, read the background materials and watch the one-hour webinar here.
There are two ways you, as landscape architecture students, faculty and professionals can help:  

1.  Contact your local pre-k-12 schools and districts in high-need neighborhoods and let them know about this initiative.  A working group of Early Adopter schools meets once a week on Tuesdays at 2:00 pm EDT to learn about the initiative and support each other's efforts to teach outdoors. Schools can register for that working group and sign up for design assistance online

2.  Help schools design and diagram outdoor classroom plans to help them reopen.  Please volunteer your design skills by signing up here.  
Design Volunteers will be grouped, pairing emerging professionals with more-experienced landscape architects as a form of mentorship and to grow professional networks both locally and nationwide.  These groups will collaborate to develop strategies, design guidance, cost estimates, case studies, and other resources that schools and districts across the country can use to help them plan for outdoor classroom infrastructure needs.  Questions, please contact the group leaders. 

Guest Author:  Jennifer Nitzky, RLA, ASLA, ISA, is a landscape architect and certified arborist with over 20 years of experience in urban planning and design, parks and recreational design, playgrounds, green roofs, and campus design. She is an active member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and serves on the Fine Arts Federation of New York Board and the Manhattan Community Board 7.

The coordination, planning, leadership and design of outdoor learning spaces by landscape architects, educators, and communities takes dedication, courage and a vision to execute by highly educated and credentialed professionals.  We take individual professional credentials maintenance and corporate credentials compliance management very seriously, too, by providing these services exclusively to architects, engineers and landscape architects - licensed professionals of the built environment.  Let us help you protect your most valuable assets - your credentials. Visit for more information, or call 913-608-7880 for a free consultation session.

Photo By:  Tamar Barlev
Provided By:  Green Schoolyards America


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