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Heinrich Introduces Living Schoolyards Act to Create Unique and Healthy Learning Opportunities

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US SENATE News:

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) introduced the Living Schoolyards Act that will allow schools to completely redesign their outdoor schoolyards in an effort to provide more hands-on learning opportunities, strengthen local ecological systems, and give every child a place to learn and play outdoors.

“One of the most important lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic is how critical the outdoors can be to our mental and physical well-being,” Heinrich said. “For many children, the closest outdoor space is not a national or city park, but the spaces right outside their classroom doors. The Living Schoolyards Act will help schools create outdoor learning environments that will introduce more children to new experiences on their path to academic success.

The Living Schoolyards Act would establish an outdoor learning space grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, to allow schools or districts to create outdoor classrooms and learning spaces air.

Schools will be able to use these funds to set up canopies, tents, open structures, electricity, generators, furniture, storage, Wi-Fi nodes and charging stations, distribution and food facilities outdoors, gardens and weather-appropriate clothing.

Living Schoolyards projects will be designed through a two-step process for school districts to apply for these grants through the U.S. Department of Education:

  • During the grant planning phase, school districts will develop a master plan to transform all or part of their schoolyards into living schoolyard projects. This process should involve community input and consider ecological goals, educational and health outcomes for students, and relevant community partners; and
  • In the implementation phaseschool districts will construct living schoolyards and provide professional development for educators to help them integrate outdoor spaces into their teaching.

Living School Grounds achieve a number of important goals, including:

  • Growing healthy food, trees and pollinating plants;
  • Conserve water, create wildlife habitats and increase climate resilience;
  • Provide opportunities for children to observe objects found in nature, document seasonal changes, and conduct outdoor experiments;
  • Improve the mental health and attention span of children and adults;
  • Introduce objects that students have found in nature, such as leaves, seeds and fruits; and
  • Create a space for students to prepare skits, plays, murals, drawings, and sculptures that celebrate nature, including its animals, plants, and landscapes.

The Living Schoolyards Act is supported by Green Schoolyards America, Environmental Education New Mexico, New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division, Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, ABQ Backyard Refuge Program Director, Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, Bosque Education Guide, Audubon Southwest, Amigos de la Sevillata, Cottonwood Gulch and KABOOM! Expeditions.

“America’s public school grounds cover approximately 2 million acres and play a central role in children’s daily lives,” said Sharon Danks, CEO and Founder of Green Schoolyards America. “Greening schoolyards by removing asphalt and adding trees is a cost-effective way to directly protect students from the effects of extreme heat due to climate change. We applaud Senator Heinrich’s leadership for this groundbreaking work.

Green Schoolyards America is a nonprofit organization that works with school districts to transform asphalt-covered schoolyards into nature-rich places that improve learning and health.

“I fully endorse this legislation on behalf of Cottonwood Gulch. I am especially pleased to see the ‘relevant community partners’ section of this summary. Thank you for your work on this and thank you Senator Heinrich for his leadership,” Jordan said. Stone, executive director of Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions.

“BOOM! believes that every child should have equitable access to engaging, nurturing and stimulating outdoor spaces to learn and play,” KABOOM! said CEO Lysa Ratliff. “The Living Schoolyards Act will provide local school districts and non-profit organizations with the support they need to create and foster outdoor spaces that will benefit children and the local community. We know that children who spend time outdoors when young grow to appreciate their surroundings and surrounding community better throughout their lives.

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