FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE :
Friday, Apr 23, 2021
City of Little Rock Public Relations
Office (501) 371-4421
City of Little Rock and Little Rock School District Collaborate
City of Little Rock and Little Rock School District Collaborate to Bring Green Spaces to School Grounds
(Little Rock)— On Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, the City of Little Rock and the Little Rock School District (LRSD) announced a community schools initiative to transform the grounds of two community schools, Booker T. Washington Elementary and Stephens Elementary, into nature-filled greenspaces. The enhancements will provide more opportunity for children to connect to the natural world and enjoy healthy, active time outdoors.
Little Rock was one of 10 cities chosen from 27 applicants to receive training and technical assistance to add nature play and outdoor learning spaces to schoolyards through Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN), a joint initiative of the National League of Cities and the Children & Nature Network. The effort prioritized schools in neighborhoods that lack access to parks and greenspace.
"In the Community Schools Model, the school becomes the hub of the community where programs that meet the needs of the entire neighborhood are offered at the school site,” Chief Education Officer Jay Barth said. “It's crucial that parents and community members feel drawn to spend time at the school and on the school grounds. This technical assistance will guide the Little Rock team in making two community schools operating in our most densely populated neighborhoods to become that kind of welcoming spaces for those neighbors."
“Not only are schoolyards the daily playground to our students, but it is the playground for the community,” Darian Smith, LRSD’s executive director for Elementary School Leadership, said. “The green schoolyard initiative will give us an opportunity to enhance that experience for everyone. We are grateful for the ongoing partnership between the District and the City of Little Rock."
Research shows that green schoolyards can enhance children’s physical and mental health and academic performance, as well as community health and well-being. These green schoolyards will be used for outdoor learning and play during the school day and be available to children, families and surrounding neighborhoods during out-of-school time.
As part of the application process, Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. and LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore signed a green schoolyard pledge stating their shared vision to advance equitable access to nature’s benefits through green schoolyards, which are proven to bring a wide-range of health, academic and environmental benefits to children and the local community.
During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of access to safe, outdoor greenspaces within walking distance. Green schoolyards can fill a critical gap in neighborhoods that lack access to parks and natural areas due to inequities in how parks and greenspaces have been designed and distributed. City and school officials see green schoolyards as a key way to build back stronger and more equitably after COVID-19.
A CCCN Green Schoolyards team will be assembled with members from LRSD, including Washington and Stephens school communities, and Little Rock’s Parks and Recreation Department. The team will receive training and technical support from national experts to create a green schoolyard plan that ensures the schoolyards at Washington and Stephens meets community needs for stormwater capture, pollinator habitat, vegetable gardening, and a space to learn and explore.
About the City of Little Rock’s Response to COVID-19
Residents may visit LittleRock.gov/covid19 for all information about the City’s efforts related to COVID-19, including the Small Business Emergency Assistance Program and Emergency Solutions Grants for homeless prevention, rapid re-housing, and street outreach. The Little Rock Cares Emergency Relief Fund benefits ongoing student feeding efforts and the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE). Donations of PPE are also accepted. Donate here or visit LittleRock.gov/covid19 and click on the Little Rock Cares Emergency Relief Fund button. Follow the City of Little Rock on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @CityLittleRock. Keep Covered and Keep your Distance.
About Little Rock School District
The Little Rock School District is the state’s second largest district, serving approximately 22,000. LRSD added the new 400,000 SQF, state-of-the-art Little Rock Southwest Magnet High School to its educational fleet in 2020 with a capacity of 2,200 students. The District has the distinction of having two national Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence; nearly 200 teachers with National Board Certification; and historically within the past decade, the most National Merit Semifinalists in the state. LRSD is also home to the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year and consistently ranks among the top award recipients in STEM-related competitions and the performing/creative arts.
About Cities Connecting Children to Nature
Longstanding systems of inequity have influenced the design and distribution of green spaces. Cities Connecting Children to Nature, a joint initiative of the National League of Cities and the Children & Nature Network, with funding from The JPB Foundation, supports municipal leaders and their community partners in shifting planning, policies and programs to connect children to the benefits of nature more often and more equitably.
About the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education & Families (YEF Institute)
The YEF Institute at the National League of Cities is the go-to place for city leaders seeking to improve outcomes for children and families. With expertise in early childhood success, education & expanded learning, promoting a culture of health, youth and young adult connections, and economic opportunity and financial empowerment, the YEF Institute reaches cities of all sizes and brings together local leaders to develop strategies via technical assistance projects, peer learning networks, leadership academies, and Mayors’ Institutes programs. Learn more at nlc.org/iyef.
About the Children & Nature Network
The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) believes that nature makes children healthier, happier and smarter. C&NN is a US-based non-profit organization leading a global movement to increase equitable access to nature so that children—and natural places—can thrive. C&NN achieves its mission by investing in leaders and communities through sharing evidence-based resources, scaling innovative solutions, and driving policy change. Learn more at childrenandnature.org.