Flagstaff’s Green Schoolyards team hosted a public forum Wednesday evening to discuss its pilot project at Killip Elementary.
Flagstaff is one of 11 cities participating in the 2021-23 Green Schoolyards America cohort nationwide — which is run by the National League of Cities and the Children and Nature Network.
“We’ve been granted an opportunity to enhance our collaboration with the community in the building of a new school,” Killip Principal Joe Gutierrez said. “…The Green Schoolyard is a great way to provide our students with outdoor learning as they take active roles in the beautification of our school and the Sunnyside community.”
The project began in Flagstaff last April and is expected to be completed by October 2023.
Actions listed as part of 2021 included creating a vision and action plan, “identify and engage” the pilot program, and locating policy, programs and partner opportunities. Goals for 2022 include planning and implementation of the Killip pilot, progressing the action plan (both of which will continue through 2023), as well as work on policies, inter-agency agreements and staff and capital funds.
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“Right now, we’re really just making the case to stakeholders and educating everyone on what green schoolyards are and what they can be,” said Mikaela Randolph, a technical assistance consultant for the Children and Nature Network.
The program is “one of the strategies that has been identified to help reconnect children and nature,” she said. “…That connection to nature has been programmed out of our lives, so we have to be really intentional about what are these opportunities, how do we get our children [out there]?”
The program’s vision is for all the U.S. to have access to green schoolyards by 2050 “to enhance children’s healthy development, community well-being and positive environmental impacts.”
Access to green schoolyards will look “different in every community,” Randolph said, depending on the area’s specific needs.
The spaces will also include elements designed by the people who will be using it.
At Killip, the plans include pollinator and vegetable gardens, a pond, interpretive nature trail and a greenhouse used yearround for student and community classes. One of their hopes is to offer a junior master gardener program through the Coconino County Cooperative Extension.
Killip “is not just a school but a community center and the new Killip building should be surrounded by a schoolyard that is equally beautiful,” said Sheryl Wells, the school’s STEM coordinator. “It should celebrate the unique qualities and values of Sunnyside.”
She presented some specifics of the school’s plans for the campus outdoor area, calling the project “a continuing process.”
While the building’s construction is scheduled to be finished in time for the start of school, aspects of the outdoor area will take longer, allowing for community input.
Representatives of a number of local nonprofits, including Carrie Dallas from Native Americans for Community Action also spoke at the event, explaining their organization’s efforts and ways they might connect to the Green Schoolyards initiative.
“Being reconnected with the plants, with the community, with everything that is positive in that circle is really going to help our young people,” Dallas said. “I’m so glad to see that it’s going into the schools.”
Also showing support were Moran Henn from Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, Helena Murray from The Arboretum at Flagstaff, Gayle Gratop from Coconino County Cooperative Extension Services and Kaeli Wells and Summer White from the City of Flagstaff’s Sustainability Office.
“Hands-on, outdoor learning is a tradition and priority at Killip,” Wells said. “…The new Killip campus, with gardens, a pond, nature trails and other outdoor learning areas, will elevate our STEM education focus and serve as an example for other Flagstaff schools.”