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davis elementary school | emergency schoolyard design volunteers


While the ongoing pandemic has changed many aspects of life in the past year, education and its traditional environment have experienced a shift unlike any other. Students are no longer limited to the walls of their classroom for social distancing and remote learning.

While outdoor classrooms have long been utilized, the recent demand for open space has greatly increased their value and school districts everywhere are moving to offer outdoor learning. The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, for example, is a component of Green Schoolyards America—an organization that seeks to transform asphalt-covered school grounds into park-like green spaces to improve children’s well-being, learning, and play all the while contributing to the ecological health and resilience of cities.

The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative has the same idea as their director. Their vision is pandemic-oriented with the desire to help schools reopen safely and equitably using outdoor spaces as strategic, cost-effective tools to increase physical distancing capacity onsite, as well as provide access to fresh air. To do this, the organization created The Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers program. The program is an initiative to encourage outdoor classroom environments to combat the difficulties with meeting indoors due to Covid. Within this, designers provide schools with specialized pro bono landscape planning assistance.

TBG joined the Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers program along with several hundred landscape architecture and design professionals, faculty, and students from 38 states. In fact, our very own associate Katie Summers was regional chair for Texas beginning summer 2020 and up until this early spring. Adrianne Kartachak and Susan Cita additionally worked on documentation for a local Austin elementary school, and the two former designers continued to represent TBG and work on multiple Dallas area schools following Katie’s exit.

The team of three worked on the Austin elementary campus and provided three scenarios for the school: low, moderate, and high cost. Following site analysis, climate considerations like the need for protection from sun and rain with shade sail installations were included, as well as climate adaption strategies like optional usage dependent on weather conditions.

The opportunity to be a part of the Emergency Schoolyard Design program, regardless of Covid being the reason it came about, was a great way to get kids outside and showcase the effectiveness of outdoor spaces within school settings. The modifications made by the Design Volunteers at TBG and beyond will remain valuable post-pandemic.