Green schoolyards are about more than just vegetable gardens. They may be edible, as in the case of Alice Waters’ lauded program at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, or they may be simply sustainable: solar panels, rainwater harvesting, bicycle programs. The entire range of possibilities, from outdoor classrooms to unpaved playgrounds, is the subject of Engaging Our Grounds, the first International Green Schoolyard Conference to be held in the United States, running tomorrow and through Sunday in San Francisco and Berkeley.
“We’re excited to showcase what we do best, which is grow food,” said Rachel Pringle, director of programs for conference co-sponsor the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, which works primarily in San Francisco public schools. But she also wants attendees to understand that “green schoolyards really include all of these other topics. … It’s a shift in understanding of where learning happens.”
The essence of the green schoolyard is twofold: introducing green infrastructure, architecture, and design into schoolyards, then integrating related green topics into class curricula. This can take myriad forms, but the end result is an experiential education that prepares children to help solve ecological and environmental challenges. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving outside of the classroom or off the baseball diamond and onto less programmed spaces — especially if they’re immediately available on campus — where kids can learn about and interact with natural landscapes directly.
Experts and innovative thinkers from around the world — including Sweden, Canada, Germany, England, and Japan — will deliver keynote addresses, and attendees will tour transformed schoolyards in both San Francisco and Berkeley. The conference, also sponsored by Oakland’s New Village Press and Berkeley’s Bay Tree Design, is open to the general public; registration is available online today and at the door tomorrow.