March 14, 2019

This Chicago nonprofit provides students with healthy spaces to grow and thrive

Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate. Five winners will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate.

Healthy Schools Campaign is a finalist for Allstate’s Youth Empowerment Award.

Editor’s note: Meet the finalists for 2019 The Renewal Awards. The annual program that honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities is a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. This year, five winners each will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate. Winners will be announced April 3 at The Renewal Summit in New York City. You can watch a live stream of the event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT, on our Facebook page.

It’s important that students learn and engage at school, but that can be difficult when spaces aren’t engaging or inviting for young people. Enter the Healthy Schools Campaign. This Chicago-based nonprofit focuses on building “Space to Grow” schoolyards that facilitate both learning and play.

Each schoolyard is designed to have areas for physical activity and exercise, outdoor classrooms, native plants and vegetables, art installations, and anything else students need to engage. These spaces are also open after school hours, providing a valuable resource for the community as a whole.

[ Read: Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards ]

“It’s a good thing for the school and for the neighborhood. There can be a lot of doom and gloom, and this schoolyard can be a beacon of light,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Jackson of Arthur R. Ashe Elementary School in Chicago.

In addition to designing and building these schoolyards, the organization engages with school stakeholders—from parents to principals—so they have the knowledge and skills to stay involved in the program.

“Space to Grow makes sure that parents and community members are engaged in helping maintain the schoolyards by including them in the interactive design process and providing ongoing support and training to garden and wellness teams at Space to Grow schools,” Claire Marcy, Senior Vice President of Healthy Schools Campaign, wrote in an email to The Renewal Project.

But the organization also helps these stakeholders work to create change in schools and then advocate for it at the district, state, and federal level.

Other Healthy Schools Campaign programs include “Cooking up Change,” which engages burgeoning student chefs to develop healthy meals for their classmates. The program also offers a trip to Washington, D.C., for these students to engage with government leaders about the need for healthy school food.

The organization also has successfully campaigned for the Chicago School District to adopt policies supporting physical education. Now, nearly 75 percent of Chicago Public high schools are offering P.E. classes.

But for the people behind Healthy Schools Campaign, it’s all about each making sure each individual student is taken care of.

“We’ll know we’ve succeeded when every student in Chicago can learn, play, and thrive in a vibrant green schoolyard,” said Marcy.

Follow Healthy Schools Campaign on Twitter @healthyschools. Donate to the nonprofit here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the deputy editor of The Renewal Project.