The “Green Direction”

A Participatory School Ground Greening and Environmental Education Research Project

In November 2011, Janet Loebach and Sarah McCans (Project Leaders), both PhD Candidates and HEAL research associates, received an award from the London Community Foundation Clean Air Challenge to develop an innovative environmental education pilot project that involved working with students at Blessed Sacrament to redesign and rejuvenate a portion of their school ground into a natural play and learning space. The project is now underway.

The Project: The “Green Direction”
Why “Green Direction”? The students of Blessed Sacrament came up with this title which captures the guiding spirit and dual aims of the project. The primary aim is to ‘green’ a neglected portion of the school yard, transforming it into a healthy environment for play and learning, as well as a welcoming community hub. A secondary, aim is to develop, test, and share an innovative ‘participatory’ methodology that includes students, staff, and the larger community in the greening process to empower individuals and enhance their collective sense of community pride and awareness of environmental issues.

What We Are Doing
Blessed Sacrament Separate (Elementary) School in London, Ontario was been identified as an ideal pilot for a collaborative school ground and community greening initiative. The barren, northern portion of the yard adjacent to Oxford St. – the area targeted for greening – has been out-of-bounds to students for several years due to health and safety concerns.

Western University researchers and volunteers have already engaged with Blessed Sacrament students and staff in the first phase of the project. A participatory education and design program has carried out with students over 11 sessions (April-June 2012) to prepare a design for a natural play and learning space.

The process is being embedded into the curriculum (e.g. science, math, environmental studies) and introduces students to air quality issues and principles of environmental planning through fun, hands-on activities to develop a plan for the north portion of the school ground. Air quality measurements and heat imaging tests, student and teacher surveys, and behaviour mapping will be administered before and after the project to test the impact of greening on air quality and heat effects, as well as children’s activities taking place on the school grounds.

The anticipated outcomes of this project include benefits for the community, the environment, and children’s health:

  • Reduction in local levels of airborne pollutants;
  • Generating evidence of the impact of school ground greening on the reduction of air pollution;
  • Raising community awareness of both local and global air quality issues and impacts;
  • Increased ecological diversity and habitat creation;
  • Reduction in extreme heat exposure among students;
  • Improved energy use and stormwater management;
  • A safe, engaging space that can support both play and learning needs of local school children;
  • Increases children’s everyday contact with nature;
  • Participatory development of a solution that meets the needs and preferences of the school community;
  • Building capacity among children and community stakeholders for local environmental action.

Program partners & collaborators

  • Blessed Sacrament School
  • London District Catholic School Board
  • Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL), Western University
  • Reforest London
  • City of London, Engineering & Environmental Services Division (Roads & Transportation / Transportation Planning & Design)

Related Events
The project was chosen to be one of the Field Tour sites visited by delegates during the 10th Canadian Urban Forest Conference – co-hosted by Tree Canada and the City of London – in October 2012.