California is making major investments to help protect children from extreme heat.
This month, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced $117 million toward transforming schoolyards across the state. The funds will create more green spaces for children while also providing more shade to combat rising temperatures.
The new investment is a part of Gov. Newsom’s Extreme Heat Action plan. The grant money will remove asphalt and put in trees and plants in replacement.
“California is heading into a hotter, drier future and extreme heat will only become more dangerous. We’re taking action to protect our kids — especially in underserved communities — from hotter temperatures with our best defense, nature,” Newsom said in the announcement.
The Trust for Public Land is a leader in creating greener spaces for kids. The nonprofit launched a pilot program in the city of Oakland to transform four schoolyards, to make them safer for kids during extreme heat.
One school chosen is Bridges Academy, which is in a neighborhood in East Oakland that ranks in the bottom 11% of tree canopy coverage. There is also no park within walking distance.
Kira Maritano was a garden teach at Bridges Academy over a decade ago. She is now the senior program manager for the TPL and is overseeing the green schoolyards project at the school.
“I can’t think of a more deserving community than the community of Bridges Academy and this part of East Oakland — the need is really high,” Maritano said.
The funding for the pilot program came from grants issued by the California Natural Resources Agency and Prop 68 funding for parks.
“We see these community school yard projects as multi-benefit. They benefit student learning. They benefit the staff who teach here, giving them outdoor spaces to teach and better facilities to engage their students. They absorb stormwater, they lessen the burden on the public utility system, they help clean the bay,” Maritano said.
Currently, Bridges Academy has three trees for their 600 students. Once the project is complete, there will be over 60 new trees in the schoolyard.
“It serves so many benefits. I love seeing how brining in trees and native planting benefits students and nature and community all at once,” Maritano said.
The redesigned school yard will not only provide a safer space for children, but will benefit the entire community.
“There are always happenings in the schoolyard. There're parents bringing pozole on Thursday afternoons. There're parties — people celebrate major holidays in this schoolyard because the neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of amenities or safe spaces,” Maritano said.
The Cesar Chavez campus in East Oakland is a completed project by the TPL. It is being used as a model for the Newsom Administration’s Green Schoolyard initiative.
“Greening schoolyards, especially in densely populated urban neighborhoods, is climate resiliency. It’s creating spaces for communities to have access to shade and cooling when and where they need it most,” Maritano said.
In the three completed school yard projects, the TPL has removed over 48,000 square feet of asphalt and planted over 200 trees. The nonprofit is now working with the state to secure a $1 billion bond to expand the program statewide.
“Having this money go into so many different schoolyards across the state is going to help cut the green tape around creating projects like this as more and more school districts do the work. They’ll start to understand what it takes and we can start building more and more budgets,” Maritano said.
The TPL is now working on phase two of their plans to expand their work with the Oakland Unified School District to fund 10 more pre-development schools.
The nonprofit is also expanding the program to Los Angeles and has started a “28x28” initiative. The goal is to transform 28 schoolyards in the Los Angeles Unified School District by 2028.
Three schools are already in the transformation process.
Let "Inside the Issues" know your thoughts and watch Monday through Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.