Weekend Recess: 'Shared Schoolyards' Expand Into Castro, Noe Valley

Weekend Recess: 'Shared Schoolyards' Expand Into Castro, Noe Valley
Schoolyards around the city have been opening up to the community on weekends. (Photo: Cory Doctorow/Flickr)
By Shane Downing - Published on June 10, 2016.

In a boon for Castro and Noe Valley families with young children, the San Francisco Shared Schoolyard Project has announced an expansion to both Sanchez and Alvarado Elementary Schools. The initiative, championed by District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, makes San Francisco schoolyards accessible on weekends to neighbors who are looking for safe spaces to gather and play.

“The background of the program,” said Farrell, “is my experience growing up in San Francisco and playing at the local schoolyard with my parents and my friends on the weekends.” When Farrell came into office, he realized that schoolyards across San Francisco had been closed on weekends, due to budget cuts.

“I was told that if I could receive the money privately, we could open up all of our schoolyards once again,” explained Farrell. He set to work, and over the past four years, “we’ve opened over 30 schoolyards across the city of San Francisco,” he said. His goal is to reach a total of 80 schoolyards in the next two years.

Neighbors are now encouraged to take advantage of playspaces at Sanchez Elementary School, in the Castro, and Alvarado Elementary School, in Noe Valley, from 9am-4pm during weekends. All are welcome, not just those with children enrolled at the schools. 

“School sites are a public asset,” said Fred Spitz, the president of Alvarado Elementary's PTA. “Community members should take advantage of them whenever they can, regardless of whether they have children at the school.  At Alvarado, we're continuing to try to develop more types of recreational space that will appeal to all ages and interests.”

Cole Valley's Grattan Elementary School opened its schoolyard in November. Photo: Caitlin Harrington/Hoodline

In exchange for participating in the Shared Schoolyard Project, each school’s PTA receives a $1,000 stipend. The school is also eligible for a grant of up to $2,500, to put towards any activity that promotes active living and exercise. All participating schoolyards also receive two annual deep cleanings from the Department of Public Works Deep Clean Team.

“While it's great to have the monetary support from the Shared Schoolyard program, it's equally meaningful to be able to show off our space to neighbors and other community members," said Spitz. "We like to think of Alvarado as Noe Valley's neighborhood school, so having the yard open on the weekends is another part of that equation.”

With the money from the initiative, Alvarado is planning to make improvements to its upper schoolyard, including the addition of a “large, natural playscape area," Spitz said. 

Given recent concerns in the neighborhood around homelessness, some are concerned about how these newly open public spaces will be monitored. “It’s on the radar screen,” Supervisor Farrell said, explaining that schools work very closely in cooperation with each local police station.

“What we’ve seen over the past four years is that the schoolyards that have opened up have actually become safer environments. When people are climbing over the fences, it breeds a certain type of mentality and behavior,” Farrell noted. “Now, we have communities that are actually embracing these schoolyards and taking ownership over them—we’ve actually had less graffiti, less damage to the schoolyards once they’re opened up. It might sound kind of counterintuitive, but it’s been great awareness, and we obviously hope it continues.”

San Francisco schools participating in the Shared Schoolyards Project.

With schools all over the city participating, “it’s been an incredibly successful program for all the right reasons,” Farrell said. “I’m really excited that now we’re absolutely going to be able to saturate the city with our open schoolyards on the weekends, because it’s such an important part of allowing kids, families, everyone a place to play next door to their houses.”

Sanchez and Alvarado Elementary Schools will host kick-off events at their schoolyards on June 11th and June 18th, respectively. The principals from each school, as well as local firefighters and police officers, are expected to be in attendance. Farrell stressed that these opening events “capture the ethos behind the program, which is getting people out to play.”

“We realize that [community members] share in some of the downsides that come with the proximity to a large elementary school: traffic, parking congestion,” Spitz said. “It's nice to have this [shared schoolyard] as something we can give back’ to the community."

Sanchez Elementary School's kick-off event for the Shared Schoolyard Project will be held tomorrow from 11am-1pm.