"Your schoolyard" - a German federal initiative which aims at redesigning schoolyards. Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-School in the German city of Wiesbaden inaugurates its schoolyard of the future.
Silke Wissel und Astrid Hölzer (German Environmental Aid Association - Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.)
Where until now there was only a grey asphalt surface, there is now a diverse mosaic of activity areas, such as a jackstraw made of tree trunks, a tree house and a climbing scaffold all of which invite children to frolicking around and balancing. In addition, the roundabout with several benches and tables offers enough space for get-togethers and games. In addition, various shrubs and trees can be found in between.
The Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn School is located in the midst of a densely built-up city centre section of Wiesbaden. Due to the dominating block development, there are hardly any free open spaces. Thus, the schoolyard of Jahn School is one of the rare play areas of the district and has been opened as a playground for children in the afternoons.
When the schoolyard project was implemented, Jahn School was a three-grade urban primary school with 310 students. Approximately one third of the children stay on the school grounds in the afternoon, some of them even until 5 pm. In addition, inclusive education has been practised since the 2014/15 school year. Due to the extended full-day-programme, besides the implementation of the schoolyard project, part of the school building has also been converted into a canteen and additional childcare rooms.
In the spirit of the Jahn School motto "for each another - with each other" both parents, children and teaching staff are actively working together, from the organisation of festive activities up to renovation work. As far as small-scale maintenance measures are concerned the school usually organises voluntary services, either realised by parents or in the framework of the annual city-wide action week "Wiesbaden commits itself!" Furthermore, the very active friends' association cooperates closely with the school management.
Jahn School also finds it very important to promote the networking within the district. Thus, the school and the friends' association work together with day-care centres and institutions where children do their homework under supervision. They are in contact with the local advisory council and are actively involved in the district conference. In 2016, for the first time the school organised together with other associations and other initiatives the district festival called "My Centre" which took place in the newly designed schoolyard.
The schoolyard of Jahn School
The schoolyard of Jahn School consists of a small interior courtyard of 670 sqm and a larger outdoor yard of 1,760 sqm. Both areas are connected with each other through a broad passageway. In 2011, a big part of the indoor yard could be unsealed and converted into a mini-pitch, which was funded by the German Football Federation. The outdoor yard which is situated between the road and the school building offered neither quality of stay nor appropriate opportunities to play due to its monotonous asphalt surface and its old climbing scaffold. Due to the fact that the number of children increased according to the different whole-day child-care offerings, the deficits of the schoolyard as a recreational and learning room became ever clearer.
Because of the missing structure of the different areas, it was frequently the case that conflicts arose or even accidents happened among the children. Hence an attractive, natural and pedagogically useful playground was requested.
Involvement of the school community in the schoolyard project
It was already in 2007 when the friends' association together with the school management tackled the natural re-design of the school grounds. With the assistance of the research institute for the planning of free open spaces and play areas (German abbreviation FFS) a concept was developed involving both children and teaching staff. In the framework of a project week and school-wide painting competition the children developed some preliminary ideas regarding the design. The results were integrated into the planning process in which parents and teaching staff collaborated closely.
The next step, however, was a bitter setback, because the funding was insufficient which led to the result that the design concept which had been developed with so much commitment could not be implemented. The whole project was thus threatened to fail.
Nevertheless, in September 2014 the association made a second attempt to implement the schoolyard project. Under the leadership of the friends' association and the school management, teams for fundraising and construction planning were formed. In order to ensure appropriate funding in a sustainable way, this time, the Fundraising Team developed a broad and clearly defined financing concept on the basis of which considerable funding amounts were raised while at the same time the students and their families were also involved. More information on this will follow later...
The team in charge of construction planning defined the already existing preliminary design concept with FFS, saw to all necessary agreements with the school authorities, coordinated the construction measures regarding the canteen works, got in contact with the construction companies and organised material supplies.
And then the project implementation could get started. As for the ground preparation and the construction of the atrium heavy work equipment was necessary, this work was done by specialised companies during the summer holidays. Over two working days during an October weekend both children, parents and teachers planted numerous shrubs, perennials and other small woody plants in the outdoor yard. Some of the oak trunks from the Wiesbaden city forest were peeled and combined into jackstraws under the instruction of FFS.
Schoolyard and design concept
The objective of the redesign was to transform the schoolyard into a natural and diverse place to stay at which promotes both the joy of movement and creativity of the children while at the same it provides places to relax. The idea was to create a modifiable room where new ways of learning could be tried out and the cycle of nature could be enjoyed with all senses.
To achieve that, the asphalt of the schoolyard was almost completely removed and substituted by different flooring materials such as bark mulch in the area of the play devices (tree house including hammock swing; tree trunk jackstraws and the old climbing scaffold from the inner courtyard) as well as in the green classroom. Around the outdoor table tennis the floor was paved whereas the bottom area under the seats was equipped with water-bound coverings. Shrubs and trees were planted between them converting the area into small-scale units. And by and by a concrete snake will be converted into a coloured mosaic by the leaving fourth-graders. Only the fire brigade access alongside the building remains sealed in order to guarantee the necessary fire protection.
Financial planning and acquisition of further sponsoring
The Fundraising Team established to implement the schoolyard project worked hard to secure support from companies, foundations, municipal offices and politics but also approached and mobilised the school community as such.
Overall, through the broad-based fundraising-campaign approximately 150,000 euros could be collected within the past two years.
The campaign of the schoolyard sponsorship
As the schoolyard is an important open space of the district, the school decided to search for sponsors in the direct vicinity to gain some local companies for the schoolyard sponsorship. In this context the association developed several sponsorship concepts. The campaign has proven its worth, because in that way they did not only raise funds to support an important project, but were also able to explain what exactly should be done at Jahn School on the basis of the available design concept.
Sponsors and funding pools from other regions
However, the association asked for support far beyond the district borders. Due to their convincing arguments, they were also very successful with the initiative "your schoolyard". In addition, the school managed to raise lottery funds for some of the facilities as well as funds from several important foundations.
The students, too, have been included for funding. All the money collected from school festivals during the funding campaign of the associations was allocated to the implementation of the schoolyard project. This included the international buffets at the school festivals, the raffle during the summer festival of 2015 and two charity races. In July 2016 alone, more than 7,000 euros could be raised.
Due to the considerable renovation backlogs and the extension of urban schools into all-day schools, the city of Wiesbaden had to set different priorities for which reason they initially only approved a grant for unsealing the ground. But later on their support went far beyond the initial commitment. Again and again they financed small furnishing items in the course of the implementation process but above all they helped in the time of need when the construction activities turned out to be more expensive than originally planned because only a few centimetres under the asphalt surface further layers of slag and tar asphalt as well as construction waste reaching deep down to the utility trenches were found. Thankfully the schools department agreed to adapt the amount already granted for disposal costs to avoid running the school into a financial squeeze due to these additional costs.
The green classroom in the interior yard was implemented in July 2016 thanks to the great effort of many volunteer helpers. During the action days of "Wiesbaden commits itself" numerous hard-working helpers could be found among the environmental agency and a market research institute. In addition, they were supported by many students during their school breaks.
Dr Thomas Schäfer, Hess Minister for Financial Affairs and member of the foundation council of "Lebendige Stadt*" Foundation (*living city) says: "I am happy that the Foundation and the German Environmental Organisation decided to integrate the knowledge and expertise gained by the federal initiative "your schoolyard" into the schoolyard design concept of Friedrich-Jahn-School and thus supported the project. A schoolyard should always be inviting and provide the children with enough space for frolicking, playing and relaxing. However, this is all the more important for students of all-day-schools who spend more time in the school grounds. Turnvater Jahn who is the famous name giver of the school has mobilised the Germans to become active, as the entire school did regarding the redesign of the new schoolyard. As in sports, the Jahn School shows what results are possible if different actors jointly pursue a common goal and act together. For me the whole transformation project is exemplary and I hope that many schools will take this project as a role model."
Current schoolyard competition in the City of Thüringen
As the first German federal land, last year Thüringen established its own competition called "10 green schoolyards for Thüringen" with the support of the Thuringian Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Nature Protection. Thus, four so-called implementation schools have currently planned to initiate a participative process regarding the redesign of their schoolyards. In addition, six planning schools – together with their entire school communities - will develop a design concept for natural open spaces and learning places at their schools which can be used for a variety of purposes.
Photo: Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V. (German Environmental Aid Association)
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