36% of Nation’s Public School Students Attending School in a Heat Island

Access to quality schoolyards is more important than ever in face of rising temperatures; importance of outdoor learning during the pandemic

August 26, 2020
San Francisco, CA

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) today released a groundbreaking new report on the importance of green schoolyards for student learning and recreation during the pandemic, and for ensuring communities are resilient in the face of the climate crisis. 

Schoolyards have the power to be both vibrant community parks, while being sites for outdoor learning which public health experts report can be safer than indoor classes during the pandemic.  Just this week Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City’s 1,700 public and private schools, the largest school district in the country, will have the option of using outdoor space for classes.  

“Schoolyards are an untapped resource in ordinary times,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “But especially now during this public health emergency, when communities need park space more than ever and convening indoors puts public health at risk, we owe it to the rising generation to think outside the box of four classroom walls. We urge parents, school administrators, and policy makers to take learning outdoors and reimagine their schoolyards to double as community parks that remain open to the public after school hours.” 

New data released today from The Trust for Public Land reveals that 36 percent of the nation’s 50.8 million public school students attend school in a heat island, which is defined as 1.25 degrees Fahrenheit or more, on average, than the surrounding town or city. Among that group, 4.1 million students go to a school in a severe heat island of 7 degrees or more, while 1.1 million attend school in an extreme heat island of 10 degrees or more. In some communities, the heat anomaly—the difference in average temperature between the schoolyard and the community—exceeds 20 degrees. 

Today’s report also reveals that students in the lowest income bracket attend schools with heat anomalies that are, on average, more than double those of schools serving students in the highest income bracket. And the problem is getting worse: the number of students attending school in heat island of greater than 10 degrees rose from 850,000 in 2013 to 1,119,000 in 2019, a 32% increase.  

"Far too many students struggle to learn when outside temperatures hit high levels, which makes concentrating on their classroom lessons more difficult and can negatively impact their health,” stated John B. King Jr., tenth U.S. Secretary of Education and president and CEO of The Education Trust. “We need to call attention to the correlation between heat islands and our nation’s public schools, as well as the need for all children to have safe places to learn and play as temperatures rise in a changing climate." 

The majority of schoolyards are empty expanses of asphalt, more a parking lot than a green area suited for recreation and learning. Additionally, during this time of public health emergency, when people need access to parks more than ever for exercise, play, and potentially a classroom if and when in-person learning is safe, hundreds of thousands of acres of schoolyards are sitting locked and largely vacant in neighborhoods nationwide.  Opening all public schoolyards to the public during non-school hours would put a park within a 10-minute walk of more than 19.6 million people, including 5.2 million children, who currently lack access. Nationwide, Trust for Public Land data shows that over 100 million people, including 28 million children, do not currently have access to a quality park within a 10-minute walk of home.  

Public schoolyards are a public asset, and schoolyards that double as vibrant community parks should be the national standard—for the benefit of America’s 50.8 million public school students as well as the neighboring communities where they learn and play. That’s why The Trust for Public Land is leading an effort for a one-time federal investment of $500 million for close-to-home parks in any future coronavirus stimulus bill. Funds could preserve up to 100,000 seasonal jobs, provide at least 8,000 new jobs, and renovate more than 500 sites. If all $500 million in stimulus funding went to renovate schoolyards, at an average cost of $700,000, more than 700 schoolyards could be transformed.  

Today’s new report from The Trust for Public Land outlining this data and its implications for communities across the country can be found here: https://www.tpl.org/schools-out-report 

Visualizations of the data and regional or state breakdowns of where schools are located are also available within the report or upon request.  

About The Trust for Public Land 

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org. 

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