Trust for Public Land, Melrose Leadership Academy Celebrate Opening of New Green Schoolyard

Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) are celebrating the opening of a newly transformed schoolyard at Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland.

The Melrose schoolyard renovation process removed 14,100 square feet of asphalt and replaced it with shade providing trees, native plants that absorb over 61,000 gallons of stormwater and keep kids cool on hot days, and the addition of a multi-purpose turf field. The new schoolyard also features basketball and foursquare courts, where students have space to play with their classmates. Teachers now use the schoolyard to improve environmental literacy with new vegetable gardens and planting areas.

“This new space demonstrates what a renovated schoolyard can be – a welcoming green space for students and families to exercise, play, and connect to nature’s benefits,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, Trust for Public Land’s California State Director and Vice President for the Pacific region. “TPL is proud to have partnered with Oakland Unified School District, Green Schoolyards America, and Growing Together to set the example for more schoolyards to come across Oakland. We also thank the Coastal Conservancy for demonstrating how climate investments can deliver a multitude of benefits.”

This year, TPL was instrumental in OUSD being awarded $5 million to transform two additional schoolyards, Manzanita Community School and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, and a $2.8 million Planning grant for additional schoolyards in partnership with TPL.

“Our partnership with Trust for Public Land is integral to our efforts to transform all play spaces at schools across the District,” said OUSD Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “It is our goal for all OUSD students to have safe, joyful, and sustainable play spaces, and that is exactly what TPL provides. Hundreds of students at Oakland schools have already gotten to play, learn, and be closer to nature on TPL playgrounds, and we are excited for the students at Melrose Leadership Academy, as they get to take full advantage of the new play spaces on their campus.”

“Green schoolyards are truly transformational spaces,” said Amy Hutzel, Executive Officer of the State Coastal Conservancy. “By replacing pavement with trees, plants, and nature-based education and play areas, these schoolyards are improving water quality in the Bay, reducing heat island effects, and creating a series of green spaces and gardens where students and their communities can learn, play, and enjoy nature. We are proud to support these projects that will bring so many ecological benefits and so much joy.”

As a dual-language Spanish and English immersion school, Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland is a vibrant blend of experiences and welcomes students from all cultures, yet its schoolyard was quite the opposite of welcoming.

Oakland’s more than 80 public schools together own more than 400 acres of schoolyards, mostly covered in asphalt with almost no shade, making them dangerously hot in the summer and prone to flooding during rainy winter storms. At the same time, across the city of Oakland, more than 45,000 people don’t have a park or green space within a 10-minute walk of home.

In addition to the public funding, TPL’s private donors contributed support to the critical community organizing, engagement, design planning, and planting of larger trees to provide more immediate shade in high-heat schools, critical funds that state grants do not cover. Public and Private partnerships are how to best deliver environmental justice and nature-based climate solutions to communities that need them most. Those private funders include PG&E, CSAA, the Joseph and Vera Long Foundation, The Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation, the SL Gimbel Foundation, the William G. Irwin Charity Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, and the Maxwell/ Hanrahan Foundation.

The principal, students, a parent’s Green Team, teachers, and community group Growing Together advocated for green schoolyard improvements. There was great interest in the school community in converting the asphalt schoolyard into a more natural space. A parent who was a part of this movement made the connection with TPL which allowed for the first phase of engagement and concept design.

In 2017, OUSD partnered with TPL and Green Schoolyards America to launch a Living Schoolyards Initiative in Oakland to transform asphalt covered playgrounds into vibrant nature-based schoolyards that connect children and their communities to the natural world. Prior to 2017, the Melrose principal, students, teachers, parent’s Green Team, and community group Growing Together advocated for green schoolyard improvements.

“MLA Living Schoolyard represents a rarely seen breakthrough in changing systems, inspired by the goal of connecting urban children with the living world around them – a window of opportunity which was created through the vision and dedication of parents, school leaders, teachers & staff, community-based organizations, district staff, and TPL,” said Grey Kolevzon, Director of Growing Together.

The basketball court was refurbished in partnership with Freestone Capital Management, TPL, and Project Backboard, as part of the Makin’ Hoops program.

Studies show that spending time outdoors in nature can reduce stress, strengthen the ability to concentrate, decrease negative social behaviors, and even improve test scores [Trust for Public Land reports on Oakland and Los Angeles]. Additionally, replacing asphalt with trees, soil, plants, and mulch helps schoolyards reduce air pollution and heat, and by extension improves student health and their ability to learn.

About Trust for Public Land

Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where it is needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 3 million acres of public land, created more than 5,000 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $84 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected more than 9 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit