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School playgrounds, fields, and gyms sit unused afterschool and on weekends in Maricopa County, Arizona (30.5% Latino), and across the country, because schools are locked up after classes end.
Access to safe places to play is critical to reduce obesity among Latino kids and families and boost their mental, physical, and emotional health. However, schools close their gates for many reasons such as, concerns about liability, vandalism, and additional staffing and maintenance costs. Noteworthy, Arizona state law protects schools from liability when outdoor facilities are open to the public. Also vandalism decreases with better lighting and when more people utilize the park, and many schools across the country establish partnerships with parks and recreation departments to help with maintenance costs.
A county-wide health initiative through the Maricopa County Public Health Department (MCPHD) aims to open existing school facilities for families to use.
“Schools are an untapped resource for recreational equipment, whether you’re talking playgrounds or open green spaces or tracks, indoor gyms, multipurpose rooms — you name it, they’ve got it,” said Kenneth Steel, a county health-policy analyst leading the playground campaign, known as “shared use” or “joint use.”
In 2014, with funding from the Health Impact Project and the de Beaumont Foundation, Roosevelt Elementary School District conducted the Shared-Use Roosevelt Health Impact Assessment (SHUR) to determine if expanding access to school facilities would affect obesity, diabetes, mental health, stress, violence, and social cohesion. It’s 21 schools serve over 12,000 students (65.4% Latino) and 1,200 employees.
MCPHD awarded grants to Roosevelt and five other elementary school districts in Maricopa County to establish open and shared use agreements, and helps schools identify parents, teachers, and volunteers to start and support pilot programs to open up playgrounds, gyms, and other school facilities after hours. prove future shared-use decision-making and expand community members’ access to District-owned facilities.
Share this with parents, school administrators or others who are interested in expanding open or shared use in schools in their community.