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Maintenance & Operations

The Power of the Partnership

Sometimes, partnerships happen where we least expect them. Take a trip with me to Compton, an urban city in Southern California, where the population is about 98,000 and is home to a mixed population of Latinos, African-Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders. It was in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook where an unlikely partnership occurred that would benefit the school and the community.

The L.A. County Department of Public Works had been very successful in applying for several urban greening grants offered through the State of California’s Strategic Growth Council within school districts throughout the County of Los Angeles. Vanguard Learning Center was one of those schools that had been awarded a $75,000 urban greening grant, for a community garden and a walking/jogging path to be built on the school grounds.

The partnership between the school district and the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works was a pleasant surprise to the principal who states, “I am excited about the garden for our students, we can connect science concepts learned inside the classroom and apply them outside using the garden.” In the agreement, the Public Works Dept. agreed to maintain the garden for 10 years and the school district stated they would work with a local community-based organization to take over the maintenance after the 10-year period has expired. This agreement transformed an underutilized parcel of land and repurposed it for the community and students. Now that’s the power of partnerships.

The National School Plant Management Association and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership (National Partnership) are working together to create healthier school environments by increasing physical activity opportunities through shared use of school facilities. Through the National Partnership’s collaboration with Voices for Healthy Kids on Active Places, the National School Plant Management Association leadership is actively engaged in increasing access to parks, playgrounds, school gyms, walking paths and other opportunities to be physically active.

Voices for Healthy Kids, an advocacy collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, is giving voice to people and community groups to advocate for policy changes that help children and adolescents eat healthier foods and be more active.

Just as in Compton, opening up school facilities or school grounds to the community through a shared-use agreement can help improve the community’s built environment and public health. Making use of school facilities that would otherwise not be used after school hours allows for a more efficient use of public space and money, and is a proven strategy against childhood obesity.

Dennis Randolph, executive director of the National School Plant Management Association, is now engaged with the first ever National Shared Use Task Force. The task force is bringing together new stakeholders and partners that have not had an opportunity to work together. “We all have a role to play when it comes to the health of our children and the school maintenance and operations knowledge I can share is important for the task force and the insights I can bring back to our members about advancing effective shared use agreement will help schools across the country.”

Shared use practices support a growing mantra that active children learn better. We all have a role to play in ensuring that all children are healthy and equipped to be the best learners. This comes from expanding our partnerships and realizing the power of partnerships. Schools and communities working to implement shared use may face a variety of challenges, such as maintenance and operations issues. By sharing these costs and responsibilities, collaborations like that in Compton can bear fruit. The National School Plant Management Association brings valuable expertise and understanding of school maintenance and operations issues to the National Shared Use Task Force as we collectively work to promote shared use practices in schools across the country. The strength of the National School Plant Management Association’s membership will serve as a great resource as we are championing this practice.

Together the members of the National Shared Use Task Force serve as ambassadors to elevate the practice of shared use at the state and local levels working to build more awareness about the important of shared use agreements as a means to increase physical activity, particularly in under resources communities.

We look forward to sharing exciting resources to support shared use and highlighting success stories that continue to cultivate new and innovative partnerships. For more about shared use, contact Mikaela@saferoutespartnership.org.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mikaela Randolph is the Safe Routes to School National Partnership Shared Use campaign manager. She can be reached at Mikaela@saferoutespartnership.org.

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