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Heinrich Introduces Legislation to Help Schools Re-Envision, Build Outdoor Learning Spaces

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Living Schoolyards Act to support schools as they re-envision their outdoor spaces to create more hands-on learning opportunities, strengthen local ecological systems, and give every child a place to learn and play outside.

“Every child in New Mexico deserves an outdoor space that allows them to learn, play, and grow. For many kids, the closest outdoor space is not a national or urban park, but the spaces right outside their classroom doors,” said Heinrich. “With the Living Schoolyards Act, we have an opportunity to reimagine and remake our schools into healthier and greener spaces that introduce more kids to new experiences on their journey to academic success.”

The Living Schoolyards Act would establish an Outdoor Learning Spaces Grants program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, to allow schools or districts to create outdoor classrooms and learning spaces. Schools will be able to use these funds to plant trees to create shade, install canopies, open-sided structures, electricity, generators, furniture, storage, Wi-Fi nodes and charging stations, outdoor food and distribution facilities, gardens, and weather-related clothing.

The Living Schoolyards Act is supported by more than 150 organizations, including Green Schoolyards America, Trust for Public Land, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the National Wildlife Federation.

“America’s public school districts are one of the largest land managers in every community—collectively responsible for the stewardship of an estimated 2 million acres of public land, used by ~49.5 million children every day. Removing asphalt and creating nature-rich school grounds with shade trees is vitally important for children’s wellbeing, learning, and happiness and the ecological health and climate resilience of their communities,” said Sharon Danks, CEO and founder of Green Schoolyards America. “We applaud Senator Heinrich’s leadership on this groundbreaking legislation.”

“Trust for Public Land is grateful for Sen. Heinrich’s ongoing leadership on the Living Schoolyards bill.  50 million students experience the outdoors in schoolyards every day, but far too many experience asphalt, chain link fencing and blight.  This bill ensures that all children, especially those in greatest need, experience vibrant nature, creative play and a thriving learning environment,” said Danielle Denk, Community Schoolyards Initiative Director at Trust for Public Land. “By transforming blank school grounds into Living Community Schoolyards, 80 million people will have access to a park within a ten minute walk.”

“The Living Schoolyards Act will enable schools across the nation to design and implement proven nature-based solutions that have resounding effects on academic performance, social justice, and equitable access to green spaces,” wrote Gregory Miller, PLA, FASLA, of the New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

“The Living Schoolyards Act is a multipurpose policy that improves climate resilience, supports biodiversity, increases educational opportunities, and improves wellness for children as well as for the surrounding community. By creating spaces that inspire and connect children to nature, we can help shape the next generation of environmental leaders to tackle the complex challenges facing our planet. The American Society of Landscape Architects supports the Living Schoolyards Act and urges Congress to pass it,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO, American Society of Landscape Architects.

“The important legislation will support a proven educational approach to strengthening applied science learning, helping students with attention deficit challenges, engaging students in team-based work, learning about the natural world, and supporting student health and wellness,” says Kim Martinez, Vice President for Education and Outreach at the National Wildlife Federation. 


The Living Schoolyards Projects will be designed through a two-step process for school districts to apply for these grants through the U.S. Department of Education:

  • During the planning grant phase, school districts will develop a master plan to turn all or some of their schoolyards into Living Schoolyard Projects. This process must involve community input and factor in ecological goals, educational and health outcomes for students, and relevant community partners.
  • In the implementation phase, school districts will build the Living Schoolyards and offer professional development to educators to help them incorporate the outdoor spaces into their teaching.

Living Schoolyards accomplish a number of important goals, including:

  • Growing healthy foods, trees, and pollinator plants.
  • Conserving water, creating wildlife habitat, and increasing climate resilience.
  • Providing children with opportunities to observe objects found in nature, document season’s changes, and conduct outdoor experiments.
  • Improving mental health and the ability to pay attention for children and adults.
  • Displaying items students find in nature, such as leaves, seeds, and fruits.
  • Creating space for students to prepare skits, plays, murals, drawings, and sculptures that celebrate nature, including its animals, plants, and landscapes.