Mike Moen, Producer
Urban heat islands, made worse by climate change, can push up temperatures and bring on more air pollution in larger cities. Now, a Milwaukee project is giving public schools resources to remove a key source of the heat-trapping effect.
Dozens of public schools in Milwaukee are working with the nonprofit Reflo on swapping out playground asphalt for green infrastructure, including more trees and native plants.
Lisa Neeb, manager of the Green and Healthy Schools Program Manager for Reflo, cited environmental benefits such as reduced stormwater runoff, and giving students more refuge on hot days.
“There’s often not very many areas of shade, if any, on these urban schoolyards,” Neeb pointed out. “There’s not a lot of things to naturally do.”
Beyond providing a better atmosphere for physical activity, Neeb stressed the spaces create opportunities for outdoor learning. The program was recently highlighted by the National Wildlife Federation, which said green schoolyards also are good for pollinators. Organizers help schools secure grants to facilitate the projects, but officials said it is a challenge to secure enough funding to meet demand.
Neeb emphasized her team is working with medical researchers to collect data on how transformed spaces affect student behavior. She explained the pandemic delayed collection of follow-up data from the program but noted anecdotal information from school administrators offered hope.
“Behavior referrals go down, injuries go down, and kids are more productive in their play,” Neeb reported.
Broader research has linked access to green space with positive health benefits, including cognitive development in schoolchildren. Reflo said so far, it has partnered with 41 Milwaukee schools, with half the projects already completed. And Neeb added they have a selection process focusing on equity so disadvantaged schools are not left behind in seeking resources.
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