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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion through Schoolyard Improvements

By Ruth Pimentel, Park Pride’s Project Manager for Atlanta Community Schoolyards

Second grade students at Sarah Smith Elementary School’s Primary Campus have been working hard over the past year. Partnering with professional landscape architects at Park Pride and The Trust for Public Land, these young creatives have collaborated on a design process to create a mural that reflects and celebrates the school’s diversity and to select new site amenities that will be enjoyed by the surrounding community.

Sarah Smith Elementary is part of the Atlanta Community Schoolyards initiative, a project of Atlanta Public Schools, The Trust for Public Land, Park Pride, and the Urban Land Institute to improve outdoor space on school campuses and then open that greenspace for neighbors’ use when school is not in session. Creatively repurposing school grounds as public parks on the weekends and over the summer can add much needed park space in neighborhoods like North Buckhead, where many people live more than a 10-minute walk away from the nearest public greenspace.

The final mural design for the Sarah Smith Elementary basketball court celebrates
themes of diversity and culture.

Sarah Smith Elementary has the highest proportion of English language learners in the Atlanta Public Schools and serves students whose families come from Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, the Philippines, and more. In October, students and community members collaborated with local artist and muralist Muhammad Suber to design and paint a mural on the basketball court that celebrates the themes of diversity and culture. The mural, which depicts cultural landmarks and traditional housing from around the world, reflects the school’s diverse student body and its International Baccalaureate curriculum, and was funded through the generosity of the Belonging Begins With Us national campaign, a partnership of the American Immigration Council and the US Ad Council. The basketball court is no longer just a basketball court; it serves double duty as it recognizes and affirms the identities and backgrounds of numerous students that attend the school. It says, “You are welcome here.” 

Park Pride and our Atlanta Community Schoolyard partners believe that everyone should have a welcoming, safe, and accessible greenspace within a 10-minute walk of home. Creatively rethinking how existing schoolyard and park amenities can be improved to serve Atlanta’s increasingly diverse population is key to fulfilling our vision.

Artist InUs muralist, Muhammad Suber (right) and Christopher Rice (left), videographer.

In addition to the beautiful new mural, improvements to the Sarah Smith campus include new play equipment—two climbing structures and some fixed musical instruments—on a soft, mulched surface, new benches, and waste receptacles. Sarah Smith Elementary is in the second cohort of 10 schools throughout the city to participate in this pilot effort, which the Atlanta Community Schoolyards team hopes will eventually shift district policy towards open, community schoolyards systemwide. There are completed community schoolyards at Dobbs Elementary and Kimberly Elementary, with other sites under construction or mid-design process at Centennial Academy, Continental Colony Elementary, Harper-Archer Elementary, Miles Elementary, Price Middle School, Scott Elementary, and Toomer Elementary.

Learn more about the Atlanta Community Schoolyards Initiative: https://parkpride.org/what-we-do/atlanta-community-schoolyards/


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