If you’ve ever used a public school’s playground on the weekend, you already understand what “community use” means. This term is incredibly important when it comes to promoting healthy lifestyles for kids.
In some towns it’s hard for people to find places to be active. Those without cars can’t easily get to a walking path or bike path or a nature trail. Instead they must use what is already nearby.
This is why school parking lots are home to farmers markets and school gymnasiums and playgrounds often are opened for community events.
“Community use” refers to a formal agreement between separate entities, often a school district and a city or county, to share access to one’s property, like a gymnasium or playground.
KC Healthy Kids is currently helping policy makers explore ways to bolster community use, especially in schools, which are considered anchors in their neighborhoods.
The policies “we are working on now highlight how allowing community use of school property is a benefit to community health and school property,” says Leslie Wilson, policy assistant at KC Healthy Kids.
Over the years, many states have required that public schools also be centers that allow for people – children – to play. One state, Alabama, established policies to encourage greater community involvement in the public schools and greater community use of public school in part by assuring “maximum use of public school facilities by the citizens of each community in this state.”
The idea behind this is that even when neighborhoods have faulty sidewalks or abandoned and dangerous properties, schools can provide a safe place to play.
In Kansas City, Border Star and Rosedale are examples of local schools with community use policies.
Border Star Montessori School is home to the Brookside Farmers Market, which is held in the parking lot on Saturdays from mid-April through November. On these mornings local growers and artisans offer their products to people who come to buy fresh produce and local goods.
Also, Border Star’s playground is open to the public outside of school hours. This allows neighborhood kids a place to get out some energy.
Other communities must be creative when it comes to finding places that might serve as a spot for a farmers market or an area that allows people to get in some physical movement.
In Rosedale, in KCK, the farmers market is held at a local bank. Because the suburb doesn’t have a parks and recreation department, this community partnership allows local growers to sell and provide fresh and seasonal vegetables.
The movement to find spots for community use continues to grow statewide.
“We have been working with various partners to make it easier for both community groups and the school districts to engage in a community use partnership,” Wilson says.