by Laura Newman, School Ground Greening Coordinator & Founder

The School Ground Greening Coalition hears this question a lot: What is placemaking? To answer it, let us first ask you: What connects you to your favorite places around Portland? Do you love hunting for veggies at the farmer’s market in Deering Oaks? Picnicking on the Eastern Prom? Playing hide and seek with your kids at Nason’s Corner Park? These are all examples of activities that make a local place important, memorable, and valuable to a community. Placemaking is about connecting people to the open spaces we share and encouraging communities to take charge of these shared spaces. School ground greening is a perfect example of placemaking in action. As a Portland Trails affiliate, the School Ground Greening Coalition (SGGC) is constantly asking – How can we make schools and school grounds more important, memorable, and valuable places for our children and our communities?

Every child has a different, unique, and favorite spot on their playground; they are experts on their school grounds. The SGGC helps students, staff and families become school ground placemakers by engaging them in projects every step of the way: students and families participate in ‘charrettes’ (community-design workshops) and take an active role in the design, planning, fundraising, building, planting, and use and stewardship of their green community spaces.

Last year, we supported projects at 13 Pre-K to high schools in Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth. Working through Site-Based Liaisons– active teachers or parents from the community who led the design/ construction process–we offered mini grants and logistical support as each group designed their own unique school ground project. Over 200 volunteers and 1500 students were involved. Take a look at some of our accomplishments from the year!


Pond Cove Elementary students design natural playscape
Cape Elizabeth parents Amy Zanovello and Erin Taylor jumpstarted their natural playground renovation process by soliciting design drawings from students and planning a charrette with over 60 students, staff, parents and community members.

Dyer students grow their green school ground
The Dyer community has been chipping away at their master plan for the school ground for more than two years. Last year they constructed a walking/ running trail around the perimeter of the playground. This year they installed a slide built into the slope of a hill, surrounded by interesting plants for kids. And for a number of years now, students and staff at Dyer have benefited from the many lessons involved in planting, maintaining and harvesting their school garden. The Dyer project is a great example of schools working in manageable steps in order to keep costs feasible for the school community.

Skillin 5th graders green their school with art

Art teacher, Dorson Plourde, captured the imagination and creativity of his 5th-grade students in an eco-art project at their
school. Students designed and built a bent-willow structure on their school lawnthat could be utilized by all students. Students took turns clipping, weaving,tying, and documenting their creative collaboration process. “It was cool to see the younger kids light up and watch other students figure out oh, we can play with that – the discovery and curiosity,” said Plourde. “If it’s made by students, there is a sense of longevity.”