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How Local Governments and Schools Combine Forces on GOCO's School Yard Initiative

Thursday, July 6, 2017 -- GOCO

As younger generations become increasingly over-screened on technology and over-structured in their daily lives, it is more important now than ever to inspire active physical play and outdoor learning by providing quality parks for our youth.

GOCO’s School Yard Initiative (SYI) funds outdoor projects on school grounds, from gardens and outdoor classrooms to playgrounds with traditional and nature play elements. Each school partners up and applies for a grant with its local government, such as its town, city, or county, to create and enhance outdoor spaces for its students and for the public to enjoy during non-school hours.

This initiative prioritizes projects that benefit underserved youth and families that otherwise may not have access to quality parks. Students are involved in the design process to ensure the end result is just what they need. To date, the SYI has awarded funding to 35 schools across the state, benefiting over 18,000 students in Colorado. 

Would your school or a school in your area benefit from a School Yard Initiative grant? If you or someone you know might be interested in applying, please read and share this article.

We spoke with Traci Wieland, Recreation Superintendent at the City of Grand Junction to gain insight into a local government’s experience in the SYI grant application process. Traci worked directly with Orchard Avenue Elementary School in Grand Junction, which received a $110,000 grant in March of this year from GOCO to build a brand-new playground. While Traci has worked on several GOCO-funded projects through our local parks and outdoor recreation grant program, Orchard Avenue was her first SYI grant. Here’s her take.

How is working on a school grant different from a regular local government grant from GOCO?

The main difference is that I felt I was in a support role with the school rather than a lead role. I mainly helped with the nuts and bolts of the grant application. For example, how the budget form should look, the paperwork components, making sure the resolution was in place, getting started on the IGA [intergovernmental agreement], and other technical pieces. The principal of the school led the charge with the kids, who were leading the design process.

Given your current workload, was it difficult to fit in the time to partner with Orchard Avenue?

It wasn't difficult because the principal was a phenomenal planner. She first contacted us in the spring of 2016, and we ended up working together for about nine months. It wasn’t something that was thrown together in the last minute. Had it been thrown together, it would have been a time crunch. We started contacting our attorneys and everyone else early in the process to let them know what’s going on. That way, if we got funded, they knew about it and it wasn’t a surprise.

I was approached by another middle school that received an email about the grant a month before the application was due. I told them that if they wanted to put together a solid application and get funded, then they can’t do this in a month. If you place appropriate planning parameters and a timeframe everyone agrees to, you’ll be fine. It won’t be a huge strain on anybody.

Do you have any advice for local governments that are going through the GOCO grant process for the first time?

First and foremost, talk to the staff at GOCO because they are absolutely willing to help out with anything. They can help mold responsibilities, tell you how to fill out a budget form, provide feedback on a draft of an application, and everything else. GOCO will help you along the way. You just need to reach out and ask. I think that a lot of people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. They won’t ask for help because they believe GOCO will think they don’t know what they’re doing and not award them the grant. That’s not the case.

The second piece of advice is to get with another municipality or local government agency that has worked with GOCO before. Ask them how they do things, ask for samples, and ask for feedback. Talk to the people close to you [geographically] to get a good idea of what the process looks like.

Were you ever worried at first about the project? Did you feel comfortable that it was something you could do?

[Orchard Avenue’s] principal, Vicki, made me feel very comfortable. She was very diligent, timely, responsive, and showed a lot of great care. She completely understood that this was a youth-driven process not meant to be thrown together at the last minute. She already had the youth involved in other capacities, and this fit in with the projects they work on.

She also had a great support system for not only school yards, but for neighborhoods that may be able to utilize the playground. It’s not just about the school, but also the after-hours play and turning it into a community playground. That’s why a local government needs to keep their options open and about the big picture. It’s going to have benefits for the government agency as well as the school. It’s just a very good partnership.

A final note from GOCO staff

As Traci stated, please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you have about School Yard Initiative. We are happy to answer questions and provide insight to help you create a successful project for your community.

Work for a school? See our interview with Orchard Avenue's principal, Vicki Woods, for her perspective. Find additional SYI information and resources here. Examples of past successful GOCO School Yard Initiative grants can be found here

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