Green Schoolyards Project

Banner image for Green Schoolyards Project

Central Texas is known for its warm climate, yet temperatures are reaching dangerous and uncomfortable levels and are disproportionately affecting underserved communities. In response, Austin Parks and Recreation Department and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have partnered on the Green Schoolyards Project (August 2019–2021) to determine how trees, gardens, and nature trails at three joint-use elementary school parks in Austin impact temperatures within parks and physical activity levels of predominantly Latino children from low-income households; and how these children’s connection to nature relates to their social-emotional learning skills, behavior, and standardized test scores.

Project Sites

  • Three joint-use elementary school parks serving similar populations in Austin, Texas, and characterized by different levels of green features (i.e., trees, gardens, and nature trails)
    • Intervention park: added green features
    • Low-green park: low amounts of historical green features
    • High-green park: high amounts of historical green features

Project Period

  • Six weeks (two weeks in September and one week in November each year, 2019–2020)
    • September: historically high temperatures
    • November: historically moderate temperatures

Measurement of Heat

  • Electronic sensors—measuring air temperature and relative humidity—installed at multiple locations within each park

Measurement of Green Features

  • High-resolution aerial imagery processed within geographic information system

Cross-Sectional Study

  • Sample: Target areas (i.e., distinct sites intended for physical activity within each park) (n = ~60)
  • Measurement: System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to measure number of children, their physical activity levels, and their interactions with green features at target areas

Cohort Study

  • Sample: 3rd graders and 4th graders at baseline per school (n = 216)
  • Measurement: GPS devices and accelerometers to measure participants’ location and physical activity levels, respectively, during recess on study days. Annual survey to measure participants’ connection to nature. Annual data request from school district to measure participants’ social-emotional learning skills, number of disciplinary actions or misconduct, and standardized test scores.


Melody Alcazar, MS
Project Director

Kevin Lanza, PhD, MCRP
Principal Investigator

Harold W. (Bill) Kohl III, PhD

Jaime Zaplatosch
Lead for Children & Nature Network

Anne Muller
Lead for Austin Independent School District

Kate Neal
Communication Specialist

Amelia McClellan
Research Assistant II


For more information about this project, please contact:

Kevin Lanza, PhD, MCRP

Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living
1616 Guadalupe Street, Suite 6.300
Austin, Texas 78701

(512) 391-2520

School parks as a community health resource: Use of joint-use parks by children before and during COVID-19 pandemic

(Lanza, K., Durand, C. P., Alcazar, M., Ehlers, S., Zhang, K., & Kohl III, H. W. (2021). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.)