"Having outdoor spaces, where children and adults can recreate, is important for not only one's physical health or physical activity levels but also for their mental health. From the 10 mile hike and bike trail in the center of Austin, I believe there was a 250% increase in the use of that trail during the covid-19 pandemic because people wanted to get outside. People wanted to break from the mental tax that had been taken on them. We hope being the City of Austin and the research institutes in the area, these green spaces can serve as resources during covid and other future pandemics." - Kevin Lanza
Austin Parks and Recreation Department and UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin have partnered on the Green Schoolyards Project (August 2019–2022) to determine how trees, gardens, and nature trails at three joint-use elementary school parks in Austin, Texas, impact temperatures within parks and physical activity levels of predominantly Latinx children from low-income families; and how these children’s connection to nature relates to their social-emotional learning skills, behavior, and standardized test scores. Having completed data collection, the project team has presented initial findings to key stakeholders by updating website content, providing a one-page overview to the schools and community, giving local presentations, and circulating a memo to the Parks & Recreation Board. Of published results, the maximum heat index across the three study parks ranged from 103.4°F at a playground under the tree canopy to 114.1°F on an unshaded playground in September 2019. Results also showed that 10.8% more girls and 25.4% more boys were observed under the tree canopy in higher temperatures in September than in lower temperatures in November 2019, potentially seeking shade as refuge from the heat. Forthcoming manuscripts include the 1) impact of COVID-19 on children’s use of joint-use school parks; 2) heat-moderating effects of park shade on children’s physical activity; and 3) relation between children’s connection to nature and their social-emotional learning skills, school conduct, and standardized test scores.
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