We Plan. We Plant. We Educate. We Celebrate.

Cool Schools connect students and teachers to nature by planting trees and creating fun and engaging outdoor experiential learning areas.
These spaces cultivate children’s knowledge and awareness of the natural environment.

Overview

Dallas has one of the most challenging urban climates in the United States and has been ranked 8th by the American Lung Association for the worst air quality in the nation for ozone and non-attainment for the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This air quality situation affects over 89,000 children in Dallas. School campuses in Dallas are some of the hottest and least shaded urban heat islands in North Texas.

We launched this program for the health and well-being of Dallas ISD students and to provide solutions to deal with the effects of the urban heat island effect in the area. Presently, 70% of Dallas area elementary schools have less than seven percent tree canopy, while a minimum of 27% tree canopy is recommended to reduce exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays and air pollution.  Texas Trees Foundation’s State of the Dallas Urban Forest Report confirmed that area school campuses are in dire need of improved tree canopies.

Research shows outdoor time can result in academic and health benefits for children. According to the University of Champaign Urban of Illinois, kids who spend more time outside end up paying more attention inside. Trees and nature lower aggression and symptoms of ADHD and students are better able to concentrate, complete tasks, and follow instructions. Cool Schools promotes hands-on outdoor environmental activities with a TEKS aligned STEM-based curriculum, so no child is left inside!

Framework

  • Establish a Green Team of teachers and staff: This group will lead environmental projects at their schools.
  • Create a landscape plan tailored to each school: Students and teachers contribute their ideas during the design process.
  • Provide educational resources to teachers and students: Texas Trees Foundation leads a curriculum workshop for teachers and presents a tree class to students.
  • Organize Planting Day with students, faculty, volunteers, and partners: From “mulchkins” to 5th graders, everyone participates to plant and mulch the new trees at their school.
  • Monitor and water new trees until established: We care for the new trees until they can care for themselves.
  • Measure short and long-term educational and environmental impacts: We check on participation in the curriculum and record tree growth.
  • Promote Celebration Day: Everyone celebrates their hard work and achievement with an event at the school featuring student activities, art, and music.
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Benefits

Students and Teachers:
  • Resources: STEM-based/TEKS-aligned curriculum, educational resources, and hands-on learning activities provided to engage students in Cool Schools outdoor learning areas.
  • Behavior: Research shows that kids who spend more time outside pay more attention inside. Trees and nature lower aggression and symptoms of ADHD, and children are better able to concentrate, complete tasks, and follow directions.

Findings from a 2019 research review indicate student experiences with nature lead to:

  • Academics: increased retention of subject matter, higher standardized scores, better grades, better math, reading and writing skills, and higher graduation rates.
  • Development: better leadership skills, better communication skills, more resilience, better critical thinking, and problem-solving, and better spatial skills.
School and Community:
  • Cooling: Up to 15°F of cooling on hot summer days. A young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • Energy Savings: Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and can save 20–50% in energy used for heating.
  • Return: The return on investing in trees provides a 3:1 return on investment. For every $1 on tree planting and maintenance, there are ~$5.82 in health, ecosystem, and environmental benefits for the school and surrounding community
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Community Parks

Cool School Community Parks, a growing branch of the Cool Schools Program, alleviates areas within “park deserts.” Park deserts are areas that do not have a park within a 10-minute walk. Cool School Community Parks, thanks to a partnership with the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, and supported by generous sponsors, opens the park to the community during after-school hours.

Most recently, Dan D. Rogers Elementary became a Cool Schools Community Park where staff, volunteers, and parents planted 90 trees, added a 7,000 square feet playground, installed 19 park benches, and created a walking loop path. In addition to Rogers Elementary, S. Conner Elementary School, Tom C. Gooch Elementary School, Tatum Jr. Elementary School and Boude Storey Middle School are also Cool School Community Parks so far.

Bringing schools and neighborhoods together, these Cool School Community Parks will foster a sense of green responsibility to the newly added parks where family and friends can spend their time during the hours that school is not in session.

History and Future

Cool Schools, launched in 2016 with the Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD), started with the first 2 schools where 176 trees were planted. These planted trees yielded a predicted result of $227,290 of costs associated with ecosystem services over a 40-year period including: carbon sequestration, air pollution removal, energy savings, and stormwater savings.

The goal is to enhance the landscapes and outdoor learning opportunities of 150+ elementary school campuses in Dallas ISD and expand the Cool Schools model to surrounding regional school districts and across the state of Texas.

Click here to find more recent coverage of our visits at Cool Schools!