Julia, Nuppu and Luukas got to paint marine-themed characters in the lower comprehensive school yard. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Paintings, greenery and safe trips to and from school - Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School students were excited to improve their surroundings

A new pilot project improved the safety of trips to and from school for the students of Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School. Enhanced safety combined with a transformed yard area inspired more activity among students.

- Poseidon is here, did you notice? There is a nice perspective involved in this painting.

Sculptor and handicraft activist Maria Mastola presents a drawing on the asphalt yard of Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School. The asphalt and the wall bordering it have come to life after the school’s students painted them- inspired by the sea.

The theme of the schoolchildren’s paintings, bestowed by Mastola, was an octopus garden. She guided students from the lower stage of the comprehensive school, as well as upper stage students a couple of blocks away, in transforming their own surroundings.

Maria Mastola directed the students' paintings at Suutarinkylä Lower and Upper Comprehensive School. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

The students have been involved in improving the safety and atmosphere of their school zone. Initially, they identified which areas needed changes or improvements. After this, they considered how the areas could be improved in practice.

The Koulumatkani (“My trip to and from school”) multimedia game guided the planning phase.

The ideas have since become reality. The environment has not just gained lovely paintings. The road leading to the lower stage comprehensive school, Töyrynummentie, has been transformed into a safer living street of "woonerf" by lowering speeds by narrowing the street with street furniture. The street area is also more inviting, now featuring wooden modules from the Finnish Parkly company, along with plantings.

When the Kasarmintori terrace in the city centre was closed, the wooden “islets” adorning its street section were reused in the yards of Suutarinkylä Lower and Upper Comprehensive School, as well as on roadsides in the school zone.

In addition to greenery, the city of Helsinki’s gardeners planted apple trees in Suutarinkylä, among other flora.

The intention is that students will be able to plant herbs or other edible plants alongside the trees in the future.

New enthusiasm for yard games

In the Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School project, attention has been paid not only to safety and comfort, but also to increasing the active mobility of children and young people.

Monitoring the schoolchildren during their breaks has verified this objective. The islets have been incorporated into yard games, as they can be used in climbing and jumping competitions.

New bike racks are also in extensive use. In front of the lower comprehensive school, it is endearing to see the small bikes of the children of the neighbouring daycare centre are also now locked to the new racks.

The lower comprehensive school children also enjoy the school yard on weekends. The tentacles of octopuses drawn on the asphalt become routes for cyclists to ride along to improve their balancing.

Students at the school, Luukas, Nuppu and Julia, are happy to show which fish, corals and sea plants they have painted.

Luukas says that when he was painting the crocodile, he also got green paint on his jeans. Such happens in the arts!

Diana thinks there is power in childhood fairy tales that can help tame the feeling of chaos.

More daily exercise

Stina Högnabba, the city's well-being and health promotion coordinator, says that Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School is involved in the Partnership for Healthy Cities global network. Support from the network has been used for improving the surrounding area.

The main theme in Suutarinkylä has been a safe and active trip to and from school.

In addition to the students and school staff, parents were also consulted in the project planning.

The City of Helsinki’s traffic and landscape planning professionals were brought in to improve the environment, and, together, the most effective interventions were identified. An Urban Environment Plan was drawn up for implementation under the guidance of the City of Helsinki.

The broader aim for the future is for children and young people to be able to move more actively and independently in their immediate area. It is possible to add movement to the schooldays during breaks when the environment is inspirational. Because the transformation was designed by the students themselves, they feel a personal connection and are inspired to be more active.

Stina Högnabba and Henna Hovi say that in Suutarinkylä they wanted to make the pupils' school trips safer, but, at the same time, look for ways to increase their daily mobility. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Safety in the midst of chaos

The milieu has also changed in the upper comprehensive school yard. Mastola, who directed the painting, here defined a theme of “chaos” and introduced the students to painting techniques, including the use of water balloons.

Visual arts teacher Hanna Salovuori says that the students were encouraged to work on their own ideas within the topic of chaos and using the action painting technique.

- It was interesting to follow the students' reactions to the experimental way of working, she says.

The painted stone fence stands out, doubling as a safety measure. Diana, one of the painters, shows off her work. She painted a tree branch with Mary Poppins atop it. The fairy tale character represents childhood, which, in turn, represents safety.

The upper comprehensive school yard also features wooden islets. An apple tree and cherry tree are still waiting to be accompanied by gardening by the students themselves.

Bicycle racks are also used extensively on the upper stage comprehensive school side.

Hanna Salovuori and Maria Mastola say that, in connection with the paintings, the upper comprehensive school students are considering how to overcome chaos. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

Pilot support for other schools?

Project planner Henna Hovi from the Urban Environment Division says that the Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School project is strongly related to the development of sustainable mobility, especially walking and cycling. It has also received funding from the City of Helsinki’s Traffic and Street Planning budget.

The purpose of the pilot is to gather experiences and consider whether they can be adapted in other schools.

In the future, elsewhere in the city, the safety of school trips and the daily mobility of students could be increased through collaborative planning and implementation.

There is an international project in the background

Suutarinkylä Comprehensive School was chosen as Helsinki’s pilot school to participate in the Partnership for Healthy Cities project. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Partnership for Healthy Cities network includes 70 cities around the world. It is a collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and with the public health organisation Vital Strategies.

The cities of the network have committed themselves to preventing non-communicable diseases and injuries through high-impact policy or programmatic interventions.

In its own project, Helsinki wishes to promote the health and welfare of children and young people by making their routes to school safer, e.g. by improving the conditions of pedestrian and cycling traffic in the school surroundings. The project is part of the City of Helsinki’s promotion of well-being and health.

The Partnership for Healthy Cities is a global network of cities to which Helsinki has been invited. The aim of the network is to prevent non-communicable diseases (public health diseases) and injuries through proven interventions. The network is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and its partners are the World Health Organization WHO and Vital Strategies.

Text: Kirsi Riipinen

Read more: Pupils involved in the planning of active and safe school commuting – ideas collected through environment game, to be implemented from summer