Safer bicycle storage in the schoolyard, renovation of pathways, a trampoline and other outdoor activity opportunities, art to decorate the walls and fences; These were among the ideas presented by Suutarinkylä comprehensive school's pupils in a development plan for the school's vicinity. The aim is to increase the safety of the schoolyard and school zone, and to encourage physical activity.
“We are currently drawing up plans based on these ideas, and the changes will be implemented in the area by early autumn. We will follow up on the effects of the improvements on safety and pupils' mobility with a questionnaire," says project planner Henna Hovi from the Urban Environment Division's traffic and street planning service.
The pupils participated in planning their school environment last autumn by playing the "Koulumatkani" (My Way to School) multimedia game which they co-developed with a service design office. The purpose of the game was to collect information on the pupils' views and proposals regarding developing the school's surroundings. The school will use the collected data to increase pupils' activity during breaks and increase their awareness of school commuting choices.
All grades of the school were involved in the implementation and playing of the game. First, the upper stage students observed the school areas in small groups, considering needs for changes, improvements, or something completely new. They also came up with improvement solutions to the practical problems and, based on them, finally selected tasks to be carried out at given locations with the game platform. After that, the lower stage pupils were allowed to play the game in groups and select their favourite development ideas. The purpose of the game's tasks was to determine which kind of solutions schoolchildren of different grades would like.
In addition, a physical activity questionnaire was implemented in the project and sent out to the pupils' parents. The responses to it will also be utilised in the school environment plan to be drawn up. The questionnaire intended to find out children's methods of school commuting and the related challenges and needs. Crossings of roads and traffic speeds were the most frequently cited issues affecting the safety of school commuting. However, the majority of the respondents considered their child's school commuting and leisure mobility important or very important.
How to create a school environment that encourages safe and active mobility and activity?
The pupils' development ideas acquired through the game were mainly related to nearby pathways, the need for less hectic traffic, storage of bicycles and cycling equipment, physical activity and amusement opportunities in the schoolyard, and the addition of artistic elements to the buildings and fences.
Through traffic calming and a renovation of the nearby pathways, the environment can be made safe for children to move independently on foot and by bicycle. The most important measures to support cycling at the school are improving bicycle parking and a functioning video surveillance system. The existing bicycle stands are partly broken and do not enable locking bicycles from the frame. By supporting cycling, we can increase pupil activity and independent movement, which can be expected to have long-term impacts on mobility choices in the pupils' later lives.
Increased activity opportunities in the schoolyard contribute to children's and young people's activity during breaks and encourage them to be physically active also in their free time. Indeed, the pupils wished for more frisbee golf baskets, football goals, a renovated basketball court, and a sheltered table tennis table. However, the most desired items were so-called low-threshold outdoor activity devices such as trampolines, hammocks, and swings.
The measures to be implemented in the school environment are temporary experiments, not permanent improvements. These lightweight measures are used to improve safety ans to find the most suitable solutions for activating pupils' daily lives. The aim is to develop an operating model which other Helsinki schools can implement a similar project in their environment.
"We will implement temporary improvements in the surroundings of Suutarinkylä comprehensive school, with which we aim to improve the safety of the school zone and encourage children and young people to move more actively in their daily lives. I hope that this experiment gives us more understanding of children's and young people's relation to their immediate surroundings and on ways to more effectively encourage them towards a mobile daily life through listening to their wishes," Henna Hovi says.
Change work based on an international project
Last year, Suutarinkylä comprehensive school was elected as Helsinki's pilot school to join the Partnership for Healthy Cities, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Vital Strategies. its own project, Helsinki wishes to promote the health and welfare of children and young people by making their way to school safer e.g. by improving the conditions of pedestrian and cycling traffic in the schools' surroundings. The project is part of the City's welfare and health promotion.
About The Partnership for Healthy Cities:
The Partnership for Healthy Cities is a prestigious global network of cities committed to saving lives by preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as Vital Strategies, this initiative enables cities around the world to deliver a high-impact policy or programmatic intervention to reduce risk factors in their communities. For more information, visit: https://partnershipforhealthycities.bloomberg.org/