Entitlement to a Safe Environment
Sandra Sessions | May 25, 2016
Boiling Springs Middle School, located in Inman, SC, believes that all people are entitled to a safe and supportive environment. The school is known for being student-centered and inviting. One example of what makes Boiling Springs Middle School such a safe and inviting part of the community is its attitude towards open community use of their outdoor facilities.
Outdoor facilities are open for community use anytime outside of school hours. Those facilities include a track, parking lot loop, sports fields, and green space. Because student safety is the school’s number one priority, use of its outdoor facilities is not allowed by the community during school hours.
The school has noticed that a need in the community has been fulfilled as a result of open community use. The school is seen as a valued part of the community, not only because of its importance as an academic institution, but also because it is a convenient resource for exercising, playing, and socializing. Principal Penelope Atkinson feels like the school belongs to the community, so by allowing open community use, the community has a sense of pride and is invested in the school. She notes that open community use has increased the residents’ familiarity with school her role as principal and other school administrators, which builds a sense of trust. Principal Atkinson says that it is common for parents to bring their child to an after-school event, such as a team practice, and walk the track or play in the green space with other children while waiting. Open community use provides opportunity and convenience for people of all ages to be active.
Similar to other schools, Boiling Springs Middle has encountered some barriers associated with open community use. For example, the maintenance staff’s duties of picking up trash from the outdoor facilities can take time away from some of their other responsibilities. Also, during the winter months, the outdoor facilities are under-utilized, due to lack of lighting. However, Principal Atkinson mentions that there have been no issues with vandalism, a common concern of open community use.
Principal Atkinson offers suggestions to other schools that might be considering open community use.
- Before implementing open community use, ensure that the community will use the facilities. Methods as simple as surveys and advertisements may be helpful in assuring that the community has a need and desire for open community use.
- Clearly communicate to the community regarding hours of use, trash disposal, and pet policy.
- Be open to suggestions and input from those who will be using the space.
Based on her experience with open community use at Boiling Springs Middle School, Principal Atkinson concludes that issues are very minimal compared to the benefits and positive outcomes for the community and school. For this reason, she said that principals should see this as a positive opportunity for their schools instead of a burden.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is encouraging schools and districts to expand open community use statewide. Healthy Eating/Active Living coordinators from DHEC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity are providing assistance and guidance in an effort to convince schools across South Carolina to make their outdoor facilities available for public use to promote physical activity, healthy lifestyles and stronger communities.