McCracken Middle School: Safe Access for the Community
Sandra Sessions | May 25, 2016
McCracken Middle School, located in District 7 of Spartanburg County, is a school that firmly believes in community involvement and limitless opportunities for every child. One of the many things that make this school such a welcoming and essential part of the community is that McCracken Middle practices open community use, which allows members of the community safe access to the outdoor facilities on campus.
The people of Spartanburg have access to the track, basketball courts, sidewalks, tennis courts, and other blacktop areas during the open community use hours. Members of the community walk the sidewalk in front of the school throughout the day. McCracken Middle School has made a simple agreement with the City of Spartanburg, which makes this movement possible. The school unlocks the gate on school days, and the city closes it in the evenings. The city is responsible for providing access on weekends, holidays, and during the summer. These joint efforts ensure that the residents of Spartanburg can use the school grounds and play equipment at their convenience.
The results of this movement demonstrate that members of the community are becoming more active and more social. Walking groups and friendships are established among frequent visitors, along with a sense of caring and pride in the community. Principal Margaret Peach sees this as an opportunity to invite the community to see the splendor of McCracken Middle, and to build relationships with people who might not have children enrolled in the school. Open community use welcomes the public to be a part of the community. Principal Peach notes that open community use is very important to the area because of the loss of open space as a result of the decreasing size of home lots and an increasing number of students living in apartments. The school campus is a valuable resource for physical activity because it is central to the community, accessible, safe and free.
Trash accumulation and vandalism are common concerns associated with open community use. However, Principal Peach has noticed the opposite occurring. The public’s growing sense of community from participation in open community use has prompted residents to take greater responsibility in picking up trash left behind by others. Also, the Environmental Science class at McCracken Middle takes time during class hours to pick up trash. Even with the increased use of the school grounds, vandalism has not been an issue.
The school has also instituted a “no pet” policy, including signage that clearly states the policy to avoid animal waste and other problems that might occur. Like any successful policy, teamwork is a crucial component that is necessary to continue the success of open community use. All staff members are involved in the process, from the school district superintendent and principal to the district safety coordinator and maintenance staff. Open community use has undoubtedly been a benefit to McCracken Middle School, as well as the entire local community.
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.