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  • Writer's pictureBen Avey

Let's be intentional about community

When you hear the word community, you have an immediate sense of what that means to you. For me, it’s cheering fans under Friday night lights. Its coffee-swilling parents huddled on a dewing Saturday morning soccer field. A barbecue with neighbors, church on Sunday, or a text thread that just won’t stop. It’s people, it’s a place, it’s a feeling we all know and love. Its community.

Schools are at the heart of a community, literally and figuratively. When Sacramento County was subdivided into suburbs, schools were built in the heart of every neighborhood. As a kid, schools are where I found community. My friends and I practically lived at Dewey, Will Rogers, and Del Campo when our parents pushed us outside (can you imagine?!?).

We fielded grounders on the baseball field and ate dirt playing football in Del Campo’s yet-to-be-improved stadium. We rode our bikes or skated the breezeways and played on the playground at Dewey. In the winter, after a big storm, we skimboarded across the flooded grass fields in near-freezing temperatures at Will Rogers. As we got older, we trained on the same gritty fields under the unrelenting summer sun, dreaming of the day when we’d raise a championship banner for our school.

We weren’t alone. If you visited Del Campo’s stadium any evening, you would find a couple dozen people from the neighborhood running the track or shooting hoops on the blacktop. It was such a tradition that when we first built Cougar Canyon in 1995, we poured cement walkways over each dirt berm for people who ran the “hill route” around the track each night. It was open and welcoming to all.

In recent years, as we’ve improved schools and added important layers of security, we’ve cut the community off from these modern-day town squares. If you visit a newly renovated school on a weekend, kids can’t play on the playground or shoot hoops. If you visit a local track on a summer evening, it’s locked up tight. If you do see anyone, they jumped the fence to play – I’ll say that again – they jumped a fence to play. I don’t think it should be that way.

During school hours our schools should be sealed like a drum, ensuring that every student and teacher is safe to learn. Layers of security with a single point of entry and exit for all visitors. That’s a given.

Outside of school hours, playgrounds and fields should be open freely to the community. They should be open and accessible and in fact, we should encourage people to use them. The more the merrier. Space activation is one of the greatest crime deterrents available – that is a fact. Space activation, community, is also good for our soul.

Folsom Cordova Unified School District has already adopted such a policy, stating in part:

“The Board recognizes that schools are an important community resource and encourages community members to make appropriate use of school facilities. School sites that contain outdoor recreational resources may be available to the public for use during non-school hours unless there is a history of vandalism that would necessitate locking gates during non-school hours or as otherwise provided within this policy. As used within this policy, the term "outdoor recreational resources" shall include, but not be limited to athletic fields, ball walls, basketball courts, open fields, picnic tables, playgrounds, and play structures.” (Folsom Cordova Unified School District, Policy 1000: Concepts And Roles)

At my request and with the consent of my colleagues on the San Juan Unified School Board, we have invited our Facilities Committee to research this matter and return with a report. Some of you may have seen a survey they published seeking input.

At the end of the day, it’s about community. We can lament the loss of community and our current political divides, or we can take action to reinvigorate our neighborhoods in our modern-day town square - local schools. Let’s invite neighbors back to the track and kids back to the fields. Let’s bring strollers and parents together on our playgrounds.

Let’s be intentional about community.

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