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Good Conversations, Good Community, Good Water: Big SandBox Lands Knight Grant

A handsome Knight Cities grant is helping The Big Sandbox foster a civic movement around greening Philadelphia’s Schoolyards. 

Big Sandbox Dig Philly Announcement Poster

Our green infrastructure projects are nothing without coordinated partnerships and a healthy dose of organic community input to help them take shape and grow. Now, thanks to a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Knight Cities Challenge grant*, The Big SandBox, one of our green school program partners, will have the means ($149,000 of it!) to make that happen at four Philadelphia schools. The Big Sandbox, a non-profit that “encourage[s] citizens, residents and students to participate in the planning, design and construction of their communities,” does fantastic work. We wholeheartedly congratulate them on receiving this award.

In order to make sure schoolyard improvements reflect the voices of the communities served by these schools, The Big SandBox is using the funds from Knight to launch a grassroots campaign called DIG Philly to create a true civic movement. Their efforts will use digital tools like social media alongside neighborhood organizing to create a consensus around fundraising, design, and construction at the schools as projects take shape over the next several years. DIG Philly was one of 32 projects selected by Knight (along with 6 others from Philadelphia) from a pool of more than 7,000 applicants!

We have to admit, we feel a bit like winners too, since the funding will support projects at four schools that we’re involved with: Horatio B. Hackett School, William D. Kelley, William McKinley and George W. Nebinger schools. All are targeted for renovations and improvements that include innovative green stormwater management as a part of our Green City, Clean Waters program and are aligned with The Big SandBox’s work to make schoolyards dynamic urban meeting spaces. Last year our work transformed an uninviting playground blacktop at Queen Village’s Nebinger School into a water-absorbing green space. The Big SandBox is currently working with community partners and the school to fundraise for additional playground improvements at the site. You’re invited to see and celebrate this transformational project at a special Earth Day ribbon-cutting on April 22.

Working with a partner like The Big SandBox allows Philadelphia Water to be a part of a more holistic change in schoolyards, one that not only helps the environment, but benefits the larger community as well. While public schools represent just two percent of impermeable pavement in the city, targeting them for Green City, Clean Waters improvements can yield an exponential value because of the audience – students and families. Managing stormwater at schoolyards doesn’t just make schools greener, calmer places; it has also been shown to improve student performance. And one of our favorite things about working at schools? These innovative installations provide a built-in educational tool that helps us teach our youngest citizens the importance of the goals central to Green City, Clean Waters. 

For more on The Big SandBox’s DIG Philly effort, visit, follow them on Twitter at @greatbigsandbox or like at 

Knight's community and national initiatives program invests in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. The foundation believes that designing places to achieve these goals is crucial to city success.

Earth Day Ribbon Cutting at Nebinger School

Join Mayor Michael Nutter, US EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, Councilman Mark Squilla, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent, Dr. William R. Hite Jr., Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Executive Director Jennifer Adkins, Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and Public Officials as we celebrate a national model for stormwater management and educational programming at George W. Nebinger School.

US EPA, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, PWD and other public and community partners have teamed up with the School District of Philadelphia on a project where Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) is used as a tool in the classroom, field, and laboratory, serving as a demonstration opportunity for students and the community.

The GSI systems featured at Nebinger include a rain garden, bioswale, a porous play surface, porous pavers, a below-ground basin and a landscaped border. These green tools beautify the space while helping to improve water quality and the health of our rivers. 

Join us!
Date: Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Time: 10:30 AM
Location: George W. Nebinger School, 601 Carpenter St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

To RSVP or for more information, please email or call 215-685-4902 

A Spectacular Green Week for Schools

Last week PWD picked up the pace of the green schools program with three fantastic events!

On Wednesday, judges gathered at the Fairmount Water Works to pick winners from the GreenSTEM Challenge.  Students from three schools: George W. Nebinger, Albert M. Greenfield and Cook-Wissahickon, designed creative containers to hold environmental sensors that measure factors like soil moisture. Judges based their selections on creativity, use of materials and constructability to choose thee winning designs: a sword in the stone, a spider and a futuristic light-up, disco-esk dome. Visit GreenStem Challenge for images of the imaginative designs.

On Thursday, George W. Nebinger School hosted representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and PWD to celebrate the new green school yard. All three agencies helped fund and coordinate the project that removed pavement and replaced it with a rain garden. Music students welcomed the guests with a touching performance of “In the Jungle” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” before a discussion of the site and the Urban Watershed Curriculum.

To top off the week, students from Greenfield Elementary formed a human chain from Center City to the Schuylkill River in celebration of winning the Green Ribbon School Award. Awarded to Greenfield in 2013 by the US Department of Education, this award recognizes the school as a model educational community of green practices. The human chain of 500 people connected the city to the river through the outstretched arms of children, parents, teachers and everyone who took part!

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