Valley Voices

Genoveva Islas: Open Fresno schools after hours and let the children play

In 2007, the Fresno City Council authorized $2 million to be allocated to the Fresno Unified School District with the intent of improving facilities in five high schools. The improvements called for lights and seating around tracks, and for portions of tracks to become all-weather.

Within this agreement, the school district committed to make its tracks and athletic fields available to the general public daily from dawn to dusk. While the improvements have been completed, the school district has not made the facilities available to the public after school hours as stated in the agreement.

We know that neighborhoods south of Shaw Avenue lack access to safe spaces for children to play. This is a huge factor in the growing rates of obesity here and throughout the San Joaquin Valley. A recent study by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute revealed an obesity rate in Fresno County that is much higher than the statewide average – 65 percent of adults 18-64 versus 56.2 percent statewide. This also means disturbing rates of childhood and adult diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other obesity-related illnesses.

According to the city of Fresno’s general plan, which calls for 5 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents, the city supports providing park space for all residents and understands that in order to meet the plan’s goals, the best solution is to open school gates after hours. But many school gates in south Fresno are still locked.

Kids just want safe places to play and south Fresno residents deserve equal access to park space that other communities have. We elect leaders to improve our community. What is stopping the school district and the city from coordinating shared-space policies and honoring the commitment made in the $2 million agreement?

Latinos make up the majority of south Fresno, and in the last decade obesity has doubled among Latino children. Shared space would give families the tools to make healthy changes that will help their kids live long, healthy lives. Should our children’s health be compromised because of bureaucracy?

By now, we all know that Fresno is last in the nation when it comes to parks, and the bottom line is simple: there isn’t enough space, and there aren’t enough services.

We have a parks crisis in our city, and it wasn’t that long ago when Fresno Unified kept schools open well after the last bell rang and during the summer months. Other local school districts have opened their grounds because they recognize that parks and green space create healthy neighborhoods, and when our neighborhoods are healthy, it helps our children stay healthy.

Fresno Unified operates 95 schools. If half of the schools in south Fresno opened their gates to the community, the impact would be tremendous. Fresno Unified needs to open the gates to our schools and let our children play now.

School board members and City Council members should work in partnership to make this happen immediately while they work on updating the parks master plan.

It’s time for Fresno Unified and the city to open the gates to a healthier life for our children.

Genoveva Islas is program director for Cultiva La Salud, Fresno.