Each of our lived-experiences is different, strongly determined by social class, race, gender, and geography, and our lived-in spaces become the canvas on which we play out our life stories. As Winston Churchill noted: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us” We construct our own meanings in those material spaces and they become our places, and our own actions and experiences within that world play an interactive role in shaping not only our actions, but also our responses or feelings about them (Rock, 2001). Space and place matter in shaping who we are and how we feel about ourselves.

I noticed that my children’s experiences and environments differed greatly depending on where and with whom they went to school. Schools, embedded into the social fabric of communities, are central to many of our own stories of childhood. School buildings and grounds are material embodiments of a community’s values and goals for the children who go there; they are essential and tangible representations of policy decisions, at their intersection with children’s daily lives. Schools are real spaces, and become embedded with meanings for those who encounter them in the myriad of ways that school integrates into human lives. They are workspaces for some, political spaces for others. They are neighborhood spaces, creative spaces, learning spaces; they can be safe havens, or spaces of shame or pain. They are the spaces where children go to work and play for the majority of their waking hours after age 5 or so. Each child’s lived experiences are different, and individual meanings are constructed within those contexts.

My research investigates ways that schoolyards and their communities can act as material evidence of the effects of constraints and possibilities in the built environment. I am using photographs and rephotography of playground spaces, school buildings and grounds, and adjacent neighborhoods at four elementary schools in Tempe, Arizona, to look at how built environments reflect demographic and social differences within that city. In addition, I am drawing on a variety of maps, as well as historical archives and aerial images, as alternative visual representations of demographic and other characteristics of these schools and communities. I am especially excited about possibilities for mapping and location-based information to be used in community-based approaches to planning discussions and decision making through GIS and Public Participatory GIS (PPGIS), which, to date, have seen little application within educational policy research.

The goal of this study is to look into children's worlds at their intersections with various socio-political communities woven into and through schooling, for evidence of ways that schools act as the embodiment of a community’s values and resource-allocation decisions. By focusing on materialities of schooling - where bodies are schooled - for the evidence of constraints and possibilities embedded in those intersecting environments outside the school walls, I hope to inform policy research by identifying meaningful relationships between elements in local material culture and connecting patterns of evidence that tell a compelling story about the “place” called School.

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