Collaborative for Healthy and Inclusive Learning Environments (CHILE)

Re-designing schools for health, equity, and resilience

A majority of today’s public-school students deal with layered crises of poverty and trauma, fear of school shootings or neighborhood violence, a genuine concern for the future of their planet … and for the systemic inequities that plague our systems, including education. Now we add a global pandemic that has deepened these inequities. Education experts suggest treating all students with care – knowing that the likelihood is that they struggle from adversity. 

Fifty years of research shows that viewing and being in nature calms our breath, reduces our heart rates, stress, and anxiety, and brings communities together. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan developed their Attention Restoration Theory to explain the restful, restorative qualities of views and access to nature. Drs. William Sullivan, Frances Kuo, Andrea Faber-Taylor, and Dongying Li have published many studies quantifying the benefits of trees in and around the school campus, and views to trees from big classroom windows. E.O. Wilson’s theory of biophilia informs a biophilic architectural design movement. Neuroscience research connecting nature-filled environments with mental and physical health catalyzed the well-building and therapeutic landscapes movements. As we strive to rectify systemic injustices in community planning and school design, we can leverage this research to design healthier campuses by working with the students and communities they serve. CHILE (rhymes with "while") aims to catalyze a movement of healthy and inclusive learning environments and community spaces to improve public health, equity, and climate-resilience.

We can develop school systems and spaces that support mental health and counseling programs, contribute to the curriculum such as science and health standards, contribute and support restorative justice programs, and boost attendance and enrollment. We can apply community-led, nature-based solutions to design school environments that boost the immune system, improve academic outcomes, help heal trauma, reduce stress and anxiety, increase a sense of safety, and improve environmental and human health, equity, and climate resilience. 

Schools, districts, and institutions around the country — K-12, colleges and universities, prisons — need support re-imagining campus environments through inclusive and collaborative planning processes and evidence-based design. College and university faculty and programs working to innovate education, public health, architecture, social justice, and climate-resilient infrastructural systems are in ideal positions to work with communities in participatory processes to help them reimagine learning and community environments. Many are already doing this work. CHILE brings thought leaders together to amplify each other’s work and support and train youth and community leaders in historically marginalized neighborhoods to lead community engagement and transformation.