SCHOOL'S MASTER PLAN VISION // To establish a healthier and more vibrant outdoor education experience at Emlen Elementary through innovative design while strengthening the school’s connection to the community of Mount Airy.

To view the master plan click here

PROJECT SUPPORT //  The Big SandBox (TBS) is proud to support Emlen, its parents, students, staff and community as they reimagine their schoolyard.  Special thanks to the students of Iowa State University and Professor Bambi Yost, Land Health Institute, and Mt Airy USA. The Mt Airy Schools Coalition is part of the TBS #DIGPhilly campaign. #DIGPhilly is a 2015 winner of the Knight Cities Challenge, which seeks ideas to make cities more successful by helping them keep and attract talent, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of civic engagement.

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit Knight Foundation




The Eleanor C. Emlen School is located in the Mt. Airy neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia. The school is bounded by E. Sharpnack Street to the West, E. Upsal Street to the East, and Chew Avenue to the South.


The Big SandBox, Iowa State University and Mt Airy U.S.A. have partnered with six schools that comprise the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition: AB Day, Emlen, Henry, Houston, Jenks, and Lingelbach schools.  Each school is being provided a master plan,  a written report and set of schematic drawings that set forth the structure for future campus improvements.  Through these master plans, each school has articulated a vision that speaks to the desires of the school and surrounding community.


The second largest land holding in Philadelphia is a patchwork of weeds, crumbling concrete walks, and lonely basketball hoops astride a sea of cracked asphalt. City schoolyards—and their visual cues—reflect harshly on the personal character of their communities.


In an era of failing schools, economic injustice, poor childhood nutrition, and a national deficiency in environmental education, schoolyards can reverse economic decline, catalyze a neighborhood, and reinvigorate a city. Only two other cities in the United States have managed to fully rebuild their elementary schoolyards: Denver and Boston. Neither did so with an eye toward green infrastructure, Philadelphia will be first to transform schoolyards into multiple-use facilities that have such versatile and exponential impacts on neighborhoods and communities.