National Expansion of Playworks

Dates of Program: November 2005 through June 2015

A group of students engage in an outdoor activity.

Jill Vialet

My future idea is that one day every kid in America gets to play every day.

Jill Vialet, Playworks CEO and Founder

Description: Starting in 1996 in two schools in Berkeley, Calif.,Playworks expanded to schools in San Francisco (2003) and then, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), to Baltimore in 2005 and to Boston and Washington, D.C., in 2006. With ongoing RWJF support, Playworks has continued to expand its direct service model that includes a dedicated full-time coach who organizes recess, class game time, sports leagues, before and after-school programs, and a junior coach program. Playworks has also developed training programs. Researchers at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Stanford University have conducted an RWJF-funded randomized, controlled trial of Playworks.

“The approach to play at a school is inclusive and focused on every kid. Our theory is that the influence of play only works if you make it available to everyone all at once.”
– President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Cushing

Key Results

  • The evaluation of Playworks found the following key effects:

    • Less bullying
    • Increased feeling of safety at school
    • More vigorous physical activity
    • Enhanced readiness to learn
  • Playworks has grown to a national organization that during the 2013–2014 school year directly serves 188,571 students in 374 schools in 23 cities across the United States and serves another 182,771 students and 652 schools or organizations through its training programs.

  • Playworks has successfully evolved from a small nonprofit agency serving two California cities to a national organization with 570 employees scattered throughout the country.

  • Playworks has drawn the attention of a long list of local and national funders. While many are charitable foundations, corporate funders are also providing ongoing support.

  • The comprehensive and pervasive attention to the role of communications has been a key contributor to Playworks’ successful expansion nationwide. This effort has included a name change, multiple communications products and activities, and the building of Playworks’ internal communications capacity.

A story about a Playworks school in Pennsylvania, Playworks at the Robert Morris School, Philadelphia, is included at the end of the progress report.

Most significant, says RWJF Senior Adviser for Program Development Nancy Barrand, was a reduction in incidences of bullying. “It became the first evidence-based intervention for reducing bullying.”

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Playworks results: less bullying, feeling safe at school, vigorous activity, & enhanced readiness to learn.

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Playworks directly serves 188,571 students in 374 schools & 182,771 students and 652 schools thru training.