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Dr. Kate Varey Successfully Defends Dissertation

On behalf of the joint Erikson-Loyola Doctoral Program in Child Development, please join committee Chair Dr. Amanda Moreno and the entire community in congratulating Dr. Kate Varey on the successful defense of her doctoral dissertation entitled, “A Descriptive Exploration of Quality and Opportunities in Outdoor Urban Play Spaces: The Case of Chicago Public Schools.

Dr. Varey presented her work in a hybrid format, which was well attended both in person and via Zoom. Her study employed mixed methods to select and describe a representative group of 60 schools’ playgrounds, surrounding campus areas, and neighborhoods in terms of the environmental affordances offered to children via both green and built spaces.

Dr. Varey conducted 120+ visits to these schools and their immediate neighborhoods to perform rare, on-the-ground assessments of qualities and opportunities available in children’s outdoor play spaces, vs. the more common “at-a-distance” techniques (e.g., Google Earth) that tend to examine proportion of green space only. She found that CPS play spaces were of slightly less than average quality overall (example themes she uncovered included “collective wear and tear” and “lack of dynamism”), and statistically significantly lower than other big cities (e.g., Vancouver).

However, there were many bright spots as well. For example, her GIS mapping methodology helped illustrate that the quality of playgrounds was more evenly distributed across Chicago than one might have expected due to our city’s history of segregation and environmental racism. This was due, in large part, to the efforts of local champions in schools and communities. She also conducted a deep analysis of environmental affordances available to children both on school grounds (e.g., campus gardens) and within walking distance (e.g., city parks), and demonstrated that even the schools with the lowest play space quality had several low-cost, low-burden opportunities available for improving children’s experiences outdoors.

The Q&A period immediately homed in on Kate’s thoughts about application and advocacy, and the committee recommended that she turn her findings into a white paper for our new educator-Mayor Brandon Johnson, to enlist his support in uniting relevant city agencies including CPS and CPD (Chicago Park District) in their collective aim to support children’s wellness. We look forward to further celebrating Kate’s achievement at graduation.

Congratulations Dr. Varey!

Dr. Kate Varey

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