At a Glance

National Office: 
380 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 510-893-4180

Jill Vialet
People Served: 
Year Founded: 
Tax ID: 

Focus area(s):

K-12 Reform
Fitness & Nutrition
Early Education


Playworks in a national nonprofit organization that supports learning and a positive school climate by providing safe, healthy, and inclusive play and physical activity to schools at recess and throughout the entire school day.

Impact and Outcomes

88% of principals and teachers at Playworks schools report a decrease in the number of disciplinary referrals.
86% of principals and teachers at Playworks schools report a decrease in the incidents of bullying during recess.
Playworks schools reported 33% less suspensions than non-Playworks schools.
75% of principals and teachers at Playworks schools report that students' use of confict resolution strategies during recess increased.

Mission & Goals

Playworks' mission is to improve children's health and well-being by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. Playworks offers principals a unique solution to the chaos and negative behavior that ripples from the playground into the classroom, disrupting teaching and learning in schools. Based on more than a decade of experience in hundreds of low-income schools from Oakland, CA to Newark, NJ, Playworks is rapidly expanding to ultimately serve more than 700 schools in 27 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

Playworks is the only organization providing trained, full-time staff to low-income, urban schools, where they transform recess and play into a positive experience that helps kids and teachers get the most out of every learning opportunity throughout the day. These coaches become part of the school community, building relationships with youth and teaching them conflict resolution and social skills that significantly improve their development.  

Playworks has also developed a training and technical assistance service that offers schools outside of urban areas and in middle and upper income neighborhoods the knowledge and skills they need to implement Playworks’ unique approach to play and physical activity in their own schools. The goal:  to ultimately change the public education system so that every school is maximizing recess for children's healthy development and learning.


Playworks program relies on a relatively simple intervention — placing one full-time, well-trained young adult “coach” at a low-income school to teach and organize games and physical activities before, during, and after school. Playworks’ programs specifically work to engage high-need kids, while at the same time improve the learning climate of the entire school. Coaches focus on teaching and inspiring physical activity while also developing conflict resolution skills, leadership and social skills in students. Specifically:

  • First, Playworks’ coaches organize recess, by establishing specific areas on the playground for games, developing standard rules for behavior and teaching conflict resolution techniques.
  • Second, coaches work with teachers to provide 30-45 minutes of game time specifically for their students during the school week. This allows students to receive one-on-one attention, enables coaches to reinforce positive social and playground behaviors, and strengthens the student-teacher bond by enabling students to see their teacher in a new “playful” role.
  • Third, coaches nurture a cadre of 4th and 5th grade students to serve as Junior Coaches. This leadership program has had success in improving kids’ leadership skills, social behaviors and desire to do well in school.
  • Fourth, coaches provide quality after-school programming for 4th and 5th grade students, including healthy snack and homework assistance
  • Fifth, coaches run school-based, non-competitive developmental sports leagues for 4th and 5th graders in a variety of sports, such as co-ed volleyball, co-ed soccer, co-ed flag football and all-girls’ basketball.


Playworks currently serves 129,000 children on a daily basis in 300 low-income schools in 23 cities across the country. Each principal pays $25,500 to have Playworks at their school simply because of the impact on students, especially those most likely to fail in school.

  • Analysis of school data in California finds that in the first year of having Playworks, the number of suspensions drops by 20-60%.
  • 73% of principals and teachers credit Playworks directly with reducing suspensions and discipline problems within their school.This means that students who formerly were missing so much school that their academic performance was impacted are now present in class where they can learn – all because of recess.

Results from surveys of 1,900 principals, vice principals and teachers paint a more comprehensive picture:

  • 89% said that more students have on-task behavior in the classroom;
  • 84% said that the transition time from recess to classroom instruction has decreased, enabling then to reclaim at least 18 hours of teaching time per classroom over the course of the school year;
  • 75% said that students’ use of conflict resolution strategies during recess increased;
  • 86% said that bullying at recess decreased; and
  • 98% said they want Playworks in their school the following year.

An analysis of California schools comparing Playworks schools with non-Playworks schools found that Playworks schools experience 1/3 fewer annual suspensions. Research has found that suspensions are a pre-cursor to a range of social adjustment problems including school dropout, delinquency, violence, and criminal activities in adulthood.

For a cost that averages $166 per student for an entire school year, Playworks is able to transform the whole school environment so that all students are happy, focused and ready to learn when they return to the classroom from recess.

Growth Plan

Economic Model

Playworks’ financial model relies on three primary sources: earned income from school fees (for both the direct service program and training services), AmeriCorps, and private philanthropy including foundations, corporations and individuals.

Earned income provides Playworks’ first source of funding. Because Playworks answers a real and pressing need that principals have clearly identified, we are able to charge for the service and ensure buy-in on the part of our clients. Earned income provides 41% of income required for each school program.

Since 2005 Playworks has increased the number of schools served from 65 to 300.  Each of these schools pays $25,500 providing a financial engine for expansion. Schools typically allocate Title I funds, discretionary funds and school climate funds to cover their fee. This earned income strategy has proven to be effective in all parts of the country, from large districts to small.

In addition, Playworks has annually expanded its relationship with the Corporation for National Service. Playworks has been a partner with AmeriCorps since 2006, including both state and federal contracts. In 2010-12, Playworks has 162 AmeriCorps members and is receiving more than $2 million toward their stipends. By 2015 we project these numbers to increase to 400 members and $5 million.

Growth Plan

Playworks requires $22 million over the next five years to fuel growth through both direct service programs and training and technical assistance services.

Specifically, by 2015, Playworks will:

  1. EXPAND- from the current 23 cities in 18 states and the District of Columbia to 27 cities in 23 states and DC providing direct service to 700 low-income elementary schools.
  2. TRAIN– teachers, staff and parents at 1,000 additional schools each year using Playworks fee-for-service training products.
  3. SUSTAIN - $20 million annually in city-based fundraising sources to ensure that each city  is financially sustainable, including covering its share of national operations costs.

Playworks’ expansion strategy leverages three major assets to achieve national scale:

  1. Increasing demand from principals who are under pressure to deliver academic gains which rely significantly on positive school climate.
  2. Earned income fuels growth as expansion over the past five years has proven.
  3. National infrastructure is effectively in place thanks to investment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This strategic approach reflects more than a decade of successful expansion and a careful analysis of the market for Playworks’ service. Based on the relative success and limitations of similar social innovation efforts that have attempted to go to scale, Playworks and its national Board of Directors have concluded that a careful and phased growth approach that begins with establishing direct service operations across the country, followed closely by expansion of the training and technical assistance business that leverages the reputation and results of the direct service operations offers the most promising opportunity for Playworks to build a movement that will ultimately reach every child.

Our goal: to position play and recess as a core strategy for improving learning in schools.

Location of Sites

National Office: 
380 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 510-893-4180
List of locationsMap of locations

To make a contribution to a program site:

  1. Click on the "Make a Contribution Now" button and include the name, city and state of the program you would like to support, in the "notes" text box on the organization's donation form, if available.
  2. If a "notes" or "designation" box is not available, write the city and state on your check in the "notes" section or call the national office to designate your contribution to a local program site.

Locations in the following states:




District Of Columbia








North Carolina

New Jersey

New Mexico







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Major Funders

Playworks Major Funders:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Jenesis Group

The New Balance Foundation