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In 1998, the Canadian Biodiversity Institute and Earth Day Ottawa organized their first annual Ugliest School Yard Contest. We chose the word "ugliest" because one of the meanings of "ugly" is "likely to cause trouble". There is mounting evidence that the typical barren schoolyard is a major cause of conflict and `knock and bump' accidents. Also, multiple childhood exposures to the sun's harmful rays in schoolyards lacking in shade can result in trouble such as health problems in later life. Some schools did not want to recognize that their schoolyards were "ugly", while others entered the contest because they acknowledged the fact and wanted to do something about it.

Nortel Networks provided funding for the Ugliest School Yard Contest and for planning and implementing a school grounds transformation project at the winning school. While there is only one winner each year, the contest encourages all schools to take a good look at their own schoolyard and reflect on whether it offers a life-enhancing environment for children.

The first-ever Ugliest School Yard Contest brought considerable media attention to a city-wide problem. Suddenly, the issue of bleak school grounds was on the agenda at many parent council meetings. For school boards and organizations advocating greener schoolyards, an Ugliest School Yard Contest offers a way to rally resources for school grounds projects. It is a way to benefit schools in poorer neighborhoods where fundraising may be a barrier.

It's a sure bet that there will be no shortage of well-deserving entrants. When Green Teacber magazine posted a notice on the worldwide web in 1998 asking if anyone had ever heard of an ugliest schoolyard contest, the response was overwhelming - not because anyone actually knew of such a contest, but because everyone had a school to nominate, including one respondent who wanted to nominate every public school in New York City!

28 schools entered our first annual contest. The competition was stiff, but in the Spring of 1999, St. Anthony Catholic School in Ottawa won the dubious distinction of having the ugliest schoolyard in town. As the winner of the first-anywhere Ugliest School Yard Contest, the school received $5,000 to spend on plants and materials for transforming their grounds and the assistance of the Canadian Biodiversity Institute in developing their project. In addition, media publicity attracted thousands of dollars worth of donated plants, labour, materials and expertise to the St. Anthony's project from community groups and the private sector over the next three years.

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