College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Landscape Architecture

Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon: Current Research and Area of Study

Dr. Kweon instructing her students in studio.

Learn more about Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon's fascinating research on school settings and it's influence on student performance.

The field of landscape architecture is undoubtedly equipped with some of the best and most ambitious visionaries. The University of Maryland, more specifically, is lucky to have the presence of landscape architects who continually care and work for the health of many communities. Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon is one of these people, and her drive to improve landscape surrounding educational environments is exceptional and particularly noteworthy.

  Kweon studies the setting and boundaries of schools to determine the degree to which they influence student performance. Various factors, such as socioeconomic data and population sizes of schools, affect student performances on standardized tests. However, research is scant in terms of identifying how landscape around school environments affects student performance. What is evident is that there are schools in urban locations that are surrounded by zero trees. Kweon noticed that these schools had increasing rates of student failing rates, and this was not a coincidence.

“Children need nature to perform” Kweon claims. One alarming statistic that propelled Kweon to delve into her research was that trees cover approximately 36% of D.C. and the percentage of schools covered by trees is less than 10%.  She sought to examine this correlation between number of trees and student performance by first geocoding 219 public schools in the District of Columbia using 2010-2011 school data.

            According to her research, the percentage of students enrolled in free lunch programs in a school correlated with a lower percentage of passing standardized test scores; and schools surrounded by more trees had students who performed better. As the amount of trees goes up, the amount of white student population goes up. As the percent of trees goes up, the percent of Hispanic students decreases. After controlling all other factors which affect student performance on standardized tests, tress still proved to be a significant influence.  “When we use our body, we get physically fatigued. Our mind is the same way. If you focus on math, English, science, our mind gets tired. When we are physically tired, we relax, and this makes us less tired. Nature plays the same role for our minds. Being exposed to trees, nature, helps us get these functions back and have the ability to focus on the studying or the tasks we have to do“ Kweon explains.

             This data that Kweon collected and analyzed was compiled into an abstract and is awaiting publication by the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA). 

        Kweon also works with individual schools that have outdoor school environment concerns. Kweon and her students worked on DuVal High School, Riverdale Elementary School, John Hanson French Immersion School, New Hope Academy and Nicholas Orem Middle School in Prince George’s County (PGC), and Takoma Education Campus in the District of Columbia.  Each school has unique environmental challenges such as contaminated storm water runoff, severe soil erosion, lack of vegetated green space, too much impervious surfaces, inadequate and unsafe play environments, etc. They composed a design and planning grant to acquire the necessary funds and resources to implement these designs for the school. Following the approval of the design and planning, they applied for two implementation grants, one was approved, and the second is awaiting approval in October 2015, which will transform a parking lot in New Hope Academy. 

             Kweon’s research also involves school-sitting policies. She explores how the location of a school, whether in close proximity to industrial buildings or major highways, influences student performance. School sitting policies are different from state to state. What she has found is that some states, like Michigan, with no school sitting policies, may place schools next to industries that emit so much pollution.

            As she had predicted, Kweon’s research revealed that as pollution goes up, student failing rate goes up. When visiting a school in such location, she admits, “I couldn’t even open my mouth. My throat hurt from being exposed to all the pollution. And it smelled awful. It’s hard to imagine how kids spend a whole day there”. It is important to focus on schools that do not provide a safe and healthy environment for children to lean and play. Kweon stresses that “we need to have school sitting policies which make sense for everyone. We need to find the right place to put children; not just any piece of land that is not safe for them. So we need to make sure that, when they build the new school, they choose the right place for students to learn and study.”

             Kweon’s work with landscape architecture has transformed environments as well as people. What we can learn from landscape architects is that nature provides a role for us that nothing else can. As we continue to prioritize nature, it will not only help our students, it will make us happier and healthier beings in the long run.

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