Caption: 10th graders present the importance of the coyote population in Los Angles and how to help it thrive.
On Friday, February 2, Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) students held their annual Community Forum event, where they showcased their analysis of how natural disasters impact society, expounded on ways a green space can transform a community, and explored the question, “What does Los Angeles need to thrive?” These explorations were part of Intersession, a month-long inquiry into some of the most pressing issues of our time. Students worked together across all subjects and disciplines and then dressed up to present their findings to an eager audience.
Intersession is a unique experience for each student at ECHS. Senior, Adrian De Leon Jr., reflected about his final Intersession experience providing him the opportunity to propose policy changes to improve the quality of education at ECHS, “Intersession challenges students to connect with a local issue and to work with a group of peers they are not familiar with. Like in any group setting, there are many ideas being developed and it was a struggle to balance out our ideas. Intersession not only gives us a chance to hear ‘yes’ and ‘no’ from each other, but more importantly, we are able to build partnerships with each other.” De Leon continues, “These projects remind me that I have a voice and that it is important to speak up because my voice matters.”
TRANSFORMING A SPACE CAN TRANSFORM A COMMUNITY
The neighborhoods surrounding Environmental Charter High School and those in which ECHS students live are fraught with vacant and blighted spaces. During Intersession, 9th graders took a closer look at what kind of impact these vacant spaces can have on a community and its people. After learning about resistance education and internalized oppression in their Ethnic Studies class, students performed an assets and needs assessments for each of their communities. Working in teams, students developed plans to transform selected lots using technological solutions that both addressed community needs while reducing the impacts of human activities on natural systems. Students learned about financial and investment principles that would allow them to fund the purchasing of the vacant lot and bring their plans to life. With their budgets and plans in hand, students then wrote letters to the Planning Departments of their respective cities to convince them of the need and benefits of transforming these spaces.
ENVISIONING AN L.A. WE WANT TO LIVE IN
Amidst rapid growth and change in Los Angeles, 10th grade teams examined how we might maintain a quality of life, keeping people, plants and entire ecosystems in mind. Students peered into the socio-political history of Los Angeles and examined the role that race has led on demographics, infrastructure, education, and housing across Los Angeles. Using the systems thinking approach, students were challenged to find a way to use their own voice to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles. Student solutions ranged from helping the El Segundo Blue butterfly repopulate to securing infrastructure to ensure airports and roads can remain functional.
NATURAL DISASTERS – HISTORY OR OPPORTUNITY?
Our 11th graders looked closely at what we have to learn from natural disasters and what kind of systems might be put in place to better withstand them into the future. Using the Mexico City earthquakes as a case study, students questioned the government’s negligence in putting safeguards in place. They also examined how different cultures and countries prioritized cultural and infrastructural needs within a governmental system and were challenged to determine what can be done to prevent mass fatalities in future disasters. The students presented their findings and ideas across multimedia displays.
SENIORS PROPOSE SCHOOL POLICIES THAT AIMED AT REDUCING STRESS
After four years at ECHS, our 12th grade students are now challenged to leverage their experience and elevate their voices to propose policy changes that would increase the quality of education at ECHS for graduating classes to come. After brainstorming their own policy change ideas, seniors surveyed the entire student body to see what would garner the most support. Using the data to inform and prioritize their recommended policy changes, they then presented their proposals to the ECS Board of Directors. One group highlighted the issue of stress that comes with the rigorous workload of a college preparatory education. Surveys revealed that a third of the student population felt they did not have the resources to appropriately manage their stress. In their recommendations to the Board, seniors proposed the integration of a self-care course that would equip students with a variety of modalities to manage and reduce stress.
BEHIND THE INTERSESSION SCENE – REAL WORLD LESSONS REQUIRE REAL WORK
Intersession is as much of a challenge for educators as it is for students. Grade-level teams of teachers work tirelessly to plan and collaborate for months leading up to Intersession. Together, they craft a question that will matter to their students and determine the best window for each discipline to provide into the issue at hand.
When all is said and done, the payoff is rewarding as teachers get to see their students shine in ways the typical classroom setting doesn’t often allow. “I love Intersession,” says Christian Rollino, ECHS teacher, “because I get to discover each of my students’ hidden talents.”