Los Angeles exists solely because a river runs through it, but it’s quite possible to live in the city and have never encountered the LA River. Given this, it can be hard to imagine that if managed properly, the Los Angeles river could be one of our city’s most vital resources.
This year, Environmental Charter Schools’ (ECS) Green Ambassadors Institute — a learning lab project focused on environmental service learning — set out to change that, teacher by teacher, student by student. Through a two-part series, educators and community leaders participated in hands-on activities and an educational field trip along the Los Angeles River. More than 60 educators from 27 Los Angeles area public, independent and charter schools attended to learn and share best practices in environmental education.
Amidst the most severe drought that most Angelenos have experienced and Governor Brown’s mandate that we reduce our state’s water usage by 25%, the two-day workshop focused heavily on water conservation, rising temperatures, water recycling and drought-tolerant gardening.
PART 1: A Watershed Moment at Environmental Charter High School
Teacher- and student-led workshops gathered some of LA’s brightest environmental minds to share their knowledge about water management, conservation and water rights. Participants enjoyed hands-on workshops, curriculum resources as well as the opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues. Highlights included:
- Keynote speaker Mark Gold of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability inspired us with ideas on how to make Los Angeles 100% water self-sufficient by 2050.
- Workshops and talks from community leaders including: USC’s Joint Educational Project, TreePeople, Heal the Bay, Algalita Marine Research and Education, Hyperion Water Treatment Plant, Surfrider Foundation, The River Project, LA Rooted, West Basin Municipal Water District and From Lot to Spot, among others.
- Teachers from Environmental Charter Middle School provided a framework for connecting local water quality issues to ancient Egypt using math, science, language and history standards to build water filters to solve the Nile river crisis.
- Educators from Environmental Charter High School demonstrated the power of personal action by calculating just how many gallons of water we can capture off our own school and home rooftops, as well as how to create and implement interdisciplinary curriculum focused on water conservation and student action.
“This event inspired me in ways I could not have predicted. Learning from environmental leaders, brainstorming with fellow educators and even just being in ECHS’ physical environment, made me think more creatively about how to bring this work to my school and life.”
— Ariane White, Teacher
“Most of what inspired me was the environment the great people at ECS have created. From the clearly marked waste sorting bins, to the plantings, to the re-purposed cement surfaces, I truly appreciate the work that went into creating the beautiful landscape. I’m inspired to make changes at my own site!”
–Ann Biedenweg, Teacher, Chadwick School
PART 2: A Watershed Moment Field Trip: LA River
Starting where the LA River meets the ocean and traveling all the way up to Northeast Los Angeles where the river can be found in its original soft bottom form, we connected with multiple organizations that call the LA River their home and make its revitalization and restoration their mission. Highlights included:
- A field trip to the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, a bioremediation project where educators got to see how a natural wetland environment can cleanse water, using plants to filter the water before it flows to the ocean or sinks back into the aquifer.
- A walk through Marsh Park, a Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) area that offers recreational and educational opportunities along a soft-bottomed portion of the LA River.
- Alliance Environmental Science and Technology High School students who led us in a hands-on “Common Water” workshop that demonstrated how much water people, farms and industries use and how that affects the river’s water quality and supply.
- A panel of experts that talked about how we can “Re-Imagine the Los Angeles River,” which included speakers from the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the Office of Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell of the 13th District, The Nature Conservancy and the LA River Revitalization Corporation.
Educators learned that the largest landowners in Southern California are the local school districts. This highlighted the importance of educating and engaging students around environmental issues, even as early as in elementary school.
“When we successfully implement sustainability programs in our schools, both educators and young people can work together to solve major environmental issues in our local and global communities.”
— Sammy Lyon, ECS Environmental Service Learning Coordinator
“The best part about A Watershed Moment was connecting with other science educators and conservationists. I was inspired by the workshops and got a few ideas for my classes. I also connected to community resources I didn’t know about and was especially impressed by the River Ambassadors’ presentations for us.”
— Daryl Holmlund, Conservation Corps of Long Beach/Gateway Cities Charter School
The Green Ambassadors Institute program is working. For many teachers who may feel that teaching “green issues” in a large school can be a lonely endeavor, the opportunity to network and learn new strategies among like-minded peers is empowering and encouraging.
“The Green Ambassadors Institute recharges my green batteries every year.”
— Annemarie Ralph, Teacher
“I learned that projects don’t always have to start or develop from environmental issues, but environmental issues can be tied to any type of activity or project.”
— Annual Green Ambassadors Institute Attendee
Green Ambassadors Institute (GAI) conducts various workshops for educators on environmental issues such as waste, water, food and energy. In addition, GAI leads customized professional development to meet a site’s specific needs and student goals for implementing interdisciplinary sustainable service learning. GAI also has experience leading small teams and large groups through a focused, thematic lens as well as a more general, curriculum-based approach. Green Ambassadors is also a thriving student-centered class at all three Environmental Charter Schools campuses.
For a list of partners for A Watershed Moment, visit www.greenambassadors.org/watershed.