Demonstrating the value of restoration work through hands-on work
You know you’re onto something good when you hear an elementary school student say, “This is better than video games!” Believe it or not, that’s just what a Los Angeles Audubon staff member overheard during a volunteer event restoring coastal sage scrub habitat in Los Angeles.
In 2010-11, Los Angeles Audubon received a second TogetherGreen Innovation Grant to expand upon their hugely successful programs introducing students to environmental restoration and research. Their Greenhouse Internship and Restoration Leadership Programs invest in and train students from Dorsey High School in habitat restoration and community leadership and then help the students mentor elementary school students from nearby schools.
During the course of the grant year, the Greenhouse Interns collectively spent over 850 hours conducting research projects (topics included pollinator abundance, companion planting between native plants and food plants, and native plant seed germination rates). Students in the Restoration Leader program collectively spent over 400 hours preparing for and implementing habitat restoration activities throughout the Ballona Creek Watershed. For the third consecutive year, Baldwin Hills Academy students have been an integral part of invasive plant management at the Venice Beach nesting site of the endangered California Least Tern. Together, they helped clear invasive plants and trash from almost 18 acres of coastal habitat.
This year, one of the most successful aspects of the program was its new mentoring component. Members of the Greenhouse Intern and Restoration Leader programs mentored elementary school students from two nearby schools, writing and implementing environmental curricula. It proved to be a deeply challenging and worthwhile experience for the high school students, and the younger students clearly responded to the “coolness” factor that the high school students brought.
Overall, Los Angeles has an exemplary program for engaging urban teens and kids in environmental restoration and learning. They’ve learned a few key lessons through their work:
First, they make sure that all activities that students are involved in are hands-on, science-based, resume-building experiences. Second, their high school participants receive stipends for their work in the program—an essential component to getting the students involved as it (a) provides L.A. Audubon with committed students with a relatively high level of training in restoration and volunteer leadership, (2) indicates to the students that their efforts, and habitat restoration in general, are worth a monetary investment, and (3) demonstrates to the students’ peers, parents, and local community that environmental work is worth a monetary investment. L.A. Audubon believes the fact that students consider the program a job has very likely contributed to the high returning rate they’ve had, as well as the fact that each year they get more students interested in participating in the program. Of the 13 students eligible to reapply for the 2011-2012 school year (that is, those not yet finished with high school), only one student chose not to reapply.
The students themselves are remarkable. Take Jessica Sosa, who participated for a second year of the Greenhouse Intern program this year, completing two consecutive years of research on companion planting between native and food plants. In the spring of 2011, Jessica was one of only ten high school students nation-wide to receive a grant from Planet Connect, a program offering grants to high school students proposing projects that support wildlife in their community. This grant allowed her to apply the knowledge she acquired through the Greenhouse Internship toward developing and implementing outreach curricula at an on-campus garden supporting both native plants and food plants. She will be entering her third year as a Greenhouse Intern, where she will continue her research and conduct similarly themed outreach at her campus and at an elementary school campus.
TogetherGreen has been delighted to support this innovative program. It’s changing lives and restoring vital habitat in Los Angeles. We hope it will become a model for community-based conservation everywhere.