The traditional school year has begun, and we can all conjure up images of our nation’s future striding confidently into our school buildings each morning, ready for the adventure that awaits.
When I walked to school in the 1970s, I have frequent memories of briskly following my sister who had a much longer stride than I, anxious that I might lose her in the thick LA smog. Yet, when we got to school, we’d go our separate ways, and I would settle into my classroom that I didn’t realize at the time could have an air quality 200 times worse than that outside. Regulations are improving LA’s air quality in general, but we still rank in the top 5 cities in the country with the worst air quality based on ozone and air particulates.
Change is slow when it comes to school buildings as well. Unless you are lucky enough to attend one of the newer buildings that have sprung up, most of our schools are aging or old, few are deep cleaned more than once or twice a year with regular cleaning consisting of little more than taking out the trash. Painting or replacing ceiling tiles follow a glacial repair schedule. The walls often use an ‘institutional palate’ that neither inspires nor hides the dirt well. Teachers cover it as best they can with student work or posters from conferences attended.
Across America, we send our children, our most precious hope for the future, into often toxic environments and expect them to focus, stay alert, listen attentively, and engage with their classmates and teachers. Our children deserve better. The environment in which they learn is just as important as what they learn. We can transform our schools into spaces where children know they matter – they can see it all around them.
Every year schools across the country select service projects to create healthier spaces. The Green Apple Day of Service can be any day – it doesn’t have to be Earth Day. Pick your day to improve the health and well-being of your neighborhood school.
If you’re a school, you can sign up your project at www.greenapple.org. Follow the directions to get access to mini-grants to provide the supplies you need to get your project off the ground. If you want to support a project, you can look up projects in your neighborhood and show up to help.
This year, the projects listed online for Los Angeles are mostly garden-based. Some, like at Wilshire Crest Elementary, are not only caring for their existing plants, but planting more and creating multi-lingual signage that supports literacy as well as science. Ladera Ranch Elementary is planting for biodiversity, creating various ecosystems enhanced by a solar fountain and mural. Arroyo High School is growing organic vegetables to support their culinary arts classes.
Projects can surround students with inspiration, beauty, and natural learning spaces that bring the curriculum they learn in class to life. We can bust out the walls of our schools, creating learning spaces in every square foot of the campus, not only within the walls of the classroom.
Last year I helped a school create murals to inspire and reflect student work. Over the years, I have help projects to paint quotes from international thought-leaders. At one school we broke up concrete and created stream-like water features that resolved pooling and flooding areas on campus, moving water to catchment spaces for irrigation of the plants along the feature – a space where middle and high school students could sit under trees to talk and study.
We can create inspiring learning spaces and the USGBC-LA community is uniquely talented to help make it happen. If you’re inspired to improve the future, why not start with our K-12 students? Find out more about how you can support Green Apple Day projects and share what you are doing around Los Angeles with us and we just might post your photo [here].
Please join the conversation by contacting me directly at email@example.com or by commenting below and support USGBC-LA’s Green Apple Day here (include in the comment section where you would like your donation directed).