The Highland Park neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles is going through some big changes. Once a working-class community of second and third generation immigrant families, Highland Park is now on the front lines of the gentrification battle in Los Angeles. Small family-run businesses are now trendy bars and nightclubs, neighborhood restaurants now foodie pop-ups.
Tucked away off the main hustle and bustle of Figueroa Street and York Boulevard, is San Pasqual Avenue Elementary school. Here, a collection of wonderful teachers is working hard to provide the best for the children of both long-time residents and newcomers.
Josephine Yadegar has been instrumental in transforming the school’s concrete campus into a greener learning environment. After noticing a neglected and cracked corner of the schoolyard, she thought her students needed better.
“I wanted a place where the students could sit and read, and hopefully the plants will have a nice calming effect and also a cooling effect,” Yadegar said. “I called TreePeople and that’s how I met Juliana [Woodruff]. The entire process with her has been a delight. She not only provided us with the plants, but helped us get the entire project approved by the district.”
Juliana is a member of TreePeople’s Environmental Education team, serving as our Outdoor Classroom Project Manager. Ms. Yadegar’s request came to her as one of her first installs here at TreePeople, as she’d just recently joined our organization.
“Outdoor classrooms can be such special places for children to learn. It’s a social activity. Kids are working on communication skills without the pressures of test scores. They are physically active and building social relationships in the fresh air,” Juliana said. “The natural environment offers endless lessons in empathy and responsibility. Through it, students are better able to understand how they are connected to bigger worlds than just the human world.”
On the morning of November 9th, Ms. Yadegar lead her students across the campus playgronative plants ready to go in the ground. Juliana taught the students about the tools they would be using, how to take the plants out of their pots, and how to properly put the plants into the soil. And just like that, they were off. The sound of shovels clanging against the dirt filled the air.
“We weren’t short on kids who wanted to help. Everyone was so excited,” Yadegar remembered. “I don’t think we had one child who didn’t have a great time and really enjoyed getting dirty and planting plants. I think for many of them it was an experience they have not had before. Many of our kids live in apartments and to actually dig in the dirt and plant plants is something new for them.”
Every year, TreePeople helps schools bring the outdoors to their students through learning gardens, workshops, and environmental education programs. “Experiential learning is what keeps kids coming back for more, keeps them asking questions, helps build that beautiful relationship with nature which fosters environmentally literate leaders of the future,” Juliana said. Our goal is to empower the next generation of Angelenos with the skills and knowledge they need on the front lines of our climate reality.
To learn more about TreePeople’s Environmental Education Department, watch this video.