CREATING WILD SPACES IN CONCRETE PLACES—WILL ROGERS LEARNING CENTER
Santa Monica, California is at the nucleus of art, culture, and modern development and while the area is sandwiched between the California coast and mountainous chaparral, Santa Monica’s wild side is found more in the streets than it is in nature. Kids in this urban environment can access the ocean at nearby Venice Beach which boasts a number of trendy shops, restaurants and street performers, but for most kids growing up in LA encounters with truly wild spaces are limited.
Last week, the Havasi Wilderness Foundation wrapped up our year-end tour of the 13 schools that benefit from the HWF-funded educational wilderness field trips. Meeting with over 1,000 students has taught us a lot about the interests of those who will one day be charged with the responsibility of caring for our planet. In an age of video games, computers, and social media inundation, it is hard not to wonder what the future of conservation will look like. In twenty years from now, will communities find value in wild spaces and time spent in nature or will commercial interests wipe out green spaces?
After meeting with students at Santa Monica’s Will Rogers Learning Center, I feel more confident in saying that efforts to safeguard the environment will be turned over to a generation of capable individuals. Though they are surrounded by city traffic, Will Rogers has committed to bringing nature into the classroom and onto the campus. After being met with resistance from the school district, teachers on campus fought to keep the two trees that they have growing in the student play area —arguing that the living trees improve the aesthetic, provide shade, and encourage a connection to nature. Student gardens line the hallways and handball courts are painted with a mountain facade. At Will Rodgers, environmental education starts early and our visit to the kindergarten classes where walls are adorned with giant cut-outs of common bugs and flowers let us know just how eager students are to learn about the natural world.
Kids at Will Rogers had the unique opportunity of visiting both the Malibu Lagoon and the Topanga Canyon State Park and for a handful of them, this trip was their first time out of the city! As with most students who have been asked about their favorite experience at either the Malibu Lagoon or Topanga Canyon State Park, kids were enthusiastic to share about the animals they met— and the list was LONG! For being located in two different habitat zones (the chaparral and wetlands) there were a surprising number of animals seen at both Topanga Canyon State Park AND Malibu Lagoon. An obvious student favorite was the blue bellied lizard (see our last article) and a family of deer. Following a brief Q& A, students were awarded medals and teachers were gifted a book about the chaparral that future students are sure to enjoy!
Many thanks to Mayra Herrera, Rebecca Urias, and Jeremy King the extraordinary teachers at Will Rodgers Learning Community, sub-teacher Sitara Contreras, and to the students who generously gifted our founders with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and the awesome artwork photographed below!