Lab school finds laboratory for learning in their own backyard
Students from the UCLA Lab School have made Stone Canyon Creek, which runs through their campus, the subject of a yearlong science study. They've assessed the health of the creek, measured the levels of chlorine and recently planted its banks with 200 native plants as part of their conservation efforts.
Originally published in UCLA Today
By Laura Weishaupt
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it is attached to the rest of the world.” – John Muir
Students at UCLA Lab School combined their science learning with conservation efforts recently when they worked with two environmental groups to install 200 native plants along a portion of Stone Canyon Creek that runs through their campus.
On Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 15-16, all 450 students worked together with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and Santa Monica Baykeeper to plant native grasses on the banks of Stone Canyon Creek, part of the Ballona Creek watershed.
“This project is helping children understand how the creek connects to a larger water system, one that goes all the way to the ocean,” said Principal Norma Silva. “In a similar way we hope they’ll see how their work connects to the City of Los Angeles and even the world.”
In the past, UCLA students have organized work parties to clean up the weed- and vine-choked banks of the creek, which flows south through the elementary school campus and behind the Collins Building of the Anderson School. At that point, it disappears into a 66-inch drainage pipe that ultimately carries it to Ballona Creek.
The school-wide planting project was organized in response to a question from the children. During a yearlong science study, third and fourth graders looked at various measures of the creek’s health, including the levels of algae, oxygen, and chlorine in the water. They examined how trash affects water flow and what types of wildlife live in and around the creek. After finding high levels of chlorine, lots of invasive plants and less-than-abundant wildlife, they wanted to know what they could do to help the area thrive again.
“The creek is part of our everyday life,” said 11-year-old Megan Merati, one of the students who worked on the science study. “We never thought of it as unhealthy because when we look at it, it looks fine. But it needs help to become a better habitat.”
At an assembly to kick off the planting days, Mark Abramson of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission told the children that “anything that affects the creek also affects the ocean.” His organization cleared ivy from the area to make way for the children to plant. He also has been working with teachers and children to help them use the creek as an educational resource. Heather Burdick, watershed programs coordinator from the Santa Monica Baykeeper, also provided assistance.
“Mark and Heather have been really helpful in exploring how outdoor learning can enhance children's ability to understand complex concepts related to ecosystems, watersheds and water quality,” said teacher Genevieve D’Arcy.
“Giving every child a chance to be involved in the planting supports the science curriculum at all levels,” she added. “It goes from early-childhood students learning about the characteristics of living organisms and the structures of plants, to sixth graders doing research on interdependent systems and how living organisms adapt to their environment.”
Planting the native grasses is an important step in the process, said Silva. Next, the children will get involved in monitoring the growth of the plants and recording changes in the ecosystem. And Silva and her teachers will continue to explore ways to incorporate restoration into the ongoing science curriculum.
“We’re fortunate to have such a compelling living laboratory right outside our classroom doors,” Silva said. “We want to take advantage of that while also doing something for the greater good.”
Involving the youngest children is especially important, said student Jenna Schiffer, age 9. “When they’re older, they’ll help others see why they need to help, too,” she
Published: Wednesday, November 24, 2010