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Federal grant helping LA Unified spread the word about drought

Mike Szymanski | August 24, 2015

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Tomas O’Grady of Enrich LA at a school garden

LA Unified students are learning about water conservation methods needed locally because of the drought, and the effort got a big boost last week from a $50,000 federal grant.

An award from the Environmental Protection Agency is intended to support a pilot program to teach students how to conserve water. It’s part of the “One Water LA” Educational Initiative created in April 2014 through a resolution from school board president Steve Zimmer. It’s a collaborative effort that includes the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Metropolitan Water District and Los Angeles Sanitation department.

“Los Angeles is currently experiencing extreme drought conditions and it is the responsibility of educators to ensure the next generation is equipped with the necessary tools to develop solutions, not only for climate change but for other problems, or else the Earth as we know it today will cease to exist in the future,” Zimmer said.

Already, there are programs at many schools across the district. Vivian Ekchian, the area superintendent for the Northwest, said she is making it a priority to show how the school gardens can be grown in a drought-stricken climate. Students of Enadia Way Elementary School in West Hills, for example, are learning what flowers, vegetables and fruit trees they can grow in a 10,000-square-foot garden without using too much water.

Local businessman Tomas O’Grady has a nonprofit group called Enrich LA that has helped student gardens throughout LAUSD, including the transformation of a patch of unused mud in the center of Valley View Elementary School in Hollywood into a raised garden using a drip system. Teachers plant native flowers mentioned in poetry they are studying or draw from other Common Core teaching material.

Green Wish is another nonprofit that is providing (for free) Common Core curriculum exercises that involve the environment and school gardens for students K through 9th grades.

Actor and director Raphael Sbarge helped create Green Wish with environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. and created a half-hour documentary “A Concrete River: Reviving the Waters of Los Angeles,” which explains how the Los Angeles River is being revived and what part the river plays in water conservation. The movie is shown to students who visit the River Rover on school trips, part of the Friends of the Los Angeles River nonprofit.

“Scientific evidence demonstrates that the climate is changing at an increasingly rapid rate, with elevated temperatures, melting icebergs, extreme weather patterns, species extinction and other effects,” Zimmer said.

The sanitation agency, which is funding the “One Water LA” initiative, also will train students at its Environmental Learning Center. Other educational organizations involved in the effort, include EcoTelesis/ UCLA Engineering Extension, Climate Resolve and LA Waterkeeper. All of the programs will be aligned with content standards, including California Next Generation Science Standards, a common level of scientific knowledge that all students need to graduate high school.

“Educators need to create the next generation of Science Technology Engineering Math experts in the workforce and this curriculum will increase the STEM education pipeline from middle to high school,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines said about students studying STEM. “It is important to educate students to be college-prepared as STEM majors and career-ready for STEM jobs.

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