A Los Angeles principal
empowers students by helping
them bring nature back to
their school grounds.
Climate change. Declining biodiversity. Storm runoff. The urban heat island effect. Nature deficit. The environ- mental challenges facing us today can seem overwhelming. Where to start?
Perhaps just outside the classroom door.
For nearly two decades, I’ve worked as a
public school educator less than two miles from
the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles. In
my early days in the profession, I often thought
about my students’ day-to-day grind. Most
woke up in small apartments in large concrete
buildings. They walked on sidewalks along
major streets like Olympic Boulevard or Wilshire
Boulevard, passing a continuous string of other
large concrete buildings. They spent the day
inside their school’s concrete building or perhaps
a bungalow classroom and played on a huge
expanse of asphalt during recess. After school,
they made the reverse trek home. The next
morning, they did this all over again.
Certainly they deserved better. They deserved
opportunities to get to know the wonders of
nature right in their own community instead of
having to board a bus for a once-a-year field trip
to a far-off place.
In 2008, as a first-year principal at Leo Politi
Elementary School in the Pico-Union neigh-
borhood of central Los Angeles, I knew I couldn’t
solve the city’s long history of poor urban
planning, which had resulted in few outdoor
public spaces for residents to enjoy. But I also
knew that as principals, we are often called on
to be change agents on our campuses. I believed
that a change was necessary to increase my urban