16 October 2021

Developing Schoolyard Habitats in LA

Written by: Amado Castillo

I cannot believe that I am already nearly halfway through my fellowship! It has been such a privilege to develop my skills and learn more about the community resiliency work that the National Park Service is doing. 

As part of our fellowship duties with the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, we support the full-time staff with assigned technical assistance projects. One of my favorites of these projects is the Urban Refuge Partnership Outdoor Learning Access Program, a collaborative project between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Los Angeles Audobon Society, and the Friends of the Los Angeles River.

The project is developing a schoolyard habitat at Dayton Height Elementary School, located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, a predominantly Latine and economically disadvantaged community. In addition to establishing a permanent schoolyard habitat in one of the most park-poor regions in Los Angeles, the partnership is also developing classroom instruction, field trips, and providing paid internships for community members. As the child of two elementary school teachers, I was immediately drawn to the project when I was given my options, and I am so excited that it is finally moving forward!

The Dayton Heights schoolyard habitat will be third in the LA region. In August, we were privileged enough to explore one of the previously established schoolyard habitats at Esperanza Elementary School, located near McArthur Park. Even though we visited before schools were back in session, you could feel how transformative the schoolyard habitat was for the school site and the community.

Amado Urban Refuge

Esperanza Elementary School is located in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country. Many of the students who attend the school face housing and food insecurity. The schoolyard habitat serves as a gateway for students to experience nature in a way that would not be accessible elsewhere. 

During our tour with the Urban Refuge partners, Esperanza's principal Brad Rumble beamed with pride. He shared how his students learned to identify all the different types of birds that visit their refuge and how ecstatic they all were when they discovered a burrowing owl there one morning. Not only does the schoolyard habitat promote ecological restoration and educational instruction, but it also strengthens environmental resiliency; the act of removing asphalt and growing drought-resistant native plants helps mitigate the urban heat island effect. 

Amado Esperanza     Intheheights

Esperanza's Schoolyard Habitat                         Dayton Height's Future Schoolyard Habitat 

After our trip to Esperanza, we were all inspired and excited to move forward with the new schoolyard habitat. We finally got the chance to visit Dayton Heights with our project partners on September 17th. Kate and I helped take measurements of all the amenities and barriers in the proposed habitat area for my mentor Carlos' master sketch. It was fantastic to see a landscape architect in action and support the work necessary to transform the space from an underused slab of asphalt to an urban refuge. I cannot wait for this project to progress forward and hope that I will get to see it reach completion before the end of my fellowship!

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Rivers, Trails Conservation Assistance Program - Southern California Field Office

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