This $18,000 grant is what grants should be about as this district has seen the results and the enthusiasm rise out of their students. This is one of the most impressive stories about what $18,000 can buy a school district I have ever read.
Would be great if conservationists and environmentalists across American joined forces to put nature areas like this on elementary school grounds across America. While they are at it, maybe it is time to go back to the days of the community gardens where people living in apartments can have their little piece of land in a neighborhood on vacant lot to grow some of their own vegetables. Can you imagine what their children would say when they are eating lettuce from their own garden? They need encouragement -- time we quit wasting money on programs that don't work and look to those that do.
All it takes is a little ingenuity and a desire to provide students a learning experience on their own school grounds and you have what Leo Politi Elementary has developed to bring nature to their students that otherwise would not see it in their neighborhoods.
To me this story is remarkable and an example of what can be done no matter where the schools are located. Congratulations to everyone involved with this effort and to the Los Angeles Times for spotlighting this as an example of what is right with our schools. I am a firm believer in the public schools and when they fail, we fail our leaders of tomorrow. This is an example of success for a group of students.
At an urban L.A. school, nature grows — and test scores too
At Leo Politi Elementary, workers ripped out concrete and planted native flora. The plants attracted insects, which attracted birds, which attracted students, who, fascinated by the nature unfolding before them, learned so much that their science test scores rose sixfold.
April 16, 2012
Biological diversity does not come easily near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Hoover Street.
The neighborhood just west of downtown is one of the most crowded in Los Angeles County, with 25,352 people per square mile. It's chock-full of buildings and has lots of pavement, little landscaping and many economically disadvantaged families.
In that setting, Leo Politi Elementary School wanted only to make a dreary corner of campus more inviting to its 817 students. Workers ripped out 5,000 square feet of concrete and Bermuda grass three years ago and planted native flora.
What happened next was unforeseen. It was remarkable.
The plants attracted insects, which attracted birds, which attracted students, who, fascinated by the nature unfolding before them, learned so much that their test scores in science rose sixfold.
In the words of Leo Politi's delighted principal, Brad Rumble, "We've gone from the basement to the penthouse in science test scores."
As Rumble stood in the garden recently, 10-year-old Jacky Guevera fixed her eyes on an orb spider spinning a web near a pair of bushtits building a nest in the limbs of a crape myrtle tree.
"At our school, flycatchers drink the water in the vernal pool," said Jacky, who dreams of becoming an ornithologist. "Scrub jays hang out in the oaks. The snapdragon's red flowers attract Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds."
"I can identify each of these birds when I see them," she added confidently as she sketched images of the garden's wildlife.
Three years ago, the school's standardized test scores in science for fifth-graders showed that 9% were proficient and none were advanced. Last spring, 53% of fifth-graders tested as proficient or advanced.
Leo Politi's garden grows where a towering apartment complex once stood. The structure was torn down in 1991 to make room for the school, named in honor of Leo Politi, a children's book author and illustrator who earned the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1950 for "The Song of the Swallows," his book about the swallows at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
In partnership with Los Angeles Audubon, Leo Politi in 2008 became one of the first elementary schools in the city to apply for and win "schoolyard habitat" and partner's grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With $18,000 from the agency, and volunteer assistance from environmental students at Dorsey High School, Leo Politi removed the concrete and grass from the forlorn corner of campus. Dorsey students wielded rakes and shovels and helped select and plant bushes, flowers and trees, including six live oaks that now shade a slope Rumble calls "our oak highlands."
Nature responded quickly to the clumps of rye grass, owl's clover and waist-high thickets of white sage and wildflowers: California poppies, California wild roses, tidytips and island snapdragons.
"First to arrive were insects — lady beetles, butterflies and dragonflies — almost as if they were lying in wait," Rumble said. "They were followed by birds that feed on them."
At that point, students were hooked. "Questions about why some birds flocked to one plant and not another led to discussions about soil composition and water cycles, weather patterns and seasons, avian migration and the tilt of the Earth in its orbit around the sun," Rumble said.
Now, the children are studying the dynamics governing the behavior of birds and the ecological systems that support them. They are also compiling an online illustrated survey of every species documented in their urban bird sanctuary, calling it "A Field Guide to the Flora and Fauna of Leo Politi Elementary School."
Excerpt: Read More at the Los Angeles Times