Schoolyard Habitat Grant Protects Wildlife and Provides Learning

by Laura Weishaupt

Check out the area around Stone Canyon Creek (also known as the Gully) and you’ll see a small forest of bright orange, yellow and pink flags. They’re there to mark 2,000 native plants recently installed as part of an ongoing project by UCLA Lab School and conservation organizations to restore the health of the creek, which over time has become overgrown with non-native vegetation. The new plants were provided by a $7,374 Schoolyard Habitat grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Children, teachers, parents and friends joined volunteers from the Service’s Ventura County office and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission for two planting days in January.

“We are so grateful to receive this support for our school’s involvement in the restoration project,” said Principal Norma Silva. “The grant will help us create a healthy environment for the creek to flourish and also provide rich opportunities for students to engage in authentic, hands-on learning.”

The grant to the lab school is one of 10 awarded in California, and one of two given for restoration, said Outreach Coordinator Sharon Sutton, who is helping to oversee the project. “We’re excited about what we can accomplish for our own students,” she said, “and also about the possibilities for paying it forward by sharing what we learn about restoration, inquiry and stewardship with educators in the Los Angeles area.”

Mark Abramson, of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and Mike Glenn, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have been working with Silva and teachers to develop the creek area as an outdoor classroom since last year. They were on hand to provide training and help with the planting along with volunteers from their offices.

“We’re especially lucky to have support from these experts,” said Silva. “They’re wonderful mentors to young scientists and environmentalists, and they’re also excellent examples of what community involvement is all about.”

The project team also includes Demonstration Teachers Genevieve D’Arcy and Sylvia Gentile, Operations Coordinator Ron Ando and parent Megan Kapinos, who is chair of the school’s Green Committee. Silva said the collaborative nature of the effort is one of the things that makes it successful.

“Our involvement in the restoration started when the students asked what they could do to make the creek healthy,” Silva said. “And I think what they’ve seen so far is that it really takes a lot of working together, but that by working together we can create positive change.”

In a science project students conducted, they learned that Stone Canyon Creek originates in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard. After flowing through the lab school campus and behind the Anderson School of Management, it disappears into a 66-inch drainage pipe that ultimately carries it to Ballona Creek and the ocean. Over the years invasive vegetation has choked out native plant species and chlorine in the water has kept out fish and other wildlife. Members of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and Santa Monica Baykeeper began restoring the portion of the creek behind Anderson School six years ago.

Recently, the children have reported seeing more signs of life in the water and fewer squirrels and crows. They did research on what plants and animals would be beneficial to the ecosystem, and the plants that were purchased through the grant were from that list.

Students will use the colorful flag markers to track the growth of the new plants. In addition, project plans include:

  • developing systems and collecting data to monitor the impact of the new plants on the ecosystem
  • using outdoor sites around the school as learning spaces for inquiry in life science
  • creating a school-wide culture of stewardship for the land, plants and wildlife on campus
  • developing long-term partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, Santa Monica Baykeeper and the parent-initiated Green Committee

“We are so fortunate to spend time every day near such a beautiful, natural resource,” Silva said. “Along with our good fortune comes the responsibility to be good stewards.”

“Visitors to our school are always very impressed to learn the story of creek,” she added. “Most of them didn’t know this daylighted section exists, or how beautiful it is. We want everyone to understand the connection to the larger ecosystem, and we invite them to join us in taking care of it.”