Over the past academic year the Los Angeles River School students took on a variety of community causes as part of their participation with Departures Youth Voices and the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative. Their causes included transforming San Fernando Road, saving a historic bridge, revitalizing the L.A. River, and re-imagining vacant lots in their neighborhoods.
The students formed teams and worked together to identify issues of importance to them and their community, and plan their investigations. In five months they wrote articles, interviewed community residents and experts, conducted community outreach and compiled their evidence to present and advocate for their cause to the public. It was wonderful to see the students take a direct role in shaping civic policies that impact them and their families lives.
The students brought a unique perspective to the NELA RC's project. As young residents of the five Northeast neighborhoods surrounding the Los Angeles River, they interacted with the community on a daily basis: walking or biking to school, work and home, and utilizing public transportation, parks and local businesses. They contributed these particular experiences and skills to the project's objective of re-imaging the L.A. River and the adjacent neighborhoods. Through this process of integrating their personal experiences, research, and action, many of the participants gained confidence and new tools for working on civic issues, including meaningful ways to interact with the community as well as develop their personal and professional leadership skills.
Recently the NELA RC held its final open house at the RAC Design Build Studio in Elysian Valley. It was a community event where the public could learn about the findings collected in the final report or Vision Plan being presented by members of the collaborative. Part of the presentation included the announcement of the winners of the NELA Placemaking Design competition. Two teams from the Los Angeles River School were on hand; Sizzle Sizzle Uh Uh was present to receive their award for winning the Glassell Park design and The Lot Busters for receiving honorable mention for their Cypress Park design. Both teams focused on re-interpreting vacant lots in their neighborhoods into vital community assets.
The Los Angeles River School and all the students who participated have been indispensable partners in this ongoing endeavor to re-imagine the Los Angeles River. Their knowledge, hard work, and commitment to their communities imbued the project with a sincere authenticity.
The Youth Voices "cause"-based curriculum was designed to offer students an opportunity to engage with their communities and become advocates for positive and inclusive change. The students use digital media to bring their experiences and desires for their community to a broader audience. As youth help define the key issues in a community and develop their expertise on these community needs, they are more open to taking action and ultimately influence other youth to become civicly engaged. The students of the Los Angeles River School have helped develop a model for others to follow.
Event photos by Jillian Olivas