Los Angeles River School Students Map Elysian Valley

L.A. River School students and teachers take their seats on the bus.
L.A. River School students and teachers take their seats on the bus.

Last Friday, as part of our Youth Voices media literacy program, students from the Los Angeles River School, a member of the Sotomayor Learning Academy, embarked on a field trip to nearby Elysian Valley, a neighborhood that many of the students call home.

For this installment of Youth Voices, students are asked to consider their communities in relation to the Los Angeles River. The objective is to get students thinking about the ways in which urban planning, public policy and sustainability efforts effect their communities.

As we arrived in Frogtown (a name coined in the '60s after a plague of these amphibians overtook the riverside community), students began pointing out the homes of friends and family, as well as the parks and places they frequent. Traditionally, field trips are meant to take students out of their daily surroundings. In this case, however, the intent was to inspire students to view their community through a more critical lens, specifically, by drawing on-the-spot maps of the streets and landmarks surrounding them.

Students begin to map portions of the bike/pedestrian path alongside the L.A. river.

Throughout the course of this exercise, it was interesting to hear students commenting on aspects of their neighborhood that had previously gone unnoticed. For example, after observing a nearby business power-washing a car's transmission, students pointed out that the resulting oil-tainted runoff was draining directly in to the river.

Students take note of industrial runoff as it drains in to the river.This observation brought many to think about the zoning laws of their neighborhood. It was evident through their critical commentary that many students were perplexed as to why their neighborhoods were places in which industrial sites were literally colliding with residential lots. This type of critical inquiry is at the heart of the Youth Voices curriculum.

Instead of attempting to draw literal renderings of their communities, students were asked to personalize their maps by including places and spaces that are of significance in their lives. Often times students would map parks, bike paths, or their friends homes. I also observed many students mapping areas in which they would like to see improvement, such as dangerous stretches of the bike path, or businesses they felt were too noisy to be located next to houses.

A piece of street art sending a message to a neighboring business.

This field trip served as the first phase of projects that are meant to inspire a spirit of community engagement within our student producers. Throughout this semester Youth Voices will be working in conjunction with the North East Los Angeles River Collaborative (NELA) in an effort to inspire students to contribute their feedback to the NELA study that aims to engage the community and collate neighborhood opinion regarding a proposed riverfront district for the Glendale Narrows region. We look forward to showcasing student productions that emerge from this project.

A student's vision of a cul de sac in Elysian Valley.

The subject of zoning residential lots next to business locales was a point of discussion for many students.

L.A. River School instructor Michael Blasi and his student chat with a community member.

Above you can chart the students trajectory. While on the river bike path many students voiced their desires to see a bridge between their school and their community. View L.A. River School Community Field Trip in a larger map

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