The San Gabriel River stretches from the San Gabriel Mountains, high atop San Antonio Point, down to Seal Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Along its 60 mile route it crosses, and often defines borders in 19 cities. Moving through a diverse array of neighborhoods, it becomes many things to many people; a recreational area, a storm drain, a backyard, a dangerous place, a place of possibilities. Departures has embarked on an exploration of this mighty river -- the geography, history, people, and the diverse communities along its path.
In order to better understand the rich complexities of the San Gabriel River corridor, Departures has formed a partnership with Amigos de los Rios, a non-profit that works to create vibrant communities by designing quality public environments in collaboration with local governments, businesses and residents. Throughout their multi-faceted projects, Amigos De Los Rios strive to bring renewed life to urban neighborhoods. They are spearheading the Emerald Necklace of sustainable open spaces along the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo River corridors. Through their deep connections and partnerships in the surrounding communities they were able to help Departures Youth Voices identify the location for our next installment, Mountain View High School.
The San Gabriel River and the Emerald Necklace are familiar territory for the students at Mountain View High School in El Monte. The River runs along the school's eastern side bordering the athletic fields and just down the street, the Thiennes Gateway marks one of the river's access points and green spaces along the Emerald Necklace.
The school opened in 1971 as part of the El Monte Union High School District and currently serves a student population of 1,769 from El Monte and South El Monte. When the school first opened both cities were in the middle of a population boom, with growing numbers of Latino working class families establishing homes and businesses in the area. This growth continued through the next three decades but has recently seen a significant decline. Young people are a large percentage of the overall population with approximately 40% of the residents under 24 years. Making their input and voices even more crucial in the future of their communities.
In early October, faculty at Mountain View High School pulled together a group of 100 students from the Vista Media Academy for a presentation from Youth Voices and Los Amigos de los Rios. Many were excited about the opportunity to use multimedia as a tool to explore their community and initiate positive change. A good portion of the students have media experience, having developed a variety of projects as part of their course work in the Academy.
This week marked the first class with the students and the beginning of their exploration of their neighborhood and the River. The group was ready with ideas but hesitant about the time commitment Youth Voices requires. Many play sports, work, or are involved in multiple school activities. As seniors they're also busy with college applications and thoughts of what comes after graduation. None-the-less they dove into the work by contemplating their relationship with their neighborhood -- writing ideas down in their Youth Voices Notebook and sharing their thoughts with each other.
The goal, as always with Youth Voices, is to offer students a valuable and memorable experience that helps build their confidence and skills so they may become engaged in their community and identify themselves as leaders. After spending a couple of hours with the students at the Vista Media Academy it was easy to see they are already ahead of the game.