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Taking a New Look at El Monte and the San Gabriel River

We become accustomed to the homes, streets, and shops that cross our paths, but we often miss the little details and places that are slightly out of our way. Our city shrinks to only what we experience on our daily routine.

Sometimes taking a moment to examine that routine, or maybe even stray from it, allows us to see something new. That's exactly what the students at Mountain View High School did this week, by drawing maps and asking questions about the resources, assets, and points of interests in their community, which includes the San Gabriel River.

Students first answered ten questions that encouraged them to examine their relationship to their neighborhood:

  • What is a place that you want to see changed?

  • What is a place with great colors?

  • What is a place that has deep personal meaning for or relation to you?

  • What is a place that is always quiet?

  • What is a place that has history?

  • What is a great place to hang out?

  • Where is a place that people come together to participate in a shared activity?

  • Who is a person that defines their neighborhood?

  • Is there a person or place you avoid?

  • Where is a great place to eat?
Andres uses his notes and a map app on his cell phone to draw his map
Andres uses his notes and a map app on his cell phone to draw his map.

The students then drew a map of their neighborhood, incorporating the people and places they identified. A second clear layer was then added onto the map, on which the students added words and images that elaborate on the significance of each item on the map. A third layer will be added at their next meeting, when they share their map with the class and, as a group, further elaborate on the people, places, and things that make up their neighborhood.

Monique's first layer of her map followed by the second clear layer with more detail and descriptions:

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Valeries's first layer of her map followed by the second more detailed layer:

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In addition to drawing maps, the students also explored the resources, assets, and points of interests in their community, as well as what may be missing. It's not often that they are asked to examine these aspects of their community; this process of critical thinking opens the door for the larger project the students will embark on in the next week, one that asks them, "What do you want to improve in your community?"

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