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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CARLSBAD FWO: Schoolyard Lawn Converted Into Oasis of Native Southern California Habitat
Region 8, November 7, 2009
Gulf Fritillary butterflies on purple sage in Leo Politi Schoolyard Habitat (photo: Carolyn Martus/USFWS)
Gulf Fritillary butterflies on purple sage in Leo Politi Schoolyard Habitat (photo: Carolyn Martus/USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a
Leo Politi family gardening. From left, Angelica Perez with sons Jason and Steven. (photo: Brad Rumble)
Leo Politi family gardening. From left, Angelica Perez with sons Jason and Steven. (photo: Brad Rumble) - Photo Credit: n/a

by Stephanie Weagley, Carlsbad FWO
Located in the Pico-Union neighborhood, one of the densest and park poor urban neighborhoods in Los Angeles, California, Leo Politi Elementary School has created a native garden oasis where over 800 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and their families can connect to and learn about the wonders of their natural world. A Title 1 school,students are of a diverse ethnic background with many students having limited English proficiency and Latino immigrant parents.

In June of 2009, Leo Politi Elementary School’s Schoolyard Habitat project was awarded $8,000 through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Program and $10,060 from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife (Partners) Program to create an outdoor classroom via a native habitat restoration project. By late fall 2009, over 5,000 square feet of lawn had been removed and students, parents, teachers, and community members had planted 300 California native plants.

“It all began because of Bradley Rumble, Principal of Leo Politi Elementary School,” said Carolyn Martus, Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office (CFWO). “He has been the driving force behind the project. He engages his students and is an inspiration to everyone he comes in contact with.”

Also an avid birder, Principal Rumble is well connected to the Los Angeles Audubon Society (Los Angeles Audubon). “Los Angeles Audubon was looking for a school to partner with and we were the fortunate recipients,” said Rumble. Mary Loquvam of the Los Angeles Audubon worked closely with Samantha Marcum of the CFWO Partners Program. Together, they were able to successfully apply for funding from the Service’s Schoolyard Habitat program and also receive assistance through the CFWO Partners program.

The school sits on an 8-acre campus and has emerged over the years as an urban retreat for students and their families, including hundreds of birds –both resident and migratory. With more than 200 trees throughout the campus, including western sycamore and western redbud, and well-maintained flowers, humans and wildlife alike enjoy the campus’ park-like areas.

“Approximately 5,000 square feet of Bermuda grass at the schoolyard’s northern boundary was not being used; it was a void,” said Rumble. “The area was on hilly terrain and underutilized and we took this lawn and converted it into southern California native plant habitat with the help of many people and partners, including the Los Angeles Audubon Society and students from Dorsey High School. The way we did it, we took an inner city high school and an inner city elementary school and did a cross-pollination of sorts involving students. This science-based nature project serves as an excellent tool to launch questions, encourage dialogue and promote discovery and research.”

The schoolyard habitat now consists of coastal sages and grasses, fruit-bearing bushes and trees, and a variety of flowers to attract native wildlife, such as birds, insects and butterflies. Three distinct site elevations have also been created within the habitat in order to bring more biodiversity to the plant and animal life. The higher elevations have been planted with native oak and walnut woodlands; the slopes have been planted with coastal sage scrub plants; and a Rain Garden wild flower meadow has been created at the lowest point in the habitat area (500 sq. feet out of the 5,000 sq. feet) and planted with seeds. The Rain Garden will help capture storm water run-off from the school’s roofs, as well as store and infiltrate water during rain events. “The most recent spring rains have brought out spectacular blooms of goldfields and owl’s clover in the meadow,” said Rumble.

Because of this habitat restoration effort, students will be able to learn key science concepts; conduct scientific observations by analyzing the soil, slope, and hydrology; scientifically illustrate plants and wildlife; and maintain the habitat site on a weekly basis through trash pick-up and weed control. Additionally, they will be able to view wildlife safely and learn about ecosystems, science and math as they care for hundreds of plants – their very own living outdoor laboratory.  

In November 2009, the school and community celebrated this native habitat restoration project with great fanfare. With approximately 300 people in attendance, the event started with everyone planting and watering over 300 trees and plants. After the manual labor, food, song, and pomp and circumstance followed. The school’s choral group sang “Moon River” and “Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive” by singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer. Fifth grader Kevin Martinez gave an eloquent speech describing how this project had changed his life, and City Councilman Ed Reyes gave the school and Los Angeles Audubon a proclamation from the City honoring the collaboration.

The planting of trees has been part of the school’s culture since its inception. Constructed in 1991, the school’s vision began with its namesake, Leo Politi. Leo Politi was an Italian-American artist and distinguished author and illustrator of children’s books. His works often celebrated cultural diversity, and many were published in both English and Spanish. He embraced the city’s muliticulturalism, history, children, flora, and fauna and dreamed of making the city a peaceful, safe, and happy place for young children where their imaginations could run free and they could explore the wonders of nature.

Carolyn Martus contributed to this article

 

 

Contact Info: Stephanie Weagley, 805-644-1766, stephanie_weagley@fws.gov