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"CommonLore connects me with the tools, resources and models to strengthen my planning for building student led, service based opportunities in lessons and projects—modeling and teaching sustainable habits for healthy communities."
Aida Lugo, Teaching Artist
Los Angeles

"Inviting students to 'fall in love' with their subject matter is a simple but revolutionary concept. It re-engages students with the learning process in a way that allows students to take pride and ownership in what they are learning."
Jonny Rodgers
Service-Learning Director
Campbell Hall School

"During the Summer Institute we found out that the lake in MacArthur Park in our school's Westlake neighborhood is fed by natural springs and is a watershed for the LA River. My students were excited to learn this and now want to start a park beautification project to support the ecological health of the urban park and its surroundings."
Paul Lowe, LAUSD Teacher
Westlake Neighborhood

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Students Digging Deep Into Their Community
service learningCommonLore is a powerful place based service-learning and collaborative ethnography focused training and support program for K-16 educators. We begin with the belief that we must increase the "commons" in our communities—spaces for dialogue, understanding, empathy, and authentic compassion. Our initial teacher pilot projects are in Los Angeles and Vermont, along with other locations around the U.S. CommonLore provides teachers in local schools with training, inspiration, and hands-on peer collaboration. Our goal is to support student driven HUMAN focused community inquiry projects, using Collaborative Ethnography and Place Based Service-Learning as interwoven learning strategies. Our larger purpose is to bring local communities together. CommonLore projects begin with larger questions. Who makes up our community? Who has been left out? What are our stories? How do our stories define us? Why are stories about ourselves and our community so important? Which stories lead to human growth, resilience, and justice? Where should we begin?”
Find out how we can support your own local work.
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K-16 Educators and Students as Ethnographers
service learningFor the past several years, educators attending CWI Summer Institutes have had a unique opportunity to learn and practice CommonLore skills and strategies to prepare them to help their students build a shared sense of place, purpose, and community through inquiry, discovery, and social action.

At our Summer Institute locations In Vermont and Los Angeles, we've been modeling and practicing Collaborative Ethnography as a strategy for exploring and understanding local communities at a deeper level. "Change" has been a significant theme as we move beyond assumptions to listen to the many and diverse voices in each community. contact us

service learning

A River Comes Back to Life
la riverAfter long being “lost in plain sight,” the Los Angeles River is beginning to emerge from its near century of concrete-urban-entombment. Friends of the LA River (FOLAR), RiverLA and other local organizations are leading unprecedented effort now to physically revitalize the LA River itself, along with its immediate environment. In this context people from all walks of life—throughout the Los Angeles area are becoming newly aware of the River. As future community leaders and stewards of the River, students are crucial to the process of reimagining both the River and life in the communities that surround it.
photo by Ryan Vaarsi


Students Building Community in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles
service learningThe fourth graders in Paul Lowe's class at MacArthur Park Elementary are conducting and sharing cultural research in their downtown Los Angeles neighborhood of Westlake. Their teacher Paul Lowe is a trained member of CWI's Summer WEST Institute. His fourth grade students' Westlake neighborhood has great historic and cultural significance—including having once been covered by a large ancient lake that fed the Los Angeles River. Today Westlake, though posessing heavy economic challenges and one of the densest lower income populations in the U.S., is a also thriving neighborhood. Westlake also lies directly in the path of encroaching gentrification and development. Many of Westlake's residents are recent immigrants from Central America and Mexico who have brought a cultural vitality and uniqueness to their neighborhood. MacArthur Park students are interviewing and photographing their neighbors, at work and as they go about their everyday lives, with the goal of sharing a powerful portrait of one of Los Angeles' most important neighborhoods. In the process they are helping to build a sense of place and community, for themselves and for local residents. become an CommonLore school l contact us

Celebrating Our First CommonLore Educator Cohort
riverlore cohortThis year marked our first gathering of a pilot group of CommonLore educators in Los Angeles. Our pilot educator CommonLore Cohort spent a remarkable week together at CWI’s Summer WEST Institute, focused on developing community focused service-learning experiences for their students, with the LA River as a shared touchstone. Our inaugural cohort came from schools and organizations that ranged from Cal State Northridge, to MacArthur Park, and on to South Central. After a week of powerful collaboration and curriculum development these educators are now involving their students in the process of community inquiry and service in their local neighborhoods. contact us

CommonLore Supports Los Angeles Area Educators
la riverloreCommonLore, a program of Community Works Institute (CWI), is centered on creating deep connections forstudents to their own local communities. Our shared pedagogy revolves around a focus on Place as the Context, Service-Learning as the Strategy, and Sustainable Communities as the Goal. Our larger goal is to involve K-16 students in important academically connected work that contributes to their neighborhoods and communities.

There are many ways to be involved in CommonLore, as an educator, a local knowledge-base advisor, or as a supportive volunteer for our educators. contact us

A River Legend: Lewis MacAdams
lewisThe head of the crusade to preserve the the LA River is stepping aside as group’s president. Lewis MacAdams, the poet and flag bearer of the crusade to transform the Los Angeles River into a more natural state, gripped the handles of his walker and shuffled along a weedy stretch of the flood control channel hemmed by freeways, power lines and railroad yards. Clad in black pants, a vintage shirt and pork pie hat, the 73-year-old co-founder of the hardened army known as Friends of the Los Angeles River steadied himself and gazed out, listening intently. “The LA River speaks to me,” MacAdams said with a wry smile. “And she’s been a vigorous muse for more than 30 years." read more
—Originally published in the Los Angeles Times

Place Based Service-Learning as a Strategy
service learning CommonLore's curriculum design work takes many forms, focusing on students' interests, local community needs, and our educators' teaching priorities. Our common thread is uncovering and sharing stories of local people, culture and history Our goal is to build understanding and connection in our communities. Place based service-learning guides our efforts. learn more

Place Based Service-Learning is a process and teaching strategy that emphasizes the unique character of each community and its relationship to the larger world. It combines academic and social education goals to meet real community needs. It requires the application of knowledge,
and skills, and systematic reflection about the experience.
Community Works Institute (CWI)

la river


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