LA RiverLore Educator Cohort
Meet the members of our working LA RiverLore Cohort. We spent an intensive week of collaborative planning at CWI's Summer WEST Institute on Service-Learning and Sustainability. Our cohort members are K-16 and community educators who come from across the greater Los Angeles area, bringing a diverse set of backgrounds and teaching contexts. Our recruiting process for our 2017 LA RiverLore Cohort is now underway. learn more
Professor of Sociology, California State University, Northridge
Director, CSUN Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing
David leads the Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing at California State University at Northridge. He and his colleagues work to develop creative collaborations in the local community between university partners and community stakeholders. Service-learning is an important part of the campus curriculum at CSUN, and is also central to the mission of CSUN's Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing. David and his staff work closely with the community of Canoga Park as part of a Neighborhood Partners in Action Program (NPA). As a part of NPA, and in collaboration with Canoga Park community leaders, they have established sustainability as an area of focus, and in particular, efforts related to the LA River. Canoga Park High School which lies adjacent to the headwaters of the LA River is one of their key partners. David and his staff would like to invigorate CSUN–CPHS, and their Canoga Park collaborations surrounding the LA River and sustainability in general. David is a professional sociologist by training, with a particular interest in community-based participatory research. He is interested in learning more about creative efforts to engage communities via the LA River and sustainability practices. Storytelling, narrative, creative arts, and visual ethnography (photovoice) are particular interests of his. He has been excited to learn more about the creative efforts of others through LA RiverLore, as well as establishing local area connections with other community and education leaders.
Middle Grades Teacher, T.S. King Middle School, LAUSD
Matthew recently transitioned from a semi-administrative role in a very high-needs high school to T.S. King Middle School, a very diverse, high-performing magnet sixth-grade classroom in Los Feliz, an urban neighborhood of Los Angeles. He is excited to have the opportunity to work with his new colleague Sonja Williams at T.S. King Middle School who is also a member of the LA RiverLore Cohort. Matthew says that LA RiverLore represents "an opportunity to access all of those things that had drawn me to teaching in the first place: To inspire and excite curiosity in students, to create meaningful learning environments, and to teach students in ways that can help to make the future a better place." Speaking about his experience at CWI's Summer WEST Institute, Matthew notes that, "CWI provided a bridge, catalyst, and a reinvigoration of each of these. The Cohort team that came together during that week is one of the best that I’ve worked on. We provided inspiration and meaningful support to one another that continues to this day." He believes strongly that place-based and service-based learning is much more real for students." And that it is "better for the development of their humanity, their citizenship, and their paths to lifelong learning and community building. One of the beauties of place and service-based learning is that community building and broader awareness of the community itself and its ongoing development are already built-in." He also notes, "this “built-inedness” is both a natural outcome of the work, and an opportunity for explicit teaching and learning around these critical skills. By working together for a common goal, aspects of community not commonly in view are often brought to light."
Community Artist LA—Otis College of Art and Design Alumnus
Cinthia is a long time community activist and educator who teaches free art based classes in South Central Los Angeles, and other locations. Funding the materials for classes and projects is one of the many obstacles that she faces as a community advocate and artist. Her efforts inlcude advocating for bringing arts education back into K-12 public schools, along with service-learning and sustainability based teaching practices. Cinthia sees having passion in creating a collective model of education as essential in any space that aims to grow the minds of our youth and fellow peers. She emphasizes service-learning, place based teaching, and sustainability teaching strategies as supporting crucial actions in public practice. Cinthia believes that these teaching strategies "have the ability to change the course of student’s lives. I am drawn to these strategies because I am the result of them. I encountered educators who created curriculum that engaged and stimulated the senses. I am a lifetime learner, meaning I believe that everyone carries knowledge and this opportunity is something that I would like to share with others in the communities I actively participate in."
Cinthia says she is motived to create a radical curriculum and, through her participation in LA RiverLore, gain effective strategies that will assist her in potentially drafting her vision of an art centered teaching plan that incorporates the social movements that are taking place in the communities she works with. As she puts it, "Education is most affective when it promotes creative thought and questions norms. The most important absolutes when creating this collective vision of education would be a progressive curriculum that lifts the veil of Christopher Columbus 'discovering' America and replaces it with one that centers the legacy of indigenous peoples and their present-day impact. I also believe that we should include the breaking down of gender stereotypes and build safe spaces that are inclusive for all."
Teaching Artist, Pomona—Otis College of Art and Design Alumnus
Aida is Multi-disciplinary artist from Pomona, California. She is extremely interested in Los Angeles history. Aida holds a Bachelors of Fine Art and Community Arts Engagement from Otis College of Art and Design, along with a certificate from UCLArts and Healing: Social Emotional Arts Certificate Program. Her fields of study include: Sculpture New Genres; Installation Art; Film; Photography; Drawing; and Painting. Aida's artistic mission is to work with local communities on projects using art to beautify and strengthen our personal and collective identity and our environment.
Aida sees the LA River full of possibility for bringing together communities from all along the River around a connected cause—to free the River and be able to utilize it as a natural resource. "The River in its current state needs love and attention from the community to begin to get involved in revitalization efforts and envision what the future of the River looks like for us." "I would like to partner with different environmental and arts non profits to document the River and surrounding communities through photo and film and capture what we would like to see the LA River become." Aida's LA RiverLore related goals include encouraging her students to get directly involved, beginning with establishing communication with law makers and people in charge of the revitalization effort. She will also be working with her students to make positive change by going through the process required to propose and ultimately design and install public art.
4th Grade Teacher, MacArthur Park-Westlake, LAUSD
Paul is a teacher in the MacArthur Park/Westlake district of Los Angeles considered by some to be a rough neighborhood. Paul doesn't see it that way. "I can’t afford to. I began my career in LAUSD ten years ago when the school was MacArthur Park Primary Center. I was desperate for a job after leaving a charter school that was about to lose their charter So I taught English to a class of Spanish speakers whose parents opted for English immersion, not dual language." The next year with the teacher layoff cycle, Paul was bumped across the street to Charles White Elementary School, previously home to Otis Art & Design. He taught 4th and 5th grade for five years and was handed the most challenging students because of his low seniority. During those years he says, "I became the teacher I am today because experiential learning was my survival skill. I couldn’t teach without building on the interests of my students. One boy had a fascination with snakes, so we got a terrarium with two corn snakes. The classroom became a mini-zoo where students would bring their pets to class for a week, and we conducted research and generated investigations based on their inquiry." He continues, "Charles White is also an arts-based school. One of the most interesting projects we did came out of a LACMA partnership. Marissa Dowling, a visiting photographer from London sent the students around MacArthur Park with cameras to take photos of things they found interesting. The photographs were a blend of artifacts and human interest stories. We had a gala with the Mayor in the LACMA annex museum on our campus."
Eventually, LAUSD sent him back to MacArthur Park Primary Center, which grew into an elementary school where he was nominated Chapter Chair of the LA teachers union in order to help create a better and more sustainable environment for students. He was assigned third grade, and there "I began the descent into the underworld of computerized testing. Fortunately I had enough reptilian skin. I kept true to a quote from W.B. Yeats that got me into teaching, 'Education is not filling the pail, but lighting the fire.' One of his goals has been to expose students to their own world, so he takes his students on as many field trips as the principal will allow. He says, "One teacher I know went on 23 field trips in one year, most of them free. That inspired me to try for seven or more a year. Some of the best trips have been right in the neighborhood, gathering stories from folks living and working in the community." Field trips include to a senior center, interviewing the tenants as a way for students to learn about the history of the region. Another project Paul is planning through LA RiverLore is a community garden at his school that services local families and beautifies the park with native, drought tolerant plants. Paul's students are learning about seeds and how to take of plants by adopting existing plants at school. MacArthur Park Lake is a watershed for the L.A. river, so Paul wants to extend student learning by growing plants along the river. His students are also beginning to write about their experiences with plants and life structures integrated with creative writing and visual arts. They will also be making connections to the history of plants and agriculture of the indegienous Tongva as well as settlers, and how industrialization, gentrification, and technology has affected our relationship to the river. Paul's students' work and documents will be shared by LA RiverLore, with his vision being a journey into student self discovery through service-learning, a journey that is ongoing and evolving.
Director of Service-Learning, Campbell Hall Episcopal School
The Bishop’s Chair for Spiritual Ecology
Jonny is trained as an outdoor educator, theater artist, and naturalist guide. His work focuses on connecting people with their community, and communities with Nature. He places great emphasis on creating and nurturing reciprocal relationships between the individual and their local and global communities—both human and ecological. Jonny shares, "I believe LA RiverLore is an ideal launching point and anchor for the mission of engaging human communities with the natural world that surrounds them, and upon which they ultimately depend. The fact that Campbell Hall, an indepednt Episcopal school, is adjacent to a tributary of the LA River, and in fact is quite near the river itself, makes the mission that much more immediate and relevant to the students." He says that this will support a consistent exchange between teachers, students, and families that live and work near the River as well as the River’s own ecological community: the trees; plants, animals; soil; air; and water. The fact that LA RiverLore spans multiple communities and sections of the River is even more exciting, because it expands the effect we can have in revitalizing the River and the greater community of Los Angeles. Jonny feels that, "Illuminating the inherent context in which students and communities exist is an essential part of the learning process for without context there is no meaning." By incorporating and collaborating with more than just our immediate local community, Jonny says, "we can not only present the learner with their own personal and local context, but with the larger contexts of the city, county, state, nation, and the planet! This global context is at the heart of the work of connecting students and communities to their world. In that spirit, our aim is to begin with simple, achievable projects in order to bring the presence and voice of the River to the local community."
Jonny and his colleagues at Campbell Hall have an evolving broad vision that includes a long term series of interrelated projects: an investigation phase via walks along the close sections of the River and an exploratory kayak down a navigable section of the river; sessions with community members who live near the River to see where they feel the greatest need and opportunity for change lies; and researching the history of the River from the perspective of the city, the community members, native peoples, and geological records. During an implementation phase he hopes to enlarge school participation by: adopting nearby Moorpark Park, adjacent to the Tujunga Wash (a river tributary); creating a student generated poetry anthology in many languages written from the perspective of the riverl; student written and illustrated children’s books telling the story of the river and/or its inhabitants; stream surveys by biology classes using city-sanctioned equipment, collecting and reporting data for city use; student designed and painted murals telling the story of the river along the concrete banks of the river. Student generated informational displays along the river banks in multiple languages describing the different parts of the river ecosystem (flora, fauna, etc.), how humans have historically related to and affected the river, and how we relate to and affect it now.
Recycling Specialist, CalRecycle
Urban Sustainability Graduate Student, Antioch University Los Angeles
Angela has been an environmental activist and educator in Southern California for the past decade. In 2015, she published a children's book and CD entitled Save Queen Green! Mother Nature's Eco-Rhymes, which teaches environmental messages through song and dance. Personifying our planet, Angela performs as the main character, Queen Green, to connect children to nature and inspire change. She works with California's Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) curriculum on making the connection to environmental justice for teachers and students in the Los Angeles area. Her current venture is creating a sustainability day camp for youth that merges science and the arts, instills social awareness, and inspires service in order to create sustainable communities. She is currently working on her Master's degree in Urban Sustainability at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Angela is passionate about sustainability, social justice, and service-learning and is thrilled to join the RiverLore team to explore ways to connect students to the LA River and expose the past and current injustices that plague our people and our planet.
Middle Grades Teacher, T.S. King Middle School, LAUSD
Sonja has been teaching Math and History at the Environmental Steam Magnet at King Middle School for the past several years. T.S. King Middle School is in Los Feliz, an urban neighborhood of Los Angeles. Prior to that she taught for fourteen years at a middle school in South Central Los Angeles. She is also a co-founder of WYLD.org, an outdoor experiential educational non-profit that focuses on getting underserved youth and military vets together in mentorships and into the outdoors, via hikes, back country trips and service learning projects in the wilderness. She is passionate about making connections between unlikely groups of people, traveling, cycling and expanding her educational practice. Sonja joined the LA RiverLore Cohort because she wants to make the LA River the seat of her curriculum in both math and social studies, and because she believes that children, and society, need to be more connected to nature in order to solve our environmental and social issues responsibly. The LA River is a perfect classroom for looking at where we went astray as a city, and where we can get back on track as a community. The River is also a perfect place to study how bureaucracy and a lack of connection to nature can effect a city for generations. She says that "through our relationship with our own river, we can search ancient and contemporary history for how and where the human relationship to rivers changed, why it changed, and how we can make it back again."
Founder, Community Works Institute (CWI)—LA RIiverLore Director
Joe is the Founder and Director of Community Works Institute (CWI) and is an international advocate and leader for embedding place based service-learning and sustainability in K-16 education and community programs. His passion for what ultimately became LA RiverLore evolved from a strong sense that The LA River itself represented a compelling need of environmental and cultural redemption, while offering a connective thread that could bind a larger community of purpose throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Over the past three decades Joe has worked across the U.S. and internationally with students, educators, and administrators, at every grade level, both in urban and rural contexts. As a public school teacher in Vermont he established a nationally recognized K-12 service-learning program that included a student run community newspaper that thrived for twenty years. In 1995 he established CWI's Summer EAST Institute in Vermont, and later Summer WEST in Los Angeles. These week long intensive Institutes function as a collaborative learning and design laboratory and have been attended by educators from nearly every U.S. state and many countries around the world. Participant demographics include K-16 and community educators from an incredibly diverse set of contexts and job descriptions. Joe's message to Institute participants is to always seek to develop learning experiences that possess a compelling sense of purpose and the broadest possible inclusion of community members. Joe is also the publisher of Community Works Journal, a digital magazine for educators. email Joe
CWI Faculty—LA RiverLore Teaching Advisor
Paula is a veteran teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, mostly at the middle school level. She uses a strong projects based approach that allows for student voice, academic choice and active engagement in learning. Breaking down the four walls of the classroom, thinking about how to use educational spaces more creatively, connecting students to their communityand greater world in authentic learning experiences, are what drives her practice. Paula believes in networking to connect schools to local organizations and communities. At Orville Wright Middle School where she previously taught, she organized to builda student and community garden on a derelict acre of land on the school’s property that still thrives to this day. She now is a board member on the all-volunteer nonprofit that oversees the garden. Paula is an alumnus of Community Works Institute’s (CWI) Summer WEST Institute
CWI Faculty—LA RiverLore Advisor
Mike Antos is a Watershed Manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, where he leads efforts to engage members of disadvantaged communities with ongoing and future integrated water management. His past work includes as the inaugural Director of the Center for Urban Water Resilience at California State University Northridge, and as the Programs Director of the non-profit Council for Watershed Health. There he led projects related to integrated water management, disadvantaged community engagement, stormwater capture for groundwater augmentation, and assessment of watershed health. He holds a PhD in Geography from UCLA. Mike is a member of the Water Resources Group of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, on the boards of the LA-based nonprofit Coalition for Our Water Future and the Loyola-Marymount University Center for Urban Resilience, and is a Fellow of the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation.