Styrofoam, plastic straws, and cigarette butts were just a few of the items Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School (AEO) students collected at Ballona Creek this spring. Eager to positively impact the environment and learn more about Los Angeles, AEO eighth grade students Rosa Salgado, Rigoberto Piceno, and Abigail Solano organized a Saturday pollution clean up-event at Ballona Creek, one of the largest remaining wetlands in Los Angeles County. “We are all affected by pollution, but the oceans and animals suffer the most,” said Piceno.
Representing the Heart of East LA
In search for a way to help the environment, the AEO students discovered Heal the Bay, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds of greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean. With the support of their history teacher Ms. Rodriguez, the group worked with Heal the Bay to set up a volunteer experience. The students saw this collaboration as an opportunity to expose their peers to public service as visit unique parts of Los Angeles. The student organizers knew that traveling the 15 miles to Ballona Creek would be an issue for many of their peers and their families so they collaborated with their after school program provider ARC who agreed to sponsor transportation.
On a sunny Saturday morning, 25 students, as well as their parents and teachers, removed trash and debris from the wetlands. “It felt good representing my school. When we told the other volunteers we were from the East LA community, they were a little surprised,” said Solano. “I felt like I was not just representing AEO, but the east LA Latino community too.”
During the cleanup, the Ballona Creek Renaissance, a Culver City based nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating the long-term renewal of Ballona Creek, commended the students’ efforts. “I am so proud of them. They represented AEO in such a wonderful manner,” said Rodriguez. “Others got to see our students in action and it was great to hear the Ballona Creek Renaissance speak so highly of them.”
Student leaders at AEO remind us what a student can do, no matter how young, when they realize their agency. While Green Dot’s mission is to prepare students for college, leadership, and life, these students also remind us that it’s vital to not only encourage intellectual curiosity, but also to support endeavors that enrich their character and improve the world around them.