“I started getting mad that my school looked filthy.” said 6th grade student Reaon. “We have a student store, and everything that you could buy in the store would always be on the ground — all the wrappers and everything.”
He and his brother had started trying to clean up around their middle school, but hadn’t had much luck in getting their classmates to join in and help them out.
They said they had learned about taking care of the environment both at home and at Normandie Elementary School, where they had benefited from classroom gardening programs run by Community Services Unlimited (CSU) and the guidance of teachers they loved.
Although now in the 7th grade, Kylin says he still stops by the school every day to see his favorite fourth grade teacher and help her out however he can.
That strong bond to their school and desire to better their community was what brought them in to help us set up the Normandie school’s playground for CSU’s Earth Day celebration. Passing by, they had seen volunteers setting up, recognized a teacher, and decided to lend a hand because they like seeing their community beautiful. At 8:30 A.M. on a Saturday morning, no less.
Go ahead. Feel free to sniffle a bit. I teared up over that, too.
By the time the event kicked off at 11 A.M. this past Saturday, families had been lining up outside the school for some time. The parents were eager to take advantage of the resources and information offered by the many community organizations on hand, including Food Forward, Community Coalition, UMMA Community Clinic, Los Angeles Community Action Network, and TreePeople. The kids were more excited about the workshops where they could make kites, learn to deejay, write poetry, drum, and do yoga.
CSU also provided activities that parents and kids could do together, such as a jam-making workshop or a jump rope contest that tested the stamina of participants. A sweating father that got roped into participating in the contest laughingly said he stuck with it out of pride. He couldn’t back out of it while his kids were cheering him on.
All in all, several hundred families came through to celebrate Earth Day, learn about healthy and sustainable living, and try out new foods, like Earlez Grille‘s (very tasty) vegan hot dogs or smoothies made on the bike-powered blender.
Although a one-off yearly event, what makes it unique is that CSU has a permanent presence on the school campus and in the classroom. Conversations begun with kids at the festival can continue over the course of the year, reinforcing messages about healthy living and environmental sustainability in ways that promote deeper cultural and behavioral shifts. If even a few kids can walk away from the experience as conscientious as brothers Kylin and Reaon, then there is hope for a better community to take root.
For more photos of the day, please click here.