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FoLAR Connects 470 Underserved Students to their Urban Ecosystem


Access to nature is a fundamental determinant of health, yet research shows that low-income and communities of color often lack access to parks and natural spaces. Disconnected from the natural world, especially the LA River, due to urban development, historical neglect, and a scarcity of accessible green spaces – youth are left unaware of the River's significant impact on their community, health, and ecosystem. Our immersive environmental education program, Source to Sea, addresses this disparity by connecting Los Angeles’s most underserved students to their urban ecosystem.

Friends of the LA River (FoLAR) inspires lifelong environmental stewards and encourages youth to pursue careers in the eco-STEM field. Aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, our comprehensive program unfolds in multiple stages. Initially, students engage with two in-class presentations about the history of the LA River and its biodiversity, equipping them with a foundational understanding to enhance their experience during their visit to the LA River. This engagement is quickly followed with a school visit by our interactive mobile-museum, the River Rover. Aboard our interactive exhibits, students compare the past, present, and future states of the River and a 3D model of the LA River Watershed helps them visualize their watershed and understand how water flows through the city.

Their journey culminates in a dynamic day at the River itself, featuring a nature walk, a water quality lab, and a water filtration project. These hands-on lessons allow students to take on the role of naturalists, scientists, and engineers. Our holistic, phased approach educates while inspiring action and a sense of ownership, embedding the River's legacy within the hearts and minds of future generations.

Who do we serve?

FoLAR awards the Source to Sea program to schools with the highest percentage of low-income students. Based on school-wide data, we estimate that over 90% of our students served so far this school year are low-income and all of the schools served are Title I schools — schools receiving additional financial assistance due to a high percentage of low-income families. We actively engage and prioritize this demographic, historically under-recognized in STEM and conservation, through education. Source to Sea encourages their own agency as partners in rejuvenating their most valuable natural resource.

Our Impact

With LA 2050’s support, FoLAR directly impacted 470 local students across 25 public school classrooms with schedules to serve another 790 students this semester alone. Our goal is for every student to demonstrate an increase in:

  • positive perceptions of nature
  • comprehension of environmental concepts (eco-literacy)
  • awareness of the physical and mental health benefits of nature
  • connection to their community
  • sense of agency involving environmental and civic action

Monitoring and evaluation measure our progress towards these goals and preliminary 2024 findings suggest an increase of over 60% for the outcomes in this list. An empiric measurement of impact is reflected in the number of students attending habitat restoration and LA River CleanUp events as active stewards of their environment. Within the last several months, the largest demographic returning to these monthly events are aged 11-20.

In the words of participating teachers:

“My students loved the combination of biodiversity, history, water filtration, and exploration. They all worked really well together!”

“The students were REALLY excited to see animals…Every lesson was effective targeting specific areas that were all important to learn. They were also all engaging.”

“They gained the knowledge of the history of the river and native groups that lived in the LA area and the LA River field trip allowed the students to physically experience what the river provides to our city.”

From our students:

“The most exciting thing was looking at plants and birds today through the binoculars. I feel great being out in nature and learning new stuff.”

“The most exciting thing I saw was this specimen that we picked up from the River and we got to look at them in a microscope.”

“Being in nature is actually pretty relaxing and soothing.”

What’s next?

In our 13th year, Source to Sea is able to cover bus funding to all participating schools for the first time ever. This would not have been possible without LA 2050’s support. Keeping this program free eliminates barriers to participation, relieving schools and teachers of the pressure to secure funds. Thanks to LA2050, we get to continue educating and inspiring a diverse, multi-generational base of nearly 1,000 more River stewards and environmental advocates and join them as future partners in the river movement.

AuthorFriends of the Los Angeles River