2023 Grants Challenge

Children Investigate the Environment

Children Investigate the Environment (CIE) is our flagship STEAM education program. For more than 30 years, CIE has inspired thousands of fourth graders from Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) to appreciate Pasadena's natural wonders through the lens of visual art and the natural sciences. CIE encourages children to understand the importance of protecting our environment. CIE's guiding principle is Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), the accumulation of knowledge about relationships between living beings acquired by indigenous people.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

K-12 STEAM Education

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

San Gabriel Valley

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

We need to cultivate stewards of our natural environments now more than ever. This is a complex concept for urban children to grasp if they've never stepped foot in nature. For many of our students, CIE is the first time they've ever explored the natural wonders that are literally in their own backyards. This outdoor STEAM experience is unique for public school children from urban areas and supports different learning styles, particularly visual and kinesthetic. Additionally, CIE aims to address PUSD's low test scores for 5th-grade science (the first science testing year). CIE stimulates engagement and perceived success in science through art, which can result in long-term, positive outcomes in learning. CIE also aims to undo historical, institutional racism that systematically discouraged people of color from experiencing the great outdoors for generations. A 2021 CNN report cites studies showing that people of color are less likely to participate in outdoor recreation.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

CIE transforms Pasadena's natural environments into hands-on classrooms where children learn about the earth and physical sciences through the visual arts. CIE is a two-pronged STEAM program consisting of in-school lessons and artmaking coupled with fieldwork in nature. Our highly trained Teaching Artists lead all classes. The in-school components include standards-based science lessons paired with introductions to contemporary artists who address issues of ecology in their work. Activities include integrating visual art and science education standards, such as observational drawings of native plant specimens and creating ink prints with leaves to understand plants' internal and external structures. Two sessions of fieldwork complement in-school learning. Students first explore the outdoor spaces of their school grounds and surrounding neighborhoods, recording flora in their field books through observational drawing - a crucial skill for scientists and artists alike. In the final session, students participate in an immersive study of the natural habitat of Pasadena's Lower Arroyo Seco. On the trails, they learn about good hiking etiquette, native and invasive species, the concept and function of tree "canopies," and the codependent ecosystems they nurture. We frame everything through the lens of Tongva TEK, which makes abstract concepts of "sustainability" real through tangible examples of ancient land stewardship practices still evident in Pasadena's natural environments.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

CIE nurtures environmental stewards from marginalized communities. The program aims to dismantle institutional racism that alienated people of color from connecting with natural environments for generations, which is crucial to fostering a sustainable future for everyone. Through the lens of visual arts, CIE helps meet the needs of students from Pasadena's Title I schools by serving as a foundation for academic advancement in sciences during their middle and high school years, helping them achieve success in STEM-related fields. With over 30 years of feedback from past students, we know CIE has helped many Pasadena residents develop a lifelong love of hiking. Alongside art and environmental science learning, CIE teaches children proper trail etiquette - don't litter or vandalize, stay on the trails, be courteous to other hikers, and leave the wildlife be. Hiking is excellent for physical and mental well-being and doesn't require expensive equipment.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

CIE aims to increase 4th graders' visual arts and environmental sciences achievement by presenting innovative lessons integrating state and federal education standards for these subjects and grade levels. The Armory uses pre/post-student assessments and performance rubrics designed by our Teaching Artists to measure changes in student learning and achievement, including art and science assessments. We also assess students' artwork using one of seven evaluative art rubrics containing criteria pertinent to each art project, such as line, shape, color, composition, and overall artistic expression. We ask PUSD classroom teachers to complete an online survey developed through a Columbia University partnership to gather feedback on the program's impact. In the last completed survey, 71% believed our teaching artist successfully integrated visual art with science standards; 90% agreed students made noticeable progress in art skills.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 1,200

Indirect Impact: 53