• a landscape of a parking lot turned green

      The “Jackson Watershed Discovery Project” includes dozens of new trees, large boulders and logs for seating, natural play elements, permeable pavement, native plants, and “bioswales” to capture and channel rainwater (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      Transformational Project Nears Finish Line at Jackson Elementary School.

      By Wesley Reutimann

      A light rain surprised volunteers Sunday morning. However warm from an hour of raking and digging the diverse group of local students, parents, and community members was undeterred by the passing shower. The cool and wet conditions were ideal for placing dozens of California native plants – including toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), desert mallow (Sphaerlacea ambigua), Californian lilac ‘Yankee Point’ (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), and pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  – into their new home at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Academy in Altadena. The volunteer-powered planting day was one of the final touches on one of the largest campus greening projects in Pasadena Unified School District history.

      students working on planting trees

      Student volunteers from Flintridge Prep begin raking mulch off a section of the transformed Jackson Campus to prepare the site for planting (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      A long time coming

      Led by Amigos de los Rios, the project is the culmination of over a decade of work at Jackson, including years of planning, funding proposal development, and smaller improvements.

      The latest chapter in the campus’ green makeover opened in April 2021 when the California Natural Resources Agency awarded the “Jackson Watershed Discovery Project” almost $800,000 in funding from its Urban Greening Grant Program. The major grant award, paired with funding from Los Angeles Stormwater Measure W, allowed Amigos to transform thousands of square feet of impermeable asphalt behind the school in Summer 2022. In its place new trees, large boulders, log benches, and permeable pavement were installed before the new school year commenced in the Fall.

      a parking lot turned greener with trees and tree logs for students to sit on

      A section of cut-out asphalt makes space for two new trees and decorative log seating (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      Greener Schoolyards

      The Jackson project is the latest example of the growing “Green Schoolyards” movement in California. Over the past decade parent and public awareness of the benefits of more verdant schoolyards has been on the rise as southern California faces a hotter, drier future with more frequent heat waves.

      The need for such improvements is especially relevant in the hotter, inland valleys of Los Angeles County. The San Gabriel Valley currently averages 32 days per year where daytime temperatures exceed 95°F. According to UCLA researchers, this number could skyrocket to an average of 74 days per year by 2050, and an average of 117 days — a full five months above 95°F — by 2100.

      (L) A laser heat measurement device registers a temperature of 150F on unshaded asphalt at Pasadena Unified’s San Rafael campus during a September 2022 heatwave with triple digit weather conditions.
      (R) An adjacent shaded section of asphalt registers a temperature of 114 F (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      The Pasadena area experienced a snapshot of this hotter future in September, when PUSD schools and the rest of the region experienced over a week of extreme temperatures of up to 110F. With many campuses lacking adequate play area shading, children were unable to play outside all week, a tough prospect especially for the youngest students whose need for regular physical activity is most pronounced, as well as the educators left to manage the subsequent behavioral impacts.

      Greener, cooler schoolyards are one strategy to mitigate the impacts of an increase in extreme heat. Trees provide long-term cooling. In addition to shading surfaces below, trees release water into the air, helping bring down air temperatures further. Unlike asphalt, trees do not absorb heat all day and release it during the evening, a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island” effect that can impact entire neighborhoods. As a whole these cooling benefits also help save energy and money for schools by reducing the need for air conditioning.

      Altadena-based Amigos de los Rios is working on similar greening projects at several PUSD sites, including Willard, Washington, and John Muir schools. The organization has a history of transforming public school campuses into greener, cooler, more vibrant spaces.

      Help needed

      While the latest project at Jackson is almost finished, the work is far from complete. In the coming months there will be additional opportunities for the public to support greening efforts at PUSD campuses. Volunteers of all ages are welcome, including school and civic groups. For information about upcoming volunteer days, please visit Amigos de los Rios’ events page.

      students tending to grounds

      Flintridge Prep students compact soil and build “moats” to help retain water around newly planted CA natives (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      A large formerly asphalt area is now home to new trees, decorative log seating, and natural play elements (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      teacher with students on the grounds

      Marian Coensgen, Project Associate with Amigos de los Rios, provides student volunteers a tutorial on how to best place a native plant into the soil to improve its chances for success (Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

      students pose for a photo

      Student volunteers pose with the initial results of their hard work, a newly planted bed of drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plants (Photo – Photo – Wesley Reutimann)

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        • Wesley Reutimann

          Wesley Reutimann is a Pasadena resident, volunteer organizer of the Pasadena Environmental Advocates (PEAs) Eco-Breakfast, and co-founder of Active San Gabriel Valley (ActiveSGV). He has almost two decades of experience in the non-profit sector with community-based, government, and educational institutions. Wesley's areas of focus include health policy, sustainable mobility, and active communities.

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

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      1. Gary Green says:

        I notice that the full name of Jackson School is not used in this article, It was/is named for Andrew Jackson, slave-owning President who also drove many indigenous people including the Cherokee from their lands. A couple of years ago there was a move to rename the school. The new name would have honored a local woman whose last name was also Jackson, and, I believe, was a JPL engineer. I have heard nothing about that effort other than the original proposal. It is a great idea that should have happened. Maybe it did.

      2. Thom Hawkins says:

        Down with asphalt! Up with soil!

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