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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We hope you appreciated this article. Before you move on, please consider supporting the Colorado Boulevard’s journalism.
Billionaires, hedge fund owners and local imposters have a powerful hold on the information that reaches the public. Colorado Boulevard stands to serve the public interest – not profit motives.
While fairness guides everything we do, we know there is a right and a wrong position in the fight against racism and climate crisis while supporting reproductive rights and social justice. We provide a fresh perspective on local politics – one so often missing from so-called ‘local’ journalism.
You can access Colorado Boulevard’s paywall-free journalism because of our unique reader-supported model. People like you, informed readers, keep us independent, beholden to no outside influence, and accessible to everyone.
Please consider supporting Colorado Boulevard today. Thank you. (Click to Support)