Monday, November 29, 2010


Editorial By Carole Nese in the Los Feliz Ledger |

Friday, November 26th, 2010 - 7:10 am | Have you seen them around the neighborhood?  John Marshall High School students walking the streets, carrying shovels sacks of mulch and heavy buckets of water. Wonder what they are doing off campus?

These students are in Mr. Jay Benoit’s Horticulture class and they are on a mission of beautification, learning and caring for the earth.  They are planting and tending the new trees along Tracy Street from Talmadge to Hyperion.

The Horticulture is class part of the curriculum of the School for Environmental Studies, one of the eight “Small Learning Communities” at John Marshall High School.

A total of 400 students—freshman  to seniors—are enrolled in the School for Environmental Studies program that is designed to encourage students to seek careers in green industries.

Mr. Benoit received his college degree in ecology and created the School for Environment Studies four years ago after teaching at JMHS for eight years and seeing the need.

In addition to the Horticulture class, the students take core classes together—social studies, science, English—with assignments and curriculum focused on environmental issues.  Woodshop and Design are two of the other required classes in the School for Environmental Studies.  Those classes, taught by Jeff Fong (woodshop) and Jose Galdos (design) teach the students about green building, use of recyclable and energy efficient materials and building off the grid, using their own independent power sources and recycled water supplies.

Although many of his students did not start out that way, Mr. Benoit is proud of the fact that students in the School for Environmental Studies have the highest API (academic performance index, mandatory high school testing) among the small learning communities at Marshall, with a total score of over 700.              

In addition, no student has ever chosen to leave the School for Environmental Studies program to go to another program at Marshall or and no student has ever dropped out of school.  Every student has completed their high school education and 90% are college bound.

Students say they chose this program because they like working with their hands, watching things grow and the teachers.  Many have had to work to help their families and they appreciate work that designs and creates scenic beauty. Many of them say that an outdoor classroom, field trips and planting trees are great ways to learn and it is peaceful and rewarding to breathe cleaner air, help the planet and create a healthier world.

Career choices in the program include environmental law, medicine, public health, solar energy, environmental engineering and landscape design.  Creativity and imagination are the only boundaries to selecting careers in this program, students say.  A few are even thinking of careers in culinary arts, incorporating their knowledge of locally grown foods and organic produce.  Working in a green, energy efficient world appeals to them.  Their college choices range from Trade Tech to USC and UCLA.

Currently, there are 40 students in Benoit’s Horticulture class.  They learn about native and drought tolerant plans and landscaping.  The drought tolerant plants and trees the students plant in the neighborhood are indigenous to Southern California and never have to be watered once they are firmly established in the ground.  The students’ work outside to propagate, cultivate and care for what they plant.  They nurture and cherish the trees and look upon the neighborhood as their own backyard.

The purpose of the Small Learning Communities within LAUSD high schools is to personalize education for public school students and encourage students toward a direction on their lifetime career path.  The district decided to divide the high schools into small learning communities a few years ago, making them more like schools within a school.  Each program has their own Assistant Principal and the JMHS principal, Mr. Daniel Harrison, oversees all of the Small Learning Centers.  In days past, students would choose a major in high school, now they choose a small learning community program in a field that will help them decide what they want to do when they grow up.

After establishing the School for Environmental Studies, Benoit applied for and received a California Partnership Academy grant, a state grant funded through the California Department of Education.  The application process is arduous and only the best programs in the state are awarded the funds.  The School for Environmental Studies is the only program at Marshall that receives grant money from the California Partnership Academy.  The grant provides hands on technical training in green industries and allows students to go on field trips where they job shadow professionals.

A large part of the neighborhood, organized by David Farmer, leader of the Marshall Area Neighborhood Watch, came out to thank the students for all of their caring and hard work with sandwiches, fruit, milk and cookies early on a recent Monday morning.

When given a chance, homeowners and neighbors spoke in unison: “The local community has benefited from all of the hard work of these students and we thank you; it’s all beautiful!”

Carole Nese is a member of the Marshall Area Neighborhood Watch

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