Landscape Architecture Students Earn National Award for Community Garden

Landscape Architecture Students Earn National Award for Community Garden
Landscape architecture majors Alfredo Cornejo, Donna Yeung and Reyna Baeza at the award-winning garden.
Cal Poly Pomona and Lassalette Middle School students walk in the garden they built together.

The American Society of Landscape Architects has awarded seven recent Cal Poly Pomona graduates the Award of Excellence in Community Service. The award, which is the highest honor the society gives to college students, recognizes them for designing and building a native garden at a local middle school.

During the last winter and spring quarters, Professor Gerald Taylor's Advanced Landscape Design Studio students worked closely with teachers and students at Lassalette Middle School in La Puente on the MathMagical Landscape Project.

Before any plants reached the soil, many hours were spent researching and tutoring the middle schoolers about geometry, environmental stewardship, native plants and more.

“The students gave a lot thought and time to this project,” Taylor says. “It's been amazing to see the enthusiasm from the middle school students and their families. When it came to planting the garden, we had 60 people helping us. I have never seen so many people get so much finished in one day.”

The Cal Poly Pomona students who worked both quarters on the project are: Reyna Baeza, Alfredo Cornejo, Alvaro Figueroa, Terry Lu, Marshall Mason, Donna Yeung and Jennifer Yi.

The sustainable garden is located prominently at the entrance of the school. It features a small wooden bridge, pathway and a small amphitheatre. The plants, which include a variety of flowers and trees, are all native and drought-tolerant. There is also a dry stream bed designed to catch runoff from a nearby roof when it rains.

“We wanted to show the children how they can conserve energy and water,” says Donna Yeung, who graduated in June.

George Urena, who teaches sixth grade at Lassalette, came up with the idea to partner with Cal Poly Pomona's landscape architecture department on the project. The MathMagical Landscape Project was funded by an $8,000 Edison International grant called the New Era Award for Excellence in K-12 Education.

The afterschool intervention program aimed to improve the proficiency of math skills for low performing middle school students. Lassalette students come from predominantly low-income families. Eighty-five percent of the students are identified as English language learners and 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Another goal of the project was to expose the middle school students to a college environment and introduce them to landscape architecture as a career option.

Earlier this year, Urena arranged for the entire 300-pupil school to tour the Cal Poly Pomona campus so they could gain an understanding about landscape architecture. After the field trip he visited all the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-classes and invited students to participate in the afterschool program. He targeted students with low math skills, however he did not turn away the higher performing students who were interested, he says. Roughly 30 middle school students volunteered.

“We ended up with a wide range of students. It was heterogeneous education,” he says. “We had high performing and low performing kids working together and learning from each other.”

During the winter quarter, the landscape architecture students created lesson plans related to the design, development and construction of the garden. The lessons were based upon California content standards for math. Twice a week during spring quarter they visited Lassalette Middle School to present lessons and tutor the students.

The hands-on, learn-by-doing participation was the main method of instruction. This included such exercises as determining the area of various geometric shapes on the school grounds, percentage of slope, volume of materials needed for the landscape project, and the use of architecture and engineering scales to make dimensioned drawings of buildings, plants and other landscape elements. A design charrette was conducted with students and school personnel, Taylor says.

Lassalette Principal Christina Sanchez says she has seen remarkable changes in some of her students who participated in the program.

“I didn't anticipate the pride they would take in the project,” she says. “Some of them really found their niche.”