Marveling at the blender attached to a modified bicycle, students from Westmont Elementary in Pomona spin the pedals to whip up a fruit smoothie. Across the field, students from the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies lead a demonstration for students and their parents about a truck that runs on vegetable oil. These unconventional learning activities are part of the Lyle Center Sustainability Fellowship program, which enables Westmont students to explore environmental topics and pathways to college.
The partnership between the Lyle Center and Westmont began last winter, with a four-week after-school workshop series at the elementary school that introduced environmental science topics through hands-on projects, such as making bird feeders out of recycled materials. The success of these events prompted the development of the Sustainability Fellowship program at the Lyle Center, where Cal Poly Pomona students work with the elementary school throughout the entire year, facilitating classroom, after-school and weekend activities for the whole family.
“We view these ‘whole family’ activities as critical for nurturing environmental awareness among the students. Growing leadership and capacity in future generations is essential for sustainability, which is why the Lyle Center is so interested in this project,” says Dr. Kyle D. Brown, the center’s director. “We can have a larger discussion about the importance of higher education for Westmont youth and begin a dialogue with families about how the pathway to college can be accessed.”
Recently, Lyle Center students, staff and volunteers from across campus led a day of hands-on activities centered on biofuels, energy conservation and organic agriculture for 90 Westmont students and their parents.
In keeping with Cal Poly Pomona’s learn-by-doing philosophy, they learned about organic agriculture by planting seeds, and after donning goggles and gloves, they watched a demonstration about the making of biofuels.
During a reflection activity, students drew pictures of themselves at the Lyle Center and finished the sentence “In college, I could…” with their own thoughts about the future. Like many other participants, one student drew trees, flowers and a portrait of themselves at the center.
“At the same time, we had a separate discussion with the parents, asking them what they consider the possibility of their child’s future and what could help them get into college,” Brown says. “The purpose was to learn about what barriers they believe exist and how we might best address them in our future work. At the end of this conversation, the students brought their drawings to show their parents, and they hung them up to make a collage, which will be posted at the school. It was a very powerful moment.”
Program supplies and transportation to the center were made possible thanks to a donation from the Ernest Prete Jr. Foundation, which supports environmental awareness and education.
“What really attracted me is that this program is teaching kids about the future,” says Mohammad Virani, president of the Prete Foundation. “This is the Earth. After we’ve long gone, these kids will be teaching their kids. These are lessons we have to pass down. The buzzword is ‘proactive.’ We have to do something about the environment, rather than just talk about it. That’s why these projects for the kids are very interesting.”
The Cal Poly Pomona Foundation and the Pomona Unified School District board also helped to make the event possible by donating lunch. This is the first time that these Westmont students have visited, but the Lyle Center plans to bring more students to the main campus for activities.