The sky lights up in red and orange as the sun sets over Baldwin Hills – and with it, another workday for the dedicated 40-some-odd students in LA Audubon’s state park-specific Baldwin Hills Greenhouse program for high schoolers. The Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program isn’t the most well-known environmental program around – but for its students, which mostly come from the nearby Culver City and Dorsey high schools, it has quickly grown into one of their most important after-school responsibilities.
Students who join the program are asked to apply for one of two categories: Restoration Leaders and Interns. Restoration Leaders work in habitat restoration – as in weeding, planting native plants, and the such. Interns are asked to attempt a college senior thesis-esque endeavor in designing a project of their own choosing, conducting research, and presenting their findings at the end of the school year. It’s difficult work, and it’s clearly visible in how seriously the students take the program.
“There’s a lot of responsibility and trust involved,” said Ingrid Carrillo, a Greenhouse Program alumni and current staff member. “It’s empowering.”
Certainly, the program gives a lot of freedom – and responsibility – to its students, who rise to meet any tasks that it puts out for them. Some of this dedication may be in part due to the fact that the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program is a paid program, though students can opt to receive volunteer hours, if they wish.
Still, money is often the least of which makes this program so valuable to its diverse group of 9th-12th graders. CCHS junior Savannah House is one such student, having used the internship part of the program to conduct her own research and project, says that she has “specifically shaped where [she] wants to go in [her] future career.”
A large chunk of the program’s importance does have to do with students’ futures – the staff typically sets aside a few workdays solely college-focused, helping seniors with their college applications and essays and answering students’ questions about college life and requirements.
Not to mention the program’s other “unappreciated impacts”, as program director and L.A. Audubon project biologist Stacey Vigallon put it. She states that “The program gives students a much greater awareness of their local environment, and also a lot of skills that are transferable to college and eventually their future. A lot of staff positions get filled up by Greenhouse alumni, for example, which I’m always impressed by.”
The most important part of the program, however, may be the value it has to students who want to make a difference in the community but may be limited by their academic success. “We’re an inclusive group,” said Vigallon. “If you struggle academically, but still think that you can still do the program – go for it.”
Unfortunately, for all its benefits, the program doesn’t get much advertising, even in the Culver City area that it’s centered in. That’s intentional, though: Vigallon stresses the importance of the fact that the students themselves spread information about the program, not the staff. She wants the program to be primarily for the students – and so it’s important that the students take responsibility in advertising it to their peers.
In the end, the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program might not be the most recognizable program in the world. But when it comes to the value it has for the students? The program couldn’t be any more important.
Brandon Kim, Grade 10
Culver City High School