Rival L.A. high schools find common ground in nature

Seventy-seven students from two Los Angeles high schools best known for their rivalries on the athletic field and turf battles in the streets took a hike together in the lush scenery of Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area on Saturday as part of what one described as “a compromise for nature.”

The Dorsey and Crenshaw high school students were from ecology clubs that have become such close partners that they are now known as the Dorshaw Eco Club.

“It’s like osmosis,” said Dorsey junior June Blassingame, 17. “It’s fun to be around people your own age with similar interests. Our schools are on common ground out here.”

This year, for the first time, the clubs are sharing more than $60,000 in grants from the Sierra Club. The money will cover the costs of transportation, camping equipment, clothing and food for extended back country expeditions through Santa Catalina Island and Yosemite National Park, as well as habitat restoration efforts in local parks.


As the students traipsed along trails crisscrossing scenic overlooks and shaded picnic grounds, Crenshaw’s eco club advisor Bill Vanderberg said, “You’re looking at a new generation of conservationists.”

“Our unspoken goal is to diversify the Sierra Club,” he said. “The average Sierra Club member is 59 and white. But people of color will soon become the majority. I want the Sierra Club to survive. This is the best way to do that.”

While the outing included plenty of time for the students to hang out and socialize, the educational goal was to immerse them in diverse geography and help them see how nature can thrive, with a little encouragement, even in the heart of the city.

Crenshaw junior Michael Daniels, 17, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, was captivated by how the landscape shifted in color. “I’m getting a lot of inspiration from the shades of nature here,” he said, admiring a grove of pine and olive trees. “The greens and reds and golds of leaves and flowers are amazing.”

For 15-year-old Dorsey student Jessica Sosa, who has put in 150 hours of volunteer work over the last year restoring habitat at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park and protecting the Venice Beach nesting grounds for endangered least terns, “it’s a way of giving natural areas back to a community that has been overwhelmed with buildings, cars and pavement.”

That kind of talk “makes me feel a lot better about the future,” said Robert Jeffers, head of Dorsey’s eco club. “Half the students out here today will be back on Sunday to help plant native plants and remove invasive species.”

Crenshaw’s eco club, the largest and most diverse club on campus, has received an annual grant of $50,000 from the Sierra Club since 2007. It specializes in community service projects.

Dorsey’s eco club, which received a $10,000 grant from the Sierra Club for the first time this year, emphasizes science and environmental rehabilitation efforts such as helping Leo Politi Elementary School students establish a native plant garden.

Their first collaborative outing was in April, when Vanderberg led a dozen students from both schools on a backpacking trip in Yosemite. Many more events are planned for the remainder of the semester, including a trail maintenance project in the Santa Monica Mountains and another Yosemite trip.

“The Crenshaw eco club is one of the programs we are most proud of, and invested in,” said Tiffany Saleh, the Sierra Club’s California youth representative. The new collaboration with Dorsey is a “flagship” effort toward laying the groundwork for a “greener future,” she said.

Blassingame put it another way.

“Before I joined the eco club, I didn’t get out too much,” he said. “It’s one of the coolest things ever. In fact, you have to recycle to be my friend.”