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Students Study Urban Ecology While Learning English

ceelA new program at LMU is combining English language development with urban ecology research in an effort to strengthen students’ abilities in both language and science work.

Project STELLAR - Science Teaching for English Leaners-Leveraging Academic Rigor - launched a two-week pilot program this summer, in which 6th- and 7th-grade students investigated tree swallow habitat in a creek area behind Culver City Middle School.

“Urban ecology is a perfect way to engage English language students, because it is so accessible,” said Magaly Lavadenz, director of LMU’s Center for Equity for English Learners. “You don’t have to go to a lab to do it. It’s right there in your own backyard, and it’s engaging.”

Tree swallows are losing their natural nesting places around the creek, which could lead to an increase in the local insect population, since the birds feed on insects. This in turn could mean greater pesticide use by humans.

During the program, the young researchers conducted field studies with binoculars, took notes, wrote reports and worked on a public service video to inform the community about the environmental impact of the shrinking swallow population. They also helped install bird boxes to supplement the birds’ lost habitat.

The project is supported by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the Center. Its curriculum was developed by Eric Strauss, President’s Professor of Biology at LMU and director of the university’s Center for Urban Resilience.

In a larger component of the project, researchers will train about 150 teachers of fourth- through eighth-grade students from the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, Lennox School District and the Culver City Unified School District over the next five years in how to implement the program in other schools. 

“There is a national shortage of experts in science, technology, engineering and math, and we have a talent pool of students who not only have the capacity to learn science, but can do it in dual languages,” Lavadenz said.

Click here for more about the Center for Equity for English Learners.