Greening LA Schools: Parents, Students, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future

Another scorching summer in LA, another battle for the school kids against the merciless July sun. The familiar “May Gray” and “June Gloom” are no more, leaving students exposed to an unbearable heatwave that doesn’t seem to let up even by the time Halloween candy starts to line supermarket shelves.

Consider the student journey: school grounds that are more grey concrete than welcoming greenery, air conditioning units working overtime (when they’re not failing), and drinking fountains standing idle due to dubious water quality. The struggle is real for students like Romy Griego from Eagle Rock High School, who describes an exhausting walk into classes under a relentless sun, and the glaring concrete that amplifies the heat.

The message is clear: the kids need more shade and greenery at their schools.

And it’s not just the students sounding the alarm. Parents, too, are rising to the challenge, staging protests on LA campuses throughout the 2022-23 school year. These are parents like Antonieta Garcia, who has been advocating for greener school spaces since her daughter was in elementary school.

The parental outcry was heard, and LAUSD responded. A bold plan was set into motion, promising 30 percent of all campuses to include green spaces by 2035. But that’s not all. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced a whopping $47 million grant from CAL FIRE to transform pavement into greener, cooler school spaces – with LA schools at the top of the priority list.

This isn’t just about LA. Heatwaves have forced schools across the country, particularly those in the Northeast, to end their days early because of dangerous classroom temperatures. This is a national crisis, with students the world over feeling the effects of climate change.

California, a state famous for its wildfires and scorching heatwaves, is now making history with an unprecedented investment to defend its students from the climate crisis. Newsom’s Green Schoolyard Grant program is pumping $117 million to help schools eliminate excess pavement, cultivate drought-tolerant vegetation, and nurture children’s connection to nature. This initiative is about much more than comfort—it’s about survival, especially in communities that are often overlooked.

LAUSD, one of the largest school districts in the nation, has declared that it is dedicating over $229 million to upgrade facilities and cultivate sustainable green spaces for students. The district has developed a greening index to identify those campuses most in need of greenery.

This push for green campuses isn’t just about dealing with increasing temperatures; it’s about social justice. It’s no secret that the effects of extreme heat disproportionately impact schools serving communities of color and economically disadvantaged families. Advocates are calling for sweeping changes to address the climate crisis and bureaucracy that often stalls immediate action.

These climate challenges aren’t only about student comfort – they can be matters of health. Antonieta Garcia’s daughter, for instance, has asthma and allergies that flare up during hot weather. Overheated classrooms with unreliable air-conditioning and air filters are not just uncomfortable, but dangerous.

Then there’s the water quality issue. Fears around water contamination have led many students to avoid school drinking fountains entirely. In a modern society like ours, no student should have to wait for clean drinking water.

Students and advocates are looking for an ambitious approach to greening campuses, envisioning schools as champions in the fight against climate change. There’s hope that this isn’t just a temporary band-aid solution but a holistic, comprehensive plan to address the climate crisis. We’re not just talking about a couple of trees or patches of grass; advocates envision native habitats on campuses and schools functioning as wildlife corridors.

A future where LAUSD doesn’t just green schools, but creates sustainable, healthy, and accessible spaces for all students is the goal. It’s an audacious ambition, but if any city can set the bar high for a greener, cooler future for our students, it’s Los Angeles. Let’s hope we can lead the way.