School partners with FoLAR

Max Turetzky

The school announced a partnership with educational organization Friends of the LA River (FoLAR) in light of the the River Park project Jan. 5. FoLAR will aim to use River Park to educate students across Los Angeles (LA) about the river and its ecosystem, according to a press release from the school.

Head of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Ari Engelberg ’89 said the River Park educational program is one of several projects the school and FoLAR have collaborated on.

“We’ve actually known about FoLAR for a very long time,” Engelberg said. “In fact, Lewis MacAdams, who founded FoLAR in 1986, was a teacher at Harvard School, and his children are alums. FoLAR is passionate about environmental education along the LA River, so they were enthusiastic to learn about partnership opportunities when we first contacted them about River Park back in 2018.”

FoLAR’s student base predominantly consists of students living below the poverty line or qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the school’s press release. FoLAR will have access to River Park’s facilities and outdoor park spaces to implement educational and advocacy programs, according to Engelberg.

FoLAR Chief Operating Officer Dennis Mabasa said River Park will help FoLAR expand its program.

“Our environmental education programs served five thousand students last year,” Mabasa said. “However, if we have a new location, we could bring in more students to show them the LA River, to show them environmental concepts. We’re really going to be able to bring in a large number of Title I students from across the valley to this new campus, where they’ll be able to really learn from FoLAR.”

Mabasa said FoLAR has worked closely with Engelberg and River Park planners and architects to reach FoLAR’s goals.

“One of the components of the River Park will be a FoLAR classroom, so we will have a space where we can bring in a group of 30 students,” Mabasa said. “Across the property, we’re co-designing some environmental education signs that will teach folks about the natural ecology in the area. Those are two of the small components of the site that we’ve had the privilege of co-designing with Harvard Westlake.”

Environmental Club Co-Leader Chloe Appel ’23 said she feels somewhat skeptical of the school’s collaboration with FoLAR.

“Although I appreciate the school’s efforts to educate people about FoLAR’s mission and the iconic LA River, I do see this as somewhat of a performative act to get the River Park agenda passed,” Appel said. “Part of the plan is to plant native plants around River Park, but the school’s environmental science teacher, Ms. Eisenkolb, has asked the school numerous times to replace some of the agriculture around [the upper school] campus with native plants, and they have made no [attempts] to do so. The school should make sure they have the same energy toward climate-friendly initiatives on campus as they are trying to do off-campus.”

Engelberg said River Park will protect the environment and help the public appreciate the natural beauty of the LA River.

“[River Park] will become a locus of educational and advocacy activity around the river,” Engelberg said. “We will also devote resources to beautifying, maintaining and securing the areas of the property that front the river so that the community can really enjoy a walk along the river.”