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At an Urban L.A. School, Nature Grows — and So Do Test Scores

At an Urban L.A. School, Nature Grows — and So Do Test Scores
Biological diversity does not come easily near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Hoover Street. The neighborhood just west of downtown is one of the most crowded in Los Angeles County, with 25,352 people per square mile. It's chock-full of buildings and has lots of pavement, little landscaping and many economically disadvantaged families. In that setting, Leo Politi Elementary School wanted only to make a dreary corner of campus more inviting to its 817 students. Workers ripped out 5,000 square feet of concrete and Bermuda grass three years ago and planted native flora. What happened next was unforeseen. It was remarkable. The plants attracted insects, which attracted birds, which attracted students, who, fascinated by the nature unfolding before them, learned so much that their test scores in science rose sixfold. In the words of Leo Politi's delighted principal, Brad Rumble, "We've gone from the basement to the penthouse in science test scores." As Rumble stood in the garden recently, 10-year-old Jacky Guevera fixed her eyes on an orb spider spinning a web near a pair of bushtits building a nest in the limbs of a crape myrtle tree. "At our school, flycatchers drink the water in the vernal pool," said Jacky, who dreams of becoming an ornithologist. "Scrub jays hang out in the oaks. The snapdragon's red flowers attract Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds." "I can identify each of these birds when I see them," she added confidently as she sketched images of the garden's wi…
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