A USC alumnus is spearheading a project to make a Los Angeles elementary school more environmentally sustainable.
Malabar Elementary School lies in the heart of Boyle Heights, a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood east of Downtown, and has been “[fostering] the highest quality teaching and learning for all” for over 100 years, according to the school’s website.
Carlos Rodriguez, who graduated from USC in 2013 with a graduate certificate in geographic information science and technology, aims to construct an Eco Learning Center at the school to teach students about the environment through technology. The project will allow the school staff at Malabar to work in tandem with parents and the community at large to create a space that will benefit everyone.
“The concept is a ‘garden on steroids,’ with two pathways with learning stations along the way where teachers can sit with students and discuss the environment and science,” Rodriguez said.
The garden will utilize technology like apps and Google glasses to enhance how children learn about the environment. Most of the project is being provided pro bono by Virtual Space, the consulting firm Rodriguez founded in Los Angeles in 1987.
Rodriguez, currently the president of Virtual Space, said that the company helps clients understand how to use technology to improve communication.
“My philosophy is a ‘don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you’re going to do’ mentality,” Rodriguez said. “That is a philosophy intrinsic to Virtual Space today.”
This way of thinking is one reason Rodriguez set out to help the Boyle Heights community. His project aims to not only enhance the learning among students, but to act as an open space for the community to utilize.
The initiative is projected to tentatively launch next fall. The first steps in its construction include removing several pre-existing bungalows, which would reduce the building’s carbon footprint and pave the way to install grass. This would create the allocated space reserved for the project, and in turn become a sustainable learning center.
Virtual Space and Malabar Elementary are launching a GoFundMe account this coming week, in hopes of raising enough money to move forward with the project this January.
Dieuwertje Kast, a staff member at USC’s Joint Educational Project, is also looking to collaborate with Virtual Space and Malabar Elementary in the near future.
Kast currently manages two main programs through JEP, the USC Young Scientists Program and the Wonderkids Program.
“JEP and USC at large foster a culture of social good and awareness,” Kast said. “JEP in particular provides a variety of resources to the local community that would not otherwise happen.”
Rodriguez also credited USC for instilling the ideals of philanthropy and community outreach in his personal brand, which he said inspired him to start the project at Malabar Elementary.
“I feel fortunate as a graduate of USC,” Rodriguez said. “It gave me insight, as a resource center, on how to care and give back to the community.”