USC in the Community

This monthly column spotlights USC's volunteer efforts in the community. Articles by Carol Tucker, University Park Campus, and Michael Byrne, Health Sciences Campus.
Fourth- and fifth-grade youngsters from Foshay Learning Center were able to experience the wonders of Catalina Island last spring thanks to a Neighborhood Outreach grant. The boat ride to the island was exciting in itself, but once at USC's Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies the students examined plankton and other specimens under microscopes, had a hands-on experience with sea creatures in a touch tank, and toured the island to learn about native plants and geology. The students had watched videos in their classes on sea life, but seeing the real thing drove the lesson home, said Judy Doino, a doctoral student in marine biology who was a member of the team of graduate students who helped design the curriculum.

After-School Sports

About 1,200 low-income children - who currently have little access to sports instruction - will be able to learn gymnastics, soccer, volleyball, badminton, martial arts and other sports this year, thanks to a $95,000 grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation (AAF) to USC.

The grant will fund the USC Family of Five Schools' Afterschool Sports Instruction Program, serving up to 2,500 students over the course of three years. Beginning in October, the new program teams USC, the USC Family of Five Schools and the Amateur Athletic Foundation to bring high-quality sports instruction to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders at those schools.

The Family of Five schools are Foshay Learning Center, Norwood Street Elementary, Vermont Avenue Elementary, Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary, and 32nd Street/USC Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Center.

"At the five schools, there's almost nothing for the third- through fifth-graders," said Parker Jenkins, assistant director of intramural recreation, who will supervise and administer the program. The only local sports program, Kids in Sports (also founded by the AAF), offers team sports only on Saturdays, Jenkins said. "Our program takes place after school and is geared to introduce young people to good sporting activities and to the USC community."

"This is a real example of a partnership between the university, a local foundation and the community with the aim of benefiting our local children," said Cherilyn Parsons, USC's director of foundation relations who facilitated the grant proposal.

USC students and community members will teach athletic skills; as the youngsters progress, the program will coordinate tournaments at the schools and special clinics at other venues, such as the USC campus. While the regular instructors will receive stipends, the program will also use students, faculty, staff and community residents as volunteers. Members of the Los Angeles Police Department and the USC Department of Public Safety have also expressed interest in volunteering, Jenkins said.

The program will be evaluated by graduate students of psychology professor Margaret Gatz through the Social Science Research Institute's Steering Committee for the Study of Sport in Society.

"We will be constantly monitoring the program to provide a needs assessment and program evaluation," Gatz said. "We also hope to be involved with teaching people who will be the coaches. An important thing coaches impart to youth involves life skills as well as sports skills." The project dovetails with volunteer work by graduate students who are teaching youngsters at Foshay life skills through a program called "Going for the Goal."

Samuel Mark, assistant vice president of Civic and Community Relations, said the process leading to the grant was highly collaborative. Those involved included Civic and Community Relations, which coordinated the program development and supported the writing of the grant proposal; Parsons and University Advancement; the Intramural Recreation Program under the Division of Student Affairs, which is administering the program; the USC Family of Five Schools principals and staff, who assessed the needs of their schools and facilities; Peggy Hentschke, executive director of the Education Consortium of Central Los Angeles; and Ricky Ahluwalia, a recent graduate of the School of Public Administration, who provided research on sports facilities in the schools and community. Ahluwalia conducted his research through the School of Public Administration's Los Angeles Semester class.

The Amateur Athletic Foundation provides grants to foster opportunities for youngsters to participate in sports. The grant money comes from surplus revenues from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Island Explorers

"Twenty-six miles across the sea, Catalina Island is waiting for me ..." or so the song goes.

Last spring, Catalina Island was waiting for about 70 elementary schoolchildren from Foshay Learning Center. The fourth- and fifth-graders made their first trip to the island thanks to the USC Neighborhood Outreach-funded Island Explorers program, a collaboration of USC Sea Grant and Foshay Learning Center.

The youngsters engaged in hands-on activities and experiments involving the ecosystems of Catalina Island and the San Pedro Channel during their stay at USC's Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, located in Big Fisherman's Cove. Traveling to Catalina aboard a research vessel, the students looked at fish and invertebrates caught in trawls and placed on a wet table, then returned to the ocean. Scientists on board also conducted plankton tows at different locations so students could observe the clarity of the water and make comparisons of plankton.

Once at the island, the students examined plankton and other specimens under microscopes; observed garibaldi, leopard sharks and other sea animals near the shore; touched sea stars, sea anemones and other sea creatures in a touch tank; and toured the island to learn about native plants and geology.

"They had seen videos of plankton before but had never seen the live thing," said Judy Doino, a doctoral student in marine biology and a member of the team of graduate students that designed the curriculum. "What drove it home was that they were able to see that these creatures were actually in the sea water."

The Catalina Island excursion was the culmination of the year-long Island Explorers pilot program, which introduces students to the fundamentals of marine sciences. The children came armed with research questions on a variety of topics, such as leopard sharks, the orange garibaldi, the moray eel, plankton and kelp.

"They were able to go through the whole scientific process," said Lynn Whitley, a graduate student in geography who worked on the curriculum with Doino.

"There was a neat moment when four to five scientists were standing with groups of kids around the touch tank," she said. "The kids were looking at animals in the tank and asking questions of a person doing research on them."

The students presented their research findings during a science conference June 17 at Foshay. Working in teams, they explained the mating, feeding and reproductive processes and other characteristics of their subjects. The groups used computer programs projected onto a video monitor to illustrate their presentations as well as posters.

"You can't beat this. This is a group that would never get to Catalina without this program," said Howard Lappin, Foshay principal.

The class was co-taught by Foshay teachers Joanne Olson and Amy Cox, both USC graduate students in the science education program. Island Explorers was funded largely through a 1996 $28,000 Neighborhood Outreach grant.