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Nonprofit Helps Richmond Students Learn of City's Natural Beauty, Environment

This article piqued my interest because it plays on my “Richmond as a cool place to live” theme. How can we sell Richmond to the rest of the Bay Area when our own residents don’t appreciate what we have? Remember that City Council member who says Richmond has too many parks and that we don’t use what we have? The parks are not the problem; the problem is that our own residents may not be aware of the resources in our own back yard.

Kudos to Sharon Fuller and the Ma'at Youth Academy for opening the eyes of these kids. As Fuller said, They don't recognize that they're in a city that has wonderful resources, but the way the city is designed, it prohibits folks from recognizing these resources are there."

We are in the midst of a General Plan change where we have the opportunity to change the way Richmond is designed so that people do have access to and use our great resources of the natural environment, arts and culture.

Once we, as a city, fully recognize our assets, selling that vision to others is easy.

Nonprofit helps Richmond students learn of city's natural beauty, environment

By Kimberly S. Wetzel
West County Times

Posted: 11/30/2008 05:02:55 PM PST


Click photo to enlarge


From left, Gompers continuation high school students Andrea Gonzalez, Nester Ledesma, Jennifer...


A thin film of clouds stretches across the sky, shrouding San Francisco's skyscrapers. Gompers High School students gather on a pier overlooking the Richmond Marina, listening to the soft voice of Sharon Fuller, founder of the Ma'at Youth Academy, and the gentle smacking of Bay water against the shore.

"I want you to listen to the sounds," Fuller tells the students. "I want you to feel the wind on your face. I want you to smell the seas. What do you hear? What does it feel like to be out here?"

The students are silent for a moment as the cool marine air swirls around them.

"Refreshing," says 18-year-old senior Nestor Ledesma.

Like other Richmond youths, many of the Gompers students in ecology teacher Jerry Belletto's class never have seen the Marina and its expansive views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline before this day. Fuller and other members of the Ma'at Youth Academy are trying to change that, one classroom at a time.

Ma'at works with Richmond public schools with lessons and field trips to help students explore and learn about the environment. The nonprofit academy helps urban youths understand barriers to their access to clean air, water and soil, and safe and livable conditions, health care and education.

Many students are amazed to see how much open space there is in Richmond, and the field trips provide them with a different perspective, Fuller said.

"All the students see and hear about is how violent the city is," Fuller said. "So they are cut off from these jewels."

Fuller and her crew worked with Kennedy High students last year; this year the focus is on Gompers, an alternative high school in the Iron Triangle neighborhood. The students alternate lessons in the classroom with field trips to places such as Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Point Molate and the maritime building. Students not only learn about the history of the city but also how humans have polluted the environment.

"There are so many things in Richmond that make this a historical city that we want the students to know about," Fuller said. "They don't recognize that they're in a city that has wonderful resources, but the way the city is designed, it prohibits folks from recognizing these resources are there."

This year the academy added an artistic component to the program by teaming up with ArtsChange, an East Bay nonprofit that uses art to promote imagination, health and well-being in stressed neighborhoods. Students are to create their own works of art based on what they see on the field trips, and that art will be displayed at a spring exhibition at the Richmond Health Clinic. Artists will then create artwork of their own inspired by the students' work.

Fuller said it's the students' initial reactions to the city's places of beauty that make her smile.

"We took Kennedy High to Point Molate last year, and they were amazed that it was in their backyard. They're always excited and amazed when they see if for the first time."

That excitement was obvious at the Marina, where a large container ship appeared seemingly out of nowhere just as the group had turned to leave. Ledesma, the 18-year-old senior, stopped abruptly to take a look at the approaching vessel.

"Oh look, it's pulling something, too," he said, to no one in particular. "Wow."

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at kwetzel@bayareanewsgroup.com.