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Dean Helps Students See The Green

This story originally aired May 15, 2009.

Growing up in Crenshaw in South Los Angeles, children don't always have the chance to go outside and play.

"I had no idea what a forest looked like except in a picture or in a book," says Cynthia Rivas, of Crenshaw. "It's really hard for people to imagine that."

But Bill Vanderberg, dean of students at Crenshaw High School, took it upon himself to change that -- and the process has changed his students' lives.

He started a club at school that celebrates the environment -- the Eco Club. It gives urban students who live in one of the toughest neighborhoods in L.A. a chance to escape their life in the city.

And for his efforts, he was named an "Early's Angel" Friday on The Early Show.

Vanderberg said his club offers a getaway from what he calls "war-zone like conditions.

"I could not imagine coming to school with that stress every day, having to worry about being robbed or beaten up every day," he said.

The Eco Club offers his students an opportunity to take students -- regardless of grade point average or discipline issues -- on weekly hikes, community service outings and annual backpacking trips to Yosemite National Park.

"There is no safe place to play outside in this community," Vanderberg said. "I became involved because I simply wanted people to go out and play and do things every kid has the right to do."

The Eco Club has given some students the opportunity to see the ocean and the mountains -- many for the first time.

"(The club) gives my students a chance to experience the wider world," Vanderberg says.

The club also has its share of success stories.

Leo Morazan was caught up in vandalism in the ninth grade, when he met Vanderberg during one of his suspensions. He suggested Morazan join the club.

"I met other people in the Eco Club who were doing the same things I was," Morazan said, "and they helped me get turned around."

Morazan joined the Eco Club and is now on his way to college this fall -- with the goal of becoming a park ranger.

Rivas has also been impacted by the Eco Club

"At the time we went to Yosemite, she was a senior with no real interest in going to college, had never been outdoors, never experienced wilderness," Vanderberg said.

But the Eco club sparked an interest in her that led to a double major at Berkeley in conservation resource studies and forestry, and continued plans for a Master's degree in environmental management at Yale.

"If it weren't for that trip I don't think I would have had that perspective, and if it weren't for this club," Rivas says. "I don't think I would be here sometimes."

Paul Scibetta, assistant principal at Crenshaw High School, said Vanderberg has opened doors for the students beyond their expectations.

"He was always the person pushing you to do better," Rivas said.

Vanderberg said he is just trying to give something back.

He said, "I think it would be selfish on my part not to share who I am and what I can do."

The Early Show would like to thank the following for their contributions to Vanderberg's club -- which he was told about on the show on Friday:

Timberland is giving Crenshaw High School's Eco Club 100 pairs of shoes from their Earthkeepers and Mountain Athletics collections!

  • Timberland Earthkeepers and Mountain Athletics shoes help you lessen your footprint because they are made with recycled materials, inside and out -- including soles made with Green Rubber, which comes from recycled waste tires in landfills around the world.

    "Thanks to Sports & Outdoor store & Klean Kanteen who donated eco-friendly water bottles for all Eco Club members and to Coleman for the Fold 'N Go InstaStart Stove."

  • Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottles
  • Coleman 2-Burner Fold 'N Go InstaStart Stove

    The North Face
    The North Face shares Mr. Vanderberg's passion for the outdoors and is dedicated to getting individuals of all ages to embrace an active lifestyle. To help you continue your exploration of the outdoors, The North Face is donating a collection of its authentic, functional tents, sleeping bags and backpacks for the Crenshaw High School gear closet.


    Our friends at Sears were so moved when they heard Mr. Vanderberg's story that they wanted to recognize the contributions to South Los Angeles Crenshaw high school students. Sears believes you embody the Sears mission of life well spent. They have decided to help u rebuild the Crenshaw high school garden by providing you with all the necessary craftsman tools, from wheelbarrows to line trimmers to shovels and even gardening gloves so everyone can play a part in this process. Sears also thought it important that the Eco-club be able to document and feel comfortable experiencing all that the outdoors has to offer, so to that end they have also provided you with new handycams and tents. Sears understands that all Americans want a better life and what better way to show that respect than through our environment.