KidWorks Youth Place in Statewide GIS Mapping Contest

Between tackling their daily school homework and preparing to attend college, KidWorks’ youths also carve out time in their busy schedules to improve their community.  

Our youth participated in a geographic information system (GIS) mapping project in the areas of transportation and nutrition, two issues they are passionate about.  GIS mapping allows students to create a framework to organize, communicate and make decisions using geographic data. 

Our students were interested in learning more about the availability of safe spaces for youth to skateboard and the prevalence of “food deserts” (i.e. the lack of fresh, nutritious and affordable food) in the City of Santa Ana.  For both projects, students used GIS mapping software to collect data in the city and compare it to municipalities of similar size.  

The Youth for Active and Safe Communities team focused on the lack of safe spaces for youth in Santa Ana to skateboard, both recreationally and as a means of transportation to school, jobs, etc. 

Maria Ruvalcaba, our Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator/Active Transportation, says they advocated for “safe locations for youth to skateboard, because skateboarding is a form of transportation for many youths to get to their destinations.”  She adds, “The team  will be presenting their findings to city commissions and other active transportation planning groups where decisions about the city’s infrastructure and open spaces are made.”

The Santa Ana Health and Nutrition Advocates team wanted to determine the reality of food access in Santa Ana.  Their focus was urging the Santa Ana Unified School District to offer cafeteria food choices that are both nutritious and tasty.  They surveyed students to determine what types of foods youth of Santa Ana are interested in eating and the availability of nutritious food options surrounding the schools in the district. 

Maria says theproject team’s main goal was “to show that students often do not eat the meals served in the school cafeteria because they are not fresh, appetizing or healthy; much of it goes to waste.”  She adds, “Students often go hungry during the school day or opt for unhealthy options off-campus, such as junk food.  The team hopes to share their research with the school board, nutrition services department and district’s wellness committee.”

Maria was so impressed by the findings of both teams that she encouraged them to enter the “My California Geographic Information Systems Mapping Showcase and Competition,” which encourages middle and high school students to “get connected with their state by producing an online map that focuses on stories, issues or ideas that are important to them.”

Both projects required significant effort, planning and attention to detail, Maria says.    

“The competition  kicked off in summer 2018 and was very intense,” Maria explains.  “The effort continued until April of this year and involved technology, field research, data collection from census and health agencies, mapping and creating the final presentations for consideration by the judges. The process was time consuming and at times tedious, however the students remained fully engaged throughout.”

Presenting the project on behalf of the skateboarding team were Evelyn Torres, 12th grade and Irma Mateo, 11th grade.

“There were definitely times when it was hard.  However, knowing the needs of the community really pushed us to continue our work and overcome the obstacles,” Evelyn reflected.

Their hard work paid off:  the skateboarding the Youth for Active & Safe Communities team placed second in the state-wide competition for their project “Skate Equity for Youth in Santa Ana.”

GIS Storymap Presentation_SAHNA.jpg

Presenting  on behalf of the Santa Ana Health and Nutrition Advocates team was Luis Ruvalcaba, 12th grade and Guadalupe Barrera, now a freshman at the University of California Irvine. Their project, “The Reality of Food Access in Santa Ana” placed third in the statewide competition. 

“Although we experienced bumps along the way with data gathering and analysis, our amazing team was able to collaborate together and support one another to move forward with the project,” says Luis.

The students who participated in the CGA competition are grateful for the learning and leadership experience.  

 “I had the resources and the dedicated team members to complete campaign.  But it all came down to me to speak up and try to make a change along with my friends.”—Irma Mateo

 “It’s been a long journey with lots of challenges, but we managed to overcome them with strength and determination.”—Guadalupe Barrera

Maria is very proud of both youth teams and optimistic that their dedication to issues they care deeply about will produce sustained outcomes.

“I’m overjoyed to see that their year-long work has finally come to fruition,” she says.  They are so committed to the issues they championed. They also found time to pursue these projects while keeping their other commitments to school, church and family.”

As you witness positive changes that help Santa Ana thrive, you can be sure that KidWorks students will continue to play an ongoing role in that meaningful progress.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer