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Good Night John Boy, Good Morning Charter School!

The Walton's Kami Cotler is all smiles for the camera.
The Walton's Kami Cotler is all smiles for the camera.

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with child star Kami Cotler about her involvement with the Environmental Charter Middle School.

Kami Cotler is best known as "Elizabeth Walton," the youngest daughter in the long-running and Emmy award-winning television program "The Waltons." Following her ten years as an actress, Kami graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and pursued a career in education.

Returning to Los Angeles in 2001 with her husband and two children, she became involved in the charter school movement and is currently the founding principal of Environmental Charter Middle School in Los Angeles.

The cast of The Waltons will celebrate its 40th Reunion at The Historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Saturday, September 29th, 2012 and the proceeds from the event will benefit Cotler's Charter School.


Interview Conducted Via E-Mail By Giacinta Pace


Q: What is Environmental Charter Middle School and why did you get involved?

Kami: Environmental Charter Middle School is part of Environmental Charter Schools (ECS), a network of free public schools in underserved communities of south Los Angeles that prepares students for 4-year colleges through a focus on experiential learning and by using the environment as a way to both engage students and prepare them to become leaders in their communities. ECMS's educational program is designed for students to develop the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that prepare them for success in college preparatory courses at the high school level as well as those skills that prepare them to be effective stewards of their community.

My involvement with ECS began in 2002, when I taught history at Environmental Charter High School. At that time, my son was in kindergarten at a high performing LAUSD district school and succeeding academically, but coming home with stomach aches before recess every day.

As a result, I became more involved in the charter school movement, helping open Ocean Charter School, a K-8, arts-integrated charter on Los Angeles' west side. After 3 years as a co-director of OCS, I returned to Environmental to help write their charter petition for a new middle school, where I am now principal.


Q: Have there been any particularly moving moments you have had while working with the school/organization?

Kami: There have been many moving moments. Opening a charter school is a group effort; parents, staff, teachers and students build a new school together.

Our first harvest festival, our first Greek Olympics and our first camping trip were all highlights of year one. This year it has been moving to watch our 7th graders comment nostalgically on the 6th graders' projects and events-- wistful comments like, "Ah, I remember when we did the 6th grade science symposium!" This year the 7th graders designed an aquaponic system (a system that grows fish and plants interdependently).

There was a glorious moment when a 7th grader commented on a drawing of the proposed system saying, "This drawing isn't to scale! How can we tell if the plan will work if the drawing isn't to scale?" It's an awesome comment for a student to make when you consider that most of our students could barely use a ruler when they started at ECMS.

A few weeks ago the organizer of the Waltons' 40th Anniversary event came to ECMS to film a video about our school for the event website. They interviewed our students, who answered their questions without any rehearsing or preparation. Listening what they said was extraordinary. We work hard to create a positive and nurturing environment and their spontaneous confirmation of what we aim to achieve was very moving. 


Q: There are so many causes for people to get involved in, what makes you different and why should people support this cause?

Kami: The simplest answer is people should come take a school tour and see how ECS has created a safe and friendly environment where learning is interactive and fun.  Our campus is dotted with student-designed projects that not only prepare students to be successful learners but inspire them to solve real life problems and empower them to become the change they want to see in the world.