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Torrance Teacher Fosters Love for Little Creatures With $10,000 Grant

August 25, 1994|SUSAN PATERNO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not too many people react to stink bugs the way Judy Goldsmith does. "I get really excited about them," said Goldsmith, a science teacher at Torrance's Madrona Middle School. "They make the cutest, littlest footprints."

Goldsmith's love of the natural world is largely why she was one of 40 teachers chosen nationwide to receive a $10,000 grant, which she plans to use to help restore Torrance's Madrona Marsh, a 42-acre expanse of cracked, sandy soil surrounding oil derricks, bordered by Del Amo Fashion Center and usually filled with trash and weeds.

"Madrona is a vernal marsh," Goldsmith explained. "It's supposed to dry up part of the year."

The trash, weeds and oil derricks are not what nature intended, she conceded. Though not much can be done about the derricks, Goldsmith said, she and her students will help a group of community activists restore the marsh to its pre-Columbian glory days, replacing trash and weeds with indigenous plants, bugs, birds, reptiles and animals.

"Sometimes I look at it all, all the 40 acres, and I think, how in the world are we going to get rid of all the weeds? We can't. But if we keep enough people involved," she said, "well, maybe we can."

Before Spanish settlers arrived in Southern California, Native Americans used to paddle in dugout canoes through the marsh's tall grass up a thin, shallow lake that extended from San Pedro to El Segundo. In the marsh's modern period, settlers were followed by bulldozers, housing tracts and shopping malls. In the early 1970s, a massive residential and commercial project threatened to kill the wetland, but the Friends of the Madrona Marsh sprung to its defense. In 1983, the marsh was declared a nature preserve.

Goldsmith's grant--sponsored by Toyota and the National Science Teachers Assn.--will buy a high-powered computer so she and her students can create a field guide to the marsh. They'll also continue replacing weeds with seedlings grown in class. Eventually, they hope to introduce indigenous bugs, birds and animals.

Goldsmith, a Lomita resident, has been teaching on and off in Torrance for 30 years and has lived in the South Bay her whole life. She wanted to try to restore the marsh--which is only a few blocks from Madrona school--for a couple of reasons, she said.

"I'm into trying to save things that we have. The marsh is the last piece of wilderness left in Torrance that there is to save. It's close to school and it's something the students of Torrance should know about and do their share about keeping," she said.

Wendi Sweet, 12, agreed. Before taking Goldsmith's science class last year, she never thought about the marsh, she said. Now, when she visits it, Wendi imagines "what Torrance was like before all the buildings and stuff, when there were plants and animals all around."

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Goldsmith attributes her interest in science to her own experiences as a child growing up in Inglewood on a street that backed up to a huge field. That field, now a car lot, was big enough for Goldsmith to roam for hours, hiding in the tall grass, where she plotted dirt-clod fighting strategies.

"When I was in first grade, I had a girlfriend whose mother was into reptiles. She showed me a big, black indigo snake and it wrapped around my waist. She had an alligator, and we went grunion hunting to feed the alligator. We baby-sat their skunk when they went on vacation."

Her parents supported her goal to become a science teacher. "It doesn't matter what you're going to be, as long as you're the best you can be at whatever you do. That's what my parents told me, and that's what I tell the kids in school.

"My biggest goal is to get kids excited about science. I don't always achieve that and that gets me down. But if I can get a spark going, then it'll come through. Last year I had a doctor come to me and tell me I had inspired her to become a doctor. That made me feel wonderful."

Goldsmith hopes the Madrona Marsh project will keep the spark of learning alive for her students. "As long as I'm at Madrona," she said, "we'll be taking care of the marsh."

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Five South Bay high school seniors won $2,000 National Merit Scholarships for academic achievement. Only 2,000 students nationwide are chosen for the honor. The South Bay recipients are Edward S. Ahn and Robert Y. Shih of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School; Stewart L. King, South High School in Torrance; David A. Korka, Torrance High School, and Seung H. Yoo, West High School in Torrance.

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Rancho Palos Verdes resident Jacki Bacharach has been appointed commissioner of the National Commission on Intermodal Transportation. The commission is charged by Congress to investigate and study transportation in the United States and abroad.

Items for this column may be sent to People Column, South Bay Edition, Los Angeles Times, 23133 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, Calif. 90505.

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