Best of LA Causes Influential Moms

Alison Diaz Launched The Environmental Charter Schools to Create Serious Change in Education in Underserved Communities

Imagine going to school in an environment where you can pick fruit from the garden in your central courtyard, feed chickens, learn to compost and understand how your environment affects your quality of life. Imagine teaching about social injustice and developing life-long relationships for students that overcome racial diversity in that nurturing environment. Imagine, learning first-hand how to apply for a grant to turn your cafeteria into a library or to add a technology lab to your school. Talk about a different kind of education. Alison Diaz did. She imagined it. And then she created it.

1. Tell us a little about your schools and your mission.

Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) is an innovative network of free public schools serving South Los Angeles. Founded in 2001, ECS is comprised of a high school and two middle schools, and serves more than 1,000 students each year. The mission of ECS is to create and deliver vibrant, innovative, interdisciplinary learning opportunities using the environment to engage students and connect them to the wider world.  Our vision is that students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to graduate from college, inspired to discover their own sense of purpose and empowered to become quality stewards of their own communities.

2. What made you want to create ECS?
Imagine the high school you went to…close your eyes, picture your lunch room, classroom, favorite spot on campus.   No matter where you went to school, I imagine, it didn’t look like this:



3. Tell us a little about yourself. Are you an LA native? Where did you grow up?  How did you end up in LA?

I am the Founder and Executive Director of Environmental Charter Schools (ECS), a growing network of schools that provides a meaningful education for youth in the underserved communities of South Los Angeles. I set out to create a different kind of educational experience for students, which has evolved into a model for schools across the country.

When I was little you would often find me saying, ‘Life isn’t fair’. Whenever I found something unfair, I would have to do something about it.  After going to law school to learn how to advocate for the underdog, I realized that for me, practicing law didn’t mean solving the problems most critical to our generation. I left law to teach. I quickly learned that LA schools were not meeting students’ needs.  A very small percentage (less than 32%) of LA’s high school graduates completed the course work needed to attend a four year college.   So I looked to make a difference.  In 2000, with a lot of help, we opened Environmental Charter Schools.  I look forward to my daughter attending our high school!


4. What’s your favorite local spot for a cup of coffee or a fresh juice or smoothie? Would you consider it “Best of LA?
There is a Brazilian spot called Natureba Juice Bar in Redondo Beach on Artesia just west of Inglewood that I love to go to with my daughter for smoothies.  I love the GumTree and the Source in Hermosa Beach for coffee.


5. What is you go to weekend activity with the kids? Would you consider it “Best of LA?

Bike riding on the Strand (anytime), parking the bike and taking our first swim of the summer season!


6. Where is your favorite SoCal weekend getaway and why?

Terranea Spa and Resort is the place I take visitors – beautiful views!



Alison holds a Bachelor of Science in Business from the State University of New York, Albany, and Juris Doctorate from Temple University Law School. At Temple, she participated in the LEAP program, teaching urban youth about their constitutional rights. After earning her teaching credential from California State University, Dominguez Hills, Diaz taught for eight years as she developed the blueprint for what would become Environmental Charter Schools. Alison also served as a faculty member at California State University, Dominguez Hills and worked as the Education Specialist for TreePeople.

Diaz was named 2011 Woman of the Year by the State of California Assembly. She serves on the Board of Directors for The Green Schools National Network, is an Advisory Board Member for the Antioch Teacher Education Program and is a Senior Fellow for the City Scholars Foundation. She was also invited to keynote the National Green Schools Network Conference and has spoken at functions hosted by Rotary International, Women’s Environmental Council and the Women in Green Forum.

When she’s not changing the face of education, Alison can be found on the slopes, skiing with her daughter, Taylor, traveling to parts unknown, or enjoying time with family and friends!


Since its inception in 2000, Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) has been providing students with a unique learning experience that utilizes environmental service learning to inspire students to find authentic meaning in their studies. The result is students who are prepared for college, motivated to continue their learning, and desire to positively contribute to their community.

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