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Auto Club and UCLA History-Geography Project Highlight Successful Learning System in Challenged South L.A. High School

Study of Neighborhoods Teaches Students How Geography Changes the Way They Live

(LOS ANGELES, Nov. 29, 2005) – Students at Fremont High School in South Los Angeles are participating in a unique class that teaches geography through studies of local neighborhoods. The class was developed by Social Studies teacher Janet Tran, the Automobile Club of Southern California and the UCLA History-Geography Project (HGP) using Auto Club maps and archival photos. The goal of the class is to make geography relevant and interesting to inner-city students, by making it personal.

“The Auto Club’s unique archival resources are an excellent vehicle for teaching local history and geography,” Auto Club historian Matthew Roth said. “The partnership with the UCLA History-Geography Project has been instrumental in getting Auto Club materials to teachers who put them in classrooms in interesting and fun lessons.”

The curriculum was designed by Janet Tran in conjunction with the Auto Club archives and educators of UCLA’s HGP. Tran developed the lessons specifically for her own students with the idea that geography would be more interesting if it involved areas the students knew well.

“The students really responded to photos of locations they are familiar with and see how those places have evolved over time,” Tran said. “It has been rewarding put these materials into students’ hands and watch how history and geography came alive in the classroom and see interest develop in a subject that a lot of teenagers think is not too interesting.”

Tran’s lessons incorporate photographs depicting Los Angeles during the horse and buggy age and similar images of modern L.A. The lesson is entitled “Then and Now – Before and After the Industrial Revolution.” Tenth-grade students use historical maps, photographs and other images to compare and contrast the development of Los Angeles over the past century from a sleepy town into a world economic center.

The core of the partnership between the Auto Club and the HGP is to help students better observe their local communities. The collaboration began with a one-day symposium, a one-week summer institute, follow-up sessions with teachers who attended the institute and a joint web site with updates and additions.

The partnership between the Auto Club and UCLA got off the ground last July when the organizations hosted a summer institute for Southern California area teachers. Twenty one teachers attended and were introduced to 30,000 maps, photographs and paintings that document the past century of Californian’s growth and development. The collection is housed in the Auto Club’s downtown Los Angeles archive. With the scholastic expertise of UCLA’s History-Geography Project, teachers were encouraged to develop their own lesson plans to excite their students about the study of geography. Three thousand students throughout Southern California will participate in geography classes based on Auto Club materials during the current school year.

HGP employs a staff of geographic educators and professionals skilled at curriculum development and teacher training. It draws on the faculty resources of UCLA and has established a network of K–12 classroom teachers.

The Auto Club archives house an extensive map collection for the period 1906 to the present. Published since 1909, the Auto Club’s member magazine Touring Topics and its successor Westways have chronicled the landscapes and travel destinations in California, and other regional locations. The archives contain cover and editorial art for the magazine; many of the paintings represent prominent California artists, and capture on canvas the landscape, culture and people of California. The photograph collection includes more than 30,000 images from 1910 to the early sixties with particular emphasis on tourist destinations in the West and the communities of southern California. Located in central Los Angeles, the archives office is open to researchers by appointment.

The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, has been serving members since 1900. Today, the Auto Club’s members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club’s Web site at


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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.