Watt Way :: Fall 2008 :: vol. 4 2009-02-24T02:42:16Z Copyright (c) 2009, Brian Frank ExpressionEngine tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2009:01:20 Letter from the Editors tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2009:ee/index.php/blogs/16.105 2009-01-20T00:41:15Z 2009-01-20T04:17:15Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu
Dear Readers,

This fall, nearly a dozen journalism students at the USC Annenberg School for Communication traveled across the great expanse of South Los Angeles in pursuit of multimedia stories that you won’t find anywhere else. What they found will surprise, and disappoint. They will also offer hope.

In a collection of stories that documents the challenges, and aspirations, of our neighbors just south of the USC campus, Adriana Venegas-Chavez offers a poignant story about a young woman working hard, with help of a nonprofit, to reclaim her life after years of poor decisions. Adriana’s compelling narrative is accompanied by a slideshow narrated by Alisha Ruiz, now a 21-year-old woman who earns our award for perserverance.

Amber Mobley and Brian Frank document early results of an ambitious school reform at Crenshaw High School, and across the U.S., and Jessica Selva reports on new career training opportunities for students at Jordan High School in Watts. Natasha Garyali offers a rare glimpse into the lives of immigrant children.

In one dispatch from Los Angeles’ Skid Row, John Legittino takes stock of the financial health of one nonprofit and discovers, to no one’s surprise, it now needs as much assistance as the people it is trying to help.

John was enrolled in an undergraduate business reporting class taught by Professor Laura Castaneda. John and his classmates offer a compelling look into the financial life of South Los Angeles in these tumultous economic times in Greenlight, Watt Way’s new business section. The business reporting class was joined by second-year graduate and specialized journalism graduate students enrolled in an education reporting class taught by Prof. Bill Celis, whose spring 2006 advanced magazine writing class created the first issue of Watt Way.

A word about the magazine itself. Watt Way is one of several student-produced websites at the USC Annenberg School showcasing our School’s increasingly strong multimedia journalism curriculum. At the same time, this particular student project places a high premium on the acquisition of cultural literacy by helping our students understand that diverse voices in journalism matter a great deal. In this issue of our magazine, you will read and hear from immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, working-class Angelenos, voices not typically found in such abundance in a single publication.

This edition would not have been possible without the immeasureable talent and hard work of Brian Frank and Chris Nelson, second-year graduate students in the education and youth reporting class. Brian and Chris, along with their Annenberg classmates, rolled up their sleeves and produced this fourth edition of the magazine, which from the beginning has offered our readers compelling journalism from across this great city we call home.

                                                                                          Bill Celis and Laura Castaneda,
                                                                                          USC Annenberg journalism faculty
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U.S. schools fail immigrant children, but school choice may be one solution tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2009:ee/index.php/blogs/16.104 2009-01-19T23:22:08Z 2009-01-20T01:37:08Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu image
Anthony J. Colón, a strong proponent of "school of choice," says that
only by giving parents the ability to choose schools will their children
be secured a future and not sentenced to a life of failures.In a conversation with Watt Way magazine reporter Natasha Garyali, education analyst Anthony J. Colón says that he believes a parent’s ability to select a school is the only way to ensure that their children are not sentenced to a life of failure.

“We have a system in place across the country that is antiquated,” says Colón, president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options in Washington, D.C. The U.S. school system, he says, “is based on John Dewey’s system of education, which is over 100 years old,” This, he says, poses a problem for all kinds of children, especially for low income immigrant children because the American public school experience is largely constructed for English-speaking students and is not prepared to handle children whose language is something other than English. Colón, one of the most widely-recognized leaders in the ‘school choice’ and education reform movements, also firmly believes that the current economic downturn will not affect the immigrants’ stay in the country, as even the worst conditions in this country is no comparison to some of the conditions they confront in their home countries.

The following is an edited transcript.

Natasha Garyali: What are the challenges that are faced by immigrant children and their families today? Have the challenges changed over the time or continued to remain the same?

Anthony Colón: It depends on if you are a documented immigrant or an undocumented immigrant because the challenges are completely different. If you are documented, and you are in this country illegally, the challenge is that the schools are not prepared to handle children whose language is something other than English. Our schools are set up in general across this country to deal with the English speaking population. So, that is your first major challenge. Secondly, it is not a very parent friendly system. There are lot of assumptions made about parents and their level of education. So, parents have a very difficult time communicating with the teachers or often feel intimidated by the system. The problem becomes compounded if you are here illegally or undocumented because then in addition to the usual problems the parent then are even afraid to go up to the school and advocate for their children. If they come into our urban cities where many of the schools are failing schools you meet with the third challenge. Children belonging to the lower income go to schools which are in communities where the schools are under resourced and underserved. We use a term in education to describe this—it is called ‘life sentence.’ Children in this system are sentenced to a life of failures.

NG: Immigration creates tension and ambivalence, particularly in a moment of economic crisis. Do you feel the negativity against the immigrants, specifically the Hispanics, will increase given the present circumstances?

AC: I am not sure if it is going to increase or not but one thing I am sure about is that it will not disappear. You tend to blame failing economies, high crime, or whatever the ailment for the day is for the society on those you know very little about, particularly those immigrants who come from Latin American countries like Mexico, Central America, South America, because there is a terrible view of these countries that what we are getting are the lowest of the population - the poor. I think we as a society have built-in prejudices against color, against language, against things that we are not familiar with and that’s part of who we are and then again unless we make a huge attempt in this country to become more understanding and more competent about other people I don’t think anything is going to change much.

NG: Are the opportunities in the U.S. drying up for immigrants? Do you foresee a decline in immigration to the U.S.?

AC: No, I don’t think so at all. If you have visited some of these countries where people come from, where the poverty is dire and severe, where people live in huts and where the living conditions are horrendous, where they sell their children into prostitution to eat, I mean the worst conditions in this country are no comparison to some of the conditions in the other countries. I don’t see people saying that, ‘We don’t have many opportunities in America so let’s go back to Mexico, Honduras.’ I think the immigrants see their plight as better off. When I was working in California, families with eight people would live in one room and they were content to be able to live there in that one room rather than go back to a country where there was absolutely no possibility of an opportunity at all. None.

NG: What do you think about investing in an immigrant child’s education? Do you think there will be more of a willingness to do this in the future? Will the next generation of immigrant students receive priority from future politicians?

AC: It depends on who is in power, where we put our emphasis. I think there are people in this country who feel strongly that we should not invest in illegals or in other people because we have our own issues, problems, that we should be isolationist… I think there is a part of part this country who feels like that and I think it is fueled by self serving politicians. But I also think there is also another segment of society who feel that we are blessed with what we have and we should share with others and particularly children. That we should be helping countries like Somalia and Rwanda and places where there has been this kind of genocide and where the children are the sufferers. People don’t want any more war like in Iraq. I think people just don’t want to do that and spend $80 billion a year on that when our economy is this bad, but when you talk about children people will continue to invest them.

NG: How would you suggest school segregation should be mitigated so that Hispanic children have access to better schools which will ideally allow them to perform at higher academic levels?

AC: I am a very strong proponent of “school of choice,” which is a parent’s ability to choose the schools that they send their children to rather than be assigned because of their geographical area. I support this choice and passing legislation across the country and in states that will allow the people to choose the school they want to go to at governments’ expense. This kind of parental choice, which are called vouchers and tax credits, are not available to the parents for most part. If you live in Washington D.C and you live on K Street South East and the school in that community is a failing school that’s where you send your kid there you don’t have a choice. You can say, ‘Well I don’t want to send my kid here because it is a failing school instead I want to send my school four blocks away to St. Raymond’s.’ You can’t do that because Raymond’s has tuition and if you can’t pay because you are a poor person then you can’t send them there. I believe that parents should be able to say that I am not sending my kid to a public school because things don’t work there. On the other hand, what I don’t want is to privatize all the education. We should try to fix the public school system first.

NG: Is such a freedom of choice possible?

AC: Right now it is an uphill battle, but I think it is possible. I should be able to go there (St. Raymond’s), my class, caste and economic condition should not prevent me from going there if my kids meet the qualification for going to that school.

NG: What role can teachers play in the education of the immigrant children in particular and the school system in general?

AC: Teachers are the key to good education for children. If you have quality of teachers, who are teaching in there competency areas, they are going to make the difference. However, if they aren’t, then you get rid of them. Unfortunately, we have a system of tenure that doesn’t allow that. It is the only industry in the world where even if you don’t produce they keep you on and pay you a salary, so, that has to change. The other thing is that the primary goal of education is to educate the children. I think that we need to work with teachers, we need to provide with them with professional development, pay them more money, but at the same time we need to hold them accountable. If the kids are not passing, there is problem with the teachers.

NG: Do you see English as a tool for assimilation for immigrant children? Will learning one language come at the cost of other?

AC: I am a very strong proponent of English education. Everyone in this country needs to be fluent in English. I also believe that bilingual education if done correctly works for children because not only will you have English proficient children you will have bilingual proficient children. What a great thing for our country if every child in this country was proficient in two languages. I think it is critical that we look at the idea of language not as a deficit but something that riches us.

(Colón has worked for more than 15 years to improve special education services in public schools in Bronx, N.Y. He served for six years as a vice president of the Center for Community Educational Excellence at the National Council of La Raza. He can be contacted at tcolon@hcreo.org.) {extended} ]]>
LAUSD’s career education comeback: an interview tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.87 2008-12-08T03:06:12Z 2008-12-08T04:36:12Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu While reporting on the resurgence of career and technical education (CTE) in the Los Angeles Unified School District and the struggles South L.A. high schools face in the quest to add more career classes, Watt Way reporter Jessica Selva interviewed LAUSD's CTE director, Isabel Vazquez. Vazquez described some of the ways the district is changing its focus on career classes. She also explained some of the challenges the district faces in general, since it receives limited state funding for its Regional Occupational Programs (ROPs), which provide schools with CTE teachers and equipment. In fact, LAUSD receives the lowest ROP funding levels in the state, thanks to revenue limits set by Proposition 13. Here is more from that interview.

Jessica Selva: What is the purpose of having more of these career and technical education and ROP classes?

Isabel Vazquez: There's been a renewed interest in career technical education, partly because employers are letting us know that their needs are not being met. There are not sufficient folks going into the fields. One of the reasons is because the baby-boomers are retiring...and as they retire, employers are realizing that they don't have sufficient numbers of replacements with the technical skills to take those jobs.

We've been perceived as the route for students that are not college bound, but we've been redirecting the conversation so that the schools prepare students both for college and work.

JS: What about the stigma those classes used to have?

IV: There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of changing people's perspective in terms of what it is and who it's intended for...because for those of us, my generation, the issue of tracking is very important. We recognize it's something that kids were tracked (into), or were considered to be tracked.

And then with the reduction, or sometimes virtually the elimination, of career technical education, the assumption was that all students would be prepared for college, but from my standpoint, all the students that are leaving school are not being prepared for college, and they're not being prepared for anything else. I mean, they're not being tracked into anything.

So, that's part of the discussion, in terms of: How do you provide students career technical education programs without going the tracking route or perceived tracking?

JS: Can you talk about how career and technical education classes disappeared and then reappeared?

IV: Part of it is, if you don't invest in the facilities that are needed, it's going to be difficult to implement them. So, most of the traditional shops that existed in the high school were converted into remediation labs and additional classrooms. In fact, the school district population grew and didn't have enough facilities. And now if you try to go back to those shops, some of them are obsolete.

JS: Can you explain issue of the shortage of CTE teachers?

IV: Going back to the retirement of the baby boomers, the existing CTE teachers, especially the traditional high school CTE teachers, when they've been retiring, they really haven't been replaced, either because the school decided to do something else, or because...some of the areas, they are harder to identify replacement teachers in some of the key fields.

The health career... This is like a crisis in the country because we do not have sufficient health career professionals and everybody's asking for classes and teachers, and we have thousands of people on waiting lists for health career program(s)...

You make more as a nurse with the overtime. What would be the incentive to teach rather than work in that field? The cost of running those programs would be more than, say, a computer literacy class. And then there are requirements for certain programs that require you to have less students. So, for instance, for the health career programs, they require 15 students in a class instead of 30, so that means we have to have more teachers for a smaller number, so that brings up the cost of the program... We don't have the funds to provide a higher salary for those teachers, and all the equipment that's needed. It's like a catch-22, if you will. So we really do need to resolve the funding issue while we provide those services to a capacity.

JS: Are there any changes being done right now in career and technical education in LAUSD?

IV: We're working on equity in funding...That's critical. We're doing that at the state level and at the federal level. There are federal funds that come into our state and then into our district to provide workforce development and adult education both for the high school students and for the adults... The Workforce Investment Act hasn't been reauthorized. We're still receiving funding, and after the election and the new Congress, there will be proposed changes or modifications at the federal level that we are participating (in)—and we are actively seeking participation at that level because it will impact us directly. We're such a large district. So that's at the federal and state level, and then at the local level, we're looking at the small learning community reform, the multiple pathways...
{extended} ]]>
Nonprofit helping LA’s neediest finds it, too, needs assistance tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.86 2008-11-28T00:44:34Z 2008-12-12T19:19:34Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu Amid the most profound and startling economic downturn in recent memory, with major banks and businesses going under and waves of layoffs sweeping through almost every sector, one South Los Angeles business is seeing more clients than ever.

The clients are flocking in droves from Skid Row and other parts of South Los Angeles to the small office building on the corner of Fifth Street and Main Street.

“Clients,” as non-profit Chrysalis calls those who seek its aid, are low-income and often homeless individuals who look to the organization for help in finding jobs. But as the economy’s state worsens, the organization’s ease in finding its clients work—and the type of people seeking those jobs—is changing.

For years, the core of Chrysalis’ clientele consisted of Skid Row squatters, but now staff members say they are seeing clients who were only recently evicted due to apartment buildings that have gone into foreclosure. Others have been laid off in the onslaught of job cuts this year.

Since the worst of the nation’s economic woes have taken effect, the number of clients seeking help finding jobs has skyrocketed. This year alone, Chrysalis reported a 14 percent increase in the number of people seeking help compared to last year.

Fewer jobs harder to find

“One woman came in who lost her condo,” said Michael Graff-Weisner, Vice President of Client Services. “We’re used to seeing people who walk in off the street, but now were seeing people who have been foreclosed on.”

The U.S. Department of Labor shows that California is tied for third in unemployment rates nationwide at 7.7 percent. Los Angeles has seen its own unemployment rate rise more than two and a half percent this year, one of the higher increases in the country.

For an organization tasked with helping place at-risk people into the job market, a gain in clientele may just mean a little more work for Chrysalis’ staff. But Graff-Weisner said there’s another problem.

“It is taking a lot longer to place people in jobs than we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “It’s taking us on average about 48 days to find someone a job, which is a lot longer than it used to take.”

At other times in the non-profit’s history, it has taken an average of half that time to find someone a job. But the staff maintains that motivated clients can still find jobs as easily as before.

“It’s about wanting to get off the street and saying, ‘I’m done with it,’” said Linda Wallace, a Chrysalis retention manager.

That’s what happened to Thomas Tophia, who after more than 20 years of drug abuse and gang involvement is now a full-time substance abuse counselor at the Phoenix House rehabilitation program. Tophia spent more than 12 years in prison, and had given up hope of finding a job -- until he came to Chrysalis.

“There is no question about it, I would still be on the street if it wasn’t for Chrysalis,” said Tophia, standing in a tailored suit in front of a banquet hall of wealthy donors at an annual Chrysalis fundraiser. “Now I’m working full-time and am engaged to be married.”

Tophia is currently undergoing training to become a certified addiction specialist, though he started out at Chrysalis Enterprise’s Chefmakers.

At Chrysalis, the top sectors for job placement at their downtown office are warehousing, maintenance and janitorial work, construction, general labor and retail—all of which have experienced difficulties in the recent year. The office in Santa Monica offers similar job placements.

Neediest hit hardest by economy

Each year, Chrysalis gears up for an influx of temporary retail positions around the holidays offered to clients from businesses like Macys, the Santa Monica Promenade and the Farmer’s Market.

But with the retail industry bracing for what is expected to be the worst holiday shopping season in decades, Chrysalis is expecting a substantial drop in the amount of clients it will get hired this year around the holidays.

“There’s still some time before we start talking to our regular customers about placing our clients, but my assumption is, we’re not going to be able to place as many,” Graff-Weisner said. “I imagine, sadly, that the trend we’re going to see this holiday season is going to carry with us for a while. I don’t see it becoming easier to find jobs for quite some time.”

Last year, 1,545 individuals were successfully employed with the help of Chrysalis – 59 percent in an outside position and 41 percent through Chrysalis Enterprises, a transitional job program, in which Chrysalis actually employs the client, allowing the client to work for one of the many public works contracts awarded the non-profit, while gaining the skills needed for outside employment.

While Chrysalis hopes to achieve the same success this year, the organization’s executives are unsure.

Chrysalis’ challenging future

There’s even another aspect to the hardship Chrysalis faces this year. As a non-profit, almost all of its spending power comes from donations, usually from businesses.

But according to Chrysalis officials, people and business aren’t able to give like they used to. The average cost of the program is $2,300 per client each year, and while that is less than what most government programs cost, it’s still a significant expense.

Alan Long, President of Sotheby’s International Realty for Southern California, donated personal funds to Chrysalis three years ago for the construction of a new building. He also encouraged Sotheby’s to contribute thousands each year for a 5K/10K race through downtown to promote awareness of homelessness problems.

“This year they told me we just couldn’t do it,” said Long. “When the race got pushed from one year to another, and our company’s books turned over, I knew it would probably be difficult to find that kind of funding. Sure enough, we had to sideline the race for a little while.”

The success or failure of Chrysalis in the coming months and years may prove to be an informal economic indicator, detailing the strength and weakness of the South Los Angeles job market, unemployment rate, and homelessness in the region.

But in this tough economy, where more people are finding themselves without jobs and fewer companies are hiring, it goes without saying that staff members at Chrysalis have their work cut out for them. {extended} ]]>
The failed promise of LBJ’s Great Society tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.84 2008-11-19T05:06:16Z 2009-02-24T02:42:16Z Chris Nelson cknelson@usc.edu “Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.”
- Lyndon Baines Johnson

When President Johnson unveiled his “Great Society” at the University of Michigan’s commencement on May 22, 1964, he proposed a vast and sweeping “creative federalism” to combat disparities in the educational and economic lives of Americans. He demanded “an end to poverty and racial injustice” and, in a country with incredible wealth, asked his audience “whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.”

All lofty goals, to be sure. But decades after the unfolding of the Great Society, experts today have concluded that the barrage of programs was a misguided attempt to solve some of society’s deepest issues, particularly those surrounding poverty and schools.

The notion then that poverty could be eradicated simply by infusing the education system with more cash and governmental backing still persists today. Yet education analysts say the idea is more antiquated with each passing year. While a person could expect to lead a comfortable middle-class life with nothing more than a high-school diploma in LBJ’s time, that reality has been supplanted with one where graduate degrees are necessary to enter the same echelon of society.

“There was a general mindset that you could solve poverty by improving education, and the way to improve education was to spread the access to education, and that meant more money,” says Dominic Brewer, a professor at USC’s Rossier School of Education. “Very simplistic. We’re so much more sophisticated now in that story at every point.”

Indeed, the private sector has responded with burgeoning school and community reforms in a new century that represent strides from the original ideas of the Great Society. Some 21st century reforms are built on LBJ’s ideas – early education for poor children, for example – but many more take decades of “best practices” research and bundle them in schools, customizing the programs for the specific needs of a school and its community. The result is, in some cases startling, producing schools altogether different from those even a decade ago.

The Great Society’s lofty mission

Johnson outlined lofty philosophical goals for renewing America's cityscapes and countrysides in his landmark Great Society speech that addressed employment, housing and education, and all of his new initiatives were backed by either dramatic expansions of existing government or the outright creation of massive new programs. Johnson understood the importance of education; a former school teacher in his native Texas, Johnson had seen the numbing effects of poverty on the Mexican-American children he taught in a rural school. But his vision for education remains the most unrealized of the Great Society programs because some experts believe it was simply too ambitious for the time.

The Great Society included two major pieces of education legislation: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Higher Education Act (HSA), both signed into law in 1965. ESEA, reauthorized in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind act, is described as “the main federal education law, outlining financial federal responsibility for the nation's public schools, which receive some form of aid under the statute. In its original form, the law laid out basic requirement for schools to qualify for targeted funding (e.g. “Title 1” schools receive money typically if 40% of their student body fall into the “low income” bracket as defined by the U.S. Census standard). It is renewed by Congress every five years and is called “No Child Left Behind” in its current form.

ESEA initially allotted $1 billion in targeted aid and also made permanent the Head Start program that bolsters Title 1 benefits for low-income areas by offering additional funding for low-income families that blur the line between education and social services.

The Higher Education Act offered assistance beyond K-12 education by offering federal funding and provisions for scholarships and low-interest student loans. It also established the National Teachers Corps (later re-established as Teach For America) to place qualified college graduates in low-income, poverty-stricken areas as teachers.

The essence of this legislation -- as it was when it was conceived and after 44 years of renewals and restructures -- is the idea that blanket infusions of cash from the Federal Government can adequately fill in 50 unique gaps in state education funding. The notion that throwing more money at school districts will somehow magically give impoverished children the ability to lift future generations out of their economic woes is ignorantly optimistic.

“Simply improving access to education by spending more on schools in clearly not the answer because we spend, I think three or fours times in real terms today what we were on schools than we were spending in 1960,” USC’s Brewer points out.

Reinventing U.S. schools

Brewer speaks of the rigidity found in the public sector of education today which prevents it from adapting to changing circumstances. By clinging to an antiquated structure, he says, the public school system has forced the hand of the private sector to lead the reform charge by creating new schools with more flexibility and innovation or introducing these reforms in existing schools.

“We still have this mindset that the adults should still be called ‘teachers,’ they should work for 30 years, they should be able to leave the ‘office’ at 2:47, that we should still pay them all the same regardless of subject or how good they are at teaching that subject,” he says. “I mean, none of these things make much sense in the world we live in now.”

Education experts speak of “the edges” of the U.S. public school system as the place where the hope for education lies.

“You see the public growth of provisions that are at the edge of government,” said Dr. Guilbert Hentschke, the chair in Public School Administration at USC’s Rossier School of Education. “I think of charter schools as an example,” along with the for-profit and not-for-profit organizations cropping up over the past 20 to 30 years in large cities and suburban communities where public school systems simply cannot provide the basic needs of their students. The final frontier in that respect is home-schooling, which used to be illegal but is now a growing alternative for parents that recently is equally as viable for getting children into top-tier institutions of higher education.”

In a state like California, where Proposition 13 has limited the growth of property taxes that support public schools, private and non-profit organizations have become critical.

Institutions such as The Wonder of Reading, an education non-profit, exist in large urban areas like Los Angeles, for example, working with multiple districts to redistribute some of the massive wealth of Angelenos to the public school system. They provide financing and coordination in renovating and restocking the libraries of public schools. But at a rate of 15 to 20 new libraries per year, the net impact in a district like the Los Angeles Unified School District with almost 1,100 schools is a drop in the bucket on an annual basis. LAUSD currently has 118 charter schools under it’s umbrella, according to their website, compared to 63 in 2005.

The innovation hasn’t stopped with charter schools. The Gates Foundation is using the vast wealth of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to bolster education through massive grants and rewards for innovative, out-of-the-box thinking in the field of education.

The government must mirror the type of initiative that the private and not-for-profit sectors is taking, but on a much more massive level in order to inject the public education system with new life, according to Brewer.

“Can you create incentives for really smart people to come into education, to start companies, to make it really easy for them to compete for services,” he asks.
“It’s the kind of thing we did with Sputnik with math and science. We could do it in education the same way, you could put a hundred million dollars on the table and say anyone who could invent something that will radicalize the curriculum and make teachers lives easier.”

“The extent to which schooling pays off is greater now than it’s probably every been,” says Brewer. “If you took the difference between a high school grad and a college grad in the 1970’s and look at the rate of return, the gap is much wider today,” he says. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have public schools, it just means that we don’t have public schools that look like the ones in the past,” he says.

Brewer says the government could use its resources – it contributes between 7 percent to 8 percent of a local school district’s budget -- by encouraging innovation built on flexibility, an idea Johnson himself alluded to in his blueprint for a new America. “The Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work,” Johnson said. “It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”

Listen to the entire speech below paired with some stock images from the time period:

{extended} ]]>
Wine bar brings new feel to South L.A. tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.83 2008-11-16T00:26:08Z 2008-12-05T17:18:08Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu image
A look at the South Los Angeles business demographic prompts one of two responses -- surprise at what is actually being developed or shock at how little already exists. For USC graduates Santos Uy and Danny Kronfli, both 25, the latter prompted a second look at a forgotten neighborhood for their new joint venture, venetian-style wine bar Bacaro L.A.

With an average first year failure rate of nearly 25 percent, starting your own restaurant in Los Angeles can be a big gamble, one that statistics show is hugely dependent on your location in this sprawling city. With the USC draw and large-scale development soon to bring crowds, the downtown district seemed like a no-brainer for the entrepreneurs simple tapas and booze joint. However, as more and more businesses are discovering, the downtown illustrated on the side of every luxury loft development has yet to arrive. The ritzy nine-to-fivers haven't actually moved in, leaving the streets eerily vacant come rush hour and making it increasingly difficult for new businesses to find a niche, let alone pay off their bills.

"While in shadier areas, rent could be $2 a square foot, most decent locations downtown can be as high as $15 dollars a square foot," Uy says. Bacaro's current location--nestled in an offshoot of the intersection of Hoover and Union only five minutes south of the Staples Center--costs them less than $1.50 a square foot and came with a pre-existing liquor license, a must in the LA restaurant rat race. "When you're only paying $1,500 a month in rent costs, we could afford to start slow and really grow our business."

Slow growth is starting to pay off for the first-time entrepreneurs, who have begun to see a steady stream of customers most evenings. Opened in April 2008, Uy and Kronfli spent the summer rearranging their menu, a selection of small seasonal dishes like seared scallops and gourmet paninis priced at $7. Because of the low overhead, they could afford to take their time, seeking out what Uy calls "interesting and esoteric" wine distributors in the meantime. He set out to craft a wine list that wasn't dumbed down to its often wine-ignorant collegiate clientele and opted rather to be an educator.

"If they don't know anything about wine, I could sell them a glass from Basque Country or one from the Central Coast and they wouldn't know the difference," Uy explains. "So we figured, why not choose some more esoteric wines and really teach them about why we picked them and why they like them when they do."

Uy's confidence in his picks comes from a genuine love for those rare finds. While still a pre-med student at USC, he was a weekly attendee of Silver Lake Wine's tastings for six solid months before ultimately landing a job there. After wine ultimately trumped medical school, he did a stint as a sommelier at L.A. favorite A.O.C. before teaming up with his childhood friend--now holding a degree in business management--to open their own bar.

"What makes me really happy is to see that we have wines here that have become really popular that if you asked 80 percent of sommeliers about, they wouldn't have a clue," Uy says. "You can really learn something about wine, which even industry people may not know about, just by coming through and having a glass."

Uy has educated himself in the process, now well-versed in the way of the wine world. Smaller distributors have come in handy for a small business like Bacaro, as larger importers require high minimum shipping requirements of 12 cases or more, a waste of liquor for a place that seats barely 40. In cutting costs for a small business, it has proved advantageous to cut out the middle men and go straight to the producers, though sometimes he has found that impossible.

"You begin to learn different ways about the business, like how sometimes you have people who really monopolize an entire genre. There is a woman who really has control over a lot of types of Burgundy and it's near impossible to talk directly to the producer without going through her," Uy says.

Though becoming a venue for wine education has certainly been a draw for students, Uy and Kronfli agree there are some downsides to depending heavily on a university for your sales. While there may be 30,000 hungry patrons in the USC area, most of them aren't willing to spend as much as people with a steady income. The pair say an average check for students will most often be less than $20, compared to the $30 to $50 somebody employed might be inclined to spend.

"We're obviously glad to have every type of customer in here, but if we can get packed every night, as we plan on doing, then it's only natural we'd rather have the $30 to $50 customer," Uy says. "There's no way to get around that other than marketing."

In addition to word of mouth, Kronfli and Uy send out frequent e-mails detailing new additions to the wine list, as well as their special events. Throughout election and football season, they've offered discounted food and wine in exchange for the use of their flat screen TV. They also host a once a month Beefsteak Sunday, where for $25 you get all-you-can-eat butter-soaked beef on a baguette with all the wine you can drink.

"The e-mails just really serve as a constant reminder for people to come out, that we exist and we're here, and they really seem to give us a boost," says Kronfli, who also cites the community review site Yelp as one of their best marketing tools.

With a boom in business come the improvements -- plans for a more efficient layout and more comfortable seating are in the works. In mid-October, the former chef from New York's Michelin-rated Jean-George moved West and signed on to be the new man behind Bacaro's menu. The pair also speak tentatively about opening up an all wine-focused version in Downtown someday, though that does come with facing the challenges they have successfully avoided.

With all the prospective development in the Downtown district, Kronfli and Uy look forward to other businesses taking the leap to South L.A. and allowing, as Uy puts it, "like business to help like business."

"I think up until now, people just weren't really willing to take the risk in opening a business down here," Kronfli says. "For whatever reason, people are still afraid of the neighborhood and are just more inclined to build up in West Hollywood or Santa Monica or somewhere with more foot traffic. Nobody comes in here and says, 'Oh, we were just walking by.' The majority of our customers come here with the intent to come here."

But as the two are beginning to find out, that may not be such a bad thing.
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Changing the fortunes of a troubled Watts high school tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.82 2008-11-15T23:09:05Z 2008-12-12T19:32:05Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu Innovating school reform
Intro: Reinventing public schools across the U.S.
Part I: Changing fortunes of troubled Watts high school
Part II: Nonprofit attempts makeover at Crenshaw
Part III: Marketplace-of-schools model reigns in Chicago
Part IV: Boston University manages entire districtIn the Watts district of South Los Angeles, Green Dot is stepping into uncharted territory at Locke High School. Just before Green Dot's takeover earlier this year, a 600-student riot broke out in May, a situation that added an exclamation point to Locke High's troubles: the ever-present low test scores, gangs, graffiti and racial tensions. Locke may be Green Dot’s biggest test. The school organization is primarily known for creating successful schools, and its formula of rigorous academics and parental support has usually been applied to students who voluntarily sign up for Green Dot’s schools. Locke is not filled with those kinds of kids. Many see Green Dot's innovation as a possible blue print for school reform nationwide. The school has been divided into eight smaller schools with specific academic themes. And a nation appears to be scrutinizing Green Dot’s every move.

ABC News’ 20/20 and NBC’s Dateline, magazines such as Time and other media are interested in touring Locke, interviewing teachers and administrators and getting up close to Steve Barr, Green Dot founder and chief executive officer, said Judy Davidds-Wright, Green Dot’s director of public affairs and community partnerships.

Called the Locke High School Transformation Project, many hope the efforts result in a rebirth for the school.

Restoring Locke may be Green Dot’s biggest test yet. The school ranks among the lowest-performing schools in the state. In 2005, 332 students graduated from a class that four years earlier, as ninth-graders, had 1,318 students, and a mere 143 students qualified for admission to the University of California and California State University systems. And for years, Locke has failed to meet state performance benchmarks, with most students posting scores of "below basic" or "far below basic" on standardized tests.

The school’s endemic failures were further documented by the book "Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches With Teach for America," which tracked the lives of four first-year teachers at Locke High School. Author Donna Foote, a former Newsweek correspondent, spent a year at the more-than-troubled high school and describes the highs and lows of the young teachers and their students. Locke was portrayed in a less-than-favorable light in a very public way.

“We’re trying to change the story,” said Davidds-Wright. And transparency is the name of the game. “We want everyone to know what’s going on at Locke High,” she said. “There are a lot of people who think that we’re being overly-ambitious with this school, but we think just the opposite…This is our chance to really show that black and brown kids from less-than-favorable circumstances and backgrounds can succeed. It’s just that this system is broken and we have to be innovative, we have to change if we want to see change.”

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A nonprofit attempts a makeover at Crenshaw tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.80 2008-11-15T22:58:28Z 2009-01-03T00:06:28Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu Innovating school reform
Intro: Reinventing public schools across the U.S.
Part I: Changing fortunes of troubled Watts high school
Part II: Nonprofit attempts makeover at Crenshaw
Part III: Marketplace-of-schools model reigns in Chicago
Part IV: Boston University manages entire districtThe three-story high school in the Mesa Park district of South Los Angeles is for many a testament to failing urban education. But a new nonprofit that includes a civil rights organization, a university’s school of education and a leading foundation is intent on turning around the fortunes at Crenshaw High School.

The nonprofit Greater Crenshaw Educational Partnership (GCEP) this fall assumed control of the 40-year-old campus that lost its state accreditation in 2005 before regaining it a year later. Plans for school improvement are ambitious by GCEP members, a nonprofit whose members include the Los Angeles Urban League, the Tom and Ethel Bradley Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.


Dr. Sylvia Rousseau talks to reporters Amber Mobley and
Brian Frank about how GCEP came about, what makes it
unique, and how it will benefit both Crenshaw High and
the surrounding community in South L.A.
Under the Los Angeles Urban League’s five-year "Neighborhoods at Work" plan, GCEP has set lofty goals for Crenshaw and its surrounding area: raise the number of Crenshaw students who enroll in college from 4 percent to 60 percent and increase the number of Crenshaw-area residents with a college education from 47 percent to 80 percent. Led by Sylvia Rousseau, the interim GCEP executive director and a USC Rossier professor, Crenshaw is working on a strategic plan to win the school a “California Distinguished School” designation by 2012.

GCEP's ammunition: Small learning communities with college-like focuses such as media, art and design and social justice and law, supported by a diverse group of community organizations that form the organization of GCEP itself. Key to any success is increased family involvement. “We can’t do this without the parents,” said Crenshaw’s Dean of Students Bill Vanderberg. “Without getting them involved, we’re going to be dead in the water.” So the faculty pushes parental involvement through everything from meeting parents at the curb – especially the ones dropping their children off late at school – to more one-on-one parent/teacher meetings and consistently sending information home with students. If the school’s first open house this fall is any indication of GCEP’s early – and future - impact, the nonprofit appears to be moving in the right direction. Cars filled the parking lots and lined the streets around Crenshaw High that night.

Calling education “the civil rights issue of this day,” the Rev. Eric Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles, encouraged the hundreds of parents attending the Crenshaw open house to pursue a three-step movement for a better future. "Educate, organize, mobilize,” he said. “We deserve nothing less than what they get in the Hills, the Valley and the beach communities."

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Chicago’s marketplace of schools attempts to close educational gaps tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.79 2008-11-15T22:52:43Z 2008-12-12T19:46:43Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu Innovating school reform
Intro: Reinventing public schools across the U.S.
Part I: Changing fortunes of troubled Watts high school
Part II: Nonprofit attempts makeover at Crenshaw
Part III: Marketplace-of-schools model reigns in Chicago
Part IV: Boston University manages entire districtWith more than 400,000 students and more than 600 schools, Chicago has the third largest district in the nation, behind New York and Los Angeles, and its modern approach to school reform has been, more or less, to break the grip of bureaucracy in favor of more local control. But the path hasn’t been straight and problems remain.

In 1989 the Illinois Legislature passed the Chicago School Reform Act, which put much of the governing power—including the ability to hire principals and approve budgets—in the hands of local school councils comprising parents, community residents, teachers, and in some cases students.

Some schools flourished with their new sovereignty while others floundered because they didn’t know how to navigate school reform, says Tracy Dell’Angela, the senior manager of outreach and publications for the Consortium on Chicago School Research, an organization that has been studying school reform in the city since 1990.

With many of the traditionally underperforming schools remaining that way, the business community mounted pressure on the Legislature to restore greater accountability. It responded by passing several amendments to the Chicago School Reform Act in 1995, one of which put the mayor in charge of the district and streamlined his ability to push through education and finance plans. This second wave of reforms marked a slight shift back to central authority.

Then in 2004, Mayor Richard Daley created an initiative called Renaissance 2010, which set a goal to close 60 underperforming schools and open 100 new ones with varying degrees of autonomy. Schools get to choose various incentives, from minimal district oversight to increased budget flexibility. This latest trend marks a kind of free-market thinking in which autonomous schools’ experimenting could lead to scalable models. More schools, more options, greater competition. By September 2008, the district had launched 75 new schools, mostly charters.

“There’s some push and pull about whether they can really deliver, but the idea is that the ultimate check on this is the parents, because if there are enough options, parents are going to vote with their feet,” Dell’Angela says, adding that those schools parents don’t choose will eventually have to change or close. But she also points out that if the district had found a scalable model it would have acted on it by now.

Meanwhile, while many schools in Chicago are showing real signs of growth—increased graduation rates, lower dropout rates, higher standardized test scores—many of the students that reform efforts are designed to help are still falling through the cracks. Dell’Angela says you can’t just look at low-income students versus middle-class or white versus minority, either, since 84.9 percent of Chicago’s students come from low-income families and 92 percent are minority.

It’s the troubled kids, the kids in gangs, kids who are in and out of foster care and who lack interested and caring mentors in their lives, that suffer, she says. The brightest and most highly motivated students flock to the new schools, while traditional neighborhood schools remain the default and place of last resort for everyone else.

Chicago public schools remain stratified, and other areas of reform still need to be addressed. Linda Lenz, editor of Catalyst, a publication devoted solely to reporting on school reform in Chicago, has said that the next wave of reforms will likely target teacher training.

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Transitioning: The road out of gangs and violence tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.81 2008-11-15T22:38:05Z 2009-01-20T00:53:05Z Chris Nelson cknelson@usc.edu For Alisha Ruiz, 21, the beginning of her fall into gang violence and drug addiction began at school.

All her memories from her few years in school still make her cringe. “Mr. Reynoso [used to] put me down because I didn’t know my multiplication tables when I was in 6th grade.” He would call her to the board and when Alisha stumbled on a problem, he would scream, “You should know your multiplication tables! You’re never going to get nowhere in school if you don’t learn!” she recalls him saying.

Alisha never felt smart enough in school and in middle school, she relied heavily on her best friend Van Lam. “From 6th grade to the middle of my 8th grade we were real tight,” she said. “She would sit there and she would teach me what I didn’t understand. But what started as simple guidance soon became cheating. “I barely made it [that year] because I cheated in all my tests. I cheated on my math tests. I cheated on my reading tests. Van gave me all the answers.”

At that time, Alisha began to yearn for change, “I wanted something different. I always felt that I was boring,” she said. She began getting pressure from other girls in her school to hang out with the wrong crowd. When her friend Irma offered her crystal meth during their lunch break at school, she didn’t hesitate. “When I did it, I wanted to be around her all the time. I was hooked instantly. I was feeling so good,” she said. “I just felt numb.”

She succumbed to the pressure and became affiliated with the neighborhood gang Florencia, in El Monte, and, in a series of setbacks that ended with several convictions including one for manslaughter, Alisha hit bottom before beginning the long steep climb back to self respect and productivity.

Alisha, along her path to securing a self assurance, serves as an example of how young lives can so easily go wrong. As a former affiliate of an Inland Empire gang, her struggle against society was as monumental as the one she faced within herself. She had to learn, for example, how to control the anger and addictions that gang life provided her, a sort of twisted security that plunged her deeper into a lifestyle from which she is now extracting herself. Moreover, as a teenage mom, Alisha and others in her place must learn how to be parents years after they have become parents.

Schools have tried to save a generation of urban youth from the aggressive recruiting of gangs that occurs these days, according to Los Angeles police, and schools and nonprofits have responded with anti-gang programs. But there are few safety nets for the young person who becomes involved in the gang lifestyle after they’ve already dropped out of school. One program is Homeboy Industries, founded in 1988 whose programs were later expanded to include young women like Alisha. “Homeboy Industries is the best thing that ever happened to me. It saved my life because I would have given up hope a long time ago,” Alisha said.

Her hope now comes from her arduous work at Homegirl Café. As part of Homeboy Industries, the café offers jobs to young women with extensive criminal records. Alisha finds the work to recovery grueling, and she’s forced to address issues that first surfaced when she was still a middle school student.

A surrogate family

While still in school, crystal meth allowed Alisha to forget her academic troubles, but most importantly it made her forget that at home, her mom, who had belonged to a gang, was also getting high and that her dad, who had lost their house and his business license, was also giving in to drugs.

Her family of four was living in a motor-home on a different street every night. Both her parents were fighting constantly over not having enough drugs.

“Everything was such a mess and it went on for a while,” Alisha said. “We were asking relatives to let us take showers in their house every day.”

Alisha grew up in El Monte, California surrounded by family members that belonged to the El Monte Florencia gang. The gang though, was not accepting girls. “I wanted to join, but at that time they didn’t want any girls because they got into way too much trouble.”

She was never formally part of El Monte Florencia, but the gang was her family. “I was affiliated. I was never jumped in but I was always hanging out with the homies,” she said. In fact, her mom, who had endured family abuse and neglect, had been part of the same gang years before and continued to have the same friends.

The Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice “estimated that 11 percent of all gang members [nationwide] were female.” But the research seems to be dependent on the definition. Some are officially members after being jumped or sexed in and others are simply associated by hanging around the male gang. According to the variant definitions, the numbers can range from 8 to 38 percent female gang membership.

Although the numbers are not clear since female gang association has not been thoroughly researched, what run parallel are the reasons why young women join gangs. Girls who join gangs lack parental care, support and guidance. And it’s the familial neglect that pushes them to seek love and protection elsewhere. Middle school girls between the ages of 13 and 14 are so vulnerable that once in, the gang, which provides direction and support, shapes their values and interests and ultimately their whole life.

Alisha had lost respect for both her parents long before she ran away from home to spend time with the gang. “The drug took control over me. It was my world.” At 13, she got her first case for grand theft auto.

While hanging out with her friends, Alisha said, “We would all steal cars to sell the parts for drugs. It was like a rush and I wouldn’t think. I would just do it. After I came off my high, I just thought I needed more drugs.

“Boys liked to be around me because I was down for the cause. Whatever was going to happen they knew that I was gonna do it,” she said.

At 14, she decided to run away from home, “at that time I was so ignorant I didn’t want to listen to anything and I wanted to do things my way. And I said to my parents ‘I know what’s best for me.’”

Alisha dropped out school shortly after starting 9th grade and moved on to get an education elsewhere. “I had been around the gang all my life and I knew how to do it all,” she said. She also started dating a 19 year-old gang member who encouraged her drug addiction. “I had lost all my real friends. Those that were in school and got good grades,” she said. “All I had were the homies.” She lived in friends’ houses and in cars for more than a year.

Losing control

“One night, my best friend and I decided to steal a car after snorting meth.” Alisha and her friend drove around the streets of El Monte until three in the morning. The ride ended when a woman coming home from work crashed into their car at an intersection. Before she fell unconscious, Alisha turned to her right to see her best friend Michelle dead.

“I was in the hospital getting stitches on my chin when the detectives came into my room,” she said. “I was wanted for manslaughter.”

She was on the run for more than a year until she got pregnant with fraternal twins. At birth, she lost one of her daughters and her second was diagnosed with heart problems. With the hospital bills, the police found where Alisha was living. She was arrested while visiting her daughter Elizabeth at the hospital.

After going through trial, Alisha was charged with involuntary vehicular-manslaughter. She spent 16 months in jail. “At first, I was really scared to go because all my homies kept telling me how everyone got raped and beat up,” she said. “When I got there though, I knew everyone. Everyone I knew from the streets was there and they all took care of me.”

She got out and returned to her old life of drugs. But during one of her trials for grand theft auto, 20-year-old Alisha, afraid to go back to jail, asked for help through proposition 36. “I told [the judge] I knew I wasn’t going to get better unless I got help.”

Under proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, first and second time drug possession offenders can ask for assistance. In the Rio Hondo court, the judge told Alisha she was a danger to society and she needed to straighten out otherwise she would be in and out of jail for the rest of her life. “At that moment, I didn’t believe him because I knew that wasn’t going to happen to me just for having drugs. But then I realized that that was exactly what my life had been,” Alisha said. After spending a week in jail experiencing withdrawals, Alisha was sent to Socorro Cri-Help Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles.

During her six months in rehab, Alisha learned how to trust other people and take control of her drug addiction. Transitioning to the outside world was a different story. In March of 2008, she finished her treatment and was released to confront the world, “I was scared to get out because I was on my own. I was like a kid with training wheels and then they took off the wheels,” she said. “And it was all up to me and I didn’t have all the people around me anymore.”

Once outside, she was determined to find work, but was faced with the reality that employers reject anyone with a criminal background, “I applied everywhere, but nobody wanted to give me a job because of my record,” she said. She applied for work at Wal-mart, CVS, McDonalds, Albertsons, Jack in the Box and Farmer Johns and they all told her they would call her back after a background check. Every time, “I would go home and cry and tell God that I needed to prove myself.”

Weeks passed and she never received phone calls. “How do [they] expect us to change if they don’t give us a chance?” Her frustration forced her to consider using drugs again.

She went back to the rehab center looking for support and that’s when she read about Homegirl Café on a flyer.

"I fight for my life each and every day"

Alisha showed up at the café and told the recruiter, “I’m ready to give up. I don’t know what I need to do to get a job. I explained my situation and they gave me my uniform and they told me to start the next day.”

The café has provided her with a safety net around which she is rebuilding her life. “The education I’m getting at Homeboy is so important. I’m trying to learn everything, every type of food. I’m learning how to get me back. It’s going to take time, but it’s keeping me safe,” she said.

Her improvement has been recognized by the whole staff, in fact her supervisor, Erika Cuellar says Alisha’s hard work gives the other girls an example to follow. “She’s very different from the girls. She carries this strong positive energy; an energy that she shares with her daughter and with the girls at the café. This energy she gets from staying away from the gangs and drugs and has left all that behind.”

She now works at the café from Monday through Saturday and takes Tuesday’s off to attend classes. In order to control her drug addiction, she attends Narcotic Anonymous meetings, “I’m trying to do good and stay connected to people who are fighting for their lives. I fight for my life each and every day that I stay clean. And I always remember where I came from because it’s always so easy to fall back.”

More important to her are the parenting classes she takes once a week. “It’s feeding my mind because I don’t know how to be a parent. I barely started learning how to express myself. I’m starting to know what triggers me off to want to do something stupid.

“I need to have a lot of patience with my daughter just like God had patience with me. It took me a lot of falling and a lot of stumbling. I know that he’s guiding me this far and I know that’s what I got to do with my daughter. I got to guide her. And it has a lot to do with communication. That’s what I learned in parenting classes. If I can’t spit I out what I feel or what I want her to know, she’s never going to learn and I’m going to tell [her] the truth. I know she’s in a similar situation so if she tries to do what I did at least I told her the truth.”

Alisha has long brown hair that she twists into a bun when she’s working. Her cheeks, once sunken in, are now round and full, “I eat all the time now, that’s what I miss about the drug, it used to make me really skinny.” She used to have thin, high eyebrows but she grew them out giving way to her natural beauty. Her scars and tattoos are perhaps the only physical evidence that gives us a glimpse of her old life. The tattoo on her ankle reads “high life”; she got it when she was 15 while living in motel rooms, “I was in a room with this tattoo artist who was strung out on meth and I just told him to give me one.” She has two on her chest that read “Michelle” her best friend that died in the car accident and “Elizabeth” for her daughter. On her back she has one that reads “Tell It Like It Is.” “I got this one because I want everyone to just be real, you know, to be honest and tell it like it is.”

For Alisha, the hope she talks about comes in little steps. She has learned how to be one of the best employees in the café to earn her own money, and has forgotten about stealing cars and purses. She worries about providing for her daughter and family and doesn’t think about spending money on drugs. She’s planning on going back to school to earn her GED and has forgotten about the education she received while living her old life. {extended} ]]>
Boston University led successful reform; schools ponder what’s next tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.78 2008-11-15T22:17:16Z 2008-12-12T19:48:16Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu Innovating school reform
Intro: Reinventing public schools across the U.S.
Part I: Changing fortunes of troubled Watts high school
Part II: Nonprofit attempts makeover at Crenshaw
Part III: Marketplace-of-schools model reigns in Chicago
Part IV: Boston University manages entire districtThe Chelsea School District’s partnership with Boston University, which formally ended in June, may still represent a one-of-a-kind reform model. When the mayor and a school committee member asked for help in 1988, the university president assembled a team to study the ailing schools, but instead of suggesting specific improvements the team recommended a complete takeover. The two parties entered willingly into just such an agreement despite some backlash from the community.

“It was one of the first instances where a private university offered to take over management,” says Robert Rothman, a senior editor at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. “There have been partnerships before, but this was a real operating relationship with a contract. The school district really handed over the keys to a private institution.”

With only nine schools and about 5,500 students, Chelsea has a small school district that once had a record of solid performance but fell far below the state average after social and economic shifts in the 1970s and ’80s. Most of the district’s student population, which is 70 percent white, is low-income and more than 80 percent speak English as a second language, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Boston University took an unusually comprehensive approach to school reform that included community development and cooperation, an overhaul of the curriculum, facilities improvement and increased investment in teachers. The district opened a literacy center for adults in the community, held adult language classes for parents who spoke little to no English, and opened an early childhood center to jumpstart students’ reading skills pre-kindergarten. The university also partnered with various community organizations to help provide further services, including after-school intervention and social support for families with students at risk of dropping out.

The district saw gains overall using state standardized tests and its own data, but the dropout and graduation rates still lag behind the state average.

“We have certainly improved educational opportunity for the urban poor, for immigrants, for children of color. And yet, as much as we have made progress, and as much as we anticipate some good news in the next few weeks about continued progress, we still suffer setbacks,” wrote Superintendent Thomas Kingston in a welcome-back letter to the entire district in August. Kingston was superintendent for the last few years of the partnership, and the school committee chose to renew his contract through the transition back to district control.

What happens next is a big unknown—big changes don’t always stick, especially since superintendents tend to change every two to four years and their successors often try to implement new ideas, Rothman says. Without the consistency of Boston University at the helm and with the likelihood of a new superintendent taking over in three years, the challenge for Chelsea will be not only to maintain what gains it has achieved, but also, like many other cities, just to keep up.

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Serving up mind, body and soul food in South Los Angeles tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.77 2008-11-13T06:27:03Z 2008-11-28T03:11:03Z Torey Van Oot vanoot@gmail.com
South Los Angeles’ dining options have come under fire for being saturated with high-fat, low-nutrition venues following the City Council’s passage of a one-year moratorium on construction of any new fast food establishments. But among the Burger Kings and Del Tacos littering the street corners of South Los Angeles, Vegisoul dishes up 100 percent vegetarian “fast food.”

Vegisoul opened its doors to South Los Angeles in 2004 with the goal of providing affordable, healthy food to the community. The restaurant puts a strong emphasis on “available, whole, hearty meals.” It uses only fresh produce and distilled water to prepare its meals, and forgoes any microwaves or heat lamps in the cooking process.

Vegisoul is one of several eateries that offers vegan and vegetarian versions of the traditional soul food central to black culinary culture in an attempt to provide affordable and healthy eating options to a community plagued with various food-related health issues; Nearly 30 percent of adults and children in South Los Angeles are obese, according to a study by the Los Angeles Department of Health.

“I would say that black people have absorbed the fast-food mentality more than other cultures so fast food dominates the black culture in terms of how we eat out,” said Melissa D. Haile, executive director of Black Vegetarian Society of New York. “To combine that with the soul food culture that’s heavily meat-dominated, there’s a lot of reeducation that needs to happen.”

While there has been a growing trend toward vegetarianism in black communities, black vegetarian activists say the impetus for transitioning to plant-based diets — mainly health and spirituality — vary from mainstream vegetarian doctrine. Factors such as lack of access to fresh produce and non-meat or dairy ingredients, such as organic prepared meals and soy or nut-based milks, can often make the transition to plant-based diets difficult in predominately black communities.

This is especially true in South Los Angeles, which has not only the highest concentrations of fast food restaurants in the city, but far fewer grocery stores than most areas. According to a 2002 report by the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, only 18 new grocery stores opened in South Los Angeles in the decade following the 1992 riots.

“A lot of their local supermarkets don’t carry those items which means they have to travel father out,” Haile said. “Even in New York City, predominately black neighborhoods suffer from a lack of fresh produce, and so that presents a problem. You can walk to a supermarket, but you may not be able to get on a bus, because that’s an added expense that you may not be able to allocate for.”

But often all it takes is one taste to warm diners to the idea of experimenting with soy and other staples of a vegan diet.

“I would just say it’s a surprise that you would get the same taste and the same style as regular soul food,” said Ricky Cryer, head chef at the nearby Vegan Village Internet Cafe. “A lot of people are set in their ways and used to eating a certain way is hard to get them to try something different, but once they do, they see what they’re missing.”

Even discriminating palates can’t always tell the difference between the vegan and meat options; Cryer said friends who swear off trying vegan dishes often unknowingly devour his vegetarian tacos and vegan chili— a recipe converted from a signature dish he used to travel the state cooking.

With items like “fibbs,” “seefood gumbo” and vegan mac and cheese, Vegisoul also relies upon giving traditional tastes a healthy twist to attract patrons who might be skeptical to all things soy. Manager Zul Lorthridge loved the full flavors of soul food, but found the very thought of eating soy “disgusting” before he was exposed to the cuisine when he started his job.

“Since I’ve been here, it’s really opened my eyes to a whole different world,” said Lorthridge, who lived right down the block from Vegisoul for nearly four years before ever realizing it was there when he applied for a job last year.

Haile agrees that one of the challenges of promoting vegetarianism in the black community is exposing patrons to vegetarian options. But she said providing venues for black vegetarians to share their culinary choices with friends and family is important for building acceptance of vegetarian diets in black communities.

“Having these restaurants, especially if they are black-owned or vegetarian soul food, they offer the black vegetarian the opportunity to meet other black vegetarians, to meet other people who think like them,” Henry said.

Lorthridge said the steady stream of patrons lining up for orders at 1 p.m. on a sunny Wednesday afternoon is the same as the typical lunchtime rush of about 50 patrons a day.

Business has been off and on over the past two to three weeks as the economy has worsened, and Lorthridge said he has seen a drop in patronage and appetites —if you base those off how much people order.

People are passing on the more expensive burger combos and dinner plates for tofu bowls and smaller side dishes, he said. Some favorites, like the stuffed yam, which also received the top nod from the other employee working the counter that day, will always sell.

But over the past few years, Vegisoul has developed a devout following of regulars, most of who come from the surrounding neighborhood.
“Once we get people to come, they have a good experience and they come back, he said. “It’s got some bomb food.”

Cryer agreed that though many of Vegan Village’s regular customers are vegans or vegetarians, the restaurants see patrons with all kinds of diets come through their doors.

“We get a lot of vegans and vegetarians, but now we’re getting people that are curious and they’re returning customers, they bring their children, their family, their friends,” Cryer said.

Though many of the restaurant’s orders are take-out, Lorthridge said the ambiance is aimed at getting people to slow down, relax and eat some food with them on-site.

Upon first glance, there’s not much to the sparely furnished room. A dozen or so metal-backed chairs line the type of cheap wooden tables you’d find at a church potluck. But the restaurant emanates an organic vibe, a large mural bountiful with lentils, squash flowers and pea pods filling one mellow yellow wall. A single strand of grain shoots up from the floor on the wall across the room.

USC student and omnivore Matt Breault, who ordered a BBQ “fibbs” combo plate, said Vegisoul’s food and venue offered vegetarian food without the pretension or price he associated with “healthy” restaurants.

His friend, a self-described hardcore carnivore, Mike Greischar agreed.

“I don’t feel like the vibe is yoga world,” he said. “It’s more homey, it’s not snobby.”

Henry said providing a central gathering place where vegetarians and non-vegetarians can congregate around exploring new food options is central to promoting healthy lifestyles in black communities.

“Having these restaurants, especially if they are black-owned or vegetarian soul food, they offer the black vegetarian the opportunity to meet other black vegetarians, to meet other people who think like them,” Henry said.

The restaurant attracts a wide range of palates — from the hardcore vegan, to health-conscious to those just curious about seeing what vegetarian soul food is all about

“I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m getting into vegetarianism,” said Burt, a painter who ordered the No. 8 plate when he stopped in for his first time with some friends while in the area on business. “I’m trying to get away from the red meat.”

Burt was introduced to the restaurant by his friend Frank, who is in his late 60s and frequents Vegisoul to get some good old-fashioned soul food without clogging his arteries with the fat and grease of the originals.

“I don’t eat red meat because red meat is too heavy. … [T]his tastes good without the meat,” he said. “This is one of the better places that serves this type of food

Greischar, who ventured to Vegisoul after hearing about it from a friend, agreed that the food doesn’t skimp on flavor.

“I don’t miss the animal,” Greischar joked as he chowed down on a veggie burger. When asked if he ever considered adhering to a vegetarian diet, he responded, “No way!” {extended} ]]>
South L.A. youth find a lot to like in job training programs tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.76 2008-11-13T04:51:51Z 2008-12-12T20:10:51Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu
David Starr Jordan High School in Watts is one of many schools in the Los
Angeles Unified School District increasing its offerings of career classes.
These students take a nurse aid class, which started in September 2008.Erick Hernandez, a senior at David Starr Jordan High School, leaned over a plastic mannequin and breathed two long, controlled breaths into its mouth. Then, he stood up, straightened his arms and, with both his hands on its chest, gave it several short pumps.

Hernandez was practicing CPR in his first-period nurse aid class, the first hands-on health-career training class offered at the high school in Watts. “It’s a great class. I’m glad they have it now, even though I wish they would have had it earlier,” said Hernandez. “I want to get as much preparation as I can because I want to be in the medical field in the future.”

The class represents a new wave of job training courses for young people not bound for college. Three years ago, computer and woodshop classes were the only options for students at Jordan. Since then, the school in South Los Angeles has added four more career and technical education course options, including nurse’s aide, animation, video production and stage design. Jordan also plans to offer next school year a new computer gaming and a forensic science classes, said Michelle Drayton, the school’s district-assigned career and technical education (CTE) advisor. Supported by increased state and federal support, school-to-work job training programs at high schools throughout South Los Angeles have equipped these campuses with what educators believe is an antidote to low academic achievement and soaring dropout rates. Job training classes, combined with academics, give young people options for both the workplace and college, unlike the old vocational education model of the 1970s.

In rolling out these programs, however, significant problems remain. A lack of major businesses and industry sectors in Watts means that Jordan High School, and other schools in South Los Angeles, has few local resources from which to draw for financial and professional support for its career programs. Drayton said Watts has no department stores or theaters and is limited to mostly mom-and-pop stores. Taking students on field trips or connecting them with internships is difficult because transportation becomes expensive.

“Everything is on the other side of the freeway,” Drayton said, referring to the 110, or Harbor Freeway.

These obstacles aren’t likely to go away any time soon, but South Los Angeles high school administrators and advisors also see school-to-work options growing in their schools and communities because of the new state programs aggressively spending more money to shore up these programs increasingly popular among students.

The CTE comeback

Jordan High students learn about first aid in their nurse responder class.

Jordan High School, located next to a Watts housing project, used to have “a plethora of career classes” about three decades ago, as did most other public schools, said Drayton, Jordan’s career and technical adviser. But that was before the nation started placing a sharper focus on academics and college preparation in the 1980s and 1990s, leading many schools to eliminate most of their CTE classes, formerly known as vocational education. Now those classes are making a comeback, said Isabel Vazquez, Los Angeles Unified School District’s director of career and technical programs. The 21st century incarnation of the old vocational ed model now includes academics alongside job training, giving students more options.

“With the reduction, or sometimes virtually the elimination, of career and technical education, the assumption was that all students would be prepared for college,” Vazquez said. “But from my standpoint, all the students that are leaving school are not being prepared for college or for anything else… We’ve been redirecting the conversation so that the schools prepared students for both college and work.”

Government is a big part of that conversation. The federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, a reauthorization of the original act of 1998, refocused national efforts on career and technical education in secondary schools. The Perkins act increased accountability for states and local programs receiving federal funding, requiring them to set up achievement targets on how to implement and improve career-based training for students. The federal legislation also established new academic standards for CTE classes in high schools, merging stronger academics into career training. At Crenshaw High School, for example, a new small-learning academy specializing in social justice and law, providing a blend of academics and job training, will be joined by several others in the next year or two as part of the school’s efforts to bolster its school-to-work initiatives.

The resurgence of these programs is also supported by the state, considered a national leader in school-to-work programs. In November 2006, voters passed Proposition 1D, an education bill allocating $500 million in state funds for career and technical facilities and equipment for new classes in secondary and postsecondary schools. Another California bill in 2006, Assembly Bill 2448, increased the required level of high school students served by Regional Occupational Programs (ROP), or the state’s main source for providing job training courses to high schools with teachers’ salaries paid for by the state.

“By 2011, we have to serve 90 percent high school students… In the past, we have served 50 percent,” said Vazquez, who estimated that the district has raised its percentage to between 62 and 64 percent.

The growth in classes has largely been supported by state funding, even as LAUSD’s direct financial contribution shrinks. The job training programs supported directly by district funds has declined 27 percent in the last two years, but programs and classes offered on high school campuses through aggressive state-supported regional occupation programs has nearly tripled in the past eight years, from 970 classes in 2000 to 2,657 in 2008, according to the Regional Occupational Program Center operating under the auspices of the Los Angeles school district. The need, educators say, has never been more dire.

Video production students at Jordan High School get hands-on experience
with the camera and practice their interviewing skills.

The need

Michelle Drayton stood before about 30 high school students in a video production class and told the students the kind of money they can earn in the industry.

“It’s not an $8-an-hour job. The lowest job amount you can make in the industry, I would say, would be $15, $16, $17 and hour,” she said. “And you go up from there. Some start at $20, some start at $25 dollars an hour. Some start at $50 an hour. But you have to have the skill to be able to go into the industry and say, ‘I want to apply for this job.’”

Drayton later explained that talking about money is the way to really hook the students. “As I speak to them and interact with them, they tell me they don’t believe they’ll be alive, they won’t live to see 21… because they’ve seen so many of their family members and friends die because of gang activity, gunfire, gang wars, all kinds of criminal activity,” she said. “We need to provide a way for them to be able to see a way out of a no-way, dead-end situation because many of these kids don’t see a way out of this.”

Career and technical classes help the students become more interested in going to school, Drayton said, especially those who might not plan on attending college.

“We, as a district and as a nation, have to understand that it’s wonderful to want every child to college, but not every child is going to go to college,” she added. “So, we need to provide them with marketable skills, so when they do leave high school… they will have a marketable skill to sustain themselves.”

These programs also are often viewed as a dropout deterrent. Eighty-one percent of high school dropouts in a survey said classes that teach more opportunities for real-world learning would help keep students in school, according to the “Silent Epidemic,” a 2006 report produced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In recent years, South Los Angeles public high school dropout rates have generally ranged from about 20 to more than 50 percent—Jefferson High School had a 58 percent dropout rate in the 2006-2007 school year, according to the district’s most recent statistics. This is much higher than for public high schools in areas with more middle- and upper-middle-class residents live, such as the west side of San Fernando Valley that had dropout rates as low as less than 5 percent.

Students plan and analyze projects as part of Jordan High School's video
production class. Career classes today have a stronger academic focus.

While Jordan High School’s dropout rate of 21 percent in the 2005-2006 school year is not as high as some other schools in its area South Los Angeles that year, it is still considered one of the lower-performing schools in the district. Like other South Los Angeles public high schools, it earned a ranking of one out of 10 in academic performance levels, placing it in the lowest 10 percent of all public high schools in the state when compared to statistically similar schools. The career programs are still so new that there’s little definitive evidence that they actually serve their intended purpose, but educators say these ramped up versions of the 20th century vocational education models should ultimately work.

Overcoming the obstacles

A significant drag on these early efforts is the absence of a vibrant business community. South LA is a largely residential area with few employment opportunities, according to a 2004 report by the Los Angeles County Development Corp. The report, which analyzed South Los Angeles communities using 2000 Census data, showed that the region only accounted for 2.45 percent of the county’s employment base in 2003. With less access to the type of industry and professionals needed in their communities, South Los Angeles high schools have worked to find outside sources of support, such as local universities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Unite-L.A., a organization that assists schools in connecting with work-based learning opportunities. Jordan High School, for example, is planning to utilize USC students and professors to help teach concepts of computer gaming in a class Drayton said will most likely start in January.

Sometimes the problems are homegrown. Fremont High School assistant principal Marilyn Gavin said many students at her schools have to retake academic classes, which makes it difficult for them to take career-based elective classes. The year-round school has a population of about 5,000 students and earned a low ranking on state academic performance measures, according to its most recent district school report. The school also struggles with limited space for career classes, Gavin said.

Space is indeed an issue. Last year, for example, the high school offered about 16 career and technical training classes, a number that suggests a plentiful curriculum but was actually only achieved by adding multiple periods of the same class subjects over two semesters. By comparison, other comparable high schools in the district offered between 20 to 55 classes by similarly offering multiple offerings of the same class.

Despite their challenges, Fremont, like other South Los Angeles high schools, has taken advantage of available state and federal grants to offer fuller offerings of school-to-work career training. The school has added a filmmaking class, reinstated a cosmetology class it had before and recently won approval for a complement of new business classes.

Other South Los Angeles high schools, such as Manual Arts High School, are moving at a faster clip. This year alone, the school has added five classes, including medical emergency responder, a chef assistant and video production.

Drayton at Jordan High School describes these changes as great progress for her school and others in South Los Angeles. “We’re kind of right in the middle of that upswing,” she said. “We haven’t gotten to the top of the hill yet, but we’re chugging a lot on that little train… We still have a long way to go, but I think that we’re on the right track.”

{extended} ]]>
Pursuing ‘American Dream’ produces hard realities for immigrants tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.74 2008-11-13T02:37:19Z 2009-01-28T18:11:19Z Chris Nelson cknelson@usc.edu
As the student body majority at Johnnie Cochran Middle School has shifted
over the last 100 years—from white to Asian to African-American to Hispanic—
so too have the challenges faced by the school.“Clean up, your mamma don’t work here.” Amidst the resounding chattering of the 11-year-olds, Cassandra’s voice found a place of her own. The chattering paused for nanoseconds and then returned to a roar. Under her breathe Cassandra Walton, a parent volunteer murmured, “If they don’t clean, I will have to clean it. I am cleaning my own children; I am not cleaning anybody else’s.” The large rectangular lunch room at Johnnie Cochran Middle School in South Los Angeles kept shrinking as students filtered in, queuing in line for free lunches. Standing a few inches away from Cassandra was Pamela Niles, a former English language teacher who now administers ESL tests.

“Keep it dry, Emily. I can almost go swimming in it,” Niles said, turning around at the soft featured and slender Emily, who was wiping the tables. “What?” shot back Emily, also caught ‘misbehaving’ today. These immigrant kids feel that this is the American way to be, Niles said, in explaining Emily’s outburst. They see a group of kids behaving like that, and they think that is the American way. If they had been in their home country, Niles added, they would have known that disrespectful responses are not allowed.

Johnnie Cochran serves mostly immigrant
kids belonging to lower income families.
Johnnie Cochran Middle School can be best described as a school of the working poor, says Principal Scott Schmerelson. The South Los Angeles School serves mostly immigrant kids, but despite all its challenges, the campus represents the great American dream for many families. But the dream comes at a cost and often entails bearing a host of dangers like violence and economic instability, or alienation from their children who spend hours alone as parents work multiple jobs. Most of the students qualify for free lunch, and Principal Schmerelson makes sure that every child eats. “The parents are dependent on the school to make sure the child gets breakfast and lunch at school. At times they are either working two or three jobs or leaving before the child goes for school,” he says. Safety is another big issue. This does not come as a surprise since the surrounding neighborhood is prone to random gunfire and other violence. Parents feel that their kids will be safe with us, Schmerelson adds.

Stressful lives for immigrant children

Pointing at two Nigerian girls from the crowd waiting for their free lunches, Niles says: “These two sisters had come to America with their father. But he passed away and now they are in foster care. Their mother is still in Nigeria and can’t come to be with them.” I also have students who are living here with their relatives or friends either because they were born here or because there parents got deported. So… wouldn’t you rather be in Mexico with mommy loving you, hugging you, or would you rather be tossed in the big city going from place to place? The parents feel that they have brought the kids here for ‘mejor vida’( better life). When you come here from other country you have to do more than one job to make ends meet. So, what happens when you are away all day from the home and when your children come home, you are not there. What kind of lifestyle is home now?” Niles asks.

Often separated from their parents,
the children of immigrants must live
with relatives or at foster homes.
If 13-year-old Miguel Zaragoza had been present at that moment, Niles would have probably cited him as an example of a challenged home life. Miguel enrolled at the school in September after being kicked out of his previous school for vandalism. A case of mistaken identity, he says. He loves math but finds it difficult to concentrate on his homework at home. If he stays back in school for extra counseling, his parents get very upset.

“I live in a bad neighborhood, so I can’t stay away from home for too long. There are a lot of gang fights and shootings that occur, I go to school and then come back fast,” says Zaragoza, mentally sketching a chilling picture of a neighborhood where he says he can never step out. He often stays within the confines of his home. His tired, sunken eyes look away towards the open blue sky as he speaks, “My dad and four brothers always have mad kind of fights, they are always yelling at each other for no reason and when I try to help them they yell at me.”

He wishes his parents would help him with homework, show love at home and just be there when he needs them. Zaragoza plans to go to high school somewhere away from this neighborhood. If there is something that still rekindles his desire is the thought of becoming a soccer player, playing on the defensive line. Talking about soccer gets him excited for few minutes, but then the fine lines of distress quickly becomes visible when he realizes that the biggest obstacle standing in between him and his dream are his bad grades. He plans to work hard on his scores and stay back for extra counseling but wonders if he will be able to negotiate the fear of his safety and that of his fuming parents.

Cleaning homes, caring for siblings

Immigrant children view education
as a gateway for a better life for
themselves and for their parents.
The story of Angela Asij, another eighth grader, sounds similar. However, the two things that have worked in her favor are her straight As and support from her teachers and parents. But she has faced her share of emotional meltdowns before. “I felt that I was being ignored and not loved by my parents. All the attention was given to my younger two sisters and I felt very neglected,” says the 13-year-old who dreams of making it to one of the magnet high schools in affluent west Los Angeles. Thankfully for Angela, her math teacher, Inna Kopelevich, serves as a much needed anchor. But now, her biggest concern isn’t being overlooked by her parents; it’s the economic crisis that is hitting close to home. Her mom is planning to take more jobs like her father, as they fear there will not be much to live on. Before the unfolding of these economic events, Angela’s mom worked as a housekeeper in two houses, a number that has now climbed to five houses. On weekends, Angela accompanies her mother and assists her in the housekeeping. She also picks up her siblings if she knows her mother will come home late, feeds them and helps them with their homework. The fact that she can help her sisters with their homework makes her happy. She remembers her years in elementary school when she struggled to follow the course work and lacked guidance and support.

“My mother is proud of me,” she says with a sense of pride, “because during summers I stay at home to look after my sisters so that my parents are not worried about where to keep them.” Attending summer school can help Angela further polish her skills in various subjects, but she knows if she does enroll in summer classes, there will be no one to look after her younger sisters.

Kevin Navarette has a ‘you mess with me, I mess with you’ kind of attitude and would like to enroll at USC someday. His classmates seem to be inspiring him, though in an unusual way to keep focus on subjects especially math. Navarette says “my classmates tease me that I will be working at McDonald’s, if I don’t get algebra, I won’t get an education or go to college.” Seeing his mother return to job hunting due to the recent economic tumult the one thing that he wants to have in the future is a ‘job’. His father who earlier worked as a chef for one of the sororities at USC now cooks in a hospital for older people. After getting a job, Navarette would like to have a house -- no apartments, he adds with a matter of factness. His parents, like those of Miguel’s and Angela’s, are working hard to make the ends meet, and this often entails spending less time with their children, which teachers say leads to depression, isolation and a feeling of unwantedness. While some are lucky to find support and guidance in the form of teachers, peers and parents, many other immigrant children fall through the cracks.

So, is this a better life, a ‘mejor vida’?

A better life for the children?

Triple segregation often impedes academic
achievement for immigrant children, forcing
them to drop out.
Anthony J. Colón, president of Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options feels that it is. He says some of these immigrants come from countries where the poverty is dire and severe, where the living conditions are horrendous, where parents sell their children into prostitution to eat. Even the worst conditions in the U.S. are an improvement to some of the conditions in the other countries. “The immigrants see their plight as better off as compared to going back to a country where there is absolutely no possibility of an opportunity at all. None,” he said.

Parents like Ebelin, concur with Colón’s statement. Ebelin separated from her husband and decided to come to US. She was just 25 when she came to the U.S. five years ago from El Salvador with her two daughters, one of whom was just a few weeks old. She hopes to take her daughters to El Salvador one day, but she worries that since her separation with her husband was not an official, he will not let her daughters come back to the US. “It was very difficult when I came here,” she says, adding that immigrating to America will give her daughter a mejor vida. She and her mother work house keeping jobs and earn just enough to live on. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), estimates that illegal immigrants represent 70 percent of all domestic workers in greater Los Angeles. Ebelin didn’t discuss her earnings, but even without legal residency, domestic workers like her are entitled to California’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, a pay rate immigration advocates say most probably do not get.

These days Ebelin works only two days a week and devotes rest of her time looking after her daughters, dropping them at school, picking them up, working with them on their homework and attending English classes at night. She is trying hard to speak English exclusively at home, which she admits continues to be a challenge as she finds herself lapsing in Spanish too often. “But I try,” she said. Her dream like several other immigrants is to get U.S. citizenship. Are the hardships worth it? “Absolutely,” she says. “It is better for my daughter, my family.”

Some of the parents whose children attend Johnnie Cochran Middle School are wonderful. They all want the best for their kids, and then there are others who don’t know how go about it. Pamela Niles talks about the ‘getting back in control’ program that the school runs for parents to get control of their children, some of whom have gone astray. Wendy, she says, is an example of what can happen to a child when the parents’ role diminishes. Wendy ran away from school with her boyfriend. It was the same year she turned 15. Niles had seen her turn up at school three weeks earlier this month. She was pregnant and looking for home schooling.

Katrina Castellano, a resource teacher at the school, remembers one of her former students who recently had an abortion. “The girl is obviously culturally American as opposed to her mom who is El Salvadoran. For her mother it is all about getting married and having kids,” says Castellano stressing the cultural differences between the American-born immigrant children and their parents, which often leads to the straining of the relationship between the two.

Castellano continues to guide her former student through High school and is certain that she will enroll in college too. “We really push for college at school by talking about our college experiences and painting a vivid picture of the college life,” Castellano says, acknowledging the success of this strategy as she has noticed more students interested in college and making early decisions about which college they would like to attend.

Inna Kopelevich encourages her students with the same ideology that dominated her life as an immigrant to the U.S. Reflecting on her childhood days, she says, “We grew up believing that America is the last place on earth where you are not limited by the race you were born into or the caste from which your family hails, where if you work hard you can become something…. you can make a difference.” {extended} ]]>
Innovation spreads across U.S. in campaign to reinvent public schools tag:wattway.uscannenberg.org,2008:ee/index.php/blogs/16.75 2008-11-13T02:36:33Z 2009-01-02T23:57:33Z Brian Frank bfrank@usc.edu
Dr. Sylvia Rousseau, who heads a nonprofit overseeing reform efforts at
Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, explains how each partner plays a role
and why it's so important they succeed.School reform efforts can usually be found where the children of color are; the "broken" schools where not all children are learning, the schools that need to be "fixed" to perform. Often the worst-performing schools are in poor urban districts, reinforcing the disparity between the haves and have-nots.

But across the United States, in a campaign steeped in innovation, public school systems are trying their hands at various reforms in an effort to remedy the situation, allowing non-profit school takeovers, reconfiguring beastly large schools into smaller learning communities, reorganizing or replacing staff, tying teacher pay to performance, at times even encouraging free competition among multiple reform models to see what works.

“There’s probably some type of reform effort under way in every state and every city,” says Robert Rothman, editor of Voices in Urban Education, a quarterly produced by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

Despite a heavy dose of recent press and a general fear—perhaps fueled by the media—that school systems nationwide are on the verge of collapse, the concept of school reform is neither new nor a sign that public schools are necessarily getting worse.

Dr. Sylvia Rousseau talks to reporters Amber Mobley and
Brian Frank about the quality of media coverage and
its impact on how citizens vote education issues.

A string of laws and court decisions have steadily raised expectations, culminating with the No Child Left Behind Act, the famously controversial law enacted in 2001 in an effort to improve the performance of primary and secondary school students by increasing accountability standards for states, school districts, and schools, in addition to providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend.

“In some ways schools have done better than ever,” Rothman says. “If you look back through the 20th century, high school graduation has gone way up, until the ’70s when it kind of plateaued to the level where it is now.”

But school districts also face greater challenges than ever before. Much of modern school reform is about helping schools deal with issues that are outside their immediate control, Rothman says. Aggressive technological advances that call for frequently updated curriculum, an increase in violence in urban schools and their communities, and parental support represent just a few such issues.

So what are some of the different models operating in our schools today, and how are they faring? In this four-part special, we take a closer look at a few comprehensive reform efforts—in Los Angeles, where a non-profit charter school organization took control of Locke High School, and where a civil rights organization teamed with a private university and a foundation to manage Crenshaw High; in Chicago, a city that has tasted many flavors of school reform over several decades, from grassroots management to strong central authority; and in Chelsea, Mass., where Boston University assumed responsibility for the daily management of an entire district.

{extended} ]]>