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LA students see in Villaraigosa’s California Students’ Bill of Rights an opportunity to improve schools and their teachers’ working conditions

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | March 19, 2018

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Students join Antonio Villaraigosa at the town hall at the Northeast Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club. (Courtesy: William Morales)

As students across the country are making their voices heard on gun control, California youths are being given the opportunity to have a voice in ensuring all students have access to a quality education with a California Students’ Bill of Rights, unveiled Thursday in Los Angeles by gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.

Students from Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High School, Academia Avance Middle School, and LA Unified’s Florence Nightingale Middle School were the first to hear and give input to Villaraigosa on his 12-point policy plan that includes the right for all students in California to have access to high-quality schools, economic equality, teachers with higher pay and professional training, and appropriate school funding.

“I like the fact that it includes the economic aspect because the reason why some students can achieve high is because they have their parents with them, supporting them, while low-income students, we can barely see our parents. They are working all day to meet our needs, so how are we supposed to prevail if we can’t have their support,” said Brady Carlos, a sophomore at Alliance Smidt Tech who attended Thursday’s student town hall where the bill of rights was presented. His mom is a housewife, and his dad is a chef who often works overtime.

“We must have accountability at all levels, we need additional resources, we need transparency; most of all we need to always put our students’ interests first and foremost,” Villaraigosa, who is largely viewed as the reform candidate on education, said in an email a day after meeting with the students. “As mayor, I continuously heard from students and families about the urgency to improve their schools.”

• Read more: How education could shape the governor’s race in California: funding, accountability, charter schools

Carlyn Oropez, director of operations of the Northeast Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club, where the event took place, said they wanted to host the town hall to give youths an opportunity to have their voices heard by people in government.

“We want our kids to feel empowered, to feel that they can have a say and they have influence. What they have to say matters, so their participation at this event was very important,” she said.

The club serves kids in low-income communities including Lincoln Heights, Highland Park, Boyle Heights, and downtown Los Angeles.

William “Kip” Morales, an English teacher at Alliance Smidt Tech who brought 50 students to the town hall, said he saw in the bill of rights a good chance for underserved students to have a position of power.

“As far as we know, this is the first-ever student bill of rights in California, so I think this is an excellent opportunity for students in urban schools to be represented in a bill that intends to change a system that has been failing them for decades. Something more drastic needs to happen when we see only half of the students succeeding,” Morales said.

In 2016, more than half of LA Unified’s graduates were not eligible for admission into California’s public universities.

“We are hoping that in getting students’ voice in and supporting the California Students’ Bill of Rights will eventually turn into policy and eventually turn into guaranteeing a quality education as supposed to just education,” said Morales, who has been teaching in urban schools for 13 years.

Morales said he believes that Villaraigosa’s bill of rights could positively impact schools as he did when he created the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools in 2008 as LA’s mayor.

Morales was a teacher at Santee High School then, one of the Partnership schools that a decade ago was among the lowest-performing in the state with a 27 percent graduation rate. Today, Santee has an 81 percent graduation rate that tops LA Unified’s.

Dafne González, who attended the town hall, said that students have a voice and it’s time their voices are heard.

She lives in South Central and commutes to Lincoln Heights to attend Smidt Tech because she felt her neighborhood high schools would not prepare her for college. “When I looked at the low graduation rates at those schools, I knew I had to look for another option because I didn’t want to set myself in an environment where not much was expected from me.”

González suggested to Villaraigosa that the right to hold everyone accountable be more specific, breaking down each role in school rather than generalizing. “We all should have a role and be responsible for it, including students,” she said.

Edwin Anica, one of the 60 students from Academia Avance Middle School who listened to Villaraigosa discuss his proposal, liked what he heard about improving teacher pay. “I have teachers that help me a lot, and I think they deserve to get better paid. Overall, I think the Student Bill of Rights could really change things for a lot of kids I know in my neighborhood who don’t have the same access to a quality education like I do.”

Antonio Villaraigosa’s California Students’ Bill of Rights includes:

The Right to Demand that Decision-Makers Put Students First

The Right to Economic Equality

The Right to Appropriate School Funding

The Right to Equity Money Being Used in the Classroom, not the Bureaucracy

The Right to Access High-Quality Schools

The Right to Teachers Who Get More Pay and More Professional Training

The Right to Hold Every One of Us Accountable

The Right to Support from the Beginning

The Right to Be Free from the Worry of Being Homeless or Housing Insecure

The Right to Nutritional Food

The Right to Safe Schools and Neighborhoods

The Right to Advance to College or Career Training

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