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With White House listening, LAUSD students share concerns, ideas

Mike Szymanski | August 31, 2015

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Matt Gonzales and Adrianna McMullen on panel

A group of LA Unified students joined local and national educators last week to describe academic challenges they face and to suggest ideas for what could help them.

The four-hour discussion last Thursday evening kicked off a weekend of activities sponsored by UTLA in conjunction with the “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.”

David Johns, the executive director of the initiative, participated in the discussion with the students and in two other events, at Palisades Charter High School and the Grammy Museum, where the theme was social justice.

Also speaking Thursday was Congresswoman Judy Chu, a Democrat from Monterey Park and the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress. She discussed her concerns that schools in predominantly poor and ethnic neighborhoods have less-experienced teachers than those in more affluent and predominantly-white schools in the same district.

“Kids are coming to our schools hungry, stressed and unprepared,” Chu said. “We need to strengthen teacher preparation and give the teachers resources.” Referring to the federal “No Child Left Behind” program now under review by Congress, she said, “We all know it’s a failure that needs to be fixed.”

“The bottom line,” she said, “is the voices of minority students need to be heard.”

Seven Latino, black and mixed-race students from charter and traditional schools were part of the Thursday discussion. Some said they experienced racism from other students, even from within their own culture, and from teachers and administrators. They also said they wanted their parents to be more involved in their academic pursuits.

“It’s as simple as my mom listening to what I did at school that day,” said Regina Black, who said that administrators could help by “supporting us when we want to start a club at school” and encourage after-school activities.

Judy Chu

Adriana McMullen broke into tears as she talked about transferring to a higher-achieving school in a mostly-white class neighborhood and being accused of a cheating by a teacher on her entry test. “I took it over and scored 100 percent. At my previous school we were like 46 to a class and sharing desks and books,” she said.

Matthew Gonzalez, who won a Fulbright Scholarship, said many of his friends have parents who have given up on them, and so they no longer try hard. “The parents just don’t participate in their education, and I know I have been lucky that way,” he said.

UTLA vice president Cecily Myart-Cruz said, “These conversations are so important to have to bring students, educators and community members together for this town hall.”

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl stressed that the union will be more involved in Black Lives Matters and talked about seeing white racism very up close when he lived in the east. “Then, when I began teaching in Compton, I was always doing some kind of organizing on the side,” he said.

Caputo-Pearl said, “Young people are experiencing things we find hard to believe. Our school environment has to be based on love and not on fear.”

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