Afterschool programs teach students tech as LAUSD restructures

When Jonathan Marcelino’s parents told him he could either own a computer or a cell phone, the decision was not difficult for the 17-year-old to make.

As the eldest of four children born to Mexican immigrants living on a tight budget in Nickerson Gardens, a Watts public housing project, Marcelino knew that although he would have liked to have a phone to regularly text friends, a computer would be more productive.

“Regardless of where I go, I want to study computer science,” he said. “I want to do cool stuff, make money and then do a nonprofit. That’s why you don’t see me running with a phone.”

The lack of exposure to technology and its practical applications in daily life is a reality many students living in and around South Los Angeles face, Marcelino said.

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Coding boot camps emerging as supplement to traditional tech instruction

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Gregorio Rojas stands with his most recent cohort of students who participated in his coding boot camp. | Photo courtesy of Gregorio Rojas

Coding boot camps, long on the fringe of traditional education spheres, are pushing their way into national conversation of how to attract more Americans into the STEM fields.

These boot camps, a product of the technology boom, are technical training programs designed to expose novice students to the most important aspects of the coding and web development field while guiding them to become innovators. Oftentimes boot camps lead students into jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries.

Last month, the Department of Education rolled out its pilot program, EQUIP. The program, which is now open for application, allows colleges and universities to partner with non-traditional education models like boot camps, and gives students access to federal financial aid.

EQUIP is part of a growing initiative to help underwrite the cost of attending satellite programs that train students in career fields the country needs–particularly in the STEM fields in which the Obama Administration has encouraged more growth.

Yet, the concept of the recent policies supporting coding boot camps is not new in South Los Angeles. EQUIP would be supporting an educational model that has already taken root in the area, some educators say.

A few years ago, Gregorio Rojas and his wife founded Sabio, a startup focused on providing software development training to women and minorities. At Sabio, students spend 6 to 12 weekends in intensive programs learning to code, develop software and hone technical skills. At the end they hold the promise of standing on their own in the competitive STEM industries.

“One reason I do this is because I pretty much learned this way,” Rojas said of the boot camps. “It’s hands on, on the job, intense and very focused. I got into the industry right before the dot-com bubble burst. These skills facilitated my own entry.”

His coding boot camp is based in Culver City, but Rojas said many of his students have ties to the South L.A. community.

At boot camps, students spend hours learning code language — not from a book, but by implementation. The experience is intense, but the success of the methodology is proved each time Rojas’ students walk away with a firm grasp of the material and are later gainfully employed. Many times, students participate in hackathons, holding their own against competition.

Gregorio Rojas (left) celebrated the launch of two of his students' apps to the Apple Store.

Gregorio Rojas (left) celebrated the launch of two of his students’ apps to the Apple Store. | Photo courtesy of Gregorio Rojas

Recently Rojas celebrated the launch of two students’ app now featured in the Apple Store. Both creators of the app had been in two wildly different fields before the coding boot camp; one was a Spanish professor and the other was working in the financing world. At Sabio, the average student is a 30-year-old, according to its founders.

In the basement of South LA’s Southside Church of Christ, Chris Baccus also runs a coding boot camp — this one aimed at middle schoolers. Baccus, executive director of Concerned Citizens Community Involvement, helps run the camp on Saturdays. In one year, seventy students have gone through the non-profit’s Limitless STEM Academy.

The wide range of participant ages for the coding boot camps in South Los Angeles show the demand for alternative education models. Generally the camps are also less expensive options when compared to the norm.

At Sabio, a three-month program costs $13,450 though it is set to increase 7 percent to $14,450 in 2016.

Comparably, the estimated yearly cost for attending the University of Southern California, a four-year semi-private institution is $67,212, while the all-expense-covered yearly tuition for a University of California school is $33,600 for in-state residents. At a California State University such as Cal State LA, to receive a computer science degree, students would pay around $32,240. Most students would quadruple these costs during the four-year pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

For an associate’s degree in computer information systems at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, California residents pay around $2,070.

Baccus’ Limitless STEM Academy held on Manchester Avenue and Harvard Boulevard is free of charge for the middle school students.

Rojas sees EQUIP as a federal commitment to embracing more innovative styles of teaching and a sign that this type of instruction is working.

“People are going to start waking up and realize that what they do is not traditional but it’s theory,” Rojas said. “Those institutions want to tap into these resources and bring them into the fold. These are conversations that have been happening for at least a year now.”

Boot camp organizers said they not only see such programs as great supplements to educational systems for their students, but in some cases their curricula can help drive STEM instruction in the traditional classrooms.

Read More: Teens Exploring Technology celebrates grand opening of community space

Baccus pointed to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has been struggling to integrate emerging technology into its curriculum.

“I’ve worked at LAUSD for 17 years so I understand the challenge that some of our schools have in implementing innovative programs because everything is all-around taught to a test,” Baccus said.

Not discouraged, Baccus said he’s looking to spread his program into Inglewood and Compton to reach more students.

“In the future we want our students to be able to be problem solvers because that skill never grows old,” he said. “As technology advances, it just becomes an easier way to solve a problem and if you can, then you’ll always have a job. You don’t wait, you create your own opportunity.”

Baccus has talked to academics at traditional colleges who have requested his help trying to integrate structures like that of Limitless STEM Academy into their classroom. One philosophy the boot camps have integrated is the dedication to serving underrepresented communities, such as women, African American and Latino populations. They’re helping to facilitate the next generation of minority students entering the tech field.  

“[At Sabio] you have a Latino immigrant and Latina CEO coming out here and running things,” Rojas, who is a Colombian immigrant, said. “I don’t think you’re going to find something else like this.”

Rojas’ wife and Sabio co-founder, Liliana Monge, is Mexican and grew up in South Gate. Baccus also said he believed his students seeing other people of color working in tech encourage them to continue breaking into the ever-changing industry.

“The more qualifiers you have, the easier it is for minorities to sit at the table with people who may be unfortunately less qualified, but may have a network that allows them to get opportunities that we traditionally have been left out of, especially in STEM and technology and computers,” Baccus said. “Any more ammunition they get to put in their toolbox is absolutely great.”

Diversity, however, is not just essential in South Los Angeles. Diversifying the industry overall breeds better innovations in the field.

“Coding software development is supposed to be one of the leading innovative industries in the world – in the planet really, but by design for a bunch of different factors is the least innovative group out there,” Rojas said. “We don’t have enough women and people of color in the room to challenge the other folk in the room.”

Baccus hopes that the progress in terms diversity and technology will continue to take root, and eventually become a requirement for younger students.

“I would love to see [EQUIP] interfused with the curriculum for students even before high school to give them the skills they would need,” Baccus said. “Help them do that self-discovery before they get into those pathway programs.”


High homicide rates move LAPD to put more officers in South LA

Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck speak about crime statistics at a recent conference held at the 77th Division station in South L.A. | Daina Beth Solomon

Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck speak about crime statistics at a recent conference held at the 77th Division station in South L.A. | Daina Beth Solomon

The Los Angeles Police Department is responding to a hike in crime rates by adding more officers to South Los Angeles streets. So far this year, 43 people have been killed in the 77th Division, which covers most of South L.A.

In August, according to data from the LAPD, the number of people killed in Los Angeles rose 7 percent compared to this time last year. Almost half of last month’s killings took place in South L.A. The majority of violence, Police Chief Charlie Beck said, was gang crime.

Capt. Jeff Bert told the LA Times that additional police officers will allow the department to respond more quickly to crimes and also possibly help prevent them.

“We’re concerned because it’s a loss of life,” Bert told the LA Times. “That’s why we’re doing this big shift and we’re pointing the nose of it south, because that’s where most people are losing their lives.”

South LA teacher earns national acclaim for ethnic studies advocacy

The push to make ethnic studies a staple within the California education system received nationwide attention when a South Los Angeles teacher was named the National Education Association’s Social Justice Activist of the Year.

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Chronicling Los Angeles history with menus + Inglewood school to take part in program for Internet access

South L.A. could be named a

A map of South L.A. area.

Chronicling Los Angeles history, menu by menu: A city’s history can be seen through private letters, official records and sometimes even menus. A new book and exhibition by Josh Kun, a USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor, examined 9,000 L.A. restaurant menus from 1875 to the present, which mapped the growth of the city. (The New Yorker)

Inglewood school to take part in program for Internet access: Crozier Middle School are implementing the School2Home program to bring 300 seventh graders home access to Chrome book computers. The program will also provide training for both teachers and parents.  (Wave Newspapers)

South LA partnership to continue health disparity initiative: Planning grant will extend programs in the community and at Jefferson High School that foster better community health and human development. (Market Watch)

L.A. seeks injunction to end gang activity at Watts home: Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer filed an injunction with the city to prevent gang activities near 2127 E. 110th St. filed an injunction after years of complaints from neighbors. (L.A. Times)



Cecil Murray, South LA’s civic leader and spiritual guide

The respected pastor who helped put out fires of the 1992 riots now fosters religious dialogue at USC.

Cecil Murray

Cecil Murray gets settled in his USC office. | Jordyn Holman

Since late November, residents from South Los Angeles have been peacefully protesting courthouse decisions to not indict police officers in Missouri and New York who killed two young unarmed Black men in the line of duty.

For Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray, the former pastor of South L.A.’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the demonstrations in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner bring to mind L.A. protests of days gone by in that they aimed to shed light on the disconnect between police officers and the people they serve.

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Q&A: Daniel Miller on ‘Finding Marlowe’ in South LA

An undated family photo at Samuel B. Marlowe's grave in Inglewood. | screenshot

Samuel B. Marlowe (top left) appears in an undated family photo placed at his grave in Inglewood. | screenshot from

The two most famous detectives of classic noir literature – Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe — just may have been inspired by the first Black private investigator licensed west of the Mississippi River – Samuel B. Marlowe. That’s according to a former Hollywood executive who brought Marlowe’s story to Los Angeles Times reporter Daniel Miller. In “Finding Marlowe” published last month, Miller attempts to trace just how much this Black private eye living in South Los Angeles in the mid-20th century shadowed lives throughout Hollywood.  [Read more…]

Century Liquor becomes Century Market, bringing freshness to South LA

Residents gather around the fresh produce samples at Century Market grand opening. | Jordyn Holman

Residents gather around the fresh produce samples at Century Market grand opening. | Jordyn Holman

A store stayed true to its new title of “Market” instead of “Liquor” by introducing fresh food options after years of pressure from the community. And with that, the number of stores offering fresh food options in South Los Angeles increased yet again.

Century Market is the most recent liquor store in the area to commit to stocking its venue with fresh produce. The store located at Western and 39th streets opened in its new incarnation last weekend, debuting shelves with fresh fruits and other healthy food options.

See also: South L.A. corner stores turn full-service

“We now have something that’s local for folks,” said Ansley Jean-Jacques, who helped press for the transformation along with activist organization Community Coalition. “They can now buy their eggs right here on 39th and Western.” [Read more…]

South LA crime-fighting residents awarded for courage

Five courageous citizens were honored today at the final Courageous Citizen Awards ceremony of the year. | District Attorney Twitter

Five courageous citizens were honored today at the final Courageous Citizen Awards ceremony of the year. | District Attorney Twitter

Three South Los Angeles residents were among the handful of Angelenos named recipients of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office’s Courageous Citizen Award because of their courage and acts of selflessness.

The award was created, according to the District Attorney’s office, to commend individuals who have acted with courage in the face of personal risk to help a victim of crime, capture a suspect or testify in high-pressure situations. The District Attorney presents the awards several times a year, and this season’s award presentation took place Wednesday. The program was started in 1986, according to a District Attorney spokesperson.

“Our community is a safer place because these local heroes refused to look the other way when others needed help,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. “The courage displayed by each of these honorees is nothing short of remarkable.” [Read more…]

#TBT South LA: Wrigley Field, 1955

Fans are pictured here watching a baseball game in LA’s Wrigley Field. | Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Fans are pictured here watching a baseball game in LA’s Wrigley Field in 1955. | Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Before Chicago made Wrigley Field an internationally recognizable Major Baseball League landmark, a minor league team called the Angels was playing at another ballpark with the same chewing gum name in South Los Angeles.

The field was located at 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard, back when the area was known as South Central Los Angeles. According to the National Pastime Archives, the field was dedicated on Sept. 29, 1925 with a crowd of 18,000 attendees. The Angels won their opening game that day against the San Francisco Seals, Los Angeles Magazine reported. [Read more…]