South LA schools turn campus playgrounds into public parks

A sign advertises the weekend hours for the Trinity School park. | Joey Wong

A sign advertises the weekend hours for the Trinity School park. View more photos on Flickr. | Joey Wong


As summer hits and schools close down in South L.A., where do the children play?

The area is low on parks, and parents are often too busy working to take kids to parks or other recreation areas. If the children have nowhere to go, they may resort to playing on the street or staying at home with video games.

Two organizations are working to provide another option. People for Parks and Beyond the Bell are partnering with schools to turn the playgrounds into “Community School Parks” open to children on the weekends and throughout summer. [Read more…]

Loss Of Child Care Affects South LA

Although President Barack Obama’s announcement of across-the-board sequester cuts just recently sparked controversy. But low-income families in Los Angeles have been feeling the reverberation of federal and statewide budget cuts since 2008. In the past few years, Los Angeles County has lost 22,000 licensed child care slots.

According to a recent study by the Advancement Project, a policy change organization headed by Los Angeles activists Molly Munger and Connie Rice, just a 10 percent funding cut would eliminate an additional 59 percent of child care seats currently available for low-income families.

This lack of affordable and trustworthy child care can affect families in multiple ways. Parents who cannot work feel the most immediate impact. Young parents unable to acquire the proper skills to improve their job prospects also suffer, according to Jacquelyn McCroskey, professor in child welfare at the University of Southern California. McCroskey has dedicated over two decades to improving outcomes for families and children in Los Angeles County.

Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit organization, also hopes to help the families affected. The organization started 30 years ago with two mothers who wanted to improve the lives of families in Los Angeles. The nonprofit is part of an advocacy project called Community Voices that includes other child care service providers such as Pathways, Advancement Project and First 5 LA.

“In the area that we serve, there is multi-generational poverty,” said Jackie Majors, CEO. “We want to provide services so they can end the poverty cycle.”

Majors’ career in child care services spans 25 years, but most of the work was in the private sector, providing services to mainly affluent families.

“Although I loved what I did for 17 years, I really think that was all about preparing me for this work,” said Majors. “Those families were going to make it no matter what I did. The families that I serve now don’t have any other resources besides us.”

Majors said her greatest satisfaction comes from receiving a letter from a family saying that with a better paying job, they no longer qualify for Crystal Stairs’ services.

In addition to the immediate impact on parents, there are often more long-term consequences for children when there is a lack of child care services.

“It also has impact on the potential for children to be as ready for school as they could be,” said McCroskey. “They won’t be able to practice early learning skills and enhance their cognitive abilities.”

These negative consequences disproportionately affect low-income families. On average, each zip code in Los Angeles lost 170 child care seats beginning in 2008. However, many zip codes in South Los Angeles and Compton lost more than 300 licensed seats each.

When Majors became CEO of Crystal Stairs two years ago, budget cuts forced her to terminate 3,000 contracts for families. However, one of Majors’ goals as CEO includes diversifying the organization’s funding to better serve families. The organization has an annual fundraiser and strives for more outside funding.

Despite budget cuts, this summer Crystal Stairs added more child care services for residents in Compton and South L.A. Although this may seem like a step in the right direction, Majors does not rejoice in this success. She believes Crystal Stairs’ expansion is an indicator of the failure of other child care service providers.

Majors and McCroskey encourage child care service providers to unite rather than view each other as competition and act territorially.

McCroskey hopes that advocates, families and child care service providers can be more organized to fight back against state or federally proposed budget cuts.

Dads read to kids at “Donuts with Dads” event

By Claire Pires

Listen to an audio by Annenberg Radio News

About 150 dads, policemen, and mentors grabbed donuts and a book today to read to kids for the 5th Annual “Donuts with Dads” event at 99th Street Elementary School in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood. image

“Almost 80% of the students at this school did not have a father or a father-figure in the homes or in their minds on a daily basis,” said Principal Courtney Sawyer of the school five years ago. “We came together to come up with a program to not only create parental involvement but to bring positive male role models into our children’s lives and that’s really where the idea of “Donuts with Dads” came from,” said Sawyer.

“Donuts with Dads” began five years ago and since this program and other family-included programs began, parent participation has grown from 20% five years ago to 90% currently.

“I talk to my kids about the urgency of education and hopefully they can continue on this path and go to college…maybe USC,” said father of two Noel Ramirez.

As student’s dads and other mentors read in both Spanish and English, students beamed in their colorful classrooms, and one student even claimed school is more fun than recess.

The school sits off of Century Blvd. in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood, and they have struggled to improve their school, but the test scores show that events like “Donuts with Dads” provide a significant improvement.

“It’s a school we believe this year is gonna be above 800 in the API for the state,” said CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools Marshall Tuck as he referred to the Academic Performance Index, which refers to the growth of schools based on their academic performance and other academic measures.”To have this happen in a few years in the heart of Watts is a phenomenal thing,” said Tuck.

imageOn the first Friday of every month, parents come to the school from 8:00-8:30am to read to the kids and encourage literacy, and they have instilled other events such as “Muffins with Moms,” to increase parental involvement.

Muffled reading in various languages echoed from the classrooms of the elementary school as students and their dads took turns reading aloud amidst the waft of donuts and the sound of pages turning.

LA Parks Initiative Opens South LA Park

Click here to read the story.

LAUSD and ECC adopt attendance plan to raise low attendance rates

imageThe East Los Angeles Library was filled with parents, students, ECC and LAUSD representatives to hear about new attendance goals. The Education Coordinating Council is an organization devoted to improving education. Trish Ploehn, an ECC member, outlined their goals.

“Children are ready for school no matter what grade they’re going into, that they perform well once they’re in school, that they graduate from high school, that they go to college and graduate from college, and they move on to employment and a career. That is what we want from our youngsters,” Ploehn said.

The ECC, along with LAUSD, have teamed up to devise a plan to boost attendance in over 80 schools. LAUSD Board President, Monica Garcia, presided over the meeting. She emphasized the name change from “truancy” to “attendance” report. ECC member, Sharon Watson, said that truancy has a negative connotation. Fellow LAUSD social worker and parent, Debra Duardo, was pleased with the name change.

“I’m so happy that we changed the name to an attendance task force, rather than a truancy task force, because we really need to work together and get our whole community to understand, when kids don’t come to school, it impacts us all,” Duardo said.

Duardo says that the problems start in kindergarten. Nationally, one out of ten kindergarten students are absent for 28 days throughout the year. In LAUSD, it’s one out of five kids. For African-Americans in LAUSD, it’s worse, with one out of three students. Parents like Ruth Tiscareno voiced concerns about students falling through the cracks.

“My concern is of all the children who are seriously and emotionally disturbed, who have IEP’s, who have parents that do understand or don’t understand that attendance is important, but that it also coincides with the IEP. Sometimes, if you don’t know, you can’t fight for your rights,” Tiscareno said.

Tiscareno says she wants more parents to get involved with the LAUSD Board and hopes members understand how different problems arise in parenting.

LAUSD is working on a number of ideas to improve attendance such as: incentives for positive behavior and a strong data tracking system to consistently determine why children are absent.

CALPIRG releases a report on dangerous toys

CALPIRG teamed up with the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to present their annual “Trouble in Toyland” report. It highlights some of the dangerous toys that shoppers should be on the look out for this holiday season.

“The most important thing is to look out for toxics and plastic hazards. And choking hazards continue to be one of the biggest risks for children,” said Austin Price is with CALPIRG

Two of the main hazards on CALPIRG’s list are related to toxins… For instance, toys that have phthalates, a component in plastics, can affect children’s development and reproductive systems. Also, lead is still found in toys.

One of the most common dangers is choking on small pieces. Jeffrey Upperman is director of the Children’s Hospital trauma center. The hospital performs a lot of airway obstruction surgeries.

“The parents who are shopping for toys need to understand that they need to buy toys that are age appropriate. They need to read the labels and they need to make sure that if they’re picking up a bike, make sure to pick up a helmet first,” Upperman said.

The fourth main hazard is noisy toys like play cell phones that can cause hearing loss. Three years ago, congress passed the consumer product safety improvement act. It requires manufacturers to test toys for toxins and lead. Austin Price urges Congress to continue funding the commission that is enforcing stricter regulations.

“So we’ve seen…over two hundred thousand recalls for lead toys just in the past year. So there are safer toys in the marketplace now than when we started this 26 years ago but there’s still hazards out there parents need to know about,” Price said.

Although those toys with noise or small pieces may look like a blast, they may create more harm than fun.

Karla Robinson, Annenberg Radio News.

Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:


The schoolyard of Para Los Ninos Charter School in East Los Angeles transformed into a stage for two very bubbly, very tall Harlem Globetrotters. “Special K” and “The Shot” were there to show off their basketball tricks, but they were also there to spread the gospel of healthy living to a crowd of low-income, mostly Latino students.

I went to cover the show, but I had some competition.

A group of four girls surrounded me, notebooks in hand.

“I’m wearing a press pass. It’s so they can know we’re on the newspaper team,” said one.

The third and fourth graders sitting atop bleachers in the noonday sun, could hardly contain their excitement when the players’ coaching session was over and the real show began. The Globetrotters spun balls on their heads, fingers and even shoulders.

Health is a major priority at the school. Nearly all of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. They’re catered by Unified Nutrimeals. Principal Judy Perlmutter describes the lunches as “low sodium, no high fructose corn syrup, fresh fruit and vegetables every day.”

Still, it’s a hard battle with a McDonald’s literally next door to the school. The students’ parents work in the factories near the school, some are living in temporary hotels downtown or shuttle from far away – they’re working class families.

And so complete chaos broke out when each student was given two tickets to a Globetrotters show. Kids leapt from the bleachers and started swarming and tackling the two Globetrotters with such sheer excitement that they knocked one of them to the ground.

The coolest trick of the day: “He passed the basketball onto her finger. It was so crazy,” reported an excited student. Crazy indeed.

OPINION: The economic impact of preschool


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageWith more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County is one of the most heavily populated counties in America. There are more than 155,000 four-year-old children living here, and yet only about 70,000 licensed preschool spaces are even accessible. Since about half of the children in this area are missing out on a preschool education and possibly starting elementary school behind their peers, Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) is working to provide high-quality, free or low-cost preschool to thousands of children who need it most — but we can’t do it alone.

Business leaders, taxpayers and elected officials need to take a look at preschool as a smart business investment because preschool has proven to help close the achievement gap among children entering kindergarten, as well as combat high crime rates and a sagging economy.

According to a Rand Corporation study, RAND researchers estimated that “a high-quality, one-year, voluntary, universal preschool program in California could generate for California society $2.62 in benefits for every dollar of cost.” The study found that for each annual cohort of four-year-olds (approximately 550,000 children), California would receive an estimated $2.7 billion in “present-value net benefits.”

The positive economic impact of investing in Pre-K services is also significantly felt here in Los Angeles County. The Center for Community Economic Development released a report that says the early care and education (ECE) industry is a crucial element in strengthening and sustaining Los Angeles County’s economy. For instance:

• The early child care and education (ECE) industry generates $1.9 billion dollars annually in Los Angeles County
• The ECE industry is expected to generate the sixth highest number of new jobs between 2006 and 2016 of all industries in Los Angeles County
• The ECE Industry currently employs 65,000 people in full-time jobs
• Benefits all industries in the county by enabling parents to work and attend job training/education programs to upgrade skills
• The ECE industry supports the employment of thousands of families whose earnings are estimated at more than $22 billion.

It’s clear that investing in the early care and education industry is a wise investment not only for taxpayers, but for the proper care and development of our children and the future of Los Angeles County. For more information, please contact Jennifer Quinonez at LAUP at 213-416-1838 or email [email protected].

Labor unions deliver Easter cheer to at-risk children in South LA

Union leaders and volunteers from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor gave Easter baskets to more than 200 children in need at the Children’s Institute in South Los Angeles on Friday.

An MTA bus carrying Easter baskets and, of course, life-size Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny, arrived at the Children’s Institute early Friday morning. All of the volunteers were wearing matching lavender shirts, some sporting stylish bunny ears and a cottontail.

Elated children, some wearing glittery paper bunny ears, gathered around Mr. And Mrs. Bunny as they sang songs and did the bunny hop. The Easter bunnies gave each child a basket filled with goodies–Barbie’s, my little ponies, racecars, motorcycles, crayons, sidewalk chalk, handballs and candy.

For the past 14 years, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO’s Community Services Program and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles have distributed Easter baskets to homeless and abused children at more than 30 locations in the greater Los Angeles area. This is their ninth year at the Children’s Institute. Union leaders and workers come together to donate their time and resources to organize, fund and carry out the Easter event. More than $20,000 was raised to fund this year’s Easter events.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO is the second largest labor council in the country, representing more than 800,000 workers in over 350 unions. The Federation’s mission is to fight for good jobs that rebuild the middle class in Los Angeles.

Armando Olivas, the Western Regional Director for the Department of Labor Participation and the United Way of America, started the program in 1995 when he realized the only time of year the community came together to help children was Christmas.

“I thought that it would be a good idea to have another project for children because we don’t want them thinking that we forgot about them,” Olivas said. “So we came up with the spring project. We were naive in the beginning because we thought we would get a couple hundred baskets and drop them off but it just grew.”

Now the program donates more than 2,500 baskets to more than 30 locations across Los Angeles.

“Every year it’s renewed and you have a feeling of giving to somebody and it touches your heart,” Olivas said. “The first time we came out here the Easter bunny was in tears at how appreciative the children were.”

Olivas’ 8-year-old son, Matthew, described the event as “heartwarming.” He has been attending the annual Easter celebration for many years, but this year he joined the festivities as a volunteer, helping to bring joy to less fortunate children on Easter.

“Homeless children get what they want and they now have a good thought in their hearts,” Matthew said.

Glen Rosales, a Metro Mechanic Union Representative, said in his six years participating in the program, the best part is seeing the children smile.

“We did Miller Children’s hospital [Long Beach] and there was a little girl maybe 18 months old with cancer…and she ran down the hall so fast to hug the bunny,” Rosales said. “You think you’re having a bad day then you see something like that and it’s all worth it.”

According to Director of Communications for the CII, Lizanne Flemming, the Children’s Institute was founded in 1906 when the first female probation officer in Los Angeles, Minnie Barton, started taking women who were jailed or on the streets into her home. The program evolved over the years into an organization that makes sure vulnerable adults and children are taken care of. Their main emphasis, she said, is on children who have experienced some form of trauma.

“As the employees, it’s magical for us. We drop what we’re doing and greet the volunteers and you see the kids and the joy is just contagious,” Flemming said. “You can’t help it and the excitement when two big bunnies come into your play yard, it doesn’t get better than that.”