Community Rights Campaign confronts over-policing in schools

Ratio of citations per black student to citations per white student for the most recent three school years

Ratio of citations per black student to citations per white student for the most recent three school years

Students, parents and teachers rallied at Martin Luther King Blvd. and Vermont Ave. near Manual Arts High School last week to discuss over-policing in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Today, the newly-formed LAUSD Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee will hold a public meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. to continue the conversation.

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Manual Arts MESA named Program of the Year

By Koryama Arevalo and Eduardo Avila

Last Friday, the Manual Arts MESA program was named Program of the Year at the year-end banquet held at the USC Galen Center. This yearly banquet is intended to celebrate the achievements of MESA students attending the high schools served by USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.


“This is quite an honor for the MESA students involved in this program,” said advisor John Santos. “With L.A.’s Promise deciding to reassign most of the teachers involved in supporting this program, the students had to step up and take on most of the duties that used to be assigned to volunteer teachers….With the help of our mentors, we were able to make up some of the hours dedicated by our teachers, our MESA students stepped up and did the rest.”

“A large part is due to the dedication of our advisor,” said senior Korayma Arevalo. “Mr. Santos promised us he would not let the politics of the school influence the integrity of our program. He worked extremely long hours to make up for the lack of teacher support. When the school administration misplaced our funds, he went and found them and got them back for us.”

“We had plenty of obstacles to overcome this year,” said junior Eduardo Avila. “We had to learn how to purchase our materials, talk to vendors, set up our calendars and schedule our mentors so that we could use their time most efficiently. Some of our teachers who used to work with us were still willing to offer us some support and assisted us in preparation for the SAT test.”

This year the “Robo-skunks,” as they prefer to be called, hosted 54 teams at the JPL Invention Challenge Regional, supported two FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics teams at nearby schools, supported four local and two international FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) robotics teams, held four robotics workshops, made presentations promoting STEM education at seven sites including UC Riverside, LAUSD Linked Learning Symposium; and finished as a semi-finalist in the Las Vegas FTC Robotics Championship and a quarter-finalist in the Los Angeles FRC Regionals. They also competed in Pre-MESA Day, TEAMS National Engineering Exam, and Zerorobotics “Satellite Capture Challenge,” where they finished 8th in the world.

“Last year, in a Los Angeles Times article, the former CEO of L.A.’s Promise called this program marginal. These students were out to prove that L.A.’s Promise and its executive board of outsiders, have no clue as to what students of this community are capable of with the support of their caring teachers and mentors,” said Santos.

“They can’t see us as marginal any more,” said senior Sabas Garcia.

All Manual Arts MESA senior team members will be attending a university next year, including one Gate Millennium Scholar.

Students discuss expectations and inspiration at Manual Arts High School

imageFrom left: Henry Pineda, Nestor Nunez, Kerlie Medina and Gisela Bats.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes it’s hard to keep awake, especially at seven thirty in the morning.

Most of us rely on a cup of coffee or a cold splash of water to the face. But Thoreau was right. Nothing works quite as well as true inspiration.

Tom Roddy’s journalism class at Manual Arts High School explored recently what keeps them awake to their own aspirations. Where does inspiration come from, and why do some find it and others fail? How do students establish the expectations they have for themselves? And what happens when they are faced with low expectations from others?

“People outside the school think Manual Arts is like prison,” said senior Nestor Nunez.

Listen to Nestor Nunez:

imageKerlie Medina is a senior who says that low expectations from others only encourage her to break them.

“Those negative things that people think about us makes me actually want to try more,” said Medina. “People may say that just because we live here in South Central Los Angeles, they probably think that we’re not as smart as other students. I think it’s wrong. I think there are smart people here.”

Medina added that supportive families can make a difference in a student’s life. “[Parents] should support their children,” said Medina. “If they don’t, then who else is going to support them?”

Listen to Kerlie Medina:

Henry Pineda says he noticed a difference in attitudes toward students during a field trip with Community Coalition to Beverly Hills High School.

“Students over there are actually expected to achieve,” said Pineda. “They’re actually expected to be the doctors of the future, the presidents, the senators and all that.”

Listen to Henry Pineda:

While the students at Manual Arts may receive support from their peers, teachers and families, Pineda says that negative perceptions come from outside the community.

“People from everywhere else except South Central L.A., they don’t have those expectations of us,” said Pineda. “They probably feel like we’re going to take the lower jobs. That makes me feel like they’re kind of just putting us down on purpose.”

But where do these perceptions come from? According to Medina, the root of the problem is stereotyping.

“I think it’s because of all the stereotypes people form of difference races,” said Medina. “They believe so much in these stereotypes, they judge you without even knowing you.”

The environment the students face at school also plays a large part in forming their own expectations, as well as influencing the views held by others, according to the students. One problem the group brought up in their discussion was littering.

“Other schools are really clean,” said Pineda. “When we come over here we’re walking through trash and it makes us feel down, like we live in this poverty that we just see every day.”

Listen to the students discussing the problem of litter at Manual Arts High School:

Inspiration, according to the students, begins at home.

“My parents expect a lot from me, which is a good thing because it makes me want to do better,” said junior Carlos Guerrero. “I think it all depends on the person. If you let it bother you then it’s going to affect you. It’s all up to you.”

Listen to Carlos Guerrero:

“My inspiration comes from my mom, ” said Jose Cornejo, who explained that his mother was an intelligent student but dropped out when she became pregnant. “She always tells me to do good in schools because she doesn’t want me to work hard.”

Listen to Jose Cornejo:

Junior Mariana Ruiz says that her father encourages her to work hard in school so that she won’t have to face the harsh terrain he experienced himself.

Listen to Mariana Ruiz:

The motivation to succeed also includes the desire to alleviate the burden their parents carry, said the students.

Listen to the students discuss the importance of being able to help their families:

In the end, self-determination can be the strongest motivating force in a student’s life. “Sometimes, I inspire myself,” said Nunez. “When I have bad grades on my report card, I put it right at my bed at the wall so every time I wake up I see the grades, I’m like, I’ve got to do better than that.”

OPINION: Standardized tests provoke students to fail

imageBy John Hankey

Listen to the audio here:

I teach 10th grade at Manual Arts High School and I have a few things to say about test scores.

1. Most importantly, where does good teaching come from? Does it descend from heaven like the Holy Spirit upon the heads of the chosen? Are we born with it? Or does it get taught? This whole discussion is based on blaming the teacher for bad test scores, rather than blaming the students. OK. We blame those responsible for guiding the students to become good test takers. But who teaches the teachers? Why do we not blame those responsible for guiding teachers to become good teachers? The responsibility is primarily that of administrators and schools of education. And there’s not a word about this, that I’ve seen, in any discussion of the topic. How is such glaring oversight of such a fundamental point possible? It’s laughable that the Los Angeles Times holds itself in such high regard, and misses such a fundamental point [see the “Value-Added” database, which rates teachers by their students’ test scores]; and it’s depressing that the school district — whose administrators hold such highly burnished credentials and get paid two and three times what I get — is similarly clueless.

2. The tests are horribly and deliberately flawed — skewed to measure test-taking ability rather than, for example, reading ability. Tenth graders take not only the CST, but the CAHSEE, and four periodic assessments. I always take the test while I’m monitoring, so I have some familiarity. The CST is the worst, putting many of the hardest questions in the first three or four questions. And the test is also jam-packed with questions that have four good answers or four bad answers, out of four possible answers. I often do not know what answer is intended as “correct,” and I’m an exceptionally good test taker. Putting the hardest questions at the beginning is designed to provoke struggling students to give up. And filling the tests with questions, the answer to which is clearly arbitrary and meaningless, is designed to provoke the stiff-necked critical thinkers into rebellion.

My students witness every day the ugly truth that the society they live in holds them in the lowest regard, has the lowest expectations for them, and in fact is poised, waiting for them to screw up so that they can be locked away behind bars. They walk into a building called “Manual Arts” for goodness sake! Our mascot is “the Toiler”, a guy in a paper hat holding a sledge hammer, or a mop, or a bag of burgers. OMG! And where are they to find the motivation to apply themselves to a test that has obviously been carefully designed, and implemented at phenomenal expense, to demean them? Of course the smartest of them rebel.

The test is also much longer than it needs to be to test ability in English. It becomes an endurance test — a measure of students’ ability to knuckle under and perform a meaningless, boring, and ugly job “because I said so.” It does, then, measure the docility of the students more than anything. And of course, students from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more docile. They have every reason to be. Their educational experience has not been 10 years of empty promises and degradation.

It would be possible to design a better test. It should be done. It should contain a brief test to determine reading level. And another to determine math. And it should then leave the kids the hell alone and stop wasting everyone’s time.

3. Because of these deliberate design flaws, and perhaps other features, the CST is an insanely flawed testing instrument. One teacher writing to the Times described how one her honors students went up 40 points, and another went down 50. She asked how the same students in the same classroom could have such wildly varied responses. Ten years ago, I made the same analysis of my students (the Times are so proud of themselves! I did the same comparison they did to see how my students were doing) and saw this wild, inexplicable swing. I was crushed. Until I did the same examination of another teacher’s scores, one who I, and everyone, greatly admired for her intelligence, organization, and commitment. And I observed the same wildly crazy swings among her students. It’s par for the course. And it’s the wrong course.

John Hankey teaches 10th grade at Manual Arts High School.