Unstable teaching conditions in schools puts South LA students at risk

By Courtney Manning

The urban education system in South Los Angeles struggles with inconsistency and faces a crisis when it comes to teacher retention. Teachers often quit their jobs within a few years and the students are left to pick up the pieces. According to a 2006 report by the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council, urban youth in South Los Angeles are 1.6 times as likely to face arrest and incarceration.

Why? It’s most likely that youth residing in this area live in dangerous neighborhoods and become involved with street life because they don’t have two stable household figures to motivate them academically. Because of these unstable conditions and the absence of parental guidance, many look to school as a safe haven that provides consistency.

Foshay students participate in a community journalism program.

So, who is the major influence in the lives and futures of students at-risk? Experience working with the Chaka Khan Foundation Scholars Building Scholars Program, a tutoring program dedicated to the academic development of urban youth in Los Angeles, and other inner-city schools in South Los Angeles, led me to believe that it’s the teachers.

According to a 2010 Kids Count Data Center report, 42 percent of children in the Los Angeles area lived in one-parent households. The majority of these single parents either work while their child is in school, or simply don’t feel the need to stress the importance of education to their children.

When teachers give up on urban youth, everyone suffers the consequences. Long term teachers in the system see it happen often at their schools and recognize that it’s their duty to not only give their students hope, but to ensure that they succeed in life.

“Pay is never really good at the schools. That could be why teachers leave,” says Marsha Oddie, teacher of 16 years at Optimal Christian Academy in Compton. “But if you love your job, you want to be there for your students and you want them to succeed and go on to college.”

According to Off the Mat, Into the World, a non-profit that uses the power of yoga to inspire social activism, nearly one in three children in Inglewood and surrounding South LA areas live in poverty.


Since the family dynamics of many urban youth in Los Angeles may be unstable and faced with financial shortcomings, many students look to their schools as a solution. As a result, students often foster life-changing relationships with their teachers rather than their own parents.

Problems outside of the classroom greatly impact their experience inside the classroom, and education scholars say this is the reason why the presence of teachers is so crucial to their development.

“These students, especially in the developmental stages, need a stable role model in their life, so their teachers definitely play a greater role because they might not have that at home,” says Diane Yoon, Director of Outreach Projects for the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California (USC) Rossier School of Education.

Students express that they generally have low expectations for their teachers. When they do not stick around, it reinforces their expectations, leaving them feeling neglected and likely to lose hope in school altogether.

“My teacher changed two times this year. This one’s probably [going to] quit too. It makes me feel like they don’t really care that much about us and I’m just really tired of it changing,” says Anai Sai, a sixth grade student at Foshay Learning Center. Sai’s classmate, Shykeisha Ivy, shared similar concerns. “When we get a new teacher, it’s confusing. It makes me think, why do we keep switching.”

According to research on urban education done at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the shortage of qualified urban teachers often goes unnoticed. Researchers at UCLA say that the tight labor market for teachers places urban areas at a competitive disadvantage. Difficulty with keeping teachers coming back often means bringing in substitutes without credentials.

“This year we lost a teacher mid-year because they got a promotion. Now we have a long term substitute in the classroom that doesn’t have formal credentials in that subject,” says Emilio Garza, assistant principal at Foshay Learning Center.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), teacher absenteeism is much more of a problem in urban schools than their suburban and rural counterparts. Over 50 percent of teachers in Los Angeles quit their jobs within the first three years, according to literacy research nonprofit Reading Rockets. When a teacher drops out, everyone suffers the consequences.

Garza says the school does what they can to secure permanent teachers, but having substitutes happens a lot more than he would like to see on their campus. “I would like to see more consistency from our faculty and staff in terms of attendance,” he says.

NCES research shows that student behavior problems are more common in urban schools, particularly in the areas of student absenteeism and classroom discipline—this is where teachers come into play. But involved school parents seem to think that the kids’ behavior is not the point, and that it’s the school’s responsibility to give students hope for the future.

“Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t, but it’s the school that needs to listen to these kids and find people who care enough to commit to the position,” says Sharon Downs, former Foshay student and now parent volunteer at the school.

Downs says you can tell when the students are affected by the lack of constancy on their school grounds. “A lot of the kids ask me, what happened to this person and this person?”

Rose Santillan, another school volunteer and grandmother of a Foshay student, also agrees that changes at the school take a toll on the students. “For these kids, changing teachers is like changing schools, because they don’t get to know them and that’s what many of them need.”

Instilling motivation in their students is a key duty for urban schoolteachers, whether that means praise, rewards, encouragement, or even punishment. Motivation in school highly affects students’ academic performance. An educational psychology study done by experts at Miami University showed that urban minority youth grow up with the mentality that their lives will eventually be restricted and feel unable to meet others’ expectations, including those of their teachers.

When teachers truly love their job, it reflects on the students and they are more likely to go to college. A study from the New York Times this year suggested that having a good teacher makes a student nearly two percent more likely to go to college, while having a poor teacher is equivalent to the student missing 40 percent of the entire school year.

“Even though I have kinder kids, the ones that go off to college have come back to let me know how they’re doing—they hadn’t forgotten about me,” says Compton schoolteacher Marsha Oddie. “It feels good because I know that I made a difference in a child’s life.”

According to the NCES, about 35 percent of the Los Angeles population that is 25 years and over have completed high school as their highest level of education. It is apparent that urban students feel that their teachers are neither present nor patient enough with their level of understanding and opt for skipping class. These same students often resort to giving up on education altogether.

In a study investigating student failure in urban schools, “teacher absenteeism and the lack of personal relationships with teachers” were found to be the main reasons for student dropouts. Whether schools need to make more of an effort to adequately screen incoming teachers, inconsistency in the teaching staffs are putting urban youth at more of a disadvantage than they already are.

Marathon motivates Foshay students

By Jonathan Kendrick

The sun rises slowly, its first rays gradually illuminating the paint-chipped exterior walls of James A. Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles.

imageIt’s 6:30 a.m. on a mid-March Saturday morning—not the usual time for students to be arriving to their high school campus. Yet one by one they come: some yawning, others munching on a hurried breakfast, all ready to run.

There are only eight days until the 27th running of the Los Angeles Marathon, and the 10 high school students gathered in front of the school’s front entrance are in the final stages of their six month long preparation to compete in the race.

On this morning, the students and their five volunteer mentors pile into three cars and drive to the Los Angeles National Veterans Park, the starting point for their six mile run.

Upon arrival, team coach Shalom Sanchez leads the group through stretches before outlining the day’s course: north through Veterans Park, west along San Vicente Boulevard and then south down Ocean Avenue to the Santa Monica Pier.

For those students who competed in the marathon last year, this was the most difficult section of the course.
“I started off well for like the first 20 miles but after 21 miles my body broke down and I had to walk five miles in the rain,” said Jahiro Coreas, the team’s top runner, about the 2011 edition of the L.A. Marathon.

Students Run L.A.

imageFoshay’s 10 student runners are part of a larger group of 3,000 students from 165 Southern California high schools, middle schools and community programs that train to run the marathon each year as a part of the Students Run L.A. (SRLA) program.

Nearly 50,000 students have trained with SRLA, which was an official Los Angeles Unified School District after-school program and now is its own independent non-profit organization, to run in the last 22 editions of the L.A. Marathon.

It all started with an East Los Angeles continuation high school teacher named Harry Shabazian, who trained for and ran the 1987 L.A. Marathon with some of his students.

Since then, the organization has made it its mission to “challenge at-risk secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health.” More than 95 percent of the high school seniors who run the marathon graduate and more than 90 percent have plans to attend college, according to the program’s web site.

“When students are involved and when students have something to buy into, they are going to be more motivated to do well,” said Foshay assistant principal Emilio Garza. “I think sometimes when you have these students who don’t participate in anything, obviously they feel disconnected from the campus, they don’t see a purpose for being here and as a result they’re just not going to put in as much effort into their class work.”

Training for a marathon is no easy task. Aside from the physical challenge of running 26.2 miles, Foshay students dedicate a large amount of time to training. The team practices together for more than two hours, three times per week after school from September to March. They add early morning Saturday sessions starting in November.

“I’m giving up time to study, time to just hang out with my friends, time to spend with my family,” said Foshay student and marathon runner Melissa Rojas. “But ultimately this program is showing me endurance so once this ends, I can do pretty much anything once I put my mind to it.”

Garza said that while after-school programs like training for the marathon can take up large amounts of the students’ time, they also inspire the participants to do well in school.

“The kids who want to play sports have to maintain above a certain GPA and they can’t get into trouble, otherwise we suspend them for games,” Garza said. “It is a motivating factor for the kids and I also think it is an opportunity for the kids to just do something that they are really passionate about on campus. I think it kind of just builds a positive feeling toward school and so it helps kids to continue to do well in school.”

Gearing Up to Run

imageLess than 45 minutes after they set out from Veterans Park, the runners start to arrive at the designated meeting place, a grassy area overlooking the ocean near the Santa Monica Pier.

Coreas comes in first, displaying the seven-and-a-half-minute per mile speed he’ll show at the marathon the following week.

Once the whole team finishes the six mile course, they stretch together while discussing strategy for the marathon.

“You guys have made it,” Sanchez said. “You’ve trained hard. You’re ready.”

It’s then time for a surprise: a walk along the pier with stops to gaze out at the ocean’s horizon and pose for pictures with replicas of Forrest Gump’s running shoes.

“Some of these kids really haven’t been outside of their neighborhood very much,” Sanchez said. “But this program gets them outside of their neighborhood and gets them to see that they can accomplish things that they never really could imagine.”

To see the students now, having recently completed a 20-mile run, brings to a smile to Sanchez’s face as she remembers where the group started.

“It’s actually pretty amazing,” Sanchez said. “Some of the kids [during] the first couple of weeks in September were barely being able to run a mile. But they have really worked on their pace and sped up. They started slow and every week hit a new goal and every week saw that improvement. You saw a lot of them walking at first but then they saw that they could do it. It’s been kind of amazing to see them where they could barely run a mile to running 20.”

The students had to overcome various obstacles. For Coreas, it was about being disciplined in going to practice.

“I’ve been here almost every practice because last [year] I didn’t practice that much,” Coreas said. “I’ve actually been training harder and faster. I’ve been training my mind that I can’t break down that easily anymore. [During] most practices now I don’t stop [running] anymore. Last year I stopped a lot of times.”

For Armando Alva, cutting down on eating junk food was a top priority.

“I actually started eating better. Last year when I got home I just ate whatever because I just ran,” Alva said. “So this year I gave up soda and I feel like it’s helping me improve my speed and getting me in better shape. I was really fat [before training for the marathon] but I have lost weight and my time has improved a lot.”

For several of the students, it’s about carrying on even without a lot of encouragement from parents.

“This group of kids, they are so positive,” Sanchez said. “Some of them don’t have that support from families at home. And yet these kids really see this challenge and go for it. Most of these kids go on to college, continue running and continue with setting other goals, which a lot of other kids in this neighborhood don’t do. And the rate with our kids in finishing high school and even going into college is really, really high where the other kids in the school, the dropout rate is pretty high. Our kids go a different path which is really cool to see.”

Race Day and Beyond

With more than 23,000 runners tightly bunched in moving packs, it’s difficult to pick out the Foshay students from the crowd on L.A. Marathon race day. They are there – some running faster than others, but all determined to finish.

Coreas finished the marathon in three hours and 19 minutes, Alva in four hours and 41 minutes, Coach Sanchez in four hours and 43 minutes.

It marked the end of a six-month journey to run a marathon, a task that seemed unreachable for some of the students at the start of the school year. It also marked the beginning of a new journey, as the marathon-runners made plans for the future.

“We talk about setting commitments, setting goals and what that means in their life, not only with running but what that could mean for them with scholastics or families or any other goal that they might have in their life,” Sanchez said. “We try to show them how they can apply what they learned through the marathon training to anything in their life.”

Adriana Ocampo, for one, wants to continue running.

“I don’t want to stop running because it’s healthy and it relaxes me,” Ocampo said. “It takes away stress.”

The marathon-running students have big goals for after high school. Rojas hopes to attend a four-year university and major in environmental engineering, while Alva plans to move to New York and study German linguistics in college.

“Our coaches are so great. They taught us how to set goals and how to accomplish those goals, not just set them and leave them there,” Alva said. “I’m going to use the skills I learned here and apply those to my academics to achieve those goals.”

Teacher explores alternative models of art instruction

This story can also be found on Neon Tommy as part of their “Classroom Frontlines” series.

imageAt first glance, 13-year-old Jasmine Taylor resembles the quintessential middle school student.

As she escorts a pair of captivated couples through the Hold Up Art Gallery on East 2nd Street, Taylor confidently discusses canvas choices, color schemes and photography. What distinguishes Taylor and her classmates from their peers is the way they will spend her free time this December – as docents for her class’s self-produced art collection displayed in downtown Los Angeles.

“Photography is my way of expressing myself,” Taylor said. “I like painting and all other types of art, but photography… it’s my life. But, I couldn’t do it without our Room 13.”

Taylor is one of 170 students involved in Room 13, a student managed and financed, multi-media studio at the James A. Foshay Learning Center in South L.A. One of only 83 similarly designed student-driven art studios worldwide, the Room 13 alternative classroom model focuses on original, creative learning and problem solving within a public school context, providing students with the necessary tools to become professional artists.

“Room 13 is the complete opposite of a LAUSD program or any traditional education program,” said John Midby, founder of Foshay’s Room 13 program. “It’s not a franchise, where they bring you the paperwork and you repeat the language and repeat after them. You come up with a system that fits within your school culture, where students and adults can create an art studio and business model.”

Teaching five classes daily to students from sixth grade through high school, Midby launched the first Room 13 program in North America three years ago, encouraging his students to both pursue personal expression through art and explore sustainable business models. When he’s not teaching, Midby is working overtime planning fundraising events, workshops and exhibitions during is conference periods and after school to help fund the self-sustaining studio.

“John [Midby’s Room 13] classroom really gives our students a chance to see how artists make a living and how to run a successful business,” said Foshay’s principal, Yvonne Edwards. “He is so committed, and his sense of commitment and expectations for his students have made them rise to the occasion.”

Founded in Fort Williams, Scotland in the early 90s, the Room 13 project is a facet of Art Studio International, which includes a network of innovative classrooms across Europe, India, South Africa and North America. Foshay’s Room 13 is one of three similar programs currently operating in Los Angeles.

Beginning his career as an independent filmmaker, Midby used substitute teaching to support his cinematic endeavors until becoming a full-time English teacher eight years ago. After helming a study on highly effective teaching methods, Midby was approached with the idea of starting a Room 13 classroom.

“It’s more like being a coach because the students can call the plays also,” Midby said. “I’m letting them know what the possibilities are, what Room 13 is, and then together, we figure out what we are doing day-to-day.”

To help guide students in their artistic discovery, Midby enlists the help of local artists and past Room 13 graduates to both inspire and mentor students. His students engage in virtually every conceivable artistic medium, from painting and stencils, to photography, video and even journalism.

The Room 13 model encourages each classroom to be self-sustaining and to be led by a student management team, responsible for decision-making and the implementation of the business model.

“The goal of the class is to support itself,” Midby said. “We do everything from appearing at farmer’s markets, to doing collaborative workshops and exhibitions. About 10 percent of the time, we have to do things like sell pizza… but for the most part, we’re putting on exhibitions and selling our art.”

imageMidby and his students continue to lead a number of art workshops in South Los Angeles, teaching children and community members how to make recycled art and silkscreen original designs on T-shirts. In the classroom, Midby is part-teacher and part-producer, giving his students the agency halfway through the school year to plan their own class time. Midway through school year, Midby’s five classes are far beyond strict lesson plans.

“One of the main things that I teach them is that the image is an idea, and the image and idea can come in any form,” Midby said. “It could have started off as a painting and it can end up as a sticker or a poster. But the design is forever.”

Although Foshay boasts comparatively high Academic Performance Index (API) score for the South L.A. area at 657, its scores remain under the L.A. Unified School District’s average of 709. The figure summarizes a school’s performance on the 2010 California State Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) and the 2010 California School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) tests.

As a whole, Midby believes the learning center model has worked for the surrounding community, allowing parents with both limited time and resources to ensure their children have the opportunity to attend a good public school. Operating much like a typical middle school, Foshay’s high school is smaller and more selective than the majority of those in L.A. Unified, giving priority to in-house graduates when applying to the high school.

“The neighborhood is kind of in flux… it’s really a Mecca for them in the neighborhood,” Edwards said. “There are a lot of houses, mostly single-family homes and very few apartments around the school. So you have people who are committed to their families.”

The demographic breakdown of the area surrounding Foshay is now more than 50 percent Latino, according to recent U.S. Census data. Despite renovations to the area and construction projects – such as the Metro Rail construction along Expedition Blvd. – the median value of homes in the area remains more than $150,000 less than that of the rest of California at $217,082.

Despite it’s location, Foshay is considered a more effective than average school, according to the Los Angeles Time’s “value-added” analysis. The analysis is a statistical method that estimates the effectiveness of a L.A. Unified teacher or school by looking at the standardized test scores of students.

Although skeptical of the recently published Los Angeles Times’ study on teachers’ performance in the classroom, he considers the project a necessary step in a tough economic climate.

image“Whether they publish this in the L.A. Times or not, every good teacher hates the fact that the union protects lousy teachers… hates it,” Midby said. “Why should the ones of us who work so hard have to see and work with other people who obviously don’t care?”

Midby said the system has lost a number of talented teachers whilst retaining some who, in his opinion, should have moved on to another profession.

“The problem has always been that [teacher’s] union [UTLA] has gone too far in protecting teachers,” Midby said. “Because of this, the district has had no viable way to separate bad teachers from good ones. When there are a bunch of cuts, it just increases the percentage of teachers who don’t really care about what they are doing.”

But Midby is not one of those teachers. In fact, he is quite the opposite.

Rogelio Santana, an 11th grader in Midby’s high school period of Room 13, considers Midby his most attentive teacher, as Midby constantly thinks about his students and encourages them to vehemently pursue what they are passionate about.

“He gave me the ride [to the exhibition] tonight. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have come,” Santana said. “He’s always trying to make me go to other places to learn more about art.”

A number of class’s pieces will continue to be shown until January 8 at the “Gift of Art” exhibition housed at the Hold Up Art Gallery. Presented in conjunction with the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the exhibition will feature art by Room 13 students alongside that of prominent L.A. artists, such as Bill Farroux, Chor Boogie, Ernesto Yerena, Kathia Dungplata, Magda Audifred, Mear One, Pep Williams, Philip Lumbang, Shark Toof, Steven Lopez and Timoi, the class’s artist-in-residence.

“The whole show is about the artists who helped influence these kids and their understanding of what contemporary art is,” said Brian Lee, founder of Hold Up Art Gallery. “Half the gallery’s profits from the show will go to support Room 13.”

For Midby, Foshay’s Room 13 artists represent the Los Angeles of today – young, expressive, multi-racial and creative.

“I just want them to see that you can do things even from the 6th grade that no one else can do and that other people are going to respect,” Midby said. “I tell my students, you can engineer your fate. You can pick what you want to do in your life, and you can accomplish it.”

To become a sponsor or for more information about ROOM 13 LA, please contact John Midby at [email protected] or 213-973-8349.

Intersections partnered with the Foshay Learning Center and Room 13 to host photography workshops. Watch slideshows of the workshops’ final products:
Students experiment with photography at Foshay Learning Center
Snapshots of the Foshay Learning Center
Behind the Lens: Photography at Foshay Learning Center

Students experiment with photography at Foshay Learning Center

As part of an Intersections photography workshop, students at Foshay Learning Center experimented with cameras on campus.

Interested in hosting a workshop at your school? Contact our mentoring team at [email protected] for more information.

Snapshots of the Foshay Learning Center

As part of an Intersections photography workshop, students at Foshay Learning Center experimented with cameras on campus.

Interested in hosting a workshop at your school? Contact our mentoring team at [email protected] for more information.

Behind the Lens: Photography at Foshay Learning Center

As part of an Intersections photography workshop, students at Foshay Learning Center experimented with cameras on campus.

Interested in hosting a workshop at your school? Contact our mentoring team at [email protected] for more information.

USC president visits Foshay Learning Center

Listen to the audio story:


Tucked away in the annex of the James A. Foshay Learning Center off Exposition Boulevard in South Los Angeles is a program teaching students not only about creativity and art, but also about finance, public relations and business management. Room 13, as it is called, is a self-sustaining art program that not only teaches students about art, but also how to promote and sell their work.

Foshay teacher John Midby has been with the project since its inception at the school. The students work with him and the school’s artist in residence to create and sell works. The University of Southern California President C.L. Max Nikias visited Room 13 as part of a tour Monday morning. Midby is pleased with current partnerships with the school, but in the future, he hopes to expand to more schools.

Starting Dec. 10, the students will team up for a gallery show at Hold Up Art with University of Southern California alum Brian Lee. The proceeds of the event will benefit both the gallery and Room 13.

From Chinatown to China: Learning world languages in L.A. schools

By Jacquie Levy

imageSeated in a folding chair in the middle of Chinatown’s historic West Plaza, seven-year-old Aidan Garner’s short legs dangled his little feet above the ground as a concentrated expression washed over his face. He dipped a calligraphy brush almost as long as his whole arm into a bowl of black paint, and meticulously copied a series of connected lines from the paper beside him onto the newspaper in front of him. As an American-born, second-grade student, Garner had just done something that most American adults will never be able to do: he had written the Mandarin Chinese character for ‘moon cake’. As his mother looked proudly over his shoulder smiling, Garner declared, “I’m writing Chinese, it’s fun and easy!”

On that particular Saturday evening in Chinatown, the smell of Chinese food was especially strong and the clamor of voices was exceedingly loud. A diverse crowd of all ages and ethnicities from all over Los Angeles came to experience the 72nd annual Chinese celebration of the new autumn harvest moon, known as the Mid Town Moon Festival. While there were lots of exciting, kid-friendly activities like performances by Shaolin warriors and contortionists, Chinese cooking demonstrations, zodiac face painting, craft tables and ping-pong contests, many children were drawn to a more subdued activity: the Mandarin calligraphy workshop hosted by the UCLA Confucius Institute.

A young volunteer at the station who referred to himself as “the white guy who speaks Chinese,” enticed curious children and adults with the simple question, “Wanna give it a try?” Intrigued by the challenge, participants sat down at the U-shaped setup of folding tables that was scattered with newspapers, paint, and pictures of Chinese words commonly associated with the Moon Festival. George Yu, the Executive Director of Chinatown’s Business Improvement District, watched his 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth Yu and her 12-year-old friend Felicia Hano receive some personal Mandarin instruction from Qin Huang, a petite and expressive Confucius Institute volunteer, who also teaches Mandarin at a local middle school.

The scene mentally transported Yu to his younger days in Taiwan. “It’s important for them to be exposed to this,” he said. “I still remember this vividly, trying to do calligraphy in Taiwan.”

Yu moved to the United States when he was very little with what he described as “strict marching orders to assimilate as quickly as possible.” With little to no practice speaking Chinese since then, he said the extent of what he can do with his language now is order food from a Chinese restaurant.

Yu expressed concern that schools overseas have become much more competitive than they are here in America. This perception is echoed by the UCLA Confucius Institute whose website states that only 31 percent of American elementary schools report teaching a foreign language, while there are 200 million students in China taking English courses. For this reason, Yu said that any exposure kids can get to other languages, whether at school or at a festival in Chinatown, is important in keeping them competitive in an increasingly global workforce.

Exposure to Chinese language and culture is exactly what the Director of UCLA’s Confucius Institute, Susan Jain, looks to achieve from the institute’s participation in events like the Mid Town Moon Festival.

“It’s my way of doing propaganda. We need people to understand this country. Knowledge is power,” said Jain who has kids of her own, “I want to tell my kids about China and tell them we can’t just shut the door and say oh they’re a bad country.”

To spread this message, the Confucius Institute has focused on establishing Mandarin language programs in K-12 schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their efforts have been aided by the federal government’s “strategic defense languages” initiative, created after the September 11th terrorist attacks to fund language programs in Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, and Korean. Jain said that these language skills will become invaluable to students as more and more industry and government jobs begin to require knowledge of Chinese and other Asian languages. The Confucius Institute is trying to get these programs started as early as possible in a child’s academic life.

“If they start when they’re five years old, they can pick up languages just like that, and their Chinese accents are beautiful,” said Jain who also explained the benefit of using language to teach science, math, art and music. “The calligraphy is fun for students because it incorporates art with language. It’s not boring, it’s a game, and they don’t realize they’re learning.”

Back in the classroom at Foshay Learning Center on South Harvard Boulevard and 37th Street, Qin Huang’s students call her Ms. Qin Qin (pronounced Chin Chin). Huang helps her students remember her name by joking that right now she has a double chin, but as she continues to get older and wiser, she might have a triple chin.

When Huang moved to America from Suzhou, China last year to attend California’s State University at Los Angeles, she got involved with a new program launched by the UCLA Confucius Institute called the “Mandarin Teaching Scholars Program”. The venture was created to offer fellowship support for people enrolled in teacher credential programs, in an effort to get more Mandarin teachers accredited and into LAUSD classrooms. In return for the scholarship support, Mandarin Teaching Fellows like Huang volunteer to teach up to 20 hours a week in a local school. After volunteering in Foshay’s elementary school last year, the learning center hired her on full time this year to pilot a Mandarin program in their Middle School.

Jain was impressed with what Huang had accomplished with the students at Foshay in only one year, “It’s amazing what she’s done with the kids.”

Broadway Elementary School on Lincoln Boulevard and Broadway Street, is another LAUSD school that adopted the Institute’s Mandarin Immersion program. After their first year with the program, Broadway reported that their Academic Performance Index (a measurement of academic performance and progress of individual schools in California) shot up over 107 points to 855 on a scale of 1000 points. Jain said that there is reason to believe this unusual achievement could be at least partially a result of the Mandarin instruction that challenges students to think in a completely different way.

Huang saw mixed reactions from her students at Foshay when she first started the program, “Some kids absolutely fall in love with it right away, some think it’s really weird.” But the kids eventually all warm up to the idea of learning Chinese as they start moving around, singing songs and playing games. Huang said learning a language is all about communication, so she prefers teaching the language interactively versus simply reading and writing or saying and repeating words.

One phrase you won’t hear in her classroom is ‘foreign language’. Huang said that she forbids her students from referring to languages like Mandarin, Arabic, and Farsi as ‘foreign’ because it’s a hurtful term.

“It makes people not want to touch it, it sounds scary,” said Huang. So instead, her students use the phrase “world language” in reference to Mandarin and other Asian languages. This is all part of her yearlong goal in the classroom to change the kids’ mindsets about these world languages and cultures, while expanding their horizons to different global opportunities.

You will often hear her telling her students, “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s different.” And by the end of the school year, the kids start using this phrase too. Huang said, “I want my students to know that the Chinese culture, just like other Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, aren’t good or bad, they’re just different from their own, and that’s no reason to bomb them just because we don’t understand them.”

BLOG: Foshay students participate in joint art exhibit

imageOn Saturday, March 13, artists from ROOM 13, a student-run art studio at James Foshay Learning Center, are participating in a joint-exhibit with other students from local school districts.

The exhibit’s theme is centered around one question: “How old do you have to be to be an artist?”

The junior high school students answer the question and create a dialogue between their work and the work of other students from Eliot Middle School in Altadena and Marjorie in South Bay.

All students are participants of ROOM 13, an international network of student-operated art studios that began in Scotland.

Their work will be shown at the Judson Studios Gallery as part of NELA (Northeast Los Angeles) Art Night.

The event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 200 So. Avenue 66, Los Angeles, CA 90042.