Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why students drop out of high school

Why do students drop out of school? We asked that question to four of our teen writers at our annual November roundtable for community leaders, policy wonks, business folks and others. The conversation was moderated by L.A. Times reporter Mitchell Landsberg and Compton School District Principal Dr. Sophia Theoharopoulus.

The unanimous answer to the question was overcrowded classrooms and disengaged teachers. Ernesto spoke with enthusiasm about his charter school with 20-25 students in a class. Locke, his neighborhood high school, has a history of campus violence, alarming drop-out rate and constant turnover of teachers and administrators. Charmaine described moving from Gahr to Cerritos High School, both within blocks of each other. She said there’s less “drama” at Cerritos. I interpreted that to mean fewer fights, smaller classes, students eager to learn and college bound. Patricia dropped out of Compton High school when she struggled with algebra and no one offered her assistance. Her parents weren’t contacted by the district for 40 days. Now, Patricia is successfully completing high school at the small, well run Cesar Chavez Continuation High School and a teacher is providing guidance in her algebra class.

The education crisis will get worse in the next few years. State budget cuts mean larger classes, teacher lay-offs and a dismal future for students on the edge of dropping out. Where will teens without a diploma find a job? How will they pay rent, buy food? Will crime increase in our communities?

For teens to succeed it requires a partnership between parents, teachers and students. Everyone needs to take responsibility.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Homeless for the Holidays

A former Microsoft executive is building hundreds of libraries in Africa. A group of dentists are volunteering services in Mexico. An outdoor recreation company is shipping dozens of tents to hurricane-ravaged areas in Southeast Asia. It all sounds benevolent.

What about the families who lost their homes in foreclosure? Or the children who don’t qualify for Healthy Families or Medical because the single parent makes a few dollars over the financial limit? And what happens to the emancipating 18-year-old growing up in foster care who had a minor infraction and can’t move into transitional housing?

We all make choices re donating time and money but the images from abroad tug at Americans with rapid fire response faster than portraits of friends and neighbors in dire circumstances.

The holidays are upon us with food and clothing drives for the needy. Outside every Starbuck’s and restaurant someone is rattling coins in a paper cup. Do we turn away from disheveled, sour-smelling folks sitting on the sidewalk because it’s easier to send a gift to a faceless man, woman or child? I don’t have the answer. Do you?

Monday, November 9, 2009

No "Safety Net" for Teens

We’re closing pages for the November issue. Presses roll on the 14th. A remarkable young woman wrote the cover story, “My American Dream,” the struggles of an undocumented immigrant and her extraordinary achievement, a scholarship to Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles.

The health care debate in Congress and across the country (more accurately, called, the ugly fight!) told from a teen’s perspective will blow you away. If you ask a teenager, “What’s your health insurance”? the response is, “ask my mom.” Well, 16-year-old Serli Portalogu takes the reader through her journey of health insurance, on and off for the past 13 years. She clearly describes being part of Healthy Families, a healthcare plan subsidized by the state of California for minors, the family’s years with Kaiser Permanente, the paperwork and financial challenges to have access to care and the lack of a “safety net” when her family doesn’t have health coverage.