Homeless kids, chronic absenteeism, frustrated parents: L.A. Unified is back to school and trying to help - EntornoInteligente
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Nearly half a million Los Angeles children and teenagers are streaming into more than 1,000 public campuses for a new school year Tuesday morning, many carrying burdens from their world outside the schoolyard gates: homelessness, malnutrition, and difficulties at home that lead to chronic absenteeism.

Yet on this first day of school the outside world also is bringing in a modicum of help aimed at chipping away problems that deeply affect learning. Although Los Angeles Unified School District leaders say students need exponentially more assistance to succeed, they are intent on targeting aid to help meet the basic needs of the most deprived students. In addition, the district is focused on developing more programs to fill in academic gaps, develop life skills and help parents better navigate an often frustrating school system bureaucracy.

The nation’s second-largest school district planned to highlight some of these efforts on the first day back.

At Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, a renovated wellness clinic could help the one in four students who are homeless. At Van Deene Elementary in West Carson, staff is focused on reducing chronic absenteeism after outside activists pressured the district. At Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes, parents are taking advantage of new rules that encourage their involvement, and at Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts downtown, a bank has funded a high-school wide effort to teach the important life skill of money management.

Advertisement District officials emphasized that much more of the wealth, sweat equity and intellect of L.A. should be directed toward public schools.

Esther Soliman, who oversees programs for career and technical education, made a plea for more internships for students.

“We have hundreds of internships,” Soliman said. “We need thousands, even tens of thousands.”

Telfair Elementary

Advertisement The school district put in $2 million from voter-approved school construction bonds to renovate the Telfair Wellness Clinic, which has just reopened and will serve about 2,000 clients this year. The clinic will be staffed five days a week by a nurse practitioner, two medical assistants and a psychiatric social worker, with an optometrist available two days a week. Some of the money for this staffing is from outside sources.

Then there have been incentives for Telfair’s children, more than 90% from low-income families, to come to school: bikes. For a third-grader whose family has no place to live, a bicycle might seem an indulgence. But for students at this Pacoima campus, competing for a bicycle became one more reason to make that extra effort to get to school — whether “home” was a one-bedroom apartment with seven people, an unheated garage, a car or just a different place than the previous week.

Students who had perfect attendance for the month were entered in a drawing for a new bicycle; one bike per grade for three months. The bicycles were the gift of Helen’s Cycle and on Tuesday, students were invited to show off their rides.

And there’s more outside help at Telfair. The LAFC soccer franchise has staged soccer clinics, NBC Universal and City Year volunteers painted murals. School supplies have come from Disney Studios, Costco and Rainbow Pack. And social services and referrals have been provided by the YMCA, the Los Angeles Police Dept. and the groups Meet Each Need with Dignity, Shoes That Fit, and Neighborhood Legal Services.

Van Deene Elementary

L.A. Unified officials consider Van Deene Avenue Elementary, in West Carson, a success story because the school has slashed its rate of chronic absenteeism, which is defined as a student missing at least 10% of school. L.A. Unified provided more money to 50 schools after outside activists, including the group Community Coalition, sued the district.

They claimed that state law requires L.A. Unified to send a greater a share of its state funds to the schools with the largest percentage of low-income students, students learning English and children in foster care. L.A. Unified eventually settled the lawsuit, which results in a windfall for some campuses, including Van Deene. There’s still some disagreement over which schools should get the extra money and how much they should receive.

Van Deene’s school-wide effort includes hiring additional staff to help families resolve issues that keep students out of school.

Advertisement Dodson Middle School

This Rancho Palos Verdes campus is known for a core of involved parents who have stepped up and pressed the district to take steps to make parent participation easier not only in their own neighborhood, but across the school system. At Dodson, two-thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches because of family poverty.

The district used to charge parents a $56 fingerprinting fee before allowing them on campus regularly. This cost was to reimburse the district for submitting prints to search criminal records, to flag offenders who, for example, have been convicted of child abuse or sexual misconduct. The district is now absorbing this expense. L.A. Unified also is making it easier and less expensive for parent groups to hold fundraisers and other events on campus.

The Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts

The Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, located downtown, is best known for stellar student performers and artists, but officials on Tuesday wanted also to highlight a program that teaches students skills that will serve them into adulthood: understanding money, credit card interest rates and different types of loans, among other financial issues.

City National Bank has donated $1 million for “financial literacy” courses, and over three years the goal is to reach the district’s approximately 200 high schools.

Students can master up to nine online learning “modules,” which teach about such topics as how to manage a checking account. The sessions can stand alone in a career technical education class or be embedded within a government or economics class, for example.

“The need is overwhelming and it’s unfortunate that financial literacy is not a requirement in the state of California,” said Russell Goldsmith, City National’s chairman. “We’re very pleased to be working with the district.”



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