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State high school students: We deserve better

Rupa Dev | New American Media | 9/29/2010, 5 p.m.

Editor's Note: As California's government continues to not set a budget for the state, state schools are still suffering from insufficient funds to properly teach it's young people. Twenty-eight high school youth from Los Angeles took the trip up to Capital Hill to get the reason from the horses mouth as to why their education is so poorly funded. Rupa Dev is a reporter for New America Media.

As California policy makers and researchers try to solve the critical problems plaguing the state's public education system, a UCLA program is training a new generation of researchers who bring a unique and powerful perspective to the issue: inner-city students from some of Los Angeles's lowest-performing, most resource-stretched schools.

Just in time for the start of the school year, 28 students gathered in L.A. City Hall to present the findings of a statewide survey of 650 high school peers that they conducted this past summer, as part of the 2010-11 Council of Youth Research.

Their goal was to find out whether the state is delivering on its promises, part of a settlement of a 10-year-old lawsuit, to provide a quality education for low-income students of color.

To no one's surprise, the answer is no. But the Youth Council survey provides an unusual, on-the-ground insight into the types of problems that loom largest for low-income students and the kinds of changes they hope to see.

It may also inspire young people from disadvantaged communities to pursue careers in research, where their perspectives could help shape future education policy.

"You could bring in an adult to do a two-day evaluation of a school and come up with some conclusion," said Dimitri Meighan, a 16-year-old student at Locke High School in South L.A. and a Youth Council member. "But if you [consult] a student who actually attends the school, that student deals with the school every day, so he or she is an expert at knowing what their peers need."

Eighty-two percent of the students polled thought that education is under-resourced in California, according to survey findings.

One resource that students want more of is technology. Sixty percent of respondents indicated that their schools don't have enough technology available to students. The technology that they do have is often greatly outdated.

The Youth Council interviewed Ben Gertner, principal of the Roosevelt School of Communication, Media, and Technology in Los Angeles, who said, "Our classroom computers are eight years old, [and] they don't work."

What is most surprising about the survey findings is that an overwhelming majority of surveyed students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: "My teachers care about me and strongly prepare me for the future."

Erick Palacio, 16, a student at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles and Youth Council member, affirmed this finding, saying, "My teachers know how we act, they get what kind of music we like, they know our style...When the teachers try to get to know us more, that gets my attention and makes me trust them more."