Every school has a room where the teacher is super cool and students hang out during whatever spare time they have. At 99th Street Elementary and then 122nd Street Elementary that place was Laurence Tan’s class.
A San Diego transplant with a social justice activism agenda that has spilled over into his classroom, Tan has taken his fifth grade students to May Day rallies, community organizing workshops and also got them involved in working with a Chinatown collective that helped better the community.
“I invested in the community. As a teacher, I have done everything from Sunday basketball with families to holding parties. I’m very visible in the school community,” explained Tan, who is in his eighth year of teaching.
That involving the young people in grassroots efforts within the community took a distinctive turn, when the Chinatown collective decided to tighten its geographic focus to work predominantly in Chinatown. Tan said this inspired his Watts teens to create the Watts Youth Collective, affectionately known as the “Dub Y.C.”
This grassroots youth organization has about 33 members with an active core of 15 to 20, and among the activities they have participated in are making a documentary series about Watts, mentoring younger students and supporting other community organization.
The aim is for students in and around Watts to learn to deal with the issues and conditions of being and living in Watts and trying to make positive change in themselves and the community.
Watts Youth Collective members have also presented at a number of conferences about the work they do, and members of the group such as Locke High student Beverly Castillo, this year worked with the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) summer program for high school students
Tan said the organization, which meets twice monthly in various homes around the community, is facing a major transition because many of the young people, like Castillo are seniors in high school.
“We’re trying to figure out what the group is going to look like next year. We’re even talking about if we should take the step to become a 501(c)3,” Tan said.
Meanwhile, the collective members are finishing up their documentary series –“Watts Profiled”–and expect to screen it sometime soon.
For more information about the group or to attend the next meeting, contact Tan at laurencetan@gmail.com.