The following is the first of a two-part series on the state of Los Angeles High School and its relationship with communities that surround it.
The oldest public high school in Southern California, Los Angeles High School, has been teaching students since 1873. But according to alumni, parents and staff, the quality of the school’s programming is on a downward trajectory.
“Over the years, because of funding issues, academic programs have been maintained, but electives have been cut or forced to find private funding,” says teacher Kevin Glynn.
“It’s really tough to get extracurricular activities off the ground,” he adds.
A social studies teacher for 11th and 12th grades, Glynn also oversees the drama club.
“I inherited the program a few years ago, but it’s been a real challenge. We have a wonderful, purpose-built theatre on campus, but in terms of a budgetary line item for drama, it just doesn’t exist.”
The great tragedy, according to Glynn, is that while students at the school can see the Hollywood sign from their campus, they don’t feel a connection to the entertainment community.
“It raises the question, why aren’t drama and theater programs better supported in the entertainment capital of the world?”
Glynn believes that programs like drama club and speech help at-risk kids turn a corner, instilling them with confidence and discipline.
“If you can get them to act on stage, they won’t act out in class,” he says, adding, “but none of our student seedlings are getting enough water.”
There is a growing number of alumni and residents who—not happy to accept the status quo—feel it’s time for the community to help turn the Romans’ tide.
Leading the charge is 1958 alumnus Ken Marsh.
According to Marsh, there were a lot of top-down, hierarchical consequences to the interactions between the high school and the community.
“So we started thinking about how to bring the two together,” he says.
The result was the creation of the Los Angeles High School Community Collaborative (LAHSCC), which held its inaugural meeting last October. In its first meeting, more than 80 people attended.
Marsh says he hopes LAHSCC will encourage and mobilize stakeholders on both sides of the schoolyard fences to work together on public education in the community.
At the group’s first meeting, Dr. George McKenna, the local District 1 LAUSD Board of Education member, attended and spoke to the group. Marsh says McKenna was quite frank about education’s biggest obstacle: there’s just not enough money.
“Dollars aren’t available,” says Marsh, “but we have people and resources in our community. All kinds of things could be activated using those relationships.”
One such neighborhood resource is Virginia Watson, who stepped in last April to form a cheerleading squad for the school.
“It all started when someone from L.A. High came to my neighborhood association meeting, and they told us the school was in trouble and needed support,” she says.
Watson learned that the school had gone without a cheerleading squad for over three years, even though the school had a championship-winning football team.
“I heard the school was in trouble, so I came to take a tour and was surprised by the lack of student participation and pride—they were missing school spirit. It broke my heart.”
Watson rolled up her sleeves and started a new squad. She assembled and trained 12 cheerleaders in the first year, and expects the program to be even bigger next year.
A product of public schools, Watson says she believes it’s our responsibility to ensure every child has a proper high school experience: “it’s what I had, and it’s what these kids deserve,” she concludes.
For more information on LAHSCC, email Ken Marsh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Billy Taylor