Many South L.A. Students Frightened and Depressed, Survey Finds

Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2008

A survey of 6,008 South Los Angeles high school students shows that many are frightened by violence in school, deeply dissatisfied with their choices of college preparatory classes, and—perhaps most striking—exhibit symptoms of clinical depression.

“A lot of students are depressed because of the conditions in their school,” said Anna snExiga, a junior at Jordan High School who was one of the organizers of the survey. “They see that their school is failing them, their teachers are failing them, there’s racial tension and gang violence, and also many feel that their schools are not schools—their schools look more like prisons.”

The survey, released late Thursday, was conducted in seven South L.A. public schools by a community youth organization, South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action (SCYEA), with technical guidance from the psychology department at Loyola Marymount University. It suggested that many students in some of the city’s poorest, most violent neighborhoods believe their schools set the bar for success too low—and then shove students beneath it.

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“We’re ignored—our schools are ignored,” said Susie Gonzalez, another Jordan 11th-grader who helped organize the survey. “They give us the short end of the stick. . . . They expect us not to amount to anything.”

Only about one-quarter of the students surveyed said they felt safe at school while 35% said they don’t. Just under half said their school is preparing them for college or a high-paying job, and 93% believe their school should offer more college-preparatory classes. Fewer than half could define the “A to G” curriculum that is the college prep standard in California. The youth organization, which advocates educational equality, fought for six years to push Los Angeles Unified School District to require such a curriculum for all students. The curriculum spells out the types of college prep classes and number of years they must be taken to qualify for UC and Cal State schools.

Two thirds of the students, nearly all of whom were African American or Latino, said they wanted their schools to offer more ethnic studies classes.

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The survey’s findings contrasted with a February school district report in which 90% of students questioned at selected schools districtwide said they were being pushed to do their best and 80% said their classes “give me useful preparation for what I plan to do in life.”

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At the announcement of the survey results, at the headquarters of the Community Coalition of South L.A., students played a home-made version of Monopoly that told much the same story as the survey.

Where the familiar squares of Baltic, Atlantic and Marvin Gardens might be, the options included Drugs, Dean’s Office and Drop Out. Jail was a place to go when you’re pulled over by the cops for no apparent reason. Restroom was where the player was likely to encounter gang members. Where Boardwalk should have been, the square read: “Dead.”

As the game began, one student landed on Liquor Store and was told that, on his way to school, “You wind up in front of a liquor store and you find one of your homies smoking a blunt.” When Juan Zamora of Jordan landed on Chance, he was told that “you’re one of the lucky students who actually know and see a college counselor.” His choices: Go to UCLA or “stay on the block and wind up selling drugs to support your family.”

And when Sam Anguiano of Locke landed on P.E. Field, he was told that shots had been fired while he was running during gym class—should he hit the ground or run? When he answered that he’d run, he was told: “You run away and are safe, but later that evening you find out that your friend was the one who was shot.”

That was about as good a roll of the dice as anybody got. The one exception was Juan, a 17-year-old junior, who hit the ultimate Chance: “Your friends and family support you,” the card read. “You don’t die.”

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