School Reform: Students, Parents Assert Their Demands

Nov. 5, 2013 / By

Woodrow Wilson High School junior Eduardo Pacheco remembers the day he opened his favorite school lunch meal—lasagna—to find instead a soggy drape of watered cheese.

“It was disgusting,” Pacheco recalls.

“It’s really gross, sometimes the milk is rotten,” says Raquel Machorro, junior at Esteban Torres High School. The students contend that teachers get mad at them when they resort to vending machines to get food.

“We’re starving,” says Machorro, who like many students chooses to skip out on the school lunch.

Because of this problem, many students say new funds from Gov. Jerry Brown’s education reform policy should go to better school lunches.

“We need something to stimulate our brains for a healthy day,” Pacheco says.

Students like Pacheco voiced their school reform arguments along with parents at a community forum at Hollenbeck Middle School in East Los Angeles last week. About 100 people attended the event, intended to give parents and youth a voice on where to direct new funds.

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is gaining about $5,000 more per pupil over the next eight years thanks to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Parent engagement is a key component of the plan.

“The most important thing is parent involvement,” says Maria Leon, whose 14-year-old child attends Garfield High School. But if Leon wants to get involved, she must choose between paying rent or going to a PTA meeting.

“It’s very difficult for me because of my work schedule,” she said in Spanish. She thinks meetings should be, “more accessible, on a weekend or weeknight.”

Some parents also offered alternatives to day-time meetings at the school. Esther Escamilla checks up on her 13-year-old son’s grades through, Jupiter, a program used by Hollenbeck Middle School that allows parents to view grades online as they are updated. She says it’s something all districts should provide to “Incremenetar numeros de graducaion (increase the number of graduations).”

At the event, breakout groups split youth and parents, who were mostly Spanish-speaking women. The mothers made fervent calls to action.

“The three of us have to work together,” said one woman, referring to teachers’, parents’, and students’ need to communicate. Others brought up the need for more counselors.

“At times, there isn’t the right materials available in the class room,” another said.

“The classes are too big,” said Raquel Machorro, 16, who is an alumni of Wilson High in Long Beach. “The teacher can’t even pass by (the desks)… that school needs a lot of help.”

Lilia Ramos, a parent volunteer at her children’s school, UCLA Community School, says she has seen up to 40 students packed together in the same classroom. In some cases, two classes are taught together, she said. Ramos said she thinks funds should go to hire more teachers.

“They can’t focus directly on one grade so children end up hurt,” Ramos said. “This is an injustice… me with my three kids wouldn’t be able to do it…imagine that!”

Last week’s event organizers collected comment cards from parents and youth to present to districts and state officials, a process that is happening across the state. While the data has not yet been fully analyzed, organizers said the top issues emerging are counselors, healthy food, and communication/parent engagement.

The forum is part of the California Endowment’s School Success Express bus tour spanning 12 cities. The tour continues across various California cities until November 13.

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Michael Lozano

Michael is an editor and multimedia journalist born to Mexican parents who started their own Domestic Violence counseling center in Southeast Los Angeles. His mentorship has provided youth opportunities to share their stories online on NPR, KCET, the Long Beach Post, and other national websites. His articles have been syndicated and translated into multiple languages via New America Media and ImpreMedia, the nation’s largest Spanish-language news publisher. He was a fellow with UCLA's Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies, and has recently been a Votebeat Reporter for CalMatters and the Long Beach Post. Michael graduated from CSULB in 2011 with research honors in Sociology and a Journalism minor. Follow his work @chicanochico on Twitter and @thechicanochicoreport on Instagram.