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Students tell us what really needs to change at their schools

Now that there’s a new woman in charge of the nation’s second-largest school district, students across Los Angeles have an opportunity to shape her impressions. We asked high schoolers what Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Michelle King needs to know about their education.

Dozens wrote essays with strong advice on how to engage immigrant students, frustrations with urine-coated bathrooms and recommendations on how to get kids to actually eat their lunches. Here’s a selection of what seven of them had to say.

Sarah Short investigated her school's budget.
Sarah Short investigated her school's budget.

Clean bathrooms and cool classrooms

With an $8-million budget for my school, University High, but no toilet paper in the bathrooms, broken AC systems and a lack of computers in the classrooms, you wonder where all this money is going.

One of the biggest problems at our school is the bathrooms for girls and guys alike. For the longest time at my school, there was no door on one of the stalls in the girls’ bathroom, which made the line extremely long to the point where it almost wasn’t worth it to go unless it was an emergency. Girls had to choose whether to take the brave, bold move of using the stall without a door -- or run the risk of not making it to the front of the line before the bell rang...

Girls had to choose whether to take the brave, bold move of using the stall without a door -- or run the risk of not making it to the front of the line before the bell rang.

In addition, teachers and students in classrooms with dysfunctional air conditioners have had to face record-high temperatures into the 90s and low 100-degree levels. Students have protested that overheated classrooms inhibit learning.

--Sarah Short, University High School

(Illustration by Maria Bojorquez)

Control communication with our parents

Parent input on school calendars, food, and even the selection of the new superintendent is minuscule because they’re being overwhelmed with innumerable calls home which lead them to disregard all of them. When the same phone call is sent out multiple times within the span of a few hours, who can blame them?...

When the same phone call is sent out multiple times within the span of a few hours, who can blame them?

Rather than sending out blanket messages multiple times to each parent, some for topics irrelevant to them, LAUSD should update its automated calls system to limit the number of calls per household a day and the language in which they are sent. For instance, a parent registered as bilingual need not receive the same message in English and Spanish.

--Maria Bojorquez, South East High School

Flor Orozco dreams of becoming a surgeon.
Flor Orozco dreams of becoming a surgeon.

Help us to realize our dreams

I decided that I wanted to become a surgeon. But I realized I didn't know the correct steps I should take.

Should I go to medical school first or memorize all the body’s functions and diseases? Or do I need to take the MCAT prior to everything? Does one have to be mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared? I have many questions but very few answers.

I think about what it would feel like to perform surgery on a cadaver for practice and then transfer it to a living being. Would it feel like it would be the most exciting yet dreadful experience, or terrifying yet heartwarming?

I have many questions but very few answers.

From my experience, it seems there are the teachers who are extremely passionate about what they do and continue on teaching, but they are frustrated knowing that there is only so much they can do for the students.

At college, I will really have a hard time understanding lectures based on material that I should already know. Therefore I will have to fight to stay and to get to my goal.

-- Flor Orozco, Manual Arts High School

Lunches in the trash at Dorsey High
Lunches in the trash at Dorsey High (Daniella Addison)

Improve our meals, so we don’t trash them

Many students choose not to eat because of the quality of food they are served, a decision I have made for myself multiple times this semester alone. When deciding between going hungry or eating something completely gross, many students just don't eat. That’s completely unhealthy and is reflected in their behavior and academic performance...

When deciding between going hungry or eating something completely gross, many students just don't eat.

“If they started serving better food, I wouldn't have to buy something every day,” my friend Elisha said as she dumped her food and headed off to the student store to buy a cinnamon bun…. Other students don't actually have food at home on a regular basis, and find themselves dependent on school food. The only resolution is to collaborate with students regarding their likes and dislikes, and to find a middle ground on what can be offered.

Change our food, so our brains can function and students will be more focused on education instead of being hungry.

--Daniella Addison, Dorsey High School

Lizbeth Felix's sister struggled to learn English and complete high school.
Lizbeth Felix's sister struggled to learn English and complete high school.

Ensure immigrant students get the support they need to learn English

My sister Rosalba came to Manual Arts High School as an English language learner student. She said everything was difficult for her. People looked at her different and called her ... [a derogatory term for an immigrant] for not speaking English. I asked my sister how it felt to not speak English, and she answered: “I felt scared because I could not understand what people were telling me. I was even bullied for only speaking Spanish.”


People looked at her different and called her ... [a derogatory term for an immigrant] for not speaking English.

My sister was not able to get her high school diploma because she was not able to pass the English part of the California High School Exit Examination. She felt devastated. She was sad she couldn’t speak English, and felt like she failed my mom. ... She wished she was able to get more support from her teachers. My sister wished they would have told her about certain programs students are able to take to learn English.

--Lizbeth Felix, Manual Arts High School

Orange County School of the Arts
Orange County School of the Arts

Arts for all students

Every day, I live and breathe the arts.

From the moment I step onto the Orange County School of the Arts campus, I begin to soak in the “art school” scene before me: a mass of bizarrely dressed high schoolers absent-mindedly incorporating their artistic talents with their academic workload.... Everywhere I turn, I am reminded of the passion radiating from these inspiring, multi-talented students.


Art should not be an alien subject simply because schools have less resources.

I cannot imagine what it must be like on a campus devoid of the arts. Yet many schools are…

The L.A. Times’ interactive database gave many schools in more affluent neighborhoods higher grades. This is because schools that receive donations are able to offer extra programs, placing schools in poorer neighborhoods at a disadvantage. … Art should not be an alien subject simply because schools have less resources.

--Cassandra Hsiao, Orange County School of the Arts


Students were selected from entries to the L.A. Times High School Insider "Speak Out Challenge." Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Check out High School Insider in the coming weeks for all of the winning essays.

daniela.gerson@latimes.com

Twitter: @dhgerson

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