The group was assigned to organize an essay on juvenile justice after reviewing case studies of four young offenders. If students actually write the essay, they'll get extra credit.
Then he paused and offered something close to an endorsement of the new Locke: "Other schools, you have your enemies all the time. In this school everybody gets along. People talk to Bloods and Crips."
He started to work on the essay: "These cases are like what happened to my friends. They got shot at and shot back."
Last year, said senior Harold Thomas, "every other week a fight or something would be going on. I used to walk from the back to the front and all of a sudden, there was smoke coming from a classroom, and you'd hear the Fire Department coming."
To secure the campus, Green Dot has spent $700,000 on security, which might prove unaffordable over time. The investment has helped to nearly eliminate fights and reduce graffiti and other forms of vandalism. The school has also fenced off areas on campus to boost security and has provided some bus service so students don't have to traverse gang territories.
But no strategy can entirely screen out the realities of a tough neighborhood.
In April, a gunman wounded a student in front of campus as students were arriving.
Last October, two gang members approached Donald Wood as he waited at a city bus stop just off campus. The gunman aimed at his head, but the weapon misfired, Donald said.
On the subsequent try, a bullet struck his upper arm and another entered his back, where it remains embedded close to his spine. He missed about three months of school and had to give up plans to return to football and track.
Donald had brushes with the law that included possession of firearms and assault and battery, but before the shooting he had seemed determined to set a new course. He stopped by Locke over the summer to help a former teacher, Maggie Bushek, set up her classroom. And at one point, he told her he did not want to turn out like the hopeless youths he saw in court.
"I catched up on a lot of my credits and I learned a lot of things," Donald said. "I feel good about my future."
Through April, 52 students started or transferred into the Opportunity classrooms. Of those, two had dropped out and 14 exited the Green Dot system for other programs.
Donald could be the first to move into the other side of Locke 4, where older students short on credits take self-paced computer courses.
That's where Porsha Westbrooks, 18, made up two years worth of credits in less than a year. On a Wednesday recently, Porsha, to the applause of classmates, zipped up a light blue graduation gown and rang a bell for a one-person procession that's become a tradition among the 30 potential dropouts who are now expected to graduate.
"She was rebellious, and she was ditching," said her mother, Deborah Wilson. Now, "she's my miracle child."
Most of these students attend a four-hour shift, and many like the shortened day, especially those with jobs.
But the richness of the curriculum is open to challenge. On a recent Monday, as part of a humanities unit, Harold was reviewing facts about music in the baroque period. The exercise was nothing more than rote memorization: He never actually listened to baroque music, which he pronounced "barrack."
The two sectors of Locke 4 -- Opportunities and Advanced Path -- have allowed Green Dot to hold onto students who would have been unable to remain at a typical Green Dot start-up. Many probably would have dropped out of the old Locke.
Byron's diploma was never in question, but he found himself this month in a situation he never anticipated -- among a handful of students auditioning to give the senior class speech. His didn't get the nod, but he'll celebrate being accepted by Tuskegee University in Alabama, Grambling State University in Louisiana and Jackson State University in Mississippi. He chose Cal State Northridge because, he said, it's close to his "support system." He's not referring to his family.
"My resources," he said, "the people I come to for help, the support I get -- is from Locke High."