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Bused-In Pupils’ First-Day Jitters Eased by El Camino High Preview

Times Staff Writer

The first day of school Tuesday in Woodland Hills could have been a disaster for Carlos Penate.

But it wasn’t, even though the 14-year-old ninth-grader was launching his high school career among strangers 30 miles away from his Wilshire District neighborhood.

When the starting bell rang, Carlos had already cultivated a new group of friends and had learned his way around the El Camino Real High School campus. By the time he reported to homeroom for the first time, he already knew what to expect there and in the English and math classes he would encounter afterwards.

Carlos was one of 100 inner-city youngsters who cut summer vacation short for a nine-day August orientation session that cushioned the shock of encountering a San Fernando Valley school for the first time.

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‘Nervous at First’

“I was nervous at first about coming out here. I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in,” Carlos recalled during a break between classes Tuesday. “But when I came out last month I met some nice teachers and kids here who seemed friendly. I like the idea of knowing about a school before you get here.”

The orientation, described by Los Angeles city school officials as the first of its kind, included brushup instruction in math and English for all and special help for non-English-speaking transfer students. They were taught “a list of ordinary words they need to know to survive” the start of school, according to Ceola Wiley, El Camino’s assistant principal and coordinator of its transfer-student program.

The get-together also helped the school learn more about its in-coming students, according to El Camino administrators who spent about $8,000 from busing funds on the effort.

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“It gave us a chance to learn about them and them about us,” Principal Larry Foster said. “We found out what their skills were and were able to properly put them in appropriate class levels the first time around without having them go to class and then face being reassigned. It was perfect.”

900 Bused In

El Camino’s opening day attendance was about 3,200 pupils, including 900 teen-agers bused in from predominantly minority inner-city areas. About half of the transfer students are being sent by parents who feel the Valley environment will improve their children’s education.

The orientation was organized by Sharon Mountford, a Canoga Park mother of two who works as a volunteer tutor at the high school. She said she was “absolutely devastated” to discover last year that three bright minority students were doing poorly in class.

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“They had IQs of over 145 and yet didn’t have grades to get into college,” Mountford said Tuesday. “If they’d stayed home in their neighborhood schools, they might have had straight A’s and been sought after by every college in the country.

“They were giving up hour-and-a-half commutes both ways to get ahead in education, and the doors were going to be closed to them. They weren’t feeling a part of the school and weren’t having high expectations--and those were things we could attack.”

Results Being Seen

By the first day of school, results of the orientation were already being seen, Wiley said.

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Several youngsters became so enthusiastic about their new school that they joined its drill team. One girl even wangled $100 from Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Lindsey’s office to pay for her new marching uniform, according to Wiley.

“I’m glad I came early,” said Larissa Valencia, 14, of Hollywood. “If I hadn’t, I’d be nervous and scared. But I found out about classes needed for graduation and made friends. I’m looking forward to a great four years here.”


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