A recent Los Angeles School District report estimated that last year 22,000 students dropped out of grades 10 through 12. Although figures for the current year are not available, officials said that the dropout rate--18% districtwide and only slightly lower in the San Fernando Valley--probably remained the same. Six Valley teen-agers who should have graduated from high school this week tell why they didn't.
I like to do things my own way. That's why I ran into problems. I didn't like to conform, and in some ways I still don't. The fun is in not conforming.
When I started high school, I had a lot of older friends. They hung out at the 7-Eleven and got stoned a lot. I started to hang around with them and started to shine on school.
I went through a rebellious time. I ditched 90 days in the 10th grade. I flunked all six classes the second semester and two the first semester.
The first time I ever ditched was eighth grade, but it was only twice. Ninth grade, it was, "Let's cut fifth period, but not the whole day."
But you go out and party and you can't go back if you're stoned or drunk. After a while you're so far behind, you're afraid to go to school at all.
Then I got into this accident and broke my leg. I was on a motorcycle and hit a car. I almost lost my left leg, but it was like a new beginning.
I went to school my whole junior year. I was on crutches. My mom dropped me off and picked me up, and I couldn't ditch or anything.
But I was like 70 credits behind and I was looking at an extra year to graduate.
I hung out with two different crowds. At school I went for the honors classes, and after school, I'd be with the people who drugged and partied. But I don't do drugs anymore. It screws you up.
The only way I saw that I could move on was to drop out and get the GED (General Education Development test, a diploma equivalency test) and move on to junior college. My friends are moving on. I don't want them to be in college and I'm still in high school.
I'm really intelligent--at least that's what I'm told. But school to me was just a place you had to go. You're learning the same things over and over.
English. I've been taking English since seventhgrade. I can write great, my teacher said so. Why take more English?
Geometry. I'm not going to use geometry in my lifetime. I need to know how to balance a checkbook, and that's the math I need.
People might call me a dropout, but I feel really good about it. I accept the good points and the bad points.
In all that ditching, I think I got to learn about myself in ways that kids who stay in school don't. I know more who I am and what I like to do. I don't have the identity crises that some kids do.
I live with my mom. I work at the same drugstore she does. I make deliveries and do the stocking.
I know that in this society you have to have a career. I don't want to work for $7 an hour forever.
My junior year at Burbank I was the drill team major, and the beginning of my senior year I was varsity cheerleader. I was involved in school choir and all of that. But I had problems with my parents and had to go to a foster home.
It's really hard to find foster homes for teen-age girls. This one was as close as they could find to Burbank. I was really lucky to get this place.
But the school wasn't Burbank High, and my spirit was there. Everything I had was blue and white.
I was smacked around at home. I'd go to school with dark glasses and my friends would say, "What happened?" and I'd say, "I can't talk about it."
The courts gave me a counselor. I tried to live up to what she wanted me to do, but I just couldn't. I'd been a good student--a B-minus, C-plus student--but, all of a sudden, I couldn't do it anymore. A lot of times I'd sit in class and stare and stare and they'd think I'm on drugs or something. But I wasn't.
There's a big difference in social status between Burbank and the Valley. Burbank is in the hills and there's more money. It's hard to get accepted, but here it's more that everybody likes everybody. What you have economically or socially isn't that important.
Actually, I got accepted into a pretty good group. But classes are different. I was used to being in a structured environment where you know what you're supposed to do. But, in a lot of classes at Monroe, it's too loose. There isn't much school spirit.
I got here Oct. 20. The last time I went to school was about a month ago. I feel terrible for dropping out, but there wasn't much I could do about it.
My foster mom is good. She's understanding. But I don't get along with the two other girls here. They're foster kids like me, but their backgrounds are different. They're street tough.
At first it was OK, then they found out I'd been a cheerleader and after that I was too blond and too blue-eyed and too stuck-up.
All my friends say to take the GED, but from what I understand employers look at a diploma more than a GED.
I want to get a full-time job and save some money and, hopefully, next year I can go back to school and make up my credits. I'm working part time at Carl's Jr., but I get more days off than on.
I turned 18 this month, so I'm an adult and I can move back with my mom or do anything I want to do. But I don't know yet what it's going to be.
I liked high school. The girls, the football games, the basketball games.
I don't like the idea that I started and didn't finish. I want that diploma, but I'm more than a year behind. There's night school, but right now I'm working nights.
Half my friends had quit high school by the time I was in 10th grade.
Drugs had a lot to do with it, with the trouble I got into. I haven't touched nothing but a beer in seven months. I got tired of drugs. I felt they were messing me up.
I got arrested for possession of marijuana in junior high. That hurt my self-confidence in high school. I didn't feel comfortable, having a record.
When I started high school I was doing pretty good. Just about all the kids were my friends. Then things went wrong.
I started getting in fights with teachers. I started leaving campus with friends. That was 10th grade.
I started to lose interest in school. I ended up getting into more trouble, and I was in Juvenile Hall for four months. They had a school there, and I was doing a lot better. I had to do what they told me to. There was no choice.
After I got out I did better at San Fernando for a while, but not for long.
I started continuation school at Mission High School across from San Fernando High. I did OK until I got into a fight with the principal and he made it hard on me. Later we became friends.
I moved to Lancaster and lived with my aunt and went to school. My aunt is more my age. She's 24, and I could talk to her about what's going on with me and my problems with school.
I tried really hard to get back into school, but I was too far behind. The teachers were good, but it started to get boring after a while.
My mom didn't graduate from high school so she really wants us to graduate. My dad, I'm not sure; he might have graduated in jail. I see him once in a while. He lives in Glendale, and he helps when I've got problems.
My older sister is really smart and she could have
graduated, but she got pregnant. My sister who's 15, she's going to continuation school and she's cruising right along. Next year she'll go to the regular high school.
I work making ball bearings. It's pretty good work. It's a machine shop, and I can learn to run a lot of other machines.
But at work they've told me I can move up only so far without a diploma. It makes me realize you've got to have that piece of paper.
I'm ambitious. I'm usually wanting more, something better.
I want to be somebody.
I never believed a person when he said, "I wish I was still in school." I'd say, "Why? Why be in school?"
Now I'd like to go back and tell people, "Stay, stay and finish while you can."
My counselor told me I was only short 12 1/2 credits. Later she told me I was short 26 or 30 credits.
They want too much out of you. They want you to work too much.
The teachers pressure you. Then they do things like leave class and go smoke a cigarette, or a couple of cigarettes.
This one teacher, when we had problems, he asked us what was going on in our personal lives. I told him he was just a teacher and it was none of his business. If I have a problem, I talk to my parents or my friends.
A lot of jobs, you have to have graduated. I took classes for banking because I wanted to be a bank teller. But you have to have a diploma for that.
I work in food service at Universal Studios. They don't care if you aren't graduated.
I've thought about going to night school and taking the GED, but right now I can't because I'm working.
Me and my friend went to night school for a while. We'd go for a couple hours, then leave, because it was too boring.
I started getting behind when I started ditching with my friend. Then I couldn't catch up.
I came here from Ventura County and went to Van Nuys in the 10th. In Ventura County it was very hard to ditch. They had a big fence and the gates were locked.
But at Van Nuys it was easy. They didn't have much security. You didn't have to have an off-campus pass. They didn't care.
It would be better for me if they did.
The last time I went was December.
I'd like to go to the prom and grad night. I feel bad about that.
I miss some of the classes, like independent living and cooking class. We cooked some real neat things.
But you make your own choices, so it's your own problem.
Since I was in junior high I was bused to the Valley. My parents are big on Valley schools. I liked it because the schools were better there.
In high school I first started going to Taft for five weeks. Then they transferred me to Canoga Park. I was there for the 10th grade, then I got kicked out for fighting with a kid.
I still feel like my high school is Canoga Park, even though I haven't been there in a long time.
At Taft the kids are prejudiced. They have too many rich kids there.
I got sent to Metropolitan High in L.A. That's where you go when you're expelled from the school district. I was there for a semester and a half.
When it was time for me to leave, I went back to Taft.
That was the second semester of my junior year and the beginning of my senior year. Then they said I was short 25 credits. I know I had the credits, but they couldn't find them.
My counselor at Taft had so many kids, I could hardly see her. My first counselor was great, but I'm Hispanic and they put me with the counselor that had all the Hispanics. I wanted her to help me get my credits, but she had too many kids.
I wasn't ditching. Ditching is when you hide it from your parents. My parents knew I wasn't going.
I got a job in a car mechanical shop. I work on cars. It's not the kind of work I want to do. As soon as I get my diploma I want to join the Marines.
I'm going to get my diploma no matter what. I plan to go to night school. Or I heard that at Fairfax you can go when you're 19. I might move near there.
My parents said they'd support me if I go to school another year.
They didn't graduate from high school.
All my problems started in junior high. I ditched a lot my last two months, and for some reason I got out with the grades I had before I started ditching.
In the 10th grade I just kept ditching. I was going to the beach, going to friends' houses, staying home and playing guitar.
It didn't register that I was eating up my high school diploma.
I got kicked out of Taft for absences and went to El Camino. I did pretty well at the end of 10th, then my junior year I did really well. I was popular and my grades were good.
Then around Christmas I got mononucleosis and went on teleteaching. That's where they teach you over the phone.
It wasn't too good. It's hard to get help with algebra problems over the phone. I started getting a real bad attitude and failed two classes, but I made them up in summer school.
I live with my dad. I moved out from my mom when I was 14. She was real overprotective. I was a 7-year-old kid at 14. I was still playing with toy guns. I had to get out and grow up.
I was 4 when my parents broke up. It didn't have anything to do with my not finishing school. Both of them encouraged me to get an education.
It wasn't the schools' fault, either. It was my fault.
I've only seen my mom about four times since I moved in with my dad. Every time I see her I get this massive guilt trip, like I deserted her, or I should have been a better kid.
The first half of 12th I was having all kinds of problems with my dad and ditching, and I had a lack of interest. I left El Camino then.
There was stuff with my friends I don't want to go into, but I had to get out. For some reason Taft took me back.
The second semester of my senior year I was set up to graduate. I had all my academic stuff taken care of except health, because I'd failed it, and English and economics. I took those and two art classes for options, and the school set it up for me to get 10 credits work experience for working in the afternoon.
I was happening on the idea. But the work I like is landscaping and painting and you have to do that in the morning.
I got a job after school in my dad's office, but I couldn't stand office work. About four weeks into the semester I got a job painting and stopped going to school. I liked the money. I was making two, three hundred a week.
I thought I'd go to night school. I tried it, but not too much.
My dad was upset. He wanted me to finish. But we're more buddies than parent and child. He knows he has to give me my space. He knows I have to do it on my own.
I'm still trying to figure out why I left school. I was so close to graduating.
Me and my dad were talking about it. He said, "There must be something in you that doesn't want to succeed."
School's an example, and look at music. I take two guitar lessons and drop it and learn on my own.
That was three years ago. I could be on records by now if I'd kept with the lessons.
DR, RICHARD DOWNS