‘Latchkey Kids’ Find Safe Haven

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles school system’s first “latchkey” program for students who lack adult supervision after school was officially launched Tuesday, and in its first week the pilot program has already generated huge waiting lists.

At Hobart Boulevard Elementary School near Koreatown, one of 10 elementary schools participating in the two-year, $2-million program, a quota of 200 places was quickly filled and a waiting list carried 1,200 names, said Leonard Britton, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. At Manchester Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles, he said, the waiting list had 700 names.

“If there is any one out there who is wondering if there is a need for this, they can see that there is,” said Britton on Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony outside Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.


Weigand officials said 168 students at the school were signed up for the program on Monday, its first day of operation. At last count, they said, there were 36 names on a waiting list.

At the gathering Tuesday, which was attended by city and school officials, parents and students, Mayor Tom Bradley accepted a $500,000 check from Kaiser-Permanente to be used, he said, to take the latchkey program to five additional schools.

Bradley challenged other businesses in the city to pitch in. “There are not enough spaces and not enough money,” the mayor said. “If other corporations match what Kaiser-Permanente is doing, we can double the size of the program.” Bradley said the program can prevent children from becoming involved in gangs or drug activity.

In an unusual partnership, the program will be operated with money from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and the school district, as well as private contributions, said Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who sponsored a City Council measure authorizing it. Students participate in the program at no cost to them or their parents.

Schools at which the program is in operation will remain open each school day until 6 p.m. or until all students have been picked up by their parents. Officials said the program will be much more than a baby-sitting service and will offer students tutoring, homework sessions, recreational and artistic activities. Students will also get a snack each day.

Each school’s program will be run by three teachers already on the district’s payroll and teachers aides, high school students who will be available to tutor the youngsters.


At the Weigand school, Larry Houston, a veteran teacher who is the school’s latchkey program coordinator, said he expects to work from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. each school day. Teachers aides, he said, will come from nearby Jordan High School. He said parents who are signing up their children for the program are just “average people,” some of whom desperately need the program.

One such parent is Nancy Brown, a single mother of two who lives in the nearby Jordan Downs housing project.

Brown said she leaped at the chance to have after-school care for her 8-year-old daughter Precious because the child sometimes has to spend time after school sitting on a neighbor’s porch while Brown is still working at her part-time job with the Salvation Army.

Brown’s son, a junior high school student, must wait after school in a library for more than an hour for his aunt to pick him up, his mother said.

Having her daughter cared for in an environment where adults are always present will be “fantastic,” Brown said. “I won’t have to worry. I know she’ll be protected.”