Jerry Hickman’s house has become a math classroom. The El Camino Real High School teacher serves practice tests in his kitchen and discusses calculus in his living room. His guests are teen-agers eager to learn.
Hickman is trying to maintain continuity for the students in his Advanced Placement calculus courses who have no school to attend because it was heavily damaged in the Northridge earthquake.
“We can’t afford to fall behind,” Hickman said. “This is a huge inconvenience. I’ve given my students assignments for the next three weeks.”
To the 5,000 students at El Camino Real and John F. Kennedy high schools, who have no idea when their schools will reopen, the unexpected winter vacation caused by the 6.6-magnitude earthquake has been marked by boredom, anxiety and a host of unanswered questions.
What happens to college applications? What about finals? Is the soccer season over? How about basketball?
“At first it was nice to have a short vacation,” said David Rand, an El Camino senior. “But now it’s screwing everything up.”
The two high schools--El Camino in Woodland Hills and Kennedy in Granada Hills--were hit with the worst earthquake damage of all the secondary campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Kennedy’s three-story administration building suffered structural damage and El Camino’s classroom walls could fall at any minute. Both schools have been closed since the Jan. 17 quake and officials say it could be March before they reopen.
But while the district focuses on the campuses’ physical problems, the students say they are worrying about their futures. Teachers at both schools say they, too, are anxious to return to work.
The El Camino staff and students also are confronting another set of problems. Principal Martin King, who has been at El Camino for seven years, filed his retirement papers the week before the quake and planned to leave Friday. While King says he will stay on as long as he is needed, he says he is ready to quit.
Teachers and parents say they are worried about a new administrator taking over during the crisis.
“I hope they can get someone who can carry the ball--it’s going to be a tough job to step into,” said Judy Levy, a parent with two children at El Camino.
Teachers submitted three names of preferred candidates, but the staff hasn’t heard who will be selected by Supt. Sid Thompson to take the top job.
Despite personnel problems, the schools have had to make tough academic decisions. Both staffs decided to abandon final exams and grade students based on their work before the quake. Students whose grades could have improved by taking an exam say they are disappointed that they will not have that opportunity.
Even the college entrance exam, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was postponed. It was scheduled for Jan. 22 at El Camino and nine other campuses in the district. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT and the Achievement Test, plans to reschedule the exams at different school sites.
Other school activities, including student council elections and a semiformal dance at Kennedy, were scrapped. And students in Advanced Placement courses, which culminate in a test in May, say they are worried about the break in their studies.
“Whether we’re in school or not, we’re going to have to take that test,” said Jennifer Gould, an El Camino senior. “This is not fun. Everyone’s real jittery.”
Some teachers at El Camino and Kennedy are holding special study sessions for their Advanced Placement students. And El Camino’s Advanced Placement teachers agreed Friday to hold optional tutoring sessions in bungalows on the campus.
Kennedy history and government teacher Richard Sprouse has been meeting his Advanced Placement students in various smaller schools. The Advanced Placement tests, given in May at schools nationwide, allow students to earn college credits if they score high enough.
Some students and teachers are concerned that college and financial aid applications could be delayed because transcripts haven’t been mailed.
Compounding that problem at Kennedy, officials say, is that the administration building--which houses student records, among other things--is so badly damaged that officials haven’t yet decided if records and other materials will be salvaged.
At El Camino, the problem is not structural but potentially dangerous. Classroom partition walls are loose and could fall with a significant aftershock. Additionally, the ceiling tiles came crashing down and might need to be replaced in most classrooms.
The El Camino and Kennedy staffs have agreed unanimously to extend the school day by 39 minutes--and possibly lengthen the school year--rather than transfer students to different schools or try another way to get kids in different schools sooner.
And teachers at El Camino are working on getting school buses to take students--who live in the neighborhood and who are bused from other parts of Los Angeles--on field trips. Other teachers are attempting to put together study groups to keep students occupied until their school reopens.
Crews have been working on both campuses since the earthquake, trying to shore up unstable posts and buildings and to check gas lines. The campuses are without water and portable classrooms probably will be installed at both.
Even the harshest critics of the district, however, commend the maintenance workers and the district for their efforts.
“I’d be the first to criticize the district and I can’t find anything wrong with the way the district has handled this,” said Jack Koening, El Camino’s teachers’ union representative and government and economics teacher. “We figure it takes something over a 6 (magnitude) to make them cooperative and something over a 7.0 to make them congenial.”
Meanwhile, the unexpected break has left many students home with little to do. All but a few schools have reopened, so brothers and sisters have returned to classes and parents have returned to work. Still others live far from friends. Of El Camino’s 2,700 students, 900 are bused from across Los Angeles. About 1,000 of Kennedy’s 2,300 students are bused.
Barbara Correa, a Kennedy senior who is bused from her home in South-Central Los Angeles to the Granada Hills campus, says she misses her friends--several of whom live in the north Valley.
“You miss them,” Correa said. “They’re a part of you--like family. It’s kind of like I already graduated and I’m never going to see anyone again.”
Teachers say they worry that students are not receiving special counseling to help them deal with the trauma of the earthquake and the aftershocks. They say that the sooner the students return to the campus, the better.
“I think psychologically some of the kids are going to have a real difficult time,” said David Ptashne, the Kennedy health education teacher, swim coach and teachers’ union representative. “Some of the kids in the neighborhood are living on the streets right now. As soon as there’s an aftershock, their attention span is going to be shot.”
Even staff members say returning to school might help ease their fears about the quake.
Andreda Pruitt, Kennedy’s principal, said she was in tears the day of the quake when she saw the devastation at the school, which has become a backdrop for politicians. Supt. Sid Thompson and members of the Board of Education held a news conference there, and Gov. Pete Wilson also made an appearance.
Pruitt said she knew how to handle the disaster at Kennedy after being very involved in the cleanup after the 1971 Sylmar quake. Pruitt was a teacher at Los Angeles High School at the time.
“Having had that experience has helped me with this one,” Pruitt said. “We always find ways to bounce back.”
Nonetheless, the students sit waiting. “It’s just not normal,” said El Camino sophomore Allison Lehrman. “It’s not reality anymore. It’s really weird.”
Even the teachers are ready.
“I feel so disconnected,” said Jean Feldman, a Kennedy English teacher and student council adviser. “I’m out of my normal routine and I’m sure the kids are feeling the same way.
“Hopefully we can plan a St. Patrick’s Day dance--if we’re back,” she said.
* GEORGE RAMOS: District’s muscle comes in handy. B9