WESTLAKE : Tragedy Subdues School Dedication

Esperanza Elementary School, which graduated its first class last week, hosted a school dedication ceremony May 27 but the joy of the occasion was tempered with sadness over the recent death of a student from a nearby school.

Kimberly Lopez, a 7-year-old student at Union Avenue Elementary School, was killed May 19 in front of Esperanza's crowded playground at 7th Street and Union Avenue. She and her brother, Alan, were struck by a car that was forced onto the sidewalk by a hit-and-run driver. Alan, 11, was seriously injured.

City Councilman Mike Hernandez, speaking at the Esperanza ceremony, said the City Council will offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver. Hernandez also promised to get traffic signs and crossing guards for Esperanza.

Kerina Chewning, a teacher at Union Avenue Elementary School, said her school is collecting donations to help the Lopez family pay for the funeral, medical expenses and counseling. Donations can be sent to the Union Avenue Relief Fund, 150 Burlington Ave., Los Angeles 90057.

"Kimberly was a wonderful child, a consistently thoughtful student who was always concerned with helping other children," Chewning said.

Most of Esperanza's 800 students, like pupils at other nearby schools, walk to and from their schools, crossing busy streets and navigating alleys where drug sales and use are common.

Rowena Lagrosa, Esperanza's principal, hoped the tragedy would bring the community closer together to confront "the daily challenges" faced by students from families with limited financial resources and, in many cases, limited English-speaking ability.

"The dedication of a school is much more than a dedication of new buildings," Lagrosa said. "It's about a vision and philosophy that collectively develops as committed individuals make dreams become reality. . . . May the beauty of Kimberly's life live in our hearts forever."

Melissa Calito, a fifth-grader who will be moving on to middle school this fall, said her teachers at Esperanza boosted her confidence, polished her public-speaking skills, and combined education and fun in the school garden.

"This is where I first learned about giving speeches," said Melissa, who was one of several student speakers at the ceremony. "But of all my good experiences here I'll remember the garden the most."

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