WEST HOLLYWOOD : Families & Communities: Model Partners

"It takes an entire village to educate one child."

--African proverb

When West Hollywood city officials decided last year that the entire community should take a part in the education of its children, it formed a partnership linking the public and private schools with local businesses, civic leaders, the arts community and law enforcement authorities.

Through the Families & Communities program, which has received $10,000 from the city, new after-school tutoring programs and additional services for the growing Russian immigrant population have started. Other programs such as parenting classes are also being developed.

Last week, the project was recognized as a model partnership program by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves public school students in the city.

Mayor Abbe Land said she got the idea for the program while attending a National League of Cities convention last year. She said other cities around the country were finding ways to broaden their involvement in local education.

"We all have limited resources these days," Land said. While they found that the need for after-school programs and cultural activities was pressing, they also realized that jointly the schools and the community had abundant resources. The city has space that could be used for tutoring sessions, for instance, and senior citizens could be utilized as volunteer tutors.

While the programs are still in development, two schools have already embarked on a partnership. The Center for Early Childhood Education, a private elementary school in West Hollywood, has an exchange program with West Hollywood Elementary, a Los Angeles Unified school.

It started two years ago with a landscaping project. "The kids from the private school bought plants and flowers for the public school," said Deputy Mayor Deanna Stevenson. Later, the parents from the private school collected grocery receipts from three supermarkets, which provide funds in exchange. They gave the receipts to West Hollywood Elementary pupils, allowing the school to purchase computer equipment valued at $3,000.

In recent years, the city has seen an influx of Russian immigrants, said Stevenson, and that has created a pressing need to extend bilingual education beyond the classroom.

Through the partnership program, city officials developed a preschool program for Russian children, as well as cultural programs and field trips, through the city's teen center, for teen-age immigrants. An after-school tutoring program for Russian children at Plummer Park began three months ago. They also offer boxing and cross-country classes for the young immigrants.

"We've identified what each school and agency has to offer," Stevenson said, "and we've identified the central issues that need to be addressed. One school may have an after-school program for Russian immigrants and their children, and another school may need that kind of program. So (the city) can provide transportation. We can access each others' resources."

West Hollywood's efforts, said former Los Angeles school district field representative Jimmy Franco, is above and beyond that of other cities.

"Other cities talk, but when it comes time for deeds, they kind of fall short," Franco said. "And for a city (of) West Hollywood's size to give $10,000 . . . that's a major commitment on their part."

Franco said he and school board member Jeff Horton were impressed by the "seriousness" of the city officials when they first met with school officials last September.

"They seemed to really care about children and their families, and trying to assist them," Franco said.

About 20 local business leaders met with city officials last week to find out more about the program. Thomas Crail, executive director of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said that the group plans to get the word out to the 3,500 businesses in the city. Involvement "could be as simple as a landscaping company helping to keep the school grounds nice," he said.

In September the committee will meet again to develop more school programs and in March, the program will be assessed, said Land, who expects to see further support from the community and local business.

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