In an Urban Vein


In a dance studio at Santa Ana High School, some students sit on the floor; others stand against the wall. They've been told that a student will perform a short dance, and they don't seem too thrilled until the fast-paced music begins. Then 18-year-old Kosal Sim takes the floor.

Sim takes off running and leaps, twists and twirls--a human Gumby. The students are mesmerized as his arms--in short, snappy, robotic movements--go one way and his rubbery legs go another.

For the finale, he does several backflips across the room. "Wow," says one student; others clap.

The performance is a preview of professional and student performances planned throughout the summer.

This is the first of many special moments for 60 students enrolled in the second annual Arts in the City program, sponsored by the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and administered through the Santa Ana Unified School District.

Activities kicked off Monday and will continue through August. Participants get daily, one-on-one instruction from Santa Ana Unified School District teachers in fields in which they hope to specialize.

Students will go to museums, concerts, festivals and participate in social activities such as dining out. At the end of the July they start paid internships at local museums, schools and dance studios. Internship duties might include typing, filing, answering phones and greeting the public.

One of the organizers said this year's theme is voices--of hope, fear, anger, joy and triumph. At the end of the summer, students will create a video in which they will dance, sing or act out such emotions. In making the video they learn behind-the-scenes skills as well as creative tasks. Teachers are hoping the video will air on local cable channels.

The program appeals to individualists such as Sim, a native of Cambodia who concedes that, yes, he probably was born to dance.

"I don't really know where it comes from," he said. "I'm just glad it's there. I still have so much to learn, though, and this program opens our eyes to all of the many opportunities that might be out there in the arts world."

Sim doesn't want to become a professional dancer, but he would like to teach dance. He wants to to follow in the footsteps of "my elementary-school teacher Mrs. Halinka [Luangpraseup], who instilled in me the love I have for the arts."

Tommy Chavez, 16, also was inspired by a teacher.

"When I was about 10, I was drawing a picture when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher," he recalled. "She walked over, leaned down and told me that my drawing was very good. She picked it up and then, later, framed it. It's still on her wall at [a Santa Ana] school."

Tommy, who attended the 1997 Arts in the City program, prefers to draw animals and gets ideas from watching the Discovery Channel.

"Before this program came along, summer was pretty boring," he said. "I never got to go anywhere or do anything much. But we will be going to museums and seeing all kinds of exciting things. Last year, I really learned a lot about myself and my art."

For Tommy, oil painting is a great stress-buster.

"If something is bothering me and I can't forget about it, I just start painting," he said. "I take all of my frustrations out on the canvas, and then I feel a whole lot better."


Sandy Perez, 21, who works for the City of Santa Ana year-round, and as a summer youth counselor, hears firsthand what students are getting out of the program; she is with them from the day they arrive.

"Last year, there were a couple of kids who kept journals of their experiences throughout the program," she said. "One of them talked about how much more confidence and self-esteem she had after she completed the program. Some of the kids even got offered full-time jobs in various arts fields."

The talent "just blows me away," Perez said. "Some may have been born with it, and others have developed their talent along the way. But there are a few students here, I believe, who are destined to be stars someday."

The counselor said she wishes more students could take part in the program; enrollment is designated by the JTPA.

JTPA pays all expenses for the program and activities such as dining out. Students must be high school age and live in Santa Ana and meet low-income eligibility requirements.

"It's a shame that we can't take all students," Perez said. "But at least we can make a difference in the lives of these 60."

"Sometimes . . . a student will confide that they had never been to a museum or had dinner at a nice restaurant before," she said. "It makes me realize just how much a program like this is needed."

For longtime Santa Ana High teacher Lynn Morgan, who is in her 50s and an instructor in the program, it's all about "planting seeds."

Morgan said the students learn a strong work ethic, along with responsibility. They also are learning about careers they may not have known about.

"I have a former student who is a filmmaker now; another is a gallery owner, and yet another is a designer of video games. There are all sorts of possibilities out there. We just have to show them the way."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World