Saturday, December 13, 2008


By Diana L. Chapman

All I can say is Hallelujah and I know I’m going to get nailed for it. Hopefully, I’ll be alive after this column and I’ll be able to continue writing my novel which is about three-quarters of the way done.

But I can’t help but be enthused about the 800-seat campus the Los Angeles School Board voted for this week proposed for completion at Angel’s Gate in 2012 on nearly 23 acres of scrubby coastal land that has virtually gone unused for years except for a handful of small programs.

Not only do I perceive it as a dream school – a place tucked above the Pacific Ocean where white caps and red-tailed hawks can be spotted daily -- there’s no question in my mind – if the community plays it right – more than just students will experience this gem.

While we have a whirlwind of opposition – with arguments regarding traffic woes and disturbing the serenity of the area, the fact is that high school students need it desperately to reduce the intense overcrowding at San Pedro High School. That is the truth.

Everyone’s truth is different. But I can assure you here and now that it’s bad at San Pedro with the overcrowding and if we don’t do something, we will be raising a lot more criminals here than students who want to go off to college. The school has 3,500 students when it was built for 2,000. Our test scores are abysmal, our math in particular dropping to 657, not much higher than many inner-city schools.

And sadly, many high school students explain that their freshman year starts out crushed with students, but by the end of their years, about 50 percent of the students who they started with have vanished. They dropped out. Even with that, the school is still intensely overcrowded with about 17 teachers having to roam from room to room.

Out of scale of 0-100, reports that San Pedro High school in the state of California falls in the bottom of the ladder as 34. That’s heartbreaking and its embarrassing, especially when so many people here haveacollege degrees and are brilliant, highly educated people.

Our community can’t have it both ways. We believe the children in our village should be good, smart and respectful. They shouldn’t act like they are ghetto children. They shouldn’t do drugs, commit crimes, or become pregnant. But you know the old adage: you get out what you put in. It appears to me our town hasn’t invested much in our kids.

To do so, you start with the second home they are at – their school, no matter what level, elementary, junior high or otherwise. If I’m a student, I’m looking at every time the community gets completely riled and fights against every location for a new school. The message becomes clear to kids: maybe they don’t want us.

So I’d like for everyone to take a deep breath – and rather than fighting the district against this – work with them to make sure this proposed $102.5 million beauty will help all of us. For instance, if you live in the area, and want to use the pool, then perhaps it’s good time sit down – as a community – to put on the pressure to ensure that happens.

The district has already said it’s willing to make it a joint use with the city of Los Angeles, but if we want to have access to the facilities there, such as soccer fields, baseball fields and use rooms for meetings the time to focus on that is now. We can’t let down our guard on this, or this too will fall by the wayside.

Down the road, residents I truly believe will see this as a good thing – especially when more of our children march through the awesome educational marvels that already exist there -- the Marine Mammal Care Center, The Fort MacArthur Museum, the International Bird Rescue Center and the unbelievable flourishing art colony.

Imagine for just a moment using those tools in a child’s education and what our kids could receive.

--With this location, elementary and junior high students from all over San Pedro will probably undergo many field trips at any one of those gems I’ve named above and if all goes well, the high school students will be their teachers. These type of facilities make once boring lessons come to life – and that is why Debra Hetrick with Los Angeles Unified School District’s after school program -- worked exceptionally hard to build an outdoor education center there. That center will break ground this January and elementary children from all over the district will be able to stay for a week studying geology, biologyand spot the wild creatures from foxes to raccoons at the site. School officials said the new campus and the outdoor education center will be a boon for each other and they will share their resources.

--With this awesome state-of-the-art green building (meaning this facility will have vegetation on the roof top and wind turbines for energy), San Pedro High could build such an educational resource site that it would gain a good reputation throughout Los Angeles. Where there is a good reputation for schools, property values go up. It seems to me that White Point Elementary School has an excellent reputation and has long been considered one of the top in town. Home values have remained high, despite the morning and afternoon crowds for pick-up and drop-off.
You are going to argue that this is different because these are high school kids. I'd like to invite you to meet some of these students. You might be surprised by what you see.

--The students likely will come from the Marine Magnet and the Police Academy at San Pedro High. While at first I was worried that all the students in San Pedro wouldn’t get a shot at using this facility, I felt much better when I talked with Sandy Alvarenga, San Pedro High’s coordinator for both mini-schools, who assured me that she would be open to many schools coming in for field trips. Calling the new school location “optimal” for education, she added: “It’s just the natural history of the marine magnet to work with schools from all over. Our kids already do ‘Back Pack Science’ with Point Fermin Elementary school.

For those who disagree with the new campus, I’d love you to take classes for one week at San Pedro High School so you can see first hand what the students live with. I’ve long thought we had a powder keg for a high school – especially due to the overcrowding. I was so worried, I sent my son to Port of Los Angeles High Charter School.

Here is our chance – as a village – to make sure we sit on the district and get what we want from this sparkling gem that – if we do it right – will spread it’s rays across all the kids of San Pedro and perhaps to even us, the adults.