Monday, February 28, 2011

 Giving Kids a Session In Cheating Is Not Funny; If the Adult Educators at Crescendo Charters Get Away with This Deceit Then the Students Just Absorbed One Scary Lesson
By Diana L. Chapman
Students at Crescendo’s six charter schools in Los Angeles learned the most extraordinary lesson ever recently. If you cheat, like some of the adults at their schools apparently did, you can get off the hook and still keep your job.
In a story broken by the Los Angeles Times, I was infuriated to read that Crescendo Charters – whose top official encouraged its principals and teachers to cheat by using the actual questions its students would face in state exams – were simply reprimanded by top administrators of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In fact, no one even lost their jobs – despite overwhelming  evidence of cheating, the Times said, which allowed Crescendo charters test scores to improve dramatically and place them at the top of the charter chain.
After investigating, school district officials gave the charters less than a slap on the hand and agreed to let them continue running their facilities after the charters demoted the director, suspended the principals for 10 days and agreed to overhaul Crescendo’s board.
The matter goes before the Los Angeles Unified School Board Tuesday and I’m hoping it will do the right thing:  Refuse to renew  contracts at two schools that are up for the extension, Crescendo Charter Academy in Gardena and Crescendo Conservatory in Hawthorne.
 Los Angeles Unified has the responsibility to protect its nearly 700,000 kids under its wing  from many things – including cheating. This type of cheating promotes lies to the parents, lies to the students and has to lob into question what kind of education Crescendos students are truly receiving – if any at all.
Should the school board renew the contracts, I’d suggest Crescendo needs to revise its mission statement which currently says its goal “ is to produce a community of scholars who desire to be lifelong learners.” Perhaps it should read that the goal of the adults there is to produce a community of scholars who have learned how to cheat for a lifetime.
The good news is that some teachers were honest; They stepped up and blew the whistle and deserve a medal. No they deserve more than medal for their honesty. They risked their jobs to do so.
But what if they hadn’t?
In my book, nothing less than this should happen if the contracts are renewed:
Each principal, who apparently participated, and the now demoted director, Allen,  must be fired. Crescendo’s seven-member board needs to be entirely overhauled and must have at least three parents – not just one. Parents are one of the few watchdogs that exist for public schools -- especially charters.
What bothers me the most is adults inability to understand just how intelligent children are. They absorb what’s going on. By now, they’ve already figured out what happened and are likely wondering if it’s OK to cheat. That’s why this is much more tragic than the embezzlement charges of an administrator. This is more horrific than a teacher being bad.
 This is about laying down an entire system that shows students a nasty game plan to dupe the educational system.
This is more than unacceptable; it’s criminal and grossly unfair and neglectful to students.
Crescendo has been considered a top-notch organization, with test scores making magnificent leaps in 2010. For example, the Crescendo Charter Academy leaped from 57 percent in 2009 to 74 percent in language arts in 2010 at the second grade level.
The second grade class also earned great strides in math as well for the same time period, jumping from 86 percent to 91 percent.
While its third graders actually did a severe drop in test scores, the fourth grade class ascended dramatically from its 2009 45 percent in English rate to an astonishing 85 percent. The third graders  also made significant leaps from 70 percent to 90 percent in math.
If these 2010 test scores were received through cheating – which appears so – then we are not doing these students any favors.
We are sending them out to face the rest of the educational system without the proper skills – not to mention the world.
I can’t think of anything more wrong and negligent than that – to pretend we are just educating our kids.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

 My Son’s 16-Year-Old Friend Dies From Two Strokes
Aziz Tajj Malik Harris Was An Old Soul With a Heart of Gold
Strokes Are Hitting the Younger Generation Much Harder Than Ever; Mother Asks Youngsters to Tell Someone if They Have Body Pains
By Diana L. Chapman
The morning after four teenagers spent the night at our house, three were in the living room waiting boisterously for their breakfast and, as most boys do, dashed about yelling chaotically.
And then there was Aziz Tajj Malik Harris.
I needed something from my son’s room, which was  a whirlwind of a mess, and there I found Aziz kneeling on the floor, neatly folding his blanket and the blankets of the other three kids, and stacking them perfectly.
Pleasantly surprised by his mild manner, polite disposition and willingness to help without being asked, I picked up the phone and talked to his mom, Lovitta McLaughlin.
“Your son can come to my house anytime,” I announced, repeating it for good measure: “Anytime.”
But instead of more pleasant calls between us, I didn’t’ see Lovitta again until dark clouds gathered Friday, Feb. 25, at the 16-year-old’s funeral at the Manchester Missionary Baptist Church in south Los Angeles.
He died five days after Valentine’s Day, when he decided to stay home from Banning High School in Wilmington because of a headache. He was on the computer at his grandmother’s Carson home (where he lived) when she heard a sound and found him slumped on the floor.
According to a family friend, Aziz’s body was suffering from some type of virus; he had two strokes and his organs began to shut down one-by-one. No one saw this coming. No one ever thought of Aziz as ill. He was thin and ran cross country and did “anything I asked him,” said Coach Avery.
“He was a child who would do anything you asked him,” she said, trying to hold back the tears at one of the most painful services I’ve ever attended. “He was always willing and never complained. He always made things so simple.”
“We were honored to have him,” said Gaetano (Tom) Scotti, the principal at Port of Los Angeles Charter High School where Harris attended before moving out of the area.  “I remember his smile and how quiet he was. I meet a lot of great kids in this business, but you can tell when one has a heart of gold. He had a heart of gold. We will never forget him.”
Aziz was described as a model child, a straight A student and one that all mothers would love to have. His younger cousin, Brian, called him his idol who told him right from wrong. More than 300 people, including cousins, aunts, uncles, stepbrothers, sisters and  classmates, crowded into the service to say goodbye to a beloved boy, who touched so many hearts on his short time on earth. Aziz had won numerous awards, presidential certificates. He made the honor roll every year. And yet, there was much more to this quiet child whose uncle joked he would pay good money if he could just hear him talk.
Despite his shy, tranquil demure, Aziz left an imprint on hundreds, including mine and his many young friends. The room was packed with crowds of tears wondering why a good boy, who stayed away from drugs, gangs and crime, was gone. His politeness alone made him shine in a crowd.
“My Dear Aziz! I was thinking I gave you life. The reality is that you have given me life,” his mother wrote to him.
Aziz had asked his uncle Ricky Eubanks if he could work for him, as several of his cousins had done in the past. Ricky says he told him no “because he had plenty of time to work.” After he heard Aziz was mad at him, Ricky said during the service, he dropped by to explain his reasons. “Little did I know he didn’t have a lifetime,” Ricky said. “For almost 17 years, we had one of God’s angels on Earth walking with us.”
His step-brother, Jonathan Sherrod, added: “My little brother lived his life to the fullest. He always had his head on right.”
Aziz’s death follows breaking news reports in early February that younger and younger children are suffering from strokes. I dismissed the reports because I’d never known any children to have a stroke.  The Centers for Disease Control reported statistics that are frightening.
The incidence of stroke among males between 15 to 34 has increased by 51 percent—17 percent in females in the same age range. More startling is a raise  in even younger children – a 31 percent increase in boys 5 to 14 years old and 36 percent in girls of the same age.
Now, our friend, Aziz, had become one of these horrible statistics.
Many of us – standing with our sons and daughters – were  grateful to Lovitta, who asked that all children between the ages of 12 to 21 to stand through Pastor R. J. Ridgeway, Aziz’s uncle who delivered the eulogy.
As my son rose to his feet along with many of Aziz’s friends, Jake, Carlos, Alfonso, Kamill, Aaron and Brian, and his young family members, the pastor said: “If you feel anything in your body, you’ve got to tell somebody.  Tell your mother, tell your father. Go to the doctor. Don’t sit on it. Talk to someone.”
One of the reasons I wrote this story is to carry Lovitta’s message out to the world. We can’t afford to lose any more children as special as Aziz.
When I woke up this morning after a night of dreaming about Aziz, I had one striking of image of him – he was running at top speed with the wind.
Aziz is survived by his father, Aziz Harris of Sayre, OK; his mother, Lovitta of Carson,; six sisters, Jubree and Alexis of Carson, Azia and Asia of Long Beach, Armani and Imani of Atlanta, GA; two brothers, Naziz of Long Beach and Jabriel of Atlanta; grandmothers, Betty Mitchell of Carson and Karimah Harris of Perris,CA; grandfather Kenneth Robinson of Perris, great grandmother Essie Cantey of Manning, SC, and scores of aunts, uncles, other relatives and friends.
Burial followed at Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Dear Readers: As I said before, the Alano Club, which helps people rehabilitate from drug and alcohol use, ran a contest for local students on why they wanted to live drug free. The next two pieces are done by the third and fourth place winners. First and second place student stories were posted earlier. Why are they a must read? They are insightful as to what our youth are living with today. Take a read. Diana

Why I Choose to Live Drug Free
By Clarissa Montano

In today's world, where spending a few weeks in rehab is becoming a common thing for young people, I choose to be drug free. I see some of the stars that I watched growing up, in and out of rehab, in and out of court, and splashed on the cover of gossip magazines and web sites for bad behavior caused by using drugs. I ask myself, “Why would someone with so much going for them, throw it all away only to look dumb and cause themselves so many problems? “

There is nothing glamorous about drugs and alcohol, but every day the media and parts of the entertainment industry promote and sometimes even encourage the use of recreational drugs. They try to make it look fun, exciting, attractive, and like such a glamorous life.  Unfortunately, many people are fooled and every day another good, smart people falls victim to drug use. If you stop to think about the physical side effects of drug use, like hair loss, bad teeth, bad skin, and sometimes even bad body odor I ask, “How is that glamorous?” 

Then take a look the financial effects of drug use. Addictions can become so costly. People end up homeless and losing everything they own. Even though sometimes I feel like it is being shoved in my face, I still choose to live a drug free life. I have seen what drugs can do to a person and I have seen how drug use not only hurts the user, but also hurts the people who love them. I would never want to hurt myself that way and I for sure would never want to hurt my family like that either. I am so thankful that I have been educated on the negative effects of drug use by schools, our community, and most importantly my family who encourages me to make smart choices.

I know that I have many years ahead of me and I choose to be healthy, I choose to be happy, and I choose to be a good example to my friends and family. I also choose to have a long and successful life and I would like for everyone who has helped me along the way to be proud. Choosing drugs will not give me any of these things, but making the choice to be drug free will help. I am only in 8th grade now and I know as I get older that the pressures of drug use and the availability of drugs will only get worse,  but I know that my attitude will not change. I have made a choice and I am making a commitment to myself, my family, and my community to live a drug free life and encourage others to do the same because it is the smart thing to do.
                                                        FOURTH  PLACE
Lives Drug Free Because .....
By Kcee Thomas

I live drug free because that's how I choose to be. Most teens are doing drugs or drinking alcohol or living in some kind of chemically altered state nowadays. I am definitely not one of those teens.
Why do I choose to live drug free? This is a very good question. Like most other teens, I have tried drugs in the past. My drug of choice was Marijuana. This is a very commonly used drug that I no longer feel I need to enjoy life. There are many different reasons I choose not to do drugs. Examples of the reasons that I don't feel the need to alter my life any longer are that doing drugs is a waste of money and time: time spent planning on how to get them, time looking for a private place to do them, time trying to maintain a "normal" appearance and time wasted without motivation while being high. After learning some of my family history, I also wanted to be the first person in four generations to break the genetically linked chain of chemical dependence. 
In my opinion living drug free is what is best for me. I just started my new job working Saturdays at the Alano Club from 2-10 PM and I would be a hypocrite to be working there while I was under the influence of any narcotics or chemicals. I wouldn't be a very good example for those people trying to overcome addictive behaviors. When I make money working at the Alano Club, I want to be able to spend it on something I think is valuable like clothes or jewelry or something else that is worth the time I spent making the money. I also know that drugs would impact the future because spending my money now on drugs would mean that I couldn't save any money for the future. I would have no money for having my own place to live, a car to drive instead of having to be dependent on other people or even affect my ability to further my education due to lack of tuition for classes.
We can only live life once in this world and I've decided to do it with a sane and sober thought process and without having to second guess if the decisions I made, or are yet to make, will be influenced by chemicals. I also don't want to earn a reputation associated with drugs and be labeled names like "pothead", "stoner", "alkie", "tweeker" or "drugy". I don't want to live my life knowing that I have earned a nick name or reputation based on something I did when I was not thinking things out clearly. I want to be the first one in my family that is not going to go through any experiences involving the emotional, financial, physical, or illegal sides of addiction like those in my family have gone through. Whether it is the incarceration due to a DUI leading to financial and emotional and even physical changes or the additional stress, I want to avoid it. These are very important reasons why I choose to live drug free.
I have a brilliant future ahead of me and I don't think that using drugs is what is best for me. I'm not willing to let all my future goals in life just fade away because drugs have held me back. I want to live a healthy and long life and one way to do that is to be drug free. Drugs are not healthy so if I want to be healthy I shouldn't do drugs.
These are some personal thoughts that I have shared and I used to help me realize why I want to be drug free. I strongly believe in this commitment and know I can use my confidence to stay sober and drug free. Thanks to the people at the Alano Club that have helped inspire me to stay this way!
One Day At A Time!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Emmanuel Catalan, dealing with a rough course toward college, appears to be making it.

 Former Writing Student Who Called Himself “Worthless” Receives Next-to-Full Scholarship This Summer in Washington, DC to Shadow an Attorney in the Criminal Justice System;
This Tells the Tale of Why the Boys and Girl Club College Bound Program Remains Fruitful; A College Bound Workshop Will Be Held Tuesday After School at San Pedro High
By Diana L. Chapman
When I received the phone call last week, my eyes welled up with tears and then I was near weeping.
“Really?  Really? You are kidding,” I kept saying, my voice breaking in two.
I couldn’t weep anymore for Emmanuel Catalan, who was about 17, when I first met him. He stood up in my writing class at the Boys and Girls Club, told everybody he was “worthless,” had a 1.8 GPA and had moved every two years of his life. There was nothing more to him than that, he said.
Today, he’s into his third year at the University of South Florida and was just awarded a nearly all paid summer summer  scholarship to  the Washington Center in D.C. where he will shadow an attorney in the criminal justice system. The scholarship does not include transporation or meals.
“It was such an exciting moment to hear that I got into this internship,” the 21-year-old e-mailed me. “I feel like I have the academic aspect of my career down. Now, it is about applying all that I know into a real-world situation. I believe that this internship would give me invaluable experience and help me understand how to apply what I  know a lot better than I previously did.”
Emmanuel has had no easy path to trudge toward his dream to become a lawyer first, and then a judge. When I met him, I was able to determine just how brilliant he was and see that his writing potential was magnificent. In the class, though, it was his friend Anabel, who saved him. After he told us all, standing up when he did so, of his heart wrenching insignificance, Anabel piped up that he just had earned the title of sergeant in the Junior ROTC.
“That’s not worthless,” I exclaimed! “That means you’re responsible and committed.”
That, I believe, was the moment his life changed. Emmanuel woke up hard and went to work, raising that 1.8 to 4.1 GPA in the next few months. His writing improved dramatically and he made a new family at the Boys and Girls Club. Seeing his overnight changes, the club employees threw themselves behind him – to make sure he got into college.
But the reason he was so troubled to begin with reared its ugly head again by the end of the school year. His stepfather told Emmanuel he was worthless – and let him know it many times. With only his senior year left to go and all going well, the stepfather, a military man, announced that he was being transferred and they were all moving to Florida.
Mike Lansing, the executive director of the Harbor-Area Boys and Girls Club, offered Emmanuel a place to stay to finish his senior year, rather than moving when he was doing so well. The staff feared they might “lose him,” if he didn’t have a support system.
His step-father refused. Nearly the moment they arrived in Florida, the stepfather then departed from the family, leaving Emmanuel’s mom to raise all three of her boys. This could have destroyed Emmanuel.
“For years, I’ve been impressed with Emmanuel’s abilities to turn things around and stick to his commitments,” I wrote in a reference letter for him to the Washington Center. “He sacrificed to help his mother when he could have returned to California and taken the offer that remained open for him. Emmanuel could have fallen apart when he was forced to move and drop all thoughts of college.”
Instead, he remained to help his mother and enrolled in university.  While it hasn’t always been easy, I am proud to say that he has not quit and will – one way or another – become a lawyer and a judge. I know this, because I’ve seen his grit, persistence and determination.”
Lansing, the Boys and Girls Club  lauded Emmanuel’s success thus far.
 “We are very proud of Emmanuel and the academic career path success he is currently experiencing,” Lansing said. “Emmanuel is a “poster child” for why the College Bound program is so very important for so many of our youth. He came to us at a time he was truly struggling and had much self-doubt – but the potential and capacity to learn and grow were most apparent.
“We were able to pick Emmanuel up, boost his confidence and get him on the right path which obviously has paid dividends given where he is today. I am most proud of Emmanuel and especially my staff who will give (youths) the helping hand they need and deserve.”
My volunteer experiences with students over many years tell me there’s so many more Emmanuels out there. College Bound is one way to find them. If you know any students who need help preparing for college, please send them Tuesday (Feb. 22) to San Pedro High School at 3:45. A workshop will be presented in Room 125 in the main building.
Let’s not even think about wasting anymore Emmanuels who have so much potential and so many gifts to offer our world.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Dear Readers: I am proud to share these essays from local students at our schools. The Alano Club ran an essay contest asking kids why they want to live drug free. Xander Gangemi was the second place winner and received $150. The club currently is working on programs to keep teenagers busy in San Pedro and away from addictions. As these programs evolve, I will keep you posted. -- Diana

By Xander Gangemi

My name is Xander Gangemi and I have seen dozens of lives get destroyed, maimed, and cut short. I have seen friends, family and those I love fall and collapse under the weight of drugs and alcohol. I choose to live free of the bonds of addictions because I know how it would affect those around me. Susceptibility to drugs and alcohol runs in my blood. Many of those before me in my family were (and still are) heavy drinkers or drug addicts. However, I know that I have the strength to avoid the temptation of these vices. I have a responsibility to myself to be strong and not drag myself down with drugs. I have a responsibility to my family to not waste the life that they gave me and to grow ever stronger. I have a responsibility to my friends and those around me to be a picture of endurance, self reliance and to be able to be there for them when they need me.
I am no saint though. No one really is. All we can do is try our best and give our all. I know that I couldn't do that if I were on drugs or drinking. If you're doing those things, you're not yourself and you say things and do things that you just can't take back. You never just hurt yourself when you're on drugs. It always affects people around you, even if you can't tell or they don't tell you. I think: that it's not worth it, being on drugs, because you lose too much in the process. You lose who you are, piece by piece.
When I grow into the man I know that I will be, I want to be able have a stable job and I want to be dependable and responsible. I want to be able to support a family and be with that family ... If I started drugs, or drinking, reaching goals like these would be so much harder. The brief relief that you get from these things is honestly, truly not worth it in the long run. Doing drugs can stop your dreams from becoming reality, and I won't allow that to happen in my life.
People close to me, have been in horrible, dark places with drugs. They were violent, emotionally unstable, hurtful and not themselves. It hurts to be the recipient of these actions by people under the influence. Drugs and alcohol change how you see things and sometimes, how you act. I love the people around me, and I enjoy and earned the respect I get from them for being strong. I would lose all of that if I were to be on drugs.
I choose to live drug free, because living drug free is to be free. You're free to be yourself, be strong for family and friends and free to go off and accomplish your goals and dreams. I don't believe that drugs are worth the pain, anger, drama and depression that they bring. I need to be myself and I need to be strong and respectable. That’s why I choose to live drug free.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Dear Readers: I will be publishing this series of essays over the next few days. Please pay attention as they reveal what some of our students, our kids, are going through. It might be harder than we all seem to think. Today, explains how the essays came about and first place winner will be below.  Because the parents are meth addicts, the first place winner is not identified. Diana

Submission from the Alano Club:

The San Pedro Alano Club (SPAC) announced the winners of their essay contest for students at an award ceremony held at the club on January 23rd.

The students wrote essays of 500 words or less titled Why I Choose to Live Drug free. According to Bob Ahl, the Alano Club’s Director and General Manager, more than 50 students from local Middle and High Schools competed for cash prizes.

Contest winners were: 1st place, J.H., San Pedro High School, senior ($300.00), 2nd place, Xander Gangemi ,POLA High School, senior ($150.00), 3rd place Clarissa Montano, Dana Middle School, 8th grade ($75.00), 4th Place, Kcee Thomas, Patton High School, junior ($50.00).

The contest kicked off an outreach program by the San Pedro Alano Club to create awareness and promote prevention of drug and alcohol use amongst San Pedro‘s student population. Citing statistics from two recently released studies by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PADFA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Mr. Ahl noted an alarming spike in drug and alcohol use among students in grades 9-12.

“The PDFA study reported an increase in ‘last month’ alcohol use of 11%, marijuana use increased by 19% and ecstasy use by 67% when compared to the 2009 survey. The NIDA study for 2010 reached similar conclusions,” according to Ahl. “These statistics, alarming as they are, come as no surprise to us. We see kids coming here for help with substance abuse problems at a younger and younger age each year,” Ahl said. “The SPAC has initiated an outreach program, Kids Against Drugs (KAD 2011), to aggressively combat the problem of drug and alcohol use amongst Pedro teens. We will be involving students, parents, teachers, recovery specialists, law enforcement and the business community in a robust effort to break the cycle of teen drug and alcohol use in our community,” Ahl stated.

“I talk to kids every day who are sent here by the courts and schools for drug related problems. Many want to quit using but can’t imagine life without drugs and alcohol. The most common complaint I hear from students is, ‘there’s nothing to do in Pedro for kids.’ With support from students and parents we plan to hold safe, sane and sober events at the Alano Club on a regular basis,” Ahl commented.

1st Place
Why I Stay Away From Drugs
By Y.H.

Drug addiction is a major problem in San Pedro. I have lived here my entire life and I don't think a day has passed where I haven't seen drugs in my surroundings. I have never used drugs in large part due to the environment I grew up in. My parents have been Meth addicts for more than 15 years. My earliest childhood memories are of Meth tearing my parents down and our family apart. They have been in and out of rehabs, programs and prison for the past six years.

The one thing that most affected me was the fact that they did not take care of our family. They have nothing more than the title of mother and father, contributing very little to the responsibilities that come with those titles. As the oldest of three I have taken on the responsibility of head of our family and caretaker for my sister and brother. I am mother to my brother who is 10 years my junior and mentor to my sister. I have always been aware that what my parents were doing was wrong and destructive to them and most importantly to our entire family. The cycle of drug addiction in our family has been long and until this day not totally resolved. My father is now in prison on drug related charges. This is his third incarceration in the past ten years. My mother is trying to reestablish her role in our family.

The one thing my parents have given me is the power to say no to drugs. It is my goal to lead a productive life that does not reflect on the lives of my parents. For me drugs have never been an option because of the many responsibilities I have. In spite of that, drugs have been tempting for me at times. I have a nagging question that if my parents were willing to give up their health, their freedom and their family for drugs… are they worth it? I have concluded that drugs could never be worth all that I would lose. In our community drugs are abundant. At school I see classmates decimated by drugs each year at a younger and younger age. At times I have felt like an outcast from my peers, but I have come to value the independence instilled from watching my parents destroy themselves and the ones they should care most about through drug abuse. I can honestly say drugs will never come into my life.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


By Diana L. Chapman
It made so much sense that the embattled Los Angeles School Unified School Board -- for once -- had an easy decision to make amid all its acrimonious budget scrapes, bruises and cuts.
The board this week named the new and upcoming San Pedro High School annex, slated to open in 2012, after long time marine activist John Olguin --often considered like a grandfather of the sea -- and his wife, Muriel.
Voting unanimously, the board named the annex officially: San Pedro High School: John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus.
Olguin, a former county lifeguard, graduate of San Pedro High and a man responsible for thousands of Los Angeles students visiting the area’s beaches, made such visible contributions to  the community that many residents advocated the school be named after him. In fact, one of them, John Mavar, consistently lobbied School Board Member Richard Vladovic about the matter.
Vladovic, who wholeheartedly agreed, said he was thrilled to make that choice.
“I am so happy to honor people who have done so much to enrich the lives of the San Pedro community,” said Vladovic, who is up for re-election in March. “John and Muriel represent the values we strive to instill in our students.”
Olguin died unexpectedly Jan. 1 – and it appeared a swimmingly perfect match to the name the new school on the Upper Reservation at Fort MacArthur after him.  It overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is likely to house the high school’s marine magnet program. While the construction of a new campus  – which is meant to ease overcrowding at San Pedro High – was highly controversial, some believed the Olguin name might ease some of the tensions.
Popular and often plugging folks for funds to make the community better, Olguin became the director of the Cabrillo Beach Aquarium in 1949 and director emeritus when he retired. He dedicated his life to teaching about the sea and led programs to host fireworks at Cabrillo Beach and relight the Vincent Thomas Bridge with teal blue lights that connects San Pedro to Long Beach and Terminal Island.
Olguin sparked interest in children and adults alike by holding whale watches, grunion runs and tide pool tours.
His wife, Muriel, a local artist, was Olguin’s backbone, his family said, and she encouraged him to pursue his many ventures. Without her, they said, many of the programs wouldn’t have happened. Olguin died at age 89, but not without leaving a plethora of gifts scattered about the community.
The new school, which will remain an annex of San Pedro High, is expected to house about 500 students.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tony Moreno, owner of Taxco, with his brother and chef Eduardo, teaching students about cooking and life.
By Diana L. Chapman
They laughed heartily. They clapped several times during his spiel. They learned many tips about cooking and even more sprinkles about life from Tony Moreno, the proud owner of Taxco Restaurant in Rancho Palos Verdes for 25 years.
Carrying trays of food – cooking gear –and toting along his brother, the restaurant’s chef Eduardo, Moreno told San Pedro High students at an after school cooking club that running a successful restaurant means saving money, working hard and putting a lot of “heart” and “passion” into crafting a successful business.
“Do you guys like spicy or mild? Gringo or Mexican?” teased Moreno, 54, as his he and his brother demonstrated how to boil corn oil, chop lettuce in record speed time and prep for a festive Mexican meal. “Cooking is about using your imagination. You can make your own recipe and be proud of it.
“We do home style cooking. We have to think like Mama when we cook and the way mama used to cook.”
Some students related easily to Moreno’s story and clapped to hear that he came to the United States from a small town called La Yerbabuena in Mexico at age 17 with only $7 in his pocket – and still succeeded. That was in 1973.
 “I didn’t know any English. I didn’t know anything, but I had a dream,” Moreno explained while browning onions, adding in cupfuls of ripe, chopped tomatoes and  sprinkling in clumps of tasty-looking cheddar cheese.
Moreno, who made cooking look as simple as eating, fluttered about while grilling and Eduardo -- his “right hand man” -- sliced avocado to make fresh guacamole. The students were about to receive the  blessing of a gigantic meal – freshly made before their eyes:  tacos, chimichangas, taquitos, beans and guacamole – all of which Moreno donated for the occasion.
When Eduardo, the chef, was sharpening a knife, the students asked how to do it and Moreno popped off with a smile: “Wax on. Wax off,” making all the students giggle about his reference to the movie Karate Kid.
Moreno didn’t sit still once he arrived in San Pedro.
 He enrolled in adult school to learn English, took accounting courses – and even though it took him seven years – he graduated from high school. He took a three month course in culinary arts  and held every position in the restaurant business – busboy, cook, prep worker, delivery man.  Once he saved enough money  -- his wife agreeing to his dream – he opened his own restaurant after eleven years. It was called Taxco Café, but later renamed Pinas Café. He later sold it to his sister, Josefina, and his brother-in-law, Martin Magana, so they could start in their own business.
Shortly after, he opened the next Taxco Café on Western Avenue. Through the years, all five of his children, Elisa, Marissa, Eric, Tony Jr. and Luis, have helped in his restaurant. But he’d rather them all go to college, because working in a restaurant is “very hard,” he said.
“It’s like fireworks,” Moreno told students. “You have to be ready to sweat and work unusual hours. You have to able to sacrifice and be open with your hands to receive. What really helped us out was having faith. I took a chance.”
Visiting schools, Moreno said, is one of his ways to give back to the community which has supported him and his restaurant for 27 years.
Cooking Club teacher James Weston, who has run the after school club as a volunteer, was happy that Moreno shared his wealth of information.
“It was incredible,” Weston said. “It was incredible to have more than an amateur chef like me teaching class but rather an amazing person whose lessons transcend just cooking.”
The students gave Moreno a five star rating.
“He was really inspiring, funny and I learned you have to have heart,” for what you do, said Analeslie Martinez, a 15-year-old tenth grader.
“It was bomb,” said Ozzy Deras, also a 15-year-old tenth grader. “He told us how to know when food was ready and how to make some good guacamole.”
Moreno’s cooking tips:
--“Be organized.”
--“Gather all the materials together that you need.”
--“Have a good attitude. If you are in a bad mood, your food will taste bad.”
Moreno’s life tips:
--“Be humble.”
--“Do things with care and love,” including cooking
--“The minute you limit yourself, the other guy is there.”
--“In order to succeed, you have to do the dirty work.”
--“Do what you love.”
--“You must have an education. Tomorrow is too late”
“He’s a philosopher,” said student, Alexis Espados, 17, who wants to go culinary arts school and become a chef. “I really like him. He reminds me of my Dad. My Dad came the same way as he did. (Moreno) taught me you have to strive for what you like to do.”

Monday, February 07, 2011

Dear Readers: When I read this story in Indian Country News on my way
 home from Eureka, I was so moved I wanted more people to read it.
 So I e-mailed Dr. Arne Vainio andhe gave me his blessing.  The first part is
 poetry, to give the readers an idea ofwhat happened in Arne's life.
 Then later he tells how he tried to rescue a child. Don't miss this telling story.
I think I could have saved him. 
By Arne Vainio, M.D. 
My father’s suicide. 
Suddenly life was different, worse. 
My mother grieving, adults yelling at us, 
“You kids play outside!” 
You at sixteen infinitely stronger and faster than me at five. 
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, 
You caught me easily. 
How many times?  I choose not to remember. 
Strong hands on my neck promising pain if I told. 
So I didn’t. 
I kept the secret and told no one, 
Not even myself. 
Another child makes me remember 
 things buried long ago. 
It would have been fine by me if they stayed buried. 
I scan the funeral notices every Sunday, 
I know the lifestyle you chose. 
I know you’ll go before I do. 
You show me your obituary first, 
And our secret will be mine. 
Christmas always makes me think of him.  We first met him several years ago at a 
picnic in a park.  He wasn’t related to us, he just happened to be a kid who was 
7 when Jacob was 6.  His thick southern accent told us he was from Alabama or 
that part of the country.  His mom was happy the boys were running together and 
even though it was only about noon, her boyfriend was stumbling drunk. I watched 
him carefully stay out of the boyfriend’s way and I knew he was consciously 
trying not to draw attention to himself. 
We went to get him most weekends after that and I always looked forward to the 
end of the work week so I could pick him up.  He was always outside and his 
smile lit up his face every time he saw my car.  On that first Sunday I told him 
it was time to go back home.  He looked surprised and said in his southern 
drawl, “I ain’t going back, I’m living here now.”  It took a while to convince 
him that he did need to go home, but I promised I would pick him up on weekends 
if I could and he accepted that. 
Poverty was evident in everything about him.  He showed us his Christmas present 
from the year before.  It was a snow globe that you shake and the snow falls on 
the sleigh and the house in the scene.  It was coated with greasy yellow 
nicotine stains and he told us it came from a pawn shop.  He had a small set of 
cars, but otherwise no toys.  
Ivy bought him a toothbrush and he didn’t know how to use it.  She showed him 
how it worked and when he opened his mouth all of his teeth had deep black 
cavities.  We took him to a Chinese buffet and he took some of everything there.  
He was eating broccoli and things he didn’t recognize like he’d never eaten 
before.  He initially didn’t believe he could go back for seconds and actually 
went back for thirds.  I didn’t think his scrawny little body could hold that 
much food and I couldn’t stop smiling as he made his choices with wide eyed 
It took me several weekends to build a shed in the yard and all he wanted to do 
was help me build it.  He could have been riding bikes and pedal cars in the 
yard with Jacob or swinging on the swing, but instead he diligently helped me 
and I could tell he was pretending this was a father and son project.  I read to 
him and Jacob each bedtime and he listened intently to every story. 
He was one of those kids who life just picked on.  He was teased and bullied in 
school because of his thrift store clothes and his southern accent.  He told me 
the teacher always sided with the other kids when there was trouble, even if she 
was watching. 
I called on Thanksgiving to see if I could pick him up.  His mom told me they 
had already eaten a frozen turkey roll she had heated up, but I could come and 
get him.  When I got there her boyfriend was passed out on the couch and snoring 
hard.  There was a half empty bottle of cheap brandy on the floor next to his 
coffee cup and he clearly hadn’t moved in quite awhile.  His cigarette was 
between his yellowed fingers and the ash was long and burned out.  The lights 
were off and the radio and TV were off so he wouldn’t wake up.  He and his mom 
moved quietly in the house as she was getting his few belongings ready.  We had 
a huge Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house and he ate several times.  We 
dozed next to each other on the couch as only best friends can. 
It was early December and we had started thinking about Christmas.  I wanted to 
have Christmas the week of December 8th, just for him and we already had his 
presents ready, but we instead decided to celebrate Christmas at the usual time. 
Things happened fast after that.  We heard he showed up at school with a boot 
shaped bruise on his back and that social services had been contacted.  By the 
next day, we heard they were gone.  We went to the apartment they lived in and 
the door was open.  There was a half empty cup of coffee on the table and the 
ashtray was full of cigarette butts.  The cupboards had been partially emptied 
and whatever didn’t fit in the car was left behind.  And he was gone.  We didn’t 
know how to contact them and heard they probably went back down south. 
A couple of years later his mom called Ivy.  They had moved back to Minnesota 
and she was no longer with her boyfriend.  She told Ivy that in the time they 
were gone, he had been repeatedly sexually abused by a 16 year old boy.  Ivy did 
the right thing and told her she needed to contact social services and offered 
to look up the phone number for her.  I wanted to go and get him, but she 
wouldn’t tell us where they were and Ivy didn’t know if his abuse would manifest 
itself in our house with Jacob.  I found all the brochures I could on sexual 
abuse and brought them home.  Ivy talked to his mom again and was told they were 
going to move again, were going to go some place where nobody knew them and 
start over. 
I called his mom and she told me they were packing to leave.   “I shouldn’t have 
opened my big mouth.  I don’t want social services involved and I don’t want his 
teachers to know.”  
I am required to report suspected abuse, but this had happened a year ago in 
another state and they were out of that situation.  This was too close to me and 
I didn’t want them to run, I didn’t want to lose him again.  I didn’t even know 
where they were or their last name.  I was pleading now, I was desperate, I was 
wrongly blaming Ivy.  
“Don’t go.  Please, don’t take him.  Ivy won’t say anything.  He can come and 
live with us, he can be my son.  We’ll raise him and we’ll put him through 
college.  Please… please…don’t take him.” 
“No, I’ve given this a lot of thought.  We have to leave.  We have relatives out 
east.  I’m changing my phone number. Don’t try to find us, we’re going to start 
over and we’re going to be fine.” 
She hung up the phone and he was gone again. 
I think I could have saved him.  And I think he could have saved me. 
Arne Vainio, M.D. is a family practice physician on the Fond du Lac reservation 
in Cloquet, Minnesota.  He can be reached at