Leave No School Behind

At Garfield High, 3/4 of seniors see a military recruiter, 1/3 sees a college recruiter

By Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: August 2, 2004

Leave No School Behind

Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools in East Los Angeles have long been rivals. But their legendary cross-town rivalry morphed in the last decade from who had the better football team into which was the nation's largest high school. Both claim more than 5,000 students, ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in the country. Yet if that's all this was about -- cramming thousands of students into schools designed for 1,000 students -- it would merit its own story.

But this story goes beyond educational neglect, abusive and senseless policies, year-round schools and dilapidated buildings. It's the story of war and peace. This is the epicenter of the current war and all U.S.-led wars. The East Side traditionally is fertile recruiting grounds for the U.S. military. Not just this East Side, but all East Sides and South Sides, too. Under the administration's No Child Left Behind Act (the president's crown jewel), the U.S. military is seemingly determined not to leave any school or student behind.

Under the act, prospective college students must sign a consent form that sends their names to the military; otherwise, their records are not sent to the colleges, says Nancy Meza, a senior at Roosevelt and a member of United Students, an organization affiliated with Inner City Struggle and Youth Organizing Communities (YOC) in East L.A. Recently, students themselves (through United Students) have led the charge of improving schools on the East Side.

Prior to the war, the emphasis of YOC was making schools a priority over jails. Nowadays, it includes making education a priority over war. "If students had an equal educational opportunity, they wouldn't get recruited into the military or the prison-industrial complex," says Meza.

Maria Brenes, director of YOC, believes that overcrowding is what invariably leads to neglect and sky-high "disappearance" rates, thus the fertile recruitment grounds. A 2003 study at Roosevelt High School by United Students shows that close to 70 percent of students who begin as freshmen do not finish high school. They refer to that as a "disappearance" rate, rather than a dropout rate. Fewer than 10 percent of the students at both schools go on to four-year colleges.

Meza says that there indeed is help for college-bound students, but only for 200 to 300 students. "None of the money goes to students who are struggling with their studies," she adds.

At Garfield High, for instance, a United Students survey shows that nearly three-fourths of seniors are exposed to a military recruiter in the classroom, whereas less than a third see a college recruiter. Gabriela Perez, a Garfield senior and also a member of United Students, says that the problem is that the schools place more emphasis on the military than on colleges. "We had a military week, but not a college week," she says.

Notes Maria Brenes: "California guarantees education as a fundamental right, but it makes no investment in the youth, in the quality of life or in health care."

In 1968, 10,000 students from the East Side rose up in the infamous walkouts, or "blowouts." The demands were new schools, more college counselors and a relevant education: i.e., ethnic studies courses and Mexican American teachers, etc. The 11-year-old YOC generally has the same demands, though now the schools are more overcrowded and its work is statewide, fighting primarily to stem the dropout rate and to increase the eligibility rate for the University of California and the California State University systems.

In the past 20 years, whereas one university in California has opened, some 20 prisons have also gone up (if you build them, they will come). Couple this with aggressive military recruitment, and one can clearly see where the investment lies. Incidentally, military recruitment usually entails promises of travel, adventure and money for college. This translates into an abundance of military science classes (JROTC) at both schools, but very few college-prep courses.

As Maria Brenes notes, in Los Angeles there are no JROTC programs west of Fairfax Boulevard (most people of color live east of Fairfax). And with overcrowding and an educational system that tracks students into low-wage labor jobs, "There are no options," she says.

United Students has had major successes. New high schools are planned within the Roosevelt and Garfield boundaries by 2007 and 2010, respectively (none had gone up since 1923). Also, there are now ethnic studies classes, and illogical tardy rules have been eliminated. That helps. "But there will still be overcrowding," says Gabriela Perez. "What we need is to make sure that qualified teachers are hired to prepare students with (college-prep) classes."

What remains to be done, concludes Maria Brenes, is the obvious: Invest in schools rather than in jails or war.

(c) Universal Press Syndicate 2004

Innercity Struggle can be reached at: 323.780.7605, ics@schoolsnotjails.com or http://www.innercitystruggle.org/

About Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez:
The writers can be reached at XColumn@aol.com or 608-238-3161

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