Free Summer Learning and Fun for L.A. Kids

Free Summer Learning and Fun for L.A. Kids

Nearly one month into summer, if your child is spending a bit too much time on screens or complaining about boredom, rest assured there are options. Speak UP has put together a list of free summer activities for L.A. kids. While some offerings are restricted to students who quality for free and reduced lunch, there is truly something for everyone, from swim lessons to computer and art classes to the opportunity to enjoy a good book with a former Dodgers player.

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Parents at Angeles Mesa in South L.A. Speak UP to Improve Conditions at Their School

Parents at Angeles Mesa in South L.A. Speak UP to Improve Conditions at Their School

Three years ago, Soralia Castro made the difficult decision to remove her daughter Amy Carranza from Angeles Mesa elementary school in South Los Angeles. After Amy had lost her teacher and faced the prospect of a school year with a sub who was not credentialed, Soralia complained to the school administration. The school principal asked her why she cared since, "the children of Angeles Mesa do not graduate anyway," Soralia said.

Despite her 13-year-old daughter Amy’s success at her new district school, Soralia is still indignant years later. That’s why she joined a group of parents whose kids currently attend Angeles Mesa to speak up at the LAUSD board meeting Tuesday about problems they are facing at the school. Issues the parents raised include low student achievement, safety issues, disrespect for parents, lack of budget transparency, harsh physical discipline against students and discrimination against Spanish-speaking families.

"For me it's still very painful, because my daughter did not graduate with the children she grew up with,” Soralia said. “That still affects us. And this is 100 percent the fault of the principal. She humiliates parents. She says about us, ‘If you do not speak English, how are your kids going to get out of the hole?' It is true that I do not speak 100 percent English, but I'm not going to let a person who does not recognize the value of a child, or the intelligence of a child, discourage us.”

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Nurse and LAUSD Parent: New Contract Won’t Solve School Nursing Shortage

Nurse and LAUSD Parent: New Contract Won’t Solve School Nursing Shortage

As an LAUSD parent and registered nurse of 18 years, the UTLA strike left me frustrated that our labor and district leaders seemed to be looking through a 1980s lens to address the 21st century needs of our students – specifically the need for more school nurses to ensure that our kids’ learning is not hindered by health issues.  

In the three decades since the last teachers strike, everything from demographic trends to technology to workforce realities and employee expectations has changed. Nevertheless, UTLA leadership looked back 30 years to benchmark what could be gained.

UTLA’s call for an increase in the number of school nurses was one demand that the union seemingly won from the strike. The new agreement adds 300 new positions over the next two years. I have my doubts, though, that a significant number of the new positions will ever be filled. Even before the strike, there were over 30 fully funded school nurse vacancies across the district. If LAUSD could not fill those 30, what makes us think they can fill another 300?

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LAUSD Teacher: Combine More Funding With Reform To Realize Education Gains Teachers Fought For And Kids Deserve

LAUSD Teacher: Combine More Funding With Reform To Realize Education Gains Teachers Fought For And Kids Deserve

As an LAUSD elementary school teacher, I have found the tangible campus gains from the teachers strike in January to be disappointing. But the strike did accomplish one very important thing. It brought much-needed attention to the consequences of chronic public school under-funding.

As we walked the picket line, teachers felt more supported and more empowered than we have in decades. Many students and their parents joined us at protests and on the picket lines, calling for more funding for our schools. It is clear that the community appreciates us and strongly supports teachers, as well as more investment in our schools.

Increasing funding for education is only part of the picture, though. Teachers, we too need to consider agreeing to some changes. The reality is that district healthcare and pension costs currently take up close to 30 percent of the LAUSD annual budget. That number is projected to rise to 50 percent by the year 2031. Not only are these costs unsustainable, but every dollar that covers these expenses is taken from the same pot that funds our salaries and our schools.

As union members we need to ask our union leadership to begin exploring cost-saving options, and we need to demand that we be included as active and informed participants in this conversation.

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Where Do Families Who Support School Choice Go From Here?

Where Do Families Who Support School Choice Go From Here?

By Roxann Nazario

With nearly a week to digest what happened at last Tuesday’s board meeting, I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of hurt and disappointment. As we all now know, Nick Melvoin (BD4) was the only LAUSD board member who truly stood for students and voted against a resolution calling on the state to ban new charter schools for nearly a year.

In the past, Monica Garcia (BD2) and my board member, Kelly Gonez (BD6), have typically supported school choice, but that was not the case with this resolution. To say that parents of Board District 6 are disappointed in their board member would be an understatement. Last Wednesday, my phone was buzzing all day with calls and messages from parents who campaigned for Kelly, asking, “How could she do this to us?”

One fellow BD6 parent, Elisa Avalos, told me she was very disappointed in Kelly, but she was also “very proud of Nick because he's the one that actually listened to us.” Avalos and I are part of a core group of seven moms that supported and campaigned for Kelly in the 2017 election. We recruited fellow parents to help us knock on hundreds of doors and make thousands of phone calls urging voters to vote for Kelly. Over the past year and a half that Kelly has been in office, we met with her periodically to discuss issues, such the need for more high-quality middle schools. In the city of Sylmar, where I live, we have only two middle schools. My neighborhood middle school, Olive Vista, which my cousins and mom all attended, has a notorious reputation for rampant fights and bullying. I won't even mention the academics and low proficiency. The other option is PUC, which enrolls only about 300 students. I and a group of moms from Board District 6 had hoped and expected that Kelly would help us create more quality middle school options, but that has yet to happen, and now maybe it never will.

Our biggest fear, though, is that a moratorium is just the first step in a statewide effort to shut down our kids’ schools — even the most successful ones that serve kids well. We have faced this threat before with bills like SB808, which would have let LAUSD shut down all high-performing charter schools — merely because they compete for student attendance dollars. It also would have taken away a school’s right to appeal the decision to the county or state. In 2017, we fought very hard to stop SB808, which was also referred to as the “charter killer” bill. At the time, Gonez did not support this bill either. But the language of this resolution appears to open the door to the state acting against our schools’ very right to exist, yet again. We are also afraid this resolution will prompt the state to take away our kids’ right to an equal share of public school space. Prop 39, which guarantees our public school students have a place to learn, is fundamental to our schools’ ability to even exist. The study required by this resolution asks the state to look into changes to the laws regulating authorization and facilities allocations. 

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Spare Me Your Anti-Charter Nonsense And Come See My School

Spare Me Your Anti-Charter Nonsense And Come See My School

As an educator and parent, I stood with my kids’ teachers during the UTLA strike. I did not cross the picket line and brought teachers coffee and donuts in the rain.

But I’ve been listening to a lot of rhetoric over the past two weeks, leading up to Tuesday’s vote on a charter moratorium. And after experiencing these raging education wars from nearly every angle, I’ve come to believe there’s really only one side to be on: the side of the kids.

Kids, no matter what type of school they attend, deserve a quality education. Charter schools help provide that, and they’re not the cause of LAUSD’s failures. That notion is utterly ridiculous.

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Gathering for Parent Power: ONE CITY, ALL KIDS

Gathering for Parent Power: ONE CITY, ALL KIDS

 I came to Speak UP a year and a half ago as a volunteer bent on effecting real and urgent change in this gigantic district we call LAUSD. In the 2017 LAUSD Board District 4 election campaign, I witnessed first-hand the power of parents coming together to upend the electoral status quo. Parents from across the district came together, from all school models, to fight for a board member who would listen to the voices of parents and put kids first.

Inspired by the parent power momentum of the campaign, I decided I wanted to focus on an area that was close to my heart and that had been plaguing the district for years. As a mother of two special needs children, who landed here from New York City several years ago, I was aghast at the dearth of resources, the culture of low expectations and general lack of supports I saw for any kid who didn’t fit the “regular” learning profile. This includes kids who have or need IEPs, speak English as a second language, have brown or black skin, or who live in underserved neighborhoods.

As time went by, I started working more closely with Speak UP to support parents of kids with special needs by providing them with the tools and knowledge to raise their voices on behalf of their children.

In this role, over the past year, I’ve met with over 100 families, from all walks of life, who send their special needs kids to all kinds of schools.Sadly, too many of those kids have been failed by the system. With each family I met, story after story would emerge, most of them sad, some of them horrible, and all of them with life changing ramifications. My job has been to educate them on their basic rights in public education, and empower them to advocate for important changes to the system. I find this work deeply satisfying, but I am amazed that the school system doesn’t support these parents more. Parents are on the front lines with these kids, picking up the pieces when the school system fails them, and left to figure out on their own how to get their kids back up and lead their best lives. So when, they wonder, will their voices finally be heard?

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