The future of the Los Angeles Unified School District is endlessly debated by politicians, parents, teachers and unions. This weekend, 160 high school student leaders got their chance to weigh in, at a daylong forum hosted by United Way.
“We always talk about what we want to do on behalf of students,” said Ryan J. Smith, Director of Education Programs and Policy at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We never talk about what students really want.”
Held on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper with sweeping views of the city skyline, the forum looked much more like a management retreat than a classroom.
Students considered questions in breakout groups – seated in circles – and filled out yellow post-it notes with answers and affixed them to the walls.
Questions included: “If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?”
Among the answers: “Lunch food,” “Have a football and baseball team,” “school spirit.”
Students were also asked: “What are some reasons that all students don’t graduate from high school?"
The students replied: “No purpose,” “They didn’t keep trying,” “Lack of encouragement.”
There were broader queries, too, such as, “What do you think your life will be like in the year 2050?"
A common theme was the effect of budget reductions. Many students said cuts to athletics have hurt school spirit.
Another popular topic was representation. Students said they should have a seat on the Board of Education.
“We always talk about how the youth is America’s future,” said Ashley Perez, a junior at Maya Angelou Community High School. “If we are America’s future why aren’t we being heard? That would be a big step.”
L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who took questions during a lunchtime session, said he liked the idea of students being added to the board — but he wasn't sure it would be legal under California law.
“If it were legal, I would strongly support it,” he said.