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Belmont High, Esteban E. Torres High among LA schools to benefit from $1.7 million in grants

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside L.A. Unified headquarters downtown to protest budget cuts earlier this year.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside L.A. Unified headquarters downtown to protest budget cuts earlier this year.
Tami Abdollah / KPCC

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More than a dozen Los Angeles schools will benefit from $1.7 million in foundation funds as part of a broad national initiative to improve learning opportunities for students from lower-income neighborhoods.

The California Community Foundation announced today that it has received $1.5 million from the Ford Foundation to support additional learning experiences for disadvantaged students. The funds will go to those who may not have access to the music lessons, tutors or sports activities of their more advantaged peers.

"We have 15 million young people in this country who have essentially no adult supervision, and very little to do between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the afternoon, and also, many of them are kind of footloose in the summertime," said Jeannie Oakes, director of educational opportunity and school scholarship at the Ford Foundation.

The grant is part of Ford's larger $50-million "Time to Succeed" initiative launched in May, which aims to double the number of youths participating in schools with more hours and opportunities for learning over the next three years, Oakes said. The foundation identified six cities nationally, including L.A., that seemed "really ripe to grow some of these schools in their poorest neighborhoods," Oakes said. The other cities are Denver, Detroit, Chicago, New York City, and Newark, N.J., she said.

Ford embarked on the 18-month partnership with the Los Angeles nonprofit California Community Foundation, which has also added $200,000 to the effort. The local foundation will manage and grant the funds for the "extended learning time" initiatives to community groups for use in up to 15 high schools within LAUSD, said Peter Rivera, who heads up the California Community Foundation's education efforts.

The aim is to connect learning experiences in the classroom with those outside, and bring more career-themed programs to students, Rivera said.

"It’s not adding 'teacher-in-front-of-student time'," Rivera said. "It’s integrating support activities that happen after the school bell rings."

Oakes said recent research shows that more than 1,000 schools in the country are experimenting with increasing learning time for students.

"I mean that's fabulous," Oakes said. "But when you think about the number of communities of poverty in this country, 1,000 schools are not enough. Some of these schools are charters, some of them are special schools. Our goal is to make this normal and routine, and part of the regular public school system."

Such a program is a shot in the arm for school districts facing steep state funding cuts. The Los Angeles Unified School District has been hit with $2 billion in budget cuts over the last four years, district officials said. The district recently approved a $6 billion budget with $169 million in cuts that just managed to avoid eviscerating its after-school program. Even so, the school year was cut by a week in order to minimize layoffs and deeper program cuts.

"I’m very, very pleased and thankful to Ford," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, who is also a member of Ford's "Time to Succeed Coalition." "They’re a strong supporter of our work."

Work has already started, and programs are expected to take effect this fall, Rivera said. The California Community Foundation has started to issue grants, including $180,000 to Alliance for a Better Community to work at Belmont High School and InnerCity Struggle to work at Esteban E. Torres High School, Rivera said.

Another $175,000 has been awarded to the Los Angeles Small Schools Center and $100,000 to the Los Angeles Education Partnership, Rivera said. The Community Coalition is preparing a grant proposal for a project out of Fremont High School that would work to coordinate after-school programming for youths, Rivera said.

"It's really trying to use existing resources differently and trying to create more community partnerships, so students have access to opportunities," Rivera said.

Rivera said projects would include efforts like ones prior at Esteban E. Torres High School, where students studying urban planning were able to check out real world projects and draft proposals. Other previous examples include students at Belmont High School’s visual arts programs who visited studios to learn about animation as a career, Rivera said.

The Ford Foundation has provided funding in the past to Alliance for a Better Community  that gave students at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools the chance to gain hands-on experience through a joint program with the UCLA School of Nursing, Oakes said.

A large part of the effort is aimed at giving community groups and schools the freedom to experiment and reimagine their school days and how those are structured, Oakes said. It is less about adding hours or days to the school year, she said.

"These are not after-school programs," Oakes said. "...This is a redesign of the entire school, a real integration of teachers, of their planning, and of the structure of schooling, but with community partners...We're hoping these additional hours will really reshape everything being done."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).