August 24, 2007

Students Reveal Dynamics Behind L.A. Dropout Crisis

By Irantzu Pujadas
Eastern Group Publications

LOS ANGELES – Research conducted by students from five Los Angeles County high schools found that disconnect and alienation from educators and adults is a main contributing factor to the student dropout rate.

The 24 students did their research as part of a five week University of California Los Angeles / Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) Summer Seminar examining the root causes behind the high drop out rate. On Aug. 10, they presented their research through a high-tech multi-media presentation to a packed audience at Los Angeles City Hall.

Students researched the various social, economic, cultural, and pedagogical factors that contribute to youth disinvestment in education. Their research found that overall students get disinvested in their schools because they feel disconnected from adults. The students told the audience, which included elected officials, educators and others, that they believe better relationships between adults and youth need to be built in order to reduce the high school dropout rate.

Teacher-student relationships need to improve, the student researchers said, adding that many of the students featured in their study said they believe their teachers do not respect them and do not care if they learn.

“When I do math, I need someone with me to help me, because I am slow. But once the teacher was kind of mean to me, and I just stopped having an interest in learning math or going to school,” said one student featured in the video portion of the presentation.

Another issue presented by the UCLA/IDEA students is the need to involve the community in the education of its youth, and the need to get students involved in the community so that they will feel safe in their schools.

“We are all responsible for the safety of students going to and from school. This is a community issue and kids need to feel safe,” said Ray Cortines, Deputy Mayor for Children, Families and Youth, and one of several guest speakers who spoke with students during the city hall presentation.

Among their key findings, student researchers said students told them that they want to learn more about their own roots, culture and history.

“Why do I have to learn about European history?” asked a student featured in one of the research videos. “I am interested in what is going on right now. Why doesn’t anybody explain to me what is happening in Iraq?”

Cortines said that the issue regarding the teaching of roots and culture should have been dealt with a long time ago, and he told Eastern Group Publications that if students can provide that kind of data, he wonders why the school district hasn’t.

“We need the data from every school to look at the issue. Whether it’s attendance, whether it is the dropout rate – what are the safety nets that schools have to make children successful,” Cortines said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledged the significant dropout problem during his brief speech at the presentation.

“When half of our kids in schools are dropping out we have a real problem, we really need to do a real introspective of what’s going on,” he said.

He also said that there isn’t anybody better to explain the dropout rate than young people, who he described as the ones who really “understand the frustrations, the needs, and concerns” of their fellow high school students.

Villaraigosa emphasized that the Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Monica Garcia and the new board majority are “absolutely committed to addressing this dropout rate.”

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