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Summer School Cancellation Stirs Deep Concern in South L.A.

Written by By Leiloni De Gruy, Special from the Los Angeles WAVE on 12 June 2009.

LOS ANGELES (NNPA) - More than 225,000 Los Angeles Unified School District families with elementary and middle school students will be forced to find alternatives to summer school this year, following an announcement that the session would be canceled due to declining revenues and the state budget deficit. The move, which is expected to save LAUSD roughly $34 million, will result in the district offering summer school and intersession at a reduced number of high schools, and solely for credit recovery — meaning only an estimated 74,000 students who need the courses to meet graduation requirements are eligible.

Reaction by parents, advocacy groups and community organizations was swift.

“For many families across the district, canceling summer school is a catastrophe,” said Moms Unite co-founder Victoria Hurley. “They rely on summer school to help their struggling children prepare for the next school year. Others rely on it to keep their kids out of trouble during the long summer months.”

Rev. Eric Lee, president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, agreed: “It slows their progress toward being at grade-level performance,” he said. “And it is already known that most African-American children are performing at three to four grade levels below their actual grade, and so it really hinders their ability to catch up.”

The economic impact on parents and children, he added, “will be that they will need to find some sort of child care, which is a cost that is very hard to afford during this economic crisis. And if they don’t have that, then the children are going to be left to their own time, and that could contribute to children getting into situations that do not contribute to their social growth.”

That last point resonated strongly with a member of Inner City Crime Prevention, who asked not to be identified. In an interview, she predicted that more children will “be running and roaming the streets. They’re going to be looking to their ‘homies’ for attention and we all know an idle mind is the work of the devil.”

Childcare experts agree.

“You’re going to have a lot of children who have nothing to do,” says Frank Proctor, executive director of A Bright Beginning Child Development Center. “The potential for violence, the potential for just getting in to vicious, mischievous things are going to go up, because they’re not going to have anything to do … Either we are going to find something for them to do, or they’re going to find something — and what they find might not be what we want them to find.”

But L.A. Police Department Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger believes that concerns about imminent mayhem are likely overblown. “To the question of whether these number of students will dramatically affect crime in the city, I would like to think not — or if so, to some incremental degree,” he said. “But I don’t believe that our community should be led to believe that we will see or experience a wave of violence sparked by seventh and eighth graders. … It weighs against the logic. If we think about who these young people are, they are kids. … I doubt seriously that they are going to somehow morph into three-strike candidates.”

In each LAPD division, Paysinger noted, there are a number of low-cost or free programs available to youth. One alternative for high school students is the LAPD Explorers, where people aged 14-20 are taught a number of leadership skills.

For those who may be at-risk, Paysinger said, the LAPD’s Juvenile Impact Program and Jeopardy Program are available. For 10 to 16 weeks, youth ages 14 through 18 engage in a military-style boot camp. There is also the Police Activities League, which offers a number of sports — including football, basketball, martial arts and boxing — to youth ages 6 and up.

In addition, Harvard Recreation Center, located at 1535 W. 62nd St., recently joined Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Summer Night Lights initiative and will be open and lit Wednesday through Saturday until midnight, said a representative.

On the site is a picnic area, baseball field, soccer field, basketball courts, a football field, an indoor gym, indoor tennis courts and two pools. Sports programs make use of these fields and also include street hockey, softball for girls, volleyball and flag football for ages 5 to 15. Other programs include an after-school club, arts & crafts, dance lessons, piano lessons, reading programs and tutoring.

Henry Doyle, program director for Culver-Slauson Recreation Center at 5070 Slauson Ave., said, “We’re continuing our summer camp that we’ve had in the past [and] we’re continuing some of our other programs. We are aware that there will be tons of kids, and we are going to work with them to the best of our ability … Right now we are trying to address the issue as it comes.”

His facility’s summer camp, said Boyle, gets about 60 -70 youth on average; but due to budget cuts and layoffs, those numbers may drop by half. “We will not be able to accommodate all of those kids like we did in the past as far as the camping situation,” he said, “but we will have kids.”

Baldwin Hills Recreation Center, 5401 Highlight Place, serves a number of LAUSD students from Baldwin Hills Elementary School over the summer, said a representative. On average, they take roughly 60 youth or more, but “we already have a lot of kids,” said the representative, and the center is not sure how many more they will be able to accommodate.

The site features barbecue pits, a baseball diamond, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, a children’s play area, a football field, indoor gym and a picnic area. Special features include classrooms, a gymnasium and two kitchens. Sport programs include baseball, basketball and football. Other programs include an after school club, child care, and youth camps.

Mark Dantzler, program director of the Challengers Boys and Girls Club, 5029 S. Vermont Ave., said the popular center’s final enrollment date for the summer is June 15, but “it’s already full, so you can’t even get in now.”

Over the summer they see between 300-400 kids ages 6-17, many of whom are LAUSD students. The center only enrolls approximately 60 families over the summer. Enrollment cost $75 and is good for one year. Programs include character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts and sports, fitness and recreation. Special programs include teen technology, nutrition, physical activity, home economics, “where the kids learn how to cook and sew and wash and fold clothes, which is a life skills program.”