Finding Harmony on the Other Side of the World

VIDEO CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen, at, and Classical KUSC

Their bags packed with flutes, violas and other instruments, several teenagers from Los Angeles County’s Second District ventured far away from home in March to make music – and to make friends – in Japan.

All are students of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), a program led by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel to provide free musical training, instruments and academic support to those ages 6-17 who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.


CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen at, and Classical KUSC

Bianca, a 16-year old violinist with YOLA at EXPO, based at Exposition Park in South Los Angeles, was eager to harmonize with fellow musicians her age from the other side of the world.

“Music has the ability to transcend barriers in order to bring together people of all different socio-economic backgrounds,” she said.

Kevin, a 13-year-old who plays the tuba, was eager to broaden his horizons while honing his musical skills at YOLA at HOLA, the nonprofit organization Heart of Los Angeles in the Rampart District. 

 “YOLA… not only  gave me important life skills that helped me, but also helped me befriend people that I might not have even realized existed on this planet,” he said.

Bianca and Kevin were among 15 YOLA students ages 13-17 who traveled to Tokyo and Soma in the Fukushima Prefecture from March 24-30 to meet young Japanese musicians training under El Sistema Japan, which is based on the famous musical education program in Venezuela where Mr. Dudamel trained as a child.


YOLA students proudly displaying their commendations from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, arranged by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. CREDIT: Leni Boorstin

Before their trip, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas gave each of the students a commendation.

“I congratulate these young musicians for their outstanding hard work and dedication to excellence,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

YOLA Manager Rebecca Sigel said the American and Japanese teenagers should be able to find common ground not only in the music they play but also in their coming-of-age struggles and triumphs.

She said many of the Japanese students began to play instruments in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that devastated their coastal city. As a tribute to them, YOLA performed Mozart’s Ave Veram Corpus, which Sigel described as “a piece about creating something beautiful in the aftermath of loss.” She added it was El Sistema Japan’s unofficial anthem. 

“Our students have struggles and successes here in Los Angeles – for some, there are more struggles than successes – but that’s going to be the case for students in Fukushima too, only in a completely different context,” Sigel said. “The music is going to be the thing that joins them.”


CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen at, and Classical KUSC

The trip was held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Asia Tour, and Mr. Dudamel rehearsed with the students.

Aside from rehearsals and concerts, the itinerary for the YOLA students’ almost week-long visit to Japan included cultural exchanges and sightseeing tours. To prepare for their 8,000-mile journey, they visited Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles to learn about Japanese culture, customs and traditions, including the tea ceremony and origami.

The students made paper cranes, strung them together, and gave them as gifts to their hosts in Japan as a symbol of happiness, peace and long life. But for Daniel, a 17-year-old flutist with YOLA at EXPO, the tour itself was a gift.

“What YOLA has taught me is that young people everywhere are ready to explode with a creative potential that they might not even know is in them,” Daniel said. “By giving them something into which to channel that magma of creativity out of their cores, you can unleash an ambition-chasing initiative from within that will carry them far in life.”

YOLA currently trains about 600 students in three locations: YOLA, HOLA and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Those bound for Japan underwent a rigorous selection process similar to a college application. YOLA previously sent delegations to Boston, where students met the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and to London, where they performed Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture.


YOLA students from Los Angeles County’s Second District take a “selfwe” with fellow young musicians in Japan. CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen at, and Classical KUSC

Turning Bookmarks into Works of Art

Bookmark Contest

Click for more pictures.


To some, a bookmark is merely utilitarian – a strip of cardboard to keep you on the right page. Not so for Maeva Dubuche, Karma Griggs, Sierra Irby and Cheyenne Daniels.

With a handful of crayons and markers, plus a dash of creativity, the young students each turned a bookmark into a work of art.

Their whimsical creations made them winners of the Los Angeles County Public Library’s 35th Annual Bookmark Contest in the Second District, with the theme Dream in Color!.

During the awards ceremony at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas thanks the students for their hard work and emphasized the importance of reading and education.

“Reading is a way to visit new places and learn new ideas,” he said. “I am very proud of these students for their effort to achieve excellence and their love of reading.”

Maeva Dubuche, a second grader whose favorite subject is math, created her bookmark at the Culver City Julian Dixon Library. She dreams of becoming a teacher and, when not in school, she can be found riding her bike or in karate class.

Fourth-grader Karma Griggs created her bookmark at the View Park Library, plays the piano, likes to dance, and she dreams of becoming a doctor. Seventh-grader Sierra Erbee made her bookmark at the Wiseburn Library in Hawthorne. With social studies as her favorite subject, and a participant in her school’s Honor Society and the Girl Scouts, she aspires to become a journalist.

Cheyenne Daniels created her bookmark at the Lynwood Library. The eighth-grader’s favorite subjects are math and science, but she also enjoys drawing and pole vaulting.

Teens Explore Technology

After graduating from college, Oscar Menjivar, a computer science professional who grew up in South LA, returned to Watts to teach. Out of the 60 kids in his class, only five were familiar with coding. He was determined to change that.

And so, Menjivar founded Teens Exploring Technology (TxT), an organization that encourages inner city teenagers to use technology as a tool for promoting positive development and leadership, as a path to higher education and eventually a career in sciene, technology, engineering or math related fields.

“I knew we needed to bridge the digital divide,” he said. “We needed to bring confidence to young people of color.”

Geek hours at the “Cube”

Today, he has more than 50 students from high schools around the South Los Angeles area who ride their bikes, take the bus or walk to the 750 square-foot location he calls the “cube” on West Adams Boulevard or to USC, where they hold their summer academies. They are there every day (even on Saturdays) from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. doing homework, learning to code, building websites and creating apps. Menjivar sees this as more than a techie endeavor.

“They learn life skills here,” he said, looking around proudly at the tiny office space with ceiling tiles brightly colored in orange, blue and green. TXT partners with USC, Google, IBM and the Annenberg Foundation for funding and resources.


Teens explore technology at the TxT “Cube”

The students embrace their inner geek by competing for “Geek Hours—“ whoever spends the most time at the cube, earns a gift card or movie tickets. The teens love the taste of success. When 200 people downloaded Xavier Clark’s SAT app, he couldn’t believe it.

“It felt great to see that happen,” said Clark, a 17-year-old at View Park Prep High School. “I believed more in my dreams when that happened. If I say I can do it and put in the time and work, then things can happen for me.”

Kenia Cruz, 22, was one of the first students to join TxT six years ago when it began—and one of the few females. She recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara but came back to help train the next generation of tech leaders. She said TxT was invaluable in her education.

TxT Founder Menjivar speaks with LA County CIO Sanchez and LA County CDO Fahani

“I pushed myself a lot. I learned to think logically, have patience, to trouble shoot and find solutions to a problem,” she said. “We are giving kids the tools they need with whatever they want to do in their lives.”

The program could lead to potential collaboration with Los Angeles County, said Ali Farahani, chief data officer for Los Angeles County, who visited TxT in December with Richard Sanchez, the county’s chief information officer.

“I was very impressed by the caliber and talent level of the program participants and the vision and passion that Oscar has for this program,” said Farahani, noting that as part of a partnership students could create apps or bring innovative ideas to improve services in LA County.  “It is a model for other students and a positive environment to grow in and get involved in technology.”

Head Start for Young Minds

HS Special Recruitment_Flyer-Eng-3_Page_1

Head Start providers throughout Los Angeles County are looking for eligible children and families to enroll in their free educational program that serves children under the age of five and prepares them to enter kindergarten.

In addition to education services, Head Start programs provide children and their families with health, nutrition, social, and other services. These programs also encourage parent participation and stress the importance of parents as their child’s first and most important teachers. Studies have shown that children who attend pre-school do better in their educational careers and go on to enjoy more productive lives than those who do not. For younger children, there is Early Head Start, a program for children under the age of three,  which also serves pregnant women, infants, and toddlers and is available until the child turns three and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program.

Head Start programs began in the summer of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, while Early Head Start was added in 1994. Since its founding, the program has served more than 30 million children nationwide.  For more information, or to find the nearest Head Start program near you, call 1-877-PRE-K-Kid (1-877-773-5543) or visit

Head Start services include:

  • Education – Head Start helps get your child ready for school. With educational activities that fit with your culture and language, your child will learn in the way that is best for them.
  • Family Services – Head Start staff works with you to create family goals and make a plan to meet those goals.  They help you find resources in your community.
  • Health Services – Medical and dental health is vital to your child’s success and we make getting the care they need a priority.   Head Start staff will work with you to make sure they receive regular medical and dental check-ups and connect your family to free or affordable resources.
  • Nutrition – Eating well fuels growing minds and bodies!  Head Start provides healthy meals and snacks, and evaluates each student’s nutritional needs.  Head Start staff works with families to encourage healthy choices and provide resources for home.
  • Special Needs – Head Start staff screens every child to understand their unique needs. Children with special needs are included in all activities, and staff will help connect families to the resources that can best support their children.



Alex Johnson named Executive Director for Children’s Defense Fund California

IMG_1270“This is a terrific day for the children of Los Angeles. The Children’s Defense Fund, an iconic institution locally and nationally, brings on a man of integrity, vision and skill – Alex Johnson.

For many years now, Marian Wright Edelman’s commitment to improving the lives of young people has challenged the entire nation to resolutely refuse to accept the substandard conditions that stultify and stunt the hopes and dreams of our children. By comparison, Alex Johnson, is a relative newcomer to the struggle. But let me say this: he is a worthy partner and excellent choice to become the new executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California.

Marian could not have put the reins of our state’s Children’s Defense Fund in more capable hands. Through his work with Freedom Schools, the terrific literacy program that has changed so many lives, Alex Johnson has demonstrated not only a clear understanding if the organization’s mission, but also how to innovate and take what is tried and true and move it forward.

I congratulate Alex on this appointment, but I also congratulate the Children’s Defense Fund. They have chosen the right person to lead this iconic organization into a bright new day.”