Supervisors Support Obama’s Plan for Early Childhood Ed

For years now, experts have said that brain development begins prior to birth and advances rapidly through the age of three, making it possible for very young children to learn to read, write, add and subtract. Investing in early learning during the first five years of a child’s life is critical, with significant consequences for a child’s long-term health and emotional well-being if they are not enrolled in pre-school or early education programs.

[raw]And yet, the United States ranks 25th in public spending for early learning among developed countries. The inability to recognize the need for early education has serious consequences that impact society including unemployment and crime and will affect the nation’s future development of a competitive and educated workforce.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to support the Obama Administration’s recently proposed plan for improving access to quality preschool, infant-toddler care and home visitation services.  The plan would invest $75 billion over 10 years to serve more children in quality early learning services and an additional $750 million to help states improve the quality of their services.  A recent analysis of the plan projected that California could receive up to $335 million in new federal preschool funding during the first year of the plan’s implementation. In addition, the plan calls for state matching funds and allows states to build on their existing investments instead of creating new programs.

“The County of Los Angeles has a lot to benefit from passage of this plan,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion. “It is a matter of priorities, a strategic investment in our future and a leveraging of our human capital in a cost effective way.”

The motion, also supported by Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, authorizes county officials to send a letter of support to the President and Vice President of the United States, leaders of the Senate, the House of Representatives and to each senator and representative serving Los Angeles County in Congress. In addition, the letter will encourage policy makers to ensure flexibility so that local pre-school programs can implement a federally-supported preschool expansion plan. Further, the letter encourages policy makers to support the President’s plan, to voice their support to their federal representatives and to begin the planning process so that California is best positioned to qualify for this potential funding.


Futsal Courts Now Open for Action

Soccer aficionados of all ages can now go out for quick dribble across the newly installed futsal courts at Lennox Park and Col. Leon H. Washington Park in the Florence Firestone section of Los Angeles.

The futsal courts are a popular fixture in South America and Europe where soccer is king. But in the U.S., it is a relatively new phenomenon. Thanks to changing demographics, where there were once football fields, now there are pick-up games of soccer happening.

And so, in coordination with the Department of Parks and Recreation, the LA84 Foundation and the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a total of four enclosed turf futsal courts measuring a quarter of the size of a regular soccer field, where installed.

The courts, which are outdoors, are the first of their kind operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Groups will be allowed to reserve the area for tournaments, corporate events, clinics and pick-up games. The fields are open to the public and will be free, however there will be a low cost fee beginning in the fall.

“We are thrilled to provide soccer enthusiasts in our communities with modern facilities that offer yet another new way to enjoy the game they love,” said Russ Guiney, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. “We expect these courts to be in high demand, providing enjoyment and healthy recreation for our patrons for many years to come.”

The game was developed in Brazil and Uruguay in the 1930s and 1940s as a solution to the lack of available soccer fields. It is usually played indoors on a hard surface. In the U.S., it is also called speed soccer and an official league was established in 1985. Futsal is fast and action packed, with lots of scoring and only five players on each side.

Rosie Gonzalez, a 19-year-old professional soccer player who grew up in Hawthorne and played at Lennox Park, said she wished she had these courts growing up.

“I used to play on these fields and it looks so much better now,” she said as she signed autographs for eager youngsters waiting in line on a recent weekend when the fields were inaugurated. “Futsal is faster. You work on your speed, touch and agility.”

Bryan Luna, a 10-year-old midfielder for the Blue Sharks soccer team said he was excited to try out the new turf.

“It’s shorter, so it’s cool,” he said as he scoped-out the field. His mother, Eva Luna, was also grateful for the clean and well-kept area where she could relax with her two kids.

“I think this is great,” she said. “We like to come here in the afternoons and have picnics.”

For Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the renovated parks are a welcome addition to the community but also part of a larger effort to continue improving recreational facilities and the quality of life for all residents. Just like Florence-Firestone, residents in Lennox will soon have a master parks plan, a street improvement project as well as a new and improved library and community service center, which are scheduled to open in February 2014.

“Many of our parks were built in the 1960s when baseball and basketball were the most common past-times. We need to make sure our parks also stay updated with changes in our community,” said Ridley-Thomas. “On any typical day, these parks are full of families enjoying their time outdoors and playing soccer. It is great to see youngsters running around, kicking the ball, playing in a healthy and safe environment.”

Celebrating Literacy in Leimert Park

Thousands of book lovers, families and fans of all ages converged in Leimert Park Village on Saturday to celebrate the seventh annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair. This year the fair featured over 150 celebrity readings, book signings, writing workshops, panel discussions, poetry readings and performances.

For the past six years, the book fair has has attracted an audience of over 6,000 people and drawn over 200 top artists and authors including Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, screenwriter Rob Edwards, and Editor-inChief Emeritus of Essence magazine, Susan Taylor. Each year more than 1,500 free books are distributed to fair attendees, including over 300 books to local foster care children.

Sugar Ray Leonard in Eso Won Books at the 2011 Leimert Park Village Book Fair. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

The 2013 festival in keeping with the tradition of celebrating literary contributions featured a special tribute to the American novelist, playwright and poet James A Baldwin.

Founded in 2006 by Cynthia Ethusian Exum with the goal of promoting literacy and education in Los Angeles, the event was conceived after Ms. Exum partnered with Our Authors Study Club, Inc. to present ‘Festival of African-American Authors’ at Los Angeles Southwest College. The turnout of both participating authors and attendees inspired the idea of an annual literary event in the heart of the cultural and artistic center of the African-American community in Los Angeles.

In partnership with Helping One Another Progress, Inc. Eso Won Books, the Leimert Parks Merchants’ Association, city officials, and a planning committee of over 30 people from local schools, corporate businesses libraries, literacy non-profit local artists, poets and spoken word performers, the inaugural Leimert Park Book Fair was launched.

Today the Leimert Park Book Fair not only promotes literacy and education year after year but has become an important tradition attracting a diverse community from throughout Los Angeles County.

For more information, click here.


All Aboard: Metro Funds Crenshaw-to-LAX Train

After more than 30 years of discussion and planning, organizing and advocating, full funding for the design and construction of the Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line was approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Thursday. The vote, at last, gives the South Los Angeles corridor a rail line that will spur economic development and serve as a regional connector to the Los Angeles International Airport.

Work on the $1.27 billion-contract, which was awarded to Walsh/Shea Constructors, is expected to begin immediately and is scheduled for completion in 2019. The line will cover 8.5 miles and will serve as a major economic engine, transporting workers employed by restaurants, hotels, rental car fleets and other airport-related industries, to their jobs. The entire budget for all costs related to the Crenshaw-to-LAX line is estimated at $2.05 billion.

The Crenshaw-to-LAX rail line is expected to significantly revitalize a corridor that includes landmarks such as Hollywood Park, the Forum, West Angeles Church of God in Christ, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and Leimert Park Village. Equally important, it will help ease traffic congestion and decrease air pollution by reducing vehicle emissions. More than 55 percent of the Crenshaw-to-LAX line is either underground or above the street level, more than any other light rail line in Los Angeles County.

“This has been a decades-long, monumental effort by an array of elected officials, community advocates and Metro staff,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has championed the line since his days as a Los Angeles City councilman in the 1990s. “We did this together and now we are poised to begin construction on a dream that will help millions.”

“This is a region where mobility is prized; it is also a place of dreams and opportunity. Those two are not disconnected: Transportation projects that are well planned have the ability to transform neighborhoods and connect communities. I look forward to the groundbreaking later this year so we can move forward on this long-awaited project.”

The Crenshaw corridor was originally envisioned in 1967 as one of five key transit corridors in Los Angeles County, but that plan failed to gather enough backing or funding. The project re-gained momentum in the 1980s with then state Senator Diane Watson, Congressman Julian Dixon and Mayor Tom Bradley, championing the rail line as a road to economic development. Once again, however, it was derailed by funding and other issues.

It was not until 2008, with the passage of Measure R, approved by a two-thirds majority of L.A. County voters, that a projected $40 billion in traffic relief and transportation upgrades over 30 years made funding for projects such as the Crenshaw-to-LAX line viable. Two years later, with strong backing from Sen. Barbara Boxer, the federal government provided a $543 million-loan against future sales tax revenue to keep momentum on the project moving forward. In May, the Metro board voted to place a station at Leimert Park and in Westchester, a long-awaited commitment that was welcomed by many in the community.

“Today we witnessed the Metro Board, a collection of elected officials, act as statesmen and women by protecting the necessity of transportation for every community that will be touched by the Crenshaw line,” said Nolan Rollins, CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League. “The Los Angels Urban League applauds those who fought for the access to public transportation, most importantly their commitment to the citizens of Leimert Park.”

Click here to view a timeline of the Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line.

Students who Overcome Odds Graduate in Special Ceremony

Eighteen-year-old Jeremy Schaub of Culver City has been arrested for vandalism and assault, placed on house arrest for not going to school and, eventually, shipped off to a youth home. With his life spiraling out of control, he ended up at Christa McAuliffe High School, a juvenile probation camp in Lancaster, operated by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

“I came to the camp very pessimistic, not wanting to be there,” said Schaub. “I was sad and angry.”

But then, to his surprise, he started enjoying school at the camp. He excelled academically and scored among the highest in his class on the GED test. He also discovered his love for music – a profession that he is excited to explore in the next chapter of his life- – he’ll be attending college to fulfill his goal of becoming a music producer.

“I was blaming the world for my problems,” he reflected. “But every day, I changed a little it so that when I left, I was very optimistic and looking forward to life. I think I took the long way but I made it. It was worth it in the long run.”

In June, Schaub joined 279 other graduates as they walked along the stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall to officially mark their completion of the county’s alternative and special education programs. One-by-one the graduates marched into the Frank Gehry – designed landmark in downtown Los Angeles to the roaring applause of more than 1,000 well-wishers who attended in the commencement ceremony.

The annual event, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the County Probation Department, celebrates the academic achievements of truly remarkable high school teens who have persevered through delinquency, behavioral problems, substance abuse, and pregnancy.

“We don’t focus on what may have gotten them in trouble,” said LACOE Public Information Officer Margo Minecki. “We focus on getting students back on track with their education.”

Anthony Magdaleno, 38, came with his wife and seven children to watch his 17-year-old son, Manuel, graduate from Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center in Santa Monica.

“It’s an honor to know that not all is lost and he is headed for a better future,” said the relieved father.

Schaub said he learned some valuable lessons—not only in the classroom but about life.

“If I could go back and tell myself something, I would tell myself not to give up, work your hardest at everything you do because you never know where you might end up,” said Schaub. “Life is good if you just let it be.”