Education in Los Angeles: School system or prison system?

Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Arturo Delgado and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in a classroom at the Harris County Youth Village.

Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Arturo Delgado and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in a classroom at the Harris County Youth Village.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) Superintendent Arturo Delgado visited classrooms in Houston, Texas’ juvenile detention facilities Thursday (Feb.16) in an ongoing effort to study innovative programs that may be models for reforming education in Los Angeles’ youth camps and halls.

Los Angeles County’s youth probation system is currently being monitored by the U.S. Dept. of Justice due to dangerous conditions in the camps, and the county in 2010 settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging the failure to provide a constitutionally adequate education to youths at the Challenger Camp in Lancaster.  Under the settlement terms, LACOE and the Probation Dept. are now working to improve education at Challenger Camp.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, however, believes schooling in the county’s youth probation facilities is in urgent need of an overhaul. “There are bright spots in our camps due to the above-and-beyond effort of many dedicated Probation and LACOE staffers; but as a whole our system needs to look and act more like a school system than a prison system,” Ridley-Thomas said, “we have a long way to go.”

A math teacher in the Harris County Youth Village uses a multimedia “smart board” to instruct a student preparing for the GED exam.

In Houston, Delgado and Ridley-Thomas visited the Harris County Youth Village, where boys and girls in custody attend classes in a dedicated school building. Along with class sizes typically smaller than ten students, youths in custody are taught using contemporary technology – students use laptop computers in the classrooms and each room features a “smart board” multimedia blackboard.

More than 80% of students who take the GED high school equivalency exam in custody pass the test and move on to a local community college. The Youth Village also uses a computer-guided reading program being studied for use in Los Angeles County. Along with academic innovations, youths in custody participate in a student government that meets weekly to manage their residential life.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas had previously visited the Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings, a revolutionary school program serving Washington, D.C.’s juveniles in custody.

Both the Harris County probation schools and Washington, D.C.’s probation schools teach students using the “Freedom Schools” model developed by the Children’s Defense Fund. Freedom Schools promote reading and self-esteem through an academically rigorous curriculum that also stresses civic engagement and social action. Outside of probation camps, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has brought Freedom Schools summer programs to churches and community centers in the Second District, serving more than 500 students to date.

“The best practices in classrooms outside the locked gates of probation camps need to be brought inside,” Ridley-Thomas said. “A new LACOE superintendent, Arturo Delgado, and a new Chief Probation Officer, Jerry Powers, are on board, and they are eager to make the changes we need to make sure our youths use their time in custody to move ahead as students, not fall behind as prisoners,” he said.

The Pan African Film Festival – Celebrating 20 years in Los Angeles

Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills, part of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles, hosted the 2012 Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) this year from February 9-20. This year, the annual festival celebrates its 20th Anniversary with a dynamic line-up of screenings, special guests, and surprises. For nearly two weeks audiences explored the lives of people of African descent through the eyes of Black filmmakers from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific, Europe and Canada. In total, more than 130 films made by or about people of African descent were screened. The festival kicked off Thursday night with the much anticipated movie “Think Like a Man” based on the book and New York Times Bestseller Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady by radio host, comedian, and actor Steve Harvey. A slew of movie screenings from around the world continued at Baldwin Hills Rave Cinemas for the next 11 days. Among the offerings were the films: Slavery By Another Name; a documentary based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journalist Donald Blackmon; Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day, the sequel to Pastor T. D. Jakes’ award-winning film: Woman Thou Art Loosed, and two movies from Nigerian actor-turned-producer Hakeem Kae-Kazim — Man on Ground and Inside Story. Man on Ground tells the story of two expatriate Nigerian brothers and their journey to heal their relationship amidst violence and political turmoil. Inside Story is a drama about one man from Kenya and his struggle with HIV while persuing his dreams of a professional soccer career. Kae-Kazim stars in both films.

Kae-Kazim, became acquainted with Los Angeles a decade ago, when his first film, God is African, premiered at the Pan African Film Festival. Since then he has entered the Hollywood mainstream and has starred in Hotel Rwanda, the television crime-drama “24”, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

“I’m from Africa, so what’s important for me is that our voice, the African voice, has an opportunity to be seen in America. That African voice is an honest voice,” said Hakeem Kae-Kazim.

History of the Pan African Film Festival

The Pan African Film Festival is a non-profit corporation founded in 1992, by award winning actor Danny Glover, Emmy Award winning actress Ja’Net DuBois, and International legal, cultural and political consultant Ayuko Babu. Widely regarded as the most prestigious Black film festival in the nation, the Pan African Film Festival is dedicated to the promotion of tolerance, ethnic and racial respect through film, art and creative expression. The goal of the Pan African Film Festival is to present and showcase the broad spectrum of creative work and reinforce positive images of the Black experience.

For more information of Pan African Film Festival screenings, please visit:

Los Angeles County: Through the eyes of local artists

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) recently unveiled its latest poster showcasing Whittier for its Through the Eyes of Local Artists poster series.

For this poster series, Metro commissioned local artists to create original artwork to visually portray the regions that make up Los Angeles County. The posters, which can be seen on 250 Metro trains and 2,400 buses, spotlight various regions and cultural landmarks of Los Angeles, from the Watts Towers to the parkland of Griffith Park and every community in between. Since the first poster featuring the parades and festivals of Pasadena debuted in 2003, the series continues to feature the iconic symbols of each region. The goal of the series is two-fold: first, to create a pleasant and visually stimulating environment for passengers and second, to increase ridership. Metro recognizes that art creates a sense of place and seeks to use art to encourage the public to use the transit system to travel to the many diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Through the Eyes of Local Artists has generated national recognition from Public Relations Society of America, Outstanding Achievement How Magazine, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Illustration Magazine, Transportation Marketing and Communication Association, Print Magazine Regional Design and the LA Society of Illustrators.

Five communities in the Second Supervisorial District are showcased in Through the Eyes of Local Artists. They include: Leimert Park, Watts, Exposition Park, Compton and Gardena. Now in its 10th year, the next installment of the series will feature Inglewood, Claremont, Pico Rivera, and San Fernando.

Preschool Teacher of the Year nomination ends today

Early childhood education is vitally important to the maturation and development of all children and has a positive impact on the learning and long-term life outcomes of children. Preschool teachers lay the foundation and provide children with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills that they will need in order to be successfully transition into kindergarten and be successful in the later grades. Research has demonstrated that children who receive a high-quality early education are more likely to have a better quality of life than those who do not.

Since 2008, Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), has sponsored the Preschool Teacher of the Year Awards to recognize the contributions of preschool teachers in Los Angeles County. The award is given to five outstanding preschool educators (one from each supervisorial district).

Do you know a preschool teacher from the Second District who goes above and beyond to teach students? If so, nominate them for this award. The deadline for applications is November, 18, 2011. Applications can be obtained at

Watts Village Theater Company featured at Metro’s “More Trains More Often” launch

At the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles, Metro’s “More Trains More Often” Campaign was unveiled, to run trains more frequently in the evenings from 6pm through midnight. The extended service, set to begin November 13, will run every 10 minutes in the evening on the Red, Purple and Blue Lines through June 2012 during this testing phase. The added train service will extend to the 103rd St Station on the Metro Blue Line, the home of the Watts Towers Arts Center and Watts Village Theater Company (WVTC), making Watts a destination hotspot for Metro’s riders. In addition, the service will provide a cheaper, greener and more convenient transportation alternative for WVTC’s artists and audiences who travel in and out of Watts during evening rehearsals and shows.

WVTCs Raul Cardona betwen mascots from Chivas USA (left) and the LA Kings (right) at Metro More Trains More Often Event - Monday November 7 2011 - photo by David Mack-WVTC

WVTC’s Artistic Director Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez, Managing Director David Mack, General Manager Rick Culbertson and Educational Instructor Raul Cardona represented WVTC during the event and assisted Metro in the logistical coordination of the other organizations representing their respective regions along Metro throughout the city. Many of the most popular venues are directly served by MTA rail, so running trains more often at night will make it easier for visitors to save money, beat traffic and have a good time.

WVTC’s partnership with Metro begin with its production of “Meet Me @Metro,” a site-specific extravaganza along Metro’s Red and Blue Lines from Union Station through Watts in collaboration with five theatre companies from LA and New York, in May 2010. During July 2011, “Meet Me @Metro II” took Metro riders on a “carnival” from Watts through Long Beach, exposing them to over a dozen local theatre companies, musical bands, puppeteers and performance artists. And in 2012, WVTC plans to launch “Meet Me @Metro: Uncovering Los Angeles’ Hidden Treasures” along Metro’s Red and Gold Lines, taking passengers on an interactive “archeological dig” in collaboration with performance artists, museums and historical societies in the region. Avilés-Rodríguez stated, “This media event is a powerful metaphor for what can be achieved when Transit and the Arts come together.”

WVTC plans to continue providing its artistic and logistical services to Metro and is committed to supporting Metro as it continues to roll out the “More Trains More Often” campaign and future Rail Line expansions during the next decade and beyond. For WVTC’s part, Mack stated, “Supporting Metro and the City of Los Angeles in this campaign is a wonderful hallmark of our ongoing strategic partnership to bring performing arts to the Metro riding experience, providing current riders, and an entirely new commuting audience, a taste of the cultural richness LA has to offer.”

Watts Village Theater Company
Founded in 1996 by actor and Watts community activist Quentin Drew and actor/playwright Lynn Manning as an outgrowth of Cornerstone Theater Company’s residency in Watts, Watts Village Theater Company is a multicultural urban company that seeks to inspire its community with an appreciation of all cultures through new works about contemporary social issues. WVTC has been a leader in providing acting and theatrical performance workshops for at-risk youth in Watts and South Los Angeles.

WVTC, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, is proud to have collaborated with Metro, the Watts Towers Arts Center, LATC,[Inside] the Ford and the Matrix Theatre. WVTC’s 2003 production of Manning’s “Private Battle” won a NAACP Theatre Award. “Up From the Downs” (2005), and “Ochre & Onyx” (2009) received critical acclaim for examining cross-cultural relations between Latinos and African-Americans in Watts.