Inner City Struggle

ics logoBeing dissatisfied with the current quality of education in public schools, I had taken an interest in a Los Angeles-based program called Inner City Struggle (ICS). This organization has been running for 10 years and is working on social justice for youth and families in East Los Angeles. One of ICS's goals is to improve the quality of education in public schools, and they are accomplishing that goal by actually going to certain schools and changing policies. They were written up in the Los Angeles Times recently for changing the tardy policy at Roosevelt High School.

Youth are very much involved in ICS. I interviewed one youth in particular, Robyn Ybarra, who is 15 years old and lives in East Los Angeles. Robyn wanted to make a change, so she got involved with ICS and its youth component, Youth Organizing Communities (YOC). She seemed just as excited as I was to do this interview. I was impressed to learn how motivated students are to change the way schools are run.

WireTap: What's your mission statement?

Robyn:
The mission statement for YOC [Youth Organizing Communities] is for us to achieve social and educational justice for students in East Los Angeles as well as other schools. We work with students from inner city schools that would like to make a change for their schools. We work with different schools all with different needs from many high schools in the city.

WT: What has your program done in the community?

R:
Right now we're working on the school issues. We're helping students. We're raising awareness for students who wouldn't normally know what's going on around them. The schools we are in right now aren't really up to date or up to code with education or safety. So we talk to students and let them know what's going on around them. Why there are so many students in classes, why there aren't enough teachers, why we don't have enough books to read and take home.

ics text

WT: How did you get involved?

R:
Mr. Smith, my history teacher, was actually one of the beginning sponsors of the United Students that was a youth component for YOC. And he had a couple of the people that worked at YOC go to his classroom and talk about what YOC did, and I found it really interesting that they wanted to give the students a voice and not just ignore them and pass them along. So I thought that if I joined that I would make change.

We helped students along educationally and we prepped them for other stuff like college... I thought that I could help myself, as well as my friends and future students that would like to learn the stuff and would like to go to college, would like to finish high school, would like to have different opportunities in life, that they wouldn't normally get. So we're giving students opportunities to learn about things that they wouldn't learn about.

WT: Why should people support you?

R:
My answer would be first to let them know that we are a student organization so we do listen to students. We take into account what all students have to say. Second, I would let them know of all the things that YOC and United Students have done for schools in the past. When United Students taught Roosevelt [High School], we set forth a survey in which we ask the students different things about how their culture was being treated in their schools, whether they were learning enough about their culture and their history, about their tardy policies, whether they were being dragged into military classes and vocational classes that weren't really needed to graduate high school, and needed to go on to college. We got answers on stuff students wanted. They wanted more culturally relevant classes and curriculum in their history classes. We found out a lot of students came forward and said that if they did have something culturally relevant to themselves they would be a lot more enthusiastic to learn about history and about the past, something that would keep them interested and keep them coming to class.

ics doorWT: How do you get funding?

R:
Right now we get funding from different organizations. We get money from grants. The executive director of YOC, Luis Sanchez, fills out the applications for them and sends them in... We present them everything that YOC has done, what United Students has accomplished, and everything we hope to see in the future.

WT: What other schools have you made changes in?

R:
We've established United Students in three schools in the inner city. The first was Roosevelt High School. We're in the middle of our campaign for change in Garfield High School in East L.A. A couple weeks ago we started going forward into Wilson High School, which is in El Sereno. We barely started there within our three year plan, we plan to go to Lincoln High School where we plan to establish another United Students club there. And just to get around all the major industry schools here in East Los Angeles.

WT: Does your program plan to extend services beyond L.A.?

R:
As for working past East Los Angeles, we don't see it right now. Right now we're just trying to keep the work with the students at the inner city in East Los Angeles.

WT: What other programs, beside education-oriented programs, do you support?

R:
We support different groups that help to plan social and educational change. We're basically open to a lot of organizations that are both friendly to students as well as families and the community. That's what we try to focus on more or less because we'd like to see what we could learn from them and what they can learn from us as organizations and people.

WT: Do you think Arnold [Schwarzenegger] is going to help California schools?

R:
I'm kinda split on that. There's a really big doubt in my mind that Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be a good governor. The way I see it, the Republicans are not a good [party] to have in power. Anyone who would vote on deporting immigrants, that doesn't seem right to me. As for the education, I'm not sure because he sounds more of a person who would talk about it but not actually do it.

WT: Do you have advice for high school students outside of L.A. on how they can change their school?

R:
I think the advice would be just to keep hope up. To realize that there's something already wrong with how your education is being run and [the fact] that you have no voice in it at all is wrong. This is your education... I would like to tell a lot of teens that if you don't feel that your education is being put onto you the way you would like it to, that you have a voice and you do have the right to rise against the people who would rather have you put in the military, pulled down into low wage jobs, or even worse prison. I'd tell them that it's your right as a student to let other people know how you feel on your education. Like so many other people have said, education is a right, it's not a privilege.

For more information on Inner City Struggle and Youth Organizing Communities check out their website at www.innnercitystruggle.org.

Nick Flanagan is a staff writer at WireTap.

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