LOS ANGELES: A South Central kid at Cal

By Sam Quiñones,  Reporter’s Blog

Here’s a  great story in the LAT by Kurt Streeter on the huge obstacles a kid from South Central — a valedictorian — faced at Cal.

For me, the overriding point, not touched on nearly enough in our education debate and media coverage, is how parenting and parental influence are simply determinant.

Compare this young man’s story to that of his roommate from Inglewood, whose mother bought him books and attended to his education at home, sent him to school prepared.

We have a school system, even when funded well, that is not set up to be, can never be, a kid’s lone teacher.

Apparently in this young man’s case, it was just that. So despite great work ethic and intentions, he arrives at college unarmed.

Parents must be teaching their kids from pre-school on. Otherwise the results are disastrous. But in our rush to blame institutions for every  problem, this goes overlooked, I think.

This is at least one of LAUSD’s biggest challenges, if not the biggest. Thousands of kids show up every year with almost no parental help or preparation. Their exits in ninth or tenth grade are thus predictable.

At Lillian Elementary School, I remember, the teachers could predict who these kids would be by November of their kindergarten year. The principal there got tired of seeing kindergartners show up not knowing even the very basics: how to write their names, numbers 1 to 10, shapes, and colors. A few had almost no vocabulary — literally couldn’t speak, because their parents never conversed with them.

So the principal contacted parents of the half of that year’s kindergarten class that was clearly already falling behind. They invite them to Saturday morning seminars to learn simple, cheap ways of teaching their kids at home.

One suggestion was t0 draw numbers in salt poured on cooking sheets and have the children do the same. Another was to ask a child in a supermarket the name of a certain letter or number.IMG_9740

This was so basic, the barest minimum. It was painful and frightening to see that so many parents were not even doing that. Some of them didn’t know what to do with their kids. As this was a school of children of Mexican immigrants, a good number of parents brought with them the feeling, imbued by the Mexican government, that education was the government’s job and that parents, particularly uneducated parents, had no role in their children’s learning.

But half of those the principal invited didn’t even show up.

Still, I thought of her when I read Kurt’s story. She had some answers, I think.

This article was first published in A Reporter’s Blog.

[Photo courtesy A Reporter’s Blog]

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