Between the lingering uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent spikes in inflation, American families are facing mounting economic pressure. These effects are hitting some communities harder than others. And for the Latino and Black students who make up the majority of Los Angeles Unified’s enrollment, the uncertainty of the pandemic years is shaping up to have lifelong consequences.
Research shows that Americans with college degrees have been more insulated from the financial uncertainty of the past two years. During the pandemic, unemployment rates for workers with a high school diploma peaked at a whopping 17.6%, compared with 8.4% for college graduates. Right now, fewer than half of LAUSD students successfully complete University of California A-G requirements. Far too many, especially Black and Latino students, are not prepared for postsecondary success or set up for economic stability in post-pandemic America.
It’s clear what we were doing pre-pandemic won’t be enough to address the historic disparities and unprecedented pandemic impacts on our students and their families. The good news is that in Los Angeles, we are seeing some promising glimmers of hope.
We applaud the action the Los Angeles Unified board and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho have taken through their strategic plan to change the trajectory of students’ lives. But they won’t be able to do it alone. It will truly take a village — schools, cultural institutions, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more — to help all LAUSD students and families thrive. Now, more than ever is the time to take continuous action together.
We know that collaborative efforts like this can happen in Los Angeles, and more importantly, that they can have a transformative impact. In the early 2000s, Los Angles Unified, under the leadership of Superintendent Roy Romer, embarked on the largest public school facilities construction campaign in the country to address severe overcrowding. It required bond funding that was made possible through the collective action of civic, business, political and community-based leaders joining the district to make the case to Los Angeles voters that our students were worth the investment and that the building of new schools was critical. And they delivered on their promise to voters by successfully completing their goals of ending the year-round school calendar and mandatory busing.
We’re excited to be part of a promising effort to make widespread and lasting impact on students. For the second year in a row, LAUSD, the city of Los Angeles and dozens of nonprofit partners have come together to offer students a “Summer of Joy.” Through this coordinated effort, every child in a low-income neighborhood has access to free in-person summer enrichment programming close to their home. This year these students also had the opportunity to access at least one field trip. This is only possible because groups worked in an unprecedented collaboration to pool public and private funding as well as to coordinate across government and nonprofit agencies to maximize the services and opportunities provided to LA’s students.
The importance of educational attainment is clear, but research also shows that play is a key component of childhood development, and there remain significant gaps in the enrichment opportunities between those growing up in poverty and those from wealthier families. By the time a child from a low-income neighborhood reaches sixth grade, they’ll have spent 4,000 fewer hours in after-school and summer learning than their higher-income peers.
That’s why we need an integrated network of support and resources that merge seamlessly with our public schools, from mental health services to arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education to after-school programming. Students need opportunities to expand their learning into the broader community, both academically and in preparation for the working world.
The good news is that these resources are already available in the communities where our students live and study. More local businesses can get involved by “adopting” a neighborhood school or offering internships to high school students. Cultural institutions can expand opportunities for students to visit and learn for free, or bring programming directly into schools. Nonprofit organizations can help amplify key initiatives for student success, like regular attendance and early education enrollment. Philanthropists and foundations can provide additional much-needed financial support for nonprofits and schools to build their capacity and expand their services to students and their families.
Los Angeles Unified’s recently adopted strategic plan nods to partnerships like these. Organizations like GPSN, and community partners throughout LA, are eager to put our resources and skills to work on behalf of Los Angeles students. We need more of us stepping up, but not just for a one-off moment. Coordinated collective action across government agencies with philanthropic and community partners is necessary to deliver on the promise of more and better for our students.
Now is the perfect time to begin developing and deepening these partnerships — our Black and Latino students depend on it.
Ana Ponce is executive director of GPSN, a nonprofit grant-making organization focused on improving educational outcomes and opportunities for Los Angeles children of color and those living in poverty.
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