Since it opened in 1968, Crenshaw High School has graduated baseball outfielder Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets, basketball forward Marques Johnson of the Los Angeles Clippers and football running back Wendell Tyler of the San Francisco 49ers.
Because of those alums, the school in the largely black middle-class neighborhood at 50th Street east of Crenshaw Boulevard has become the envy of high school athletic departments everywhere.
Crenshaw Principal Jewell Boutte was well aware that many people thought of Crenshaw only in terms of athletics. She also knew that campus enrollment had dwindled from 2,900 in 1974 to approximately 1,800 today.
A year ago she decided to try to change both situations. She asked a committee of parents, teachers and administrators to recommend ways that the school could compete for students and put more focus on academics.
The result was the Teacher Training Academy, which started in September. Eighty-four sophomores attend classes in biology, English, algebra and Spanish with special emphasis on teaching concepts.
The students will develop lesson plans, teach classes in grade schools and visit universities as part of a program that Boutte and her faculty believe is the first in the nation.
"We know that because of positive experiences with favorite teachers, children are interested in becoming teachers very early," Boutte said. "We think that this interest has not been nurtured enough.
"If we nurture teachers the same way we nurture talents in artists, athletes, dancers or doctors, the students would become teachers."
Open to students throughout the city like a magnet program, the Academy has attracted more than half its enrollees from other schools.
Boutte said the program could also help solve the problem of staffing inner-city schools because students who matriculate at Crenshaw might want to return as teachers.
And even if the students decided they did not want to teach, she said, going through the academy would be strong preparation for college.
Verbal Sound Effects
Academy students spend one period per day in physical education, one period in another subject and four hours in the special classes.
In a biology class recently, William Harberts punctuated his remarks with verbal sound effects, which brought smiles to his attentive, note-taking students.
Wearing a gold shirt and tan pants with keys hanging from a belt buckle, Harberts lectured on morphology, which he defined as the way animals look, as opposed to anatomy, the way they are constructed.
Harberts had earned a Ph.D. in entomology and taught introductory biology to all life science and pre-med majors for six years at Washington State University before being laid off during a 1982 budget crunch.
Working in landscaping in Northern California later, he decided he wanted to teach without having to do research. When he heard about the Crenshaw job, "I jumped up and down and said, 'Stick me in there,' " he said.
His traditional biology curriculum will include a unit on child development from infancy to age 16 for the prospective teachers.
A floor below Harberts in the horseshoe-shaped school building, English teacher Marcella Saunders and her class discussed a Langston Hughes story.
Students called out responses and hands shot up repeatedly as Saunders, smiling and asking, "Why? Why?," discussed the motivation of a white man who gave a black boy a dime to buy ice cream.
One student finally suggested that Hughes meant that some people are willing to do good without being required to.
Saunders will add sections to her class on oral interpretation and on using fairy tales to teach values to children, while Jeanine Indjayay will talk to her Spanish class on how bilingual education improves communication with students and faculty.
The program is only 2 months old, but so far students like it.
"It's wonderful," said Lafayette Davis, 15, who in Saunders' English class had frequently raised a right hand covered by a cast to heal a wrist he broke in a "B" football game.
"The teachers we have, I can't say they're different but they're a little more open. I'm glad I'm in it."
"I like it a lot," said Darnise Williams, 15. "It's a challenge. It's not just coming to school and getting your work. You are able to be involved in class and speak out more about how you feel about learning.
"In this program you have students who want to get an education. In regular classes you get people who are there because they have to be, not because they want to be. That makes lots of distractions."
Boutte says she hopes the academy will build enrollment, convincing area parents to send their students to Crenshaw instead of elsewhere, and that students who go to Crenshaw will stay in the area.
Increased enrollment would boost revenues, because city schools receive an average of $2,816 per student per year from the state, and would help Crenshaw replace teachers and programs it lost when enrollment declined.