In the cafeteria of Los Angeles Southwest College, Sandra Narro, a 16-year-old South Gate High School student, is taking a junk-food break between classes with her friends, also high school students. A little too giggly, they don't quite blend in with the older college students around them. But that does not seem to bother anyone.
In fact, Southwest College students appeared to welcome the presence of the high school youngsters on their campus--and for good reason. Whole classrooms have been standing empty at Southwest because of a downward spiral in enrollment that began four years ago. As a result, many courses have been eliminated, causing students to wait one or two terms for a desired class at the college, located at Imperial Highway and Western Avenue northeast of Hawthorne.
But an experimental program that began Monday involving Los Angeles Unified School District students may aid not only Southwest but the other eight campuses in the Los Angeles community college system. Since 1982, the two-year colleges have lost more than 46,000 students--a 33% decline--as well as millions of dollars in accompanying state revenue, creating a financial disaster that has necessitated severe program cuts and faculty layoffs districtwide.
Conversely, the unified school district to which Sandra Narro belongs faces an enrollment surge of 82,000 kindergarten-through-12th-grade students over the next five years. But it lacks the classrooms to accommodate the anticipated flood of new pupils.
2 Districts Seek Relief
Enter Los Angeles school board member Jackie Goldberg and community college trustee Leticia Quezada, who are leading the way for the two districts to jointly find some relief from their respective crises.
If all goes well with the experiment at Southwest, the two districts hope to draw up an agreement--perhaps later this month--that will permit the overcrowded elementary and high school district to lease space at all of the under-enrolled campuses in the college district. They also want to make it possible for some high school students to take college courses along with their regular high school classes, which would help boost the college district's sagging enrollment and depleted coffers.
Although neither district expects to solve its problems through the cooperative venture being proposed, both sides want to make the most of what Goldberg calls "a natural liaison" between the high schools and the two-year institutions.
"I'm assuming this program will have a positive effect on their enrollment," she said, "and it will help relieve our overcrowding. But it will have a more positive effect than merely the relief of overcrowding. Some of that fear that lots of high school students have that they can't handle college will be gone once they see what a delight the community college system is. It's an excellent system, and lots of students will discover programs they didn't know were there."
Thus, Eric Kizziee, a 19-year-old Southwest computer science major who has felt discouraged by long waits for the courses he wants to be offered, said last week that he was glad to see high school students use the campus. "I'm for anything that helps out the (college) population," he said. "The more students who enroll here, the more classes we'll get."
'It's Not So Crowded'
Likewise, Sandra Narro, the South Gate High student, said the college environment was a pleasant change from her own year-round school. "I like it here because it's not so crowded," she said.
South Gate is so jammed that it has to split students into rotating groups with different vacation periods--the essence of the year-round approach--and still has to bus about 600 students to other campuses every day. It has no extra room to set aside for those students who, like Sandra, want to return to school during their vacation breaks to take enrichment classes.
In the pilot program that began Monday, Sandra and 400 other students from South Gate, Bell, Huntington Park and Belmont who currently are on vacation began attending classes taught by high school teachers in 12 bungalow rooms leased from Southwest.
According to Huntington Park High School dean Charles Fisher, who is coordinating the pilot program, Southwest will host two six-week "intersessions," the term used to describe the year-round school's equivalent of summer school. The first session will run through April 18, while the second session is scheduled to begin May 5 and end June 16.
The students arrive at Southwest on buses from their home schools shortly before 8 a.m. and may take two classes of two hours each in algebra, physical and earth science, government, writing, economics, art, English as a second language, physiology, psychology, geometry, American literature or speed reading. They depart at 12:40 p.m., arriving at their home campuses in time for lunch.