Responding to growing concerns over crime, drug abuse and unemployment in the Harbor area, Los Angeles school officials are setting up a summer program aimed at finding jobs for high-school dropouts, teen-age mothers and single parents who live in five low-income housing projects.
The free 10-week program, the first in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is intended to get unemployed residents from Wilmington, San Pedro, Harbor City and Lomita off the streets, into classrooms and eventually into full-time jobs. School officials said that if the program succeeds, similar programs will be started in other parts of Los Angeles next year.
The experimental program was inspired by the mugging of a mail carrier last March at the Dana Strand Village housing project in Wilmington, which led the U.S. Postal Service to discontinue mail delivery for two days to about 80 apartments in the project.
The mugging highlighted the plight of hundreds of poor residents who have no jobs and who get caught up--either as victims or participants--in drug deals and other crimes at the projects, school officials said. Police said there are about 100 drug-related arrests a month at Dana Strand Village, many involving people who do not live at the complex but go there to sell drugs.
"We need to bring some hope and change into the projects," said school board member John Greenwood, who along with other local officials announced the new educational program in San Pedro on Tuesday. "The message behind this program is that just having a roof over an individual's head is not enough."
Classes will be offered in English as a second language, job training, basic education, high school subjects and parent education. Counseling and career guidance will also be available, and students will progress in courses at their own pace, school officials said. Residents must be at least 14 years old to enroll.
Harbor-area high schools and community organizations are being contacted to help find students, but door-to-door recruiting will focus on five city, county and federally funded housing developments where police and local officials say drug dealing and other crimes have left many residents feeling helpless. They are: Dana Strand Village in Wilmington, Normont Terrace and Anaheim Gardens in Harbor City, Rancho San Pedro in San Pedro and Harbor Hills in Lomita. Nearly 6,000 people live in the five housing developments.
"It is going to take some confidence-building," said J. L. Charbonnet, principal of Banning Community Adult School, one of four adult schools participating in the program. "We are talking about people who have had a poor self-image for a long time."
Some managers and residents at the projects praised the program, saying it could offer hope to residents who have no jobs and have become dependent on welfare. Dorothy Rainey, who raised four children at the Harbor Hills project, said her 19-year-old daughter, a high-school dropout and a mother, has already made an appointment with a counselor.
"They feel inadequate and trapped when they have a child and they don't know what to do," she said. "I hope this will help them."
Keeney Morales, manager of the Dana Strand and Normont projects, said some residents there have already inquired about the program. But, she said, getting people involved will not be easy.
"People seem to be too complacent, but when you motivate them, they move," she said. "We have a lot of young parents and single parents here. If they want to, they could make a killing with this. It is going to take a lot of talking out, though. They won't get people if they just pass out a flyer."
Buses draped with banners proclaiming "Begin Again" will provide free transportation between the projects and the classes, which will be offered at Banning, Harbor Occupational Center, San Pedro Community Adult School and San Pedro/Wilmington Skills Center. The program is called "Begin Again, It's Never Too Late To Learn."
School officials and representatives from the adult school programs said they expect the new program to attract students who have failed to take advantage of other adult-school classes because the school district will provide free child care and free transportation.
"One of the key issues is transportation," said Richard Belman, principal at San Pedro/Wilmington Skills Center. "We feel there are a lot of young unwed mothers who will want this training."
Camilla Kocol, who works with the school district's division of adult and occupational education, said the district will consider the program a success if it is able to reach some of the high-school dropouts at the projects. Schools in the Harbor area have a 30% dropout rate, she said.
"We don't know how many people might take advantage it," she said. "But we are truly a community down here. It is a wonderful place to start something like this."