It is far and away the biggest campus in the Los Angeles Unified School District--65 acres spotted with low-slung, sand-colored buildings, a swimming pool and tennis courts. Until 1950, the tract was a quiet veterans hospital. Today it is Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, a cross-section of the city's ethnic and economic diversity.
Lunchtime. Seniors rush to their Mercedeses, Volvos and Rabbits for a dash to nearby fast-food chains. Underclassmen haul cafeteria food to spots staked out by their cliques. Trendy fashions abound. Only a heavy dose of shorts, jeans and sweats relieves the impression of having wandered into a group of misplaced nightclubbers.
Two decades ago, Birmingham drew mostly from Van Nuys and Encino. Today, a third of its 3,000 students are bused in from outside the San Fernando Valley--about 400 through the voluntary integration program, the rest from overcrowded schools. About a third are Latino, a 10th black. One face in every 16 is Asian. What else has changed? To find out, the Magazine asked a group of Birmingham seniors to keep personal journals through the past school year.
The issues of their parents' school years--busing, the draft, the environment--have given way to concerns about suicide, drugs and AIDS. Still, as these excerpts show, the age-old trials of relationships, identity and acceptance concern students most.