BELL — A popular college preparatory program in which Bell High School ninth-graders spend a year studying at Los Angeles Harbor College will end next month if the Los Angeles Unified School District cannot provide its own portable classrooms to house the students, officials said this week.
The "Bell at Harbor" program, in its second year, is being squeezed from the Wilmington campus because of increased enrollment at the two-year college and the reestablishment of a journalism department, said Irene Goolsby, Harbor's assistant dean of instruction.
The school district pays the college about $31,000 annually to rent four classrooms and an office. But the classrooms being used by the 114 Bell High students this year have already been reserved for college courses to be offered in the fall, Goolsby said.
"We're in a position where we just don't have the extra space anymore," Goolsby said. College and school district officials are considering a compromise to save the program by setting up three portable bungalows on empty land next to the college's football field.
No Solution Yet
But as yet, no solution has been reached that would allow the program to continue at the college, officials said.
"We're hopeful things can be worked out. We're looking at an alternate site at East Los Angeles College," said Carmen Terrazas, an administrator for the school district's high school division.
The decision by college officials not to renew the contract for the Harbor classroom space has angered Bell High School administrators. They say the program has successfully motivated students to continue their education beyond high school.
"It's just an outstanding program," said Mary Ann Sesma, Bell High principal. "They come out of it with a new awareness about where they are going. It's special." The students are taught advanced classes by high school and college instructors.
Joseph Maytorena, Bell High vice principal, said the students--the vast majority of whom are Latinos from low-income households--get a taste of college life. "It really gets them motivated to go on with their education. They become a family here."
Bell High chose ninth-graders to train early in their high school years about the importance of their education. Students in the 10th and 11th grades are more likely to drop out if they are not motivated, Maytorena said. Also, the upperclassmen become more deeply involved in sports and extracurricular activities.
The ninth-graders in the "Bell at Harbor" program are bused 20 miles each way to participate in the five-day-a-week class schedule in Wilmington. At the completion of their school year at Harbor, the students return to Bell to complete their high school education.
Students Praise Program
Several ninth-grade students interviewed at the college last week said the program has taught them more in nine months about leadership, success and self-confidence than they would have learned in four years at a conventional high school.
"We have much more freedom here than at Bell," said Juan Rajamin, 15, a straight-A student who plans to study medicine when he graduates. He said the college has "an overall better environment."
Stanley Calderon, 14, another Bell student, said that the college program also gives him a much-welcomed opportunity to be away from his neighborhood and off the street. "Right in front of my house," Calderon explained, "I get gang pressure, I get drug pressure. Here I can get away from all that."
The "Bell at Harbor" program began in September, 1986, as part of a districtwide effort to ease overcrowded conditions in many urban schools. At that time, 10 L.A. district high schools were matched with seven community colleges that were experiencing enrollment slumps.
Only three high schools, including Bell, are still participating in a college program, officials said. Bell High is the only one that sends ninth-grade students off campus. The others send older students on a part-time basis.
Current enrollment figures for Bell High show that the school has more than 4,000 students, 1,500 of whom are ninth-graders, including the 114 at Harbor College.
Two weeks ago, the students began a letter-writing campaign to college and school district officials, asking that the program be saved.
"We had the honor of being well-educated by caring college professors who kept telling us that we are the future leaders of the United States," wrote Sandra Chavez. "It is for this reason that you should help continue this program. It will give others the same opportunity that we had to be well-educated."
The letters were sent to school board member Leticia Quezada, who supports the program and who has vowed to fight for its continuation at Harbor College.
In a letter to Bell High administrators, Quezada said: "Please assure the students that I very strongly support this fine program. The ones who need to be convinced are the administrators at Harbor College, and I was happy to note that the young people have already sent them very convincing evidence."
Some Harbor College faculty members have joined in the effort to keep the students at the Wilmington campus.
"I would hate to see them lose that program," said Allan Jacobson, who taught an educational planning course during the program's first year. "These kids have an opportunity to experience college. From what I could see, they have benefited from it."