Rosetta Woods has watched her teen-age daughter bounce from school to school--and fall further and further behind--as she tried to find a place where distractions were few and lessons came easily.
At an age when many students are nearing graduation, 17-year-old Sheneva had missed so much school that she faced the prospect of attending class with children years younger--or dropping out, as so many of her neighbors in the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts had done.
But on Tuesday, drawn by the hoopla surrounding the opening of a school on the project grounds, Woods marched her daughter into an apartment-turned-classroom at the Imperial Courts Learning Center and enrolled her on the spot.
"She didn't want to go back to (a traditional) school because she'd be too far behind and she'd have to be in with the younger kids," explained Woods. "Being here will knock out some of the embarrassment."
About 50 students--mostly dropouts--have signed up to attend the new center, a project of the Los Angeles Unified School District's adult education division, which provides alternative programs for students who have not succeeded in traditional schools.
Classes began last week in four former apartments donated and remodeled at a cost of $75,000 by the city Housing Authority.
Inside the powder-blue building, school district teachers will help 14- to 18-year-old dropouts move through individualized lessons designed to prepare them to return to school and earn their diplomas.
It is the second school on the grounds of a housing project. The first, at Ramona Gardens near downtown, has helped about 40 project residents return to school or enter job training centers.
The district and housing authority hope to expand the program to provide remedial education, counseling and job training to residents at all 21 of the city's housing projects within the next few years.
The Imperial Courts center is the brainchild of Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who grew alarmed last year by the high absentee rate at nearby Jordan High School and by reports that parents were keeping their children away for months at a time in fear of local gangs.
Many students were allowed to transfer to schools outside the area, but others simply dropped out.
"Here, we'll allow them to work at their own pace, bring them up to speed so they can go on to success," Waters said at Tuesday's grand opening celebration.
The program has been heralded as a pride-builder for the beleaguered project, as well as a step toward providing an array of social services, such as child and health care.
"I know these young men standing around here are smart," Waters said, gesturing toward a dozen sullen-looking men lined up along a chain-link fence to watch the speeches. "They deserve the opportunity we're providing."
The Learning Center program is intended to serve dropouts, but evening classes for adults and tutorials for students from nearby schools will also be held.
"Some of the adults have been the most enthusiastic," said curriculum specialist Lynne Porter, also a teacher at the center.
"We recognize that it's not going to be easy bringing some of these students back to school, but we're determined," said school outreach counselor John Beatty.
Two days after school started, Beatty visited one student's home to see why she had failed to show up after the first day. Her surprised mother thought she had been in school, and promised to have her there in the future.
Another day, Beatty dashed to the nearby basketballs court to retrieve a young man who had left class to join his buddies.
"I think if we can let them know we care about them--and we'll be checking up on them all the way--we'll get them back," he said.
Times staff writer Jill Stewart contributed to this story.