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Study: Despite Tension, Students Like Racial Mix : Education: Survey at three high schools indicates that pupils appreciate ethnic diversity. District committee examines findings amid growing friction between Asians and Latinos.

July 29, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ALHAMBRA — The majority of students in Alhambra area high schools believe that racial tensions run high at school, yet they like going to culturally diverse schools and feel they get the most out of classes that are racially mixed, a new survey has found.

The survey of 1,800 students on racial relations at the Alhambra School District's three high schools was conducted by the district's Human Relations Advisory Committee, which was formed last year by parents and educators alarmed by tensions between Asian and Latino students. The committee is drawing up recommendations for the Board of Education on how to ease resentment and misunderstandings between ethnic groups.

The district has been plagued by persistent tensions between Asian and Latino students to the point where a local college professor was awarded a grant to study race relations at its schools. The district's enrollment of more than 20,000 is 49% Asian and 39% Latino, with the rest divided among other ethnic groups.

Racial tensions erupted into violence in February when groups of Latinos and Asians at Mark Keppel High School fought; 24 students were expelled and three charged with battery.

The district, which serves Alhambra and parts of Monterey Park, San Gabriel and Rosemead, received $10,000 from Southern California Edison Co. earlier this month to help establish a conflict-resolution program.

In order to survey feelings about race, members of the Human Relations Advisory Committee said assistant principals on campus randomly selected a fourth of the schools' students--1,500 English-speaking students and 300 students enrolled in the district's Limited English Proficiency programs--to fill out the forms, which were distributed in class in April and May. The results were made public at the committee's meeting last week.

Racial differences matter, the vast majority of surveyed students said in all three of the district's high schools: Mark Keppel, Alhambra and San Gabriel. And more than a third said they had been the victims of some sort of racial prejudice and did not feel safe at school.

But most students said they associate frequently with others of different ethnic groups. Their teacher's race does not matter to them and they feel that teachers help students of different ethnic groups equally, the survey found.

The students who were not fluent in English took a rosier view of race relations. They were less likely to feel that racial differences matter or sense racial tension at school and more likely to feel safe. They also were less likely to see themselves as the victims of racial prejudice.

Jose Calderon, a member of the Human Relations Advisory Committee and a Pitzer College professor who has a grant to study racial tension in the district's schools, was not surprised by the happier feelings among non-English speakers.

Calderon said such students may spend more of their time with a select group and have limited contact with other students and teachers.

He said the vast majority of those with limited English tend to be new immigrants, who generally look more favorably on U.S. life than those born in the country. And perhaps, he said, the students don't speak English well enough to understand any slurs directed at them.

Calderon said some of his $16,000 grant will be used to hire a survey specialist from Pitzer to help interpret the results. "We know there are problems," he said. "We now have to go back and have focus groups with students to help us get solutions."

The survey also shows differences from school to school. The vast majority of Mark Keppel students--86%--sensed racial tension at school. That was at least 20 percentage points higher than at the other schools. And 71% of Keppel students believed racial differences matter; the second highest percentage was 58% at Alhambra High. Yet Mark Keppel students were just about as likely to say that school is best when racially mixed and that a teacher's race does not matter.

It was students at San Gabriel High who felt the most threatened. Fifty-one percent said they did not usually feel safe at school, compared with 40% at Mark Keppel and 34% at Alhambra High.

Supt. Heber J. Meeks played down the survey, saying it was for internal use only and the questions were not developed scientifically, with some coming from old surveys and others added by the suggestions of committee members.

Meeks said he had concerns about the wording of some of the questions. "They led kids to pretty definite answers," he said. However, he would not discuss details, saying it was too early because the data has not been interpreted by the advisory committee.

Students' Opinions

Students in the Alhambra School District's three high schools were likely to feel racial tension at school, yet believe that racially mixed schools work best, a newly released survey shows. Survey questionnaires were filled out by 1,800 students. Racial differences matter: Alhambra High: 58% Mark Keppel High: 71% San Gabriel High: 57%

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