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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Program Helps Teens Fish for Careers

August 28, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

Getting paid to catch crabs is hardly a job most South-Central teen-agers would consider.

But meet Trice Jones and Denise and Simboa Wright, three interns at San Pedro's Cabrillo Marine Aquarium whose summer jobs may lure them into environmental careers.

"I didn't think I was going to learn here," said Simboa, 15, as he attached a piece of squid bait to the end of a paper clip hook. "I just thought I was going to work and get money. But I've learned a lot, especially about marine biology."

The three led a group of elementary school students last week in a saltwater marsh crab-catching exercise to study the size, weight and the sex of the crustaceans.

The teen-agers are among 59 high school students and recent graduates from East and South Los Angeles who have been placed in jobs with an environmental focus at 11 sites through the Youth in the Environment program. Some students from Wilmington and the San Fernando Valley also participated.

The crab-catching exercise is just one example of the exposure inner-city youths have obtained through the six-week $80,000 program that began in July. Interns at the aquarium have been assisting with daily classes for visiting elementary school students, studying the diversity of plankton, caring for vegetation native to the saltwater marsh and feeding the animals at the aquarium, said Steve Vogel, the facility's education supervisor.

"It's a job, so they do have one foot in the door," said Vogel. "When we hire, we look for people that have some experience. It doesn't matter that they're not biology students from some upper-crust magnet school. For an entry-level position, you can teach them on the job."

The city's Environmental Affairs Department began the Youth in the Environment program in 1992, providing economically disadvantaged high school students with paid summer employment. The idea was to create a greater diversity of people in environmental jobs, said Lillian Kawasaki, general manager of the department.

Students work in specialized fields such as engineering, biology and waste-water treatment, performing hands-on tasks under the supervision of professionals.

Four recent interns went on to college, where one earned a waste-water operator's certificate, Kawasaki said.

"From last year's program, one of the students got a job working with the (Los Angeles Zoo). Who knows? Maybe there'll be a Jacques Cousteau out of all this."

Students also have been working at the California Museum of Science and Industry, the Los Angeles Aqueduct Water Filtration Plant, the El Segundo Dunes Restoration Project, the Hyperion and Terminal Island water treatment plants, and at offices of the Bureau of Sanitation and the Environmental Affairs Department.

Last year, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps agreed to administer the environmental youth program in partnership with the Environmental Affairs Department.

The students' summer wages are provided by the federal Summer Youth Employment and Training Program, Kawasaki said.

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