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Service Projects Help Students Grow

June 16, 1997

In Los Angeles, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a civic education organization, provides training and funding for many service-learning projects both in and out of school.

Last year at Roosevelt High School, pupils in one program wondered why the student body was nearly all Latino and if it had always been that way. A history teacher and a language teacher helped them find out that in the 1930s the Boyle Heights school was a mix of Japanese Americans, Jews, Latinos, African Americans and other groups. They also learned that many of the Japanese Americans had been sent to internment camps during WWII and that a garden, built by Japanese American students, had been destroyed by vandals.

The students decided to rebuild the original garden. In the process, they contacted the school's alumni association, which led them to the garden's creator. They raised $25,000 in contributions and obtained plants and time from the community. At the dedication, several alumni said it was the first time they had returned to campus since the war. A student told a reporter, "I was proud they were there before us."

In Los Angeles, where many students are afraid to go into other neighborhoods, some of the best projects are those that connect kids across town, said Susan Phillips, who supervises the organization's 20 after-school public service clubs called Youth Task Forces. "The kids in Woodland Hills say, 'I won't go to Pacoima.' Kids in East L.A. say, 'I won't go to Watts.' " This month, leaders from the clubs held a fair for children and adults in a park in Compton, a place almost everyone feared. Once there, Phillips said the kids could see Compton is a working-class community, with little houses, neat streets and lots of children who play in parks as they do everywhere. "They left feeling better about going to Compton," she said.

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For more information, here are some of many active service groups:

* The Constitutional Rights Foundation. (213) 487-5590

* L.A. Works, a nonprofit volunteer action center for hands-on projects in tutoring and neighborhood renovation. (888) LA WORKS

* Youth Service California, a clearinghouse on service learning. (415) 257-3500

* The California Commission on Improving Life Through Service, the administrative office for AmeriCorps. (916) 323-7646. http://www.impactonline.org/caameric

* National Information Center for Service Learning. http://www.nicls.coled.umn.edu

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