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Students Get Lesson in 2000 Census Count

March 04, 2000|INDRANEEL SUR

In her fifth-grade classroom, Daisy Arias, 11, has been hearing for nearly a week about the importance of counting the population in the 2000 census. "I'm excited to learn about it," she said. "It's good practice to help people with the forms."

The lesson was repeated at a rally Friday for Daisy and nearly 900 fellow students at Haddon Avenue Elementary School, when local officials urged the students to help the federal government count their families accurately.

After 20 first-graders danced and waved the American flag, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar) prompted the students to yell, "I count!"

Also attending the rally at the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school were Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills), County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and officials from federal and state census agencies.

The event was part of a national and local campaign to increase the number of people who complete the census forms, which will be mailed to U.S. households later this month. The 1990 census undercounted children and members of minority groups, leading to a smaller flow of federal funds to neighborhoods such as the one surrounding the Haddon Avenue school.

Nearly 98% of the students are Latino, said rally coordinator Laura Fuentes-Serna. Students who learn about the census in school should share their knowledge with parents who may not speak English and who may distrust federal authorities, officials said. Census information is not shared with immigration authorities or police, they said.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other groups are focusing efforts on nearly 150 Los Angeles Unified School District campuses where students and their families were undercounted in the last census, said Louisa Ollague, MALDEF's regional census coordinator.

The rally featured a demonstration of how the census can affect the distribution of public goods. A state census employee in a bear costume displayed a bag of stuffed miniature bears to the audience.

Although the bag contained only 200 toys, the employee said he brought enough bears for every student, thanks to an accurate count of the students by the administration.

Individual bears were to be distributed to students in their classrooms Friday afternoon, said Belinda Barragan, a state outreach coordinator.

By teaching children about the census, "we send an emissary right into the home," said John Reeder, the U.S. Census Bureau's regional director for the area that includes Southern California.

At least one potential emissary is fifth-grader Nefi Cajas, 10. "We should fill out the form, because it's very important to our community and our family," he said.

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