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METROPOLIS / CHAT ROOM

School Days

April 22, 2001

What Do the Young Have to Worry About?

Since 1984, Ken Williams has watched kids in the L.A. Unified School District worry. With a master's in school psychology and school counseling, the former junior high school teacher and counselor is now an "organization facilitator," providing crisis intervention and psychosocial support to pre-k through 12th-grade-level youngsters in a 70-school area encompassing Eagle Rock, Franklin, Hollywood, Los Angeles and Marshall high schools. The morning we spoke, Williams, 48, had just come from a "threat assessment" session at a school where a student had made a veiled threat against a class. --Valerie J. Nelson

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What's the biggest pressure kids face in L.A.?

Maintaining dress and appearance. Also, because L.A. is such a metropolitan area, kids are often exposed to an anti-fashion. So it may be the difference between wearing a fade haircut versus a shaved head. They want to fit in with the peer group.

Appearance is a big deal.

Look at who children are looking up to. They want nice clothes, nice cars. When I was at a high school in South-Central, one of my pupils had a really nice car, gold chains and everything. I knew he was dealing. I asked him, "What kind of a future are you going to have, getting money this way?" He said, "I can't worry about that, Mr. Williams. I make more money than you do." That makes it really hard to give them an incentive to go on to college.

What do students worry about?

Violence on the streets and safety. They also want to have somebody that they are able to really talk to.

What is this generation like as a group?

Very resilient. With the things they face, they cope very well. But when incidents happen, like the Santee shooting, it's because a small group of our kids don't have the coping skills. For the most part, they are really positive. When they make a connection, they light up and take off.

Do you see a bullying problem?

That's a real issue on campuses. When I was young, kids were very mean to each other. It's gone beyond just being mean or name-calling to complete ridicule and total humiliation. All children are not like that, but when you see the way they treat each other, it's really disheartening. There really is a lack of respect among youths today.

Why?

A lot of it has to do with the lack of respect adults show for each other. As educators, when we are so focused on test scores, we're not helping to build those other values. And the reality is, there are not a lot of parents at home.

Any issues unique to L.A.?

With such a diverse population, one culture is embedded in one area, and another moves in. You always have that resistance and that racial tension.

Do kids complain about racial tension?

No, if anything they grumble about a lack of after-school opportunities, lack of sports or a skateboard park.

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