For nine months, the girls at Metropolitan High, L.A.'s largest continuation school, met once a week in the library swapping secrets, sharing insights and, above all, learning to love themselves. Week after week, they articulated their self-worth, boosted each other's spirits and developed new expectations for themselves.
Metro was the second school selected by the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women for the special program; this year, four other high schools are offering it. The Times wrote about the Young Women at Risk program in April after following the girls for seven months ("Big Dreams at Metro High," April 8).
Since then, lives have taken new shape and direction. By the school year's end, seven of the 34 girls who attended the class on Tuesdays had graduated. Another four will graduate in June, including 17-year-old Blanca Ortiz, who skipped school through most of her adolescence but is now succeeding at juggling the demands of young motherhood and her education.
Fifteen more girls are about to complete junior year.
"But you're not going to reach everybody," says Assistant Principal Nancy DePaolo. "Nothing in our society is a complete safety net."
Indeed, eight of the girls have dropped out. Helen Noriega, 18, withdrew from Metro to have a baby girl. Sandra Vega, 19, who had been kicked out of three schools for fighting, quit school to get a job after she demolished her father's car in an accident.
Guadalupe Vasquez, 18, who was conquering years of mental abuse at home and was about to complete her junior year, was kicked out of the house where she was staying and was forced to leave school.
"Sometimes the circumstances these students live in just don't allow for much intervention. Or the intervention comes too late," says DePaolo.
"Some of the girls leave because they have to, others because they want to," says Rachel Ramirez, 17, who is graduating in June and plans to be a paralegal. "But they should keep the program because it really helped me to feel good about myself and have more confidence. The affirmations we used to do, and sharing our personal things, it really helped. I was shy and couldn't speak up, but now I can."
Maria Elena Fernandez