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Making Social Justice Part of the Curriculum

A new charter middle school aims to prepare 'the next Cesar Chavez or the next Martin Luther King,' says its executive director.


To attract students, staff members passed out information to parents at local bus stops. There was no problem in filling the classes with an ethnically diverse student body.

"The two middle schools in the area are just bursting," Lowenstein said. "Most parents were just happy to have a safe environment, where their kids won't get shot or stabbed."

The eight teachers include college graduates with degrees from Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Berkeley and UCLA. One worked as a grass-roots organizer for the Quaker nonviolent peace movement. One has organized unions in Koreatown.

Susanne Cole, the program director in charge of curriculum, who received a master's degree in public policy from UC Berkeley, previously spent time in Chiapas, Mexico, studying a school run by the Zapatistas, an Indian-rights movement.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 10, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 478 words Type of Material: Correction
Church name--The "In the Classroom" article in Wednesday's California section misspelled the name of the church that leases building space to a newly created charter school in Koreatown. The correct name is Immanuel Presbyterian Church.

Cole said she wants the school's graduates to "become people who feel inspired to make change in the world."

Breakfast and lunch are cooked by mothers of children who attend the school. A few work there full time and the rest volunteer. Meals are required to be nutritious: fresh fruits, whole grains, low-fat milk, salad bar offerings during every lunch, no refined sugar.

Perla Melgar, a parent, works in the Leadership Academy as a cook. It is important that her 11-year-old daughter, also named Perla, thrives in school, she said.

"I know it's better for her to be in a small group," she said. "All the other schools are so overcrowded. She wants to learn more, and I think this is the place she can do it."

Every Friday, a staff member or a visitor talks about social issues to a school assembly. A gang member named Chico Brown, a friend of Lowenstein, recently told students about being shot and going to prison.

He has since turned his life around, but he stressed that the students should not wait until it is too late. He encouraged them to make the best experience out of the Leadership Academy.

"Roger has big dreams for you guys," he said. "He's got big plans. And I know it's going to work."

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