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LOS ANGELES SCHOOLS

Struggling and Succeeding

East L.A.'s Belvedere Elementary is full of great people. If only it had more money.

September 07, 2003|Leonor Valencia with Molly Selvin | Leonor Valencia is the PTA secretary at Belvedere Elementary School. Molly Selvin is a Times editorial writer.

My two school-age children attend Belvedere Elementary School in East Los Angeles, a school that has worked well for us overall.

My older son, who's now in third grade, started kindergarten at a different school. His teacher there was absent a lot, which was a big problem. The kids were young and needed a steady, everyday routine -- not a parade of substitutes. But since then, at Belvedere, my son has had great teachers. I've spent a lot of time in his classrooms, and I've seen that his teachers are genuinely concerned about him. When he talked at school about his family, and how his younger sisters made it hard for him to work, his teacher raised the subject with me, asking: "Does he have his own work space?" The teacher acknowledged him and his issues, which means a lot to a child.

My 4-year-old started pre-K at Belvedere two weeks ago and she is loving it. Her teacher too seems great, and the program is really good. My daughter is starting to write her name and she does her homework, which involves things like learning shapes. She's really excited.

That doesn't mean things are perfect, just that Belvedere does the best that that it can with the resources the district provides. Eva Garcia, the principal, is great. She tells us what she'd like to do, but she also tells us what the school can afford. We have to work with what we have.

My big frustration is the lack of money for computer teachers and science teachers. Belvedere had two computer labs, but now we're down to one. No money. We don't have a science lab anymore. No money. We are getting a new library, but that is coming through a nonprofit organization, the Wonder of Reading, a group that refurbishes and supplies school libraries. What we had before could hardly be called a library: It was a room with a couple of books.

I also worry that the focus is so much on math and reading that the kids have little time for science. There's little time for history. There's no art. It's just math and reading. The kids are doing great in reading and math, but what about everything else? When my son started in first grade he was a little behind because he had moved from another school, but he caught on very quickly. That's great, but there needs to be room for something else.

I also wish there were more resources for getting kids out of the classroom. Lately, we've had no money for field trips. I remember when at least the kids went to the zoo or a museum, but that hasn't happened these last couple of years. Last year, the PTA worked very hard and paid for the graduating class to go to Knott's Berry Farm. Each kid got admission, lunch and a T-shirt. This year the PTA and the other volunteer groups at Belvedere are trying to raise enough money so that all kids can go on at least one field trip, but it's tough. We sell snacks after school every day and we're starting right now on our big Christmas catalog fund-raisers. I worry sometimes that we're forgotten over here. We hear about all these new district programs. We hear about bills providing money for schools. But somehow it doesn't ever get to East L.A.

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