At school, sophomore Daisy Hernandez worries about getting through classes without being drawn into the racial brawls that have recently plagued Fremont High School.
On Friday, she was more concerned about whether her science project on insecticides would place in the Los Angeles County Science Fair.
"While they're fighting, I'm studying," said Daisy, who hopes to become a pediatrician. "To me, science is involved in everything I do in daily life."
This was the first time that Fremont High School students competed in the county fair. Fremont was the only South Los Angeles high school in the event, held this week at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
School and fair officials said participating in the fair was a huge step in the right direction for the school, which has a student population that is 91% Latino and 9% black. Generally, most entrants are white or Asian students, but that seems to be changing, fair President Dean Gilbert said.
"There are some kids who think they can't do it, and we are showing them they can," he said. "When you can remove that obstacle, the sky's the limit."
Of the 10 projects that Fremont High School students entered, three won honorable mentions. Hernandez's project was one of them.
Sophie Klimcak, an eighth-grader at Palos Verdes Intermediate School, took the sweepstakes prize in the junior division for her study on the black ghost knifefish.
Julie Guerin, a Palos Verdes Peninsula High School sophomore, won the sweepstakes award in the senior division. She studied the method of preserving fish eggs by freezing them.
Her project title: "Investigating Protocols for Haliotis rufescens Egg Cryopreservation."
Fair judge Richard Boolootian said he gives a lot of weight to the title of a science project.
"You can really get an idea of how much thought was put into the project by the title," said Boolootian.
From there, he said, projects are judged by their originality and soundness of experiments.
Fremont High School may not have won the competition, but Anne Maben, a campus science coach, said all of her students felt accomplished.
"We're just so proud to even be here," she said.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials attribute Fremont's success to a partnership with UCLA. For the last three years, the college has been coaching math and science teachers at inner-city high schools.
"Quite frankly, because of UCLA, we've finally had some stability in our teaching force at these schools," said Todd Ullah, director of secondary science programs for the district. "Students are coming forward."
Proof of that, Maben said, was in the projects.
An experiment by Fremont sophomore Lizbeth Flores compared the ripening of bananas and strawberries. Sophomore Erika Gutierrez tested how plants react to milk, juice and water.