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East L.A. parents, students get first glimpse of new high school

The Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center, set to open next month, gives parents an alternative to sending students to Roosevelt High School.

August 30, 2009|Esmeralda Bermudez

Gleaming new buildings in red, purple and mustard welcomed hundreds of families on Saturday as they gathered to celebrate the opening of the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center, one of the first new high schools built on the Eastside in many years.

The $106-million center, set to open next month, has two schools: a math and science school and a technology and engineering school. The campus brings relief to families that until recently had little choice but to enroll students at Roosevelt High School, an overcrowded campus with low graduation rates.

Both of the new schools will use a traditional school-year calendar rather than operate on a year-round schedule, which Roosevelt students have done for nearly two decades.

"This school is the manifestation of your struggle," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told parents and students in the new gymnasium on Saturday, adding that the school represents the dream of "those who said, 'We want an excellent education for our students.' "

Named after a Latino couple who fought segregation in schools during the 1940s, the campus is a state-of-the-art facility divided into four buildings with wireless Internet capabilities. About 800 students are expected to enroll initially. It is located in an area once heavily neglected, bordered by freeways, factories and the Los Angeles River.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who played a key role in getting the school idea off the ground nearly a decade ago, said he wants the campus to build close ties to engineering and science-related industries across the river.

"We want mentoring, internships, real-life linkages with careers over the bridge," he said.

Sitting quietly beside his father, Mario Guerra, 14, said he wants help succeeding, but his biggest worry is playing football. The new school won't have a football team, and Guerra would be allowed to play for Roosevelt's team for only one year.

"It's good it has everything new, but my dream was to play," he said, adding that he hopes to transfer to Roosevelt in the future.

As students strolled the campus only days before classes begin, they weighed the pros and cons.

They were picked to attend the new campus based on where they live, and many will part from friends by transferring. Others look forward to a fresh start with more space and new resources.

"I think I'll have a better chance of graduating now," said Jesse Gonzalez, a junior who plans to be a musician.

Most parents, such as Amadeo Delgado, were relieved. The father of three was prepared to move his 14-year-old son, Amadeus, to a private school after he graduated from Hollenbeck Middle School. His 18-year-old daughter, a graduate of Roosevelt, struggled through her four years there, often getting teased and harassed by other students.

"I think he will have better opportunities here," Delgado said. "Things will be easier with less people."

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esmeralda.bermudez @latimes.com

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