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Schools should give real-life assignments

1st place $50

Valerie Burkholder, homeschooled

Your science class studies real science. You’re not too far from the ocean, so your class goes down to the beach to study marine biology. Then you return to the classroom and analyze your experiments mathematically. You find from your study that

pollution in the environment is hurting the ecosystem. You attend real-world meetings about this issue and persuade local decision-makers to clean up the environment. Then in English class, your class writes persuasive essays about the issue and sends them to the local newspaper and even to the White House. You are learning not only the school subjects, but you are also learning about the real world and real careers.

This is real-world learning. Kids get involved in relevant issues and even make a difference. This is not busy work. It’s more fun than sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher lecture for an hour. In most schools, the subjects are taught separately. There is no connection between the science lesson and the math lesson, for example. Kids don’t learn that their math has anything to do with their social studies. Schools should not separate subjects.

Far too many kids hate math and science. No wonder this is true—kids don’t see the purpose in math and science. Math should always be applied to real situations. Students could participate in microeconomic simulation, which is just a simulation of the real economy. They could collect data and analyze it, and then share it with other classes or even the entire world. That could involve all kinds of math; if you wanted to get really into it, you could even do calculus about it. Students should do math about everything—the economy, their science experiments, statistics, and even their parents’ finances.

Like math, writing is everywhere. It is sad so many schools teach writing so poorly. Good writing goes with every other subject. Kids can write about their science experiments. They can write essays about their observations from the data they collected. Kids can even enter fiction and poetry contests and win money and recognition. They should be allowed more freedom in what they write about. Which is more fun: writing an essay on a topic that your teacher assigns, such as “What I love about my teacher,” or writing an essay on your favorite topic, like sea slugs or Thailand or art or your friend’s carnivorous plant or Jupiter.

Advice on improving schools
 from L.A. Youth readers

We received almost 200 essays about how to improve schools. Here are the top suggestions:

•  Get rid of bad teachers who don’t care
•  Reduce class sizes
•  Provide more books, computers and other supplies
•  Have new books that aren’t tagged up
•  Have more security guards so students feel safe from gangs and fights
•  Have more discipline
•  Have better cafeteria food that tastes good and is healthy
•  Offer more sports, clubs and after-school programs
•  Offer more electives so students enjoy their classes

Of course, schools could not have 40 to 50 students in a class with this system. Class sizes would have to be much smaller. This would give kids more individualized attention. Classes should be formed according to ability. Teachers say that this hurts the feelings of the lower achievers, but it would help them improve more quickly and make a difference in the world. They would start to feel better about themselves. This might even reduce the number of dropouts. Individualizing the curriculum, pulling subjects together, and teaching real-world issues would help kids learn faster and more about real life, and would help them to be independent learners. It would even make school more fun.

This is how school should be. I am homeschooled, and I have experienced some of this real-world learning in my curriculum. Real-world learning makes kids more independent learners. It also erases some of the boredom inflicted on kids by lectures and busy work. Kids learn that school is not about long lectures and busy work, but about learning. It teaches more than just reading, writing and math; kids learn cooperation, independent thinking, the power of persuasion, and most importantly, that learning happens everywhere, all the time. It has meaning and influences the students to find opportunities to learn throughout their lives.

Scroll down for information on L.A. Youth’s next essay contest: What has changed your life?

Our new principal has made school safer

2nd place $30

Jose Morales, Gardena HS

Waking up every morning to go to Gardena High was a nightmare. It was my freshman year and I didn’t know much about high school. I expected it to look like the movies: clean classrooms, bright hallways, even football players wearing letterman jackets, nerds with glasses and the hot girls. I soon found out real life was not like the movies. I walked around school eyeing the walls cracked with paint, dirty hallways and gum all over the floors and desks. In the movies, everyone got along, and if there was any kind of argument, it would be resolved violence-free; at my school we were on “Code Green” almost every day.

I would fear for my life as I witnessed fights between 10 to 15 people break out in front of my eyes, not knowing when or where I would be hit by the onslaught of fists and covered with cuts and bruises. If I was lucky enough, fights would break out while I was in the least dangerous zone at school—the classroom, in the sanctity of adult supervision. One day I was sitting at my desk finishing my class work. As I got up to turn it in, the usual announcement came on again. “Students we are on Code Green. I repeat, we are on Code Green. Please stay in your classrooms. Teachers please do not issue any hall passes or bathroom passes. Any student seen outside will be suspended or expelled.” So it goes. Our school would have the usual “Mexicans vs. blacks” fight at least three times a month. Soon enough, everyone got tired of it. But that was then.

That was when our old principal was in charge. Now it seems our new principal has only one thing on his agenda: improvement. And improvements in schools are achieved when the students feel the need to act more mature. Schools should have a better atmosphere not only for looks, but for students to feel safer, cleaner and enclosed in an environment that encourages them to act suitably and have better judgment. Our school may not be the best, but it’s one of the most improved schools in the district. Now, our buildings have been painted, classrooms and halls have been cleaned, and even our security has been tightened. Now, as a senior, I feel renewed as I walk into a cleaner and safer school.

We need better supplies and teachers

3rd place $20

Vanessa Almonte, Jefferson HS

Dear David L. Brewer,

I would like to welcome you as our new LAUSD superintendent. I have some ideas on how schools should be improved, and I hope you take my suggestions into consideration.

When it comes to improving schools, the first thing that comes to everybody’s mind is the necessities. I attend Jefferson High School, and when you need to use a computer there aren’t any available that actually work. You go into classrooms and you see computers, but when you try to turn one on, guess how many actually do? Think how advanced the technology is nowadays, and we are still stuck with broken computers.

Another thing we need are desks. How do you expect us to learn standing up? I have friends who have to run to their classrooms in order to get a seat. That is just not right. You see other schools that have desks, and I bet they don’t even use them all. We also need our own books. It is a shame to see my books with other high school names. But then again we need to borrow books because the ones we have are missing pages. So we need new books.

Also, how about improving our surroundings? When somebody asks “What school do you go to?” and I answer “Jeff” they make this face as if Jefferson High School was dangerous. The only ones that made this school look like a danger zone were the media, people who have not even tried to stay at this school for a day. The danger comes from the outside. Kids are sometimes afraid to pass by the streets that surround us. Why does a person have to fear going to school, the one place you should feel safe in? Problems always have a way to sneak in from the world outside our school. This makes students lack enthusiasm for learning. Think outside the bubble.

Another way schools should be improved is by hiring good teachers. How can students learn when a good teacher is not around to teach them? I believe a good teacher is a person who can be strict at times, knows how to handle a crazy class and actually teaches you, and doesn’t just go step-by-step with a book. Some teachers at this school just give you classwork, and then sit and stare at the computer. They expect you to learn from the book. Sometimes you can do that, and it’s cool if you can. But then why would we need teachers?

These were some of the suggestions I could come up with. Hopefully they will help you improve our schools. I know that doing this will not be an easy task, and not a fast one either. But hopefully you will make schools a better learning place. So good luck, and don’t give up on our schools.

Yawn … start school later

Honorable mention

Amber Han, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)

Wake UP! You’re late again!” Does that sound familiar? It’s probably the way you start your day Monday through Friday. It’s not easy for most kids in high school to wake up at 6 a.m. supported by only two to four hours of sleep.

That is called zero period. The one extra class you signed up for gets you the VIP pass to a morning of rush. Schools should change the time zero period starts. Instead of waking up in the cold and dark, students should go to school around 8 a.m. and end school around 4 p.m.

As a high school student, you are on top of the mountain ready to jump into college; probably the reason to sign up for zero period. The amount of work from middle school doubles once you’re in high school. Students stay up until 2 to 3 a.m. studying and maybe even catching up with homework that was put away because of their extracurricular activities.

During the first two periods after your zero period, you aren’t tired and pay attention in class. But once third or fourth period starts, you start getting tired and start to fall asleep. This is probably because people stay wide awake right after they wake up. Then the early morning starts attacking you and your eyelids slowly cover your eyes.

With school starting a little later, students will wake up with the sun and feel the blood circulate in their body. It will keep them more awake throughout the day and feel better in their classes.
So instead of waking up with the fog and getting ready for school when the bell rings, let’s try something new and wake up with the sun. With a bright morning, you feel good and new. Maybe you’ll do better in school and feel good about yourself.


What has changed your life?

“I’ve always been afraid of change,” says Paul in his story on page 4 about overcoming his shyness. Change can be hard but it can also be exciting. What has been the biggest change in your life? This question was inspired by an L.A. Youth writer who decided to become a vegetarian. It could be a decision you made, such as not eating meat, leaving an abusive relationship or becoming a better student. Or it could be something you didn’t have control over, like your parents’ divorce or moving schools. Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it. How has the change affected your life? Has it been positive or has it made your life harder? What did you do to accomplish the change? Some people say that making a change is hardest at first and then it gets easier. What was your experience like?

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it.

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and telephone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our March-April issue and put on our Web site at


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