A lesson plan to go with “Seeing the potential” from the March-April 2009 issue of L.A. Youth. In this story, Justin Fulcher describes how making a documentary about his neighborhood in South Los Angeles helped him see the importance of people giving back to their communities.

By Mike Fricano, editor

Grades: 7-12
Subjects: Language arts, social studies, government, life skills
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

• copies of the L.A. Youth article “Seeing the potential” (one per student)
• pens and paper
• white board or blackboard

Students will examine their neighborhoods to determine what the communities’ needs are and suggest ways to make improvements.

No matter where teens are from, whether it’s Beverly Hills, El Monte, Long Beach or South Los Angeles, there are things that they love about their communities and things they think could be better. In a place as big and diverse as Los Angeles County, that list could range from nothing for teens to do and a lack of jobs to too many gangs and overcrowded schools. But it’s easy to complain. The reward comes from trying to be part of the solution. Even in the communities most affected by poverty and violence, there are people dedicated to making life better for everyone.

Ask students to write lists of four things their communities need and four things they like about them. Then create two columns on the board, one titled “Needs” and the other “Likes.” Have students share examples from their lists of things their communities need or need to do better and write down the answers in the appropriate column. They might say that they need safer streets, more jobs for teens, there aren’t enough things to do (restaurants and movie theaters), more bus stops or metro rail stations, cleaner parks. Next, ask students to describe what they like about their communities. They could say things like a nearby movie theater, a great neighborhood library, a community center, it’s safe and clean, places to shop are close by, etc.

Read the article “Seeing the potential,” about how making a documentary about his neighborhood reinforced in Justin the value of people giving back to their communities. The story is on pages 10-11 of the March-April 2009 issue of L.A. Youth.

Have the students write down complaints that Justin has about his neighborhood in South Los Angeles. Possible answers include:
• Graffiti on billboards.
• Old billboards for movies that have left the theaters.
• Lots of vacant lots and buildings.
• Not enough things for teens to do; the closest movie theater is far away.
• Not enough jobs.

Next have the students write down things that Justin likes in his community and what value they have. Possible answers:
• His family, because he learned to value education and a strong work ethic from his  mom and grandmother.
• The Challengers Boys and Girls Club, because it’s a safe place for kids filled with patient adults who always try to bring out the best in kids. It’s also where he has learned video production.
• The Southern California Library, which preserves the history of the people who lived in South L.A.

But Justin does more than just list complaints and likes in his story. Working on the documentary made him more observant and thoughtful about where he lives. Have students note the ways Justin’s attitude has changed.
• He sees a vacant building and questions why no one has done anything with it.
• He sees graffiti and wonders what motivated the person to tag. Perhaps they were angry or sad.
• The parents who volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club and the people who volunteer at the Southern California Library reinforced in Justin the importance of people giving back to their communities.

Concluding discussion:
After seeing how Justin has found the positives in his community, have them re-examine the lists of “Needs” and “Likes” that they created. How do they feel about their lists? Were they too negative? What things might they add to their lists?

Combining the students’ lists of things they like and don’t like about their communities with what they learned reading Justin’s story, have your students write an essay about what they like about their communities and also what they would like to see improved. Ask them to write about why and how those things would improve their communities and the lives of the teens who live there.

Extension activity:
Have your students mail their essays to a local city council member or member of the County Board of Supervisors, the mayor or a state legislator.