By Sally Cho, 15, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
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Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District struck a deal with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district’s teacher’s union, to increase teacher salaries by six percent and decrease class sizes by two students over the next three years. On March 15, the district reported that union members had ratified the agreement. Sally Cho, a sophomore at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, described how a visit to Roosevelt High School left her in full support of the union’s proposal to make classes smaller.

UTLA, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, was a familiar term to me – my 8th grade history teacher often talked about its struggle for improved guidelines, salaries, working hours, etc. I had even twice passed by his room during union meetings. I knew some basic purposes of the union, which were efforts to improve conditions for teachers. In other words, they were just doing another “teacher thing” unknown to the student body. I didn’t think that stuff would affect students, and definitely not myself. Quite honestly, I didn’t really care.

After 8th grade, the thought of UTLA slipped to the back of my mind and stayed there—until one of the L.A. Youth editors Libby brought up a discussion. She explained that UTLA has decided to fight against ridiculously large class sizes, some with over 70 students in physical education. The members were going to protest at four schools before filing a grievance – a formal complaint – against LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District). I was so excited when Libby asked for volunteers to follow the UTLA group. I would witness firsthand a day in highly overpopulated high schools. I knew it would be the perfect chance to get actively involved and learn more about UTLA—the mysterious and seemingly distant teacher organization.

I arrived at Roosevelt High School with Libby and two other L.A. Youth writers, Daniel and Josh. We saw a group of protesting teachers with red UTLA logo shirts. They were creating a noisy scene outside the main school building, causing some administrators to come out. Soon, school ended and students poured out from all directions. Many of them were confused and had no idea what the teachers were screaming about, but not many of them seemed to care too much. I tried to stop some people for interviews, only to end up rejected. 

Finally I found some students who looked studious—they were holding a bunch of books. It turned out that they were carrying the books for their teacher. These students explained themselves to be five guys who were struggling to learn in a disruptive environment. They were the ones who took notes while other classmates listened to music, drew comics, made jokes and snickered at the teachers. Basically, they are the misfits among a group of uncaring and unmotivated teenagers.

Those fellow sophomores who are just as ambitious and hard-working as myself were clearly placed in unfair situations. I imagined them at my school–sitting in a quiet AP classroom, surrounded by peers who want to go on to college, being an active member of clubs and societies…

Hearing those guys talk, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Then again, why should I feel guilty? Am I guilty for receiving a proper education which I’m supposed to have? Am I at fault because I have access to decent books, desks, a stable environment and academic support?

I started the UTLA trip as a student, ignorant of critical situations in some of America’s schools. Roosevelt belongs to the same LAUSD school district as my high school. Yet, Roosevelt is much more lacking in equipment and resources for the best opportunities. Plus, its classes are overcrowded, which reduces the students’ attentiveness. From a day’s experience, I learned to greatly appreciate my school’s educational support. More importantly, my appreciation grew for the dedicated UTLA union members and teachers who work hard to provide students with better opportunities. Their protest did not cause a huge change, but it was a step in the right direction with the right attitude. UTLA is a foreign group no longer; I support its causes 100 percent.