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Can the education of LA students be saved? About 27,000 mentors are needed to try

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — He was a fourth-grade student from a poor, working-class family, whose siblings did not finish high school. She was a high-achieving 11th grader so turned off by school that she was about to ditch her senior year.

Both of the former students — Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and School Board President Jackie Goldberg — earned their diplomas thanks in large part to adults who mentored them. So it made sense that the top city school leaders envision a similar path for thousands of public school students identified as needing a similar helping hand.

Carvalho, Goldberg and L.A. Chamber of Commerce leader Maria Salinas unveiled the massive call to mentoring — for roughly 27,000 students districtwide — at a Watts elementary school on Friday. Participating organizations will include Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, the Brotherhood Crusade, girls inc. and Toberman Neighborhood Center.

Carvalho recalled Miss Natalia, who taught him from first to fourth grade in his native Portugal.

"What she did beyond the classroom with me changed my life," Carvalho said. "She cared, made a difference. I got to graduate high school. My brothers and sister didn't. Something clicked because someone cared enough."

Goldberg remembered how she just wanted to take the General Educational Development test to earn a certificate, surrendering an opportunity to earn a diploma.


But her counselor, David Reiss at Morningside High in Inglewood, wouldn't let that happen — and instead found a college program that allowed her to earn a high school diploma, and from there she went to the University of California, Berkeley and a long career in education and politics.

"Every one of these 27,000 kids in our community," said Carvalho, "needs to feel that they are important enough because of the presence of that valuable and inspirational adult."

Carvalho did not have a precise dollar estimate for the project, which is called Everyone Mentors L.A., but suggested the cost would be minimal compared to the effect — and would rely heavily on community groups and volunteer mentors. L.A. Unified would serve as the hub: identifying students and paying for background checks on prospective mentors.

"In a community of over 5 million residents, finding 27,000 mentors should be easy," Carvalho said. "But we cannot do it alone."


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