Bookmark and Share

Building a Future: Education in South L.A.

Living in Harmony | Students play in the yard at Harmony Elementary School. Harmony's most recent Academpic Performance Index (API) score was 722, well shy of LAUSD's goal of 800. Of the 20-plus schools in our neighborhood, just three schools meet the LAUSD goal.

Test scores of area schools:
School Name 2012 API score*
Synergy Charter (elementary school)
Aurora Elementary
Synergy Kinnetic (middle school)
Pat Brown Charter (high school)
Ricardo Lizarraga Elementary
49th Street Elementary
Bunche Charter High
L.A. Academy (middle)
Maya Angelou High
Washington Carver (middle)
Clinton Middle
Opportunities Unlimited Charter (high)

*LAUSD target score is 800

View Public Schools in the area in a larger map
LAUSD in the area | Elementary schools are blue, middle schools are red and high schools are green.

Sunday Funday: For three boys, their favorite learning is done not in the classroom, but on the street.
Faces of the Street
Close to 9,000 men, women and children are homeless in South Los Angeles. While their struggles are similar, each has an individual story to share.
Staying Safe On The Bike
In a neighborhood with only one mile of bike lanes, people are out to improve bicycle infrastructure and safety.
Where Words Fail: Learning English and Preserving Heritage in South LA
South Central LA is riddled with Spanish-language signs and conversations. Now, throughout the neighborhood, kids and adults are struggling to learn English without sacrificing their own traditions.

By Nick Burton

It’s just past 3 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, and Scott Culbertson is frazzled to say the least.

There are kids running by him every which way, countless people asking for just a minute of his time to talk. His silver hair flows long and curly on the sides of his head. He looks a bit like a mad scientist whose experiment has gone awry, and now he’s rushing around trying to put out the fires.

Culbertson is no mad scientist, however. He is the Associate Director of "A Place Called Home," a youth center in opportunity-starved South Central Los Angeles. A Place Called Home (APCH) is completely free of charge for its students and families, but garners enough in private donations to have an annual budget of close to $4 million. Serving some 300 students from the area every day after school, APCH provides them opportunities and experiences they can’t dream of receiving at their low-income public schools.

"Students don’t have art in school anymore," says Culbertson. "Especially in this area. They don’t have music, they don’t learn about nutrition. We try to give them the opportunity to learn and experience things that they otherwise might never have."

A Place Called Home primarily serves students residing in City Council District Nine, which encompasses much of the South Figueroa Corridor and the Vernon/Main area of South Central Los Angeles, as well as some portions of east L.A.

Pamela Huntoon is the "Director of Educational Initiatives" for the Ninth District, the only City Council District to have one.

"(The ninth) District has some of the lowest performing schools in all of LAUSD," said Huntoon. "We also have some of the highest poverty rates in the city. LAUSD is doing much better and our test scores are turning around. But there is still a ton of work to be done."

Partially because of the District’s poor test scores, Huntoon focuses on educating youth outside the classroom. She brings guest speakers to schools, organizes field trips for classes to places like museums or a beach clean-up, and finds afterschool programs for students to stay off the street and out of gangs.

"I had a young man come up to me at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival," recalls Huntoon. "And he remembered that I had taken his class to Disney Concert Hall about five years ago. And it totally inspired him to become a musician. And he is now a college graduate and a working musician.

"It’s all about opportunity. And in this neighborhood, kids don’t get exposed to a whole lot of opportunity. At school or outside of school especially."

That is exactly what A Place Called Home attempts to provide: According to their mission, APCH "empowers underserved youth to take ownership of the quality and direction of their lives through programs in education, arts, and well-being; and are inspired to make a meaningful difference in their community and the world."

Indeed, APCH offers a staggering array of options for its students. There are the classic aftercare programs such as study hall, arts and crafts and athletics. But APCH also offers graphic design, video editing, ensemble music, and countless types of dance, just to name a few.

"Kids grow up here at APCH," Culbertson said. "We have kids who come here every day for 10 years whose lives and futures are shaped by their time here."

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of APCH is its "Bridge to the Future" program. Among the many aspects of the Bridge to the Future program, Culbertson highlights its college placement program and college scholarship fund.

"We have over 70 students in college right now," says Culbertson. "Some are at community colleges, some are at schools like USC and UCLA."

Culbertson tells the story of Lamar Burks. Burks would come to APCH every day after school, and every day, Culbertson would tell him - to Burks’ face - that he was a "knucklehead."

"He was wasting an opportunity," says Culbertson. "He wasn’t a troublemaker; he just didn’t do anything to move his life forward.

"And as he got older, in high school, he started to see the real troublemakers and knuckleheads. And he decided his senior year that he didn’t want to go down their path. He committed himself to a future, and now he’s at community college and applying to transfer to a four-year university."

If Culbertson is fact a mad scientist, that certainly counts as fire put out.

LAUSD title=