Teach Our Children Well


By Claudia Luther

Published Jul 1, 2017 8:00 AM

In partnership with LAUSD, UCLA is reviving and enriching a previously declining school in the heart of the inner city. Meet the Horace Mann UCLA Community School.

Teacher/graduate student Shante Stuart. Photos by Noelle Swan Gilbert.

Eighth-grader Akili Woods, student body president at Horace Mann UCLA Community School in South L.A., says he's learning about how to get to college and how to be a better person now that UCLA is partnering with his school. Woods, who hopes to attend UCLA and become a kindergarten teacher, says the curriculum at Mann has changed, too, since UCLA came on board. “It’s more challenging. Now they offer algebra in the eighth grade every year so you’re ready for geometry in the ninth. They didn’t always offer it before.”

The Mann School — whose population once topped 1,800 — now has about 350 students, roughly half of whom are African-American and half Latino. Many are in the foster care system or have special needs.

Enrollment dropped dramatically when parents — concerned about safety and the school’s learning environment — began sending their children to charter schools or magnet schools outside the neighborhood. The once cacophonous hallways of Mann’s nearly century-old Renaissance Revival building grew quiet.

Seeing the decline, LAUSD recommended Mann for a UCLA partnership in order to foster a culture of learning, mentoring and college preparation. UCLA was committed to working with a school with definite need where it was possible to make a significant difference. After lengthy negotiations, the partners signed a formal memorandum of understanding in February 2017. The school officially became the Horace Mann UCLA Community School, harvesting the energy, commitment and resources that only an eminent public research university can provide.

As early as April 2014, however, UCLA had begun partnering with Mann, and the results are apparent. Woods’ classmate Elijah Black says the UCLA tutors who come to Mann UCLA are helping him make “right choices. They tell me how fun college is.” He says the school buildings are cleaner now, and the students have new equipment such as Chromebooks, and “everybody’s getting better grades.” By the fall, Mann UCLA will be ready to add the ninth grade to its sixth, seventh and eighth grades, with plans to add a grade a year until they have 12.

Black’s mom, Teri BlackPatton, appreciates the school’s frequent interaction with parents. “They call us [almost] every day to tell us how our kids are doing,” she says. While she was a little skeptical at first of UCLA’s involvement, she has seen “good consistency. I like that they’re using what they have to expand. They encourage the kids. Elijah feels really comfortable here, and I feel really safe.”

The Mann school is UCLA's latest challenging endeavor to support public schools in Los Angeles. In fall 2009, the first UCLA Community School opened, as part of LAUSD’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in Koreatown. The school now draws an enrollment of more than 1,000 mostly low-income Latino and Asian students from Koreatown and adjacent Pico-Union.

Students there not only receive an education in the basics, but they also are exposed to a wide variety of enrichment activities at UCLA. And they get to learn alongside university students and faculty who work and volunteer at the UCLA Community School. The results are clear: Last year, 99 percent of the school’s seniors gained college acceptance, and 75 percent enrolled — several points above the 68 percent of high school graduates nationally.

Today, many public school districts are concentrating less on opening new schools than on trying to hold on to the students they have. “The reform context now is not starting from scratch,” says Karen Hunter Quartz Ph.D. ’94, director of research for the UCLA Community Schools Initiative, which is overseeing the Mann UCLA school project. “It’s trying to figure out how to re-enliven the public schools that exist.”

While the goal at Mann UCLA is the same as at RFK — to teach the basics while increasing students’ preparation for higher learning — Mann UCLA presents a challenge of a different order because “it already existed and had a rich history,” says Christine Shen ’97, M.A. ’98, Ed.D. ’03, director of the UCLA Community Schools Initiative. That made its decline even more concerning.

Mann UCLA principal Orlando Johnson '98.

But as Orlando Johnson ’98, Mann UCLA’s principal since fall 2014, says, the school’s situation was “not something to get upset about.” What was called for, he says, was “to enhance our educational program to bring these families back. We need to restore their faith in us so they can be confident their children will get a quality experience at the school right down the street.” He adds that this is where the UCLA connection makes a big difference.

Now all involved — Mann UCLA’s teachers and administrators, as well as UCLA faculty, students and volunteers — are hard at work expanding and redesigning the curriculum and other offerings. Mann UCLA students are eager to do their part, too. Woods and others are organizing a raffle to bring an In-N-Out Burger truck to the Mann UCLA campus, with a healthy share of the profits going to the school.

Mann UCLA students also have access to UCLA’s Summer Institutes. During the seven-week, all-day offering, in partnership with LAUSD’s Extended Learning Opportunities Program, UCLA draws on its Center X Young Scholars Program, Confucius Institute, Visual and Performing Arts Program and Volunteer Center. Students study martial arts, Chinese, coding and math and take part in a Getty arts program. Black says the Summer Institutes help kids “comprehend more” in academic subjects.

In addition, UCLA’s UniCamp offers one of its eight summer sessions exclusively to Mann UCLA students. At the weeklong outdoor summer camp in Big Bear, young people experience the outdoors and talk about issues such as the environment. Woods says the camp helped him learn “how to network and build friendships.”

Woods’ mom, Malika Daniels, likes that Mann UCLA is exposing Akili and his seventh-grade brother, Raiya, to things they otherwise wouldn’t know about, such as a variety of cultures.

“All of these things will help our kids make more educated decisions in terms of their career paths and what colleges they want to go to,” Johnson says of the enrichment programs and activities.

Mann UCLA also has become a hub for student teachers from Center X’s Teacher Education Program, enhancing the school’s efforts to attract high-quality educators, some of whom are already engaged in student teaching there. Principal Johnson says, “It has sometimes been a challenge to get prospective teachers to even interview here, but with this partnership, we’re becoming one of the desired locations. People want to be a part of this.” This year, the interview calendar was full.

As a major research university, UCLA of course wants to learn from its involvement at the community schools. Together, Mann UCLA educators and the university are constructing research projects to inform and strengthen practices at the school; ensure the school’s accountability to students, parents and the community; and contribute to general knowledge about public education.

At Mann UCLA, Quartz says, researchers first are doing a case study to better understand the school’s long history and its current context within an expanding set of school choice options. “We’re doing in-depth interviews of parents, former students, employees at the school, neighborhood pastors, etc. All this will help us understand how to enliven Mann UCLA and other urban neighborhood schools.”

Meanwhile, many working teams are looking at staffing, outreach, professional learning and other issues. “There is great synergy at the school site, and we’re working really well together as partners,” Shen says. “We’re committed to Mann UCLA and to public schooling for all kids so that they can stay in their own neighborhoods and get the kind of education that all children deserve — no matter who they are or what their challenges are.”

Putting together this endeavor “took a lot of thought, a lot of meeting with people, a lot of putting the challenges on the table,” says Jody Priselac ’74, Ed.D. ’99, associate dean for community programs at GSE&IS. But, she adds, “Once you spend time at the school and get to know the kids and the teachers and the community, you feel committed to wanting to support change.”

Johnson says that while his current students may not take full advantage of all that the partnership offers, they appreciate that there is something good going on. “They’ll roll with whatever we do,” he says. “If we adults get on the same page and get our act together, I think this can be a fantastic — even historic — thing that we do here.”

Andrew Gutierrez, Iris Mendoza, Kelly Mendoza, UCLA TEP faculty adviser Darlene Lee, Nivia Alvarado, Annette Serfozo, Ceci Santana, and UCLA History/Geography Project Director Emma Hipolito.