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Fall 2000
The Slum Buster
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Before enrolling in law school, Vanessa Alvarado taught kindergarten in a poor minority school in East Palo Alto. She knew the landscape and, as a bilingual Latina and member of Blasi's research team, was able to gain the trust of some Latina mothers whose children attended a slum-like San Pedro middle school. "It struck a chord for me that, in spite of the fact they did not have the documents to be in this country, they would take the risk to make their presence known because they knew what was best for their children," she says. "They came to this country so their children would have a better education."

When Gary Blasi thinks about the work he and his students did, he remembers the day in May when the ACLU held a press conference to announce the Williams lawsuit. Blasi, who has attended many press conferences, had never seen so many cameras. That morning, nearly 20 children, ranging from 11 to 17, spoke. "These kids went up one by one and talked about what obstacles they confronted in trying to get an education and how it wasn't fair," he says.

"It's really the stories of these kids that will move public policy. That's what I like about the case - it really adopts a kid's-eye view of the world." Thus far, the response from education officials to the report has been mute. Unless a settlement is reached, it is likely the case will drag on for years, as have similar education suits in other states.

No matter. Gary Blasi is proud of the report.

"I am proud of the hearts and minds of our students and the quality of their work," he says. "I feel gratitude for having a job that allows me to do such work with such people. I am outraged at the possibilities we are denying to so many thousands of kids.

"And," he concludes, "I have hope that these problems can be turned around with the concerted efforts of all kinds of people of good will."

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