Because Maria’s last name starts with an “s” – Salcedo – last year she had to experience the entire breadth of her sophomore physiology course at Garfield High School sitting on the edge of a science laboratory counter.
Why? Because her classroom couldn’t fit all 63 desks needed to seat the course’s 63 enrolled students, explained Salcedo, now a junior. So the teacher, having few options left, opted to grant desk-privileges alphabetically. After all the desks had been occupied, the dozen or so students left standing were asked to sit on the room’s periphery laboratory stations for the remainder of the course.
Such cases of arbitrariness are not extraordinary inside the walls of a school built to house about a thousand students, but that today bursts at the seams with over 5,100 bodies. And the results of this degree of chronic overcrowding are sad and predictable, say organizers from InnerCity Struggle, a non-profit organization in East Los Angeles that, along with a growing chorus of students and parents, are pushing LAUSD to quickly approve the construction of two smaller-size high schools to reduce Garfield’s population problem.
“Only one out of every 16 students that attends Garfield ever goes on to a four-year university,” said Luis Sanchez, Associate Director of Inner City Struggle, located at 2811 Whittier Boulevard. “And close to 60 percent of students who spend their freshman year there never graduate.
“East Los Angeles has been waiting for a high school for 75 years,” added Sanchez. “Even back during the 1968 East L.A. High School Walkouts, one of their demands was to build a new high school to relieve overcrowding in the area.”
While LAUSD officials have already found a site (at the corner of 1st and Mission streets) to relieve overcrowding at Roosevelt High School, three years after the process was initiated for Garfield, a site has yet to be secured.
One main reason for the delay is the Save Belvedere Park Committee, a group of residents mostly from Monterey Park who vocally opposed the school project because it would have borrowed sections of Belvedere Park.
To Lourdes Rojas, a mother of two girls, one of which attends Garfield, it is ludicrous that it has taken so long to find sites for a new school in East L.A.
“I’ve heard that they’ve been building schools in other areas,” she said. “Why not here?… We have the money to build the schools.”
Last week Rojas, Inner City Struggle organizer Maria Brenes, and dozens of Garfield students belonging to a group called United Students (which includes Salcedo), met with LAUSD Board Member David Tokofsky to try and convince him to ask for a revote so the LAUSD could approve the construction of two smaller sized high schools, rather than only one large school.
Brenes said while there is enough money to build the two schools, including one on the county property near Belvedere Park, the LAUSD needs to find funds to operate two separate schools.
But to Rojas, it is something that needs to be done – soon.
“My children won’t benefit from any of these new schools,” she said. “But I want them to be built because I have lived here all my life, and I believe in educating our youth and helping to make them responsible.”
For more information about an open petition for new high schools in East L.A., call (323) 780-7606.