Alliance Wows with LA City Hall Conference
Friday, March 20th, 2015 @ 10:05AM
The Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools is the largest nonprofit charter network in Los Angeles, comprised of 26 free, public charter high schools and middle schools serving 11,000 low-income students.
In this article, we explore the deepening relationship between the Junior State of America and the Alliance network, and the incredible value the partnership brings to both organizations.
It’s 8:30 on a Sunday, and a line of 20,000 runners loops City Hall, the sunny Los Angeles morning already promising the hottest LA marathon on record.
Dodging the race are dozens of students from Patti & Peter Neuwirth Leadership Academy, the most active Junior State of America chapter in the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools (ACRPS) charter network. The high schoolers head into City Hall, prepared to host their first JSA conference—a “One Day” convention that will draw 215 students from 28 high schools across Southern California. For these students, the LA City Hall One Day is a chance to showcase their accomplishments to peers across Southern California, including students at five other ACRPS schools: Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School, William & Carol Ouchi High School, Judy Ivy Burton Technology Academy High School, Tennenbaum Family Technology High School, and Collins Family College-Ready High School.
In a few hours, the students will debate everything from free community college to animal testing. For now, the students focus on logistics: posting directional signs, distributing moderator handbooks to debate rooms, moving tables.
Junior State’s student-led school year program has been the perfect way for these students to come into their own. Over the last two years, Neuwirth students have attended state conventions and have taken JSA’s spirit into their classrooms with projects that identify, problem-solve and advocate for things like safe crosswalks and clean parks. They’ve met with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (JSA ’88) to pitch proposals. One Neuwirth student is running for neighborhood council.
“I have a lot of love for JSA,” says a Neuwirth senior waiting to hear back from colleges. “Before JSA, I didn’t care about my education; I thought I would go to work early, like my brothers did. Now I know how important education is, and that I can go to college if I want to—that I can do anything if I work hard enough.”
This sentiment is indicative of the growing partnership between the ACRPS charter network, which supports some of the most underserved young people in America, and the Junior State, an achievement-oriented national peer network emphasizing leadership, political engagement and communication. By letting students plan their own events, research their own discussion topics and moderate debates between their peers, JSA doubles down on teenagers’ ability to step up and take responsibility when given the chance. This creates a supportive and dynamic environment for students to develop real world skills and build long-lasting friendships with students from a variety of backgrounds.
For the educators who work with these students on a daily basis, the value of this partnership is even more remarkable. Kip Morales, the JSA Teacher-Adviser for Neuwirth Academy and the Alliance Network’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, explains: “Over the span of a little under a year in JSA, my intercity students’ most profound change has been in their sense of self-pride and self-relevancy: they have grown into 21st century citizens, believing in their own voice, yearning—yes, “yearning”—to collaborate with a more diverse society, and feeling responsible to solve local as well as global challenges.”
It’s 10 am and the flurry of logistics work is over. Attending students have gathered in City Hall’s Council Chambers to hear a keynote address from Councilman Curren D. Price, Jr. and UCLA Professor Vanessa Tyson (JSA ’94). The two talk about college, about politics, about the future. But they’re also keenly aware of the present, and sound proud and impressed when turning to the accomplishments of their student hosts.
JSA is fundamentally about bringing many opinions and backgrounds together—an effort which evades many adults. Getting so many voices in one room expands students’ perspectives about each other and themselves. For all students, this is an eye-opening, formative experience. As Neuwirth’s JSA chapter vice president, Floyd Black, says, “I’ve grown up through some pretty rough circumstances, but JSA has been able to take my mind off the bad and focus on the future I can create for myself, and how I can help others facing hard times.”
In the spirit of JSA, the students are dismissed from opening session not by adults, but by fellow students—this time, with an invocation from the LA Vice Mayor, Henri Stern. And with much excitement for the day and conversations ahead, they’re off.