A teacher has a weak moment in class and loses his or her cool — perhaps flipping a desk, or berating a student. A student in the class uses his or her mobile device to record the meltdown. The video or audio recording ends up on the Internet, and the teacher gets in trouble.
The teacher, who last week was placed on paid leave while Los Angeles Unified School District administrators investigate the matter, argues that she shouldn’t be disciplined because the student broke the law by making the recording.
But is that true?
It turns out the answer is complicated. Under California Education Code Section 51512, it indeed is illegal for any person — including a student — to use an electronic device to record what is happening in the classroom without the consent of the teacher.
But here is where the matter gets tricky: The teeth in the law really applies only to people who are not students. That is, any nonpupil who is caught recording a classroom discussion without the teacher’s consent can be charged with a misdemeanor.
“If I want to audit my kid’s class — maybe I think the material violates some religious belief — I can’t record the class without the teacher’s permission,” said Rebecca Lonergan, an assistant professor of law at USC.
When it comes to students who are caught surreptitiously recording their teachers, the punishment is determined by school administrators.
“If it’s a student, you’re not going to criminally prosecute them for recording their teacher,” said Lonergan, who also has worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she dealt with many wiretapping cases. After all, “they may be doing it with good motivations, as a study aid.”
That reportedly wasn’t the case for the student who recorded the HArts teacher, whose name the Daily Breeze has declined to publish.
According to the teacher, the student had been egging her on in front of the 12th-grade class.
That student then allegedly brought the recording to a faculty member on the campus of Narbonne High School, the comprehensive high school from which the brand-new academy split this fall. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.
Does this mean that the student who recorded the teacher is subject to greater discipline because her intent was to do harm to the teacher? Not necessarily.
LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said the district policy is that cellphones are not allowed to be turned on in class. The school policy does not distinguish between using a phone to text with a friend or using it to embarrass a teacher.
“On is on,” she said. “The policy clearly states it shouldn’t be on.”
Outside of the classroom, the laws on surreptitious recordings in California are relatively strict.
California is among 12 states nationwide to require “two-party consent,” meaning a conversation between two people in person or over the phone cannot be recorded unless both parties are aware. (The law also applies to conversations with more than two participants.)
The other 38 states, and the District of Columbia, require just one party to be aware.
Two-party consent law — codified in California law by Penal Code Section 632 — means an incriminating statement cannot be used against a person who was secretly recorded by another person who was not acting as an agent of law enforcement. In other words, the evidence is not admissible in court.
Does this mean that the teacher can be disciplined even though the evidence that launched the investigation was obtained as the result of an illegal act?
According to a precedent case in 1999, the answer is yes. In Evens v. Superior Court, Karen Evens, a science teacher at LAUSD, was surreptitiously videotaped by two students. Although reports online are not clear about what the video captured, it’s clear that it depicted some sort of misconduct on the part of the teacher.
The LAUSD school sought to use it as evidence in a disciplinary hearing. Through the teachers union, Evens filed a lawsuit arguing that the evidence was not permissible in court.
Ultimately, the California Court of Appeal ruled against the teacher.
The students, meanwhile, were suspended.
As for the student in this case, LAUSD officials said the punishment will depend on several factors.
“You always look at discipline of students as a continuum,” said Chris Ortiz, LAUSD’s director of school operations. “We look at: Does the student have a prior history of this type of violation?”
If so, he said, a suspension might be in order. If not, “we look at other means of correction — volunteering at the school, maybe, or writing a letter of apology.”
Officials from United Teachers Los Angeles declined to comment.
Know anybody who can’t make it through dinner without checking his smartphone? Who has a tendency to boast a little on Facebook? Who is made a little melancholy by social media but still can’t pull herself away?
Is that person you?
A psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, is gaining prominence for his argument that more and more of us are exhibiting signs of what he has coined an iDisorder. That is, we are, through the use of technology devices, manifesting symptoms of narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, social phobia, hypochondria and other psychiatric maladies.
The professor, Larry Rosen — whose visibility as a “psychology of technology” expert is on the rise — says that in this age of hyper-connectivity, most people see a little of themselves in at least some of the telltale symptoms.
The good news, he says, is there are remedies — simple solutions that don’t require disconnecting and trying to live like it’s 1985. (Or aiming a handgun at your daughter’s laptop and shooting it full of holes, as one fed-up man actually did earlier this year in North Carolina.)
“What I’m on my high horse about is focus,” Rosen said in a recent phone interview, while sitting with a laptop in the waiting room of his auto mechanic — an irony that wasn’t lost on him. “This is the crux of my talk. I’ll show you how distracted you are, and how we can get you to focus better.”
Rosen has been a professor at CSU Dominguez Hills for decades. But in the past couple of years he’s become an international go-to expert on the topic of social media — and its effect on our brains.
His new book, “iDisorder” — co-authored by fellow CSU Dominguez Hills professors Nancy Cheever and L. Mark Carrier — recently received a favorable review in The New York Times.
Rosen is frequently quoted in national media outlets, and he clearly welcomes the attention. His website includes a list of media interviews he’s done this year, and it isn’t short. In May and June alone, the credits include The New York Times, Businessweek, The Boston Globe, the Sydney Morning Herald and PBS — and that barely scratches the surface.
The headlines can themselves be anxiety inducing.
“Are We Addicted to Facebook? It’s Complicated!” “Mobile Devices: A Constant Craving That May Be Changing Our Personalities.” “Do You Suffer From These 4 Tech Addictions?” “Too Much Technology for Kids is Bad for Development, Says New Study.”
Central to Rosen’s premise is the idea that technology doesn’t make us crazy, but often exacerbates our crazy tendencies, or even triggers their development.
Logging on to your laptop the minute you get home from work every day could be a warning sign for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Posting a dozen daily status updates on Facebook that make frequent use of the words “I” or “me” could be a byproduct of narcissism.
Writing updates that use more swear words, fewer positive-emotion words and more religious words correlates to depressive behavior. Missing meetings or deadlines at work because one has been surfing the Web raises a red flag for ADHD. (One study says more than three-quarters of computer-based task switching focuses on distracting, rather than work-related, activities.)
According to the book, each successive generation generally reports higher and higher levels of anxiety when separated from their technologies. With increased anxiety comes increased usage, and ever more opportunities to develop iDisorders.
Meanwhile, Rosen’s own research has indicated that nobody — regardless of their age or gender — is really all that good at multitasking. Although some forms of multitasking are easier than others.
“The trick is to know when to pay attention to one thing at a time and when it is OK to switch from one thing to another,” he said.
Far from believing technology is bad, Rosen is an early adopter.
In 1984, while an assistant professor at CSU Dominguez Hills, he showed the students a big computer in his classroom; he informed them they would be using it to do their statistics. The punch-card machines were large, bulky and foreboding.
“The students freaked out,” he said. “They were hesitant and scared of it.”
He’s the first to acknowledge he checks his Facebook account every half-hour at a minimum.
Rosen, 62, is a proponent of the tech break. But his idea of implementing such a thing is a little counterintuitive. For instance, in his classroom, Rosen encourages students not to put their cellphones away, but to take them out and use them for one minute at the beginning of class. Then, he instructs students to silence the gadgets and place them face-down on their desks.
“That way you can see it,” he said. “The phone becomes a stimulus to the brain: Don’t worry, you will get to check me in less than 15 minutes.”
He promotes using this technique at work, or the dinner table, or while trying to finish homework.
“It’s designed to get people to stop being distracted and focus,” he said.
On a related note, Rosen advises people to wait a couple of minutes before sending a written email — a technique he refers to as an “e-waiting period.”
“I’ve sent emails I regret,” he said. “Then I send five more emails trying to apologize or straighten it out.”
As for whether all this technology is, on the whole, good or bad for society, Rosen says it’s a wash.
On the positive side, he said, Facebook — despite encouraging narcissistic behavior — in some ways promotes a kinder, gentler society.
“That `like’ button is amazingly powerful,” he said. “People feel amazingly reinforced when 40 people like what they have posted.”
But he also believes there is truth to the idea that the proliferation of social media is taking a toll on our propensity for deep thinking.
Ultimately, the question of whether the digital revolution is good or bad is irrelevant; it’s here, just like the telephone, the TV or the automobile.
The more relevant question, according to Rosen: How do you handle the onslaught without losing your mind?
It was 2006 when the pilot episode of “Top Chef” aired.
At the time, the now-overcrowded culinary arts program at Los Angeles Harbor College in Wilmington didn’t exist. The three-story, $40 million culinary arts complex at Los Angeles Mission College in the San Fernando Valley was but a blueprint. Nationwide enrollment at a group of 17 for-profit culinary schools owned by the company Career Education Corp. had yet to explode.
Is there a link between the blazing-hot popularity of food TV – led by “Top Chef” – and the booming market for culinary arts classes? Students and instructors alike say without a doubt.
“It brought a business and industry to light that was pretty much behind the kitchen door,” said Steve Kasmar, chairman of the culinary and baking program at Los Angeles Trade Tech, home to the oldest continuously running culinary arts program in the nation. “They did glorify it. ”
Regardless, in just three years, the annual student load of the culinary curriculum at Los Angeles Mission College has more than doubled, from 250 to 600. And that’s not just because of the fancy new facility, which boasts seven spacious kitchens, each of them equipped with cutting-edge video technology a la the cooking shows. The surge is also happening at Trade Tech in downtown Los Angeles and Harbor College – the two other schools with culinary programs in the Los Angeles Community College District.
Both of those schools have multimillion-dollar kitchen remodels in the pipeline, largely to accommodate the onrush.
“I’m packed with more than 60 kids per class – the cap is supposed to be 25,” said Giovanni Delrosario, who runs the 5-year-old program at Harbor College. “We have 90 more students on the waiting list. It’s phenomenal; I’ve never seen anything like it. ”
Although the stampede for these classes is no doubt largely the product of an intangible trend – the term “gourmet” is becoming so ubiquitous it can even apply to ketchup – the food entertainment craze is a clear contributor. The popularity of TV cooking shows began heating up in the mid-2000s and reached a boiling point in 2012. (Soon after hitting an all-time high, ratings for the Food Network cooled slightly in the fourth quarter of the year.)
“It’s more glamorous now – we look at chefs like rock stars,” said Julie Valenta Kiritani,who recently finished a program at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.
The problem is, the shine of the kitchens on TV seldom matches the grime of the ones in reality. While the culinary schools churn out a torrent of graduates, the job market into which they are released is far from flashy – or lucrative.
Job market limits
In 2010, cooks across the nation earned about $20,000 a year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prep workers took home about $19,000 on average. For the kings of the kitchen – chefs and head cooks – yearly pay averaged $40,000, a livable wage, but hardly glamorous. What’s more, the bureau projects that job prospects for chefs and head cooks will contract by 1 percent in the next decade, even as the rest of the economy expands by 14 percent.
“Employment growth will be tempered as many restaurants, in an effort to lower costs, use lower-level cooks to perform the work normally done by chefs and head cooks,” the report concludes. “Workers with a combination of business skills, previous work experience, and creativity will have the best job prospects. ”
Kasmar of Los Angeles Trade Tech conceded that the past couple of years have been an employers’ market.
“They’ve been picking by hand who they want,” he said. “You go work for nothing and they see if they like you. ”
That certainly rings true to employer Ed Kasky, executive director of USC’s University Club that caters to faculty and staff. Kasky recently posted a job online for a sous chef and got 50 applicants.
“I can tell you that 75 percent of the people who applied were severely overqualified to be a sous chef,” he said.
Still, Los Angeles is generally considered one of the foodie capitals of the world, and instructors of the community college programs insist their students are heavily recruited. (None could provide job placement statistics for recent grads, though.)
“When Wolfgang Puck (catering service) wants to do an event for 15,000 people for the Oscars or the Grammys … they actually come and recruit at the school,” Kasmar said.
Delrosario, the instructor at Harbor College, says his graduates have been landing jobs all over the place – and not just in Los Angeles restaurants.
“I can’t crank out enough grads to fulfill all the needs,” he said.
Some of his students have gone to work in the homes of wealthy families on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, for instance.
Even more unique is the partnership Harbor College has forged with a group of restaurants in Australia, whose economy is booming. Since August, at least a dozen of the college’s students have taken jobs Down Under, where starting salaries run as high as $45,000.
One of Delrosario’s students, 23-year-old Minor De Leon of Gardena, even lucked into the Playboy Mansion, where he works as a junior chef making dishes for Hugh Hefner and his playmates.
“When I wake up in morning, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m on my way to the Playboy Mansion,'” said De Leon, who was drawn to the profession by cooking shows such as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “Emeril Live.” “How many people get to say that every day? ”
Louis Zandalasini, chairman of professional studies at Mission College (and a chef), said it isn’t uncommon for corporate chefs to take home $80,000 to $100,000, though not all students can expect to reach that level. However, students can realistically expect to make $40,000 to $60,000, he said.
“When you’re making that kind of money, you’ve usually been in that particular job as executive chef for 10, 12 or 15 years,” he said.
For the vast majority of entry-level cooks, though, the starting pay ranges from $10 to $12 an hour.
The good news for the tidal wave of chefs-in-training is that Food TV also has had a zeitgeist effect on the consumer. Hence, the explosion of affordable restaurants (and food trucks) offering all manner of cosmopolitan cuisine: French delicacies, premium gelato, spicy seafood dips, wood-grilled this or that, center-of-the-plate desserts.
“There are so many more food and wine festivals, where the food is now the star,” Kiritani said. “It used to be you’d go and see a band play, and that was more exciting than the food. Now it has completely shifted. ”
Kasmar of Los Angeles Trade Tech is thankful for the enrollment boost they’ve inspired. After all, it has fueled future plans for a $36 million renovation to his facility, whose new incarnation is scheduled to open in 2016. But there’s been a downside.
“They glorified what we do, and what we do is really not glorious,” he said. “It’s hard friggin’ work. “
Chet Pipkin is the most famous tech mogul you’ve probably never heard of, even though he came of age in the South Bay, and even though you’ve probably purchased some of his products.
In many ways, the arc of his story is familiar, calling to mind that of better- known tech tycoons. Much like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, Pipkin is a college dropout.
Just as Zuckerberg co-created Facebook in a dorm room, Pipkin, 50, launched his business, Belkin International – now an industry leader in connectivity products – from his parents’ garage in the Hollyglen neighborhood of Hawthorne.
And much as Gates has made philanthropy a full-time obsession, Pipkin now spends a sizable chunk of his working hours on community service projects all over Los Angeles County, from improving squad cars with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to sitting on the board of the YMCA to serving as president of the board at Da Vinci Charter high school in Hawthorne.
Unlike some of his better-known peers, Pipkin, now a resident of Manhattan Beach, grew up in a working-class family. By merely attending – let alone graduating from – Lawndale High School, he surpassed the education level of both parents.
And unlike Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs, Pipkin majored in history, not computer science or physics. This detail, perhaps more than anything, sheds light on how one of the L.A. area’s most influential tech entrepreneur ticks.
Pipkin, once Belkin’s CEO and now its chairman, jumped headlong into technology in the early 1980s not because he had any formal training in the field, but because he understood that the sands of time are forever shaped by a series of tidal waves. He believed he could see the next one coming.
Always an entrepreneur at heart, Pipkin had contemplated other pursuits as a high schooler, from starting a limo service to opening an ice cream shop to becoming a Santa Claus for hire. But it wasn’t until he started thinking like a historian that he began to see the future.
While working a low-paying job stocking shelves at a wholesale manufacturer of electronic components, Pipkin began pondering other legendary moguls whose fortunes capitalized on sweeping historical movements: Andrew Carnegie’s empire of steel during the railroad boom, for instance, and John D. Rockefeller’s prescience and good timing during the meteoric rise of the oil industry.
“As soon as I started thinking that way, it was overwhelmingly obvious that this PC thing was going to take off,” he said. “I didn’t know about hardware, software, or anything about anything. I just hopped in.”
Now, he likes to say that if you own a personal computer, there’s an 80 to 90 percent chance you’ve got a Belkin product; if you own a smartphone, it’s a 95 percent chance.
Roots in the Depression
Pipkin’s parents both came of age in a hardscrabble place and time: the middle of the country during the height of the Great Depression. His mother was the illegitimate daughter of a farmer in North Dakota. Until her dying day a year ago, she never overcame the shame of the stigma, he said.
His father, who died in 2006, was born in Texas, but as a boy traveled by horse-drawn wagon with his family to Oklahoma, sleeping in abandoned houses along the way.
Both of his parents were among the waves of Americans pushed west by the ravages of drought and economic hardship.
There’s one detail of his family tree that surely piqued Pipkin’s affinity for history: It is widely speculated that his great-aunt, Myra Pipkin, was the basis for Ma Joad in John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” according to the Library of Congress. (Click here to listen to her interview with documentarian Charles Todd.)
Pipkin’s father, Chester, was eventually drafted to serve as a machinist in World War II. His mother, Lorraine, became a machine operator in the L.A. area, fulfilling the archetypal role of Rosie the Riveter. They met after the war, working together as machine operators – he was her boss – in the region.
One of four children, Chet Pipkin attended public schools in the Wiseburn School District, the very district that hosts Da Vinci Charter, whose five-member board he now chairs. At Dana Middle School in Hawthorne, he was an average student. For whatever reason, he blossomed academically at Lawndale High.
There, he discovered not only his aptitude for learning, but also his passion for civic engagement, signing up for the YMCA’s youth and government program.
To this day, he is a board member of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, as well as of the California YMCA Model Legislature and Court.
The YMCA is also where he met Jan, his wife of 25 years and the mother of their seven children – six sons and one daughter, whom they adopted as a teen.
Pipkin said his wife has played a crucial role at Belkin since its founding, and she now sits on the company’s board of directors.
“I always got the high-profile stuff,” he said. “She got the heavy-lifting stuff. Really the very unsung hero, if there is a hero in this story.”
After graduating toward the top of his class at Lawndale High, Pipkin began his short stint at UCLA, which lasted all of two quarters. Unable to afford a parking pass, he would toss a bicycle in the back of his Datsun pickup every day, park off campus and pedal in.
But his real education was occurring on Hawthorne Boulevard, which in the early 1980s was dotted with stores that were selling these newfangled things called personal computers and printers. After his epiphany about the Next Big Thing, Pipkin literally began knocking on the doors of these shops in his spare time on evenings and weekends, asking if they needed any help.
“The bigger ones asked me to move along,” he said.
The smaller entrepreneurs allowed him to hang out, asking him to help out with odds and ends, such as unloading a truck.
“On the outside, it sounds really folksy,” he said. “On the inside, it was a really intense, focused strategy to really discern and figure out everything that could be figured out about that market.”
All the while, he observed people. It didn’t take him long to discover a void. Salesmen were eager to push products out the door, customers were confounded as to how to get a printer of this brand to talk to a computer of that. Easy-to-use cables connecting one to the other didn’t exist.
“There were so many different variations and combinations,” he said. “It would have been impossible for the stores to stock all of them.”
Pipkin knew a thing or two about cables. After all, in addition to hanging out at computer shops, he’d been working full time at the wholesaler store, Electro- Sonic, which sold a lot of connectors to the military.
Dining-room table start
Using a cable cutter and a soldering iron, Pipkin – who’d always been a tinkerer – built his first computer cable on his parents’ dining-room table. Purchasing the parts from various vendors, he built 10 or so and brought them to a store.
Impressed, the store owners asked how much he wanted for them. He shrugged his shoulders and said $15 or $20 apiece.
“I probably made about a couple bucks an hour on those,” he said. “But I figured if there was a need, and this was exploding, we would be in fine shape.”
After a week, his mom kicked him out of the dining room and into the garage. His night job began to take priority over his day job, to the irritation of his bosses at Electro-Sonic. They fired him.
“They did the right thing,” he said.
It was 1982, and Pipkin was suddenly at a crossroads: Get another job, return to school or dive full time into his business. Pipkin chose option No. 3.
In the late 1970s, he and Steve Bellow, a friend from Electro-Sonic, had conceived of another business that never went anywhere. Merging their last names, they called it Belkin, but did little more than print out some letterhead. In his new enterprise, for fear of looking too small, Pipkin didn’t want to name the company after himself. He decided to go with Belkin. (Bellow later came to work for Belkin, but as an employee, not a partner.)
In 1983, the company’s first full year, Belkin generated $180,000 in sales. The number skyrocketed year by year: $600,000, $1.8 million, $3million. Today, Belkin International, still a private company, has offices on all continents except Antarctica, employs about 1,500 people and generates $1 billion a year in sales.
An easygoing manner, and a lasting stuttering impediment
Chet Pipkin has a lanky build and a narrow face, with a wisp of sandy-gray hair atop a freckly receding hairline.
For all his drive, his manner is relaxed and approachable. On a recent day at work, he showed up in his usual attire: untucked business- casual shirt, blue jeans.
Since early childhood, he has grappled with a stuttering impediment, and to this day occasionally falters on a word, whose first syllable he will calmly repeat several times before completing it successfully.
The stuttering, he said, used to be difficult, but not so much anymore.
“I’ve got a reputation and a brand now, so I’m not as worried about the first-impression thing,” he said, sitting in his smallish office in Belkin’s new glassy headquarters overlooking a park in Playa Vista.
He never sought speech therapy until he was in his 30s, upon noticing that his 3-year-old son, who’s now 21, also stuttered. They went to see the therapist together. His son no longer stutters, and Pipkin said he, too, learned some tools to keep it at bay, but generally doesn’t like to employ them unless absolutely necessary, as for a public-speaking engagement.
“It doesn’t feel authentic,” he said.
He briefly launched a nonprofit organization for stutterers, but shut it down when it became apparent that other organizations were already doing good work in that domain.
Pipkin, who is big on solving the energy-consumption problem, drives a battery-powered sports car, the $110,000 Tesla Roadster, although he is a little sheepish about the flashiness.
“I made the mistake of taking a test drive,” he said.
Asked if he is a billionaire, Pipkin says no, and declines to quantify his net worth.
His stated discomfort with flashiness and attention seems to jibe with depictions of him by friends and business associates, who generally describe him as intensely focused, but humble.
Sean Williams, who resigned a few weeks ago as a Belkin vice president after working there for 27 years, said he isn’t surprised that press coverage of Pipkin or even Belkin is relatively scant.
“A lot of people in his position would have a PR person or organization getting his name out in the press, getting him speaking engagements, building up a personal brand,” he said. “He could care less about that.”
(The Daily Breeze contacted Pipkin for this story through an administrator at Da Vinci Schools.)
Williams added that he knows about all of Pipkin’s charity work only because other people talk about it.
“He never, ever talks about what he’s doing to give back,” he said. “It is always done completely in the background.”
The only criticism Williams had of Pipkin and Belkin is that the company has never been good at celebrating success.
“You would do something superhuman, like grow the business 80 percent one year, but then he would immediately be talking about what the targets were for next year,” he said. “He is very, very demanding.”
Williams added that Pipkin is “the best person I’ll ever meet.”
For the most part, Pipkin’s 28-year-old company has managed to remain under the radar, with some exceptions. In 2003, Inc. magazine listed the company – then located in Compton – on its Inner City Hall of Fame for an explosive rate of growth. Belkin has made the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Private Companies list for five years.
The press hasn’t all been good, however.
The company in 2003 was criticized on technology news sites for putting out a line of wireless routers that served spam onto the desktop.
In 2009, Belkin was blasted in the tech blogs after it came out that a marketing executive with the company was paying people to write positive online reviews. Belkin publicly apologized and took down the reviews.
In 2010, the company moved from Compton to Playa Vista. The glassy new headquarters, with its twin four-story buildings, is a testament to the company’s quiet success, and perhaps a reflection of Pipkin’s personality.
Every office is identical in size, regardless of one’s rank, with walls that double as whiteboards for brainstorming.
Engineers might trade ideas and scribble formulas while standing at a pingpong table. The cafeteria is at once fancy and casual. Chandeliers hang over the main table, and the head of the kitchen dons the full chef regalia, tall white hat included. In the middle of the room stands a foosball table.
These days, Belkin has branched out significantly from its origins in cables, producing an assortment of products that includes wireless routers, iPod accessories, laptop cooling pads and iPad cases.
Engineers are laboring on a project pertaining to what Pipkin believes will be the next big thing: energy conservation.
“If you look at population growth on the Earth, it’s a pretty scary statistic,” he said. “But what’s more scary is consumption per person. … There are no ifs, ands or buts: We’re either all going to be dead or are going to find ways to manage our consumption in much better ways.”
The new product, he says, will plug into an outlet and provide an item-by-item breakdown of how much energy each appliance is using – and costing. In a couple of months, Belkin, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, will pilot the device in 60 Chicago homes.
Risk-taking charity work
Keeping track of Pipkin’s charity work is as dizzying as understanding the full scope of his business.
But much of his work stems from a simple observation about government: Rarely in the public sector is there an incentive to use taxpayer money for thoughtful risk-taking. Much of his philanthropy involves fulfilling this role.
For instance, one of the efforts involved equipping squad cars in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with automatic license-plate readers.
Through an entity called the Safe Cities Foundation – founded and underwritten by Pipkin, with financial help from Target Corp. and Wells Fargo – enough capital was raised to build prototypes for three cars. It proved a success, and Sheriff Lee Baca asked for 10 more. (Pipkin said Belkin receives no profit from the work.)
“We’re the incubator for these kinds of things,” Pipkin said. “If the idea is no good, we take full responsibility.”
Conversely, if it is good, Pipkin’s foundation backs off, allowing the public entity to take it from there, like a kid removing the training wheels from a bicycle.
Pipkin was approached to join the board at Da Vinci Charter by the school’s principal, Matthew Wunder, a former guidance counselor at Manhattan Beach Middle School, where Pipkin’s children attended.
“Don’t think I wasn’t really, really nervous about it,” Wunder said. “He’s really accessible, but Chet Pipkin is a legend.”
One thing that made the phone call difficult is that Pipkin was already spread pretty thin. In addition to his involvement with the YMCA, he sits on the boards of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Diabetes Camping and Educational Services organization. He also coaches kids soccer.
But Pipkin was receptive.
Role at South Bay school “He made it easy,” Wunder said. “He was infinitely patient and inquisitive.”
Pipkin believes the fatal flaw of the public education system is its rigidity.
“When it’s working, it’s working – many, many schools do it well,” he said. “They don’t need our help.”
But when the dropout rate in the Los Angeles Unified School District is 30 percent, something is amiss, he said.
Pipkin insists that he isn’t one of these people who believes charter schools are the silver bullet, but he does appreciate how they are generally more receptive to experimentation. He claims to have few original ideas about how to improve education, but rather encourages Da Vinci to have the flexibility to try unconventional ideas supported by solid research.
Example: Contrary to popular belief – and intuition – research shows that smaller class sizes really don’t correlate to significantly higher achievement until the head count drops to below 17. However, research shows that achievement tends to decline once the number of student relationships per teacher exceeds 75. At many high schools, teachers have five periods with at least 30 kids, or about 150 relationships.
To get that number down to below the magic 75, Da Vinci has adopted the block schedule, meaning the classes last for an hour and a half rather than
just one hour.
Pipkin said he welcomes debate on whether or not such practices truly benefit kids.
But “if it’s a debate just to keep things from changing, then I lose patience with it.”
With all the earnestness of a multimillionaire who believes he can change the world for the better, he added: “We can do better, we must do better. Otherwise the consequences to society are going to be overwhelming.”
With public schools as broke as ever and taking a beating in the media, it’s easy to imagine an exodus of families making a mad dash for private schools.
On the contrary, private schools in California have been losing students in record numbers, and the South Bay is no exception.
Since hitting a peak in 2001-02, the number of students attending private schools in the South Bay has plunged nearly 25 percent to just above 20,000 – the lowest number since at least 1999, according to a Daily Breeze analysis of data provided by the California Department of Education.
Although the rise of public charter schools and home-schooling factor into the decline, the biggest culprit is by far the economy, say many South Bay private school educators.
“People have lost their jobs and/or homes – many have been forced to move out of the area,” said Tom Sheck, an administrator with the K-8 Coast Christian School in Redondo Beach, where enrollment fell from 275 to 150 in just three years. “We’re hanging on by the grace of God, indeed we are.”
Across California, private school enrollment dropped by 18 percent from 2000-01 to 2008-09, according to the California Department of Education. That’s compared with a 3 percent rise over the same period in California’s K-12 public school system. From 2007-08 to 2008-09 alone, the statewide private school tally fell 4.3 percent.
But the degree to which certain areas have lost students varies widely, depending largely on how battered they were by the recession, or how quickly housing prices have risen in middle-class communities, officials say.
In the South Bay, enrollment has held steady in areas like affluent Manhattan Beach, where the head count has gone up. Hardest hit have been Hawthorne and Inglewood, which have seen enrollments cut in half over the past decade. The portion of Los Angeles that sits in the South Bay – home to about one-fifth of all private school students in the South Bay – has also seen a major drop.
Still, even when factoring out the cities of Inglewood and Los Angeles, private school enrollment in the South Bay has dwindled by 17percent in a decade.
At some schools, the decline has been too much to bear. Recent closures include the K-8 Holy Family School in Wilmington – which served 200 students as late as 2004 – and South Bay Lutheran High School in Inglewood.
Lucas Fitzgerald, principal of Pacific Lutheran High School in Torrance, insists that the decline isn’t about quality.
“If it was quality, there would be no public schools,” he said. “I went to a public middle school and public high school – there are some great public schools. But on average they don’t stack up to private schools.”
To underscore his point, Fitzgerald points to statistics touted by the Council for American Private Education showing that private school students generally outperform their public school peers. For instance, in 2005, the average score for a public school student on the SAT verbal section was 505, compared with 539 among religious school students.
Parochial school educators also like to point out that four of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are products of a Catholic education.
“It really has provided public servants,” said Kathleen Gorze, principal at St. Catherine Elementary in Torrance.
However, in 2006, a widely publicized study by the U.S. Department of Education under the Bush administration concluded that public school students fared slightly better in math and reading than their private school counterparts, when socioeconomic differences are factored out.
Debates over educational superiority notwithstanding, there are some empirical benefits to private schools.
For instance, in Torrance, the average class size at the four public high schools has surpassed 40 students, and the length of the year has been truncated by five days, to 175. At Bishop Montgomery High, a Catholic school in Torrance, class sizes are in the mid-20s, and the school year is still 180 days. At Pacific Lutheran High, class size is down to 15.
One private school where business is booming is the K-12 South Bay Faith Academy in Redondo Beach. At this evangelically affiliated school, enrollment has doubled in a decade, to about 500. But its popularity is perhaps more a measure of the home-schooling model. That’s because the academy is a gathering point for home- schooled students, who typically come to campus once every other week to take an elective.
Annual tuition at the academy runs around $350, which is highly affordable, although the home-schooling curriculum can easily cost $2,000.
Also bucking the trend is the 64-year-old American Martyrs Catholic School in Manhattan Beach, where annual tuition runs about $5,000. Here, enrollment has risen steadily over a decade, from about 450 to 650.
In Manhattan Beach, whose public school district last year posted the third-highest test scores of all K-12 districts in California, religious values are often the major distinguishing point for private school families.
“(The Catholic school) fits with the environment that we are trying to have at home and the church,” said Kellie Kendall, president of the school’s parent association. “They’re including a similar message everywhere, in terms of our faith.”
There is some evidence that private schools are benefiting some from the ongoing malaise in the public system. In particular, the rate of the decline has slowed significantly over the past year, said Ron Reynolds, executive director of California Association of Private School Organizations.
“When you hear everybody talking about increased class sizes and the loss of arts education, that has an effect,” he said. “We’re not happy about it, but it might induce private school parents to think twice before removing their children.”
Indeed, Sheck at Coast Christian said his school has experienced a mid-year bump in enrollment.
“Many families have come to us to express discontent with class sizes and cuts,” he said.
Some South Bay private schools are taking measures to counter the declines. Pacific Lutheran High in Torrance has frozen its annual tuition at $6,300 for two years. Normally, the school boosts tuition by about 5 percent every year.
At Bishop Montgomery, where tuition is $7,100, the school has boosted the amount of money it raises from foundations and individuals to provide tuition assistance for struggling families.
Still, the Catholic school’s enrollment has dropped by about 100 students in four years, to 1,100 in the past school year.
But the principal at Bishop Montgomery Rosemary Libbon said she isn’t worried.
“I really don’t agonize over that,” she said. “If you work at what you do, if you work at doing a good job and being the best you can be, then my experience is that the students will come.”
It is often said that, to succeed academically, students need just one adult on campus to believe in them. For Kevin Qualls, a recent graduate of El Segundo High, that person was the school custodian.
In truth, many adults at the school surely believed in Kevin — who graduated earlier this month in the top 5 percent of his class. But in custodian William Ochoa, Kevin saw a kindred spirit.
Both grew up in poverty-stricken south Los Angeles, where Kevin still lives. Both were raised in single-parent families with an absent father. Both were outsiders who felt embraced by a suburban community whose quaint small-town architecture feels a world away from the gritty neighborhoods they’ve called home.
“Everybody shows me so much love here,” Kevin said.
Their friendship began one day after school hours, when Ochoa walked into the computer lab and found Kevin in there alone, lost in work.
Normally, Ochoa would kindly ask such a straggler to leave — in fact the rules require it. But Ochoa, who is commonly chatty with students, struck up a conversation. He learned that Kevin hung around the school or in the nearby El Segundo Public Library every night until 7 or 7:30 p.m., because that was the earliest his mother could get to school to pick him up after working all day in Century City.
“I thought to myself: If I kick him out, where is he going to go?” Ochoa said. “I figured, it’s not going to hurt anyone for him to stay here for an hour.”
Over the course of the year, Ochoa and Kevin got to know each other better. Sometimes, in the evening, Kevin would walk back to the school from the library — perhaps to retrieve a book he’d forgotten, or perhaps just to shoot the breeze. Ochoa would open the locked door.
“He would always ask about my kids,” said the 32-year-old Ochoa, who these days lives in Lawndale with his wife and two young children. “You never see a kid ask you about your family, about your kids.”
When Kevin worked the snack shack at Friday night football games, Ochoa and the other custodians would joke around with him.
When Kevin learned he was a finalist for the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship — a jackpot award funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that foots the entire bill for the tuition, room and board of the lucky winners — Ochoa was one of the first people Kevin told.
From the beginning, the odds haven’t been in Kevin’s favor.
Half-black, half-Samoan, Kevin is a resident of Leimert Park, a south Los Angeles community located within the attendance boundaries of Crenshaw High School, where test scores are abysmal and the dropout rate astronomical.
In 2006, Kevin — an only child — saw his small family become smaller. That was the year his father, who’d long battled depression, was committed to a board-and-care facility for the mentally ill in Carson.
From that point on, his immediate family has consisted of two members — Kevin and his mom, Alofa Qualls. Every day, she drove him to school in El Segundo from Leimert Park, then traveled all the way up to Century City, where she works in the accounts-receivable department of an insurance company.The family actually lived in El Segundo in the distant past. But they moved out when Kevin was in kindergarten because they couldn’t afford it. Ever since, his mother had enrolled him in El Segundo’s public schools as a permit student.
Kevin was in middle school, he said, when the sacrifices made by his mother really hit him.
“I thought, if my mom is pouring so much sweat and hustle to take me here, I might as well make the most of it,” he said.
Alofa said her son has been undeterred by the roadblocks. “He’s not using any of those excuses to use it as a cop-out,” she said. “He rose from all that.”
At El Segundo High, where student test scores are exceptional, Kevin did more than hold his own. In addition to graduating near the top of his class, he won the contest among students for giving the valedictory address, which he delivered on commencement day June 13.
He was recognized by the El Segundo Masonic Lodge earlier this month as El Segundo High’s Student of the Year.
“I had the pleasure of teaching Kevin in AP physics this year,” said teacher Steven Eno. “Kevin is the most respectful and hardest working student that I have ever worked with. … Kevin made a habit of coming into class early and leaving class late to get as much time working with physics as possible.”
Most impressively, Kevin was a recipient of that Gates Millennium scholarship, which will cover the entire $62,000-a-year bill for him to attend and live on the campus at USC, where this fall he plans to begin studying mechanical engineering.
Shortly after he learned the good news, he sought out Ochoa.
“He was sweeping one of the science rooms, and I came up to him,” Kevin said. “We just looked at each other and he’s like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I got it.’ ”
Ochoa threw the broom down and gave Kevin a hug.
Any student who receives so many accolades in a year has also by now doled out public thank yous. During these moments, Kevin is quick to credit his parents — and Ochoa.
Ochoa — who in addition to his full-time job as a custodian works 20 or so hours a week at a print shop in El Segundo — is a little hesitant to take any credit for Kevin’s success.
“I don’t know what I did — he did all the work,” he said.
But Kevin assures that Ochoa was a big help.
“He was just the friend you could count on at the end of the day,” he said.
In California, about 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners. Some believe the number is too high.
A 2011 UC Berkeley study concluded that California districts are misidentifying large numbers of kindergarten students as English learners, in part because the test that determines whether they deserve the label is too difficult.
The result: Scarce resources earmarked for the purpose of helping nonfluent students are being spent inefficiently.
“There is that unfortunate opportunity for these kids to be identified as English-language learners and be locked into a program that’s not appropriate for them. I guess the criteria needs to be changed,” said Gil Navarro, a member of the San Bernardino County school board.
Some English-learner advocates see it differently.
Dan Fichtner, president of a nonprofit support group for teachers of English learners, said it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“We believe that it is better to err on the side of being conservative than to make a mistake and lose those first formative years,” Fichtner said.
As for Julian – a second-grader because he was held back in kindergarten – he must keep the designation until at least third grade, like all students in the program.
In California, it all begins with a language survey, filled out by every parent sending a child to kindergarten at a public school. It includes four questions:
* What language did the student use when first learning to speak?
* What language does the student use most frequently at home?
* What language does the parent speak when talking with the student?
* What language is most often spoken by adults in the home?
Ruiz answered the first three questions with “English.” But her fourth answer – “English/Spanish” – triggered the language test requirement.
Like about 90 percent of state kindergartners who take the test, Julian failed to score high enough to avoid the English learner label.
Jose Collazo, 22, of Pomona came to the United States with his family when he was little more than a year old. He remained in ESL classes throughout elementary and high school in Pomona Unified.
Collazo took the English-fluency exam four times, and although he was under the impression he had passed, he was never taken out of the ESL program.
That became a problem in high school, he said.
“I didn’t understand why my other friends were taking college prep and I didn’t,” Collazo said.
After speaking to a guidance counselor, he was able to take college preparation classes, but was still required to take ESL courses.As a result, Collazo said, he was unable to take some of the college preparation classes he needed.
In the summer of 2011, Ruiz decided – after two years in the program – she didn’t want to participate any longer. She refused to take time off work to bring her son to the district office to take his mandatory annual California English Language Development Test.
The school sent her a letter that Ruiz took as a threat. It said, in all caps: “Please note that your child will not be put on a class list in September if he/she does not complete this testing process prior to school starting in the fall.”
Ruiz did not have him tested that summer. That fall, the school pulled Julian out of class to take the assessment.
The results came back a few months later: “No change for this school year.”
Staff writers Rebecca Kimitch and Beau Yarbrough contributed to this report.
If anybody knows the secret to life, it’s Torrance’s very own Louis Zamperini, who has captivated the world by the miraculous ways in which he’s cheated death.
The secret, if there is one, seems to be this: Stay cheerful through it all.
On Thursday, the 94-year-old subject of a best-selling biography enthralled students at his alma mater, Torrance High School.
With the stooped-over posture and comic timing of Bob Hope, Zamperini made light of some of the darkest things imaginable: what it was like to kill a shark with his bare hands in order to survive, what it was like to shake the hand of Adolf Hitler, what it was like to float adrift at sea in a life raft for 47 days with no food, what it was like to be a prisoner of war.
But he also waxed philosophical, saying he prefers the term “Hardy Generation” to “Greatest Generation,” the moniker coined by Tom Brokaw to describe Zamperini’s age group.
“To be hardy is to overcome adversity, and we had a lot of adversity in my day,” he said, speaking in the school’s auditorium. “Each adversity you overcame made you more and more hardy.”
Zamperini, long the pride and joy of Torrance — where an airport landing strip and high school football stadium are named in his honor — has become a national hero of sorts thanks to the book “Unbroken,” penned by Laura Hillenbrand, author of the best-selling novel “Seabiscuit.”
By now, thanks largely to the book, his story is world famous.
Zamperini grew up the son of Italian immigrants, living at 2028 Gramercy Ave. in Torrance. He began the first chapter of his life as a hooligan, ditching classes, stealing bread from bakeries and hopping freight trains. But his older brother, Pete, a track coach, pulled him aside one day and slapped sense into him, telling him it was time to grow up.
Aware of Louis’ running talent, Pete encouraged him to try out for the track team. Louis not only made the team, he became known as the “Torrance Tornado,” winning meets and breaking national records. He ran his way to a scholarship at USC and into the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he performed well, though won no medals.
Then, like so many other promising young men of the era, the Tornado enlisted with the military and found himself serving on a B-24 bomber in World War II. In April 1943, he was among a dozen men on a B-24 that nose-dived in the Pacific Ocean. Only three men survived.
“It felt like someone hit me in the forehead with a sledgehammer,” Zamperini recalled in a documentary that the students watched Thursday, referring to the plane’s head-on collision with the deep blue.
Zamperini and the two others took refuge on a circular life raft. From the perspective of a plane, it was practically invisible — but a germ on the great expanse. The men soon ran out of food and water, and literally killed sharks and seabirds to survive.
On at least one occasion, they were strafed by the machine gunfire of an enemy plane, which miraculously missed.
Newspapers in Torrance and across the country declared the men dead. By the time the raft made landfall on a remote island 47 days later, only two men remained. They were so weak they had to crawl onto the sandy beach. Zamperini weighed just 65 pounds.
As luck would have it, the island was an outpost of the Japanese Army, which had a presence there. The two Americans were taken into custody, and served as POWs for 2 1/2 years.
Speaking to the students after the movie, USC ball cap perched atop his head, Zamperini recalled one of the most emotional moments of his life. It was during the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Zamperini was running with the Olympic torch, alongside the labor camp in which he toiled. Lining the street were throngs of Japanese fans cheering him on. Later on, at a ceremony, a Japanese official asked Zamperini if anything good came out of his incarceration as a POW in Japan.
“I said, `Yeah, it prepared me for 55 years of married life,”‘ he said, cracking up the crowd. He added that his wife later saw a video of the ceremony. “I had a hassle getting in the house.”
Zamperini went on to describe his encounters with a team of interrogators. The most hard-nosed among them happened to also be a graduate of USC.
“This guy was the most obnoxious of the six,” he said. “I couldn’t believe he was a Trojan. … I finally came to this conclusion: He had to be a third-year transfer from UCLA.”
His prepared remarks were brief, but the jokes kept flowing during a question-and-answer session with the students, who stood up and shouted their questions toward the podium on stage. After each question, Zamperini, who is hard of hearing, cocked his head while the nearby student-body president who organized the event — Danish Akmal — repeated the question in his ear.
“How did you feel meeting Adolf Hitler?”
“It was no big deal at the time,” Zamperini said, referring to how the notorious dictator, impressed by Zamperini’s strong finish in the 5,000-meter dash, demanded to meet the athlete. “We always thought that he was what we call a dangerous comedian. With that mustache and the mannerisms, he would have done great in Hollywood.”
For the rest of the day, Zamperini — once the school’s student-body president — was again the big man on campus. While eating lunch in the cafeteria, a choir sang for him. He signed books for hordes of fawning students.
After lunch, Zamperini and an entourage of organizers made their way to the student quad, where the drum line and a cheer squad performed for him. Not long after, a crowd swelled around him, consisting mostly of girls, who were jostling to take a photo with him.
“He’s so cute!” gushed Jordan Brown, a junior.
“To have the will to live for that long — for longer than a month on a boat, stranded, nothing to eat, just like, sharks to kill,” marveled sophomore Saige Shive. “That’s God, all the way.”
As late as this week, the book, which soared to No. 2 on the New York Times best-sellers list, ranked No. 1 on nonfiction best-seller lists for independent bookstores around Southern California, according to the website L.A. Observed. Universal Studios has purchased the rights to the book, and actor James Franco may play the lead, Zamperini said.
Even in old age, Zamperini has lived an active life. He not only skied until age 91, he took up skateboarding at 65, and took his last ride on a board at age 81 on Gower Street in Hollywood, the city where he now lives.
“I work with kids,” he explained. “What kids do, I do — you get closer to them. And I like a challenge.”
Zamperini said the secret to longevity can be found in the Bible: “Have a cheerful countenance all the time.”
“Even if I go to a funeral, I have a cheerful attitude,” he said. “After all, their problems are all over.”
A less charismatic animal would have been euthanized.
But Big Guy – a 700-pound, 5-foot-tall sea lion stricken by blindness who was rescued and cared for at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro – so charmed the staff that they resolved to find him a home.
It took two years – the longest stay in the history of the center – but at last, Big Guy has found his new digs, at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. He’ll be leaving next week, either by semi or jet airplane.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Jill Romano, spokeswoman for the center, which is the only federally authorized hospital for injured and sick marine mammals in Los Angeles County. “We’re happy he got a home – that’s what we all wanted. But at the same time we’re kind of sad to see him go. I’ve never seen a community become so attached to an animal as they have been to him.”
As for how the California bull sea lion lost his vision, it’s anybody’s guess. He was discovered on a Santa Monica beach in February 2010 by a local animal rescuer.
Judging by the facial gashes, scrapes and bruises, staff members at the center surmise that a dramatic event was to blame: maybe a scuffle with a rivaling beast, maybe a bludgeoning from a passing boat, maybe an epic tangle with a fishing net.
Whatever the case, the creature didn’t allow the trauma to change his gentle demeanor, which, in conjunction with his girth, gave rise to the affectionate nickname.
“He’s a big, giant sweetheart,” Romano said. “He’s got a great temperament. Such a calm nature about him.”
It’s safe to say Big Guy will experience an upgrade to his standard of living. At the center, he shared a 6-foot-deep, 16,000-gallon pool with as many as five other sea lions – all of them female.
The portly pinniped’s watery exhibit in Utah will be twice the depth and 11 times the volume, featuring an underwater viewing area for visitors. It’ll also be more exotic.
Called Rocky Shores, the brand new state-of-the-art facility is part of a mixed species exhibit, featuring two other sea lions and three harbor seals. In separate enclosures there will be a polar bear, three grizzly bears, river otters and bald eagles.
There, Big Guy will get to know Rocky Shores staff member James Weinpress, who has long worked with marine animals with disabilities.
“I worked with a blind sea lion and a mentally disabled dolphin,” he said in a statement. “Once you figure out how the animals learn, it opens the doors and shows how much these animals can do – they’re capable of anything.”
Because sea lions spend a lot of time navigating rocky beaches and treacherous waters, they cannot survive in the wild without their eyesight.
Getting him to the center in San Pedro was a Herculean task. The rescuer, Peter Wallerstein, worked with several lifeguards to coax the injured sea lion into a net. They then lifted him with a crane onto a boat and into Wallerstein’s truck to be delivered to the Marine Mammal Care Center.
Two years ago, the center’s veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Palmer, had to decide whether to euthanize him. She hesitated, she said, because he was so gentle.
“He’s a really magnificent creature,” she said.
Transporting him to Utah promises to be even more of a feat. Regardless of whether he travels by big rig or jet, Big Guy will be contained in a 1,000-pound crate. Traveling with him will be a female pup who is one-tenth his weight. She, too, has a vision problem that precludes release into the wild, and so she will also be taking up residence in Utah.
Once Big Guy and his new roommate arrive at the aquarium, they will each be quarantined for 30 days before they are integrated into their new environment.
Back in San Pedro, despite being surrounded by the females, Big Guy never mated.
“He didn’t really show much interest,” Palmer mused. “However, we had another adult sea lion that did.”
She acknowledged that the clock was ticking for Big Guy: Animals that do not get placed in a timely fashion are often euthanized.
“That question was hanging out there, and fortunately we didn’t have to address that,” Palmer said. “No one wanted to go there.”
Unlike Big Guy, the female pup traveling with him is nameless. In fact, the staff at the center doesn’t normally name their animals. But Big Guy is exceptional.
“Big Guy just kind of stuck,” Palmer said. “It wasn’t very creative, but it’s descriptive.”
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Actually, she knew one phrase — “thank you” — as well as the 26 letters of the alphabet. But other than that, the Arabic speaker was surrounded by thousands of students with whom she couldn’t communicate.
“It’s like you’re just in your own world,” she said of those first few months. “You cannot understand anything.”
Late last month, the high school senior celebrated a milestone: She accepted a certificate showing that she has officially met the requirements to exit the school’s program for students who are still learning English. Put simply, she is now considered fluent.
Meanwhile, Stephanie, another senior at San Pedro High, remains stuck in the school’s remedial programs for English learners, even though she was born in the United States, and has been labeled an English learner since kindergarten. (The Daily Breeze is withholding her last name of the Spanish speaker at the request of her teacher.)
The difference between Eevan and Stephanie underscores a little-known paradox that has long been at play at San Pedro High and likely beyond: Foreign-born students who come to America as teenagers knowing nary a word of English consistently test out of the English-learner program before high school students who have been stuck in the program since kindergarten. In fact, the comparison isn’t even close.
In the last three years at San Pedro High, a full 100 percent of the foreign-born English learners — about 10 pupils a year — have exited the program before graduation, compared to just 15 percent of their U.S.-born peers, said Laura Rodriguez, the school’s English Language Development coordinator.
Although broader statistics on the distinction between native- and foreign-born English-learners are scarce – neither the California Department of Education nor the Los Angeles Unified School District keep such tallies – the issue is worth examining.
The phenomenon at San Pedro High jibes with a nationwide study released this fall by John Hopkins University concluding that immigrant children tend to academically outperform their second- and third-generation native-born peers.
The trend was on display on Jan. 30, during a little-after-school ceremony at San Pedro High for students who have met all the requirements for being redesignated as fluent. Eevan was among 11 students so awarded. Eight of them were like her in that they had recently emigrated from other countries. Amazingly, this crew represented as many countries as students: El Salvador, Colombia, Tanzania, China, Peru, Ukrania, Iran and, of course, Iraq. Just three of the students were born in the United States.
The eight students getting redesignated were among 35 foreign-born English-learners at the school. The three U.S.– born students — known in education parlance as “long-term English learners” — came from a pool of 136. Sixteen of those U.S.-born students are seniors and in acute danger of not achieving fluency before graduation.
Karla Glover is the teacher of the foreign-born students, whose program is known as English as a Second Language.
“To see my students reclassify when they are in ESL when there is 136 that cannot do it in 9 to 12 years … it’s a lot of honor for me,” she said at the ceremony.
Comparing the success rate of foreign-born English-learners with their U.S.-born peers may offer insight into how to tackle one of the state’s most pressing educational problems. Making up nearly a quarter of all of California’s K-12 students, English learners have the worst high school dropout rate of any demographic group in the state.
Jill Aguilar, an associate professor of education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, believes the paradox demonstrates an oft-overlooked reality: Second-generation U.S. students whose parents speak another language at home often fail to gain a mastery of their supposed native tongue.
That is, many students who enter kindergarten speaking primarily, say, Spanish never really learn to read in Spanish, or even attain oral proficiency. This means they’re trying to learn a new language even as they are learning how to read.
“It delays their progress in Spanish and it delays their progress in English at the same time,” she said. “It ends up almost like a created learning disability.”
By comparison, students who arrive to the United States from other countries as a teenagers have often mastered their own native language.
“All they are doing is replacing words in their own language with English – it’s a vocabulary problem, really,” she said.
Aguilar believes bi-lingual education is the answer; she calls the 1998 decision by California voters to eliminate it a tragedy.
Rodriguez — the ELD coordinator at San Pedro High — disagrees. She believes the crux of the problem has more to do with motivation.
“The foreign-born students are more motivated because they are here for a better life,” she said. “Whereas the ones who have been here don’t see that. They feel more entitled.”
Eevan Noah certainly had good reason to appreciate her lot in life when she arrived at San Pedro High with her two siblings. Their Christian family was driven out of Iraq by Islamic militants irate that their father worked as a truck driver delivering goods to U.S. military forces, said Eevan’s older sister, Evett, who attended the Jan. 30 event to snap a few pictures of her sister.
“They gave us a paper saying you betrayed the country, and if you don’t get out of this country, we’re going to kill all of your kids,” Evett said. “The next day we got out of the country.”
Like Eevan, Evett went through the school’s ESL program, as did their brother, Andro. All three siblings are or were honor students at San Pedro High.