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Segment | Education

Inside Locke High

For years, Locke High School in Watts has been a poster child for failing inner city schools. In the summer of 2008, a charter company — Green Dot Public Schools — took over from L.A. Unified and vowed to turn the troubled school around. This is the story of three typical Locke students told in their own way. In their own words.

Locke High is notorious. It's a school where students were more likely to drop out than graduate. Academically, Locke ranked third-lowest in the state. About 1 in 9 students scored grade-proficient in English. In Math, it’s 1 in 25. The chaotic campus sits in the midst of rival gang territory. Graffiti marred the halls. Fights broke out daily. Last year, nearly half of the 3-thousand-plus students were suspended at least once. In May of 2008, LAPD officers in riot gear had to break up a school-wide brawl. Four years ago, a 15-year-old student was a victim of random gang violence - shot and killed while waiting for a relative to pick her up after school.

Now, in a move that’s attracting nationwide attention, Green Dot - a charter operation - has taken Locke over. The sprawling campus has been subdivided into separate academies. Students wear neat uniforms. Fencing separates each academy and keeps students in assigned areas. New teachers have been hired. Administrators stand sentry duty at the school gates. Tardiness isn’t tolerated. Students aren’t allowed to roam the halls. Armed guards patrol the grounds and surrounding neighborhood. The school is freshly-painted and graffiti-free. In the quad, which was once just barren dirt, there’s newly-planted grass - and even trees.

Bottom line - there’s a new sheriff in town.

To understand the changes and special challenges facing at-risk kids, we meet Joanna Alatorre, Damon Horton and Bryan Ordaz - three Locke students who candidly share their personal stories.-->
Green Dot Public Schools - Education news, analysis and commentary
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What an inspiring documentary. What Green Dot Charter has done at Locke seems like an effective model to work from in rehabilitating our dysfunctional school system. I have worked as a teacher in the LAUSD and empathize so much with the struggles of the students and the faculty.

I wish much continued success for these bright and inspiring students. Their stories have touched my life, thank you for sharing this.

Dear SoCal: Tonight I watched your program about Locke High. I was truly impressed with the structure of the school I saw. Uniforms, accountablility for tardiness. It might not be the answer to help our children be responsible for themselves, but its a great start. I work for a very large school in Riverside, and we have many of the same stories. I have been in Education for the last 18 yrs, and the behavior of our children today has really changed. Who do we blame? I truly bebieve that Damon, Bryan and Joann will be very sucessful people one day soon. Though its not over when you graduate from High School, there is college. Life is not easy, but the strive inside each of you, will conquer all in your way. Thanks to all the people who made this show happen. I look forward every week to watch this show and learn.

Lizz Companion

I think this documentary will be very powerful for everyone who watches because now it is not a news reporter give the story, it is the students. It should have always been the students giving the people the real story behind Watts and Locke, and I am proud of those students that chose to do this. I have definitely taken something out of it, and I thank KCET for airing this special.

I would like to thank KCET for airing this special. All three of these students and their stories have touched my life. The world I grew up in was very similar, but still pales in comparison to them. To see these young adults take back their lives, in order to succeed, because they choose to have a better life, is inspiring. I want to acknowledge their courage, thank you.

Finally the only side of Locke that truly matters is told...I am so tired of hearing the negative side of what has happened at Locke. I am so proud to have been a part of this project through Damon. Damon, the rest of the basketball program and countless other amazing kids at Locke make up a truly special family. Locke is full of endless personality, difficult stories, tons of talent and all the other things that make up a comprehensive high school. The difference is Locke has to fight even harder to be great because of all the negative connotations people have of the "Old Locke". Look at these 3 amazing kids when you think of Locke now. They are the face of the new and improved Saints!

As i watched this documentary tonight, i became touched with the real life story of three children who live in a very high crime neighborhood, they are faced with obstacles everyday but they make it to go to school everyday, and keep up the pace with such determination and pride. It is defenitly not easy for Damon, Bryan and Joann,but they are so motivated and determined to do something with their life,so they will be successful adults one day. I would like to say to all three of them,"Don't Be Defeated", "Stay Up." One day this will be the past, and your future will be a very blessed one. I have been in education for the past 19 years as a parent and educator i have seen alot of good and bad in those years. This is a show that all educators, school administrators need to see. Locke High School has a very inviting environment, it's clean, children are in uniforms,there's accountability, the food is made fresh everyday, and i am sure it's very healthy. The staff has a WE CARE attitude AND they proudly show it, that i highly admire. Thank-you to the staff of KCET,who took the time to show the public this show. I was defenitly connected tonight. Keep up the good work and I look forward to watching So/Cal connected each week.

I remember the first day Angela Shelley and myself visited Locke High School to find these students. There was just a sea of students and we had no idea how we would find three high school students that were all but willing to share their personal stories with us.

Somehow, we found Brian, Damon, and Joanna and every time I hear their stories, it touches my heart with the same impact it did the first time I heard it.

As some of you have mentioned, this piece is reflective of the student's views and told through their eyes and that was the intention through the entire production. To give the students a voice and let the realties they face daily, be seen and heard.

Thank you for watching,

Alexandria Gales
Associate Producer

This was a moving and inspiring documentary about three students and their experience at locke high. To watch what these kids endure throughout their daily struggle and to see
how talented and motivated they remain was very powerful reminder of the potential and obstacles our future generation
will encounter. I anticipate the follow up episode and I believe these young adults will rise to there full potential. I would like to thank and encourage the KCET team to continue to bring home the reality's of common day life for our youth and continue to inspire and raise awarness. One luv-One life come on people get aboard!!!!!!!!!
-Tristen Arnold

I really enjoyed watching this documentary. Being a mother of
two I am constantly thinking about my children's education. I feel that locke high has came along way and its the type of change that I would encourage for all schools. Youth need a good role model to motivate and encourage them to do better whether it be at home or at school. I look foward to the up and coming episodes. I feel Locke high is on the right path and I pray that the chain of effect will spread to the surrounding schools! I will be tuned in to see what KCET/SOCAL has to offer next. Thanks!

Wow! What a powerful documentary. These three students were very brave to share their personal stories. I thank them and wish them the very best. One should keep in mind that these are just three students of a few thousand at Locke High School, and Locke High School is just one of many failing High Schools in LAUSD. I hope the district and the decision makers take a long hard look at what Green Dot has achieved and continues to strive for. It seems they have the model for creating systematic reform throughout Los Angeles NOW! Isn't it time all kids receive the attention, care and education they all deserve???

Great job to Angela and Alexandria for doing such a great job. I look forward to the next chapter in this story.


I enjoyed the domentary it was realistic and it shared some things that I did not know about these students. Bryan Ordaz is my friend and I knew some of the things going on in his life. I realize that having good role models like Mr. Smith, Mr. Minix, and Joanna's mentor are very helpful for students that have these types of situations to get through life and making good decisions. I think that Green Dot coming into our school was better for these types of students who are looking for a better future.

Dear kcet, i enjoyed your documentary about these three amazing and intelligent students there is alot that i didn't know about Demon and Joanna im really shocked to know what they been through and they still managed to stay in school. Bryan in the other hand i know him as if he was my own brother we been close since the first day i met him and now its hard not to hear his problems.. I also realized that these students have good role models Mr. Smith Minix and Joannas 5th grade teacher.. Role models is what these students need to help them get through problems and to have somebody besides their parents...

I personally know Damon, Bryan and Joanna and for them to have the courage to let other outsiders share a very sacred piece of their world is something phenomenal. They are truly an inspiration for me as well as other students attending Locke High School. This documentary was a very good portrayal of the old and new Locke. I'd like to thank KCET for taking the time out to show interest in our school as well as our students. I can't wait to see Damon's, Bryan's and Joanna's responses to the documentary. Keep up the good work KCET!!!

What an inspiring and powerful documentary! The stories of these three young people trying to overcome and succeed despite the odds that are stacked up against them is very inspiring and touching. They should be proud of themselves and I am sure with the support of the very caring people around them and the many role models at Locke they undoubtedly are destined to succeed. Green Dot deserves major recognition and the parents of the students and the community should support it's efforts to better these failing schools. Good job KCET and I am looking forward to the next episode.

I'm glad that KCET has spun a positive outlook towards our students at Locke. Often times what's portrayed about our students are their violent acts, but it is unfair to assume that that is all that Locke is. Now our students have a voice so that they can finally tell their own side of the story.

Nice work, Angela. I hope someone creates a Pulitzer Prize for documentary videomaking so that you can win (but of course I'm biased). And I'm proud of you, Ashley!

A great story and really did give us a look into one of the public schools that are looking to turn around gang violence and better these kids future. Kids shouldn't have to worry about getting shot or getting into fights at school. It's encouraging to see how the Locke High School teachers and staff are working together to make Locke High safe. They really are encouraging these talented students! Keep up the good work Locke High! Great story KCET! Looking forward to watching more for your coverages!

I felt that this documentary was nicely put together. It very powerful and I thank you for making this! Great job Alexandria!!! I am sooo proud of you because this is a success!

What a powerful piece. Thank you for paying attention and shining a spotlight on hope.

I am impressed with the courage it took for these students to step forward and share such personal experiences with all of us. This is my first year teaching at Locke High and it is nice to know that most of the negative comments I heard prior to this school year have proven to be incorrect when I think of all the great students I've gotten to know in and out of my classroom. I am impressed and inspired by Damon, Bryan and Joann's strength and hard work.

Im in awe over these young adults! I applaud the Grandmother and the Single Dad in struggling to raise these magnificent students! This will open the eyes of administrators as to their students life situations and personal stories. It will cause them to think before they judge.

Good job KCET!

I am a graduate of the class of 2008 from Locke High School. I was the head drum major for the Locke Saints Marching Band and I cant help but think of the so many other untold stories from Locke. I did enjoy this video. I personally know Bryan and I did know what he was going through. I personally know many friends who went through many different things, myself being one of them. Even though I am not there to know what Green Dot has done for the school, but I am sure that it is all for the better. Right now I am at Fresno State University and am Currently majoring in Music Education. I hope that Bryan continues to pursue music in his life an that him and me stay friends.

Emmanuel Arredondo
Class Of 2008
Locke Saints Marching Band
Head Drum Major 07-08

How inspiring! Those of us who are luckier need to remember how much some people have to face before they even get to school in the morning. I wish these three inspiring young people, and all in their school, the very best. Thank you for this poignant documentary!

Very inspiring because i lost my grandmother last year and i will not be able to point to her but i can point into the sky and say "grandma i did it"

this shows the hidden talent of the "unknown people"


well i really feel for those three because its tough when you have to go through tough obsticles. and it really sticks to me knowing that they are all trying to do something positive and even through the rough times they still are pulling through so i see them as brave people that are going to be the most sucessfil people i know



"CLASS OF 09" =)

You guys are an inspiration to use all. I believe that you guys are the true reflection of Locke and the direction we are taking to a better future. I hope Joanna Damon and Bryan make it to college.

I thought this video was a very motivation flim, beacuse the students can actually look at the flim and encourage themselves into doin better. This flim is also a very powerful film by showing other youth that they are not alone in the situations teenagers go through, they could strive to be better and succeed in life without being depressed, it shows them that they can find a academic that will kepp them out of trouble and conflict and to keep them focused and motivated. Im just glad that my assiciates that has made this flim had the chance to have this opportunity.


I'm glad you guys took the time to look at some of the stories that are going on in our lives. There is still a lot more to be discover about some of the students that are attending. Most of the people that don't know whats going on and they just look at the statistics that lead to criticizing us as students. Living in the area that we leave in is hard for many of us. We do not get the same support as other students in other areas get. Green Dot has took a look at us and they have decided that they wanted to help us. They want to give us the opportunity that other people have neglected us.

The documentary is straight up real and portrays how life is in what most people would call the "Ghetto". I have know Bryan, Joanna, and Damon for a few years and I have never known how they lived until this documentary. It is not easy growing up in this kind of situations but sadly many do. I'm glad that all three of them are doing their best to overcome their problems and succeed in life. I wish them all the best of luck in achieving their goals.

This video was great because it could make people know that this school is changing and that us as students are trying to make a difference with the help of Green Dot. Also this video shows how student at Locke struggle to succeed at school and how Green Dot has motivated them to continue to go to school. I think that this video will make people know that Locke is changing and will become a good school where students will succeed.

I liked it sort of…

Focusing on a positive characteristic is a great thing, such as were we come from and what our families consists of.
Despite the negative events that have occured in past years Green Dot has brought change and has unshackled the limits and boundaries we once had.

I am really impressed to how well the three students did in expressing their true feelings about the environment they live in and the world they come from. I am also honored to be able to learn a little more about Damon, Bryan and Joanna. They all come from different worlds and have faced many different obstacles in life. I admire them for their courage to even be able to discuss some of their greatest tragedies on film and to have it posed on KCET web site to be viewed by others all across the world. It is very inspiring, keep it up.

This documentary opened my eyes as to what can happen with our school systems. It is such a breath of fresh air to see students being treated as students, not numbers or statistics, given a change to suceed and seeing the result. These 3 students have overcome remarkable obstacles, they are an inspiration.

I am glad that they are still students willing to fight for there dreams. I was a former student from locke High I graduated in 1999.believe me it was a challenge but i always kept in mind that i just did not believe in giving up...but it only starts from you if you wanted to change..I understand Bryan, Damon, Joanna how difficult it is but Whatever you guys do just keep moving forward and don't look back and I am not just saying this to them only. to everyone who attends LOCKE HIGH SCHOOL everyone has the capacity to overcome every challenge and take other peoples excuses away.

Incredible insight into the lives of these 3 students. This also gives us insight into many of the students that attend schools in most of our inner city neighborhoods. Kudos to Angela Shelly and a great segment reflecting the dual worlds that our studnets live in, that being the worlds of amazing greatness and potential, and that of dealing with adversity on a daily basis.
Thank you Green Dot for having a vision of making a difference in the lives of all students.
I've personally spoke to several students at Locke High School and they appreciate what you have done to create a college bound culture on the campus. Please keep up the great work, our students deserve the best. I hope what Green Dot is doing becomes contagious throughout inner city schools all across America!
I'm Inspired!

Thank you for a truly fantastic and inspiring story. I work as an elementary school teacher with a similar population. I work my hardest every day to help those that might be heading down the wrong path. It brings me great joy to see my students return and to hear their success stories. This snapshot into Locke High and the three students has given me more desire. If it is at all possible, please do more stories like this. Thank you again.

This is definitely one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time. No wonder you got an Emmy nomination for it. I know it is outstanding because it roused very different feelings in me:

1. First it made me feel sad and quite depressed to see so many kids with so many problems.
2. Then I felt an immense amount of gratitude for the life that I have compared to the people shown in the report. I am a teacher at a small-town German high school. None of the problems mentioned in the documentary are even imaginable here.
3. I also felt humbled by the apparently simple yet very profound expectations that the students portrayed have of life. When Bryan said, "My dream would be to have a decent life", I thought, My God, this musically gifted young man doesn't want to become rich or famous like so many others who already have a decent life without even appreciating it, all he wants is to escape his present misery and be able to lead a normal life without having to worry about if he might have something to eat tomorrow. And the depressing thing is that due to his social background the chances of making this very simple wish come true are no more than 50/50. The US constitution talks of "pursuit of happiness" and equality of all people - real life teaches us otherwise. I am not writing this from a pseudo-superior European point of view thinking that our social security system is so much better and would give kids like Bryan a much better chance in life over here. The simple truth is, the correlation between one's social background and the chances out there on the job market is just as pronounced here as it is in the US.
4. Moreover, it made me feel immensely proud of my colleagues at Lock High. Seeing how much effort and passion they put into giving these kids a true chance in life really got to me. At the same time, I felt happy that the students seem to appreciate their teachers' efforts. I only wish the general public were equally appreciative. I think the general and indiscriminate teacher-bashing has reached a level that is simply disgraceful. When you see how emotional Larry Risley gets when he talks about his kids and how "the system has failed them" you will understand what I am talking about. Give those teachers the credit that they deserve!
5. Finally, I feel confirmed in my view that big schools with huge problems cannot tackle their problems alone, they need help from outside. In this case, Green Dot seems to be doing an excellent job. Some of the measures taken may appear exaggerated at first glance, but once discipline has been lost at a school it is almost impossible to regain it. Only the toughest of rules can give you the chance to return to a state where teaching is possible in an appropriate environment. You can always ease up on those rules after they have yielded the effect desired.

All in all, I for one hold the view that Locke High will make it and will give more of its students a real chance in life than before its transformation.

Again, I would like to congratulate the SoCal Connected team on this report and the well-deserved Emmy nominations.

Greetings and best wishes from Germany

Matthias Rascher

I miss my old is so hard to be a locke high saint. God bless all of my old saints past and present! stand tall blue and gold, this is your old BANNER CARRIER, let's continue the old tradition..lot's of love to you all, bless the class of 1975. now lets all do it together. LOCKE HIGH, LOCKE HIGH, KICK DOWN DROP FREEZE.

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