One of the first activities the Youth Voices students are asked to do is bring in an item to class that connects them to their community. The object they bring and their explanation of its significance offers physical evidence of the personal link the students have with their neighborhood. By beginning our project with this activity, each student can identify their departure point: their experiences, memories and understandings of their community. Students from our partner schools, the L.A. Leadership Academy and the Los Angeles River School, jumped right in with unique and unexpected objects that highlight their connection to their neighborhood.
The L.A. Leadership Academy is located in one of the original suburbs of Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights. The neighborhood encompasses a vast array of history directly related to the changing geography, shifting populations, and urban planning that characterize the city as a whole. We will be looking critically at the relationship between the neighborhood and the Los Angeles River, and how it has evolved due to all these and many more factors.
Students at the school shared an interesting collection of items that offer insight into their experiences in their neighborhood. This ranged from their cell phones that allow them to stay in touch with family and friends, to a shot glass that symbolizes the frequency of people being under the influence of alcohol on their street. One student presented an iPad and explained that they were awarded the device because of the volunteer work they do in their community.
The Los Angeles River School is one of three LAUSD pilot schools and two charter schools at the Sotomayor Learning Academies (Youth Voices is also working with the ArtLAB) that now line San Fernando Road in Cypress Park. This is the former location of the Southern Pacific freight yard known as Taylor Yard. It was purchased and re-purposed by the State to build the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, and by LAUSD to build the Sotomayor Academies. The local community played a major role in preventing the sale of the land to industrial development, and pushed for the creation of more green space and the school site. This was phase one of a larger project, with phase two currently in the research/negotiation stage.
The proximity of the L.A. River to the School offers several unique opportunities for the students, including the ability to utilize it as a laboratory to explore environmental issues, water usage. For Youth Voices, we focus on the relationship of the River to the students' own lives, the surrounding residents and the community as a whole. This proximity was evident in some of the objects the students brought in: a bicycle a student rides on the River bike path, a skateboard that transports another student throughout their neighborhood and along the River. Other objects included a comic book, a rosary representing one's faith and church, and a t-shirt emblazoned with the Sotomayor School mascot -- the wolf.
The objective at the beginning of Youth Voices is to familiarize the students with Departures, and get them excited to tell their own stories about their neighborhood and the L.A. River. They will also begin to think critically about the tools and strategies that they will use to create and/or collect media for their final project: the interactive panoramas. Many of the concerns and issues that came up in the first few weeks will be revisited as the students dive into each new activity and further explore their community.