As the academic year takes flight across the state of California -- students and teachers prepare for a fresh start. KCET's Departures Youth Voices attended The Back to School Night at three El Monte Union High School District schools: Arroyo High School, Mountain View High School, and South El Monte High School. Our objectives with attending were to introduce the Youth Voices program and gather information on the local issues most important to the student body, parents, and teachers. The findings will be available to the Youth Voices students as they look to identify their community cause.
Departures conducted the anonymous surveys in both English and Spanish at the three Back to School Night events. Geographical differences exist among the three schools - but what links the campuses together is everyone's enthusiasm and immense level of dedication to improve the neighborhoods.
Back to School Nights give parents a glimpse into the goals and expectations of the school year ahead and invite them to take part in the school community. Parent involvement is an important characteristic for the success of any students, and according to A New Wave of Evidence, a report from Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2002) -- "When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more."
An important aspect of the Youth Voices program is teaching participants how to engage and collaborate with community members from all sectors, and through this outreach identify a community cause to investigate and advocate for. The survey questions used at the Back to School Nights helped to begin this research by collecting important community information on a variety of subjects. One of the questions asked was , "What is the most important issue in your community?" Gang activity and neighborhood safety were sited as a very big concern at all three schools - but among the student body it was the lack of after-school youth programs.
When asked to name their favorite location in their community, city parks and green spaces where among the most popular answers -- others where fast food restaurants, liquor stores, and places of worship.
The neighboring cities of El Monte and South El Monte have a rich history that spans thousands of years. The Tongva native Indians where the original people who used the land for substance harvesting food and hunting. In the 1700's the missionaries and Spanish soldiers stumbled upon a four-by seven-mile tract of low-lying land between the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers and fitting named it "El Monte", which translates to the "wooded place." El Monte's first permanent Euro-American residents arrived during 1849-50, when thousands of prospectors and immigrant pioneers arrived to California seeking gold.
In most recent times the City of El Monte has been the inspiration to many musicians. In 1963, the Penguins released "Memories of El Monte" written by Frank Zappa and Ray Collins - capturing the memories of Ray's early days playing at the historic El Monte Legion Stadium. Although many of the current residents surveyed identified these and other historical facts, many were unable to mention any.
Like most cities across California there is room for improvements and change. The residents described numerous improvements, but almost unanimously "Safety" was the one most important change they wish to see - others where more large chain retailers in their city, more after-school youth programs, and city sponsored trash clean-ups.
The three schools have commenced their journey to learn skills in research, investigating reporting, and civic engagement. We invite you to follow the students progress and experience life through their eyes.