Summer 2020 will be the time to Empower more Parents to Become Teachers in Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 68)

Despite a trove of news reports over these last two months, I believe one cuento that’s still under-reported has been that of a generation of parents in Los Angeles coming to know their children’s education amid this shutdown in ways that may have once been inconceivable.

Living in the tight-knit quarters of Los Angeles’s tiny places for home, it’s safe to say the process for this has been rife with emotions, lung-raising, and bodies shifting reluctantly to rest after lengthy days at home.

In Los Angeles, with 80% of LAUSD’s families at or below the poverty line, it’s meant only doing more with less. Despite the loss of work and income, the education of their children has still had to move forward, even if imperfectly.

I know many students in these families have done their best to keep up with their teachers despite all the last-minute scrambling, but I also know that many others who were already struggling have only been further disconnected. In both cases, it’s been critical for parents to see this at home.

As Superintendent Beutner has pointed out:

“When schools are open it’s relatively simple to measure attendance and have a pretty good sense of a how engaged a student is…You can see it in their body language, their interaction in the classroom, and in their work. Online, it’s not so simple. A login on a computer doesn’t necessarily mean a student’s engaged in learning, and the absence of a login if a student’s reading a book or working on a writing assignment can also be misleading.”

A shared understanding between educators anywhere is that we are constantly learning, and that we only learn more by asking questions of what we see around us. Now, more parents can place educators’ hats on themselves to ask:

Why is my child’s education important?
What tools do I have to support my child’s education, and what tools do I still need?
Despite the most recent challenges, do I still want my child to go to college?

For decades, the ways to create an environment for learning at home in ways that complement an environment for learning at school have been underappreciated, or written off as something there isn’t enough time to scrutinize during the frenzy of a school-year filled with homework assignments, standardized testing, and more. Now, with a summer of online learning ahead in Los Angeles, and possibly even further time at home, there is only more reason for parents to learn with their children.

These parents cannot be alone in this process, because another shared understanding between educators everywhere is that no child can get to college on their own, just as no single teacher can get them there; in fact, it does still take a village.

If that village is not there, then this is the time to call it forward and organize it.

Because here’s one last understanding between educators everywhere: we are not just constantly learning. Our actions ensure that we are also constantly teaching.

So now the question is simply what we want to teach, Los Angeles. The city’s future is counting on us.

J.T.

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A police cruiser is stopped at a light on Sunset boulevard and Vermont avenue.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 61

A thread I saw online recently asked people to share one thing they missed about being a pedestrian before the coronavirus uprooted life as we knew it. I replied that I missed nothing, because nothing has fundamentally changed.

During the last sixty days of this series, walking through the city, I’ve only seen more of its poverty exacerbated, transmuting into something more shameful. Not far along, I’ve also seen many of the same police cruisers from before, still whizzing past intersections to goodness knows where, as if the people buried in the sidewalk a few feet away are invisible, or still not enough of a priority to “protect and serve.”

This makes rhetoric from elected officials and several of our newspapers about “reopening” a hollow cry of obliviousness. Even if, for example, the city’s families need to get their kids back in classrooms with utmost haste, as is supposed to be case under “Phase 3” of the “return-to-normal,” in L.A. County that means getting back to schools surrounded by more than 60,000 unhoused people, where encampments crowd sidewalks on the way to school, hang from freeway underpasses located near schools, and where they linger on the paths coming back from school.

There are many intersections abandoned this way throughout metropolitan Los Angeles alone, to say nothing of the county, but it has always been unfair and confounding to let children from our public schools walk past encampments where the failure of our public health system is on full display.

In an interview with Mayor Garcetti last week regarding the extension of the stay-at-home orders in L.A. County, the mayor made an interesting remark:

This is just a dangerous a virus today as it was when it arrived. And we should never become too comfortable. We’re learning to live with it. We are not moving beyond it.”

The exact same is true of a lack of shelter for more than 60,000 in Los Angeles. And the inadequate response to COVID-19 in L.A. these past two months is just an extension of the woeful response to the basic needs of the most vulnerable citizens here throughout a far longer time period.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 40

The mayor of Los Angeles announced earlier this evening that delivery drivers, as well as taxi and other transportation workers like Uber and Lyft drivers, can now be tested for coronavirus, whether they show symptoms or not, in a sign of increased testing capabilities for L.A. county.

On the other hand, earlier in the same day, LAUSD’s Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that reopening schools come fall for the district’s communities would be a gradual process, contingent most of all on one thing: access to testing for COVID-19, not only for the district’s employees, of which there are nearly 75,000, but also for the students they serve, whose numbers, combined with those of their families or households, can reach up to 1,000,000 in Los Angeles.

What kind of access schools will have to testing for the virus is an obviously major question that the superintendent is right to pose publicly; only a few days ago, more than a month after the shutdown orders went into effect in California, L.A. County announced that its testing rates have finally reached the capacity to test up to 11,000 people a day.

But while 11,000 tests a day is a key step forward for the county, it’s also just 1.1% of Beutner’s one million. Moreover, as the superintendent noted in his update, we need to know “who” will pay for over a million tests. Obviously, the answer should be that it’s the state who will pay for it, but thus far, there have been scant details from Governor Newsom as to how schools in the Golden State will resume the school-day come the months of August and September, during which LAUSD will not be the only school district in need; charter schools in California, which are not managed by traditional school districts such as LAUSD, and which oversee nearly 630,000 students in the state, will also need access to testing for the virus this fall.

In other words, it’s all quite a bit of homework that requires time, debate, and consensus building with educators, staff and families alike; if the process is circumvented for “quick fixes,” as such things have been before, then the temporary solutions will once again prove costly over the long term, as this pandemic is making clear of decades of disinvestment in the public infrastructure.

Even so, however the story goes, I believe we’re uncovering something critical, Los Angeles. That is, that we’re witnessing first-hand what our state is capable of–and what it still falls short of–when it puts its best minds to the task of addressing all of the citizenry at a truly basic level.

I believe that many people will continue being dissatisfied with the slow process and progress of their government, and that if the protests against Governor Newsom’s stay home orders show anything, it’s that many Californians aren’t at all interested in the general health of the state, but just in their own.

But beyond that, I also believe that all of this showing will allow many of us to consider and visualize what government can still look like in future days to come because it’s important for us to do just that. I believe that whatever failures are seen today, are what those of us leading for tomorrow can turn into successes.

As always, I believe in the next day, the next cuento, and that I’m not alone in this.

I believe Los Angeles will believe with me.

J.T.

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J.T. Endorses LAUSD’s Request for Collaboration with Verizon to Support Students in Case of School Closures

“March 9, 2020

Hans Vestberg
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Verizon Communications
1095 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10036

Dear Mr. Vestberg:

Los Angeles Unified serves the needs of almost 700,000 students who live in communities spread across 700 square miles. About 80% of students are from families living in poverty. 73% of students are Latino and 8% are African American. We serve students and families with high needs.

As we plan for a potential occurrence of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in our schools, we are taking steps to ensure students can continue to learn from home in the event of extended school closures. At the core of this will be online instruction using a digital device connected to the internet. Unfortunately, about 25% of our students — 125,000 children — have neither a device on which to learn nor the ability to connect to the internet outside of school.

We would like to discuss with Verizon a plan to support our students by providing internet access to those who may not otherwise have access to learning.

We hope Verizon will consider working with us on this. I will call your office to follow up.

Austin Beutner”

J.T.

J.T. with the new Los Cuentos golf hat

Schoool (For the students of Los Angeles)

A little remix of 21 Savage’s billboard-topping ‘a lot’ by yours truly for the students of Los Angeles. Listen to the instrumental while using these substitute lyrics:

“How much homework you got? (straight up) 
How much homework you got? (straight up) 
How much homework you got? (straight up) 
How much homework you got? 

How many homeworks you got (a lot) 
How many quizzes you got? (a lot) 
How many teachers done doubted you? (a lot) 
Kicked you out the class? (a lot) 
How many lessons you lost? (a lot) 
How many field trips it cost? (a lot) 
How many laughs did you caught? (a lot) 
How many admins you shock? (a lot) 
How many times did you try? (a lot) 
How many times was it pride? (a lot) 
How many times you cold feet? (a lot) 
How many times did you sigh? (a lot) 
How many times your hope grieve? (a lot) 
How many times did it cry? (a lot) 
How many chances rap done gave you? (a lot) 
Thuggin’ round words like poets (a lot) 

Every day that I exist, I’ma side with the kids 
I’d rather be paid their thoughts than collect like Trix 
Told my students take my cred if my speech starts to cringe 
But I’m J.T. forev ain’t no way I’ma fidge(t)”

We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground 
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we make L.A. go ’round.

Huge potential outcomes if you state a couple facts 
Your dream so bold you could put it in your cap 
Fam vs the world, me and moms, it was us 
Then school sent me to da station and they really cuffed me up 

My father broke wives so he failed to be my teach 
My brothers popped ice and it fell em to the streets 
I been through the court but it turned me to J.T. 
Now the other side is sunny, I get paid these thoughts on sheets 

How many homeworks you got (a lot) 
How many quizzes you got? (a lot) 
How many teachers done doubted you? (a lot) 
Kicked you out the class? (a lot) 
How many lessons you lost? (a lot) 
How many field trips it cost? (a lot) 
How many laughs did you caught? (a lot) 
How many admins you shock? (a lot) 
How many times did you try? (a lot) 
How many times was it pride? (a lot) 
How many times you cold feet? (a lot) 
How many times did you sigh? (a lot) 
How many times your hope grieve? (a lot) 
How many times did it cry? (a lot) 
How many chances rap done gave you? (a lot) 
Thuggin’ round words like poets (a lot) 

We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground 
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we make L.A. go ’round. (x2)

How many sent to the deans’? 
For throwin ‘ they shots like vaccines 
I can see behind the phones and filters 
Egos ain’t big as they seem

Intersects like a string
Everybody got they thing 
Some students make dean’s list, other students make lean
I’m gon’ reflect on the scene
I’m not gon’ choke, I’ma free ‘em 

I don’t wan hear your concerns 
This ain’t no parent-square but I’ma care 
When they dragging kids down for expressin’ they heritage 
U know kids can learn from rap battlin’ and culture 

I guess you were hoping the rules would just tame they true selves
But these bars flowin ‘ college of self

OK, I got it, we’ll show up on everyone’s algorithm 
You know what bro Malcolm would preach 

Bettin ‘ a thousan

It’s got to the point that these schools ain’t even always the safest to be 
Fuck it cause that’s where this Los Cuentos fashion just hit me
It led me to save kids a spot, on a new remix to drop 
Shout out to “a lot, ” I polish the hook and I jot 

Pray for our schools cause they robbed like Iraq 
I picture the slaves on the fields pickin ‘ cot 
Respecc how they made it past all em cops 
Risking no less than they death if they caught 

I pray for the students who think they should cut 
Just want you to know your lives matter, my kiddos 
If I never met you, still know that you special 
And that the world needs you, don’t doubt it, for reala 

All the real teachers, stay solid, amigos 
I’m only tellin ‘ it just how I felt it 

I saw this parent look lost and abandoned  
When told that her kid goin ‘nowhere by standin’ out,’ I got amends 

It’s said that ur grades all about ur success, jot this dissent 
Flow on a mission reflectin’ how goals at our schools got be bigger 
Before we relent, reala

How many homeworks you got (a lot) 
How many quizzes you got? (a lot) 
How many teachers done doubted you? (a lot) 
Kicked you out the class? (a lot) 
How many lessons you lost? (a lot) 
How many field trips it cost? (a lot) 
How many laughs did you caught? (a lot) 
How many admins you shock? (a lot) 
How many times did you try? (a lot) 
How many times was it pride? (a lot) 
How many times you cold feet? (a lot) 
How many times did you sigh? (a lot) 
How many times your hope grieve? (a lot) 
How many times did it cry? (a lot) 
How many chances rap done gave you? (a lot) 
Thuggin’ round words like poets (a lot)

We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground 
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we make L.A. go ’round.

J.T.

The Work Continues, Los Angeles

Everything is moving so quickly. I feel the world spinning. I see my place in it, and though a part of me just wants to celebrate every bloom now springing all throughout my environment, the rest of myself -the one in movement- is just focused on getting, getting, and getting through to it all.

On Friday of this upcoming week I return to my alma mater at King Middle School for some more work with The Plus Me Project. This is followed by an important workshop for the day at L.A. Trade Tech.

The Friday after that, I’m set to hit my alma mater at UC Davis for the tenth annual SAYS conference, and my second year in a row presenting there. Then, there are a myriad of appointments in between and right afterwards so that May will evaporate in a feverish lapse like L.A. winter.

On May 25th, an anchor of worlds leaves the shore for me to see, that is, on classified terms, which will require another trip out North. Then, just a weekend after that, I get back to LAX again, this time for another flight to a world once thought impossible. Also classified, that is! Until further notice, at least.

Just. Like. That.

What do you think, Los Angeles?

The fact is that it’s you that moved us to it.

J.T.

Dear Friends,

With only one more weekend left before The PLUS ME Project’s big fundraiser, it’s a pleasure to thank so many friends for purchasing their tickets to the event! It’s also a pleasure to share a little more about what makes the organization so special.

As I wrote in my last note, speaking with students over the last couple of months hasn’t just been a lot of fun, it’s also been an honor. The truth of it is, going to schools is a humbling experience: more often than not, the students are filled with energy, humor, and the desire to just have a good time! Which makes the work easy.

And I’ll be honest, at first I prepared for something different: I thought students would be skeptical and just not all that into my visit to their classroom, at least, since that’s how I often found myself feeling about so many other educators during high school. By contrast, I’ve found that most students are happy to welcome visitors to their schools. After all, they’re there for an education! And most students do appreciate an opportunity to learn from someone else, especially when they know that someone cares.

Here, I think it’s particularly important to recognize the power of acknowledging the youth in our city. In the “concrete jungle” of L.A., it’s easy to take for granted how much so many students have to harden themselves to at such an early age: streets, homelessness, violence, and everything in between.

And I think that now more than ever, in an age where smartphones and the internet are so widespread, there’s just an incredible amount of information rushing at young people. So much, in fact, that they just have to wall themselves off in order to remain healthy. What’s more, if this information is anything like what I see online, then there’s a lot of negative imagery being sent their way, making it all the more special when someone from outside of their school stops by to let them know that–contrary to what so much of the media says about things–it’s going to be okay.

The students cheer their hearts out for this! They laugh, and applaud, and this energy catches on like fire. It radiates so brightly that one can’t help but laugh and applaud with them, which in turn lights up the entire room in the triumphant wavelengths of a community celebrating itself. Together, we affirm one thing loudly and clearly: that no matter what’s going on out there, we still have each other, and that because of this, everything is going to be okay after all!

For this experience, I’m indefinitely thankful to The PLUS ME Project, and you can see why I’m all the more excited for next Saturday! On May 2nd, another room is set to light up again, to celebrate the magical power of storytelling, acknowledgement, and ultimately, the community which its developed over the last couple of months! And I can only hope you’ve got your ticket too, as I can assure you, we’ll be happy to have you there.

With Cheers,

Jimmy “JIMBO” Recinos