Small School Opens in East L.A., Offers Big Opportunities
Class of 2016 starts at new Solis Learning Academy.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
With the school’s marquee showing temperatures nearing 100 degrees, just over 100 eager students on Tuesday attended their first day of school at the Hilda L. Solis Learning Academy. The campus is one of 20 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools opening this year that were built to relieve overcrowding and address the district’s 50 percent graduation rate.
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The school is named after US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who previously represented the East Los Angeles area in Congress.
The school’s opening marks a more promising future for East LA students, said speakers at the Tuesday morning news conference.
“Forty-four years ago, students walked out of schools demanding a better day, and today, as a daughter of East LA, I am so proud to represent this area and to continue to partner with people who will push the district until every school has air conditioning that works, every school has 100 percent graduation and every school has community partners telling the story about the kids that can,” said LAUSD School Board President Monica Garcia.
Redistricting has placed the school in LAUSD District 2, represented by Garcia. Garcia said she was thrilled at the Academy’s opening day event.
InnerCity Struggle Associate Director Henry Perez said the opening of the Solis Academy is a proud and momentous occasion and represents a historic and ongoing struggle to provide the youth of East Los Angeles with a quality education and greater opportunities for success.
Overcrowding at East LA and Boyle Heights area schools negatively impacted students for decades — resulting in fewer than 50 percent of students graduating, and less than 20 percent being ready to attend a four-year university, Perez said.
In 2003, students affiliated with InnerCity Struggle launched a campaign to get new schools built, and they succeeded, he said, noting for example the new Torres High School, located just three blocks away.
Perez said he is happy to see the tide turning, but added there is still a lot of work to do.
“We know that building new schools—though significant progress—is not enough. We must ensure that instruction and the learning that takes place in these new buildings is of the highest quality that we can offer to the youth of East Los Angeles and our community,” he said.
There must be high expectations for the education the students will receive, as well as innovative instruction and avid preparation for higher education, quality careers so they become engaged members of society, “anything else is not acceptable,” Perez said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the campus is one of 129 schools built under the district’s New School and Modernization Program that was financed with voter-approved bonds.
Solis Academy opened under the district’s Public School Choice reform process, which allows groups to compete to run new campuses and existing low-performing schools. Solis’ “small school,” career oriented model was developed by a team of Marshall High School teachers, as the “School of Technology, Business, and Education.”
Fifteen-year-old Christian Ruiz, a former Griffith Middle School student, said he was excited about the technology theme. “I’m into anything technology,” he told EGP as his mother completed his registration forms in the first floor lobby.
On the other hand, 14-year-old Nathaniel Cervantes, a former Belvedere Middle School student, said he was excited about the business theme. Cervantes said he didn’t mind being at school on such a hot day, because he’s eager to start and finish high school, and go to college so he can someday be an entrepreneur.
Principal Jose Rodriguez said Solis is currently only enrolling freshmen, and has a capacity for up to 150 students per grade. As of Tuesday morning, just over 100 students had already enrolled, and a stream of parents and students were still pouring in.
Superintendent Deasy noted it was quite a sight to see students walking into the school as construction workers left. Rodriguez said construction will wrap up completely in about a month. The library still needs to have shelves installed and science labs on the third floor also need some work.
The Solis Academy is located on the site of the former East Los Angeles Star Hospital, and was referred to as East LA Star Academy during the initial planning phase.
The building is comprised of a basement and three floors. The basement houses the cafeteria, staff lounge, and library; the first floor is classrooms, two computer rooms, and offices; and the second and third floor are mainly science labs with a couple of “flexible rooms,” according to Rodriguez. There is also a gym located at another building at the campus, and an adult school will open next door in the near future, he said.
The school has a relationship with Torres High School and Solis students will attend Torres to participate in sports, Rodriguez said.
A mascot has not been selected for Solis, but Rodriguez said the three-story mural, on the building’s N. Humphreys Avenue and New York Street corner, has a large eagle and Aztec motif which could ultimately influence the decision.
During a Saturday orientation, students were told about Secretary Solis and her contributions, Rodriguez said. “I tell the girls, this is what you want to strive for—to one day have a school named or something named after you. We want you to go to college, get a career and do great things,” he said.
Solis is the third new public high school to open on the eastside in recent years. Esteban Torres High School opened in 2010, a year prior the Felicitas & Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center opened in Boyle Heights. Both schools have independent small schools located on the same campus; their opening helped to take eastside high schools off the year-round track calendar.Print This Post
August 16, 2012 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.