WATTS — A privately run community school that has operated virtually without funding for the last four years, but has nearly a 100 percent success rate for graduating at-risk students and adults, received a grant and some recognition Friday that may lead to a brighter future.
The Los Angeles Community High School, which operates out of the kitchen of the Laurel Street Baptist Church, just across from Jordan Downs Projects, was given a special $250 micro grant from the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable’s Building Self-Sustaining Communities Awards.
The money, which is given monthly to support organizations with a proven track record of service, is underwritten by major corporate partners like the Wells Fargo Foundation.
“You can’t really get more grassroots than where we are, you really are in the trenches,” said the rountable’s Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in presenting the award. “But it’s a labor of love and done in the God-like spirit of giving back to the community. What I saw with the school here today, the accomplishments with these students; turning their lives around, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to want to chip in.
“People talk about things all the time, but you are actually doing something and we hope that more people will join us to match these funds and ensure your success continues.”
The school is operated by Frederick “Scorpio” Smith, a former gang member turned gang interventionist and Kimi Lent, a former kindergarten teacher and an expert on Los Angeles-area gangs.
It enrolls about 35 students each September and follows the California standard curriculum.
“A kid gets in a fight, which may not have been his or her doing, at Jordan High School and they are expelled,” Smith said. “Well, they can’t go down the road to the next school because of the gang affiliations and the fact they come from the projects. The next schools are too far away, so they’ll drop out. I met Kimi through the community work I was doing and found she operated a school to help at-risk students and I suggested she re-locate it right here in the neighborhood.
“It’s real nice [to get the award]. We haven’t had any funding for the last four years. Someone in the community breaks off a little something every now and again, but 90 percent of it comes from me and Kim. People look out for us; the church has been great and we couldn’t this without the support we get from our day jobs.”
He added: “We’re going to open up Sept. 4, whether we have the funds or not. We’re gonna make it happen and have been making it happen for the last four years. We ain’t gonna shut it down in the next month; we’ve got too much love for the kids.”
White was equally determined.
“We can operate this school on probably half per student of what a traditional school pays for their average daily attendance money,” she said. “Our location is very small, our students do home study, some have jobs and children, and we do whatever works for everyone.
“Right now we have money for everything; meals, laptops, books and we need more space. I and Scorpio teach the classes, following the state curriculum. He’s really good; he teaches in a way that the kids can really relate to.”
On hand to testify to the school’s success were current students Darius Bailey, 18, who has ambitions to become a music producer, Jamal Ali, also 18, who wants to go into the military, Maria Barragan, 20, who is headed to Trade Tech and nursing assistant Lashanda Criswell-Mitchell.
“They helped me to see my future and gave me hope,” said Criswell-Mitchell. “Upon graduating I became a certified nursing assistant. I’m walking in my dreams.”
Laurel Street Baptist’s Bishop Franklin Harris alluded to divine intervention.
“I had a dream of opening a school, but didn’t know how to go about it; I believe God sent them this way,” he said. “There are lots of activities going on in this community; it’s not just gangs and drugs. We need people to step up and say enough is enough. We want to show the goodness coming out of Watts.”