|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 1, 2004
Daily Bulletin 10-31-04
Lack of maintenance shuts doors of school tech labs
At least $1 million in computer equipment used to teach Los Angeles Unified students robotics and other high-tech skills has fallen into disrepair because the school district doesn't have the money or expertise to maintain it, officials say.
Financed by federal grants nearly 10 years ago, the highly touted Applied Math and Science Academy labs have given thousands of students at more than 30 LAUSD middle schools hands-on experience in subjects like animation, aviation and engineering.
But several campuses in the San Fernando Valley and throughout the district have been forced to close their labs because of budget cuts, a federal push toward standardized tests and a shortage of teachers credentialed in industrial arts.
"It's a travesty; the school district has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on these," said Steve Johnson, whose lab at San Fernando Middle School was closed - he hopes only temporarily - earlier this month.
Among the schools that have closed their labs are Maclay Middle School in Pacoima, Madison Middle School in North Hollywood, Milikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, Olive Vista Middle School in Sylmar and Sepulveda Middle School in North Hills.
At other schools, the numbers of classes held in the labs were reduced this year because LAUSD had to reassign teachers after it overestimated enrollment by about 4,000 students - causing a reduction in state funding.
"The elective programs have been hit hard," said Dan Jenkins, who now teaches only a few classes a day at the lab at Stevenson Middle School in Los Angeles.
Industrial arts programs, designed to teach children about trades and technology-based subjects, are barely hanging on because few teachers have the industrial-arts credential needed to teach the classes, Jenkins said.
Other campuses, however, have taken great care to maintain the AMSA equipment. Educators said students at those schools are benefiting.
At Pacoima Middle School, for example, students spend the year making the rounds at stations that teach them to design bridges, read graphs, operate robots and analyze the nutritional content of food.
"In other classes, you just listen and write a lot," said Vanessa Aguilar, 13, who spent a recent class designing a spaceship on an AMSA computer. "This is interesting. It's something new."
Instructor Don Wisniewski built the lab at Pacoima in 1999 with federal grant money.
"I don't know why it's fallen off at some schools," he said. "The kids love the computers. It helps them read. There's science involved. There's mathematics involved. There's a bit of everything."
The program is such a success that Sun Valley Middle School is using its own money to build a lab modeled after those at Pacoima and Holmes. It's expected to open in January.
Principal Jeff Davis said he would appeal to local companies to help him maintain the $140,000 lab rather than letting the equipment sit idle.
"It's a big commitment - it's a lot of money, but it's worth it because it's teaching kids skills," Davis said.
Some educators said part of the reason some labs shut was because the district didn't centrally maintain or support them.
But Nicholas Rogers, LAUSD's coordinator of career development, said the fate of each lab rests with the school's principal.
"These programs were never meant to be continuously funded through central district," he said. "We encourage these classes. We encourage the program, but ultimately every principal sets the priorities. ... We empower our instructional leaders at the schools."
Rogers said he hopes schools that closed their labs replace them with better programs - or at least incorporate aspects of them into other classes.
"I'm not OK with something being closed if the instruction hasn't been replaced," said Rogers, adding that he planned to check into the status of the labs.
At Portola Middle School, the lab still hosts a popular elective that is never short of students, although officials say maintaining the aging technology has been tough.
"I'm here until, like, 6 o'clock at night," he said.
And it's one of the only hands-on classes that gives students a taste of the trades, Portola Principal Steve Lawler said.
"It's a great program," he said. "When you look at the
fact that so many shop classes have closed, this provides an alternative
to the old shop class. We made a point to spend some extra out of our
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