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Social Connectedness / 2013

The Los Angeles Service Academy

The Los Angeles Service Academy

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

The Los Angeles Service Academy (LASA) begins with questions. How does a city run? How does a vast metropolitan region like Los Angeles work? Which institutions are responsible for moving water, people, food, and power from points A to points Z? How are such agencies funded? Who runs them? How can neighborhoods be made more livable? What does an elected official do all day? What role do cultural institutions play in the life of Los Angeles? What about businesses and non-profits? What are the potential career paths for young people interested in civic, civil, and public service in the Los Angeles Basin? These are among the thousands of questions that students have about the city and region in which they live. There are a million more that they would have if they knew more about place, region, and history.

Designed as a supplement to the regular school year, LASA provides an intensive introduction to the infrastructure and institutions of greater Los Angeles for high school juniors who have expressed an interest in public, civic, and civil service. Participants gain the experience and knowledge necessary to better understand the intricacies – infrastructural, historical, political, economic, and otherwise – of the region in which they live, and build lasting bonds of friendship, camaraderie, and work experience with a diverse group of peers. Students who successfully complete the program during the junior year are placed in internships during their senior year, and will receive assistance and mentoring in the college application process.

Social connectedness is at the very heart of LASA’s mission. Our hope is that LASA will change the lives and career paths of hundreds of high school students in the region and will become an agent of change and community building across the Los Angeles basin. Throughout the year, LASA places particular emphasis on making certain that participants get to know one another personally, become familiar with one another’s region and/or neighborhood, and gain an appreciation for one another’s goals while participating in LASA (and beyond).

Currently in its first full year of operation, LASA brings together a diverse and select group of 20-25 students and 6-8 high school teachers from across the Los Angeles basin; 80% of the student participants are from public schools. The students begin their examination of Los Angeles during an intense four-day Summer Institute (scheduled for July 29th- August 1 in 2013). The summer program will be followed by once-a-month sessions on Saturdays from September through May. Depending on the topic on a given day, students will gather in the morning at the Huntington Library or at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Each session will focus on a particular theme or module and will be guided by experts on the given topic. In 2013-2014, the topics will include water, transportation, business, local and county governance, business, museums and cultural institutions, sports and entertainment, downtown, the LA River, police and criminal justice, food and housing, and the harbor complex.

Utilizing the astonishing archival resources of the Huntington Library and the Los Angeles Public Library, LASA will teach students about the historical growth of Los Angeles from the mid-nineteenth century forward. We will work from shared seminar readings (“homework” will be kept to a minimum), draw archival resources and personnel into our discussions, and build a collaborative working knowledge of Los Angeles history.

Our seminars will be but step one of a two-step process as our work “in the classroom” will be supplemented by fieldwork. For example, our investigation of the history of Los Angeles water resources and water engineering will start from in-depth study of regional water history, hydrology, and the many interfaces between water history and water politics. On that same afternoon, LASA will visit one or more key water facilities in order to have first-hand and practical knowledge as to contemporary water issues in the greater Los Angeles Basin. During the past year, for instance, and again with reference to water, LASA visited the Metropolitan Water District’s Weymouth Treatment Plant in Azusa and the San Gabriel Dam. Future site visits might include Hansen Dam or the LADWP’s Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant. In all site visits, LASA participants meet with key personnel who are in a position to contribute to our discussions and investigations.

The academic and investigative part of LASA takes place during the junior year. For those students who faithfully attend and take part in the required number of monthly meetings, LASA will facilitate internships during the senior year in collaboration with Leadership LA, the non-profit arm of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, whose alumni work in agencies and institutions across the entire region.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

LASA has been active since the summer of 2012. Our inaugural class of 20 high school juniors, one high school intern, two college interns, and seven high school teachers has met in a summer intensive Los Angeles history and culture seminar at The Huntington Library, and we've met one Saturday a month since then. Each Saturday session is focused on a different "node" of regional infrastructure. The day usually begins with a speaker and discussion, and then the LASA group goes into the field and to various sites which fit that day's themes. Our investigation of water started with a history overview of regional water development -- with rare documents -- and we then went to the dispersal facility for Colorado River water coming into the Metropolitan Water District system. Our business investigation took us to a private aerospace manufacturing facility, in business for 57 years, in Glendale, and a tour with that company's chief technologist. We ended that day with a discussion with Idealab executives and entrepreneurs. Our law enforcement day featured a morning with Connie Rice of the Advancement Project (we all read her book on the LAPD), and an afternoon tour with LAPD leaders of the new station and the regional 911 call center; we ended the day with a tour of SWAT team equipment and vehicles. For our investigation of regional transit and transit history, we began our day with seminars by experts from The Getty and the Automobile Club of Southern California on the history of automobiles, freeways, and railroads in the region. Following an on-foot journey from LAPL to Union Station, we met with the lead architectural design team tasked with re-imagining Union Station in the urban fabric of downtown (a stop at the Bradbury Building completed that day). A more recent investigation of the entertainment landscape of Los Angeles took us to AEG's Staples Center, the GRAMMY Museum, the Disney Concert Hall, and an end-of-the-day Bunker Hill discussion with the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times.

We believe our LASA students are getting to know the region, getting to know one another, and beginning to build lasting ties to their home and one another through LASA's commitment to fostering engaged civic participation and civic education. We believe that we are off to a great start.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

LASA is directly partnered with the Huntington Library and the Los Angeles Public Library. Leadership LA, the non-profit arm of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, provides assistance in coordinating internship placements for LASA students during the senior year.

In addition, LASA works closely with institutions helping facilitate our exploration of regional infrastructure. In 2012-2013, LASA has visited, or will visit, Los Angeles City Hall, Warner Brothers Studios, the Metropolitan Water District's Weymouth Treatment Plant, the Glenair Corporation, LAPD headquarters, Union Station, Mudtown Farms in Watts, the Staples Center, the GRAMMY Museum, Disney Hall, the harbor complex, and LACMA.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Our metrics for success will include both simple and complex measures. In the short term, can we show that LASA expands its service year to year? Can we build more partnerships with more schools, more teachers, more students, and more institutions? Can we facilitate student interest in moving on to collegiate education, and can we bring important college-success tools and strategies to the students? We can, and will, track these issues by reference to each student and each student’s post-LASA trajectory.

On a more complicated level, can we foster bonds of commonality, community, and connectedness between and among our diverse group(s) of students and teachers? Will friendships develop across region, background, or socio-economic status which help bridge the distances and differences in Los Angeles? Although tracking such issues or such progress will be difficult, we expect to monitor these aspects of LASA success by way of careful attention paid to student goals, student progress, and student evaluations.

Much farther out, can we say – eventually – that LASA has fostered bonds of connection and community which serve to make Los Angeles more efficient and more humane when LASA graduates enter the workforce in civil, civil, and other service to our region?

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

LASA inspires young people to think about their region and their future and how these are intertwined. We aim to foster ties of community and connection between diverse groups of teenagers as we collectively explore how greater Los Angeles works. Along the way, we will offer assistance to those students by way of collegiate counseling and mentoring internships across the basin. Our LASA graduates will have foundational understanding of Los Angeles history and institutions as they move on in their education and into career paths. By maintaining connections to one another and to what we learn together, LASA students and graduates will create new and lasting ties across region and background, ties which we hope will grow as LASA grows and as our student participants move into positions of public service in their lives and careers.

LASA aims to change the lives of its student participants and, in so doing, change the future of Los Angeles for the better.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

2050 is a long ways away. But LASA is, in part, aimed precisely at that future. 37 years from now, can we point to a large body of LASA graduates? More schools, more students, more teachers, more partnerships -- all serving to draw together regional ties of connection, education, and community?

Most exciting, can we look to a Los Angeles of 2050 in which LASA students have entered the realms of civil and civic service (professionally or otherwise) and can they, through the bonds established when they were much younger, find innovative ways to work together and to communicate beyond the challenges of size and metropolitan complexity? Can LASA help pull our region together in common pursuit of the public good?