learn / 2015

Education for Everyone: Alternative High School for Pushed-Out Youth

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Youth Justice Coalition

FREE LA High School is a unique education program in South Los Angeles that supports system-involved youth in obtaining high school diplomas. Our students are primarily youth of color who have been pushed out of traditional schools through suspensions, expulsions and/or lock-ups, and are left with few options to complete their degree. Social justice organizing is integrated into our curriculum in order to equip youth with the skills necessary to work towards more just education systems.


In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • South LA

How do you plan to use these resources to make change?

  • Engage residents and stakeholders
  • Mobilize for systems change
  • Advocate with policymakers and leaders
  • Implement and track policy

How will your proposal improve the following “Learn” metrics?

  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index* scores
  • College matriculation rates
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)

Describe in greater detail how you will make LA the best place to learn.

FREE LA High School is a safe haven and alternative education program in South Los Angeles that supports system-involved youth, ages 16-24, in obtaining high school diplomas. The students we serve are primarily youth of color who are often unable to complete their high school education in a traditional school because they face systemic and everyday challenges such as increasing violence in their communities, unstable living conditions, and scarce resources after returning home from lock-up.

FREE LA’s core academic program includes English, Pre-Algebra and Algebra, and Life and Earth Science. At the heart of the program, however, is training and direct, experiential learning in social justice organizing and movement building. FREE LA’s teachers provide standards-based instruction on systems of oppression and strategies for dismantling racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism/homophobia, adultism, and religious fundamentalism. For example, Economics is taught through units on slavery/human trafficking, globalization, food justice and immigration. In addition, students are often provided opportunities to apply lessons learned in the classroom into real-life situations, including field trips to give testimony to elected officials about experiences in solitary confinement in detention.

FREE LA High School also prepares youth for college. Staff organizes annual field trips to local community colleges, state universities and vocational schools in order to provide students with a vision of post-secondary education. Former students who have transitioned to college or vocational school regularly visit FREE LA classrooms to talk about their experiences and mentor current students. AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers assist students with college applications and submitting financial aid forms. College support begins when youth enroll in FREE LA High School and continues into the youth’s post-secondary career.

We envision a 2050 in which all youth have the same resources, opportunities and experiences in our city’s education system. In the immediate future, we will continue to provide system-involved youth with the support they need to graduate from high school prepared for college and the training necessary to engage in social justice organizing, empowering them to challenge oppressive education and juvenile justice systems.

Please explain how you will evaluate your work.

The Youth Justice Coalition will evaluate the impact of FREE LA High School on the youth it serves by tracking quantitative and qualitative metrics. Quantitative metrics include enrollment, average daily attendance, classroom grades and standardized test scores. Qualitative metrics include levels of confidence and motivation to attend school and obtain a high school diploma. Metrics will be collected through record keeping as well as student interviews and classroom observations. As a result of attending FREE LA High School, system-impacted youth will graduate from high school prepared for college, engage in direct action organizing and social change work, and have decreased interaction with police, incarceration time and arrests.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)