learn / 2019

Students Working Together to Engage with and Transform LA

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Los Angeles Service Academy

LASA has a proven history and seeks support to continue this work to expand its foundational skills training of student activists; create additional partnerships - specifically with foster care students and new schools; ease transportation concerns; and introduce new modules on the decolonization of LA's water history, environmental impact, and the county-wide opportunities and infrastructural work involved in the 2028 Olympics.


What does your organization do?

How do LA’s youth experience LA and how do they imagine LA’s future? LASA students become problem-solvers and visionaries of both the LA of today and of tomorrow.

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

  • USC; The Huntington; LAPL

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

We are grateful that our LASA graduates share their stories of how LASA inspired their choices and helped them make impacts in their city and chosen field.

One of our LASA graduates, Stephanie, became an environmental engineer because of LASA; Giovanni, another student, became an architect because LASA introduced him not only to the built environment in Los Angeles but insisted that he could shape that environment himself. Both are the first in their families to attend college.

Amira shared that her experiences during LASA’s exploration of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach led her to the desire to pursue environmental studies in college. The day we visited the port system, Amira engaged with AltaSea’s marine biology experts and a civil engineer managing construction of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge that connects

Terminal Island to Long Beach. She reflected that the studies on sleeping sharks involved traditional framings of marine biology but also statistics, computer science, business, psychology, politics, and ecology. And the construction of the new bridge required knowledge of civil engineering but also the environmental science on the sustainability of materials, the impact of the demolition of the old bridge, and stability of land with oil deposits. Such “interconnections” captivated her — both substantively and

as a challenge to learn multiple vocabularies to communicate with the widest publics to engage in environmental activism.

Which of the learn metrics will your submission impact?​

  • College matriculation rates
  • District-wide graduation rates

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

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • Westside
  • South Bay
  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD
  • Gateway Cities

How will your project make LA the best place to learn?

LASA unpacks how metropolitan Los Angeles works by providing 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. As a supplement to the regular school year, LASA students learn from the very heart of the region’s history and culture, and, in so doing, find out how best they can contribute to the region and to collective problem-solving at a metropolitan scale. 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 they build lasting bonds of friendship, camaraderie, and work experience with a diverse group of peers.

LASA students meet for an intensive week in August and then gather one Saturday a month for the entirety of the school year to learn about, each month, a different infrastructural aspect of greater Los Angeles. The sessions each involve a site visit, discussions with relevant experts, and student reflection. LASA executes the program by engaging curiosity and the desire to create change in a diverse landscape of spaces from the Metropolitan Water District, the Port of Los Angeles, the business community, to the local arms of the judicial system.

LASA speakers - in the dozens - including Jeff Kightlinger of the Metropolitan Water District, Raphael Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University-Los Angeles, Christopher Hawthorne, LA’s Chief Design Officer, and Belinda Waltman of Whole Person Care Los Angeles - help the students create a foundation of knowledge to inform their visions for the future.

LASA contributes to LA as a space to learn by encouraging the students to learn by sharing their diverse experiences with each other and with the speakers. LASA serves students from across the county, from public and private schools, as well as a home-schooled student; all students participate free of charge, and we expect to expand in 2019-2020 to two students in foster care. LASA provides a snack breakfast and lunch to all students. They listen to each other and define the issues in LA they want to address moving forward.

Further, LASA launched a summer research essay competition to sponsor and mentor two students pursuing research on Los Angeles after their LASA year. And LASA has invited interested LASA graduates to assist with the Chinatown project of LASA’s parent organization, the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW).

Progress is measured monthly through student reflections as well as annually as LASA coordinates a reunion each May to check in with graduates and to give them a chance to mentor those currently in the program.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

LASA’s definition of success is twofold. First, LASA seeks to introduce youth to the complexities of LA infrastructure. Second, LASA seeks to empower youth to become problem-solvers and agents of change.

LASA measures success via:

  • Number of students participating and number applying;

  • Positive written feedback from students, teachers, and speakers;

  • Students’ knowledge of the aspects of LA infrastructure and ability to frame issues they plan to address moving forward; and

  • LASA follows-up on, fosters, and celebrates the change LASA graduates bring to LA in concrete terms.