LOS ANGELES — For Patsy Cruz, the high school diploma she will receive in December from Metropolitan High School will mark the end of a journey. She faced several challenges in completing her education after her family of seven was evicted from their home.
“We had to live in a hotel. It was not a nice hotel, but it was what we could afford,” Cruz told a room full of reporters and school officials, including LAUSD school board President Steve Zimmer and Superintendent Michelle King.
Due to the stress of her situation, as well as some health problems, Cruz’ grades began dropping.
“It was shameful because I’m the oldest daughter,” Cruz said. “It was not something I was used to.”
As a result, Cruz dropped out of school but with the help of a counselor, she was able to return. She is now a student at the continuation high school and plans to attend art school to study illustration or animation in New York or L.A.
Cruz is one of a handful of “recovered” students who spoke at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s eighth annual Student Recovery Day Sept. 9, which marked the beginning of the year’s effort to reach out to those who are no longer enrolled.
After a press conference at West Adams Preparatory School, school staff began their work conducting home visits to convince students and their parents of the importance of resuming their education.
“We’re not going to accept the idea that a child will leave school and nobody will look for them,” Zimmer said. “We want to know why you left and what we can do to bring you back.”
Since the first effort in 2008, almost 5,000 students have re-enrolled, with school staff visiting almost 10,206 homes. The district selected the participating schools based on the highest number of students on the dropout list. Some of those include Washington Preparatory in South Los Angeles, Helen Bernstein High School in Hollywood and Linda Esperanza Marquez High School in Huntington Park.
“Most of the time, families are surprised people are looking for them,” said Selena Barajas-Ledesma, the coordinator for the Pupil Services Initiative, which aims to ensure LAUSD students are engaged and on-track to graduate. “Sometimes they think we’re solicitors or from [the county Department of Children and Family Services], and that we’re coming to do them harm. But we come prepared with resources and solutions, so we’re not just letting them know that there’s a problem.”
Barajas-Ledesma said that students who drop out are often struggling academically or don’t feel connected to the school. She also said that in other cases, families are struggling to obtain basic needs, such as food and shelter, and so are not able to place a high priority on education.
One former student, Jefrey Antonio Galeanos, 19, quit school so he could get a job and send money to his mother in Guatemala.
But after a half-hour meeting with King, two school board members and Mayor Eric Garcetti in the South L.A. home where he lives with his grandmother, Galeanos decided to re-enroll.
The conversation not only persuaded him, but his cousin living in the house decided to resume his education as well, as did his grandmother, proving that it’s never too late to come back.