SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Facing an impressive mix of challenges, including declining enrollment and a less than favorable reputation, Horace Mann Middle School would seem an unlikely place to produce a college-going population.
The stakeholders behind a joint venture between the Los Angeles Unified School District and UCLA are hopeful that their collaboration will rewrite the narrative for this neighborhood school whose population is made up of mostly black and Latino students.
The Horace Mann UCLA Community School, as it is now called, is expanding to add ninth grade at the start of the 2017-18 school year, and expand through 12th grade by 2020. Long term, district leaders hope to add elementary grades, eventually making Horace Mann a K-12 school.
“Education is shifting,” Principal Orlando Johnson said. “Parents have options and declining enrollment here at Mann is basically stating that they feel our programs are not providing what their children need. My job as the principal is to partner with the community to provide an educational program that the parents want and desire.”
The collaboration with UCLA began in 2015 with a team of teachers, students and parents working together to make improvements. Their efforts appear to be paying off.
In 2016, 87 percent of boys passed math, compared to 49 percent in 2015. From 2014 to 2016, 29 percent more students reported feeling safe at the school.
In 2016, UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies began partnering with Horace Mann.
“Our mission at the University of California is to advance teaching, research, and service,” said Karen Hunter Quartz, research director for UCLA Community Schools. “Our engagement with K-12 schools allows us to do that in really important ways. We’ve been partnering with the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in Koreatown for eight years now and that partnership has created an amazing context for our UCLA students to learn.”
Hunter Quartz said it’s important to point out that Horace Mann is not a charter school. It is a neighborhood public school and is not a part of the landscape of charter schools in LAUSD, which reportedly has more students enrolled in charter schools than any other public school system in the United States.
There are many benefits to a K-12/University collaboration, Hunter Quartz said. For example, UCLA students engage in service learning such as tutoring students and are taught how to become great teachers. Additionally, UCLA faculty hold classes on the Koreatown complex facilitating even more opportunities for student learning and engagement.
According to LAUSD, the college acceptance rate has more than tripled to 99 percent since the Robert F. Kennedy School in Koreatown opened in 2009 on the site of the old Ambassador Hotel, where Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.
The collaborative effort at Horace Mann may be on its way to producing similar results.
“If we do this right, this may be the way of the future for educating students not only in Los Angeles but in other metropolitan areas across the county,” Johnson said.
“If we want our kids to go to college and to be competitive in industry today, then we need to partner with colleges and people in the industries in order to provide our kids with the education that they need.”
Thanks to the collaboration with UCLA, Horace Mann fulfilled a request made last year by parents who wanted summer school classes expanded from a half day to an entire day – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The curriculum included core content such as math and English. The second half of the day featured enrichment classes such as science, martial arts training and Mandarin language classes.
Students were also treated to a field trip to Big Bear.
“We want to provide the students during a normal school year with a well-rounded quality core curriculum,” Johnson said. We feel that our kids in this community deserve that. You should feel confident that wherever you live, your children will receive a quality, rigorous education.”