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Budget cuts, healthier communities the focus for Los Angeles students

LA youth gardeners hold hands in a circle
Photo: AFSC

Drastic budget cuts in Los Angeles have hit the educational system hard, but with help from AFSC, students at one high school are organizing to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles has lost nearly 40 percent of its teachers and seen class sizes nearly double. Students also are losing the opportunity to learn outside the classroom as supplemental courses are being cut.

Enter AFSC’s Roots for Peace program. “We want to build youth leadership and support healthier communities,” explains Anthony Marsh, director of AFSC’s program in Los Angeles.

To these ends, the program first worked with students to establish a Friends Peace Garden. Drawing inspiration from AFSC’s work on youth-led community improvement projects in Palestine, the work now is expanding to include civic activism.

“We have created an outdoor learning space and want this to become a social justice learning garden,” Anthony says. He would like students to deal with the low morale caused by the budget cuts and engage with the city and school district to discuss ways that money can move back into the schools.

The work at Lincoln began in February 2011 at the request of students who had heard of the two other Peace Gardens in Los Angeles schools that AFSC’s Peace Education Program helped establish.

Students grow a wide variety of produce that includes lettuce, bok choy, tomatoes, and mint. They share the produce with the school and surrounding community.

“Working with AFSC has provided my students with a holistic learning experience they otherwise would not have had,” says Lincoln teacher Daniel Alamo. “They are learning to create life through a garden, and through the process, change the school landscape. My students have been given the opportunity to not only envision change but also be part of it.”

Lincoln student Gabriel Gutierrez adds, “The garden really does [improve the school] because it extends our capacity to do more for the community.”