A Nuyorican in LA: No more metal detectors (and other back to school surprises for my kids)
Little Gaby at her new school.
Call me a New York City supremacist. After successfully navigating my two daughters through the largest public school district in the United States, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was going to be a cakewalk. Or so I thought.
LAUSD is the second largest public school district in the country, with about half as many students enrolled compared to NYC. What I didn’t take into account was half the amount of students in a much more spread out space without a good public transit system equaled lots of time spent commuting back and forth just to get my kids enrolled. Getting my 5 year old into kindergarten was easy enough since I can literally see her school from the front of my house. Getting my teen, the MapucheRican, into high school proved a much more complicated process.
There is a high school that I can see from the backyard of our house in City Terrace, but it wasn’t my 10th grader’s zoned school. That was a school made famous by the film Stand & Deliver, and a good 45-minute to an hour away via two buses with no free student Metrocards and no free transfers. It isn’t even in incorporated Los Angeles.
It’s not that we are a lazy family. Back in NYC my Mapu took the subway from Queens into Manhattan to her high school, an hour ride each way. But in LA buses don’t come as often as subways so I wanted to get my almost 15-year-old into the school that was only a 20-minute commute away.
This required multiple trips back and forth between schools. One trip to get a permit from the zoned school to apply to the nearer school. Then another trip to the closer school from the East LA school to be officially accepted. Then back to East Los to prove she had been accepted. Then back to her would-be school, twice, once to officially enroll her in a process that was akin to an assembly line, moving from office to office to prove that nope, she doesn’t need special ed nor does she need English as a second language. The final trip was to meet with the MapucheRican’s counselor and translate the NYC Department of Education’s grading system of 1-4 to the LAUSD’s old school A through F.
At least the commute is worth it.
Once in school, both my kids and I noticed other differences. We are shocked by how segregated the school system is. The overwhelming majority of students are Latinos. There are a handful of Asians, Blacks and Whites. The same goes for school staff and administrators. For the first time for all of us the majority of the administrators and teachers in school are Latino. Everything, from meetings to letters home is bilingual English and Spanish, something I had to fight for in my kids’ schools in New York City.
No one mispronounces my kids’ names, which is nice but the lack of integration, a reflection of the lack of integration in Los Angeles in general, is new to us — and a little troubling. My teen was happy, though, that going to school in the morning didn’t include a trip through a metal detector the way it did in her Manhattan public school.
Just like many outside the city think that Los Angeles is Hollywood and Beverly Hills, it seemed like the teen Angelenos think New York City is a cross between Times Square and Fort Apache. On my teen’s first day of school she was bombarded with questions ranging from the understandable to the absurd.
“Is it true you can jaywalk in New York City and not get hit by a car?”
“Are there beaches in New York City?”
“Is Queens far from New York City?”
“Which is more violent? Los Angeles or New York City?”
“Do people go to school dressed like they are going to a club?”
My kids’ friends back in Queens are just starting school this week and I feel like here on the West Coast, we are finally getting into our routines. I don’t know if I would grade one school system higher than the other. Seems like coast to coast red tape in the public education system is the norm.
Follow Maegan as she chronicles her adventures as a Nuyorican “Mamita Mala” in LA. Her first post, titled “How a radical Nuyorican Twitterputa ended up madly in love in Los Angeles,” details the love for a man that brought her out to the West Coast in the first place.
(Photos: Maegan Ortiz)