Shirley Hammonds was desperate to find a new school for her 8th-grade son. He was attending Orville Wright Middle School in LAUSD’s Local District West and had experienced bouts of bullying and teasing. More than this, she was concerned the school’s curriculum was just not challenging enough for her son.
Not knowing where to start in her process to search for a new school, she turned to an unlikely source of help that had proven to be a great resource to her in the past: her neighborhood church, West Angeles.
For the past year, Shirley’s son had attended the after-school tutoring program led by the church’s Education Ministry to receive help on his school homework. Seeing the positive results that came from his attendance after school, Shirley began to involve her son in more events at the church.
One of those events was the church’s annual High School Fair. This event invited parents to talk one-on-one with local schools to explore the array of affordable and quality school choices in the L.A. and, ultimately, to find the best fit for their child.
Faithful as she was, Shirley attended this fair. Her meeting with an up-and-coming charter school, City Charter School, led to her son eventually being admitted to this smaller, more rigorous academic environment that was more suited to her son’s needs.
On October 26, 2017, West Angeles hosted its 3rd annual School Fair, replete with over a dozen local representatives from a mixture of public, private and charter schools and a bustling crowd of proactive parents.
The School Fair is designed to help more mothers like Shirley, many of whom feel overwhelmed by the task of picking out the best schools among a sea of choices offered by LAUSD.
And for parents like Shirley, who lived in South L.A., even if they did know where to begin in their school search, they may find disappointing options and a reality where high-achieving schools are slim to none.
Shirley’s outcome was hopeful, but many other parents are left with the feeling of being stuck in a school district that is leaving their children behind. Others, choose to shell out thousands of dollars every year, sometimes beyond what their budgets will truly allow, to send their children to private schools, in hope that their children can have a better education.
The Director of West Angeles’ Education Ministry, John Wilson, believes that parents should not have to make that choice. The idea behind the School Fair is to help students access high-quality, free schools so that parents do not have to choose between paying for groceries or paying their children’s private school tuition.
The church, which is located along the city’s predominantly African-American Crenshaw District, has had a long-term commitment to serving its community both spiritually and socially. With the backing of its visionary leader, Bishop Charles Blake, it has been at the forefront of providing academic enrichment services to its surrounding community for twenty years.
The church’s academic-focused ministry, called the Education & Enrichment Program, emphasizes the need for more churches to get involved in the social needs of their communities. Education continues to be one of the greatest civil rights issues of the 21st century, especially for those within the African American community.
Wilson hopes that more faith-based academic programs will begin to gain a foothold in the Los Angeles area. He believes that South L.A. needs more community-based resource centers for parents. What better place to start than where many black families have traditionally turned to for support than the church.