By Nancy Peters
Published March 14, 2013
The Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) in Hawthorne has become a touchstone for the future of Hawthorne as the students become planted in the community landscape. The students are vocal in their interest in the workings of municipal government and made several points as they addressed the City Council on Tuesday, February 26.
Giving a report on the recent Community Forum at the invitation of Councilmember Olivia Valentine, the 11th grade students at ECHS created a group they call “Hawthorne United” and as part of the project they call “Intersession,” the Community Form was used as a strategy to bring people together from Hawthorne, Gardena, Lawndale and south L.A. In the format of a forum, the students posed issues that they and the attendees see as major areas in need of solutions to improve the quality of life in the area.
Interestingly, when the students were formulating how the forum would work they discovered they first had to find camaraderie within their own ranks and learn to work with people in their groups with whom they didn’t see eye-to-eye and with whom they didn’t agree on how the forum should work. As it is on any dais, getting along, agreeing, seeing things compatibly, and working together without snide comments, backbiting and controversy is rare. But, as the student representative explained, it is not possible to spell “community” without the word “unity” at the end, so they learned to put aside differences and come to a meeting of the minds to assemble the forum. The month of January was the creation phase of the forum. The students wrote a mission statement: “to empower the community by realizing the possibilities that be achieved through unity. The citizens of Hawthorne should take pride in the combined strength of their gifts and talents.” Embarking on the forum with the mission guiding their efforts, the students then reached out to the communities involved in the forum and the 32 students worked with Homeowners’ Associations and various agencies, such as the South Bay Youth Service Center, American Red Cross, and the Boy and Girl Scouts in the area.
As they came up with issues that have Younger Citizens Future of Hawthorne Community Politics plagued the area for a long time, they made it a point to seek solutions during the forum, knowing full well that those solutions would/could take time to be implemented, but at least solutions were part of the discussions and they were written down for action as soon as possible. Some of the problems and issues that were pointed out are the need to cleanup the city from trash that people leave in gutters and in front of storefronts and in their yards; the lack of any movement to rebuild the Hawthorne Mall; the need for people to feel safe to jog in their neighborhoods. Some solut ions recorded was a Neighborhood Watch program that would involve homeowners and the students; converting a part of the mall to an enclosed skateboard arena; expanding the clubs available for students in the schools so that they can learn more about future careers, such as the Future Teachers, Future Business Owners, Future Scientists, fitness clubs, dance and drama clubs, cooking clubs, etc.; and organized Neighborhood Clean-Up Volunteer Days. The students are enthusiastic to become a part of the community and participate in neighborhood efforts to make the cities in which they reside, but particularly the city of their school – Hawthorne – a more improved city and one in which they feel safe and secure.
The students emphasized to the forum attendees that they understand the impact of the residents on the communities in which they live and that everyone has the power to make changes if each one puts in even minimal efforts. And as students, each one can make a big difference as well by making opinions heard and communicated to the city government.
While the teachers contributed ideas to the 32 students involved with the ECHS Community Forum organized by Hawthorne United, it was the students who exemplified the spirit of the project and planned, organized, and executed the forum; communicated the problems; and ultimately will seek support for the solutions to the issues from the community and the city government. Hawthorne City Council has given full support to Hawthorne United and the Community Forum and offered to assist in any way with resources to implement the suggested solutions.