Can You Keep A Secret?

The juvenile justice system is flawed. It is not only flawed, it is seriously flawed. Rather than serving as a deterrent to a youth’s future run-ins with the law and adult incarceration, the juvenile justice system often serves as a training ground for youth offenders.

In my previous blog for the Los Angeles County Education Foundation (LACEF), “Probation Youth: Not Your Problem?” I highlighted the need for providing such young people with opportunities for change once they are released, e.g. school credits, job certification, transitional support, and psychological and health support. Failing to provide these support services will only lead to recidivism and their graduation to adult incarceration. African Americans and Latinos represent an overwhelming segment of the juvenile justice system. The following provides greater insight into the disturbing statistics of our nation’s broken juvenile justice system. According to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office:

  • In 2005, males accounted for about 74 percent of all juvenile arrests in California. Males accounted for more than 80 percent of all juvenile felony arrests.
  • Most juveniles arrested in 2005 were age 15 through 17. Only 2 percent of juvenile arrests were in the 10 and 11 age group.
  • Black and Hispanic juveniles represented about one-half of California’s juvenile population age 10 through 17 in 2005, but they accounted for almost two-thirds of juvenile arrests.

Prior to any encounter with law enforcement, African-American and Latino youth within urban communities have limited resources and access to opportunities for summer jobs or extra-curricular activities. It stands to reason and statistics support that those already limited resources and opportunities become infinitesimal post incarceration.

How serious is it? According to the most recent nationwide study, “How Crimes Committed by Juveniles Affect Communities,” and  by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, in 2008, juveniles accounted for 47 percent of all arson arrests and 38 percent of all vandalism arrests. In the same year, juveniles accounted for 27 percent of robbery and burglary arrests, 26 percent of larceny arrests, and 25 percent of motor vehicle theft arrests.  Also in 2008, juveniles accounted for 16 percent of all violent crime arrests, and for 22 percent of all weapons-related arrests.

So the questions are—What are we doing to stem this tide? What can we do as a society to invest our tax dollars in the positive future of these youths versus investing our tax dollars in the building of more group homes, juvenile halls, and probation camps? Will we become concerned when it comes knocking at our door in the form of a broken in car, stolen purse, or illegal drug activity in our neighborhood?

Our nation’s youth, especially in California, need our voices, our advocacy, and our efforts. We have the power to stem the tide of juvenile incarceration. So I ask again—Should you keep this secret? I hope not. Let’s find ways to invest and believe in our youth, and champion alternatives for reform of the juvenile justice system.


Dawn Turner, Chief Operating Officer



Probation Youth: Not Your Problem?

“Enhancing vocational education opportunities is one of the most critical things we can do to help set incarcerated students on a positive course in school and in life,” said Arturo Delgado, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). “In a time when educational programs are being slashed to the bone, it is truly uplifting to be able to provide this opportunity to our county’s most vulnerable and at-risk youth.”  Last week I attended a ribbon cutting at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster, CA.  It is one of the many probation camps located in Los Angeles County.  One of LACEF’s initiatives is to advocate for policies that will improve self-sufficiency of young people, (boys and girls), who are a part of the juvenile justice system.  In talking with several of the young men, what struck me the most is how young they not only looked, but are, and that the majority of the population is Latino and African-American.  It was also overwhelming to visit their “dorms” which were similar to the pods at the LA County jail.

While the “BuildingSkills: Construction Careers for the 21st Century” program is great and prepares students for trades — such as carpentry, masonry and plumbing, I found myself becoming angry as I drove back to my life in downtown Los Angeles.  Angry because we (society) have and are failing an entire generation.  Angry, because there seems to more outrage about the use of plastic grocery bags than our young people who are in trouble and need our help.  It is easy to blame it on the parents, and there is certainly fault there. And I’m not making excuses for the wrong these young people have done because some of the infractions are quite serious.  However, there were steps along the way where an adult failed them—failed to guide and protect them.  It seems as though we have become more to apathetic as it relates to poverty, crime, young people and rehabilitation.

We cannot continue to ignore this epidemic. Locking these young people up now without providing any opportunities for change once they are released e.g. school credits, job certification, transitional support, and psychological and health support, will only lead them to a life-time of incarceration.  In the long-run, this will and is hurting our society.  This connects to the blog I wrote in November 2011 entitled “Achieving the Dream” and its Connection to Education and Health” because everything is linked.  As I stated then:

America was once the leader in education and job creation. Foreign nations now claim those titles. If access to education and health is not provided early on, our nation will pay the price with higher drop-out rates, teen pregnancies, youths incarcerated in the juvenile justice system, and disaffected youth in general. Our initiative focuses on giving young people the skills to become productive citizens so they may help our country regain [our] competitiveness [globally] and improve our society overall.

So I ask myself and others, “what are you willing to do to change the life trajectory of these young people”?

Dawn Turner, Chief Operating Officer


Education + Health: A Critical Link

February was National School Based Health Center Month. Although the month has passed, LACEF is committed year round to the cause of School Based Health Care.  LACEF is proud to recognize the 62 school health centers throughout Los Angeles County and the care they provide our students and their families.

Every day we are reminded that the life circumstances of children and youth are far from equal. Whether it is noted in research studies, in the daily news, or in the results of school test scores, we are aware that the young people of Los Angeles County very often lack the solid foundation that will promote their healthy development and educational success.  According to statistics, nearly 60% of African American and Latino families have limited access to care. As a result, our youth often attend school sick and unable to learn. Whether it be a persistent cough, poor vision, aching teeth, or depression, any system of poor health jeopardizes the ability of our youth to learn.  

Yet, maintaining the health and wellbeing of Los Angeles County’s resident population is a daunting challenge.  To meet this challenge, numerous entities throughout the County provide countless services to address the preventive, dental and mental health needs of its residents.  Despite the increased number of resources and services available to families and their children, it is estimated that 27% of adults and 15% of children have difficulty accessing medical care, for a number of reasons, one of the most prevalent reasons is the distance a family must travel to access its primary care facility.  

The impact of this on students is devastating. Chronic diseases such as asthma, tooth decay, obesity and diabetes contribute to high absentee rates which in turn exarcebate already existing achievement gaps as students are unable to make up the valuable time lost in the classroom. Data show that nearly 50% of students in grades 2-11 were not proficient on statewide literacy exams in 2010-11.  Among high school students in the same year, less than 35% were deemed proficient in algebra, an essential course needed for college enrollment. Even more alarming is the average percentages of African American and Latino students that are proficient which are at a low of 40% and 30%, respectively.  Poor health has been found to contribute to these low academic achievement, specifically poor grades, the need to repeat grades, and high dropout rates.

Schools have long played a pivotal role in arresting the affects that a lack of access to care can produce. The 62 school health centers in Los Angeles County often serve as the default medical home of many community residents, providing patients with primary, mental and dental care in a location that is both familiar and safe.  SHCs co-location on school grounds make them readily accessible to families whose access to transportation is limited and to children who do not have to lose an entire school day to receive routine checkups.  Students who access SHCs have been shown to have decreased school absences, failing grades and disciplinary referrals. For the broader community, studies show that SHCs are more likely to attract harder-to-reach populations and increase their access to crucial services.

School health centers, however, face mounting challenges to survive. Los Angeles County has the largest share of SHCs in California, serve nearly 50% of students on school campuses, and provide access to care to a significant percentage of Los Angeles County’s underserved and uninsured.  Yet these vital medical centers are islands unto themselves, lying on the periphery of the system of care in Los Angeles County and relatively unknown within the system of education.  SHCs rely on a patchwork of funding streams that, in times of economic hardship, threaten their ability to operate.  Co-location on school grounds does not always lead to close partnerships with schools leading to the underutilization of services by school and community members.

LACEF’s Stay Well Learn Well School Health Centers Initiative maximizes the unique role school health centers assume within schools and strengthens the critical link between health and education. LACEF’s Stay Well Learn Well initiative aims to catalyze change in existing systems, policies and practices that impact the health outcomes of children and their families. Change began in Fall 2011 with the launch of the Stay Well Learn Well School Health Center at Lennox School District in partnership with the T.H.E. Clinic in Lennox, California.  Change continues in 2012 with a series of dialogues, convenings and launch of a new model demonstration site that address the barriers facing school health centers, promote new models of SHCs for the 21st century, and identify opportunities for innovation. We welcome you to join LACEF and reduce barriers to learning by recognizing February 2012 as the kick off to a year long commitment and the months following as the year of the school health center.  

Dr. Leticia Bustillos, LACEF Director of Programs

The First Lady, Health and Inglewood

LACEF’s mission is to seek out opportunities to address the needs of underserved children and teens.  LACEF looks at the whole child – educationally, emotionally and physically. To that end, we applaud the stance the First Lady has taken by focusing on health.  She has said “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” This is true. According to the Center for Disease Control, Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years.

Earlier this week Mrs. Obama was in Southern California promoting “Let’s Move”, her campaign against childhood obesity.  One of her stops was in Inglewood, the city in which I live.  She discussed, (along with one of our partners, The California Endowment), efforts to provide healthier food options in “traditionally” underserved areas. What I know about Let’s Move is that it is dedicated to solving obesity among children in the next generation.  What I know about the options in my community is that children and families don’t have many options when it comes to eating healthier.  From the standpoint, of acting as Chief Operating Officer for LACEF, it ties in with our Stay Well Learn Well school-based health center initiative promoting and funding health clinics for students and families on school sites in their communities. From a personal standpoint, I recognize the challenges that I and other people who live in my community face when it comes to healthier options.

For example, I don’t shop for food in the community in which I live.  I travel to Marina Del Rey to shop a farmer’s fresh market for my vegetables and fruit and either drive to the Whole Foods in El Segundo or Ralph’s in Ladera Heights for fish and other food staples.  However, not everyone has the time or the means to do this.

Thankfully, part of the reason the First Lady was in Inglewood, was to celebrate the effort to bring fresh food to impoverished neighborhoods. Mrs. Obama visited an abandoned warehouse in Inglewood, where a new grocery store is set to open in April.  With The California Endowment leading the way, The FreshWorks Fund -– a coalition of health organizations, banks and groceries -– has committed $264 million in public-private loans to help the stores get underway. Northgate Gonzalez Markets will receive $20 million in financing to open the Inglewood store and two other markets in City Heights and South Los Angeles. For Wednesday’s event, the market franchise set up bins of fruits and vegetables and shelves of cereal, juices and rice. Following the speeches, residents filled up bags with free groceries. The market is part of a statewide push to reduce obesity by attracting grocers to disadvantaged communities and making healthy food more accessible.

Lack of healthy eating options combined with lack of exercise contribute to obese children. Having the First Lady address healthier food options for children and families not only in schools, but within the community goes a long way. We, as a society, cannot not afford to have another generation of obese children, it puts a tremendous strain on the individual person as far as their quality of life and on society as a whole.

LACEF supports INVESTING in LA’s children via healthier options. We BELIEVE our children are worth it. We CHAMPION those who are committed to improving conditions for the benefit of LA’s children and teens.

LACEF stands with the First Lady in her the efforts towards healthier children and communities!

Dawn Turner, LACEF Chief Operating Officer

A Matter of “Class”

A recent article in the New York Times provoked a strong response from me, both personally and professionally.  In Helen Ladd’s and Edward Fiske’s opinion piece titled “Class matters: Why won’t we admit it?” ( the author’s raise a very important question: “So why do presumably well-intentioned policy makers ignore, or deny, the correlations of family background and student achievement?”

The authors offer a few possible suggestions as to why the link is very often ignored, from overwhelming faith in our education system to “offset the effects of poverty” via innovations such as charter schools, to the belief that if all schools are held to increasingly high standards they will somehow meet those high standards and propel students to success.  Yet such beliefs mask uncomfortable truths – charter schools as a whole are not doing exceptionally better than public education and high standards often mean the deliberate teaching to the test or to specifically target a group of students (at the expense of others) that can be the difference to a school on the margins of failure or success.

As a mother of a five-year-old experiencing the joys of kindergarten, I am acutely aware of the advantages my daughter has over other children.  In her short five years, she has been on more plane rides than I ever took before going to college 3,000 miles away from home. She has been to countless museums, debating whether the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum is better than the ShakeZone at the Kidspace Museum. She is a whiz on computers, moving seamlessly between desktop and laptop, but with a preference for my smartphone.  She has been exposed to multiple languages, knows what a French horn is and believes she can be a scientist-ballerina-doctor-chef-astronaut when she grows up. The advantages she has today are directly attributed to the education both my husband and I have received, the knowledge we’ve gained from our professional networks, and the jobs we have that make it possible for us to pursue our interests and widen hers.

Unfortunately, as the article rightly points out, not all children have these opportunities and not all schools can make up for what they don’t have.  As a teacher for many years, I worked with children whose families never set foot outside the 5-mile radius of our city.  Other children in my classes had never seen the beach, had never touched snow, did not have a library card and had very little understanding about the notion of “going away” to college. Our limited field trip budgets only allowed for 1 field trip per year per class, limiting the connections we could make between knowledge learned in texts with knowledge gained from the real world. Because we could not offer sustained music and art classes, and get to other vital subject areas like science and history because of the importance of math and reading, our classes were split up during what we called “mix time.” During this time, a single grade level would split up their classes for a two-three week period and teach subjects that simply could not be taught during the regular school day.  I was lucky to be teaching in a grade level with seven teachers where we could offer music, art, dance, science, physical education and other exploratory subjects.  Other grades were not so fortunate.

I am no longer teaching and it saddens me to see what is happening to teachers and the constraints imposed upon them. I am dismayed by the budget challenges and the ongoing slashing of funds to both education and social services.  Yet, during this time of fiscal constraint and questionable education policy decisions, the importance of exposing kids to new opportunities and new ideas has never been greater.  The demand for a workforce that can compete in a global economy is considerable, yet the experiences and knowledge students gain in the classroom are insufficient preparation to meet this demand.  They need the kinds of experiences my daughter has had in her five years of living – experiences that expose her to new opportunities, enrich her perspective and allow her to believe she can grow up to be anyone she wants to be.

The authors say, “Since they can’t take on poverty itself, education policymakers should try to provide poor students with the social support and experiences that middle-class students enjoy as a matter of course.” At LACEF, we take this mandate to heart and aim to provide students from underserved communities with the opportunities and experiences that they do not and can not receive from home, from their schools and from their communities.  At Blue Sky Meadow, we offer programs that enable students to see what it means to do science like a scientist.  Through our work with the juvenile justice system, we pilot innovative career technical education programs that position kids who have not done well in a traditional school setting to capitalize on their talents and develop skills that boost their confidence and lead to viable futures.  Our recent summit on school health centers with leaders in the public, private, government and nonprofit sectors made clear the importance of being healthy and have access to health care if we expect our students to do well in school and in life.

Why LACEF does this is for the same reason I do this for my daughter. First, we do this because we believe in our kids and we need them to believe that they have something very special to contribute to this world.  Secondly, we do this because it makes sense. Kids are our assets – among them are the next doctors, inventors, artists, etc – and it is our moral imperative to provide them with the kinds of opportunities and experiences that fulfill their potential.  As a mother, I am the champion of my child. As LACEF, we champion kids and their infinite possibilities – family background or circumstance will not stand in the way.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Leticia Bustillos, LACEF Director of Programs

“Achieving the Dream” and Its Connection to Education and Health

The cover story on the November 14 edition of Time Magazine shed some interesting light on the interconnection of education and upward mobility in the U.S. The Time news stories underscore precisely why LACEF’s mission to interconnect education with health is vitally important.
Can You Still Move Up in America?” by Rana Foroohar and an accompanying article “Whatever Happened to Upward Mobility?” paint a bleak picture of persons who don’t get a good start in education from their earliest age and fail to succeed in school past college age.

The Time articles issue a blunt assessment: Americans have experienced absolute upward mobility gains over previous generations, but U.S. residents have fallen dramatically behind in relative mobility in comparison to people of other nations. According to Brookings Institution research, and studies by the Pew’s Economic Mobility Project and Opportunity Nation, several European nations are doing far better than we are in the U.S. as it relates to an individual’s economic mobility. The reports note that many of these foreign nations lack the U.S.’s population diversity, a factor that can boost inequality.

The article also compares a person’s likelihood of advancing or “achieving the dream” to their access to education and health, or the lack of access to one or both. As we have made advances in technology, middle-income jobs have decreased. The idea to combat this shift is to improve education to slow or halt our upward mobility downward slide. In other words, when access to education improves and technological achievement advances, more jobs will be created. The Time article also cites personal medical crises as a reason one-third of the population is in a cycle of poverty. The magazine cites research that finds that a person’s general health status has a big impact on upward mobility.
Time used a “Mobility Matrix” to show the likelihood of an individual reaching the middle class (annual income 300-percent of poverty level), though the moving up is strongly influenced by a mix of factors: race, geography, health and education. The research concludes that if a person succeeds at life stages from early childhood to adulthood, then that person has an 85-percent chance of reaching middle class status.

Take away one or more of the above achievements, and you can imagine that a person’s upward mobility percentage starts to drop significantly.

This is where LACEF enters the picture. We believe there are influences that must occur on the front end of a person’s life to enable them to achieve success later in life as a working adult. Our Stay Well Learn Well® School Health Centers Initiative focuses on supporting school health clinics in Los Angeles County through funding and advocacy. Education budget cuts have slashed causing a deep drop in school nurse and preventive health programs at schools in Los Angeles County. School health centers are needed now more than ever with rising costs of healthcare and an over-burdened hospital and health clinic system.

Active, fit and healthy teens perform better in school and record better classroom attendance that leads to better grades and higher test scores. Healthy children stay in school longer and graduate from high school. LACEF’s vision is that all primary and secondary students must have access to high-quality preventive and primary health care services close to where they live. LACEF is promoting health partnerships that will lead to the launch of new school health centers that deliver quality care to eliminate learning barriers at neighborhood schools.

America was once the leader in education and job creation. Foreign nations now claim those titles. If access to education and health is not provided early on, our nation will pay the price with higher drop-out rates, teen pregnancies, youths incarcerated in the juvenile justice system, and disaffected youth in general. Our initiative focuses on giving young people the skills to become productive citizens so they may help our country regain competitiveness and improve our society overall.

Dawn D. Turner
Chief Operating Officer, LACEF

Reflections on the Stay Well Learn Well® news conference

The day was gloomy and a little cold at Lennox School District, which surprised me because all along the news conference event planning group – which included staff from Lennox School District, T.H.E. Clinic and LACEF – had been anticipating a warm, and possibly even very hot, day… given that it was mid-September and the summer’s heat was still lingering. Now, here we are and it’s suddenly fall-like and we’re wondering if we should fetch umbrellas from our cars.

Driving down the freeway, drizzle dampened my windshield. As my car’s wiper blades were sweeping the water away… my thoughts were centered on the canopy I had ordered for the event refreshments area. I was thinking that we now need that canopy covering, not to shield our guests from the hot sun, but possibly to keep our guests dry with the pesky drizzle coming down.

I arrived at the Lennox School District early – about 9:45 am – to make sure that everything was going as planned. I had the Stay Well Learn Well® banner and I still wasn’t sure if it was going to be permanently affixed to the clinic building, or if we were going to have to come up with some other creative manner for displaying our new logo for our important new initiative in school-based healthcare for students and neighborhood residents.

I arrived. The parking lot was empty, but I saw people at work. The canopy I had ordered was up… hooray… and the other banner for the home of the future dental clinic was being attached to the canopy. The podium was in place and all I had to do was stay out of the way.

Within 30-minutes, there was a buzz of activity all around the Lennox School District and the T.H.E. Clinic in Lennox as people started to arrive, excited about what was happening that morning.

Groups of two’s and three’s were scattered throughout the driveway, all introducing one another and sharing why they were there. Among the early arrivals were members from LACEF’s Board of Directors, T.H.E. Clinic’s Board of Directors, Lennox School District, community and neighborhood organizations, local churches and PTA members. Everyone’s excitement was palpable.

Guests I spoke with talked about the important partnership with LACEF and what we were going to be able to do together to reach many families and their kids through this school based health clinic conveniently located at their school site. Emy Raphael and Dr. Pamelyn Close from LACEF’s Board of Directors were happily chatting with many of our guests and also reconnecting with old acquaintances in the education and health fields.

While I wasn’t in many of their conversations for a great length of time – I was filled with the nervous energy you have when an important even is coming to fruition… though I hope it didn’t show – I could hear in their voices a genuine thrill to see this new chapter in LACEF’s history unfolding before them and them recognizing the great possibilities moving forward for LACEF, children and teens and L.A. County’s school communities.

The real thrill of the Stay Well Learn Well® news conference event for me was seeing the sea of blue descending! The wave rolling into view was about 30 3rd graders from Jefferson Elementary School dressed in blue shirts and marching in formation with their teachers.

They were arriving to witness and participate in our Stay Well Learn Well® news event. They were happy to be there – probably because they were out of class for a short spell, or maybe it was the promise of receiving (healthy!) cookies at the end of the event.

Whichever it was, the kids were smiling and chatty and happily posing for photographs. Their arrival at the scene of our event reminded me of when I was a teacher and underscored for me and all our guests why we were there doing what we were doing with Stay Well Learn Well®.

I had a chance to talk with the kids for a bit and we wound up talking about the importance of learning different languages. I shared with them a little about going to France while I was in college and how many languages I knew… to which the kids were eager to say how many languages they knew – two languages… three languages… and even… four languages! One little girl was teaching her class to speak Armenian and a little boy sang the ABC song in French.

With the arrival of LACEF’s Board Chair Cynthia McClain-Hill, we quickly began the news conference. Throughout the speeches given, the theme that came through loud and clear was gratitude for the opportunity to expand the health services of the clinic, open a new dental clinic and great excitement about the possibilities.

As our speakers attested, health in schools has been moved off of the public agenda gradually over the past decades, and I am proud that LACEF’s work is again making the health of schoolchildren and its relationship to learning a part of public discourse and action.

For me it was simply thrilling to see all of the people who came out in support of our Stay Well Learn Well® launch and being thrilled to hear the words of praise, and humbled to receive words of thanks from the families that will benefit from our efforts.

Letty Bustillos
October 19, 2011