Friday, December 04, 2009

THE POSITIVE POWER OF ACTIVISM

Reprinted from Buenos Padres; Photo Credit: Alex Gallardo, Los Angeles Times

In mid-September, the Los Angeles Unified School District notified Christina Gutierrez (better known as Miss G. to her students) that she would be laid off from Hamilton High School due to low seniority. For Gutierrez, the news came as a unwanted surprise. "I felt railroaded," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I saw something in the mail and my heart dropped."

However, for this Humanities assistant's students, her removal from the school became an opportunity to forcefully, yet peacefully, let their voices be heard. On her last day of work, 500 students of this culturally diverse school (44% of the student body is Hispanic, 33% Black, 17% White and 5% Asian) organized a sit-in protest as a means of communicating their disapproval of the decision reached.

The protest was much more than a poorly organized brouhaha. A group of 4 students and friends, Noemi Rodriguez, Jimmy Biblarz, David Kamins, and Maya Festinger, teleconferenced twice a week, figuring out logistics and investigating rules and regulations. Via word of mouth, the four students publicized the event and the day of the protest they distributed informational handouts for all the protesters.

As they lined the halls the day of Miss. G's departure, the students knew not to block any exits or disrupt traffic circulation in the building. They also cleverly found a diplomatic way of avoiding the Principal's requests to keep quiet: they started to snap. By the end of the day, the students had gathered 300 letters in support of Gutierrez and felt proud of having successfully completed the job.

However, these student rabble rousers soon realized that their efforts had still fallen short of stimulating a reintegration of their beloved teacher into the school. They knew they needed to do more and, in an unexpected twist of fate, they were presented with the solution.

During Miss G.'s absence from Hamilton High, she took a substitute teaching job in an elementary school while her replacement prefered to work at an elementary school. For the students, the answer was simple: why not switch the two teachers?

With that in mind, they once again geared up and prepared to present their solution at a school district board meeting. As with the protest, the young men and women looked through videos and researched on how to defend their case in the most professional manner. Maya Festinger, one of the student protesters, told the Los Angeles Times, "We want to create a legitimate student representation. We don't want to be belligerent or bludgeoning. A lot of what we are about is proposing solutions, rather than listing grievances."

The students moved and impressed the board members so much that, in an unsual move, they conceded and allowed Miss Gutierrez to return to Hamilton High.

According to Miss Gutierrez, this moment serves as a source of empowerment for the students, of whom she is incredibly proud. The students of Hamilton High prove that anything is possible with a little dedication, organization, intelligence and a lot of heart.
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