Last week I got to take a sneak peek at the construction site of Esteban E. Torres High School, the first new school built in the East Los Angeles neighborhood in 85 years. The tour was hosted by InnerCity Struggle (ICS), a Liberty Hill partner that has worked tirelessly since 2003 to get a second high school in East LA to relieve the overcrowding at Garfield High. With over 5,000 students and only 6 in 10 graduating, Garfield High faced serious overcrowding that affected the student’s quality of education. At the new school there are 13-acres of building framework that will have brand new science labs, art classrooms, a library, underground parking and an outdoor amphitheater for the students when it opens in the fall of 2010. The construction site was impressive, but it was the students of Inner City Struggle that were the highlight of the tour. They just couldn’t stop smiling.
Jaime Vega (second from the left) got involved with InnerCity Struggle as an 8th grader when his older sister dragged him to an after school meeting. It took only one meeting for Jaime to decide to devote his high school life to working with ICS to get a new school for his neighborhood. Jaime loved ICS because they truly believed that students could demand and make real change. Within a year of the ICS campaign for a new school, the LAUSD voted in favor of building a second high school. After the initial success there were numerous delays and Jaime thought the new school would never actually happen. It took seeing the metal on trucks being driven onto the lot for it to fully hit him.
I asked Jaime, now a senior, if he was sad that he wouldn’t be able to attend the school he fought so hard for. He said, no. Because even though he won’t be able to attend, his younger siblings will. Besides, he hopes to someday come back to Esteban or Garfield as a teacher. Jaime’s family has lived in East LA for over 50 years, everyone went to Garfield High and even back then it was considered overcrowded. Then I realized that Jaime’s excitement wasn’t just in seeing his work or the new school. It was a family victory. An Inner City Struggle victory. A lasting victory for the entire East L.A. neighborhood and the students to come.