Teaching to Change LA > Youth Voices > Vol. 5, Issue 1 > Electoral Politics
Electoral Politics > Features > Student Work

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Summer Seminar Encourages Political Participation

Among Los Angeles Youth

Denisse Bedolla is a senior at Youth Opportunities High School. Bedolla has written the article below as well as, "If These Could Talk" for Youth Point of View, a newspaper by and for teens in Los Angeles.

As summer arrives, many teenagers plan on going out with friends or going on trips with their families, while others look for summer employment. However, there are those few who choose to spend their summer changing the world.

For the past five years, UCLA has been conducting the Summer Seminar, UCLA/ IDEA (Institute for Democracy, Education and Access). Since 1998, approximately 25 to 30 urban high school juniors and seniors a year have been chosen to conduct research on youth political participation in today’s society.

The seminar helped students understand that learning involves more than just reading and writing. For these students, important lessons were learned through viewing murals and films, and listening to poetry and their favorite rap artists.

IDEA gives youth the opportunity to become critical researchers by offering a powerful model for learning and activism. Critical research provides them with the knowledge and skills needed to make changes in their schools and communities. Students perform research in high schools throughout the greater Los Angeles area. The majority of schools where students conduct research are the same schools many of the students attend. The seminar not only provides the materials needed to conduct the research, students are also educated and equipped with the strategies needed to initiate change.

The staff of the seminar is large enough so students receive plenty of help. The staff is composed of teachers, college students, and activists. Some staff members are the original high school students who helped put the seminar together; many are now in college and completing their education.

During the five-week seminar, students work in class and visit schools located around Los Angeles to perform their research. They are broken up into four groups with two team leaders (teachers or college students) who guide them in their study. Each group is assigned a field of study, which is their focus for five weeks. The field is typically a community in which a school is located where seminar students and local residents believe inequality is a major issue.

Injustice is a problem in schools today affecting many youths. According to interviews conducted by IDEA students, many Los Angeles area high school students believe that they have no say in decisions that affect them. In addition, several students also noted that they were expected to accept inferior learning conditions.

To perform research students are taught how to conduct interviews, how to use digital camcorders, and how to process the data they collect. As a result of being participants in the research project, students are given the opportunity to speak with people such as principals, counselors, teachers and LAUSD board representatives. They also speak with college professors, artist (muralists), rappers, and community organizers.

While conducting research, students are given articles from authors such as Sonia Sanchez and Paul Freire. They review pieces that will assist them with their projects. Once they analyze and understand what they have read, it must be applied to their projects. Films and songs are also components of student research. For example, IDEA students this past summer studied today’s popular music and discovered that the messages in rap and other forms of popular music are not all negative.

The seminar helped students understand that learning involves more than just reading and writing. For these students important lessons were learned through viewing murals and films, and listening to poetry and their favorite rap artists. The IDEA seminar teaches students to be activists in the area where they can affect the most change –right in their own backyards. The seminar provides students with the necessary tools needed to be catalyst for change on a grassroots level. Plus, students are imparted with knowledge they usually don’t receive in ordinary high school classes.

Through the UCLA/ IDEA seminar, Southern California teens are given the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. Furthermore, the cover is removed from their adolescent mouths and they are given a chance to speak and have their opinions heard –moreover, they are granted their right to an education.

This article was re-printed in Teaching to Change LA courtesy of Youth Point of View, a news magazine for teens in LA.

Teaching to Change LA is an online journal of IDEA, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, & Access