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Photo: Marianne & Laura KominskiThe Youth Project of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health (LOSH) Program
Interview with Marianne Brown & Laurie Kominski

by

Solange Castro Belcher

Marianne Brown (pictured right), Director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health (LOSH) Program and Laurie Kominski (pictured left), Director of UCLA-LOSH Youth Project are promoting their curricula, "Safe Jobs for Youth" and "Healthy Communities." "Safe Jobs for Youth" gives information about workplace safety and health, as well as wage and hour laws, sexual harassment and discrimination, and more. "Healthy Communities" covers environmental pollution and household and school-based environmental hazards.
SCB: How did "Safe Jobs for Youth (SJFY)" and "Healthy Communities" get started?

MB: We were involved in a community-based project that involved people from the UCLA Department of Urban Planning and the UCLA Labor Center and we were at a meeting with teachers from Jefferson High School. The teachers wanted to do something unique that involved community people and students. A serendipitous opportunity came from a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop educational training programs for teenagers about workplace health and safety. It had come to the attention of NIOSH that teenagers did not get health and safety training when they went to work. They were also somewhat aware at that time, in 1995, that the injury and illness rate was going up, was higher for teens than for adults. Our program got a grant to give teenagers internships in community based organizations. We continue to get, year by year, grants from NIOSH and the California Endowment.

LK: We developed curriculum around occupational health and safety for teenagers. "Safe Jobs for Youth" is a ten-session curriculum that addresses issues of workplace health and safety training. We also look at child labor laws.

MB: Teenagers tend to work in certain kinds of places. Supermarkets, construction, health care, working for the school district, Youth Conservation Corps. Also in the particular schools where we were focusing, a lot of the youth also worked in the garment district selling retail. They were more involved in the retail end.

SCB: What do teens learn in "Safe Jobs for Youth (SJFY)" and
"Healthy Communities (HC)?"

LK: They learn about their environment and how to address issues that affect them, their families, and their communities. Working as interns at different community organizations, they address those issues.

MB: Some students got involved in the efforts around a power plant in South Gate that was trying to open and there was a concern about the health effects that the power plant would have in that community. Ultimately, the community voted that they didn’t want it there, and the power plant went along, even though legally they were not obligated to. And then some other students got involved in a middle school, which eventually became the story behind "School in the Middle,"(link to comic PDF) near their high school where carcinogens were leaking in and on the school site. There were toxic chemicals on the school site and they had to put in a vapor recovery system. The students did some heavy-duty research and found out that the vapor recovery system, as part of the process, was actually producing another chemical that was toxic. Additionally, the vapor recovery system actually broke down a couple of times and wasn’t even operating. They ended up testifying in Sacramento. They felt powerful about that. Other students learned about lead contamination in a public housing project and got involved with residents who organized a campaign. Some students researched the trucks that were idling around Jefferson High School because the diesel exhaust was pretty heavy. The students were able to convince one or more companies to have a staging area for the trucks away the school.

SCB: What is the "Youth Project?"

LK: Our primary focus is to have a curriculum that reaches all students in the District. We conduct teacher workshops and encourage schools and teachers to adopt the curriculum. For example, we look at the 9th grade Life Skills classes, social studies classes and other classes where teachers might have an opportunity to include it in their instruction.
Many students serve as the conduits to their family members. So they take what they’ve learned in school and bring it home to their parents and other family members.

MB: Students frequently say, "I didn’t know I had these rights." We think it’s kind of an untapped avenue, because a lot of their parents are recent immigrants who haven’t had the opportunity to find out their rights. And they may not have their documents, so they are leery about trying to find out their rights or of speaking up. So, we would like to expand this program and focus on teaching the youth to become resources for their parents and their neighborhoods.

LK: We’re planning a town hall event at a high school on April 17th. And we’re inviting parents as well as teachers. The youth are running the event, and they’re using skits to spark interest in various topics. We hope to solicit comments from the community, and speakers will answer questions.

SCB: How can interested students and teachers become involved?

LK: Students interested can persuade their schools to find some teachers to teach some of this curriculum. We’re glad to come to schools and teach workshops for teachers. We think teachers get excited when they see this in action. They can visit our site at http://www.losh.ucla.edu/projects.html

SCB: Anything else?

LK: I would like to let young people know that May is "Safe Jobs For Youth" month in California. If teachers or students would like a "Safe Jobs for Youth Month" Resource Kit, which includes a poster and lesson plan on this topic, please contact LOSH Youth Project Director Laurie Kominski at lauriek@ucla.edu.

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