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Car Washing for Diplomas – The Sequel

February 2nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


On Saturday, as promised, I went to have
my hideously dirty Escape Hybrid washed by the kids at that new charter high school I wrote about late last week, FreeLA High.

As you remember, FreeLA was opened by a partnership headed by the Youth Justice Coalition. Its raison d’etre is to provide a high school education for kids who have dropped out or been tossed out of other LAUSD schools—and for kids who have had trouble being readmitted to school after they’ve returned from a probation camp or juvenile hall.

Saturday’s car wash was a fundraiser intended to earn money to pay for the school’s first graduation in June.

While my car was being washed, I toured the nearby school campus, which was located in a stucco and brick former office building across the street from where the car scrubbing was taking place. Inside the school building, I met a bunch of the students, including Maritza (below), the girl whom I’d interviewed for the earlier post.

My tour guide was a sixteen-year-old named Gabby who, like Maritza, said she had dropped out of Locke High School, which she described as a chaotic place in which overstressed teachers seemed unaware of their students’ needs and often allowed kids to simply walk out of class rooms and out of campus at will.

At FreeLA high, by contrast, the kids I met seemed to view the school with a sense of ownership. Even on a Saturday afternoon, there were quite a number of students in evidence. Some were there to help with the car wash, of course. Others were in classrooms working at computers. One guy was practicing drums in an upstairs space that had been set up as a music room. Other were simply chatting comfortably with couple of teachers.

In terms of the school site itself, FreeLA high had several unusual features. For instance it had a cinderblock “art room.”


“We have this room because a lot of our students like to write,” said Gabby when she brought me into what appeared to be some kind of large cement storage area, its wall covered with elaborate graffiti. .

“Write?” I asked, confused. The “art room” was a furniture-free space, the walls of which were covered with floor to ceiling graffiti. When we walked in, a couple of guys had just finished skateboarding.

I stared around me, perplexed. Then suddenly, I got it. By “writing” Gabby meant tagging.

In other words, since many of FreeLA’s kids had likely gotten in trouble for tagging in the past, the school wisely gave them a safe place to do it with gusto.

“There’s a lot we’re still trying to figure out,” said Kim McGill, Youth Justice Coalition’s founder and director, when I came to retrieve my newly clean car.


No doubt. But even my brief visit suggested that this atypical little school was also getting a lot exactly right.


PS: When I asked Maritza if she had been back to Locke High School since the Green Dot takeover and, if so, what she thought of its new incarnation.

She said she hadn’t been back. But that, from what she’d heard, she had some concerns. “But me and Gabby could go over and do a report for you, if you want,” she volunteered. “We’ll write it up and then you can edit it or do whatever.”

Sold, I said. You have an assignment. We talked about some guidelines she and Gabby should use when reporting, and set a deadline.

Last night after the Super Bowl, I talked to Green Dot’s Steve Barr and told him there might be a couple of student reporters taking a critical look at the Locke transformation.

“Great,” he said. “Bring ‘em on! I want to hear what they have to say.”

Me too.

I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

Posted in Charter Schools, Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 7 Comments »

7 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    Get me a pressure washer or sand blaster and I’ll have the “art room” walls looking cleaner than your car in no time. Wouldn’t it be better to train the students to stop tagging than to give in to their destructive behavior? If they feel like using drugs or having sex, will there be a room for that or will they principal just let them use the back seat of his car?

    Celeste, the way you talk about your hybrid remnds me of this episode from SouthPark – Smug Alert!

    Smug Alert! is episode 141 of South Park. It first aired on March 29, 2006, as a send-up of the environmental movement, hybrid cars, their celebrity proponents and the superficial feel-good nature of all involved. Gerald Broflovski buys a hybrid vehicle and buys into the whole progressive movement, becoming an evangelist, moving his family out of South Park and to San Francisco, disturbing a delicate equilibrium and indirectly causing an environmental disaster along the way.

    According to the commentary, this episode came directly from the creators’ annoyance at people in California with the same attitudes as the people in the episode. One instance in particular involved Trey Parker’s mother getting a smuggy compliment one day after receiving a hybrid car from her son as a gift. All quotes from the Clooney acceptance speech are the real words he used, although it is Trey Parker saying them rather than actual audio of the speech.

  2. Woody Says:

    Nuts, the “Smug Alert” link didn’t work. Maybe this will: LINK.

    Celeste, did you check your back seat after the wash to see if it was “used”?

    BTW, I sincerely hope the fund-raiser was successful. The kids probably came up with the idea on their own, as there seems to be a shortage of adults. Did they announce how much was raised? How many kids participated?

  3. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Woody, I think you’re absolutely right about the Smug Alert (and I’m not anywhere near as sorry about this as I likely should be).

    I’ll make a point of watching the SP episode. Trey Parker and company are incredibly funny.

  4. Joshua Cook Says:

    Great piece. I work at an Ánimo in the Jeff cluster. I must say that our approach is very different i.e. uniforms, more rigid social norms. I’m curious to see how well their approach works.


    How does “hideously dirty” qualify as “smug”? Is it just because Celeste used the word “hybrid”? I thought the SP bit was lame when it came out in 2006. Three years later, after Katrina and the fuel price debacle of ’08 its lame and short-sighted.

  5. Evan Says:

    ” “Write?” I asked, confused. The “art room” was a furniture-free space, the walls of which were covered with floor to ceiling graffiti. When we walked in, a couple of guys had just finished skateboarding.

    I stared around me, perplexed. Then suddenly, I got it. By “writing” Gabby meant tagging.”

    Sorry Celeste, but LOL @ you there.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Evan, I deserve the LOL. I got it a few seconds faster than I portrayed here. But not a whole lot. Hey, I’m a…you know….writer, so to me another activity is called to mind first by that word.

  7. John Moore Says:


    I wonder about the “tagging room.”

    Some tagging is really pretty good art, and I have often wished there was a way it could be done legally. If I owned a boxcar, I’d find the best taggers and have them go to town.

    Unfortunately, tagging is usually vandalism, and too often related to gang turf marking. Somebody would probably get to my boxcar and “urinate” their tags onto the good stuff.

    Will the tagging room cause the students to do more or less illegal tagging? I really don’t know.

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