What Our Schools Need — A Student’s Eye View

January 14, 2014 /


YouthWire, Photo Essay, Posted: Jan 14, 2014
Editor’s Note: California’s recently enacted Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), in effect since July 1, will continue to increase funding for school districts over the next eight years. The greatest increases will go to districts with large populations of “high need” – low-income, foster youth and English Language Learner (ELL) – students. There are concerns, however, over how districts will purpose these new revenue streams, and whether or not communities will be actively engaged. YouthWire asked high school students from across the state to weigh in on that question, using photographs and their own words. The State Board will vote Jan. 16 on what is expected to be the final version of the new funding law.

“Drinking water contaminated with arsenic”


I am a senior at Golden Valley high school, and I ask for only one simple thing – clean, drinkable water. When we turn on our water fountains to take a drink of water we expect to be drinking clean pure water. However, that is not the case at Golden Valley high school. Recently the students of Golden Valley High School received a letter from the Kern High School District informing them that their drinking water is contaminated with arsenic. Though the community water center claims the levels are not yet high enough to be harmful to people the amount of arsenic detected in the water is still above the legal health standard. Arsenic is a drinking water contaminant that can have serious health effects, such as reduced mental functioning in children, cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, liver and prostate and Type 2 diabetes. As a result of the water contamination, students have now started to refuse to drink from the drinking fountains, and because the school does not provide another source for free water; students are not drinking the recommended amount of water.

~ Chris Romo, Golden Valley High School, Kern High School District (KHSD)

“Campus is damaged”


At Richmond High, some of the infrastructure on campus is damaged and in need of repair. While walking near the entrance of school, I discovered a ceiling light cover that was falling out above the main entrance of the little theater of the school. If this cover were to fall out, it could definitely cause damage to a student or faculty member. Damage is also present on building doors, along with some benches. But the thing that affects students the most is the lack of funding for sports teams and equipment. Most of the basketball courts don’t have nets, and if they do have a net, it’s in poor condition. A friend of mine on the varsity football team also confirmed that the team “needs better equipment.” The lack of funds for sports and recreation activities hurts students, in part because if we decide to apply to universities, one of their requirements is to show participation in extracurricular activities.

~ Luis Cubas, Richmond High, West Contra Costa Unified (WCCUSD)

Restrooms “don’t function properly”


I would most like to see a restroom upgrade. There are only two restrooms available for the entire student body of 2,000 students to utilize during our 5-minute break and 38-minute lunch period. There is always a line, partly because the facilities are outdated and inefficient. The restrooms currently are equipped with hand dryers but they don’t function properly. They blow out cold air at low pressure, so it takes more than 5-minutes just to wash your hands. Thankfully, this school year, our soap dispensers were upgraded but they never seem to be filled. Also, the doors to the restroom stalls are always unreliable. At any moment it could just fly open due to the opening or closing of a nearby stall. Lastly, the restrooms have no type of air freshening system. Restrooms are supposed to be relaxing and clean, not repulsive and dirty — a place where students should be able to refresh themselves, and not tiptoe around or avoid altogether.

~ Alexis Pigg, Edison High School, Fresno Unified (FUSD)

Needed: “Lockers for our books”


I chose to take this photo because normally one might expect to see a set of textbooks stacked underneath the desks. But at my school, there’s usually just an empty space. Since our school is somewhat small, the students don’t have lockers, so many students choose not to bring their books at all. With multiple classes, carrying all of your textbooks around can get tiring. Also, without a place to keep them, the books are easily damaged or simply lost, which results in a fine. Lockers for our books or having a classroom set of books would be greatly appreciated!

~ Maria Garcia, Olive Crest Academy, Coachella Unified School District (CUSD)

Library books are “old or damaged”


The picture above shows how many books are in our library, and it looks like a lot, but I’ve noticed that most of the books are either old or damaged. At times, students will want to check out a book but due to its poor quality, the book becomes unavailable. Another problem is the limited variety of books that we have. Being a huge lover of reading, I feel that many of our novels are outdated. There are times when I go in looking for a certain book and am disappointed to not find it there. Most students nowadays aren’t fans of reading, but there are still some who enjoy checking out books from the library. A new supply of books could improve student education and perhaps even lead to higher test scores, better papers, and hopefully would encourage students to read more.

~ Jocelyn Sanchez, Jordan High School, Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD)

Slow Internet makes computers “not really usable”


My school needs a few new computers. I am a sophomore at Arvin High School and I feel that my school needs improvement in the area of technology. Not only is my school equipped with outdated computers but it is also hard to gain access to them. Most of our computers are so slow that they are not really usable. When we do get a chance to get on a computer, we spend most of our time starting them or resetting passwords. And when we are finally in, it can be hard to navigate the Internet because the computer is slow. To use a computer we need permission from a teacher, or we must go as a group with our class. Getting permission from a teacher can be quite hard because they don’t want to be liable if anything happens to the computer. Some teachers are nice enough to let us use a computer, but most are not. I feel that the quality of my education and my classmates is being impacted by the lack of access to well equipped computers, because many students don’t have access to the internet or a computer at home and may have a hard time completing assignments.

~ Ivonne Bruno, Arvin High School, Kern High School District (KHSD)

“More computers” needed to meet student demand


What my school needs is more computers. Some have signs that say, “Out of Service” – we need maintenance to fix these computers or have them updated with new ones so that students can use them for homework projects. And even the ones we have are not enough for the number of students (approximately 2,300 who come from Arvin, Lamont, Weedpatch and Bakersfield). For example, my English class only has 3 computers and there are about 40 students. During nutrition and lunch the room gets full and it’s difficult to get anything done, and it gets even worse during finals. Our library is big but there is little in the way of computers, so it’s not a great place to study. Besides the computers, we need more lockers. Our school only provides lockers for certain students, which isn’t fair to other students who are trying hard. From my point of view, Arvin High School needs so much to be done.

~ Aurora Cervantes, Arvin High School, Kern High School District (KHSD)

Classrooms “filled to the max”


I know that I am not alone when I ask for more well trained educators to reduce classroom sizes and help students have a better learning environment at Golden Valley High School. Golden Valley High School is located in southeast Bakersfield in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, where more than 70 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch. Even though there are many things that need improvement in my high school, I feel that we need smaller classroom sizes to allow for more one-on-one relationships between teachers and students. As shown in the picture, many if not all classrooms at Golden Valley are filled to the max with about 35-45 students per classroom, which is way over capacity. Much of this is not due to lack of classrooms, but to budget cuts which restrict the hiring of new teachers, causing a shortage of staff that results in too many students being fit into small classrooms.

~ Chris Romo, Golden Valley High School, Kern High School District (KHSD)

Food “just isn’t appealing”


The lunch menu is terrible! Instead of moving to whole grains and gluten-free, why not add diversity to the menu? Every time I go to lunch, many students refuse to get the standard: one fruit, one vegetable, a milk and an entree. It just isn’t appealing. Furthermore, lactose-intolerant students must look elsewhere if they are to eat lunch, no alternative is offered. I once found a cockroach in the tray of oranges in the cafeteria. Lovely. My school has, and knows it has, a cockroach infestation, yet there isn’t much they seem to do about it.

~ Maria Hammet, Merced High School, Merced Union High School District (MUHSD)

The food in our cafeteria needs to be better. It is either undercooked or overcooked and they serve the exact same thing everyday. There is no variety and that is a huge issue.

~ Deborah Juarez, Merced High School, Merced Union High School District (MUHSD)

More resources for “teaching the AP Exam”


At Buhach Colony High School, there is more of a focus on the general class curriculum, and not as much on the AP exam. For this reason the amount of students who earn [a good score] on the AP exam are those who make it their goal to be successful and decide to form study groups, as well as pursue other kinds of outside educational aid. My suggestion would be for schools to better prepare the students by teaching the AP exam, and not simply show them the requirements or the format of the test.

~ Fernando Almaraz, Buhach Colony High School, Merced Union High School District (MUHSD)

YouthWire is a project of New America Media. For more on LCFF, see EdSource Today’s “Essential Guide