Monday, October 01, 2012


Brianna Sacks | Staff Reporter | Neon Tommy-USC/ Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism|

(Creative Commons/Parker Michael Knight

September 30, 2012 | 6:04 p.m. PDT  ::  Where do Los Angeles Unified students go when they have fallen so far behind in high school that they are at risk of not graduating on time, or considering dropping out entirely?

 (Creative Commons/Parker Michael Knight>>

Continuation schools provide a smaller campus, lower student-to-teacher ratio and more flexibility to allow students to graduate on time. However, a former continuation high school principal says that these schools are still "more of the same" and are not helping L.A. Unified's 62 percent graduation rate, one of the lowest in the state. 

Ran Klarin, a former principal at Westchester Continuation High School, explained that although continuation schools give at-risk students another chance to finish high school at their own pace, the reality is only a small percent of these students actually graduate.

Klarin-who spent 27 years at various positions throughout Los Angeles Unified-is working to change this reality by developing a creative curriculum that better integrates artistic self-expression in students. Klarin believes that when high school students who are so used to failing are presented with an artistic outlet, they have a better chance at excelling academically and graduating.

Klarin was also the Dean of Discipline at Los Angeles High School and the Coordinator of Dropout Prevention for LA Unified from 2006-2007, where he supervised student counselors in over 80 schools.

Klarin says there is a reason that these students are failing academically: "The curriculum doesn't address what many of these at-risk students need. It is hard for them to focus on their English homework when they have a bad home life, or their parents are not involved."

As a writer and spoken word artist, Klarin decided to introduce a variety of these creative classes to his Westchester students in hopes to evoke interest in an academic environment. Klarin noticed positive changes in at-risk students and realized that public schools should better support the arts, as not every student is able to learn and perform in a strict academic setting. However, Klarin encountered some hesitancy from some district members when he suggested more creative electives.

"The money situation is much worse, and it makes it more difficult for the kids," said Klarin.

Yet Klarin believes that by thinking outside the box and giving these resistant students more opportunities for positive feedback, we may see a change in how students treat school, and in turn, may keep them in school.

Students enter continuation schools because they are behind in credits, far below grade level in reading and math, and many deal with difficult issues outside the classroom that affect their academic performance.

Traditional high schools refer a "very select population of disaffected kids to continuation schools," said Klarin.

Many students have a difficult family life and some come from probation camps to finish their high school education, and a majority are boys, explained Klarin.  

"The mission is to get them ready to graduate, but they generally don't make it," he said. "They just fill space for a couple years."

There are currently 11,000 students in L.A. Unified continuation schools, and the Los Angeles Board of Education recently directed Superintendent John Deasy to create a plan that better assists high school students who "are often absent or struggle academically at traditional high schools, as candidates for campuses with smaller classes that offer more individual assistance from teachers."

A continuation school program is more intense than a traditional high school, and Klarin said that is part of the problem. Although they have access to more resources and are in a classroom setting with 15 students instead of 40, school no longer interests these types of students. 

"A lot [of students] just sign up because they have to go to school, and their probation officers check in on them," he added.

The dropout crisis and students' disinterest in traditional curriculum "demands a new solution and a systemic campaign to provide artistic outlets for students who are academically challenged. Classes in music, drama, art, and dance should not be relegated to electives at the end of high school, but integrated into the core curriculum," Klarin wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post, titled "Fanning the Flame of Creativity."  [follows]

But Klarin found that the L.A. Unified education system was not developed for the arts. Students were on a very structured academic path, even at continuation schools.

"When I was in the school system I was adamantly opposed to 'hard teaching,'" Klarin said. "Hard teaching," he explained, is spending more time and energy trying to teach struggling students the same material that they did not respond to in traditional high schools.

"Educators are trying to make everyone fit into the same role, and many students don't want to. It's one of the reasons I left LAUSD," said Klarin.

Klarin teamed up with Adwin Brown, another writer and spoken word artist who works with at-risk continuation high school students, to develop a curriculum that enhances creative interests in high school students. 

"I noticed a lot of these students needed a chance to express themselves," said Klarin. "All these kids have stories, a lot have drama in their lives."

Klarin and Brown's lessons present a more creative approach to help struggling students succeed in a high school setting. The program will include lesson plans and text materials, and the two spoken word artists and writers plan to present this curriculum to public schools and market it as a "dropout prevention" program.

The program is still in the works.

"You need to know what is really going on on the ground in these schools," said Klarin. "There is not enough reality based attitude about Los Angeles schools, and a majority of educators are really trying to do a good job, they just face a lot of limitations."

Klarin hopes that continuation schools--and traditional high schools--understand the importance of creative expression for students and start to integrate these types of classes into the current system.

"Creativity is valued by American industry but not the education establishment," he wrote.  "And providing a mode of creative self expression might help this dropout epidemic."

Klarin calls for more part-time arts instructors in every grade, especially high school, to develop and encourage artistic talent, and be looked at as a legitimate scholastic path in high school. 

"My superiors would say things like, 'that's a good idea, but it's rather innovative.' I gained a bad reputation about being 'innovative,'" he said. 

But with about 20 percent of Los Angeles high school students dropping out, Klarin believes that something "innovative" might be the only way to help these at-risk students succeed



Fanning the Flame of Creativity

Ran Klarin

by Ran Klarin Writer, spoken word artist, former school principal in the Huffington Post |

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 02:58 PM ET   ::  During a routine patrol of the boys' restroom I detected the distinct odor of pot. I heard from one of my teachers that Andre had just been there. I summoned Andre to my office, and he was clearly high. He sat in front of me slumped in the chair with a sheepish and sullen grin. He was impervious to counsel and kind words. As the principal of a local continuation high school, I was in charge of discipline, so now it was time to get creative. I've found that creative outlets get better results with 'at risk' students than traditional punishments. The next day I enrolled him in our weekly yoga class. That was followed by elective classes in spoken word.

Continuation schools typically provide extra time and intensified instruction to make up the deficiencies that have developed over a school career of eight to ten years. The idea is that more of the same will fix them. The high school drop-out rate in the LA Unified School District and most urban school districts approaches 50%. Rather than addressing the core issue, the system insists that all students take an academic track of classes for admission to the University of California. Since many are far behind by the time they reach high school, middle school has become the focus of more academic catch-up (double math and English periods, after-school tutoring, summer school). About 40% of ninth grade students do not earn enough credits to advance in high school. At that point many become chronic truants, transfer to continuation and eventually simply disappear.

It is not hard to imagine where these so-called failures end up. We have the highest incarceration rate and teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. Many eventually find themselves and develop into productive citizens. I have met former students who are now in their 30s and 40s who regret the lost opportunity of high school.

These are not hopeless and bad kids. The entrenched and antiquated educational system needs a new approach to this glaring failure. We are failing, not the kids. In over 27 years as a teacher, dean and administrator I saw many students who failed academically but blossomed when offered experiences in the arts. When I was principal of the continuation high school, I introduced a variety of creative classes that inspired otherwise resistant students. A longstanding arts in the schools program run by California Institute of the Arts incites the creative spirit in hundreds of continuation students every year. It is one of several that recognize the need to encourage art in the schools.

What is not commonly recognized is the special need for creative expression in the at-risk student. He or she has lost confidence in doing anything well in school. Personal expression can jump-start a "failing" student by building confidence through expressing their experience. Spoken word artist Adwin David Brown conducts continuation school classes in poetry and creative writing. I've watched as a class of bored and reluctant boys come alive with a pen and paper and a drum beat, thanks to Brown's infectious ability to open up these closed down kids.

The drop-out epidemic demands a new solution and a systemic campaign to provide artistic outlets for students who are academically challenged. Classes in music, drama, art, and dance should not be relegated to electives at the end of high school, but integrated into the core curriculum. Creativity is valued by American industry but not the education establishment. Developing and encouraging artistic talent could be more than a finger in the dike of drop-outs, it could also be a legitimate scholastic path in high school. Ultimately, this transformation calls for an overhaul of our graduation requirements but in the interim more part-time arts instructors are needed at every level but especially high school.

Andre, the busted student, turned out to have a natural talent for performance and played Abraham Lincoln in a district-wide play. The creative experience helped Andre escape from delinquency, drugs and failing grades. Through creativity he had found his voice and his passion and could let go of the fear and self-loathing. He renewed his academic promise and is currently succeeding in college.

The drop-out crisis must be addressed with new solutions, not more of the same-old. Let's look at it honestly and provide real opportunities to encourage confidence, expression and success in our youth. Let's fan the creative fires of expression.

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