Teaching and Learning at Foshay

31 Mar

When I followed the shouts and clamor to the second floor of the James Foshay Learning Center, I was greeted by some of my new friends Homer, Jesus of Nazareth and Alexander the Great.

“You are so late dude.” shot Jesus accusingly.

These historic figures were some of my students, James, Matthew and Rigo, and today was Foshay’s fourth annual Ancient Civilizations Fair hosted by history teacher Jennifer Saparito.

Wading past the sea of plastic swords, ripped shirts and paper hats, my students insistently dragged me from booth to booth and from display board to display board, proudly showing me what their classmates had done.

James Foshay Learning Center

I couldn’t help but feel impressed by what the classes had accomplished and how much they had learned about history and travel. Thinking back to my middle school days, I never had a clue who Yochanan ben Zakai was and was never familiar with the stories of Homer or Aesop until my senior year of high school. Having attended low-performing majority minority schools until I came to USC, I thought I knew all about what to expect when I came to the South Central-located Foshay. My impression of South Los Angeles schools was clouded with images from a geopolitical media and with my own childhood experiences of receiving an education in blighted neighborhoods.

After making the 15-minute weekly bike ride to Foshay to teach my students the basics of journalism writing, my preconceived notions about majority minority schools and South Los Angeles was shattered.  I found myself surrounded by bright and motivated kids who were teaching me as much as I was teaching them, and as I stood in the decorated and crowded hallway of Foshay at the Ancient Civilizations Fair, I felt a burst of pride at my students and replenished hope for students in low-income communities.

From my high school, I was one of the few who left the state or attended a four-year university. Many of high school friends tried out local community colleges for a semester or two, dropped out and then started working to support their parents or in some cases, the children they had in high school. Students who excelled academically or fostered a natural love of learning were often just exceptions to an immutable rule.  I left my high school in Fort Worth, Texas, grateful for the opportunity I had to attend USC Annenberg, but incredibly jaded by the lack of scholarly ambition I witnessed among my friends and classmates.

What I found most striking about the World Civilizations Fair was that it, in a way that thought-provoking and interactive, introduced the idea of travel to the students. None of my students have ever travelled outside the United States and Mexico, and during the fair, I could overhear them talking about how one day they wanted to visit the places they read about in class. From my grade school education, I knew that life could seem very limited, and the spectrum of experiences beyond your neighborhood or your school can seem very far away. When I was my students’ age, I never thought of traveling to other countries. I knew there was a world beyond my own since I was a voracious reader, but these places seemed as inaccessible as the moon. I had no idea how to reach these places that glossed the pages of my novels, and a harsh reality had taught me not to entertain such phantasmagorical dreams.

I guess James and Natanel don't like getting their pictures taken.

It is indispensible to be imprinted with a global mindset at a young age. Once I realized these places I read about were places I had the power to go to, it encouraged me to move out of my comfort zone and open my mind to the idea of exploration. Ten years later, I’m leaving the country for the first time for a semester abroad, and it’s the fruit of a seed that was planted a very long time ago.

These students are at a crossroads. Now is the time, when their minds are impressionable, to delineate the importance of independently cutting a path for themselves in a world that’s so much bigger and more awe-inspiring than they could imagine. I saw the start of this at the Ancient Civilizations Fair.

Despite knowing Foshay is radically different from other South L.A. schools and doesn’t represent the norm, I still feel relief knowing that places like Foshay exist and that they may one day become standard.


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