Success Story
Richmond, CA

By Bouapha Toommaly,
Asian Pacific Environmental Network

On May 25, 2000, over 40 supporters made up of Laotian, Latino, African American students, teachers and community people packed the School Site Council (SSC) meeting at Richmond High with signs, enthusiasm and a strong united front to demand approval for a pilot advisory program. Asian Youth Advocates (AYA) led the alliance of student groups and supporters to speak out and urge council members to vote “yes” on advisory. The collective power of students prevailed; the SSC approved a pilot advisory 7 to 3.

Richmond High School, comprised of 95% students of color, lacks sufficient support and guidance for students to succeed. Having only two counselors for over 1,600 students means that students do not receive the basic level of guidance to achieve their goals to graduate or go on to better opportunities like college. Students often feel lost and detached from school, resulting in poor attendance and poor academic performance. As one student explains, “when I first came here to school, I didn’t know who to go to for help. I feel like I was floating around. I support advisory because it would help make people feel more wanted at this school.”

AYA is the youth component of the Laotian Organizing Project (LOP), which works to improve the social and environmental conditions of West Contra Costa County. Based on analysis and research, a decision was made that an advisory program would be the most valuable and feasible solution. Advisory programs give every student at least one adult to go to for help or with questions by placing a small number of students with a teacher-advisor to guide students through school. AYA talked to hundreds of students about the issue, collected over 500 postcards in support, and organized the coordinated effort to win a program to improve guidance for students at Richmond High School.

This victory marks a historic moment at Richmond High School, because students organized to bring positive changes to improve their environment. It models how students can have a positive voice in influencing decisions that affect their lives and demonstrates the power of what young people can accomplish when they work together. As summer approaches, a working group made up of students and teachers is forming to flesh out the details of a pilot advisory for implementation in the fall.

© 2000 by Individual Authors
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