ASIAN YOUTH ADVOCATES WINS ADVISORY PROGRAM
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