The second annual Politics and Pedagogy conference was held Saturday at Theodore Roosevelt High School, creating an opportunity for students from various Los Angeles-area high schools to teach about a range of social justice issues within their communities.
The conference, titled East Side Stories: A grassroots vision for education and community, was put together by a collective of teachers and students to bring culture, food and progressive educational workshops focused on Boyle Heights youth.
“We want our students to identify a problem or a concern of the community, and do their own research to not just identify but do something about it,” said educator Roxana Dueñas, Roosevelt history teacher and one of the founding members of the collective.
Over 15 workshops were offered, with two sessions each. The sessions ranged from We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re on Campus to Stay! to Taking Back Our Parks. One of the workshops, Keeping Our Homes, focused on the proposed plan to raze the multiple buildings that make up the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments and replace them with new housing and retail space– something the students fear will bring on displacement and gentrification.
“I like that they explained the situation of how [Wyvernwood] is going from a quiet little place to a metropolitan city. It’s best if it stays a quiet little place because there’s trees and grass and everywhere else you see concrete,” said Roosevelt freshman Kelly Huitron.
Another student-originated workshop, Visual Pollution: Look Around, presented how open spaces used by the city and the community are often at odds in terms of intent and purpose. Inspired by the whitewashing of a school mural celebrating a beloved teacher, students Brenda Gonzalez, Nathaly Ramirez, Genaro Rivera, Manuel Cardenas, Alexis Montiel and Yonathon Cañete gathered research and presented a topic to which they all became personally attached.
“We had to apply how art benefits us. We want to use an open space to educate. Now, we are now trying to do a mural,” the presenters collectively said. Even when being asked, they wanted their voices to be heard together, not wanting only one person to represent their project.
Joseph Franco, a student from Savanna High School in Anaheim, said, “It was pretty informing. Not a lot of people know about billboards putting subliminal messages out with no restrictions from the city, and when the community tries to put up their own messages, the city stops them. The community should have a say in what is offered. They compared Boyle Heights to Beverly Hills and there are like 60 billboards and there is not one in Beverly Hills.”
This connecting of people from different communities with common interests was exactly the intent and purpose of East Side Stories.
Echoing this, the Visual Pollution presenters commented: “[Presenting] was easy and a lot of people were interested, and a lot were not from this community, so it was good to raise awareness, and know that it’s not just our community.”
Gene K. Dean is currently an English teacher at Roosevelt High School and adviser for The Roughrider newspaper. Referred to as weirdly, athletically nerdy, a voracious reader, a brick wall, and a dedicated teacher, Gene looks forward to essay grading, reading and keeping odd hours to promote social justice.