Students who rallied to save the campus got a life lesson in politics and, at least for now, a storybook ending

By Gary Walker

Emerson’s Sami Juman (third from the left), who fought to save the campus, celebrates with fellow students Photo by Mia Duncan

Emerson’s Sami Juman (third from the left), who fought to save the campus, celebrates with fellow students
Photo by Mia Duncan

With a plan to reshuffle LAUSD campuses threatening to shutter their school, students at Westchester-Emerson Community Adult School joined teachers and administrators in December to launch an emotional campaign to save it.

So far, it’s worked. School district officials announced in late January that Emerson would be getting a reprieve and remain in Westchester for at least another year.

Emerson students had implored the school board to allow them to stay at Westchester campus through letters, emails and a public rally at the school.

LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer, who represents the Westside, said the Emerson students’ tenacity was a big part of the decision to let them remain at their campus.

“It went from their board members being concerned [about the move] to the students and faculty being concerned for everyone involved. They were appropriately forceful in their advocacy for their school,” Zimmer said.

The possible displacement of Emerson was part of a plan by former LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines that would have relocated WISH Charter Elementary School, currently located on the Orville Wright Middle School campus, to the Emerson campus in order to make room for sixth-grade classrooms and other space for Playa Vista-area students. Emerson’s future was unclear.

LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen Morgan confirmed that Emerson is staying put, saying an environmental analysis of the Emerson campus would have been required before any reshuffling.

“The environmental study has not been completed, so Westchester-Emerson Adult School will not be moving,” Morgan said.

The mood at Emerson was jubilant during a small celebration in early February that included music and food. A banner in the courtyard read “Emerson Adult School is Here to Stay!”

Students who called the school their second home at a rally and press conference in October were all smiles between bites of cake and laughter.

“I’m so excited because all of our hard work really meant something. This is a great victory for us and for everybody who wants to get a better life,” said student Ingrid Valexero. “Our dream
of staying here has come true.”

Valexero, 38, hopes to become a medical assistant after she graduates from Emerson in May.

Sami Juman, an Emerson student who plans to study pharmacy sciences in August, said the current students have to remain vigilant in case the board tries to relocate Emerson in 2017.

“I’m really proud of the outcome that we have. But in the future, we have to stick together to make sure that everyone who comes here can get some good out of this school,” he said.

Zimmer said he lobbied to keep the adult school in Westchester because of the strong bonds that students and teachers have formed within the campus.

“Emerson is a very close-knit school community, and I was not comfortable seeing them displaced or divided,” Zimmer said.

Emerson teacher Shari Siegler said winning the opportunity to stay another year at the current location was a life lesson in the political process for the students.

“It proved to them that political activism through the right channels works. They learned that they have a voice and it showed them that when you fight for social justice your voice matters,” said Siegler, who has taught adult education for 30 years.

Gina Ramos, who is studying English, said she got the message.

“I learned that we don’t have to give up, and that we have to fight for what we want. And we did it. It was really worth the fight,” said Ramos, 31.

Siegler, who may retire in June, said going out on a happy note would make everything worthwhile.

“It makes a teacher feel good to see her students so happy. This is why we do this,” Siegler said. “You can’t put a grade on this.”