“Community” is more than a word at UCLA Community School (UCLA-CS). Just as “community” sits at the center of the school’s name, a strong sense of community guides the teaching and learning practices at this unique school located in Los Angeles, California.
“What makes UCLA Community School different is that everyone is like a community,” says Devina, a twelfth-grade student at UCLA-CS. “Since it’s predominantly people of color who attend this school, we can all relate. There is a strong community base and everyone helps each other out whenever they need it.”
Located in the heart of Koreatown in downtown Los Angeles, UCLA-CS serves 985 students in transitional kindergarten through twelfth grade. The school is one of forty-six Pilot Schools in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)—a network of public schools designed as models of educational innovation and research and development sites for effective urban public schools. As a Pilot School, UCLA-CS has autonomy over its budget, staffing, governance, curriculum, assessment, and school calendar, which allows it to operate with greater flexibility to best meet the needs of its students—92 percent of whom come from low-income families. The school is teacher-led and locally governed and benefits from close partnerships with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the neighboring community.
“Our school is a little bit of a laboratory in that teachers will take risks and try new things,” explains Beth Trinchero, a high school English teacher and ten-year veteran at UCLA-CS. “We are always tinkering and innovating [with our teaching] and our students have that same mentality about their education. Not only do they expect us to do that, but they are open to it.”
UCLA-CS has no admission criteria other than that students must reside in the adjoining neighborhood, which has one of the highest percentages of immigrants in Los Angeles. Consequently, the school enrolls more transient and immigrant students and a higher percentage of English learners than LAUSD as a whole. At the same time, 82 percent of UCLA-CS’s students graduate within four years—higher than the district average and comparable to the state high school graduation rate. Additionally, 91 percent of those graduates enroll in college the first fall after their high school graduation and 84 percent of those who enroll in college persist at least until their sophomore year.
“UCLA Community School represents a dynamic community of learners. We expect all our students to be self-directed passionate learners, masters of academic content, bilingual/biliterate, and active in our community,” says Principal Leyda Garcia. “We accomplish this goal by creating teaching and learning spaces that ask students to think critically about what they are learning, and the ways in which their learning will contribute to their community and society at large. Our unique partnership with the University of California Los Angeles means we are at the forefront of educational practices that seek to redefine public education.”
For instance, in elementary school students stay with the same teacher for two years and all classes combine two grades: kindergarten–first grade, second–third grade, and fourth–fifth grade. Additionally, all elementary teachers provide bilingual instruction in either Spanish and English or Korean and English. Meanwhile, at the secondary level, students pursue project-based seminar-style classes aligned with the entrance requirements to the University of California/California State University systems and have opportunities to collaborate with students and professors from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education.
“When I came here, the dynamic was very much in support of the students, not just academically but checking in on their lives like ‘how are you doing? Are you OK?’” says Diana, a twelfth grader. “They don’t just see you as a student. They see you as a person. … [The teachers] obviously care about our interests and they introduce me to new things each year.”
UCLA-CS is one of two new schools featured in “American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action,” an online gallery of nearly 500 original print-quality, royalty-free images of teachers and K–12 students. The new photos, captured in the weeks immediately preceding the national school closures that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, document the learning environments and teaching practices that foster deeper learning. The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) created the gallery with generous support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to demonstrate to school leaders, teachers, parents, and students that deeper learning can succeed in schools of every type with students from all backgrounds. The gallery also includes images from Sutton Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia; Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, DC; Skyline High School in Oakland, California; and MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio. To see more photos from the collection, visit all4ed.org/images.
Kristen Loschert is editorial director at All4Ed.
Photos by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action