Even if you just skim my blog, you know how much I love Chinatown and Castelar Elementary. The historic neighborhood is where my immigrant grandparents hung out and where I went to wedding banquets and dim sum as a kid, and it’s even cooler that punk bands like X, The Weirdos, Germs, and Dils used to play there at the old Hong Kong Café. And now that Eloise goes to school at Castelar, Wendy and I spend a lot of time in the area, eating at O.G. restaurants like Golden Dragon and Philippe as well as newer spots like Scoops. We are having a blast organizing all-ages punk matinees at the Grand Star to raise money for the school’s defunded music program, too.
So of course we would be involved in this morning’s “Walk In” to celebrate Castelar. Even though a lot of kids are immigrants and English learners, our school excels and scores very well in standardized testing. The Mandarin Dual Language program is wildly successful, too, and provides a model for larger programs that have many more resources. And although our campus is in the inner city, it is a real safe haven without the bullying, gangs, or violence that many other public schools suffer from. The staff, teachers, and families of Castelar love the school and about 200 of us were proud to demonstrate it.
There was also a less gushy side to the event: to raise awareness about a charter school’s interest in co-locating at Castelar. Representatives from LAUSD have already toured our campus and tagged multiple rooms as vacant. It doesn’t matter that many are used for music, art, drama, or P.E.
There’s a law stating that charter schools must be given access to empty classrooms. If Castelar were a dying school, that would be one thing. It isn’t. Castelar is a unique and thriving center of the community. For the school to be cut up, deprived of resources, and possibly drained of students (those nice uniforms and organic lunches sure look great) is unconscionable. For us families to be left out of the process altogether, unforgivable.
And for an affluent charter school to move into Castelar’s space is to dismiss its enviable level of instruction under difficult circumstances. It will physically divide the campus and take away rooms that are being utilized. In addition to losing space for music classes (instruction that the school pays for with help from our Save Music in Chinatown shows), art, drama, and P.E., we will have to share our computer labs, library, lunch area, and blacktop. The school budget can’t afford to pay for a nurse every day of the week, but when she is present I doubt she’ll turn away an ailing charter school student.
If children from the charter school want to attend Castelar, they should come. We have awesome kids, excellent teachers, and that amazing Mandarin Dual Language program (which actually needs the extra space to grow). There’s also easy access to dim sum on minimum days. But cutting into our school and taking away from our students and community is not acceptable.
We appreciate all the staff, teachers, kids, and families who showed their support for Castelar this morning. Wendy, Eloise, and I look forward to working with the community to protect and grow our school. Please join us (that’s our friend and fellow Castelar parent Angelica painting signs with us). We can use all the help we can get!
Postscript: A few people have asked what they can do to support Castelar. There are petitions and gatherings in the works to stop the charter school from moving in, but the very best thing to do in the big picture is to spread the word about how Castelar is a uniquely excellent public school and for families to send their kids there. If you live in the neighborhood, check it out.
And if you have children or know children who are approaching Kindergarten age, consider enrolling them in the Mandarin Dual Language program. Wendy, Eloise, and I live about 5-10 minutes away from Chinatown but found it easy to transfer to Castelar because it offers something that our home school doesn’t. There are slots for non-LAUSD kids to attend, as well, and it’s a great option for those who work downtown.
Please sign and share our petition at change.org/p/metro-charter-and-lausd-save-castelar-elementary-in-chinatown-stop-metro-charter-school!