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Information about 32nd Street/USC Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School

Foot traffic between the public magnet school and the private research university isn’t confined to the admissions and employment offices of the two institutions. 32nd Street/USC/ MaST enjoys numerous benefits as a member of USC’s Family of Five Schools – a partnership among USC, five neighborhood schools and a variety of community organizations.
“We really appreciate all the opportunities we have at USC,” says 17-year-old Wendy Correa, a thoughtful and mature MaST senior. “We’ve always felt welcome when we go over there to use their classrooms, athletic facilities and to attend events,” adds Correa, who hopes to study education at USC and become a teacher, perhaps even to return one day to work at 32nd Street/MaST.

Like a charismatic preacher, principal Gail Greer ministers to her charges as if she were on a vast maternal crusade, affectionately referring to all her students, regardless of age, as “my babies.”

USC lends support to the neighboring school in many forms:
• Through USC’s Joint Educational Project, undergraduate volunteers coach students in reading and math.
• USC’s Afterschool Enrichment Program exposes elementary-aged students to art, dance, music, film, computers and theater.
• The university’s Mission Science Program nurtures interest in math and science among middle school students.
• The USC School of Social Work deploys two psychiatric interns to counsel schoolchildren and their families in need. It also designates a community organization intern to serve as liaison between the university and 32nd Street/USC/MaST.
• The USC-sponsored community outreach program Multimedia University Academy opens pathways for MaST graduates to gain experience in multimedia production.
Supported by these and many other USC efforts, MaST graduates are going somewhere – whether it’s USC or not – for post-secondary education. Recent grads are now attending such in-state institutions as USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and various Cal State campuses, and such out-of-state schools as Howard, Georgetown, Morehouse, Brandeis, Brown, Dartmouth and MIT.

Buttressing 32nd Street/USC/MaST’s academic successes is an inspired adaptation, the outgrowth of Greer’s bridge-building efforts and faith in the hybrid K-12 school model.
Where her predecessors had seen only a space-challenged campus embroiled in territorial rivalries, the new principal saw a golden opportunity to address some tough realities in the reform-minded educational landscape of the late ’90s. Statewide rules requiring standardized testing had put new academic pressures on 32nd Street’s arts-focused curriculum; meanwhile, a rule requiring all high school students to take arts classes posed a dilemma for MaST’s hard-core science program. Meshing the two schools’ schedules, Greer realized, would be

MaST science teacher Mariah Cone ’96 leads 12th-graders Bryan Young and Ymelda Ramos down the road to discovery in her advanced placement biology class.

a boon to both.
While visual and performing arts remains the focus of 32nd Street, there’s now a heightened emphasis on reading and math. All eighth-graders must now take algebra. The math- and science-focused high schoolers, in turn, now take courses in performing and visual arts, leaving their books and computers to learn the basics of music and glide across a dance floor.
In both classroom and faculty lounge, a kind of détente has emerged without any prodding from Greer. “Parents are pleased. Rigor and discipline are being established in both the arts and academics,” says assistant principal Jackie Schneider, who heads MaST. “The bridging makes for far better schools and far better human beings who graduate from them.”
The science/arts convergence has worked so well, in fact, that teachers and students have broached the once-unthinkable idea of officially combining the two schools to create one MAST (Math, Arts, Science and Technology) Magnet School. In the shaky bureaucracy that attends LAUSD today, such a melding is “a little too much for us right now,” says a cautious Greer, but she admits that “we’re not at all interested in having the high school find another location.”

Cessation of hostilities, better academic performance and fulfilled state educational requirements aren’t the only reasons the schools’ stakeholders are sold on what is, in practice, becoming a single smoothly functioning K-12 institution. There are also intangible social and developmental benefits that don’t show up on school report cards or national test scores.
“There’s a lot of respect between younger and older students here. There’s no division,” says MaST senior Sheryl Reyes, who hopes t

Second-graders Ryan Williams and Imari Stewart pay rapt attention to a film about 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, who made desegregation history in 1960. Their own school is a model of diversity: 38 percent black, 36 percent Hispanic and 26 percent Asian, white and other.

o enter USC this fall.
“We sort of look at all the kindergarten-through-eighth-graders as our little brothers and sisters,” adds classmate Wendy Correa, whose own sister is a fourth-grader at 32nd Street.
Whenever Greer strolls around campus, she finds ample proof that her 32nd Street bridge is rock solid. Her younger “babies” flock to regale her with accounts of high school students paying attention to them, helping them with their homework. “They revere the high school students,” Greer says.
Those exalted high schoolers, meanwhile, are constantly reminded that they’re on display, setting an example. “We tell our high school babies, ‘There will be no kissing on campus because the kindergartners are watching you. You’re not here for that. You’re here for education,’” Greer says. “And it works. It’s a beautiful thing.”
You might expect adolescents to respond sulkily to such strict scrutiny, but many MaST students relish being role models.
“I enjoy being a mentor to the younger kids,” says Nakul Shankar, who’s so adept at math and science that students of all ages turn to him for tutoring. “I think the influence of the older students works like this,” he says. “We spend some of our academic time on the USC campus. That rubs off on us. Then our demeanor from spending time there rubs off on the younger students when we come back here.”

Diversity in the student body is not simply reflected in age and academic emphasis. The student body at the two magnet schools is 38 percent African American, 36 percent Hispanic and 26 percent Asian, Caucasian and other.
“We’re able to bridge not just by age-level, but by culture, socio-economic status and ability levels,” says parent representative Cristina Sylvester, a 14-year veteran on 32nd Street’s administrative staff. “We have students coming from all over Los Angeles, which means we may have West L.A. interfacing with Watts, Boyle Heights interfacing with the San Fernando Valley. Of course, this sometimes creates issues, but that’s one of the ways they learn from each other.”
Art has a way of bridging the differences in students’ backgrounds, Greer believes. “Dance, music and visual arts are universal. No one cares who makes great art – it’s simply to be appreciated,” she says.
Even the school’s cramped space, despite its undeniable drawbacks, plays into the bridging concept. “Our school is a village,” says MaST’s Schneider. “All the students know the teachers and principal, and we know who all the children are.”

The knowledge Nakul Shankar gains here filters back to students of all ages, whom he gladly tutors.

Greer’s bridging efforts dovetail well with a concept very much in favor at USC. The goal of Renaissance education – the intellectual breadth-with-depth that characterized the best thinkers of the European Renaissance – is taking hold on both sides of Jefferson Boulevard.
USC President Steven B. Sample might just as well have been talking about 32nd Street/USC/MaST when he spelled out the philosophy behind the university’s Renaissance Scholars Program last fall: “to create an opportunity for students to work deeply and productively in two or three disciplines that are not contiguous in the current geography of thought,” he wrote in the Autumn 1999 issue of USC Trojan Family Magazine. “At the boundaries and bridgings between separated fields of knowledge, dramatic things can happen.”
At the intersection of science and art, 32nd Street/USC/MaST is making dramatic things happen for its students. “I like to think we’re developing junior Renaissance scholars, because the bridging [President Sample] described is happening right here,” Greer says. “We’re trying to say that math and art correlate. Geometry is a form of art. And there are strong connections between music and mathematics.”
So confident is Greer in her junior scholars’ abilities that she looks forward to 32nd Street/ USC/MaST becoming a Blue Ribbon School.
“We’re by no means done,” she admits. “First, of course, we have to reach the level of being recognized as a California Distinguished School – we must garner the scores that are necessary to be considered a world-class school.”
Formidable as those obstacles may appear to outsiders, Greer has no doubts of her school’s ultimate triumph. “We already have world-class students,” she says. “The babies will move forward at all costs, and that’s the bottom line.”

All in the Family
USC President Steven B. Sample laid down the challenge after the Los Angeles civil disturbance of 1992: “We want parents from all over the region to look at our community schools and say, ‘That’s where I want to send my child.’” That challenge has been translated into the Family of Five Schools, a partnership among the five schools near the University Park Campus, the university and a wide array of community agencies.

The Family of Five is comprised of 32nd Street School/ USC/MaST High School (K-12), Foshay Learning Center (K-12), Norwood Street School (K-5), Vermont Avenue School (K-5) and L.B. Weemes School (K-5).

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