When AIG attempted to rationalize the bonuses given as the only way for them to retain "the best and the brightest" in the workforce, it was all I could do not to lose my lunch. Those guys--who drove the corporation into the ground are the best and the brightest? Mais non.
Meet the real best and the brightest: Michael Steinman's Advanced Placement English class at Village Academy High School in Pomona, California. These are the real faces of how this economic crisis has hit America.
Steinman led his students in a discussion of the American Dream following the novel The Great Gatsby. Steinman discovered that his students' idea of the American Dream was far more utilitarian than the acquisitive Buchanans or Jay Gatsby: a refrigerator with food inside; no fear of homelessness; employment for their parents. When he discovered that every student in his class was touched deeply by the economic crisis, he encouraged them to put their stories on video. The video, entitled "Is Anybody Listening?", was sent to then presidential candidates Obama and McCain as well as uploaded to YouTube. In the video, students talk about how economic realities have infringed on their hopes and aspirations for the future.
"We're all businessmen and doctors and lawyers and all this great stuff, and we have all this potential, but the way things are going, we're not going to be able to do that," said Yvonne Bojorquez, 16.
The video reflects life in a community where unemployment is at 12% and half the adults did not finish high school.
Village Academy is housed in a former department store, in an abandoned mall that now contains an indoor swap meet and a beauty school. More than 89% of the school's 521 students receive free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. One-third are learning English as a second language. Yet the school consistently beats state and federal goals, and last year was named one of the nation's 500 best high schools.
The student video, as well as the coverage both on Newshour above and ABC's 20/20 last night are heartbreaking and put real faces (as I've tried to do on this post as well) as to who exactly are the victims of the de-regulated marketplace, where hedge fund managers and CDS traders still feel they're entitled to seven figure bonuses despite the bailout. This should once and for all quell the attempts to minimize the importance of those bonuses. It's not about the percentage of the overall bailout that matters...it's that these people's actions have taken food out of these children's mouths and roofs from over their heads.
As it turns out, someone was listening to the students of VAHS. President Obama, during his tour of LA this week, took time out to visit the students that inspired his speech on education, timed fortuitously with legislation that will help these kids and their future:
For starters, the video brought some welcome attention to the relevance of the Early College High School Initiative, a growing nationwide movement of more than 200 schools, including Village Academy, designed for low-income youth, first-generation college students, and other groups that are disproportionally underrepresented on college campuses throughout the nation.
Sponsored by various private foundations [..], Early College schools are paired with area colleges, or "post-secondary partners" to offer both high school and college courses. Some Early College schools are district schools or charter schools and thus eligible for federal and state funding. The college portion is funded in a variety of ways that include tuition waivers and scholarships for high school students to take college courses. By the time Early College students graduate from high school, they have earned two-year-college degrees or enough college credit to transfer to a four-year-college as college juniors, all without paying a penny for tuition.
The timing of the YouTube video's impact was notable as well. The day before Obama visited Village Academy, Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.) and Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), introduced the Fast Track to College Act of 2009. The proposed legislation would create a $140 million competitive grant program to support Early College high schools and other "dual enrollment" programs, and $10 million would go to states for planning and technical assistance.
As a parent, this video breaks my heart. These children have so much potential and yet they live with so much stress and so much fear. Anyone who would like to donate should contact Village Academy High School, 1444 E. Holt Ave., Pomona, (909) 397-4900.