July 13, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Olympic High to the Rescue:

My friend Barry Cowan called me with a “story” about the kids at the

school where he works as an instructional assistant. Barry is an

artist first, you might say, and I’m a fan of his work. But something

going on with his students had quite obviously moved him, because the

only other times he calls me is to complain about the Lakers or to

have me come over and watch the Lakers so we can sit and complain

about them together.

Far nobler and more interesting than any series of shots from the

Lakers was the story Barry wanted to share.

Barry works at Olympic Continuation High School, which is for students

who have “not done well” at Santa Monica High or Malibu High,

according to Olympic principal Janie Gates. The students do not all

have “special needs,” although some do, and about 30% are special

education students – so it covers a wide range of student situations.

“They can be students coming back from incarceration or they are

behind in credits or have an attendance issue,” says Gates.

Cowan said a lot of the students simply “don’t like coming to school.

But in some regards, they’re smarter than regular students.”

Gates added, “They’re smarter in a pragmatic sense. These kids have a

pragmatic intelligence that’s quite high, because they’ve learned to

cope and read the situation better.” These days, we could all use more

of that.

As the students at Olympic unquestionably have something else going on

besides the everyday challenges of getting through their teens, it was

more than a little remarkable when they raised $410.17 in school

donation canisters and gave the money to the International Medical

Corps to help tsunami victims.

According to Cowan, when the kids came back after winter break, he

suggested that the school raise money to help out the people of South

Asia and donate whatever was raised to the International Medical

Corps, which is based in Santa Monica. Harlan Tarbell, faculty advisor

to a new student council at Olympic, took the idea to the council.

Then, the kids took over.

Cowan: “We are a very small school, with about 100 students (Principal

Gates corrects: “130”) A high percentage of the kids come from the

Pico neighborhood, so they’re not exactly rolling in dough. It seems

sometimes that anything beyond their immediate environment doesn’t

have much of an impact on them. It was really gratifying to see them

raise this money and they went about it very energetically.”

Cowan then told me about one student who wanted to donate and most of

what she pulled from her pockets was change. Cowan explained to her

that those coins would go far in terms of help for the tsunami

victims. Cowan had pitched for the IMC to receive the donation after

reading that 92% of its monies go out to do the work at hand.

It is always appropriately humbling for a columnist who writes about

right and wrong and obligation and propriety to meet and talk with the

people that actually do the work of changing this world. At our

breakfast meeting, Cowan and Gates talked about the relative size of

that world.

“These types of kids often rarely see life other than their own

neighborhoods. You have kids in South Central that have never seen the

beach,” Gates observed. Barry showed me a photograph of some kids in

Aceh, one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami. In the background

were crayon and paint drawings from some kids in Santa Monica. Now the

Olympic students’ $410.17 was on its way to help, having been gathered

by some other kids from Santa Monica… kids who know something about

overpowering forces and moving on through what life deals you.

This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz

1) Schwarzenegger may be in the pocket of

(a) California car dealers.

(b) franchise Yoga studios.

(c) powerful juice bar owners.

2) Some California school buses will get

(a) cool flames painted on the side.

(b) digital surveillance cameras.

(c) ‘cootie’ shields.

3) Adelphia cable may be bought by

(a) Comcast and Time Warner.

(b) Octopus TransMegaGlobal Media.

(c) Earl’s Big and Tall Man’s Shops.

Answer Key

1) (a) The Bribe-inator.

2) (b) “Freedom is on the


3) (a) “Orwell was almost right…”

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