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
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
“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.
1) (a) The Bribe-inator.
2) (b) “Freedom is on the
3) (a) “Orwell was almost right…”