Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Around Town: La Cañada cosmopolitanism

Around Town: La Cañada cosmopolitanism

When our son, Andrew, was a student at Flintridge Prep, he had a pet phrase for La Cañada and its environs. He called it “the bubble.”

Flintridge Prep was full of kids from La Cañada and the nearby communities of San Marino, Pasadena, Arcadia, South Pasadena and Glendale. It was a bubble, a safe nest, somewhat isolated from the outside world.

All that is about to change, at least at Flintridge Prep.

Inspired by his students and armed with a major grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, Prep Headmaster Peter Bachmann, a La Cañada resident, has launched “Curriculum L.A.” I stopped by the headmaster's office last week to discuss these exciting events.

Bachmann's eyes light up when he talks about “a coherent strategy for engaging Los Angeles, one of the world's great capitals.” He wants students at Prep to have “a rich, ongoing interaction with this great metropolitan laboratory.”

Bachmann quotes the president of the National Association of Independent Schools, Patrick Bassett, who calls “cosmopolitanism one of the core competencies of the 21st century.” Bachmann believes that this competency is essential to creating an “idea-lab ethos” to produce tomorrow's leaders and entrepreneurial thinkers.

He says that Prep will have a comprehensive curriculum “both inside and beyond the classroom, for student exposure to geographical, artistic, scientific, civic and philanthropic Los Angeles.” There will be a faculty book group focusing on L.A. literature, and screenings of L.A. films. Students have already studied and toured the L.A. River, the Watts Towers, Chinatown and the Puente Hills Landfill. Bachmann credits two recent Prep grads with inspiring the current program.

Any school can implement a local-focused curriculum, but Bachmann's plan goes beyond that.

Under the Edward E. Ford Foundation grant, Prep is one of four schools in the nation that will design a template that will be used by other schools to produce “not only citizens of the community, but citizens of the world.” The template will include a curriculum both inside and outside the classroom. It will also result in organizational changes. Even the faculty will get involved. There will be book groups, film screenings and a “school-wide conversation” with faculty, parents, alumni and students.

More importantly, Prep will join Loyola High School in collaborating with Esteben E. Torres High School, a Los Angeles Unified School District school in East Los Angeles.

Esteben E. Torres is not a wealthy school. The school was opened in 2010 and comprises smaller schools, or “academies.” One academy, the Social Justice Leadership Academy, now partners with Loyola High School. Flintridge Prep will collaborate with another academy, the Esteben E. Torres' performing arts school, known as the East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy.

Bachmann, calm by nature, is excited about the prospect. He brightens up when he discusses Prep's future collaboration with the East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy.

From what I've seen, Bachmann is right on. This will be awesome.

Prep already has an in-house student tutoring program. Every class offered has a high school senior assigned as a student tutor to all the younger students in that class. Prep students already volunteer at a Don Benito, a Pasadena public elementary school.

More to the point, Prep's performing arts program is supported by an excellent drama, music and dance curriculum, with “state-of-the-art” practice rooms, rehearsal space, and performance space, and East L.A. is home to actors, artists, film makers, and musicians. So one can only imagine the results of collaboration between the Prep Community and the Esteben E. Torres Community.

Soon, the incoming 7th graders at Prep will study this: “How did we get from the 1890s, with a maximum population possibility of 300,000, to a city of 13 million?” The class will be taught by Peter Chesney, a member of the Flintridge Prep Class of 2004.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.
com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

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