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On Thursday, June 18th, United Way of Greater Los Angeles Student Leader, Miriam Antonio, a senior at Fairfax High School, was featured as a Cool Kid on ABC 7. Hear why and how she is creating change within the community:

Get to know some of our other Student Leaders here!

On June 9, 2015, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted unanimously for the Equity on A-G Resolution; a recommitment – co-sponsored by board members Monica Garcia, Steve Zimmer and George McKenna. The A-G college sequence is a series of 15 courses that students must pass in order to receive a high school diploma and meet requirements for the CSU/UC college systems.

Ten years ago, the LAUSD made a promise to provide all students access to courses that would enable them to attend a four-year university or pursue a technical career. Now the District is one step closer to aligning its high school graduation and college entrance requirements, and we celebrate this hard-won victory for students.

The United Way Student Leaders and nearly four hundred coalition members gathered outside the LAUSD headquarters in support of the resolution.


A new recommitment to A-G coursework means that students will continue to have access to A-G on their high school campus. It also means that the District is now tasked with monitoring student A-G progress and researching which high school A-G programs work. Student success will largely require that the District provide needed student and teacher supports and interventions in order to ensure that student’s successfully complete the coursework. Thanks to the unwavering work of this coalition of more than 51 grassroots organizations, students who are “off track” for A-G, will get the services that they require – such as counselors, credit recovery programs and online courses – in order to pass these classes.

We expect that the LAUSD will soon lift the standards to the “C” grade or better requirement. This will ensure that all students have access to the highest quality education and receive a meaningful diploma.

LA Youth Vote

Since March, students in the United Way Student Leadership Program have led a movement,  in response to four open LAUSD board seats up for re-election, among their peers, parents, fellow students and community groups to publicize the significance of a strong voter turnout for both the general election in February and run-off election this month. Through a series of  LAUSD board candidate forums, local school voter registration drives and rallies, the determination to increase voter turnout was primarily targeted at encouraging local communities to vote for the LAUSD Board Candidates they believe will raise the graduation rate and promote college readiness for all students in Los Angeles.

“There is no one solution to fixing the inequalities in the educational system, but with building a stronger community of and uniting parents, teachers, and students, we can all fight a fight that is worth seeing. “

-Gabriella, Student, Board District 5

The Student Leaders have registered over 3,000 of their peers across LAUSD for the May 19th general election to have a voice in who they believe would be best for a job that influences and manages a $7 billion budget affecting 650,000 kids and 45,000 educators. After participating in the primary elections in March, the United Way Student Leaders felt empowered to increase voter turnout in local school board elections through on campus voter registration drives. 

Over the course of two weeks, the #LAYouthVote campaign reached thousands of students at over 30 schools. This effort has been supported by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, LAUSD, the League of Women Voters, iAmerica, Arts for LA, the County Registrar’s Office and the Office of the City Clerk.

Read about the students’ efforts in Sandy Banks’ LATimes Article.

View the results of the most recent election here.

For more information, visit

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IMG_0220United Way is thrilled that our own Ryan Smith, director of Education Programs and Policy, was named of the nation’s Top 10 Young Education Leaders by Education Week. What motivates Ryan to engage parents and help them to become advocates for improving the education system? “My mother was a major influence very early on,” he tells Education Week. “She feared the consequences of raising a black son in a community that didn’t provide a quality education.” Read Ed Week’s full profile on Ryan here.

8740755183_d4ef8bbab2_zOn May 14, almost thirty United Way volunteers gathered at El Sereno Middle School to partake in the 2nd Annual Career Day. Volunteers from companies across Los Angeles spoke to more than 100 students, each over the course of 4 class periods. All sectors were covered – from acting to accounting – opening the eyes of students at this UWGLA partner school to a whole new world of possibilities. 

Melanie Alvarez, an 8th grade student, spoke to the group about her experience last year. She read a letter that she had written for the volunteers, stating, “You all inspired me to stay in school and never give up on anything I hope to achieve… thank you.” It was a very touching moment for both her teachers and the volunteers.

Principal Dr. Frances Gibson, who is in her first year with ESMS, thanked United Way for its many contributions over the past 2 years. Detailing the various ways UWGLA volunteers have been involved, she told them, “You are all teachers today. Thank you for being here.”

Volunteers spoke to music, science, math and social studies classes for the next 3 hours and shared their feedback with one another over lunch. While some questions were entertaining (“Can you get us into the Staples Center for free?!”- a question posited to a security firm owner), others were serious – discussing Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and other educational paths that are important to forming a career.

Thank you VERY much to all our volunteers who participated! Your contribution cannot not be overstated. We hope to see you again next year for a new crop of students!

Click here to see photos from the event! 


2013 United Way Career Day Volunteers:

Maria Audero, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP

Brian Brummit, Actor     

Louis Castle, Police Sergeant/K-9 Handler/Instructor, Culver City Police Department (Retired)

Jessica Copenhaver, Vice President, Citi Private Bank

Josh Copenhaver, Vice President, Citi Private Bank

Jamila Fairley, Production Incentive Planning, Tax Manager, Fox Entertainment Group

Angela Fentimen, Media & Employee Communications Manager, Southern California Gas Company

Zulema Garcia, Partner, KPMG

Anthony Garrison, Interim Director, Asian Pacific Student Services, LGBT Student Services, Loyola Marymount College

Deborah Lee, Partner, International Tax, PwC

Ben Lewis, Area Sales Manager, UPS

Chad McKinsey, Musician            

Susan McNulty, Occupational Therapist/Adjunct Professor, USC

Betsy Monahan, HR Director, ACCO Engineered System

Mabel Munoz, Program Officer, First 5 LA

Lisa O’Rourke, Executive Director, Marketing and Communications, Loyola Marymount College

Aimee Quon, Mechanical Integration Engineer, JPL

James Rock, Senior Manager, Assurant Services, KPMG

Natalie Seaman, Senior Account Executive, Wellpoint/Anthem Blue Cross

Carolyn Spaeter, Account Management Executive Consultant, Anthem Blue Cross

Le Tang Story Artist, Dreamworks Animation

Cynthia Torres, Senior Account Executive, UPS

Christina Ward, Executive Team Leader – Human Resources, Target

Austin Wheelon, MEP Coordinator, PCL Construction Services, Inc.

Jeff Zisner, President & CEO, AEGIS Security &
Investigations, Inc.



United Way’s Director of Education Policy and Programming, Ryan Smith

Today, we helped launch a bold new coalition of civil rights, parent, teacher, community-based and education organizations that is already garnering attention in the media. In its first action, the new group, called Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS), surveyed more than 100 community groups to find out their priorities for improving L.A.’s schools. Click here to see the results.

The Los Angeles Times reported here on CLASS beginning with this sentence: “A coalition of groups, including the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, has launched an effort to put education at the center of the mayoral race and civic attention.”

The article quoted our own Ryan Smith, director of education policy and programming, who made the case for supporting – rather than obstructing – the school district’s efforts to improve low-performing schools: “We have a long way to go to in ensuring there is equity and access for all students, but there are some signs we’re headed in the right direction…”

LA School Report, the most widely read blog devoted solely to education in Los Angeles, reported on CLASS as well. Ryan was quoted here too: “These organizations, for decades, have been working very hard to increase equitable access to education,” said Smith. “We all value the same thing. It makes sense to come together to have an even larger presence.”

Read the press release.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Early Wednesday, 1,200 key local and national leaders gathered at the L.A. Convention Center for United Way’s 2013 Education Summit – a groundbreaking discussion on how to strengthen low-performing schools through partnerships in our classrooms and communities.

The sold-out event was kicked off with a morning plenary featuring philanthropist Eli Broad, Wasserman Foundation President and CEO Casey Wasserman, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia.

The conversation centered on the panelists’ investments of time, energy and dollars into L.A.’s ailing public school system which, according to Garcia, has secured some significant gains in recent years.

“As we grow this movement towards a student-focused agenda – this coalition to put our kids first, we’re pushing ourselves as a community to rebuild LAUSD and we are making great strides,” she said. “The key is to remember is that when we get it right, the world changes.”

Three concurrent breakout sessions immediately followed the Summit’s opening ceremony, with the first two focusing on “How Businesses Are Making an Impact On Our Schools” and the importance of “Establishing Key Partnerships to Support Our Educators.” Doubling as a pre-election debate on the future of education in L.A., the third session showcased the five leading candidates in this year’s mayoral race: Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Emanuel Pleitez.

Here’s full video coverage of the debate:

The nearly day-long Summit wrapped up with an afternoon panel discussion, featuring Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, which tackled complex issues such as public school funding and accountability, teacher effectiveness and parent engagement.

According to Mayor Villaraigosa, real progress could only be achieved through cross-sector collaboration and a willingness to take action on behalf of our struggling students.  

Everyone – parents, teachers, students, politicians and business leaders – should be held accountable for the success of our schools,” he said. “We have to change the way we do things and we need to stand up and commit to reforming the system and helping our kids the way that United Way of Greater L.A. has.”

Watch our video of the panel with the Mayors:

Hear our President and CEO, Elise Buik’s speech from the event:


For more info on how to support UWGLA’s mission to Create Pathways to Graduation for the students of L.A. County, please click here.

Check out press coverage of the 2013 Education Summit below:

Los Angeles Times “L.A. Now” blog by Howard Blume

Daily News article by Barbara Jones, blog post by Rick Orlov and photo gallery

Radio interview with UWGLA President & CEO Elise Buik on KCRW’s “Which Way, L.A.?”

Here’s a slideshow from the event:

Upholding its commitment to providing students with the kind of quality public school education they deserve, United Way recently hosted a pair of collaborative meetings intended to actively engage LAUSD parents in their children’s academic careers.

UWGLA staff members, representatives of L.A. Unified, local parents and community-based organizations including the Alliance for a Better Community, Families In Schools and the Parent Institute for Quality Education discussed key issues including:

  • The implementation of Public School Choice 4.0, a comprehensive resolution for turning the District’s new and lowest-performing schools around by improving instructional programs, tools and services based on parent, student and community input.
  • The creation of a new parent workshop which will train participants on how to utilize critical information such as student achievement and academic growth as well as overall school performance data.

In both cases, United Way’s primary role is to ensure the transparency and accountability of these processes and the organization’s continuing efforts are based on a strong belief that together, parents, educators and community members can break down the barriers to engagement and do their part to put every child in Los Angeles on the path to success.


Members of the Don’t Hold Us Back coalition of parent and civil rights organizations visited Oakland on Feb 28 to share their experiences with local education advocates who are working to improve Oakland’s public schools. We joined Oakland’s All Kids Campaign for a discussion about the path to ensure sure every child has access to a quality public school. Oakland’s All Kids Campaign is a collaboration of parents, community, faith and education leaders working to ensure that Oakland’s school district creates conditions that provide equity and opportunity for our kids

Jason Mandell and Sandy Mendoza from Communities for Teaching Excellence, Vanessa Rodriguez from Alliance for a Better Community and Lisa Ruben from United Way led a discussion about how our efforts in LA can serve as a model for Oakland. The Don’t Hold Us Back campaignled to a plan to allow all schools to adopt autonomies that help educators have a greater voice n how their school works, with support from the parents and community.

Sunday’s column from LA times columnist Steve Lopez talked about Don’t Hold Us Back.

Six million, give or take. That’s how many children are in public school in California.

Arguably, we won’t have a strong economic future if they don’t get a good education.

But boy, do the grown-ups love to muck things up for the kids.

Politics, ego, endless skirmishes between school districts and teacher unions — it all gets in the way of the kids’ best interests. And California spends less per pupil than all but a few states when you adjust for regional cost-of-living differences, leading to an annual ritual of laying off thousands of teachers and other staffers.

But in Los Angeles, the status quo is under attack.


Click here to read the rest of the article ->

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