By Lauren A. Jones, Contributing Writer
In the center of a newly renovated strip mall in Inglewood, California, that houses a McDonald’s, a DD’s Discount and a beauty supply store, lies an inconspicuous office building, housing a remarkable resource center for students in pursuit of their high school diploma called Learn4Life. The educational institution provides a safe space for young adults, many of whom have experienced trauma or adversity that discouraged them from traditional schooling, including homelessness, incarceration, and foster care, those who have aged out of the school system and young parents.
Learn4Life, at a glance, is a network of nonprofit, tuition-free public schools that serve more than 49,000 students across California. It was founded to combat the growing concern around the country for students dropping out of school, and to give those students an alternative option to pursue an education. Around the country, schools are facing nearly 1.2 million dropouts annually.
At a roundtable prior to the pandemic, sat three students at the Inglewood center. Jordan Williams, Dionjala Hardeman and Iefanyi Anoh ,alongside the school’s principal, Norma Vijeila, their community liaison, Eunetra Rutledge and Learn4Life’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs Bob Morales. Each of the students and members of the executive team and faculty detailed their perspective of the center; how it has impacted them and their community.
Learn4Life student Jordan Williams, Principal Norma Vijeila, and fellow students Kiara Bailey-Kourtney Peoples pose for a photo at the EmpowerHer Summit at Learn4Life Center in Inglewood, Calif. (Courtesy Learn4Life)
The Inglewood Learn4Life center’s population of students is made up of predominantly African Americans whereas many of the other centers are majority Latino, ranging from ages 17-24. Students generally enroll with a 4th or 5th grade education and are at least one grade level behind in terms of credits.
Anoh is considered an anomaly because of his age; he enrolled in the center directly from middle school.
“I feel safe here,” said Anoh, who is a part of the center’s leadership program. “I come in here every day sometimes just to show my face.”
He is on track to graduate with his high school diploma a year early with aspirations of ultimately becoming a surgeon.
His story, however, is unlike the majority of his fellow students at the center who have had some experience in a traditional high school setting.
Williams stumbled upon Learn4Life after moving from Memphis, Tennessee, through a friend who had recently graduated from the center. When she moved to Los Angeles, she was dealing with the loss of her father who had passed away. Due to her circumstances, she missed school for nearly half a year and was in need of a fresh start.
“I do feel this school is a gateway and just an escape,” eighteen-year-old Williams explained. “In regular school, there’s more distractions and more focus on other things rather than education. Here, I feel like you have more time to just really learn discipline and time management.”
Now, in her third year, she has taken advantage of the many offerings by the center, including the work study program, philanthropic field trips and traveling opportunities.
“This is not just a learning center, this is a second home,” remarked Williams.