About My High School

Sharla Berry
From the fall of 2002 to the summer of 2006 I attended Westchester High, in Los Angeles California. Westchester is both anomaly and novelty. Being one of the dozens of high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, it belongs to everyone. But because the school is largely abandoned by its upper middle class neighbors, and because many students are bused in from as far as 40 minutes in several direct ions, it seems to belong to no one. And because Westchester High is one of the few places in Los Angeles where blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians of different socioeconomic backgrounds mix regularly, it is quite a radical cultural holdout.

The ethnic and cultural groups present at Westchester interact freely, especially during class hours and athletic activities. However, during nutrition and lunch, there is a self segregation that occurs regularly among racial and cultural lines. Blacks gravitate to one part of the school, whites to the other. Kids in hip hop attire go downstairs, punks head upstairs. But there is one place on campus where that doesn't happen-- the senior lawn.

Picture a group of kids, all colors, sprawled around next to each other on the grass. You might see a girl wearing crowns of twigs and leaves, a kid wearing a foam hat shaped like a bushel of corn, a boy in a robot costume, or someone in a sarong. You might find a world traveler and a kid from as far as Ghana or the Philippines. Or you might see some people in plain clothes. All different types of people are regular on the senior lawn, the grassy expanse on campus where people of all races, backgrounds, and style sects congregated.

On the lawn, the labels took a back seat to the people. Goths, preps, punks--- all of these individuals took off their classifications and dared to know each other.

Lunch time at most high schools is usually a very tense time. Some kids saunter around waiting to be noticed, others scamper into isolated corners trying to hide. Most students gravitate toward their respective groups, and ignore the outside culture. None of this is true on the lawn. While students all around campus were standing around in their own corners, we on the lawn took the radical act of sitting down and fellowshipping. People of all backgrounds and orientations gave whatever food they had and we all dined together daily. It was not uncommon to find two people who barely knew each other resting in each others arms for shade or comfort. Often there would be restless kids who found comfort enough to sleep for a while. It was a makeshift family.

During lunch, most parts of campus are relatively inactive, save the fights that happen regularly. But on the lawn, many days were part spectacle. Where else in LA, let alone the school can you witness impromptu wrestling matches, swim with 30 other people in a makeshift pool or bum free food off of people you barely know?

The lawn was a community, not a clique. There were regulars, visitors and casual observers, all were treated with the same familiarity. Individuals who felt amiss around other more secluded parts of campus found refuge. It became a place to spend lunch with a new girlfriend, talk to a friend from an AP class, discuss a rock CD no one knew you liked, play on someone's guitar or just to go and feel some peace amidst the clamor of high school. It was an experiment in diversity, but more than that, an experiment in acceptance. On the lawn students embraced each other for themselves, and allowed each other to exist freely and unapologetically.

Over time, the culture of the lawn began to change. It's hard to say exactly what marked the shift, but by the beginning of my senior year, the area was a shadow of its former eclectic self. Students no longer dared to experience school so boldly, to dance as openly, or embrace each other the way they did when I first arrived at Westchester.

Westchester High School
Westchester High School
Even though the lawn community is not thriving like it once was, I believe that all who witnessed the affairs of the lawn were touched. Occasionally you will still see people from different social groups sitting down and having lunch together. You might find a rainbow coalition of friends interacting outside of class for a whole lunch period. A small group might be found resting under a tree or playing some music, and a few people stop by and join. The lawn at Westchester High was a microcosm of what a beautiful world should be. It's as if what happened on there was a testament to the liberation and warmth that can thrive when people aren't afraid to step outside of the groups they perceive themselves to belong to, and embrace a larger human family.

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