What is LASA?

LASA begins with questions. How does a city run? How does a vast metropolitan region like Los Angeles work? Which institutions are responsible for moving water, people, food, and power from points A to points Z? How are such agencies funded? Who runs them? How can neighborhoods be made more livable? What does an elected official do all day? What role do cultural institutions play in the life of Los Angeles? What about businesses and non-profits? What are the potential career paths for young people interested in civic, civil, and public service in the Los Angeles Basin? These are among the thousands of questions that students have about the city and region in which they live. There are a million more that they would have if they knew more about place, region, and history.

Designed as a supplement to the regular school year, the Los Angeles Service Academy provides an intensive introduction to the infrastructure and institutions of greater Los Angeles for high-school juniors who have expressed an interest in public, civic, and civil service. Participants will gain the experience and knowledge necessary to better understand the intricacies – infrastructural, historical, political, economic, and otherwise – of the region in which they live, and will build lasting bonds of friendship, camaraderie, and work experience with a diverse group of peers. Our hope is that, over time, LASA will change the lives and career paths of hundreds of high school students in the region and will become an agent of change and community building throughout Los Angeles.

LASA includes a diverse and select group of about twenty students –all high school juniors — from across the Los Angeles basin, who will begin their examination of Los Angles during an intense four-day Summer Institute, held August 4th-7th 2014. Required of all participants, the summer program will be followed by once-a-month sessions on Saturdays from September through May (except for December). Fall meetings will take place on September 20th, October 18th, November 15th. In the spring of 2015, LASA will meet on January 10th, February 21st, March 21st, April 25th, May 16th. Depending on the topic on a given day, students will gather in the morning at the Huntington Library in Pasadena or at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Each session will focus on a particular theme or module (water, transportation, governance, cultural institutions and entertainment, police and criminal justice, just to name a few), and will be guided by experts on the given topic. Throughout the year, but especially during the initial summer meetings, LASA will place a particular emphasis on making sure that all participants get to know one another, became familiar with one another’s region and/or neighborhood, and gain an appreciation for one another’s goals while participating in LASA (and beyond).

Utilizing the astonishing archival resources of the Huntington Library and of our other institutional partner, the Los Angeles Public Library, LASA will teach students about the historical growth of Los Angeles from the mid-nineteenth century forward. We will work from shared seminar readings (“homework” will be kept to a minimum), draw archival resources and personnel into our discussions, and build a collaborative working knowledge of Los Angeles history.

Our seminars will be but step one of a two-step process as our work “in the classroom” will be supplemented by fieldwork. For example, our investigation of the history of Los Angeles water resources and water engineering will start from in-depth study of regional water history, hydrology, and the many interfaces between water history and water politics. On that same afternoon, LASA will visit one or more key water facilities in order to have first-hand and practical knowledge as to contemporary water issues in the greater Los Angeles Basin. In all site visits, LASA participants will meet with key personnel who are in a position to contribute to our discussions and investigations.

This model of instruction –group seminar, site visit(s) — will be replicated throughout each LASA unit. And it is from these modules that student exercises and assignments will be drawn. These exercises may include written and photographic assignments, blog entries, film projects, opinion/editorial writing, and the like.

We eagerly look forward to our third year of operation– with special thanks to the WHH Foundation for its support – and we welcome our second class of students with genuine excitement. For more information, please contact us at lasa@huntington.org.