This spring break, eight students from the Leeds School of Business went on a self-planned trip to Los Angeles to study the school-to-prison pipeline, with hopes of making a new tradition.
The students are all in Leeds Scholars, a leadership program for high-achieving students. They put together the trip as a required community outreach project for the program.
“For a degree like business that is so intensive, to get out of that and go to LA and do something that was completely unrelated to our degree really made things feel more well-rounded,” said sophomore Patrick Howard, one of the trip planners and attendees. “Now we have more of a vision of how we can make what we’re learning into something that changes the world and not just makes a bunch of money.”
The group spent their first day in the city at the Teach for America office learning about the organization, which places teachers in low-income schools and seeks to end education inequality. They spent the next two days in a charter high school with a Leeds alum who now works for Teach for America. They met with his students, talked to them about college and taught lessons on how to prepare for the college application process.
Most of the school’s students were Latino and from low-income backgrounds. Sophomore Alison Smith said many focused on issues in the present, such as financial insecurity, and fears of deportation instead of planning ahead for college.
Howard said hearing about the students’ experiences was “a stark contrast to my high school,” where it wasn’t even a question that most students would be going on to college. The group said they appreciated the student’s honesty and hope they introduced college as a real possibility.
On Thursday, the group spent the day at a juvenile drug court talking to different people about the work that they did, including a public defender, social worker, probation officer, district attorney, lawyer and prosecutor. They sat in on some cases, which they described as very disconcerting since some of the offenders were quite young and all came in handcuffed. All of the cases involved drug charges, some as minor as an offender being caught smoking marijuana.
“When we got to sit in the courtroom and see these kids who were locked up walk in with their families for their cases, it was a little discomforting,” said sophomore Valeria De Haro. Though the experience was difficult, she said talking to the people who worked on behalf of the juveniles made her realize it was a line of work she might want to go into.
Like in the school, all the kids in the court were Latino.
“You don’t run into white kids having this problem,” Smith said. “One of the quotes I remember the most was from a public defender who said ‘you can’t have a conversation about the school-to-prison pipeline without talking about race'”.
On their last day in Los Angeles the students took a day off to visit tourist sites before flying home to Boulder. They hope to repeat the trip next spring break, and want to motivate more students to plan similar trips for themselves in order to expand their horizons beyond what they learn in the classroom.
A common theme they discovered from speaking with all the workers on the trip was the need to have interpersonal as well as professional skills to be successful. A critique they offered of Leeds was they while it offers much of the latter, it doesn’t focus enough on the former.
“The business school loves skills that matter to business,” Smith said. While technical, financial and networking skills are emphasized, softer but equally beneficial workplace skills get less focus and there is a lack of discussion about how their business skills could fit into the bigger picture of what they might want to pursue as a career, Smith explained
Howard said that was what made the trip so valuable — it put what they learned in Leeds into a broader context and helped them visualize how they could transfer their education to a “real world” context. Since the trip, several members of the group are considering going to law school and another has decided she wants to work in education.
“A lot of people have these interests, but because the business school doesn’t really provide us with the resources, they don’t know how to pursue them,” said De Haro.
To change this, the group is trying to motivate younger Leeds Scholars to plan such trips for themselves. They also said that they recommend getting out of the classroom and learning on your own to CU students of any major.
They received support and financial backing from different organizations on campus, and urge other students planning educational trips not to be intimidated by the cost or the work involved. Their advice is to take initiative, start planning early and to not be afraid to ask for help.
Ultimately, putting together the trip took a lot of work, but the students all agreed it was well worth the effort.
“It made me realize there’s so much more I could do to make an impact on the larger community,” said sophomore Julia McCue.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at email@example.com.