L.A. Schools Resume With Earthquakes At Top of Lesson Plan

AT the Calabash Street Elementary School here, students created an earthquake this week.

Plastic wrap was stretched over an empty cookie tin, with brown sugar sprinkled on top to represent soil. The students then banged on another tin to create shock waves. The sugar crumbs danced up and down, simulating a temblor. The lesson was intended to show that earthquakes generate waves similar to what we experience in everyday life.

The subtext was to demystify these earthly hiccups so the pupils, who a week earlier had experienced one anything but brown-sugar sweet, wouldn't harbor so much fear.

Across the nation's second-largest school district, the task was similar this week.

Teachers sought to soothe the troubled thoughts of another generation of Californians for whom earthquakes have now become part of the lingua franca.

Students wrote essays about what they had experienced. They drew pictures. They discussed the writhes and heaves in group sessions. They practiced huddling under desks in case another one hit, even as aftershocks did.

``In the lab, they can get a better understanding of the earth,'' says Calabash Principal Marge Ann Roten, of the science experiment. ``If you understand something, you have a lot less fear.''

All this, of course, presumed that students even had a school to go to. At midweek, 63 of the district's 640 campuses remained closed. But administrators expect all but five of the most damaged schools to be opened by week's end. Temporary portable classrooms are being set up on the hardest hit campuses, mainly in the San Fernando Valley.

President Clinton's emergency aid plan before Congress earmarks $700 million for local school repairs. Other federal money is being sought for emergency operating expenses and counseling. Administrators will welcome any benevolence.

``We have no earthquake insurance and not enough in reserve to do anything,'' says one district official.

Calabash Elementary School, a tidy campus in a leafy suburb not far from the quake's epicenter, suffered only cosmetic damage. But there is some evidence of the tectonic tossing the campus got: splits in wall joints, a playground webbed with cracks.

Though built in the 1950s, the school fared better than many of the houses of the 285 students who attend it. In the science class, an instructor asks how many students saw their homes damaged. About half the hands shoot up. A couple have had to find alternative housing. Nor are the students the only ones who faced difficulties. Principal Roten nearly had an armoir topple on her when the 6.6 temblor hit. She still isn't sleeping in her bedroom.

Calabash, like the rest of the city, has benefited from the spirit of community that has evolved in the wake of the quake. The San Diego school district has sent Los Angeles's 31st PTA district, which includes the west San Fernando Valley, truckloads of clothing, water, and toys. The first day Calabash reopened, parents showed up with everything from Persian rugs to water jugs for the pupils.

In the classroom, the focus has been on minds rather than mortar. Instructor Jean Dillingham is about ready for the students to generate their first earthquake in the science class. ``Oh, that's at least a 6.6,'' she says, as one child beats the pie tin with a spoon and the brown sugar jiggles.

``I liked it,'' says second-grader Colleen McGrew, of the experiment. ``When we get older, we will be able to teach others stuff about an earthquake.''

Colleen learned plenty from the real temblor, too: She rearranged her room after the quake so the light fixture is no longer over her bed. Now a net holding her stuffed animals is.

Other students at the school worked out their emotions by pen. ``I ignored the earthquake,'' wrote seven-year-old Alan Ning in an essay. ``I felt scared. The certain [curtain] holder almost fell on my dad's head. You can give me a hug.''

Second-grader Henry Jacobs chronicled how ``some ones chimny collapsed and a fire enghon came and are electicity went too. We let are next door nabor in with us.''

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