Houston teens tough on selves, determined to make it

While a small cross section of Houston's adults, ranging from the mayor and school officials to corporation presidents, discussed the worrisome topic of youth employment, four Houston teen-agers had their own thoughts on the subject. Their elders might have been surprised to hear the low-income kids, participants in a federal summer jobs program, articulate their solutions to the problem of low educational achievement. Tough as nails on their own shortcomings, they asked that school, and teachers, be more demanding.

They were hard on the drug pushers and other criminals who they say wreak havoc on their neighborhoods. But they said ``street bums'' perform a service by providing them a warning and a reverse example.

Ninth-grader Tameka Gregory said teen-age pregnancy and drugs were the major reasons in her neighborhood for kids dropping out of school. ``If they could just be convinced that it's sticking them with a bad future ...,'' she said.

``I don't think the schools are demanding enough,'' said Larry Gomez, a 10th-grader, remembering a time when he stopped going to school, Larry says his mother finally persuaded him to go back. ``I think if they pushed students harder, and showed them more often why it matters, they'd find more interest in school.''

The students were asked their opinion of Houston school superintendent Joan Raymond's controversial requirement that failing students attend Saturday tutorials. The response was unanimous approval, even though ``it wrecks your Saturday.''

Gloria Hines, a 10th- grader, said she thought that ``if parents aren't involved, there's not much the schools can do.''

But that comment received an immediate response from Jos'e Gabald'on, a senior who at 18 has been living alone for four years. ``Sometimes parents help you out, sometimes they don't,'' he said. ``It's basically up to you.''

Jos'e, who sports a cockscomb of a hairdo and specifies that his middle name is ``Angel,'' adds, however, that students do need someone they can trust and admire - and teachers who make learning fun.

``Like the teacher in that movie, `Stand and Deliver,''' he says, referring to East Los Angeles math teacher Jaime Escalante, who successfully teaches calculus to supposedly low-achieving barrio children. ``He was fun, but when it was time to get serious, he got serious.''

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