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Highland Park Kids Hope a 'Pancake' Will Save Them From Gunfire

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Photo by Norma*Iriz* via Flickr
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Students in LAUSD schools in Highland Park are already under a lot of pressure to do well, from test scores to less-than-ideal classroom environments. But the neighborhood is experiencing an increase in gang-related violence, mostly via gunfire, and that is making getting an education even harder, explains the LA Times' Steve Lopez.When kids at Monte Vista Elementary School yell "Pancake!" it isn't because there's a breakfast special at the cafeteria. It's because that's the command to drop and flatten to the floor to "minimiz[e] the chance of getting shot." The students practice this as a drill, but, says Lopez, "but they've been doing the real thing far too often lately" and "the students are terrified." One incident last week involved an exchange of gunfire on the streets near the campus, in broad daylight.

Teachers are voicing their concerns to the school board and union reps, and are having students write letters to government leaders and officials as both writing practice and to help get the word out that their learning is compromised. What they're hearing, though, from city leaders, is cold comfort. The mayor's gang reduction leader says "there's no strong evidence that there's all-out raging war underway among the region's notorious gangs" and the school lost the funds to support "a counselor who focused on at-risk kids and their families."

In the meantime, the kids will continue to answer to the call of "Pancake!" and spend their school days on "lockdown" as the helicopters circle and the shots ring out.