Youth Research – Issue 2, Community Schooling Journal

Community Schooling | Issue 2 | Spring 2022

Charting a Better Future at Mann UCLA Community School

Youth Research Podcast

Isaiah Catching, Jamel Jackson, Ray’Ven Kelly, Alberto Roman, Yadira Tejada, Daniel Trujillo, 

Horace Mann UCLA Community School

I think it is important to note that teachers are always interested in understanding how things are going for us and making changes and improvements based on what they are learning, and that is part of the beauty of being at Mann.”


Listen to Youth Researchers from Mann UCLA Community School located in South Los Angeles, California, share their research focused on the school’s learning environment. Students surveyed and interviewed fellow students and staff regarding a range of topicsfrom campus beautification to healthy lunchesand explored how the school can better respond to the needs of its students. 


Chapter 1: Introduction

Alberto: Hi. My name is Alberto and I’m a junior at Mann UCLA Community School. Mann UCLA Community School  is located in South Los Angeles. We are a small school with about 600 students in grades 6-12. Our school is almost 100 years old. It has experienced many ups and downs during that time. Six years ago it partnered with UCLA and we became a community school–a school where building relationships with each other, with our teachers and with the community is really important.

I am here today with some of my fellow 11th graders to discuss research that we conducted about our school, for our school. As part of our Service Learning and Leadership class, we surveyed and interviewed our peers about topics that, we felt, could improve our school. 

As Mann students, we know that we are in an environment where our health and wellbeing, not just how we are doing in classes, matter. We explored various research topics to learn how our school community can be better and help all students feel that they matter and that they are cared for. 

The first researcher I want to introduce you to is Daniel.  Hi Daniel. Can you tell us about your research?

Chapter 2: Improving Mann’s Physical Environment

Daniel: Hi Alberto. My research focuses on how students feel about the school’s physical environment. Our school is not new or shiny. As a matter of fact it is almost 100 years old. It is kept clean and in good repair, but it isn’t a colorful place. There is very little art inside the halls and outside of the school and I wanted to know how students felt about that. 

Based on my survey that I gave to high school students, I found that art and a more colorful environment makes students feel good working at school. Research shows that art can also make the brain think more creatively. 

For example, I found that most students, almost three-quarters, said that they were unhappy with the school’s appearance. Sixty-five percent of the students said that they didn’t like the colors within the school halls and classrooms. A number of students used the word “depressing” to describe the school’s physical environment. Other students said that they felt uninspired or unmotivated. 

However, students shared that the addition of art around the school, like murals, would make them feel “empowered” and “motivated.” 

We are surrounded by powerful and inspiring murals in our community. Students want to feel this same sense of inspiration and creativity inside the school, where we spend a good amount of our time. 

Alberto: Thanks Daniel. I love the idea of connecting art to students’ readiness to learn and be creative. Now I want to introduce Ray’Ven and Yadira who conducted research on how it feels to be a high school student here. 

Hi Ray’Ven. Hi Yadira.

As Mann students, we know that we are in an environment where our health and wellbeing, not just how we are doing in classes, matter. We explored these various research topics to learn how our school community can be better and help all students feel that they matter and that they are cared for.” 

Chapter 3: Exploring the High School Experience at Mann

Yadira: Hi Alberto. 

Ray’Ven and I both attended other high schools before we came to Mann UCLA Community School. Ray’Ven, actually, was here as a middle school student, left, and then came back. I moved to South LA last year and I picked Mann UCLA because it was my neighborhood school. At first I was disappointed that my new school wasn’t the same as my old school. Our experience at other high schools was very different. For example, each of our high schools had more than 400 students in a whole grade class. Here, we have about 40 students per grade level. We had more electives there, clubs, activities, sports. While that is true, I started to realize that Mann UCLA provided lots of benefits and opportunities, like the fact that my teachers really know me, know how I am doing and care. 

Our experiences in other high schools prompted Ray’Ven and me to want to understand how our peers were experiencing high school. I’ll turn it over to Ray’Ven to share our findings. 

Ray’Ven: Yadira and I surveyed and interviewed students of all grade levels at our school to understand how they were feeling about their high school experience. We found that students in our community have this idea of what high school is supposed to be–a big place with sports teams, cheerleaders, etc. Because Mann UCLA is both a middle school and high school, most of the high school students we surveyed felt they were missing out on something. Students suggested things like a football team, more events, longer lunch period and more freedoms. More than half of the students we surveyed said that they wanted school activities to be more fun and engaging. 

At the same time, more than three-quarters of Mann students say that they enjoy coming to school and 83% of students say they are proud to be a part of the school community. 

We interviewed students who said that our school definitely feels like a high school but that we are trying to make things better.

I think what our research shows is that we want high school to be fun, exciting and engaging, but we also want to be in an environment where we feel safe and where teachers know and care about us. 

Alberto: Thanks Ray’Ven. Thanks Yadira. It seems that our school is aware of some of these issues and they are making some changes. For example, this year we have sports teams and the number of clubs and organizations keeps growing. 

Yadira: Yes, that is really promising. I think it is important to note that teachers are always interested in understanding how things are going for us and making changes and improvements based on what they are learning, and that is part of the beauty of being at Mann.

Alberto: Right. Now I’d like to introduce Isaiah. Hi Isaiah.

Chapter 4: Eating Healthy at Mann

Isaiah: Hi Alberto. I conducted research to gather students’ opinions about the school food. I came to this topic because I noticed, once we came back to in-person learning, that the menu seemed to get smaller, with the same items being offered over and over again, and fewer students seemed to be eating the food. 

Over the course of doing this assignment I realized that most of the students don’t really like the school food that is being served. Ninety percent said they don’t like the school lunch. Even though Mann provides meals for all students, only 63% of students shared that they eat the school lunch. And, of those students who ate school lunch, most said that they ate it because it was their only option. Almost half of the students I surveyed said that they eat the school lunch because they are hungry, they can’t bring their own lunch from home, or that they simply need to eat. 

Students I surveyed and interviewed recommended that we have multiple selections of food, that are both healthy and tastier, than what we have now. Recommendations included things like pizza, hamburgers and fried chicken which isn’t surprising. But lots of students wanted more offerings of fresh fruit and vegetables. 

I think this is an important topic because so many kids rely on school lunches and we need to eat healthy in order to be ready and excited about learning. 

Alberto: I am curious, what did teachers have to say about school food?

Isaiah: Good question. I really wanted to get teachers’ opinions on the topic, but they didn’t have much to say about it. The teachers that I interviewed said that they really couldn’t comment because they haven’t tried the school food. Some teachers said that they didn’t want to try it based on rumors they had heard about its quality, while other teachers said that the cafeteria is too far away from their classrooms and they haven’t had a chance to try it. 

Alberto: Thanks Isaiah. Let’s continue on this topic of food with Jamel. 

Jamel: What is up with y’all brother? I’ve been researching school snacks. Mainly, I wanted to know how hot and spicy chips are affecting our school and other schools throughout the U.S. 

I did some background research on the topic, using trustworthy and reliable sources. Studies have shown that kids are becoming more and more addicted to hot chips more than ever before. Spicy chips are also known to be affecting dopamine levels which could be the reason why they are so addicting. 

As you know Alberto, hot and spicy chips are very popular here. I wanted to understand how students were feeling about the fact that the school offered these chips. Based on survey findings, a huge percentage of students are tired of consuming hot chips but can’t stop eating them. I find that to be ironic because over half of the students at this school recognize that hot chips are a problem but only a few students, 18%, think they should be banned in schools. Seventy-eight percent shared that they believed hot chips made kids sick.  

Although most students were opposed to banning hot chips, almost three-quarters of students surveyed felt that the school should offer some healthy alternatives. Students recommended fruit, veggie chips and other plant-based snacks, yogurt, granola, nuts and foods that are shown to provide energy. 

Students provided lots of healthy suggestions and I like the idea of providing a healthier alternative to hot and spicy chips. 

Alberto: How do students get hot chips?

Jamel: Students buy hot chips at either the local corner store or they buy them at the student store here at Mann.

Alberto: Thank you, Jamel.

Jamel: Thank you, Alberto. Before I turn it back over to you, I want to introduce our Service Learning and Leadership teacher, Mr. Aquiles, who can answer some questions about youth research.

Chapter 5: Conclusion

Alberto: Mr. Aquiles, thank you for joining us. We want to know what your goal was in giving us this opportunity to conduct research on our school.

Mr. Aquiles: My goal was just to make sure that y’all as students are able to voice your opinions, to voice out what it was that you want to see in your school. A lot of the times, most of the stuff comes from us as teachers, admin, and a lot of times, y’all are not given any voice on or say on what we should be doing.

Alberto: How do you feel our research can improve our school and our learning?

Mr. Aquiles: Well, like I said, I think that it needs to come from the students about what it is that y’all want. I know that a lot of the times it could be different things, but we don’t know unless we ask. And if we just are assuming of the things that you need, then a lot of times, you know, you are not going to be happy because this is your school. We want to make sure that y’all are able to enjoy your time in high school and to create a better high school for yourself.

I think for our next steps, I definitely do want to make sure that the students share their work with the school, you know, just to make sure that others at school also want to be a part of this change. That they could be like, you know what, I want this and I want to be a part of it. Something as simple as having murals on campus.

Alberto: Thank you Mr. Aquiles. Thank you for your time and your guidance and the opportunity to learn about our school in order to improve it.

Alberto: Thank you everyone for sharing your research and your voices as students. Our voices can make a difference in creating a school community that is more beautiful, inspiring, engaging and healthier. 

Everyone: Thank you. 


Community schools are designed to reflect local needs, assets, and priorities. Far too often, however, students are left out of the needs and assets assessment process. As part of a Service Learning and Leadership course, students at Mann UCLA Community School conducted research on their learning environment and shared their findings–a youth-driven needs and assets assessment. Exploring topics that mattered to them, this podcast highlights the promising role students can play in the assessment process and in creating learning spaces that reflect their ideas, needs, strengths and priorities.


Isaiah Catching is an 11th grader at Mann UCLA Community School. He is very excited about his learning in his Service and Leadership class because it connects to what is happening in the community and the world. When he’s not on campus, Isaiah likes to hang out with his family. In his free time, he also likes to watch movies that he hasn’t seen before especially if they have superheroes in them. P.S. He’s in love with Marvel and DC.

Jamel Jackson is a junior who attends Mann UCLA Community School. Jamel conducted research on healthier alternatives to hot and spicy bags of chips as part of his Service and Leadership class because he hopes to make a difference in his community. Jamel’s outside life consists of many fun and entertaining activities. In his spare time, Jamel likes to play guitar, read, journal, skateboard, and loves to spend time with his friends, family and community.

Ray’Ven Kelly is an 11th grader at Mann UCLA Community School. Ray’Ven worked with her best friend and classmate Yadira on a project for their leadership class. They did their research on how to make students’ high school experience better. Ray’Ven loves listening to music, crocheting and reading during her free time.

Alberto Roman is a junior at Mann UCLA Community School. As part of his Service and Leadership class, Alberto conducted research on students and teachers’ mental state during school. When Alberto is not in school he enjoys relaxing at home playing video games, watching tv and going to places like parks, amusement parks, bowling, go-carting, etc. with friends and family.

Yadira Tejada is an 11th grader who attends Mann UCLA Community School. Yadira worked with her classmate and best friend Ray’Ven on a project for their Service and Leadership class. They conducted research on how to improve the school and get kids more involved in school activities. Yadira enjoys listening to music and she is a hardcore Harry Styles fan. She loves reading and watching movies.

Daniel Trujillo is an 11th grader who attends Mann UCLA Community School. Daniel conducted research on  the school’s physical environment as part of his Service Learning and Leadership class because he hopes to make a difference in his community. When Daniel is not in school, he enjoys hanging out with his friends and he loves his sleep.