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Facilities Initiatives | Healthy Spaces, Healthy People

Zumba Classes at the Mendez Learning Center

A partnership between Urban Strategies, the Mendez Learning Center, and Alliance for a Better Community.

History of Project

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) collaborated with Urban Strategies and Alliance for a Better Community to address health disparities and maximize the use of safe, attractive recreation space in Boyle Heights by offering Zumba classes at the Mendez Learning Center.

Boyle Heights is a low-income community located at the eastern most edge of the city of Los Angeles, where over 52% of local residents are overweight or obese (2009, California Health Interview Survey, CHIS). Geographically, Boyle Heights is surrounded by five freeways and suffers from a lack of green spaces. In Boyle Heights, about .90 acres of parks and open space are available per 1,000


residents, compared to the County standards of 4 acres of local parkland per 1,000 residents. Clearly, Boyle Heights falls far below this standard. With few parks and open space available, community members have fewer opportunities to be physically active.

Urban Strategies, a national non-profit that works to redevelop urban communities by partnering with neighborhood organizations and residents, oversees the Pueblo del Sol Community Service Center, next door to the Mendez Learning Center. Through collaborations with local organizations, Urban Strategies provides numerous supportive services and programs to the families of the Pueblo del Sol housing development and the surrounding community of Boyle Heights. Urban Strategies identified the need to increase opportunities for physical activity in Boyle Heights and began to offer Zumba classes in 2009, initially just for women, in the Pueblo del Sol Community Service Center. Classes were held daily (now four times per week) in a carpeted multipurpose room where the chairs and tables had to be rearranged before and after every class. The carpeted room did not provide the appropriate setting for the Zumba class and created health hazards for the women participating.

Project Conception

In early 2011, Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), a Los Angeles based policy and advocacy non-profit dedicated to promoting equity for Latinos in health, education, and economic development, identified the needs of Boyle Heights through their Joint Use Generating Activity and Recreation (J.U.G.A.R.) initiative. Through these efforts, ABC began working with Urban Strategies and the Mendez Learning Center to assess their needs and identify opportunities to maximize their resources to best serve the community. The Mendez Learning Center, a Los Angeles Partnership school, wanted to enhance their parent-engagement efforts and create an overall healthier school for their students and families. The school's goal to better serve families aligned with Urban Strategies' need to provide a proper workout room for women of the community to Zumba and began to explore opportunities for shared use in partnership with ABC at the District.

Project Description

Facilitated by a license agreement with LAUSD, in the beginning in the fall of 2011, Urban Strategies started to hold its Tuesday and Thursday Zumba classes from 6:00 pm-7:00 pm in Mendez's dance room. Zumba fuses different Latin rhythms and movements to create a fun and enjoyable dance workout. About 15-20 committed women have been attending the Zumba classes regularly, with about 150 participants total (mostly women) attending since the classes initiated at Mendez. Many women have expressed a great excitement for the classes and an appreciation for the impact it has had on their lives. The classes are open to teens, women, and men .

Participants state that Zumba has helped them improve their health and increase their energy by relieving their stress as they have fun. An active parent and community member, Jacqueline Gonzalez, states, "It is motivating for everyone that likes to exercise because we know that exercising keeps your body and mind healthy. We need to promote exercising among all ages to prevent obesity in our Los Angeles schools and communities".

Project Implementation

In order to make Zumba at Mendez a success, the needs and capacity of the school and Urban Strategies were assessed. The principals' support for community partners to access the school during after-school hours was essential to establishing the partnership. Equally important was the principals' understanding of the importance for shared-use and how it could benefit the school's relationship with parents and the community at large. Mendez's principals saw the partnership as an opportunity to increase parent-engagement and support the health of their students and families. Parents also understood the need of the partnership to have a healthy lifestyle and increase safe places to be physically active. Involving parents in the process was critical to increasing their engagement and understanding of the project. This level of inclusion also helped to build their leadership capacity, so that they may continue to advocate for similar shared-use partnerships district-wide.

Also important has been Urban Strategies' key role in ensuring the successful implementation of the shared-use agreement. Under their staff's supervision, the Zumba classes are undertaken at Mendez following procedures and policies they have established to ensure the classes do not have any adverse affect on the school or its students. In addition, Urban Strategies works closely with the Zumba instructor to ensure the quality of the class and constantly undertakes outreach to engage more families from the community.

This successful shared use agreement has helped the community access school facilities during non-school hours for recreation and physical activity. Zumba at Mendez creates a healthy safe environment that helps women of the community exercise weekly in a common, safe space that makes everyone feels comfortable attending to improve their health.

Project Sustainability

Through the generous support of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, a two-year Leasing and License agreement grant has been issued. The agreement between the Mendez Learning Center and Urban Strategies is renewable and the willingness of both partners to continue this partnership will ensure the continuation of the program.

Model Practices

The Zumba class at the Mendez Learning Center, in collaboration with Urban Strategies, exemplifies several model practices. These include:
  1. Collaborating with the school's principal, parents, and community organizations to assess and identify recreational opportunities based on the community and school's need.
  2. Developing a strategic plan to ensure successful implementation of program with school staff, community partners, and families.
  3. Identifying and developing appropriate partnerships and shared use agreements with local non-profits to ensure successful implementation of program.
  4. Supporting identified partner organization through the application process.
  5. Informing stakeholders of progress and accomplishments of the shared use agreement.

For More Information Contact:

Urban Strategies
c/o Pueblo del Sol Community Service Center
Tel: (323) 980-8100
1300 Plaza Del Sol
Los Angeles, CA 90033
http://www.urbanstrategiesinc.org/

Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center
Tel: ( 323) 981-5400
1200 Plaza del Sol
Los Angeles, CA 90033
http://mendez-lausd-ca.schoolloop.com/

Alliance for a Better Community
Tel: 213-250-0052
350 S. Bixel Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
http://www.afabc.org/

For information on joint use bond funding, please contact:

Los Angeles Unified School District
Asset Management Branch
Ana M. Lasso, Special Facilities Project Manager, Assoc. DBIA
Tel: 213-241-5892
333 S. Beaudry Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017
 
Facilities Services Division | 333 South Beaudry Ave., Los Angeles, California 90017