On a Friday last March, before Sophie Trauberman left home for her first class at 9:45 a.m., she got a call from a friend at Hamilton High School, where she’s a student in the music magnet. Twenty-two Hamilton teachers were being pink-slipped, the friend told her, and some positions — including those of much-loved advisers at Hamilton’s music and humanities magnets — were being eliminated altogether, because of proposed state budget cuts.
Before she left for school, Trauberman set up a Facebook page, floating the idea of a student rally. By the time the school day was over, a group of student leaders had coalesced and planned a week of events culminating in a protest rally.
Sam Landsberg, a senior in Hamilton’s Humanities Magnet, was alerted to the impending cuts after the school’s jazz band took to the quad in protest that morning. He immediately fired off a letter to Hamilton’s school board representative and became part of the student planning group.
Trauberman has leadership in her blood. She is the Southern California regional president of NFTY, the Reform synagogue youth movement, and president of Hamilton’s environmental club. She plans to attend Lewis and Clark College in the fall.
Both Trauberman and Landsberg have been campers and worked at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, and both are active members at Temple Isaiah, where Landsberg is a teacher’s assistant at the religious school.
Landsberg, who will go to Macalester College next year, was co-president of Hamilton’s model congress this year, and he’s an apprentice at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where he helped organize programs for teens and families.
As an artist, he immediately set to work designing and then manufacturing rally T-shirts.
For Landsberg and Trauberman, the most important thing was to get the students informed and organized.
“We wanted to make sure the students were informed, the parents were informed and that it wasn’t going to be this messy breakout of students who just wanted to be off campus,” Trauberman said.
Learning of the cause through Facebook and e-mails, 700 students and parents packed Hamilton’s auditorium on Monday after school to find out what the cuts meant.
On Tuesday, a group went downtown to attend a school board meeting, but bureaucratic logistics knocked them off the speakers list.
They sent out a press release to the local news — leading Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez to cover the student movement.
At a meeting the administration held for parents on Thursday to discuss the cuts, students hijacked the mike and answered the parents’ questions, inviting them to the rally, too. By the end of the day, they had sold 1,000 T-shirts.
Trauberman and Landsberg, along with other student leaders, stayed up late into the night Thursday to iron out logistical details — how to keep 3,000 students organized, how the sound system would work. They set up the roster of speakers, a schedule and edited each other’s speeches.
At 9 a.m. on Friday, halfway through first period, Landsberg and others circled the quad with megaphones, inviting students out to the rally.
“We had students meet in the quad, and we sent them out in giant waves, led by the marching band,” Landsberg said.
Nearly 3,000 students stretched around the entire perimeter of the school at Robertson near the 10 Freeway, Trauberman said. They assembled at the auditorium steps, and students cheered as speaker after speaker demanded that education be saved. Local news covered the event.
No students tried to ditch the rally. The police reported no incidents. The students were back in class halfway through second period, so no one was marked absent, which could have cost the school money.
Cuts still loom, with the state budget not yet ironed out. A teacher’s union agreement will likely save some of the jobs, but Landsberg and Trauberman count their rally as one not-so-small victory.
They both say their Jewish involvement played a large part.
“Temple Isaiah really tries to be socially active,” Landsberg said. “So growing up in a community that focuses on fighting for what you think is right ...”
“And on questioning things and on taking responsibility because things won’t be done for us,” Trauberman added.
“Those were definitely factors that motivated us,” Landsberg finished.
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer