Jewish Journal

Back to High School Through the Eyes of an LA Teen

by Lia Mandelbaum

July 17, 2013 | 3:54 pm

I recently found out that I’ve been assigned to do a mental health internship at a high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  The internship is a part of the graduate program I’m about to start at Cal State LA to get a master’s degree in social work.  As I’ve begun to mentally prepare myself for this new journey, I’ve been reflecting on my own high school experience, and can’t help but be reminded of how difficult it is to go through this world as a teenager.  Ugh.  Popularity contests, mood swings, identity crises, hormones, peer pressure, thinking about how the world revolved around me…  Good times.   I am grateful though that I don’t have to put those fun lessons to waste and can help out some youth that have lost their way.

I’ve been thinking about if I had the chance to one day go back to my own high school and speak with the students, what kind of advice I would give them.   One of the biggest things I would want to emphasize is how harmful it is when we sacrifice our values of what is right and wrong to fit in with others.  Most human beings desire a sense of belonging, which is a beautiful thing, but when we buy into hurting another person to gain that sense of belonging and look good in the eyes of others, we loose a major piece of ourselves in that agreement.  I became a lost soul once I began to ignore that voice in my head and feeling in my heart that was telling me my actions were hurtful to others.   A big part of me shut down.  Having a strong moral compass helps to keep me on track and maintain my integrity.  I absolutely don’t live my life perfectly, and sometimes fall short of listening to that voice, but I am committed to looking at my actions and becoming a better person everyday.  I truly believe that a big part of my success depends on the respect that I show for others.

The high school I went to was in Tampa, and had a predominantly white student body, which mostly came from middle to upper class households.  When I moved out to Los Angeles, I was blown away by the diversity I was now entrenched in.  I found myself loving it, and felt robbed in a sense that I didn’t get to experience it growing up.  As I became more aware of the vast array of humanity, I felt more alive and well rounded, and wanted to continue to explore and build upon a more realistic view of the world.  If I were to go back to my high school, I would want to point out that there is such a huge world out there beyond their understanding, and emphasize the empowerment one can gain through having the thirst to become more socially conscious.  Although we may not be walking in the shoes of those who are different then us, when we commit to gaining an understanding of where those individuals are coming from, we have increased the chance of having a more peaceful and understanding society. 

Advice from Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson
Not too long ago I spoke on a panel at a SEA youth peace conference for at-risk youth, where Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, also spoke on the panel about what it means to be a non-violent peacemaker.   He talked about how your education doesn’t end when you graduate, but rather it is when it begins.  He talked about how school is important in helping to provide a career and a way to make a living, but the more important education is when you are out in society learning how to relate and grow from other human beings.  He said that when you don’t strive to learn from other human beings, you become stagnant and don’t grow as a person. 

He talked about how being a civilized and peaceful society isn’t the absence of violence and war, but when we can live in harmony with each other and have love and compassion and respect for each other.   He talked about how we need lots of love and respect and compassion, for which is natural to all human beings, but we suppress it because we see it as a sign of weakness when it is really a sign of power when we can really relate to each other. 

My new journey
The population I am going to be working with at my internship is different then what I experienced while at my high school.  It has a student body that is 90% Hispanic, and are more impacted by issues such as poverty and gang violence.  Fortunately my particular school hasn’t really seen many issues with gang violence on their campus.  On my first visit to the campus, I left feeling excited, opptimistic and inspired by the environment.

These students have a set of social issues that are very different from what I experienced, and so I know its important to let them also be my teachers so I can be more understanding about the support they need.  I truly look forward to growing and learning how to be a better person as a result of my work with them.

Please click {HERE} to see the video from the panel at the Youth Peace Conference

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Lia Mandelbaum is currently at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles as their Director of Programming and Engagement.  She has a master’s and bachelor’s in social work from CSULA, and...

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