Baldwin Hills Elementary on day 1: music, culture, and social justice

Hosted by

A welcome sign at Baldwin Hills Elementary. All photos by Benjamin Gottlieb.

It's the first day of school for tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students across the LA Unified School District. For parents, it is the beginning of year-long routines: buying supplies, dropping kids off at school or at a bus stop, and fighting traffic. 

At Baldwin Hills Elementary, students are greeted by a drummer playing Caribbean music. It’s part of this school’s focus on the cultural roots of its students, who mostly come from black, indigenous, or Latino families.


A drummer playing Caribbean music to greet students. 

"There's some legacy here," says parent Talia Mason. "Their father went here and all of his siblings... It being in our neighborhood and still being a renowned school is really important. So I feel like we're supporting it by attending. And I look forward to being involved as much as my time will allow me to. And just how culturally focused it is -- I can really appreciate that... Music and culture is important in our family. So I feel like the school will help keep that ingrained." 

Parent Derek Elman is excited about his child's first day at kindergarten. "The vibe is great… You have the music playing. Everybody is excited. It kind of caters to everybody. It's just not an African influenced school. It caters to the Spanish-American, and a little bit of everybody," he says. 

Fifth grade teacher Jaqueline Walker says social justice is important here: "We read literature that focuses around social justice… It’s important because who you are determines what you'll be in life. And if you really know who you are, where you came from, your history, it’s limitless what you can do."

Students lining up for their classrooms.

Students and their parents.