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Students visit Occupy L.A. for lesson in democracy

October 18, 2011 |  3:50 pm

Children on field trip visit Occupy L.A.

About 30 schoolchildren took a field trip Tuesday afternoon – not to the aquarium – but rather to City Hall, the epicenter of Occupy Los Angeles.

The fifth- through eighth-grade students from Sequoyah, a private school in Pasadena, munched on their lunches while protesters engaged them in discourse about how democracy works.

That was the purpose behind the field trip, said language arts and social studies teacher Susanna Barkataki, whose class also sat in on a City Council meeting and will soon hear a "tea party" member speak.

Full coverage: Occupy protests

"My goal as a teacher, regardless of my own personal beliefs, is to expose the students to as many viewpoints as possible," Barkataki said as she watched her students explore the Occupy L.A. encampment. "We're here to get first-hand experience."

The idea for the field trip sprouted when one of Barkataki's former colleagues visited the Occupy L.A. site and suggested that students come too. With eight adult supervisors, the students took the Gold Line into downtown and distributed hydration drinks to protesters when they arrived. They went inside City Hall and listened to the council discuss whether to boycott conferences held in Arizona, then they took a tour of the Occupy L.A. grounds before sitting down to lunch.

Avery Tyler, 12, said she was initially scared of the sprawling tents, but her perspective quickly changed.

"People care so much about this, they come down here and stay here," she said. "One guy was talking to us and he said we're all doing this for the future children. That really made me feel proud."

As the group migrated down the street after lunch, some students snickered as they passed signs with explicit language. But they soon arrived at what protester Uri Emmanuel Daniels called the "unofficial art department," where the students set to work making signs with buckets of markers. Daniels facilitated the sign-making and urged students to "never stop asking questions," as they drew on butcher paper and poster board.

"We want them to accomplish a project that shows that they were here," the 21-year-old Daniels said. "This is history."

Seventh-grader Piper Lewis was one of a handful of junior high students who joined Barkataki's class on their trip. The 12-year-old spent several minutes etching out a message in red pen on the group's largest banner, titled, "Sequoyah School Pasadena."

"This shows that people can come together and do anything," Lewis said. "I'm so glad I came."


Full coverage: Occupy protests

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-- Matt Stevens at City Hall

Photo: Nathaniel "Nat" Stern, 11, who attends the private Sequoyah school in Pasadena, visited Occupy L.A. on Tuesday as part of a field trip to City Hall. Credit: Matt Stevens / Los Angeles Times