From the outside, the Abram Friedman Occupational Center is a case study in institutional drabness. The hulking, cube-shaped building on the ragged fringes of downtown L.A. and near the Santa Monica Freeway has few windows and zero ornamentation.
But take the stairs to to Room 223 on the second floor, and you step into a different world. The big and bright space is a bustling, fully-equipped barbershop — rotating striped barber’s pole included.
This is the Los Angeles Unified School District’s adult barbering program, part of the LAUSD’s Division of Adult and Career Education. Although not well known compared to K-12 schools, 70,000 students are enrolled in the L.A. Unified adult ed classes. They learn everything from English as a second language to automobile repair to bookkeeping.
The students generally left high school long ago, some with diplomas and others without. And some have made mistakes in the years since: joining gangs, serving prison time, having children before they were ready. The students hope the skills they learn in adult education will help them fix past mistakes and build better lives.
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