Staff Reporter

It's 8 a.m. on the last day before spring break, and the kids at Rosewood Avenue Elementary School have one thing on their minds.

"We get out at 12:20!" shouts a boy in a purple Lakers sweatshirt who is standing in a line of third graders in the playground. The kids are waiting for their teacher, Deanna Hasson, to signal that they can enter the classroom. Hasson gives the nod to the pig-tailed line leader, and they march single file into the building.

Hasson, 53, has been teaching elementary school kids for 32 years, 22 of them at Rosewood. Having graduated with a bachelor's degree in French and a master's in computer education, she entered the profession with a desire to change the world. She's a little wiser now.

"The discouraging and most difficult part about being a teacher is the lack of funds and opportunities available to the kids," she says.

Funding is a never-ending problem at Rosewood, located in a residential neighborhood in Hollywood. "We have to provide an enriched experience for these kids, but there is no funding for art, music, drama or computers," Hasson says. "Unfortunately, without new technology, these children will not be functioning in the 21st century. How will these kids get jobs in computer graphics and animation?"

Hasson personally donated several computers to the classroom, but admits, "these are just old dinosaurs that really belong in the junkyard."

After getting the signal, kids shuffle into Classroom One and take the chairs off their desks. While some rush to staple last night's homework, others patiently wait for a turn at the electric pencil sharpener. A girl in a pink chenille sweater adjusts a barrette that has tangled in her curly hair, and a small-framed boy uses the corner of his T-shirt to clean his glasses as a boy in a Batman shirt blows his nose.

Hasson quietly waits, leaning against her desk, for the rest of the bused kids to show up. "They all arrive at different times," Hasson says. "We don't usually start until 8:20."

The door opens and a boy struts past the teacher and sits down. Hasson says good morning, but the boy only rolls his eyes. Later, she explains that the boy has a troubled home life, and isn't looking forward to spring break at all.

As the class prepares to take a spelling test, a voice from the second row shouts, "But Maria and Sheila aren't here yet!" Hasson proceeds with the test. She recites a series of three- and four-letter words, like "boy" and "soil," strolling down the rows and eyeing papers as the children try to spell them out.

A small boy glances at the alphabet banner above the blackboard while trying to spell the words, and the teacher pats him on the back.

"He has dyslexia, he has difficulty differentiating B's, D's and P's," she says. "We work on it together, but he now knows to double-check his letters independently. The difficult part about being a teacher is fitting the lesson to meet everyone's needs."

A variety of ethnicities are represented among the 20 students, but the majority are Latino. At least half of the students at Rosewood qualify for free lunch, meaning their parents are below a set income standard, while the rest pay 85 cents a day.

The kids are a mix of high and low ability. Some are outstanding readers, and some cannot subtract seven from eight. Hasson provides additional work for both extremes; however, there is only so much she can do while awaiting the district's approval for the children with special needs to attend appropriate schools. There are four such students in the class, and they have been waiting for seven months for the district to approve their transfer.

After the test, at about 8:45, the class reads aloud with each student tackling a page from a children's story. Hasson writes the names of several characters on the blackboard and challenges the students to use descriptive words to talk about them.

"What is another word for smart?" Hasson asks. "Wise," a girl responds. The teacher smiles.

By 9:20, they are assigned to write a paragraph telling as much as they can about a character from the story. When a boy asks if his paragraph is long enough, Hasson replies, "If you feel good about it, then it's good enough for me."

At 11:30 a.m., grades 1-3 and a few special education classes have an assembly sponsored by the American Heart Association in which students are encouraged to jump rope. The Spice Girls blast from the boom box, and a Korean boy and an African-American girl hold hands and shriek with excitement.

"Children are color blind, they don't seem to think about their differences. This is the dream," Hasson says, pointing to the two youngsters.

After returning to the classroom, she joins the kids on the rug and advises them to play safely during vacation. At the end of the short day, she asks her class what they learned. Hands go up.

"I learned you're not supposed to judge people by how they look."

"I learned helping verbs."

"I learned your heart goes real fast if you jump rope."

Then the kids pack their belongings, the chairs go back on the desks, and the children form a line waiting to hug their teacher good-bye.

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