Baltimore City Paper

This Week in Alts: Overcrowding in Nashville schools, the gay wing of an L.A. jail, and more

Credit: Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

There's been a lot of bad news in the world of alt-weeklies over the past month or so: The San Francisco Bay Guardian closed abruptly in October. The same day, the Knoxville News Sentinel announced that it was shutting down the alt-weekly Metro Pulse. But here at Baltimore's most stubborn alternative weekly, we think some of the most important work is still being done at alt-weeklies across the country. To that end, we're launching a new weekly column, This Week in Alts, that highlights the work we've read that we found interesting.

Nashville Scene, "At some overcrowded Nashville schools, the student body is only getting bigger" Many school districts make use of portable classrooms, those metal trailers that sit perched outside the main school building, as a way to serve growing student populations. But one Nashville elementary school has 22, and they aren't exactly luxurious: "Kristen Vaugh had been warned [when she volunteered] to teach in a portable classroom behind Tusculum Elementary School. A few inconveniences, she expected. But nobody told her she'd have to battle so many wasps. Or what it would really be like to keep her students' attention when her classroom's temperature soared to 82 degrees in the first days of school. Or when temperatures plunged last week, with winter yet to begin . . . She'll have to hope all her kids have jackets, hats and gloves and don't lose them during the day, as happens all the time in schools across the city. At her school, many parents can't afford to replace them." It's only one symptom of the struggle to keep up with a quickly growing population at a school where nearly 80 percent of students speak a language other than English at home and only about 25 percent of the students perform at grade level. This feature, the second installment of the Scene's three-part series on the Nashville school system, is an in-depth look at the problems of another struggling urban school system.

Washington City Paper, "From Refugee to Restaurateur, Seng Luangrath Prepares to Open D.C.'s First Laotian Spot" Our neighbors down I-95 profile the chef behind D.C.'s Thip Kao, the city's first Laotian restaurant "and one of relatively few beloved immigrant-run suburban establishments to make the jump into the city." Seng Luangrath's road to restaurant ownership was far from easy—she fled the political unrest in Laos in 1981 when she was 12 years old. "Luangrath, her mom, two brothers, and uncle left in secret with only the clothes on their backs, plus some money and jewelry. They took at a bus to an area near the border with Thailand, arriving at night. With the help of guides, they were taken under cover of darkness to the banks of the Mekong River, where a boat awaited them."

L.A. Weekly, "In the Gay Wing of L.A. Men's Central Jail, It's Not Shanks and Muggings But Hand-Sewn Gowns and Tears" As far as L.A. Weekly has been able to determine, the gay wing of L.A. County Sheriff's Men's Central Jail is the only one of its kind in the country. "K6G," as the wing is called, is limited to transgender women and gay men, and was set up "in response to a 1985 ACLU lawsuit, which aimed to protect homosexual inmates from a higher threat of physical violence than heterosexuals faced. But something unexpected has happened. The inmates are safer now, yes. But they've surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, by setting up a small and flourishing society behind bars. Once released, some re-offend in order to be with an inmate they love. There are hatreds and occasionally even severe violence, but there is also friendship, community, love—and, especially, harmless rule-bending to dress up like models or decorate their bunks, often via devious means." Inmates have to pass a screening test, in which the Sheriff's Department weeds out straight men who might be trying to get into the wing to avoid the gang violence of the rest of the jail population by asking them detailed questions about gay culture and nightlife in Los Angeles.