James De Larme, the POPS the Club teacher sponsor at El Camino Real Charter High, first learned about POPS from his wife, Karie DeLarme, who works with at-risk and homeless youth through LAUSD’s Homeless Education Department . Since the fall of 2016, James has led POPS the Club on El Camino’s campus, a group that has distinguished itself by its active participants who performed their poetry and writings at USC’s LiberatED in March 2017 and had several pieces selected for publication the 2017 POPS anthology, Cracked Masks: With You and Without You. Soon after the club’s founding, James was pleased to see it quickly became a haven for 10 to 15 students. He admits that at first he was overwhelmed by the emotional outpouring of experiences, stories and trauma, recalling his initial thought pattern as: “I’m just a guy who teaches history!” But he praises the POPS volunteers Emily Kuhlmann, Sonia Faye and especially Stacey Cohan, who have provided incredible support in more difficult interactions.
When it comes to imprisonment in this country, James thinks it’s important to keep in mind two often-overlooked things: First, when someone is arrested and sent to jail or prison, we tend to think about the victims of that individual’s crime but don’t imagine the other victims: children who have just lost a parent or loved one. Second, it can be easy to forget the pervasiveness of the true impact of mass incarceration. James teaches in Woodland Hills, a relatively wealthy community where people assume their youth have no experience with the trauma inflicted by incarceration. Through firsthand experience, James has learned how wrong that assumption is.
James also knows personally how our teenage years can shape the rest of our lives—he met his future wife, Karie, on their 7th grade school bus! They got engaged soon after college. Perhaps that’s part of the reason James finds such importance in reaching out with supports like POPS the Club to high school youth on the brink of adulthood. James describes students coming into high school as “fluid,” but, from his perspective, by the time that young person reaches 11th grade, he or she is beginning to become more rigid in his or her ways. As he puts it: “The fluid kid firms up.” Seen from the outside, POPS the Club’s impact is deceptively simple, but from inside the room, James sees the profound effect on students. Being part of the club is, “Something to be proud of. A place to belong.”