Robin Higgins graduated from Skyline High School in 2006 and attends a university in Atlanta, Ga. She writes about her transition. -Katy
I feel like I’ve been prepared very well by the Oakland Unified School District. Since my graduation from Skyline High School in 2006 I’ve completed three years of college and never felt disadvantaged or held back by my schooling. Culturally, however, the transition has been awkward, strange, and a little discouraging.
I have not had a hard time transitioning academically from Oakland schools to a private college, but I also got the very best of what the OUSD schools had to offer. My parents were my advocates, involved in a way that gave me the very best of a given school, and shielded me from some of the less functional parts. Teachers in my middle and high school ranged from inspiring individuals who shape every student they have in a positive way to so mind-bogglingly bad it’s a wonder they even bother to get up in the morning.
Having a year of English with one type of teacher versus the other can result in learning how to construct an essay or learning how to play poker in a back corner of a classroom. The reputation of these teachers is known through gossip and rumors far before the school schedules are passed out, and they’re almost always correct. My parents were in the offices of the administrators arguing to change my schedule every year during the first week of school. Additionally, they constantly gave me other tools in the form of private math tutoring, piano lessons, and family reading so that I could get into the GATE program and later, advanced math and science, honors and AP classes.
Because of their intense involvement and dedication to my education, my parents helped make my transition to a competitive university academically easy to experience. The cultural aspect though, was a little more uncomfortable.
My university is in Atlanta, and the average student is very wealthy. They most likely went to private schools or affluent public schools that were almost all white or Asian, and from my perspective at least, are very sheltered. It’s uncomfortable to come from a situation so different, and be in a place where no one understands what your experiences have been. I’ve been in a social situation where someone will quote a joke about race from Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock and it feels weird. People will talk about how unlucky it is to be a white male and dismiss every female or minority for being let in on affirmative action. Many students believe that every single person who isn’t making six figures is just lazy. It’s hard to take these opinions seriously when those people have spent their entire lives in a wealthy suburb, and don’t have any grasp of inner city issues besides vague references on the nightly news. The civil rights movement and Southern guilt has erased direct comments about black people, but it seems like Asian, gay, and Jewish culture are fair game as long as you add “just kidding” to anything you feel like spewing.
So it’s weird. I spoke up my first couple of years and still do if it’s especially inappropriate, but for the most part I stopped after being called a ‘preachy Californian’ a few dozen times. I guess the lessons I learned from OUSD are that there’s a good education in the system if you’re willing to fight for one, and race relations may not be perfect in Oakland, but it doesn’t come close to the backwards views of rich kids in Atlanta.