23

Titan Pride

Eugene W. Lau is a senior at Oakland’s Skyline High School. -Katy

Skyline High School recently had a unsuccessful after-school rally. It was a repeat of the previous years where misbehavior left seats bare. Last year, thrown water bottles ended the fun, and this year it was from unwelcome guests making an appearance.

However the bigger problem may not even be a short end to a rally of wide mouth cheerers amidst a crowd of dull, emotionless Skyline students; the problem is with school spirit.

Students get a ride, take a bus, or walk up a hill to a school they feel no real pride for. We hear of the university cheers: Go Bears, Go Bruins, Go Aggies. There really is no “Go Titans,” save for the end of the daily announcements over the PA system. The ending cry of dying spirit is only anticipated because it is the end of the PA’s assault on the ears.

Before school starts and during lunch, most students find their respective cliques and clubs and chat for about 30 minutes. Energetic, culture-specific music is blasted from two speakers from a student DJ who plays to schools of fish who speak over the music to their friends. A select few students dance to Jackson and West as students see the dancing as an embarrassment or to others something out of their culture.

It is normal Skyline fare until a fight breaks out and students rush to gawk like a wave of birds, beautifully in sync. Three to five minutes later, after campus security intervenes, the students return to their cliques. The lunch time excitement is back to dull, much like the students’ distaste of the slow week at Skyline High School.

The only school spirit that can be attributed to the students is each one’s own bitter distaste to how the school has changed. From seniors finding the freshman troublesome, to the sophomores’ new-found arrogance for not being the smallest, the only thing that the students can rally behind is their age. During the rally, the seniors shouted loudest and the decibels decreased as the microphone signaled the other classes to cry back.

The disconnect of the students from each other in cliques and class attribute to the lack of unified Skyline Pride. When one sees the Spartan image brandishing a sword and shield, one may remember history class or Odyssey, and Skyline students think of the same. The mascot of war and power may be a call back for the sports teams to remember, but even with a victorious football game, the halls aren’t echoing victory. They are echoing footsteps and clangs of lockers being shut. After P.E., students throw their uniforms back into their cubbies, and the embroidered mascot of Skyline Pride is shoved back into a tiny, cramped, and locked prison, silent.

Sure, Skyline High School has a problem concerning its status and accreditation as a learning institution. But the school shouldn’t let the morale of the place fall by the wayside even when it’s easy to do, even when an after school rally goes to ruins as students crowd outside an empty stadium of silent posters and a static prone audio system.

ewlau

  • Sue

    I think this was Thursday evening. Our family was driving past packs of students wander in and out of traffic, a firetruck, and several empty cars (stalled? vanalized? just why were they blocking access?) to get to the school’s open house.

    It was disturbing. Especially since we had another open house to attend at the same time at our younger son’s middle school. I didn’t like leaving my husband and older son in all that chaos and confusion. And I was still nervous when my younger boy and I were driving back onto the campus to pick up the rest of the family.

    We’ve been mostly very happy to have our older son in the ASIP program at Skyline. But since younger son, a 7th grader, isn’t a Spec. Ed. student, when the time comes we might decide that a different high school would be a better place for him.

    I guess the current students who caused, or contributed to the situation, didn’t realize that they made their campus look like a bad place to be. And that families who were getting their first impression of Skyline that evening might get a very poor impression – and might not want their kids going to school there.

    It takes only a few minutes and a few misbehaving students to ruin a reputation. But it can take years, sometimes decades, to restore that reputation.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Well, Sue, Eugene is implying here that non-Skyline students caused the problem. Not sure if that was true, but I wouldn’t judge the school by an after-school rally with some minor crowd control issues. No need to blow this out of proportion.

    However, Skyline certainly has many ways it could improve academically and otherwise. The good news is the staff seem to really understand that and want to improve the school. Unfortunately, we are on our fifth principal in as many years, and the current one, who seems solid, is only interim for a year (hired out of retirement). Hard to get much momentum when the administration is just trying to find it’s feet every year…

    Sigh.

  • Sara

    Sue, Eugene is talking about more than just a problem at a rally – he is decrying the “disconnect of the students from each other in cliques and class”. It sounds like a place where students bide their time, waiting to escape. I often hear people say they sent their child to Skyline instead of private school, even if they could afford private school and the kid could get in, because they want their children to go to a “diversified school”. I don’t know if they mean with children of other skin colors (which they can get at Bishop O’Dowd)or with badly behaved children (which they can get at Skyline) but it sounds as if there isn’t much mix up of race and economic class. I don’t think that Skyline is going to get their spirit back. You have to give the kids something to be proud of and I don’t think they have anything at the moment.

  • Sue

    Thank you Skyline Teacher, and Sara.

    You both seem to be assuming that my family is new to Skyline this year. We aren’t. As I said above, “We’ve been mostly very happy to have our older son in the ASIP program at Skyline.”

    Older son is a senior this year, and has had wonderful support from his Spec. Ed. team and from his general ed teachers, as well as from other students for the last three years.

    I’m painfully aware of the turnover of principals (I could tell a few ugly stories about run-ins with one in particular) but I think that it’s to the teachers’ credit that they’ve done as well as they have for their students in spite of the lack of consistent, experienced administration.

    Skyline has a lot to be proud of in my opinion. I was disturbed by the events last Thursday *because* of my high opinion of the school – what we were seeing as we drove on campus was completely unexpected, and that made it more unsettling.

    After reading Eugene’s post, I thought about how that situation must have looked and felt to parents/families of students who are new at Skyline this year.

    Yes, I put those thoughts into personal terms about my family, and our future decisions. I don’t know, at this time, where our 7th grader will be in two years. I think he’d like Skyline and do well there. But it’s not the only good high school in Oakland, and I feel that idea is better expressed in a personal way.

    Anyway, older son likes football, but I’m sorry to say we only made it to one Titans game last year. This year I’d like to get him to more of the games (it’s fun!) and we’d both like it even better if we get to see our team win. How’s that for school spirit?

    Please look us up in the stands if you get to a game, and we can talk about it some more. I’ll be the slim, 50-y-o mom with a bemused look on her face, watching the tall autistic boy at the edge of the stands, as close as he can get to the field – the one who’s alternating between his favorite “Star Wars” dialog (***complete with imaginary light-saber battles***) and cheering for the action on the field.

    ***When I said I had a high opinion of Skyline, one of the reasons is the tolerance and acceptance other students have consistently shown for my son and his unusual behaviors.***

  • Oakland Teacher

    Sue,

    Welcome back to the blog. I have missed your postings; they are always thoughtful and reflective!

    I am a Skyline parent as well, and had the same sinking feeling when I drove up last week for back-to-school night. I thought of how new families would interpret the large group of kids and how some families would feel that there were safety issues. I did not personally feel concerned about driving between all the kids, but wished they had presented a better face to the community.

    I do want to say that I was (again) most impressed with Ms Hansen, and the fact that she immediately brought the rally up, and said parents should be asking questions. It is clear that she brings a great deal of perspective to her position – from teaching at Skyline 40 years ago, to raising her own kids in Oakland, to teaching in another district and leading a successful school there as well. I really wish that the board would ask (bribe) her to stay another year so that Skyline teachers could have some type of continuity to help iron out some wrinkles.

  • Karen

    Eugene-You are the editor of an award winning school newspaper. Last year you competed as part of an accomplished Skyline Debate team. Did you happen to attend West Side Story, in which students not only sang and danced with distinction, but played the music, something rarely attempted by high school bands?

    It seems to me that to be a teenager is to be alienated. That said, my two Skyline students are a lot less alienated than I was when I attended an elite public high school in New York City. My kids do not want to miss a day. They have plenty of school pride. Mixing of races and ethnicities does occur at Skyline, although at Skyline, as in many schools, like seeks out like. It is generally a harmonious campus. The teachers are good.

    Skyline has suffered some neglect, and is the lowest per pupil funded high school in Oakland. This year, however, we have an excellent interim principal, a solid administrative team and a commitment from the district to conduct a timely search (for the first time) for a permanent principal.

    Go Titans.

  • Jeff

    I am a student at Skyline, and I have witnessed many instances of Titan Pride. At last year’s homecoming football game, sheer energy from the stands coerced the Titans into a victory over the formidable McClymonds. Before last year’s Oakland Holiday Parade, our marching band (the only one in Oakland!) rehearsed tirelessly, a measure of our school spirit. This is a labor of love. I am just an underclassman, yet I am proud to call myself a Titan.

  • Sydney

    My name is Sydney Paderna, I am a student and Junior Class President, part of leadership class. As leadership class we try so hard for the students to participate and want to be part of Titan Pride, it is always a disappointment to see our hard work be disrupted by other students (apparently not from our school). Leadership has tried to compromise in many ways to be able to ensure a safe environment that we can control. We did not expect other students to come.

    To the parents, I am deeply sorry for the mishap that you had to encounter coming up here. Our true intentions was that it would be convenient for the students to be there when the parents arrived for Back to School Night.

    Our school has been through a lot in general, Leadership has a lack of funds so it is going to be hard for us to provide events for the schools. Not all students and parents may have the same opinion, but remember you have to look at it from all sides. We are trying our best to bring back school pride, but it can’t happen all at once. Our school is very diverse and that is why I love my school, for having so many clubs makes our school very unique and bring together new students.

    I just wanted everyone to know what really is happening and not jump to conclusions, this article really seemed like it was complaining and just talking, not doing any firm action to fix this problem. It is all harder then you think.

    Thank you for understanding!

    Sydney

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com Sharon

    Readers: How about coming up to Skyline to see something at the school for yourself?

    Thursday, October 1 at 7 PM is our annual Performing Arts Preview Night. This is a FREE event.

    Students will present a sampling of their new work. I’m talking about students in Marching Band, Jazz Band, Dance, Drama and Choir.

    Skyline has four full-time performing arts teachers who EACH teach more than 120 students/day, five days/week. That’s about 500 kids who receive top-notch arts instruction. Of course, not everyone will perform on Preview Night because they aren’t at that level, yet. As the year progresses, all students will have the opportunity to perform.

    So what do you say? The show will be in the 975-seat, renovated Farnsworth Theater on campus at 12250 Skyline Blvd. Did I already mention that it’s FREE?

    Please come find out — for yourself — what the spirit of Skyline is like.

    PS: Nextset, if you read this in time, please come and introduce yourself to me. I’ll be there working as a parent volunteer and you won’t be able to miss me.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com Sharon

    Sara: You, especially, need to come up to Skyline tomorrow night to check out the racial mix of kids in performing arts, since you are under such a strong impression that there’s no mixing at the school.

    In perhaps a semi-reasonable response to Eugene’s dreary posting (probably written at a low point in his week), you write, “It sounds like a place where students bide their time, waiting to escape.” You also say, “…it sounds as if there isn’t much mix up of race and economic class.”

    “It sounds…,” “It sounds…,” “It sounds…”

    Well, if you go to Preview Night, your current views are going to be challenged. I hope you can go, because it’s a shame for anyone to hold onto such extreme black-and-white opinions based on such little knowledge.

    We public school parents in Oakland constantly deal with negative public school attitudes from others because most of us at some point, socialize with people who know nothing about ,and are afraid of, the public schools. So by the time we’re high school parents (= old), we’ve been dealing with adults who hold that mentality — at our workplaces, at our kid’s extracurricular activities, and at social gatherings — for years. Who gets the one-up on the other wins. [My kids are doing great, by the way, and we haven't spent a cent on private school. I win.]

    By the way, cliques of every single kind are present at every high school in this country that I’ve ever seen or heard about — private or public, urban or suburban. Cliques divided by racial identity and income levels are not unique to Skyline.

    How many adults fully mix in social circles with people who are very different from themselves? To gravitate toward one’s own social group is human nature.

    By the way, EVERY DAY of the school year, the performing arts students are learning how to work with each other and to be friends with each other by doing something productive and enjoyable at school together. Still, when the day is done, they gravitate to the types of people they are most comfortable with in their personal lives as their friends. Just like everyone else.

  • oakland mom

    Thanks for the very interesting posts. I’ve heard great things about the performing arts academy at Skyline, but I have two Oakland public school middle school students who are not interested in doing performing arts in high school. I’d love to hear from Skyline parents and students about academics at Skyline — I think most prospective parents are more interested in a public high school that has excellent academics. Thanks.

  • Sue

    Since my Skyline student is in Spec. Ed., I’m not able to give a definitive answer about academics.

    I just want to point out that this blog had three Skyline students as guest bloggers last year. All were college bound. At least one of them wrote about taking AP classes. Postings from all of them were well-written and informative, and I think showed the quality of education that’s available at Skyline for students that are pursuing it.

    My family also got our annual program improvement letter from the district yesterday. Yes, Skyline is in a 5th year of PI. My understanding is that not all subgroups are making “Adequate Yearly Progress”. I always appreciate the irony of that letter – they offer a list of high schools in the district that aren’t in PI status, along with each schools API scores. But all those listed schools have significantly lower scores (hundreds of points lower in some cases) than Skyline.

    The ultimate irony is that my son’s annual testing scores are always very low, and the disabled students’ aggregate scores are probably contributing to Skyline’s PI status. He’s actually doing incredibly well (GPA for his junior year was 3.67) but he can’t take tests successfuly because of his disability. We were very concerned that he might not graduate this year because of the CAHSEE requirement. But the state legislature was good enough to remove that requirement for the disabled due to the budget crisis, and now we have no doubts that our boy will be getting his diploma in June.

    Anyway, teachers at Skyline will pull out all the stops to work with students who want to be educated, (Skyline teachers *rock* in my opinion). AP classes are available for those students who want them. And Skyline has the highest API numbers of all the high schools in OUSD. So, my opinion is that Skyline offers excellent academics.

    (I did hear something recently about Oakland Tech gaining pretty significantly on Skyline, though, and maybe becoming the new go-to school in the district.)

  • Sara

    Sharon, all my kids went through the Oakland public schools and I used to substitute at Skyline but stopped going there when the behavior of the students in the classrooms except for AP and Special Ed was so bad I quit going there. I go to all the other Oakland high schools though. So don’t tell me I know nothing about it. I am sure I spent a lot more time there then you did as I was in several long term positions there.

  • Oakland Teacher

    To Oakland Mom,

    You ask about the academics available at Skylin. I can only speak from the perspective of having kids who were willing to work and take the hard classes. My oldest is now a senior in college. He took 5 AP classes in both his junior and senior years. He received 5′s in 4 of his AP exams each year.

    Regardless of what you may say about grades (grade inflation, etc…), his AP scores indicated there was real teaching going on in those classes. His SAT scores were extremely high. He got in to every California school he applied to (including academic schoarships to UCLA and Cal). He is completing his degree without debt because of a full scholarship (along with many of his Skyline classmates at other fine colleges). He was well prepared for a rigorous college program. The amount of work and learning ix exponential compared to my high school experience (suburban – everyone went to that school who lived in the district).

    Colleges love Skyline students and it is for a good reason.

    Re posting #13 – Sara, you have no idea of how many hours Sharon has spent there. As a long time parent there (and an OUSD employee), I would bet she has spent far more time than any sub. Your comment was uncalled for and mean-spirited.

  • Gordon Danning

    Oakland Mom: With all due respect to Skyline, the best academics in the district are almost certainly at Tech – the Engineering Academy and the Paedeia Program in particular. Paedeia in particular is a very challenging program. Just check out the ratings of the teachers in those program on http://www.ratemyteachers.com

    You might also want to look at the Environmental Scinece Academy at Oakland High (where I teach).

    And, in comparing school test scores, student demographics are important, since they skew overall results. Here are some stats from http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us: Skyline: 11% white, 51% low income (ie, get free/reduced price lunches), 9% English Language Learners; Tech: 6% white, 9% English Language Learners, 48% low income; Oakland High: 1.4% white, 19% English Language Learners; 70% low income

  • Karen

    Friendly competition among our public high schools is a good thing. In addition to Performing Arts, my experience is that, as reputed, Skyline is strong in Math and Science. As I’ve said above, AP World History and Mandarin are top notch. I have heard that the AP offerings in all courses are good. Both Oakland Tech and Skyline have a lot of exciting things going on. I am not too familiar with Oakland High. I do know that the charter high schools are more generously funded. Skyline is funded at the lowest high school level in OUSD, Tech the second lowest. Recently Tech has had more buzz, and has been lucky to have the same principal for many years. Skyline is a bit of a sleeping giant. The dedicated teachers and the students are there, however, and they are wide awake.

  • Gordon Danning
  • Skyline Teacher

    Haha, a sub saying they know Skyline better than Sharon Higgins! That cracks me up. Too funny. LOL, etc.

    Oh, and Sara, I just had a sub tell me that TECH is the school he’ll never sub at again, whereas he wants to spend his days at Skyline — it’s called anecdotal, subjective experiences!

    Listen, this little patriotic war at the end of this thread between Tech and Skyline aside, both schools suffer from a MASSIVE divide within the school, and it is not related to “mixing” racially/ethnically — it is academic. Go to the dances, you’ll see everybody partying harmoniously; it is in the unseen FUTURE the kids face which is truly stark and disturbing.

    Both schools have their top-tier kids — 10%? 20%? — almost entirely middle class or immigrants from educated families, who smartly take advantage of your Paideia programs and your advanced theater and your AP Physics, then launch out into the world to the top colleges. These highly-motivated kids are overbooked with all the great opportunities of the big comprehensive high schools, even dominating sports — since sports demands you come to practice every day.
    [If you came to preview night, as per Sharon's invite, these are the kids you saw.]

    Both schools also have a group of rough and woefully undersupported and poorly educated kids, the vast majority of whom will not walk the stage — both schools lose about 40% of their freshmen before graduation day, either to the streets or continuation schools, etc. Some of these kids spend two years at the big school, floating along, cutting, failing every class, before they get DHP’d or pulled out by a parent, foster parent or parole officer. [If you saw a bunch of boys shoving past a security guard at the back to school rally, these were the kids you saw].

    Perhaps most problematic are the kids in the middle, many of them shy and quiet, who are not behavior problems but never do homework, try to hide in class and are REALLY unprepared for college even though they are on track to graduate. I believe many of these kids are the ones who land in Laney or DVC with little idea of what to do next; they’re also the kids who we should be doing a lot more to reach, IMHO. [You don't see these kids.] In many classes, these kids are the vast majority at Skyline — not on the fast track to jail, per se, but it is unclear what they hell they want to be and how they can get there.

    This pattern is not unique to Oakland. Berkeley High is the same, except the top tier is roughly twice as large.

    Another way of looking at these groups would be attitude:

    – One group can learn from anybody, even a textbook.
    – One group can learn from almost nobody because it is so angry and hurt.
    – One group is way behind and extremely passive, which makes strong curriculum and active teacher engagement necessary.

    To be honest, it is these latter two groups for whom small and/or charter schools make more sense — they are falling through the cracks at an alarming rate at all big urban high schools in California.

    Of course, these are all gross generalizations for the purpose of discussion.

  • Caroline

    Charter schools are not enrolling these students:

    One group can learn from almost nobody because it is so angry and hurt.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Caroline, I appreaciate your point, but their are exceptions. The charter school Oasis was enrolling basically ONLY these kinds of students, that was its mission, and the district yanked their charter because they said they weren’t paying enough attention to standards, etc.

    A charter can be anything the founders and staff and community want it to be — or up to a certain point, apparently.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Haha, going too fast: “I APPRECIATE your point, but THERE are exceptions.”

  • Ms. T

    As a former Titan (Class of 1996) and someone who has worked at Skyline over the past 3 years there is a definite lack of school spirit but not amongst the entire student body. When I was a student at Skyline we could not wait for rallies, football games and dances because that was the time that we let our Titan pride shine. I feel that Skyline has to get back to the little things that made us have pride in our school. Pom-poms, t-shirts, sun visors.. were all items that we were proud to wave at the games. I still have my Titan gear from way back when.

    On another note, to invoke pride in students they need to feel that they have something to be proud about. They need a sense of direction. If all students felt that they were heading towards a future of success be it college, the workforce, etc. then they could have pride in a school that believed in them. You must encourage students to achieve at their highest potential and then they can begin to take pride in the system that is supporting them.

    Just some thoughts from a Skyline Alum that moved on to college, returned to plant that seed of success in Skyline students and is now mastering my craft by pursuing my postbaccaulaureate degree with the hopes of returning once again to continue promoting that TITAN pride…. S-K..S-K-Y..S-K-Y-L-I-N-E.. Skyline… Titans!

  • Skyline Teacher

    I appreciate your enthusisasm, Ms. T!

    Myself, I never liked that rah-rah stuff as a student. (And I think Eugene would probably complain about THAT if it was more prevalent here.)

    Remember that with a truly diverse student body, it is somewhat natural to find less enthusiasm for American-y traditions like pep rallies and football. Why should a goth kid into reading novels and talking about movies feel obligated to scream his loyalty to his grade level in a packed gym? How a recent immigrant who lives and breathes for Guadalara FC, a futbol team, and doesn’t even know the rules of the American game?

    Multiculturalism means letting people figure out what they want to embrace and what they want to keep from home. No need to assimilate everybody into an Archie Comic.