Nia Lozano, whose daughter attends Edna Brewer Middle School, tells us her impressions of a recent open house at Oakland Tech. (At 6:15 p.m. tonight, Skyline High School holds its event for prospective families.) -Katy
Last Wednesday I attended the Oakland Technical High School open house. This was unusual, as I normally find it taxing to come out to any extraneous school events and have missed my share of Halloween parades and school performances. What is even more significant is that my oldest child will not start high school until the year after next, and I generally consider myself to be a pretty low key parent. But I was not alone. I ran into half a dozen other seventh-grade families I know, checking out this Oakland public high school early.
The Oakland Tech building is architecturally striking, with huge columns and a white marble foyer, but what really struck me was the number of people swarming through the doors. We were directed to an auditorium that looked to hold about 500 people and was nearly packed!
The evening consisted of a series of six short periods in which you visit classrooms and learn about the various academic programs. Apparently, everyone had heard about the successes of Paideia and the Engineering Academy as there was a monumental rush to get into these classrooms. My daughter and I were turned away from the Paideia classroom twice, and when we finally got in, it was standing room only. I know of one family that attempted to get in three times, and never did. This is not to say that there was not significant interest in other academies and programs. Rooms were full with people standing around the back of every classroom I visited, including Health Academy and World Languages.
I noticed several other things as well. First, the people who attended the event appeared to be mostly Caucasian. Granted, this is only my impression of the identity of the crowd, but this was surprising given that the demographics of the school is listed at only 10 percent white on the Great Schools Web site.
Second, I personally recognized families from Hillcrest and Redwood Day, and overheard parents chatting about tours they had scheduled at College Preparatory School and Bishop O’Dowd. In my mind this places the crowd as solidly middle class or above. While the downturn in the economy may be driving some people to check out their public options, it was not clear to me that economics was the motivating factor for the turn out at Tech.
Third, and the point that requires the most of my processing powers, was the way I felt throughout the evening. Over and over, I had the mildly anxious sensation of having to compete. Sure there were moments of relief as I realized that kids could enjoy a rigorous, quality education all the way through high school in our public school system, but this was attenuated by that whispered assumption, and niggling worry that this opportunity was severely limited.
The most concrete way in which it is limited is space. Many families, including mine, live outside the Tech High boundaries and would have to rely on the lottery or Options program to gain admission. With all the popularity of this school, that may be challenging.
There is yet another way that this opportunity is limited. In 10th grade, each student must be recommended and/or apply for entrance to the elite academies or programs. On the surface that sounds reasonable enough, but this is the point where I stop operating on reason and sink into that heart-racing, gut-twisting realm of emotion.
Sitting in the Paideia classroom, I was actually quite daunted by the incredibly high academic level at which the children must work. When the staff dropped a few choice names like ‘Machiavelli’ and mentioned the ‘Socratic method’ my smile tightened. I had immediate questions of whether my bright child was really bright enough to perform at that level, and a certainty that I could not have done it at that age. My mind whirled with crazed plans for my child to start reading novels in a foreign language, and assigning reading in The New York Times so she could learn the names of the politicos taught in history class.
It has taken a few days for me to add these plans to the long list of things that I have considered meritorious, but will probably never do, and have resumed my ‘good enough mother’ and ‘good enough child’ attitude. In this time, I have reflected back on the unpredictable and circuitous route that I traveled in my own education and personal development. I come away from this experience with the knowledge that there are great opportunities out there, including some extraordinary programs at Oakland Tech, but also with the realization that our children will make their own opportunities in their own due time.