In Oakland schools, free breakfast for all

flamin hot cheetos. image from the 3768 cups of water's site at flickr.com/creativecommonsTeachers: On a given day, how many of your students come to your classroom with a stomach full of soda and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?  (I’m afraid to try these things; I hear they have a special addictive quality, but don’t really want to find out.)

Oakland Unified’s nutrition services director, Jennifer LeBarre, hopes to cut into Frito Lay’s breakfast market by offering a square meal to all kids for free, regardless of family income. Last school year, about 40 schools did this; now, kids at 94 schools — all of the ones that provide breakfast, which is most of them — have access to free breakfast.

On the menu this morning: for elementary school kids, cold cereal with graham crackers, scrambled eggs with toast, orange juice and milk. Middle and high school students had the option of starting their day with cereal, hot grits, cinnamon toast with syrup or a bagel with cream cheese.

The cost: Continue Reading


Want to see healthier food in schools? Oakland’s “State of the Plate” is Thursday

A parent-run produce stand at Glenview ElementaryIt’s one thing to gripe about greasy, processed school lunch food and its contribution to our nation’s obesity rate. It’s another to push for a system that will produce healthy, fresh meals for kids.

The Oakland School Food Alliance — a group of families, local organizations and community members that I wrote about last fall — is trying to do just that. If you’re curious about the latest developments in OUSD or have some ideas to share, the alliance is holding a “State of the Plate” discussion Thursday afternoon with Jennifer LeBarre, head of the school district’s nutrition services department.

It’ll be at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Metwest High School, 314 E. 10th St. 

Continue Reading


For hungry kids, teachers chip in for takeout

school lunch trays. image from back_garage's photostream at flickr.com/creativecommonsWe all know how common it is for teachers to dip into their own bank accounts to buy classroom supplies. How about buying takeout for kids when the school lunch isn’t served?

A group of Tilden Elementary School teachers wrote to tell me about a memo they received this morning (dated yesterday) from their principal, informing them that “as of today,” lunch would not be served to the preschoolers.

It turns out that the newly enforced lunch policy, which came from the district (via state guidelines), is only supposed to apply to preschool children whose program lasts less than two hours. But some of the children in Tilden’s Pre-K program are there for five hours, so today — amid the confusion and apparent lack of notice — the teachers chipped in for a pizza.

Here’s the memo:

Continue Reading


School gardens: one controversy I never thought would see the light of day

school garden at Claremont
Photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

Some light reading for the rainy weekend:

Writer Caitlin Flanagan thinks school gardens are a rotten idea, especially for children of migrant workers. She blasts the Berkeley schools’ initiative in an essay titled “Cultivating Failure” in the January/February issue of the Atlantic.

Andrew Leonard, a Berkeley parent who helped build the garden at Malcolm X School, responded to Flanagan’s essay in a piece for Salon.com. Continue Reading


Oakland’s chilly classrooms

UPDATE: Craig Gordon says the heat is back on in his classroom.

thermometerIt’s cold outside — and, for a number of Oakland kids and teachers, it’s cold inside, too.

As the frost advisory continues, some Oakland schools or classrooms are without heat. “My kids are sitting here with blue lips, shivering, freezing,” said Corrin Haskell, a fourth-grade teacher at Brookfield Elementary School.

Craig Gordon, a teacher at Paul Robeson High School (Fremont campus) in East Oakland, sent me some photos of his room, including one of a student warming his hands over an LED projector.

“Don’t be fooled by the toasty 58 degrees showing on my thermometer,” he wrote. “My room is several degrees warmer than most, because I have lots of windows collecting southern and western rays.”


Continue Reading


Oakland’s school food movement: What will it take to fix a broken system?

THURSDAY UPDATE: I meant to link to a recent blog post on the issue of school food in Oakland: “The Schoolyard Foodie: Props to the People.” The author, Melrose Leadership Academy teacher Gehry Oatey, writes for Teacher, Revised.

photo of Glenview Elementary School students by D. Ross Cameron/Staff.

A story in tomorrow’s Tribune looks at grassroots efforts to give every child access to fresh produce and a healthy meal, as well as the Oakland school district’s progress on that front. What are your ideas?


Sports4Kids spat raises larger questions: What is “necessary” for schools, and who gets to say?

Sports4Kids at Manzanita Community School/Tribune file photo

From a lively, uh, discussion tonight between Oakland school board member Alice Spearman and Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam about Sports4Kids (now Playworks) emerged the beginnings of a philosophical debate about what is “necessary” for Oakland schools in the context of severe and ongoing budget cuts.

Earlier in the evening, the board had discussed the superintendent’s proposed priorities — a set of goals that will theoretically help the board and staff know where to cut $27 million-plus from next year’s budget.

Spearman had also singled out, from a long list of vendors, a few Sports4Kids contracts with individual schools. What she didn’t realize was that in June, before the school district emerged (mostly) from state control, State Administrator Vince Matthews approved a $727,500 master contract with the organization, which runs games and activities at 25 elementary schools in the mornings, after school and at recess.

According to Cindy Wilson, Playworks’ communications director, the organization charges each school a flat fee of $23,500. Since the number of participating Oakland schools went from 40 to 25 this year, Playworks will receive $587,500, less than the total amount allowed under the master contract.

(Side note: An old Sports4Kids Web page lists Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith Continue Reading


Kids: Just ONE strawberry each, please!

Mission figs, anyone? Every Tuesday afternoon, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Glenview Elementary School kids crowd a tent with locally grown fruits and vegetables. (These lovely photos from parent Joseph Bansuelo are so last week, but we took some new ones during a visit today.) The PTA started the new produce stand, which is run by volunteers, including Carol Kuelper, a woman from the neighborhood who doesn’t even have kids at the school.

I saw one little boy tear into a red cabbage like an apple (makes for a great photo, but a rather challenging interview), and another buying greens that his mom requested for dinner tonight. He told me that grapes were so sweet — and cheap — that he ate them “for fun.”

About 10 more of these weekly farmers markets are opening at Oakland schools this year, thanks in part to funding from the East Bay Asian Youth Center. What kind of nutritional progress are you seeing at your school (and at your school’s cafeteria)? Are you noticing an improvement? Tell us about it.

Some more of Bansuelo’s photos of Glenview’s stand below: Continue Reading


A long view of public education in Oakland

Steven Weinberg retired in June after a long career in Oakland’s public middle schools. His wife, Georganne Ferrier, also retired from OUSD; she taught English at Oakland High. (True story: They met in 1967, on their first day of student-teaching at McClymonds). Weinberg will share his insights with us, from time to time, as a guest blogger. -Katy

When someone retires after 40 years of teaching, it is only fair to expect that he be able to offer some insight into the changes that have taken place over that period of time. There seems to be a general feeling that things are getting worse in American schools, but when I look back at the really dramatic changes in the past 40 years, all of them have been positive:

When I began teaching in 1969, there were students in my regular eighth grade English classes who could literally (or illiterately) not read 10 words. These were students who entered school before President Johnson’s War on Poverty had set up the Head Start Preschool program and Title One funding for schools in low income areas. Although we still have many students who read far below grade level, the complete non-reader has disappeared from regular classes at the schools where I have worked.

In my early years of teaching, I would have to send students on a daily basis to the nurse’s office to have essence of cloves put on their gums to give them relief from untreated dental problems. Between the fluoridation of water and the Medi-Cal dental program, these problems no longer interfere with students’ abilities to learn.

In the late 60s and early 70s, our school had to call ambulances regularly (certainly several times a month) to take students to the hospital for drug overdoses. Continue Reading


Swine flu at school? Probably no need to close

Students with flu symptoms should be immediately sent home from school — or sent to a designated room until they’re picked up.

But except for some rare exceptions, schools should remain open, federal health officials said today. You can read a story about the latest guidelines here.

The Contra Costa health department is setting up vaccination clinics at more than 40 schools this fall for the seasonal flu and, most likely, the swine flu.

Do you think Alameda County should do the same? Continue Reading