The vaccination debate

photo from Inferis’ photo stream at flickr.com/creativecommons

More California families are choosing not to have their kids vaccinated, a trend that is worrying public health officials, according to a Los Angeles Times report this weekend:

A rising number of California parents are choosing to send their children to kindergarten without routine vaccinations, putting hundreds of elementary schools in the state at risk for outbreaks of childhood diseases eradicated in the U.S. years ago.

Exemptions from vaccines — which allow children to enroll in public and private schools without state-mandated shots — have more than doubled since 1997, according to a Times analysis of state data obtained last week. Continue Reading


A little holiday lead detection

Wondering if the gifts you’ve bought this year are free of lead and other hazardous elements? The Center for Environmental Health is doing free and instant “Safe Santa” tests in Oakland and Berkeley this week and next.

If you’re at all curious about what their handy “x-ray fluorescence analyzers” might detect, you can find locations and dates here.

image from karynsig’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons


Are you fitter than a 5th grader?

Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda of P.E. at Cleveland Elementary School, 2007

Each spring, kids in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades have their weight, flexibility, speed, aerobic capacity and strength measured for the state’s physical fitness test. (Does anyone know if they still do the flexed-arm hang? That was always a personal favorite.)

Today, we see how they did. In the chart below, you’ll find two columns of figures: the first shows the percentage of kids in each grade deemed aerobically fit (by local school district), and the second is the percentage who have a healthy body composition, according to state standards.


Alameda students
5th grade: 76%     79%
7th grade: 81%     83% Continue Reading


Early morning skate

Three mornings a week before school, when it’s barely light outside, more than 100 teenagers are lacing up their skates at the Oakland Ice Center. They come of their own free will, even if it means showing up at 6:45 a.m. — more than an hour before they need to be at Oakland Technical High School.

photo by Laura A. Oda/Staff

Kelley Haskins, a physical education teacher at Oakland Tech, started the before-school P.E. class this fall. She said she worried that she wouldn’t meet the 35-student minimum, but her roster now includes 115 names.

I visited the class this morning with a photographer, and watched the teenagers swizzle, slide and speed around the rink. Continue Reading


Some girls are mean (and violent). Anything new?

Teresa Williams, the principal of Oakland’s Bret Harte Middle School, said it seems like a brochure for some “Mean Girls” conference crosses her desk at least once a week.

Williams hasn’t attended such a seminar yet, but her school experienced a real-life example Nov. 7, when a seventh-grader was jumped at lunchtime by another girl — and then by two or three of that young woman’s friends. 

The 13-year-old girl, who had transferred to Bret Harte from another Oakland school this year, suffered head, neck and arm injuries and spent at least two nights at Children’s Hospital Oakland. She did not belong to a gang, Williams said, but one of the suspected attackers claimed there was a Norteño/Sureño conflict at play.

The girl who apparently instigated the beating is awaiting an expulsion hearing and “most likely will not return,” Williams said.  (That girl and the victim are Latina, and the others are African-American, according to the principal.)

The victim probably won’t return to Bret Harte, either — or any other Oakland school, for that matter. Her family apparently plans to move to Guatemala.

“That’s what’s sad,” Williams said, adding that many of her students were upset by what happened. Continue Reading


Smoking: like drinking ice water?

A high school student featured this morning on National Public Radio said she started smoking cigarettes at age 13 (and recently quit, after much difficulty). Interestingly enough, she compared the initial experience to the feeling of re-hydration.

“They make you feel better when you first start,” Kindra Tanner told the reporter. “You feel good — refreshed, like drinking water after running all day.”

Interesting. I thought it was mostly about image Continue Reading


Ten weeks in!

Bryant Phan, a student-blogger, is in 10th grade at Life Academy. -Katy

Hello. This is my first time blogging since the school year has started. Is it just me or is this school year passing by extremely fast? We’ll be getting our second report cards in about three weeks or so.

Recently, I transferred from MetWest to LIFE Academy. So far, I’ve been feeling pretty good about the school. However, I really miss the sense of community at MetWest.

It is also pretty ridiculous that we have to share a building with two middle schools. Because of this, we don’t have off campus lunch and the school lunches aren’t necessarily very delicious. I’ve tried to bring my own lunch but I get tired of eating sandwiches everyday. The school cafeteria has promised to serve better lunch but has not fulfilled their promise. I don’t know if it’s because LIFE Academy is on a middle school campus or because LIFE Academy is a public high school in Oakland, but the lunch that is being served isn’t very nutritious. What do you think is the best way to put pressure on the school so they will serve better food?

Alright, back to the positive side of school. Continue Reading


Hey, that’s my Honeydew melon!

Two years ago, there were few, if any, salad bars in Oakland school cafeterias. Now, there are 38 of them. And because of a $16,700 state agriculture grant, five more school cafeterias — serving kids from 10 schools — will offer fresh fruits and veggies every day.

photo of Manzanita Community School cafeteria by Laura A. Oda, Oakland Tribune

The latest round of salad bars will materialize on the Jefferson campus (Jefferson Elementary, Learning Without Limits, and Global Families); Brookfield Elementary; Melrose Leadership Academy; Continue Reading