A profound and unexpected correspondence

Life Academy students watching Dora Sorell. Photo courtesy of Annie Hatch.

Annie Hatch, a teacher at Life Academy, writes about a letter her class received from a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate. Above, the students listen to another speaker on the subject. – Katy

The letter arrived on a cold, rainy day in late January. I saw it sitting there, unobtrusively, in my box in Life Academy’s main office.

I examined the return address closely to make sure it was real. My heart started beating faster as I realized what had happened. My students had written letters to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel three months earlier, and he had written back.

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Academic might in OUSD

Oakland High School's Sea Lion Bowl team. Photo courtesy of Katie Noonan.

As she sent me the news of her students’ success in a day-long ocean science contest, Oakland High School teacher Katie Noonan invoked President Obama, who said in his recent State of the Union address: “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”

How could I argue with that?

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What it takes to help kids succeed: an Oakland teacher’s view

Randall Bustamante teaches 11th- and 12th-grade English at Mandela Law and Public Service Academy on the Fremont Federation Campus in East Oakland. The sixth-year teacher tells us about the power of listening to students, giving them hope, and not being afraid to “deal with the life that students face in and out of the classroom.” — Katy

Randall Bustamante in front of his portable classroom in East Oakland. Courtesy photo.

What does it take to help an Oakland youth succeed?

My answer to the question is rooted in the lives and struggles of my East Oakland students. First, we need adults who are willing to listen.

I listened my first year when one of my students said she wanted to graduate high school even though she had gotten pregnant at 15 and no one in her family cared whether she finished school or not. She graduated anyway. Continue Reading


Sweat equity in Oakland

This spring, as California schools face yet another round of budget reductions, some are giving this fundraising formula a try: Oakland pride + a fitness challenge + a way to help a school in need.

Sankofa Elementary School library, photo by Hasain RasheedDagmar Serota was in a meeting at the Sankofa Academy library when she noticed the bare shelves. The few books that were on them, she said, were old and outdated.

Like other schools in the district, the North Oakland elementary can’t afford a library clerk, let alone a librarian, to manage the collection and lend books to the children.

Then Serota thought about Urban Promise Academy, a middle school in Fruitvale, and the money it was able to raise last year through the Oakland Running Festival. She thought of all the excitement surrounding the marathon, and the fact that people seem to like running for a cause.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we have Run for Sankofa.

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Principal tells story of patience, persistence and love

At the Oakland school board meeting tonight, Oakland International High School Principal Carmelita Reyes shared a story about one of her students, Tjay, who is now 18. I thought it might resonate with some of you. So here it is, in my words:

Tjay was abandoned in Mongolia and sent to the United States when he was in eighth grade. He was alone in Oakland, without any family. An “unaccompanied minor.” The high school he went to didn’t know it. His first year, he earned a 0.05 GPA. “He cut class constantly and drove his teachers crazy,” Reyes said. In the spring of his freshman year, he decided he needed a change. He enrolled at Oakland International, a small school for recently arrived immigrant and refugee students.

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A tragic start to the new year

Chris Jones (courtesy photo)Chris Jones was all set to graduate from East Oakland School of the Arts and study music at Cal State East Bay. He had his graduation day marked on his cell phone calendar — along with a note about how happy he would be, at that moment.

But, as you might have heard, the talented 17-year-old was shot Friday evening outside his house, in front of his mother and two sisters. It was New Year’s Eve, and they were heading out to eat. Jones was Oakland’s last homicide victim of 2010. His older sister was injured in the shooting. You can read the initial news report here.

This evening, classmates and teachers from his high school are holding a vigil in the family’s home. Seventh Avenue Baptist Church (1740 Seventh Ave.) is having a musical celebration in his honor at 6 p.m. Sunday. The memorial service is at 11 a.m. Monday at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1909 Market St. in West Oakland.

There will be a story about Chris in Sunday’s Tribune.


Mack’s new student blog

Carmen Cummings, a Mack Smack writer at work. Photo courtesy of Pamela Tapia, EditorTraditional high school journalism may be fading away, but students in an after-school class at McClymonds High School in West Oakland are publishing news, reviews and slices of life in a new blog.

Mack Smack posts tend to be short and sweet — sometimes consisting of a couple of photos and a sentence or two. My favorite one is about 4-year-old Makhiya Jones-Robinson, who cheered on the football team with the Mack squad this fall.

The class is taught by Nadine Joseph, a writing coach for the Oaktown Teen Times, and the blog is edited by Pamela Tapia, a senior. As a new subscriber, I hope they keep it up. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for 2011.


An Oakland mom’s take on the dropout rate and Tech’s Paideia program

Kim Shipp, an OUSD parent, responds to a blog discussion on Oakland’s dropout rate and access to Oakland Tech’s Paideia program.

Paideia classroom at Oakland Tech. Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

In response to Oakland’s dropout rate and the increasing popularity of the Paideia program at Oakland Tech, topics recently posted on this blog, I decided to give my thoughts about both issues from a parent’s perspective. In my fifteen years of experience in Oakland schools with three children, I’ve spent two of those years in a private school setting and two of those years in Paideia with my oldest son.

It is no secret that Oakland has one of the highest dropout rates in California. The constant change of leadership over the past 13 years has had a negative impact on the school system. In Oakland’s case this includes nine leaders in the form of superintendents or state administrators; no organization can sustain itself in meeting its goals without stability in leadership. This permeates down to the school level.

Take Skyline High School for example. The graduating class of 2011 will have experienced a new principal in each of their four years of high school. My son spent his first year of high school at Skyline, the next two years at a private school and is now back at Skyline for his final year. This year, when he returned to Skyline, I immediately noticed some stark differences between private and public schools. In a nutshell, private schools care about what they are doing and public schools appear not to. These differences have little to do with money, but rather willingness on the part of adults and how one entity values education over the other.

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One district, different worlds

Oakland Technical High School. Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News GroupThe timing was pure coincidence: a story about the popularity of Oakland Technical High School and its humanities program and a report that 40 percent of Oakland’s public high school students drop out. The juxtaposition illustrates the wide range of experiences and opportunities in the city’s public schools.

At Tech, for instance, the estimated dropout rate (based on 2008-09 data) is 28 percent. That’s about the same percentage of 10th- through 12th-graders who are enrolled in Paideia, the school’s rigorous, college prep humanities program.

Here’s a video I took during a visit to the program this fall:

Oh, and if you’re looking for a copy of the print version, you might want to wait. There was a production error; we’ll be running the story again, in its entirety, tomorrow.