Tragedy on the way to school

I have some sad news to report today: An 11-year-old girl, Alana Williams, was hit by a car and killed this morning near Frick Middle School in East Oakland.

Alana was in a crosswalk at the busy four-way stop at 64th Avenue and Foothill Boulevard when it happened. The driver fled the scene. Police say the car went around a bus that was stopped along Foothill Boulevard and made a right turn onto 64th Avenue, where the girl was walking. Continue Reading


Keeping the streets safe, at least for the walk to school

Photo by Laura A. Oda/Tribune Staff

This morning, I saw a School Safety Patrol in action outside the Manzanita elementary school campus in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. The safety operation seemed to be working well enough, but it wasn’t until the volunteers had packed up and left the intersection (after the morning rush) that I realized how important their presence was.

Tony Smith recently said that when he visit schools, he sometimes takes a lap around Continue Reading


Gang fight by Oakland school averted

If you drove by the Fremont high school campus today and saw a gazillion squad cars, it’s because police were tipped off to a big gang fight that was supposed to go down near Foothill Boulevard and 46th Avenue at lunchtime.

Apparently, because of the police presence, the fight didn’t happen (then and there, anyway). I’m told the school district’s police department — which has grown to about 12 or 13 officers, and is now headed by Chief Pete Sarna — heard about it and brought in OPD.

Here’s how district spokesman Troy Flint described the incident, in an email: Continue Reading


Fifth-grade realities

file photo by Karen T. Borchers/San Jose Mercury News

Once again, health professionals and researchers asked Oakland’s fifth-graders whether they felt safe at school, if they drank alcohol or used drugs, and whether they had caring relationships and other important things going for them at school and at home.

The findings of the 2008-09 California Healthy Kids Survey included the responses of 77 percent of the school district’s fifth-grade class. While the results haven’t changed much since 2006-07 — or maybe because they haven’t —  they are definitely worth noting.

Here’s what never ceases to alarm me, even though I’ve seen these stats before: About 5 percent of the children surveyed — mind you, they are 10 and 11, for the most part — said they had brought a gun or a knife to their elementary school in the past year. And that about 33 percent of the students, one in three kids, said they had seen a gun or knife at school in the past year.

Not surprisingly, just 46 percent said they felt safe at their school all of the time.

But it’s not just Oakland. Continue Reading


New police chief of Oakland schools

Peter Sarna II, a former Oakland police lieutenant with close ties to Jerry Brown, has replaced Art Michel as the head of Oakland school district’s force.

Sarna served as deputy director of the California Department of Justice’s law enforcement division for several months under Brown in 2007. He stepped down after he was cited for drunken driving following a crash in Walnut Creek in August of that year. Continue Reading


When little kids face big decisions

Interviews and blog comments about the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Josue Lopez-Gil in East Oakland — and its frightening aftermath for those who witnessed his death and others — once again made me step back and compare this reality to my own childhood in the Chicago suburbs.

What kinds of decisions did I make when I was 10, 11 and 12? Let’s see … whether try out for the basketball team, whether to leave my tiny Catholic school and go to the big public one, who to sit next to on the bus or in the cafeteria, whether to get a perm…

Those years were not idyllic, by any means. But the decisions I confronted at that immature stage of life — except for, say, whether to look before crossing the street — were of relatively little physical consequence. Continue Reading


Gang prevention at a young age

Photo of Jakell Watts, 12, as he graduated from OPD’s gang-prevention program. By Jane Tyska/Staff

I’ve probably interviewed more than a thousand people in the last seven years. A handful of those conversations, details and faces have stuck with me, as others have faded away. A long conversation I had this month with a group of fifth-grade boys about bullying and gangs, I’m very sure, will be one of those.

When I asked these boys what they learned in their gang-prevention program for a story published today, they responded with statements like: “that gangs are bad,” and “gangs can get you killed.”

But you must have known that already, I said. What did you learn?

They looked at each other, then at me. But they hadn’t known that, they said. Continue Reading


Tragedy on the schools beat

I subscribe to an email group in which education reporters from around the country share their knowledge of topics typically associated with schools coverage: academic programs, policies, research reports, school finances, testing and No Child Left Behind.

On days like today, it feels like I should have a different job title.

This morning, I met with the family of a Josue Lopez-Gil, a 13-year-old middle school student at Roots Academy  who was shot and killed last night — possibly, by another 13-year-old boy. Continue Reading


A film about gender, featuring Oakland kids

The documentary film Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up features eight former Metwest High School students and other Bay Area youth. It’s being shown at film festivals around the country, but its East Bay premiere is at 7 p.m. Thursday evening at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave.

photos courtesy of GroundSpark

The hour-long documentary, which is part of an educational campaign about such issues as gender bias and health, delves into deeply ingrained gender expectations, and the lengths to which some will go to avoid being labeled as gay (and why). Continue Reading