Health centers and “full-service community schools”

Skyline High School's new health center
photos by Roy Manzanares, courtesy of Oakland Unified

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith’s vision of full-service community schools is taking shape on some campuses, thanks to a school-based health center initiative that has picked up steam (and millions of dollars in funding) since 2008.

Oakland Unified’s 12th health center opened this week, at the 1,900-student Skyline High School. The Native American Health Center (NAHC) will operate services at the clinic. The renovated portable building includes two medical exam rooms, a laboratory and three confidential consultation rooms.

new Skyline High School health center

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Race to Nowhere showing at Oakland’s Grand Lake

Race to Nowhere documentary

I have yet to watch the “Race to Nowhere” education documentary, but I hope to catch it this week, when it plays at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave.

You can see it today through Sunday at 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. From Monday through Thursday it screens at 6 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10 p.m.

The filmmaker’s description:

Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

I wonder how widespread this phenomenon is in Oakland. A 2011 YouthTruth survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that students at the typical Oakland high school (13 schools participated; Oakland Tech did not) perceived their academic work to be less rigorous, on average, than did students surveyed at the other 150 high schools nationwide.

If you’ve seen “Race to Nowhere,” I’d love to hear your take on it (no spoilers, please!). Do you think kids are assigned way too much homework and live in an overly competitive achievement culture?


Not your typical high school science lab

Lara Trale, who teaches the sophomore English classes at Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, wrote this piece about an ongoing class project — with help from some of her students.

CH2M Hill 11-15-11 027
photo courtesy of Katie Noonan, co-director of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy

Stop by Lake Merritt most Tuesdays, and you’ll see dozens of high school students pulling up samples of the lake’s algae-rich water, squinting into refractometers, and peering down as a lowered Secchi disk disappears into the murk.

This is routine for the 70 sophomores of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, who have been recording water quality data since September 20 as part of their ongoing monitoring of Lake Merritt. They analyze the lake’s turbidity, salinity, density, dissolved oxygen levels, and acidity. They record water and air temperatures. Microscope analysis of a plankton tow reveals some of the smallest marine organisms living in Lake Merritt.

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How do you teach history, as it’s happening?

Occupy Oakland 10-25-11 1
photo from Brian Sims’ site on flickr.com/creativecommons

Before the Nov. 2 general strike, some Oakland teachers said they wished they had more time to prepare lessons about the Occupy movement. Now that two weeks have passed, I’m curious to hear how teachers have approached the subject in class.

It must be challenging to teach current events like this, as the situation can shift in a matter of hours. On the other hand, given Oakland’s role in the movement, I imagine it’s easier for students to connect what’s happening nationally to their own lives. It might also be an effective way to bring to life topics relating to the economy, banking and government, such as tax rates and the power of campaign contributions and mass protests such as this.

So, tell us: How are you teaching it? Have your class discussions reflected multiple points of view? I found this lesson plan on the New York Times website. The author also invites students to add their comments here.

I welcome students (and parents) to add their comments, too — about the movement and what they’d like to learn about it.


Oakland schools and Wednesday’s general strike

Staff Photojournalist

I’ll be blogging about the general strike for the Tribune tomorrow, and I’d love to hear how the day is shaping up for staff and families in the city’s schools. If you think of it, send me an email (kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com), message me on Facebook (facebook.com/KatyEMurphy) or post a comment below with your plans, thoughts and stories.

If you’ll be posting photos and updates on Twitter, send me your name so I can follow you! Mine is @katymurphy.

Here’s what I have so far:

  • All district-run schools will remain open tomorrow.
  • OUSD has gotten 268 requests for substitute teachers, compared to 24 for last Wednesday. Continue Reading

Elementary school to join Occupy Oakland strike

The staff at Bridges Academy at Melrose sent a bilingual flier home to families, inviting them to join them in Wednesday’s general strike in support of Occupy Oakland — and informing them that teachers would not be in their classrooms that day.

They’re meeting at the East Oakland elementary school in the morning and traveling to Oakland City Hall together, by BART.

“We, the teachers at Bridges, are joining the Occupy Oakland protest on Wednesday, November 2. We will not be in our classrooms that day, all day,” the flier says. “We are the 99%!!”

Are the teachers at your school thinking about joining the strike?

Strike flier


Two Oakland schools to split from OUSD


On Wednesday night at Oakland Technical High School, the Oakland school board votes on a staff resolution to close five elementary schools, Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. But the board is expected to be presented with another downsizing proposal, too: The faculties at two other schools, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, have voted to secede from OUSD and operate those schools as independently run charters.

You can read more about it here. That story will be in Tuesday’s Tribune. (And here is a link to a Sunday story about school closures.)

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An Oakland teacher’s thoughts on “consolidation” — and what to call it, instead

David Braden, a technology prep teacher and Bay Area Writing Project consultant teacher at Oakland’s Bella Vista Elementary School, wrote this essay after learning two of his colleagues would be moved, or “consolidated,” to different schools next week — in mid-October. I wrote about the issue too, in this story. – Katy

The Merriam Webster app on my Droid tells me the word “consolidate” has three different meanings: 1) to join together into one whole, 2) to make firm or secure or 3) to form into a compact mass. I looked it up because today our principal informed us that our school would be consolidated.

Leaving the third definition aside for a moment, it sounds like a pretty good thing. Unity, firmness, security are all admirable qualities that would be welcome in any environment, but especially an elementary school. A staff that is united around discipline with consistent rules and consequences gives students a sense of security. If a staff unites around a clear curriculum, then students will have a firm grasp of what they need to know before graduating to the next level of schooling.

These qualities also describe what we want for our students. Continue Reading