Debate camp in Oakland

Diego Garcia (rising junior at Fremont High School’s Media Academy), Rashid Campbell (Skyline High School Class of 2010, soon-to-be sophomore at University of Oklahoma) and Annessa Lopez (rising junior at Skyline) tell us all about last week’s Bay Area Urban Debate League summer camp, a free institute that was held last week at Oakland’s Westlake Middle School. – Katy

Diego Garcia
DIEGO GARCIA: Two years ago I went to my first BAUDL summer institute, dragged along by my sister Jazmin to the foreign world of debate. I remember being nervous: I had never engaged in an activity like that before, and was worried about having to speak in front of a crowd. But in the end I loved it, and started spending a lot of time on it, enough that my partner and I came out of last year’s season as League Champions.

When the 2011 BAUDL institute began my biggest concern was the camp tournament – I had a reputation to defend. The last day of the institute there is a tournament were debaters would test their knowledge based on their own personal experiences and what they learned during the week. Being the competitive debater that I am it’s always exciting being at a tournament just to really challenge opponents and make it a learning experience for both teams.

This year we will be debating about space – like my lab leader at the summer institute told us, space is literally infinite, so there was a lot to talk about. There was a case on space colonization – should we send a group out into the stars just in case we blow ourselves up here on planet earth? – a case on global weather monitoring systems, and a few others. Up for debate were whether developing space could lead to nuclear proliferation, and whether the government or private companies should take the lead.

The best part of debate camp was the whole learning experience not only with my coaches, but with my peers as well. To be able to share knowledge and different perspective in debate camp is just fun because we can compare ideas and see how they tend to play out. Every year it is great just to see new debaters rising up so to speak, because I know that the league will become better as a unit as these new recruits join our community. I like to see debaters with years of experience share the knowledge they have gathered with the young and less experienced minds. I know that the new recruits eventually will do the same for the next generation.

This year I am really looking forward to all the tournaments and debate rounds my partner and I will engage in since it is a great deal of fun – clashing with arguments, advocating for policy options, and researching our own cases. This year, my biggest goal is to win league championships all over again, but for that I see a lot of new, tough competition that are quickly learning, that they too have the same goal – but hey, that’s debate.

Rashid CampbellRASHID CAMPBELL: Being from Oakland has taught me a lot about how to deal with and handle certain situations. As stressful as the competition of debate gets some times, I know I have been through more, and every hard experience I have had actually helps me win in debate. I am one of those debaters that brings poetry and stories about what has happened to me and my people into the arguments I use in competition, and I am motivated to help the youth use the same strategies to find the power in their own voices.

To be quick with it, I was excited to be working with Bay Area Urban Debate League youth as a staff member for this summer institute. This year we had some great students. Some of them were really not enthusiastic about debate at first, but over time they grew to love it just as much as the staff. My lab in particular was the “underdog” group of the varsity labs. We took the students who had less experience in debate and helped them develop tools and tactics so they could compete on even ground with the top teams in the league.

Over the week, we helped them understand that winning a debate round takes more than just an abundance of information from politicians and academics.   Continue Reading


Former Oakland teacher a lead organizer for Save Our Schools March

Anthony Cody (courtesy photo)

Anthony Cody, an Education Week blogger and former math and science teacher and coach in OUSD, is one of the organizers of Saturday’s Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. March participants don’t like the direction in which education reform is headed; among other demands, they are calling for an end to the practice of using student test scores as the basis for decisions about school closures, layoffs and pay.

I reached Cody on Tuesday for this story about the movement. I also talked to Molly Servatius, from San Francisco’s Paul Revere Elementary, who is about to begin her third year in the classroom.

Servatius said she joined the Save Our Schools movement online on the day she saw the Waiting for Superman documentary about the failings of the nation’s public schools — a film that many teachers criticized as skewed and simplistic. She said she looked around and saw people crying during one of the film’s poignant scenes.

She was crying too, she said — but for a different reason. Continue Reading


Oakland Fine Arts Summer School: Your (parcel) tax dollars at work

So often these days, I find myself writing about the end of things. But city’s fine arts summer school — free for any child who lives in Oakland — has weathered the downturn and years of budget cuts. Why? Measure G, a $195 school parcel tax that voters renewed (and made permanent) in February 2008, in part, to support fine arts in schools.

The program moved this year from Glenview Elementary to the Fruitvale-area campus of Think College Now and International Community School. This summer, it has more than 300 kids from public and private schools. I visited with photographer Laura Oda. You can find the story here.


The future of school counseling in California

Staff Photojournalist

When Skyline High School’s 1,900 students return to school in the fall, they’ll have to see someone else besides a counselor for scheduling, college advising, scholarships, or any of the other things that once brought them into the counselor’s office. Faced with a tough budget decision, Skyline’s principal decided to do away with the entire counseling staff.

Some of Oakland’s small schools have long functioned without school counselors, but this fall, as many as six schools — including Skyline — could be counselor-less for the first time. (OUSD staff wouldn’t give me the names, saying it wasn’t final, but I know the Frick Middle School counselor was laid off, and Betty Olson-Jones, the OEA president, said Westlake might also be without any counselors next year.)

I checked to see what was happening in other districts and wrote a story about the issue. You can find it here.

What do you consider to be the most vital roles of a school counselor? I’ve heard some say that they are regularly given test proctoring and other administrative tasks (as administrators, too, have been cut). In light of the enormous student-counselor ratios in California (810 to 1 in 2009-10), how would you change their job description to make the most of their training, expertise and time? Should they be programming students into courses, for example?


Shop class: Are old school skills back on the cutting edge?

Shop classes (and especially the term “shop class”) have fallen out of fashion in the last couple of decades. But Mark Martin, an engineer who started iDesign-M, thinks that basic manufacturing skills are still relevant in today’s marketplace. He says they are important for careers in design and engineering, as well as (obviously) the well-paying advanced manufacturing jobs that our president is promoting.

I know San Leandro High still offers a thriving industrial arts program. What about other schools?

Here is a video of the free, two-week iDesign-M program that 15 East Bay high school students attended this month. This is the second year of the program, which is heavily funded with private grants. It’s held at Laney College in Oakland. A story about the program should appear in the paper next week, possibly Monday.


Oakland’s “Santa Claus of computer land”

Bruce BuckelewI thought you might enjoy today’s column by Dave Newhouse about Bruce Buckelew. The Piedmont resident and IBM retiree founded Oakland Technology Exchange West, a nonprofit based in West Oakland that distributes free, refurbished computers to schools and homes and training to children and their parents.

According to the OTX West website, the organization has distributed more than 20,000 computers since 1999 — and diverted more than 700 tons of electronic waste from landfills.

Buckelew thinks schools should use computers more than they do now to tailor instruction to each student, based on the child’s skill level.

“Not one size fits all,” he added. “There are schools that are going to 30 to 40 percent online individuated instruction, and 60 to 70 percent traditional interactive teacher-led, and they’re successful. We don’t have that model yet in Oakland.”

Do you agree? How does your school use computers in an innovative way?


Notes from a long and eventful board meeting

Tonight’s — or should I say, last night’s —  5 p.m. Oakland school board meeting went till midnight. I observed so much from my ergonomically incorrect wooden seat:

The NAACP‘s Oakland branch showed up in force to register their concerns about complaints they’d heard from students and alumni about problem teachers, institutional racism and African American students’ opportunities for success at Skyline High (where a transcript review last fall revealed a whole bunch of students who weren’t on track to graduate), McClymonds and Castlemont high schools.

Teachers showed up to voice their support for retired teachers whom the district hired to coach them when they were first starting out. The retired teachers said they were told their services would no longer be needed. Superintendent Tony Smith said he had known nothing about this — and that he wished he had been informed of this development by his staff, rather than at a school board meeting. (Sounded to me like the program would be restored.)

Nikita Mitchell, one of the school board’s student directors, gave a rousing, seemingly extemporaneous end-of-term speech about education in Oakland, the “two Oaklands,” and how she and other students had been saying for years what members of the NAACP reported on Wednesday.

Continue Reading


School’s out: A series about the summer


As an education writer, I like the summer — and not because I get to file all my stories poolside (though that’s not a bad idea…). I like it because it sometimes gives me a break from breaking news, which means I get to work on projects.

I have a few up my sleeve, and I’m especially excited about one of them: a print and multimedia series about the summer, itself.

You can find the first story (print only) here.