Meet the Oakland Tribune’s three health reporting interns

Mack meeting
At McClymonds High School, from left to right: Romanalyn Inocencio, Breannie Robinson and Pamela Tapia. Photo by Alison Yin.

I mentioned a few months ago that I was working with photojournalist Alison Yin on a project about childhood asthma and its disproportionate impact on families in Oakland and elsewhere along the I-880/80 corridor. It’s a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.

Now we have some help! I’m happy to announce the names of our three reporting interns, who will be producing stories and videos for the project with a grant from Annenberg: Pamela Tapia, a recent McClymonds graduate; and Pearl Joy Balagot and Henry Jean-Philippe, both from Fremont High.

Their adviser for the project will be Lisa Shafer (below, left), and I’m sure they’ll get some support from Nadine Joseph, a writing coach who advises the McClymonds journalism club. Pearl and Henry are standing in the back, with their cameras, in the picture.

Mack 2
Photo by Alison Yin

We met with them yesterday, along with some other McClymonds and Fremont high school students, who shared their stories about asthma and helped us brainstorm ways to reach students and families with the finished projects.

My favorite piece of advice came from Breannie Robinson, a no-nonsense Mack student-athlete (basketball star), who had asthma as a child.

After listening to us go back and forth about Twitter, Facebook, video screenings, newsletters and other ideas, she jumped in with this tip: “Make it interesting.”

Well said!

If anyone has an idea for the interns — someone you know with a story to tell about asthma, or an issue you feel needs attention —  please share it, either on the blog or to me, at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Congratulations, Pearl, Henry and Pamela. I can’t wait to read (and watch) your work.


API and NCLB, all over again

Today was Test Score Day, which meant staring at numbers for hours — and, in my case, unwittingly informing a school principal that her award-winning school had fallen into Program Improvement.  (Not the worst news I’ve ever delivered, but still.)

Want to see the latest API scores? My colleague Danny Willis created an interactive database, and you can find my story on NCLB here. You might be surprised by some of the school districts that ended up in Program Improvement this time around.

Nearly a dozen more OUSD schools landed in Program Improvement, including Think College Now, Manzanita SEED, Montera Middle School and others that have won awards for closing the achievement gap.

No OUSD schools made it out this year, but we reported on a school in Hayward that did. Burbank Elementary School received a three-year, multi-million-dollar School Improvement Grant, beginning in 2010-11, and has been able to offer its students more ever since.

Below is the list of Oakland schools newly identified for Program Improvement, and you’ll find a link to the PI status of all schools in Alameda County here.



2012 STAR test scores for California

The results of 2012 Testing Season are here. They show, grade-level by grade-level and exam by exam, the levels at which students tested this spring: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, or far below basic.

You’ll find a short story here. On that same page is a database that will let you find your school’s scores and a chart with Alameda County school districts’ results in reading, math, history and science.

In a few weeks, the Academic Performance Index (API)  scores come out, largely based on the numbers reported today.

OUSD’s data department has compiled a dizzying array of spreadsheets, as well as a document from the communications office that highlights the positive notes.

The percentage of Oakland Unified students testing at “proficient” or “advanced” levels remained flat in reading and math (up 1 percentage point in reading, to 45 percent and flat in math, at 45 percent), dipped by two points in history and rose three points in science.

In the document below, OUSD highlighted the positive trends at some schools.


OUSD’s test score highlights


Who would you like to see in the Tribune?

morning paper
Photo from Hitchster’s photostream at Flickr.com/creativecommons

Every once in awhile, someone sends me a news tip on a person who’s doing important work with little attention or press, or someone who has a story to tell. Do you know anyone like that — someone in your school or district that has an interesting job, or who’s been doing it for a gazillion years and has a formidable (and rare) institutional memory?

Now’s your chance! Let me know — by tomorrow morning, if possible — if you have any ideas for one of our regular profile features. You can post them here or email me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

I look forward to hearing them.


A tour through one of California’s polluted port cities

Port of Long Beach, Calif.

Photo by Alison Yin

This week, as I rode a tour bus around the streets of the working-class, 51,000-person port town of Wilmington, Calif., past oil refineries and yards stacked with shipping containers and along busy freeways, I couldn’t help but think of West Oakland, Richmond, and the Bay Area’s industrial corridor.

I was struck by how many schools and playgrounds were right off the freeway, a short distance from the main sources of air pollution. One of our tour guides, Wilmington native and USC grad student Anabell Romero, told us about an explosive fire that raged in a junk yard for 32 hours in 2010, right by a school; children played outside, she said, while firefighters worked to contain the fire.

When she went to UC Santa Cruz for college, she said, “I was like, `The air is so fresh here — too fresh.'”

Romero and her friends started a blog, the Wilmington Wire, about these issues and others, and she has done reporting for KQED. While her reporting has brought to light the toll that heavy industry has taken on her community’s health — USC studies have linked diesel emissions to asthma, underdeveloped lungs and cancer — she has a nuanced perspective. Workers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles make $30 to $50 hour, she said, and — ironically — have some of the best health benefits. Romero’s fiancé works at the port.

Two employees for the Port of Long Beach characterized the department (which, though government-owned agencies, operate just like businesses) as a national leader on air quality improvements. They said recent investments in cleaner technology — an estimated $2 billion in LA and Long Beach in the last five years — have resulted in a reduction in air pollution, and that the goal is to stop burning fuel altogether.

But David Freeman, a former commissioner on the LA Board of Harbor Commissioners (appointed by the mayor at the time), said the ports only responded to community pressure and lawsuits. Continue Reading


OUSD’s black male students: school-by-school data

This morning, Urban Strategies Council released a series of reports about the experience of black boys in the Oakland school district: one on out-of-school suspensions, one on chronic absenteeism, and lastly, an analysis of numerous factors to estimate how many children are on track to graduate high school — beginning in elementary.

There is so much data here that the short story in today’s Tribune (which is long by today’s standards) and blog post can’t do it justice. Each school will receive a data profile to further the district’s African American Male Achievement initiative. These reports were produced in partnership with OUSD as part of the initiative.

Some of the stats that I pulled for the paper on African-American boys in OUSD. The suspension rates are the percentage of individual students that received an out-of-school suspension at least once during a single school year.

  • Twenty percent missed 18 or more days of school in 2010-11, making them chronically absent.
  • Eleven elementary schools gave no out-of-school suspensions to black boys in 2010-11, and 20 schools suspended 3 percent or less; by contrast, some elementary schools suspended 22 to 35 percent of their black male students that year.
  • Middle schools had the highest suspension rates for black boys. Out-of-school suspensions jumped from 12 percent in fifth grade to 31 percent in sixth grade. At West Oakland Middle School, 60 percent of the students received at least one suspension in 2010-11.
  • About 38 percent of the suspensions were for defying authority or causing a disruption; 28 percent were for causing, attempting or threatening injury.

Continue Reading