Lakisha Young, Oakland Reach

Lakisha Young, Oakland Reach

By Curtis Valentine, Reinventing America’s Schools, Guest Contributor

Lakisha Young is no stranger to education reform. A former Teach For America corps member and founding member of a KIPP Charter School, Young knows the power parents can wield when they demand educational options for their children. The daughter of a single mother who enrolled her in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, and later a private high school, Young expected to have the same power to make choices for her children when she became a mother.

A single mother of three, Young is satisfied with the choices she’s made: Her sons attend a charter school, and her daughter attends a selective high school. However, successfully securing places in these schools was no easy feat. Young knows firsthand the aggravation of dealing with the Oakland school lottery. She also understands the anxiety parents feel not knowing whether their children will have to enroll in a low-performing neighborhood school should there not be enough seats available at quality schools. Her personal experience led her to organize other parents and teach them how to advocate for their children.

In 2016, Young founded the Oakland Reach, which she describes as a “parent-run, parent-led group committed to empowering families from the most underserved communities to demand high-quality schools for children in Oakland.” Since then, the organization has informed more than 4,000 parents on the state of Oakland schools and trained over 300 parents in advocacy through its Oakland Family Advocacy Fellowship.

“If you’re black and low-income in Oakland, you have to fight for the right to a good school,” Young says. Two-thirds of black students in Oakland attend a school rated below the state average and only 1% attend a school rated above the state average (For more information visit the Oakland Reach website.) So Young looks for “parents willing to speak truth to power—and kinda trouble makers.”

Oakland Unified School District, faced with fiscal problems and too many half-empty schools, is closing school buildings to save money. Young and Oakland Reach decided to ask the district to give preference in high quality schools to students whose schools are closed. They dubbed this policy “The Opportunity Ticket,” worked tirelessly to advocate for it, and won a victory when the school board voted unanimously for it.

“Having to choose a school and having access are two different things,” Young explains. The Opportunity Ticket will give more low-income families access to the district’s best schools.

Oakland Reach wants all parents to have the same opportunities Young had, when she enrolled her sons in a public charter school. Today, more than 31% of Oakland’s public school students attend charters. Young fought to have her sons enroll in a school that, on average, graduates 86% of its students on time, compared to 75% in traditional public schools. Young’s sons and their classmates are also more likely to be accepted to college. In Oakland, 34% of African-American and Latino charter graduates are accepted to college, exceeding the district average of 15%. (For more information visit http://library.ccsa.org/OUSD%20Charter%20Report%202017.pdf)

Young is part of a wave of black women leading parent advocacy organizations around the country, including Aretta Baldon in Atlanta, Maya Martin Cadogan in Washington D.C., and Sarah Carpenter in Memphis. To Young, parents most impacted by failing schools have not been at the decision-making table. We are at the table now,” she says. “Parents bring a certain level of urgency [because] we don’t have an out. All black mommas needed were resources. Black mommas have been fighting for their kids since fighting to keep kids from being enslaved.”

Philanthropic investments in parent-led organizations like Oakland Reach have shifted the landscape for black women in leadership. “The missing components were resources to fight,” Young says. “There hasn’t been enough resources put behind black mommas and black daddies. This is new, this is like putting on a new suit … for us and for funders. People with resources trusting us.”

While Young celebrates the voice of black women, she recognizes that the Opportunity Ticket was successful thanks to an alliance with upper middle-class parents. “You need multiple stakeholders at the table,” she says. “Passing the Opportunity Ticket took a coalition of white allied parents and a focus on quality and equity for all kids.”

In a city looking for stability after 13 superintendents in 20 years, Oakland Reach has become a steady source of support for parents. Young is excited about the future and quite surprised that what was once just an idea has become a refuge for parents. She describes how overcome she was when one mother told her, “If I want to learn more about being better advocate for my kids…everybody is telling me that I need to be part of Oakland Reach.”

“I didn’t know what was possible” with Reach, Young admits. “I was moving with sheer will, I’d be fighting this fight — with Oakland Reach or not. I did not expect it to get to this point. I’m not shocked, though. This is what happens when you get fired up parents together.”

Next Stop? Young is in search of “What tables [parents] need to be sitting at in Sacramento.” Watch out state capitol, here she comes!

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront. 

OP-ED: Black Studies becomes major factor in social advancement

OP-ED: Black Studies becomes major factor in social advancement

By Merdies Hayes, Editor, Our Weekly News

The Black Power movement of the late 1960s helped to redefine African American identity and establish a new racial consciousness. As influential as this period was in the study and enhancement of the African Diaspora, this movement spawned the academic discipline known as Black Studies on our college and university campuses.

While there are more than 100 Black Studies degree programs nationwide, it can be confirmed that the beginning of this curriculum evolved from a student strike at San Francisco State University in 1968. Young people there forced the establishment of the Division of Ethnic Studies and departments of Black, Asian, Chicano and Native studies, all accomplished despite the discouragement of then university president and future United States Sen. S.I. Hayakawya.

The Black Student Union

The Black Student Union on campus drafted a political statement, “The Justification for African American Studies,” that would become the main document for the development of the academic departments at more than 60 universities by the early 1970s. Shortly thereafter, Black Studies programs were implemented with inherent reservations from the various campus administrations at UCLA, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Long Beach and at Cal State Northridge.

Black students demanded an end to the so-called “liberal-fascist” ideology that was rampant on campus, as well as calling for the immediate preparation of African American youth including secondary school students to have direct participation in the struggles of the Black community and to define themselves as responsible to and for the future successes of that community. Black Studies departments were created in a confrontational environment in a forceful rejection of traditional curricula content.

It was a novel idea that was met with early opposition from the entrenched White faculty and administration already reeling from the Free Speech movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and a general uprising from young adults of all races, religions and creeds. Black students, specifically, wanted to reinforce the position that African Americans must possess the rights to self-determination, liberation and voice opposition to the dominant ideology of “White capitalism” (e.g. world imperialism, White supremacy) that for centuries had excluded persons of color.

The Atlanta University Conferences

Black Studies can be traced back as far back as the Atlanta University Conferences held from 1898 to 1914. This early formulation was under the auspices of W.E.B. DuBois in marking the inauguration of the first scientific study of the conditions of Black people that covered important aspects of life (e.g., health homes, the question of organization, economic development, higher education, voting).

By 1915, Carter G. Woodson had founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in marking a brave new era for Black curriculum. The group was founded to promote historical research, publish books on Black life and history, promote the study of Black history through clubs and schools and, in a noble effort, to foster harmony between the races by interpreting one history to the other. It was during this period that the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) began to respond to scholarly activities in history and social science.

It had become abundantly clear more than 100 years ago that Black education should conform to the social conditions of Black people. Black colleges began to add courses in Black history to their curricula. This effort corresponded with a call by Black college students for a culturally relevant curriculum, the same theme that occurred some 50 years later when mainstream support for Black Studies grew, particularly when more African American students were admitted into predominantly White institutions.

For the past 50 years, Black Studies has been evolving as a result of the social movement that opposed institutional racism in higher education. As more Black families were moving into the middle class, young people in many sectors either saw education as oppressive or liberating. Many African Americans began to consider Black Studies and Black education as having a “special assignment” to challenge and call out White mainstream knowledge for its deficiencies and racial corruption.

Pan Africa movement

Black Studies in large part grew out of Pan Africanism, which had its origins as a movement of intellectual protest against ill-treatment of Blacks all over the world. This movement was initiated by Black persons in the America and in the West Indies whose ancestors came from Africa. There are similarities between Black Studies and Pan Africanism in that the latter movement was created because Black people all over the world were tired of being mired with the “slave mentality” that had been connected with them from their African ancestors.

The advent of Pan Africanism was the result of Black people deciding that they were better than how they were treated, and if they banded together in a practical standpoint, they could possibly change the world. Far more than an “en vogue” application of the Civil Rights Movement, Pan Africanism and the resulting Black Studies was an emotional, cultural, psychological and ideological movement that would allow African Americans to feel secure while striving for long-sought political, economic and psychological power vis a vis other races or world regions.

At its origin, Black Studies offered a clear and precise application of the African American experience, because many of the traditional history books for decades presented Black people as a hapless, helpless lot always mired in despair. It was only then that African Americans would study in detail persons like Anthony Johnson one of the original 20 Africans who arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and would later become a successful entrepreneur, or Denmark Vessey, who fought to liberate his people from slavery by organizing 9,000 slaves and freemen to revolt in Charleston, S.C. In 1822. there was also Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler who in 1864 became the first Black woman to earn a medical degree. This area of study helped to forge a pathway for each succeeding generation to learn that African Americans have always been innovators, fighters and intelligent persons well capable of succeeding in any endeavor.

Development of Black scholars

Black Studies is not exclusively reserved for Black scholars. There are a number of scholars from a variety of backgrounds who have done important work looking at the Black Diaspora. From the African American point of view, however, a primary reason for the implementation of Black Studies was to develop a critical mass of Black scholars. The significant presence today of African American academicians is due in large part to the existence of a longstanding tradition within Black Studies that offers a route into academia for an untold number of Black scholars.

The subject of Black Studies is interdisciplinary in nature. The subject draws in academics from a range of disciplines, including history, literature, education studies, sociology, theology, health studies, and some subjects as unexpected as sexuality and criminology. A strong tenant within Black Studies is the exposure to a range of ideas and discussions that can forge meaningful connections that can be built on the future. Had it not been for the Black Studies agenda, there are historic figures and contemporary individuals who may have never been encountered and whose work was and is relevant to contemporary dynamics within the Black community.

Women’s studies, as well, are an important aspect of Black Studies. In “Out Of The Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies” (2000), authors Delores P. Aldridge and Carlene Young attest that while the emergence of Black feminism was an offshoot of White feminism, the two groups are far apart in terms of battling sexism and striving for equality in a White-male-dominated world.

“During American slavery, Africana women were as harshly treated physically and mentally as were their male counterparts, thereby invalidating the alignment of Africana women and White women as equals in the struggle. The endless chores of the Africana woman awaited her both in and outside the home. Africana men and women have been equal partners in the struggle against oppression from early on. Thus, they could not afford division based on sex. In the African American slave experience, Africana men and women were viewed the same by the slave owners, thereby negating traditional (African and European) notions of male or female roles.”

Valuable study for both genders

Such study has proved valuable to African American students of both genders. Aldridge and Young state that Black Studies has empowered the Black student in noting that this academic challenge was a direct response to the mandate for change at all levels that characterized the Civil Rights Movement and the social rebellions of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

At the modern HCBU campuses, most have established courses in Black Studies, but few have departments dedicated to the field. Only Howard and Clark Atlanta universities offer a Master of Arts in Black Studies. Howard is the only HBCU to offer a doctoral program in African Studies; eight traditionally White institutions (including Princeton and Yale) also offer a Ph. D in African Studies.

Why don’t more HBCUs offer a diploma in Black Studies? The problem is money.

“A program in African American Studies is very difficult to sustain in good times, and it’s near impossible in tough times,” said Dr. Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “However, some of the majority institutions have been able to get someone to underwrite less popular programs.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Black Studies, much to the disappointment of Dr. Mayibuye Monanabela who is among the founders of the Africana Studies department at Tennessee State University. He said getting students to major in Black Studies is often difficult primarily because, outside of teaching, there are not many well-paying trades that would require such professional acumen.

“We (HBCUs) should be doing better,” Monanabela said. “When students are ready to sign-up for a major, they ask ‘What can I do with a degree in Africana Studies?’“

Dr. David H. Jackson Jr., chair of the department of history and political science (which includes Black Studies) at Florida A&M University, believes the current attitude toward Black Studies among African American students could be an obstacle in the field’s development.

“If I looked at FAMU and the country in general from the 1980s and early ’90s in terms of an aggressive attitude toward embracing Black culture, I don’t see that as much now,” he said. As well, some Black students at predominantly White institutions may have the assumption that students at an HBCU tend to be “Africa-centered” or “radical,” and that belief could contribute to an apathy about the subject, which is in direct contrast with the roots of Black Studies programs.

Looking toward the future

HCBUs faced internal challenges in developing these programs as an older generation of administrators may have been reluctant to establish such a curriculum, because of the association with “militancy” and for fear of losing support from outside communities. Also, some HBCUs felt that because they were Black institutions, they were not obligated to dedicate a department to the subject because “just being a Black school was sufficient.”

At Princeton, Black Studies has proven to be a popular and successful program. Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of the Center for African American Studies at the New Jersey campus, believes the burgeoning interest in Black Studies may provide ground for a degree program.

“I think we’re seeing a new phase in the presence of Black Studies in higher education,” Glaude said. “We need to find an institutional configuration that reflects the complexity and nuance of the field. We haven’t changed our name to ‘Diaspora studies,’ and we have insisted that in order to mark that, as a field, Black Studies should be thought of more broadly.”

People of African ancestry have a long history and tradition in practically every region of the world. This history has been hallmarked by a number of struggles for recognition and against discrimination. In the present context of global uncertainty and the political reshaping of nation states Black Studies can play an essential role in the examination of the world’s Black population and the challenges that lie ahead.

This article originally appeared in Our Weekly News. 

HBCUs Testify Before Congress

HBCUs Testify Before Congress

By LAWT News Service

Wiley College President Herman Felton (UNCF photo)

Wiley College President Herman Felton (UNCF photo)

Tuesday, April 9, Herman Felton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, provided testimony before the House panel that decides the funding levels for all federal education programs.  The House Ap­propriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee received public witness testimony from only 24 individuals to inform their crafting of the upcoming bill to fund the government for fiscal year 2020.  The remarks provided by Dr. Felton focused on the funding and national benefits of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

A Marine Corps veteran and lifelong educator, Dr. Felton’s testimony was the first of the afternoon to receive bi-partisan support from both Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) and Ranking Member Tom J. Cole (R-OK).  The funding leaders commended Wiley College (a UNCF-member institution) and similar HBCUs, for their work with first-generation college students, specifically for being an integral part of the American higher education fabric for decades. Chairwoman DeLauro added, concerning the $39 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), “We will be sure that the center of our discussion and debate will be that we strengthen HBCUs.”  Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) who introduced Dr. Felton to the Subcommittee prior to his testimony, noted that funding recommendations in Dr. Felton’s testimony “just make sense.”

UNCF (United Negro College Fund) worked with Congress to garner the opportunity for HBCUs to be represented in today’s proceedings. Dr. Felton echoed the priorities laid out by UNCF’s president and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax during the organization’s inaugural “State of the HBCUs Address” on March 5, including:

  • Increase funding for the discretionary “Strengthening HBCUs” Program to $375 million ($93 million increase over FY 2019);
  • Reauthorize the mandatory “Strengthening HBCUs” Program this year;
  • Fund the HBCU Capital Finance Program, including support for the deferment authority;
  • Double the Pell Grant award and support Second Chance Pell; and
  • Support funding to produce more African American health professionals and researchers, including at NIH.

“What we witnessed today was history,” commented Lodriguez V. Murray, UNCF’s vice president for public policy and government affairs. “One of our HBCU member presidents delivered remarks about the needs of all HBCUs and their students, weaving in the history of Wiley College. The goals are clear: increase resources necessary for the Pell-eligible and first-generation college students who have found an HBCU education to be a necessity; and allot the funding necessary for HBCUs to continue to remain competitive and thrive.”

Murray concluded, “The reception Dr. Felton received at the hearing showed, once again, that when we take a positive proactive agenda to Capitol Hill, bipartisanship is the response.”

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel

S.B. School Fights Racist Hate

S.B. School Fights Racist Hate

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African Americans and Latinos may have their share of differing opinions or political stances, but one area where both groups readily agree is that racist hatred will not be tolerated at their school.

A recent hate message to former principal Crecia Robinson, a three-time victim of racist messages at Lankershim Elementary School in San Bernardino, raised parental concerns from parents on both sides over the potential for discrimination in the classroom.

Last week, Superintendent Dale Marsden released comments that he would diligently pursue an investigation to bring the race hater to justice.

“Although the letter didn’t directly threaten physical harm to any staff or students, the contents of the letter were disturbing, unacceptable, and sufficiently threatened the climate and culture of Lankershim Elementary School,” said Marsden in a letter to parents posted on the school website.

Over three years ago, Robinson received her first piece of race hate in her mailbox in May 2015 with a message scrawled, “We do not want a black principal here,” and that the team should not have selected her.

A few months later, the San Bernardino Unified School District Affirmative Action Department launched its investigation over a second carefully constructed hate message of cut out and pasted letters, that were copied and posted in the staff room, saying “Thanks nigger for collaborating.”

The person that wrote the hate messages was never identified.

Ms. Robinson has since relocated to another department within the district.

San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman said he recently visited the school, and attended community meetings where the environment appeared welcoming, and all seemed well.

The last investigation was conducted at the direction of the internal school police. This time around, he said the Board is giving direction and fully dedicating resources to catch the perpetrator.

No matter the cost, he said they are prepared to bring in the best investigators.

“Our [school] police department did an investigation last time, but they don’t do investigations day in and day out,” he said. “You’ve got some folks out there that specialize in investigations. We’ll bring in the best of the best.”

If parents are concerned about the environment of the school, he said the board is also prepared to help them move their children to another school.

“It’s sad that it has to come to that, but I have to make sure that the parents feel comfortable, and at least feel like their kids are in a safe environment. It’s terrible that we can’t identify who the person is,” he said.

Linda Bardere, the spokesperson for the district, said at this time she is not able to release the agency names involved in order to protect the integrity of the investigation.

“The last investigation ended when the team was unable to identify the person responsible,” she said in an email.  “The 2018 investigation that was launched on Oct. 2 will include an independent investigator, multiple law enforcement agencies and experts in hate crime investigations.”

Dr. Margaret Hill said the last investigation checked for fingerprints, reviewed surveillance, monitored the school, and was primarily concerned that staff and students were safe. Those protections were in place, but they were unsuccessful in the catch.

This time, she feels the process will be more productive because the superintendent has involved the entire community.

Everyone is watching and listening.

“It’s a small world,” she said. “You never know who might be able to talk to an outsider. When people know who’s involved, and [through] exposure to the community, someone will talk if they think they are not going to get into trouble.”

Having grown up in the segregated South, and as principal for 16 years at San Andreas High School, she’s seen just about every version of racism in existence, but she was also surprised at a recent conversation she heard.

One person commented that they couldn’t believe the racist was teaching Black kids.

“I said, you don’t want them teaching Latinos or white kids. A racist can get their point over to kids without the kids even knowing it,” Dr. Hill said.

The situation is historically familiar, and unnerving, but she said she is just as concerned about how what prejudiced teachers avoid in the classroom that also impacts the kids.

“They’ll cover MLK, Rosa Parks, but I don’t know how many have heard of Frederick Douglas, or how many have heard of Shirley Chisholm,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s not what they’re teaching. It’s what they’re not teaching.”

This article originally appeared in The Precinct Reporter Group.

Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools

Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools

The Post Salon co-sponsored a community dialogue on schools Sunday, Dec. 9. along with Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), Educators for Democratic Schools, the New McClymonds Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee of Parents and Education.

Speaking at the meeting were Oakland teachers, parents and community leaders concerned about low teacher salaries, upcoming budget cuts and the threat of closing schools and selling or leasing the campuses to charter schools.

Mike Hutchinson from OPEN said, “There’s only one way to stop this. That’s to organize.” And he presented information to indicate that the district is not really in a deficit. Taylor Wallace explained why the state does not have Black and Latino teachers and called for changing this serious situation. Oakland teacher Megan Bumpus represented the Oakland Education Association and explained the teachers’ struggle with the school district.

Among ideas presented at the Salon was a brief draft program that includes demands on the State of California, which bears much of the responsibility for Oakland’s problems.
While the district may be guilty of misspending, it is the State of California that is responsible for funding and is depriving the public schools of the money they need to serve the needs of Oakland children.

And it is the State that decides who is allowed to teach and creates obstacles that keep some of the best young teachers out of the classroom.

More than 100 teachers, parents and community members attended a community assembly Sunday, Dec. 9 to discuss the fight for a living wage for teachers and other school employees and “for schools our students deserve.” Photo by Ken Epstein.

At the end of the dialogue, participants adopted a motion to hold a press conference at the State Building in January.

Draft of a People’s Program:

1. No public school closings. Closing schools does not save money. It hurts kids and neighborhoods.

2. No sale of public property. A major element of privatization is selling off the legacy of publicly owned property and institutions left to us by earlier generations of Oaklanders.

3. No budget cuts to the schools. California is one of the richest economies in the world. It has a budget surplus, a Democratic majority in the legislature, and the capacity to fully fund schools.

4. End the teacher shortage and the lack of Black, Latino, indigenous and Asian teachers by eliminating such barriers as multiple standardized tests and multiple fees and by reforming the non-elected, unrepresentative State Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

5. Rescind the remainder of the debt imposed on Oakland by the State legislature 15 years ago and spent by state-appointed administrators without input from Oakland residents

6. A living wage for all school employees. A first-year teacher, a custodian, a school secretary should all be able to live in the city where they work, if they wish to do so. That’s a “community school.”

7. End the discrimination against schools below the 580 freeway.

8. FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team) out of Oakland. Democratic control of our school budget and school governance.

9. Open the books of the Ed Fund, which was created by non-elected State Administrators and does not provide transparency.

10. Reduce class sizes, standardized testing, test prep, age-inappropriate expectations, unnecessary bureaucracy, and mid-year consolidations.

Engage parents and teachers in a collaborative recreation of special education and the education of immigrant and emergent bilingual students.

If you have thoughts or comments on this draft program, send an email to Salonpost02@gmail.com

The post Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools appeared first on Oakland Post.

AFRE Brings Healing to Education for Black Students

AFRE Brings Healing to Education for Black Students

Oakland has long been the birthplace of justice movements. Our collective essence is one of resistance to injustice and persistence in the face of hardship. It’s no wonder that a small group of community members have banded together to create a space of academic healing for our most vulnerable learners.

The Academy for Restorative Education (AFRE) is a new Oakland non-profit whose focus is to close the achievement gap for under performing African-American students, and promote restorative educational practices to teach healthy responses to past educational neglect.

The primary mission of the AFRE is to aid in the development and support of specific, proven and meaningful educational models to improve academic achievement. Many underperforming students in Oakland lack the basic healing spaces and equipment to thrive academically.

After years of navigating a barren and, at times, hostile educational landscape for African-American children in the public school sector, several community members in Oakland joined Dr. Lasha Pierce, the Executive Director of AFRE, and decided to start SILE: School for Innovation, Leadership, and Efficacy. With an eye on closing the opportunity gap for African-American students, they have successfully formulated an innovative, inclusive curriculum rooted in Restorative Education. AFRE plans to join the legacy independent schools in the bay area in providing an educational alternative for African-American students.

The organization’s final 501C(3) designation with the IRS is still pending, but they are carrying on with fundraising, and organizing efforts cannot drag on. All community support is welcomed.

The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019, in a yet-to-be-determined location.

Recruitment for students and families has begun.  For more information, to volunteer time or resources, or to enroll a child, email info@afrebayarea.org.

This article originally appeared in The Oakland Post.

Oakland 12th Grader Gema Quetzal Cardenas Appointed to State Board of Education

Oakland 12th Grader Gema Quetzal Cardenas Appointed to State Board of Education

Oakland Unified School District senior Gema Quetzal Cardenas has been sworn in as the sole student member of the State Board of Education.

“My goal is to make sure I represent students as they deserve, because sometimes students don’t feel represented. And I want to make sure they get the voice that they need,” she told a local TV station.

Quetzal Cardenas was accompanied by her mother, Karina Najera on Sept. 6 to the swearing in ceremony in Sacramento.

Najera seemed amazed that her daughter’s life has reached this point. “I was also scared. As we were walking here, I felt like she was my baby, like when she was little and started walking. So, this is a new step for her. And I know she’s ready. But as a parent, you always want to keep your baby at home,  and I’m just realizing right now that she’s ready for the world.”

The 17-year-old former OUSD Board of Education student member was appointed to the State Board by Governor Jerry Brown in March after an exhaustive application process that included hundreds of other student candidates.

“I’m just a proud East Oakland girl,” Quetzal Cardenas said just before taking the oath of office. She then explained her plans for her year on the Board.

“I really want to focus on curriculum because that’s something that students work with every day.

“You know, it’s something very important because curriculum can change, and it changes the students’ perspective on subjects and potentially their future careers.”

The State Board of Education is a formal body that may be unaccustomed to the kind of activism that is more emblematic of Oakland and OUSD.

Quetzal Cardenas is a prime example of a fearless advocate for what she believes. Her mother says the State Board may not know what’s in store for them with the addition of this “proud East Oakland girl.”

“I don’t think they’re ready for her. This morning, one of them approached her and said, ‘you know, make sure you speak up because some student members, they tend to stay quiet.’ And in my mind, I was like, ‘I don’t think you’re ready for her…’ I don’t think that California is ready for this new member.”

Quetzal Cardenas is receiving internship hours for her service on the state board, all while maintaining a 4.1 GPA. After graduation, she hopes to attend Columbia University in New York City and eventually run for public office.

This article originally appeared in The Oakland Post.

Rosie’s Girls Become Scientists for a  Day at Chevron Richmond Refinery

Rosie’s Girls Become Scientists for a  Day at Chevron Richmond Refinery

 

The Rosie’s Girls Summer Camp made its annual trip to the Chevron Richmond Refinery on Thursday, where members typically tour the facility and participate in a career panel.
But this year, the local middle-school girls did not act as tourists – but rather scientists.

Led by Chevron Bay Area Executive Women’s Group, Women’s in Progress, which regularly holds events aimed at inspiring and mentoring local girls interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), over 30 girls from the Rosie’s Girls summer camp conducted a daylong experiment in learning how to make bio-fuels.

Rosie’s Girls is an annual summer camp offered for free to local youth from low-income families. Like the WWII-era Rosie the Riveters, students in the camp learn skills and career pathways that are considered nontraditional for women, such as welding and carpentry.

At the Richmond Refinery Thursday, their skill base and experience was expanded to include STEM fields.

“We began earlier this morning by talking about what energy is, how one makes bio-fuel, and why we are interested in bio-fuels,” said Stacy Moffitt, community engagement specialist with Chevron Richmond.

They then conducted a related experiment using water bottles, each containing a different combination of substances – water, yeast, milk powder and a lactase tablet – as an introduction into how biofuels are made.

“They’re basically looking at fermentation and seeing what’s happening,” Moffitt said. “Even though milk has sugar, yeast can’t convert that sugar without the lactase tablet, which is a catalyst. Which is what you typically need when you use plant-based material to convert to fuel.”

The students conducted experiments in groups, with each group advised by women who work for Chevron. During the experiment, they made regular observations, and at the end of the day presented their findings to the group. Throughout the experience, the volunteer employees mentor the girls, talk about their futures and offer advice, Moffitt said.

“Rosie’s Girls give girls a wonderful summer opportunity to be ‘hands on’ with lots of cool things,” said Barbara Smith, VP of products and technology or Chevron Oronite. “It was fun today to do science with them, and at the same time talk about their interests and aspirations – and how STEM and college can give them so many great options for the future.”

The Executive Women’s Group has also worked with the Richmond nonprofit Girls Inc. of West Contra Costa County. Last year, the women volunteered to collaborate on technical and leadership projects with 16 of the nonprofit’s young members at the state-of-the-art Fabrication Laboratory at Kennedy High, which was launched with funding by Chevron.

More than 30 girls from the Rosie’s Girls summer camp conducted a daylong experiment at Chevron Richmond Refinery to learn how to make bio-fuels.

The post Rosie’s Girls Become Scientists for a  Day at Chevron Richmond Refinery appeared first on Oakland Post.

May is Children’s Mental Health Month

May is Children’s Mental Health Month

By Kaylor Miles, Special to the Outlook

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified School Counselor, children’s mental health is of particular importance to me. I have observed throughout my career many children suffering with mental health disorders that are often not recognized, or diagnosed. Some children simply lack basic social skills. Schools have a unique opportunity to provide mental health services and social and emotional learning (SEL) using the school as a place to obtain these lifelong skills.

According to The American School Counselor Association (ASCA), School Counselors are to help students focus on academic, career, social and emotional development, so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society. Unfortunately, as a former School Counselor, duties may not include working with students in small groups, or providing individual counseling sessions. I served in the following capacities:

  1. Testing Coordinator
  2. English Speaking Other Language (ESOL) Coordinator
  3. Response to Intervention (RTI) Coordinator
  4. Scheduling
  5. Academic Advisor
  6. Coordinating Parent and Teacher Conferences and
  7. Hall Duty

These duties and responsibilities don’t allow for opportunities to work with students who may be struggling with mental health or social and emotional issues. According to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA), during the 2014-2015 school year, the national average for student to School Counselor ratio was 482 to 1. In Florida, the ratio was 485 to 1. The (ASCA) recommends a 250 to 1 ratio. As an Elementary and Middle School Counselor, I was the only counselor assigned to that grade level with a student population of over 500 students. As a result, many students may never see their School Counselor.

Data suggests children who receive SEL perform better academically and demonstrate improved pro-social behaviors. This is not “rocket science.” I presented a proposal several years ago to then Leon County School Superintendent Bill Montford. During our meeting, I told him we expect children to pass a standardized test, but the night before they may have witnessed their mother being beaten or had to get their younger siblings fed and ready for school. You can’t expect them to pass that test. However, if you meet their emotional needs they will perform academically. He agreed, and allowed me the privilege to work with Title I schools as a mental health counselor. The work was challenging at times, but more than rewarding. I worked with students, who were referred by school administrators, teachers and parents, who had behavioral and academic issues. This was a tremendous opportunity for me because I reminded students I wasn’t going to teach them math or reading, but would teach them skills to help them navigate life, in addition to discussing their concerns for seeing me. Some of our group topics included: importance of making good choices, bully and self-esteem and why it was important to treat people the way you wanted to be treated. In one middle school case, a teacher reported, a student was being bullied for repeating outfits. I met with the student and she confided in me that both of her parents had recently lost their jobs and the family was struggling financially. I told her I would, with her permission, speak to the other students in her class about bullying her. I always give students the option of attending these meetings. She stated she wanted to meet with her classmates. During the meeting, she told her classmates about her parents losing their job and explained to them this was the reason she was repeating outfits. I asked the students, what would happen if their parents lost their jobs? One student said “I don’t live with my parents I live with my grandmother.” Another student said “I live with my aunt.” Then another student said “we wouldn’t be able to have the things we have if our parents didn’t work.”

Finally, one student said, “I’m sorry for making fun of your clothes.” Eventually, all of the girls apologized. I reminded students there are always three parties as it relates to bullying, the victim, the bully and the bystanders. I ask them who has the most power some said the bully, some said the victim. I told them the bystander has the most power simply because of their numbers. If you see someone being bullied, stand up and say that’s not right. Several weeks later, the teacher who initially alerted me to the bully issue reported a new male student had arrived and started to bully a student. She reported that the five girls who were initially bullying in class told the young man we don’t bully here and the bullying stopped. I was so proud of those students for using their empathy and the power of numbers as bystanders to stop bullying in their classroom.

This is only one of many examples where I was able to focus on the issue and address the problem using psycho-education. Not only did we end two bullying situations, which could have escalated, but students were taught a life skill, showing empathy for others and making good choices. I always reminded my students we are all leaders and you can lead people the right way or you can choose to lead the wrong way. Again, having mental health professionals in the schools to address mental health disorders, provide consultation to school administrators, teachers and staff and consultation for parents can only help our students. We still need to use School Counselors, however, for their intended purpose of developing their social and emotional skills. Schools provide access and, in many cases, a safe place for students to thrive and grow.

For many students this is an environment that may be more conducive to therapeutic interventions and psycho-education. Moreover, some children may never see a counselor unless it’s in school, due to the cost or transportation associated with seeing a therapist in private practice.

Let’s capitalize on this opportunity by using School Counselors to develop social and emotional skills and bringing in Mental Health Professionals to address disorders.

Kaylor Miles is the Executive Director of the Bethel Family Counseling Center and a Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Leadership at Florida A&M University.