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Opinion – Oaklanders Know What It Takes To Fight the Literacy Crisis

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The world looks very different right now. From the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires that have destroyed parts of the West Coast to growing social unrest, we’re facing a lot of uncertainties. But one thing has unfortunately stayed the same — the abysmal literacy rates for Black and Brown children in Oakland.

In the midst of fear, scarcity, and uncertainty, those who are the closest to the pain are often the most creative and resourceful.  So, before the school year began, I asked myself, — what would happen if underserved communities had some slight relief? What would happen if we bet on our community and placed our faith in Oaklanders?

In September, my organization Energy Convertors, which focuses on building the agency of the end-users of public education, partnered with Educate78 to create a fund that builds on that bet.

The People’s Literacy Fund is a $100,000 initiative that will provide mini-grants between $500 – $5,000 to Oaklanders to improve literacy in our community. We want to lift up the voices of people from our community that are finding innovative ways to ensure more children are reading at grade level while offering some type of relief during a global pandemic. It is an opportunity for all of us to get a lesson in creativity and resilience while being a good neighbor during these challenging times.

The People’s Literacy Fund is very personal for me. When I moved to the Bay Area, I was 10 years old and had an uncertain future ahead of me. My family and I would eventually live in four shelters — two in Oakland and two in San Francisco.

My parents did the best that they could and even through rehab and jail stints, they were still able to raise a Black boy who never left the honor roll and would someday become a doctor, author, and entrepreneur.

Here’s the thing, though —no one ever asked how they did it. No one ever asked just how they made it work for me. What people miss is that Black and Brown families teach their kids to thrive academically despite all of the barriers we’re up against.

We are not blessing these families by offering relief through this money — they are blessing us with ingenuity, resilience, and a brilliance most people will never possess.

Again, the people of Oakland are our biggest asset.

Any person who is figuring out how to live in an ever-changing Oakland with red skies, insanely expensive rent, a crazy homeless problem, massive gentrification, and schools failing Black and Brown children while still teaching their kids how to read are true innovators that we can learn from.

Creating a more equitable public education system is more than just about funding. It’s about shifting our perspective on what and who we value.

I expect nothing less from the land of the Black Panthers.

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The author of  ​Beyond Grit and Resilience and founder of Energy Convertors​, Cole is a national speaker and a writer. He is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast.

 

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The author of  ​Beyond Grit and Resilience​ and founder of Energy Convertors​, Cole is a national speaker and a writer. He is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast.​

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Bay Area

Most Californians Worry Schools Won’t Reopen Fully Next Fall, Poll Says

The majority say they approve of how Newsom handled schools this year.

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More than 4 in 5 California adults, including public school parents, believe that the pandemic has caused children, especially low-income children and English learners, to fall behind academically.

  Six in 10 Californians are concerned that schools will not be open for full-time, in-person instruction in the fall, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released on April 28.

  The annual survey of Californians’ perspectives on education also found that a majority approved of the way Gov. Gavin Newsom has handled K-12 public schools, although opinions were split along partisan lines, with 22% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats supporting him on the issue.

  And perhaps in an indication of the erosion of support for public schools, 42% of parents say they would send their youngest child to a private school if cost and location were not at issue. This compares with 31% who would choose a traditional public school, 14% a charter school, and 13% a religious school. The preference for a private school increased from 35% last year and 31% two years ago.

  The survey of 1,602 adults over 18 was taken from April 1-14 and was offered in English or a choice of Spanish and three other languages. The margin of error was 3.4%, plus or minus, overall, and 7.4%, plus or minus, for the 295 respondents who are public school parents.

  Facing a recall election, Newsom can take solace in the poll’s finding that a majority of Californians (57% of adults, 64% of public-school parents) approve of how he has handled K-12 education.

  “Majorities of Californians approve of the way that Governor Newsom is handling the state’s K-12 public schools and school reopening, while they remain deeply divided along party lines,” said Mark Baldassare, president, and CEO of PPIC.

  However, a year ago, when the last survey was taken weeks after schools closed quickly in response to the first throes of the pandemic, his approval marks were higher, with 73% of adults and 78% of public school parents expressing approval.

  The poll, which focused on education, also found:

  Of those who said children were falling behind academically during the pandemic, 60% said that was happening by a lot and 22% by a little. The views were similar among ethnic and racial groups. Eight in 10 adults said they were concerned that low-income children were falling farther behind other children. More Blacks and Latinos were very concerned about this than whites;

  Amid continuing debates and lawsuits claiming that schools aren’t opening quickly enough, slightly more adults overall than public school parents said that schools should at least be partially open now (53% vs. 48%), while 28% of all adults and 27% of public school parents said that schools should be fully open now;

  Looking ahead to the fall, 61% of all adults said they were concerned that K-12 schools would not be open for full-time in-person instruction (24% very concerned, 37% somewhat concerned), and two-thirds of public school parents said they were concerned (25% very concerned, 41% somewhat concerned).

  When it comes to their own schools, two-thirds of adults said they approved of how their school district handled closures during the pandemic. Support was highest in the Los Angeles area (74%) and the Inland Empire (68%) and lowest in Orange County and San Diego (54%). Approval among public school parents was 72%.

  The clear majority of all adults said that teachers’ salaries in their communities are too low. About 1 in 3 said salaries are just about right while 7% said they are too high, and 3% said they didn’t know. Among racial and ethnic groups, 76% of Blacks said pay is too low, compared with 59% of whites, 61% of Asian Americans, and 62% of Latinos.

  Last month, the U.S. Department of Education ruled that California school districts could substitute local assessments for the state standardized test, the Smarter Balanced assessment, under some conditions. Many districts are expected to exercise that option.

  Asked whether they favor conducting year-end state testing this spring to measure the pandemic’s impact on student learning, 75% of all adults (and a similar proportion of public school parents) said they were in favor of continuing testing, with 23% opposed. Latinos were the most in favor (83%) and Blacks the least supportive (68%) with 70% of Asian Americans and whites in favor of continuing year-end testing.

  As for the perennial issue of school funding, 49% of all adults, 53% of likely voters, and 51% of public school parents said that the current level of state funding for their local public schools is not adequate — about the same level as a year ago.

  When it comes to school construction and renovation, 59% of all adults, 55% of likely voters, and 74% of public school parents said they would vote yes on a state bond measure to pay for school construction projects. Legislative leaders plan to place a bond on the state ballot in 2022.

 

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Art

Student Work – Nayzeth Vargas

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

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This piece was created by Nayzeth Vargas, a senior at Oakland Technical High School. The Zentangle Method is a therapeutic technique which uses combinations of contrasting patterns and values to create an image. Students were introduced to the Zentangle Method to offset the mental stress they were experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation.  

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

Nayzeth is enrolled in the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project, an integrated arts program that supports youth in developing thoughtful, educated voices for their communities. Though art, youth practice mindfulness and boundless creativity. Enrollment for the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project is open to youth ages 13-18 through AHC, for more information visit ahc-oakland.org/legacy.

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Education

Supporting Social-Emotional Learning During the Pandemic

One of the most important ways to assist students during the pandemic is to work with them in learning how to manage their emotions.

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Most students have been learning virtually for over a year now, due to COVID-19. It’s probably fair to assume that most students have adjusted favorably to the expectations of online learning whether they wanted to or not. With caring and well-prepared teachers, most students are being exposed to grade-level lessons and activities.

   However, even though students appear to be more familiar with educational platforms, learning apps and are more tech-savvy than ever before, we can’t assume that they are still not being affected by the pandemic and all the things they have given up since it began. Students now sit for long periods and movement between and during class is minimum and if they get too fidgety or distracted, they could be called out for it. Recess is a thing of the past and Physical Education is reduced to what can be done in front of the screen.

  As parents and teachers try to juggle their children’s lives in front of the camera as well as behind the camera, we also have to take into consideration their social-emotional development, even more so, now that we are in a pandemic.

    According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), the leader in the field of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), SEL “is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Helping students learn how to manage Social Emotional Learning will help them to better process and navigate through the current health plight, as well as how to succeed in school and life, long after the pandemic is finally behind us.

   One of the most important ways to assist students during the pandemic is to work with them in learning how to manage their emotions. Even though many students have been attending school online for over a year now and many have become quite adjusted to learning virtually, we still have to check in with them often and gauge how they are feeling. We have to notice any change in their behavior and allow them to move periodically after sitting during their online classes or to take movement breaks on purpose.

Other ways to help students manage their emotions during this time, is to help them in identifying and labeling their emotions. We could be of great assistance to them if we help them to recognize how they are feeling and commend them for taking responsibility for those emotions.

  For example, “I am feeling grumpy today because I didn’t get enough rest last night.” For those feelings of fear, anger, and/or sadness we can guide them in finding strategies that could make them feel better or practice ways to calm them down by journaling, soothing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing.

   Another great way to support our children’s Social Emotional Learning especially during this Pandemic is to help them to continue developing their self-esteem. According to an article in ‘very well mind’ an online developmental psychology website, “The concept of self-esteem plays an important role in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which depicts esteem as one of the basic human motivations.” The article goes on to say that, “Maslow suggested that individuals need both appreciation from other people and inner self-respect to build esteem. Both of these needs must be fulfilled for an individual to grow as a person and reach self-actualization.”

    So, as we think of ways to develop self-esteem within our children, they can feel good about accomplishing tasks, as well as feeling good about the accolades that could result in carrying them out.

   For example, giving children more responsibilities around the house, no matter how big or how small, is a productive way to help them in feeling good about themselves.

    Allowing them to make age-appropriate choices will also make them feel like a respected contributing member of the family, as well. It is also beneficial to teach them how to think through their decisions and to come up with options that they have decided upon on their own. Most importantly, when they can make choices and fulfill their responsibilities around the house, it is equally important for us to show our appreciation towards them for helping out and for the effort they display.

   Another way to support our children by developing their Social Emotional Learning is by working with them in building empathy.

  This is not always easy to do, since it’s all a child can do to think about how they are feeling, let alone think about how someone else may be feeling.

   So, when we continue to openly discuss the pandemic and how it can affect others, we can then begin to have our children think about how it could feel to walk in someone else’s shoes. If the person is someone the child knows then we could brainstorm ways in which they could help them or offer a word of kindness by phone, text, email, social media, etc. We could even teach them the skill of “active listening” and let them understand the value of being supportive in our silence. This type of life skill is something that can be used throughout their lives, for the rest of their lives and can be applied to numerous everyday situations.

   Another valuable strategy that we can model and share with our children is the use of “self-talk.” Some may call it “talking out loud” and back in the day, it could have been referred to as “talking to yourself.” According to the media organization Psychology Today,“ Many people are conscious of an inner voice that provides a running monologue on their lives throughout the day.

     This inner voice, our self-talk, combining conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs and biases, provides a way for the brain to interpret and process daily experiences.” Today we have come to realize the benefits of it, and it teaches our children how to better associate their words with their feelings. For example, when you are in heavy traffic you could model by saying, “This traffic is so backed up, and I’m going to be late. I’m feeling angry that we can’t move faster, so I’m going to take a deep breath and turn on the music to calm myself down.”

This quick commentary will help in teaching our children words that can be associated with their feelings, as well as possible strategies that can help in calming them down, like deep breathing and listening to music. Practicing “self-talk” often with our children, by modeling and by allowing them to practice so that it will become a useful tool that can be used to regulate their emotions when needed, will be invaluable.

   Helping our children learn to manage their Social Emotional Learning has benefits that can take them far beyond the pandemic, but while we are still in it, we must help them to understand and handle those emotions so that they can have less emotional stress, make responsible choices and decisions, feel better and show empathy for others and most of all so that they can work successfully towards academic achievement.

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