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Oakland Teachers, Roots School Shut Down School Board Meeting

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Supporters of Roots International School shut down the Oakland Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening as the board prepared to discuss closing the school and cutting as much as $30 million from the district budget. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Families and teachers from Roots International Academy, supported by hundreds of teachers and community members, shut down the Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening as the school board prepared to consider closing the school in June and cut as much as $30 million from the district budget.

Supporters of Roots, a middle school in East Oakland, marched to the board meeting from Lake Merritt where the Oakland teachers union, the Oakland Education Association (O.E.A.), held a rally in support of the school. Entering shortly before the meeting was scheduled to start, the protesters filled the room with signs and banners, chanting, “We are Oakland. Keep Roots Open!” and “We won’t take no back of the bus: No closing, No cuts!”

Outside, teacher-librarians picketed in opposition to the proposal to close as many as five school libraries, including the one at Bret Hart Middle School.

About a block away in the cafeteria at Dewey Academy, Oakland high school and middle school student government leaders’ “All City Council,” held a press conference call for student voices to be heard during the district’s budget-cutting discussions.

The students’ key priorities were to protect the funding of programs that support youth leadership development, college and career support programs, mental health, nutrition and wellness programs, as well as to invest in teacher retention, recruitment and training.

The board meeting was shut down for several hours while students and teachers told the superintendent and board members in a Restorative Justice circle about how closing the school would impact them and the city. The board eventually held the meeting.

District leaders are basing the decision to close Roots on statistical analysis that shows it is a “failing school,” but students, parents and teachers say they love their neighborhood school and are not interested in being scattered to what other people say are better options elsewhere in the city.

Siding with Roots families, Boardmember Rose Ann Torres announced at the meeting that she would vote against closing the school.
Jane Lee, an instructional coach at Roots, explained why she is fighting to keep Roots opens.

“I have never met a more resilient, creative group of teachers who teach from their hearts and from their brain and every day look at the standards of what they are supposed to teach, listen to their children of what they need where they come from and where they should be going.

She said she was also fighting for the “101 students, which is 55 percent of our Roots community, who are going to be pushed out of our community. These are children who live across the street….and will not be able to go to the school across the street from them because they are going to be given a (so-called) ‘better choice.’”

“But we are Oakland, and ‘better’ means better for everybody.”

 

Black History

13-Year-Old Girl Becomes Youngest Person Accepted into Medical School

Thirteen-year-old Alena Analeigh Wicker received an early acceptance to the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s Heersink School of Medicine under its Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program. The program partners with Black schools in Alabama to offer students early acceptance as they plan to enter medical school.

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Alena Analeigh Wicker. Girls United photo.
Alena Analeigh Wicker. Girls United photo.

From Black Doctor.org

Getting into medical school is no small feat, but imagine doing it at just 13 years old. While most 13-year-olds are heading to high school, Alena Analeigh Wicker has made history by becoming the youngest Black person – and the youngest person ever – to get accepted into medical school.

“Today I’m just grateful. I graduated high school last year at 12 years old and here I am one year later I’ve been accepted into Med School at 13,” Wicker wrote on Instagram last week. “Statistics would have said I never would have made it. A little Black girl adopted from Fontana, California. I’ve worked so hard to reach my goals and live my dreams.”

She received an early acceptance to the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s Heersink School of Medicine under its Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program. The program partners with Black schools in Alabama to offer students early acceptance as they plan to enter medical school.

Wicker, who is currently a junior at Arizona State, has always been ahead of her time.

After graduating high school, she was able to complete more than half of her undergraduate requirements at Arizona State University (ASU) and Oakwood University in just one year.

Wicker grew up loving to build things and previously had dreams of building robots for NASA. However, after a trip to Jordan with The Brown STEM Girl foundation, she fell in love with biology and realized that wasn’t the route she wanted to go.

“It actually took one class in engineering, for me to say this is kind of not where I wanted to go,” she told 12 News.” I think viral immunology really came from my passion for volunteering and going out there engaging with the world.”

Her goal?

“What I want from healthcare is to really show these underrepresented communities that we can help, that we can find cures for these viruses,” she added.

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Activism

Oakland’s Girls Inc Takes Senior Summer Participants on College Tours

During this year’s Senior Summer, the Girls Inc., at 516 16th St., took their participants on four college tours: On two consecutive Fridays — July 8 and July 15– the girls went to California State University, Sacramento; California State University, Monterey Bay; University of California, Davis; and UC Santa Cruz. The tours were led by two Girls Inc employees, Gabi Reyes-Acosta and Judy Cordova.

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College Access Now (CAN) is among many free programs offered to girls ages 8 to 18. CAN has three parts: CAN Junior, Senior Summer, and CAN Senior. (Pictured: Daisha Williams)
College Access Now (CAN) is among many free programs offered to girls ages 8 to 18. CAN has three parts: CAN Junior, Senior Summer, and CAN Senior. (Pictured: Daisha Williams)

By Daisha Williams

Girls Inc., a national nonprofit with a branch in downtown Oakland, hosted Bay Area girls in a program to help them navigate crucial parts of their lives such as the college admissions process.

College Access Now (CAN) is among many free programs offered to girls ages 8 to 18. CAN has three parts: CAN Junior, Senior Summer, and CAN Senior.

During this year’s Senior Summer, the Girls Inc., at 516 16th St., took their participants on four college tours: On two consecutive Fridays — July 8 and July 15 — the girls went to California State University, Sacramento; California State University, Monterey Bay; University of California, Davis; and UC Santa Cruz. The tours were led by two Girls Inc employees, Gabi Reyes-Acosta and Judy Cordova.

The girls in the program are primarily people of color who come from low-income households.

Program participant Victoria Pascual said that she would not have had access to these tours if Girls Inc. hadn’t provided them. She also said that her family might not have had the money to take her on these tours. “It would’ve been a lot harder to find the time for myself to go to these places… I would’ve been needing to do other things like my internship or taking care of my family.”

Further, the girls can see their future selves in the Girls Inc. employees.

Judy Corvoda, the CAN program leader, revealed a bit about her background, which is similar to the backgrounds of many girls in the program.

“Being a first-generation Latina, eighth-grader, school was definitely not buzzing in my mind yet,” Cordova said. “It was with Head Royce I got the opportunity to go on a field trip where we learned about college as well as met admission employees from universities all over the United States.

“That is where I learned of UC Merced,” which she went on to graduate from. “This was the only way I got college tours when I was young since coming from an immigrant family, it is hard to find resources. That is why I am so thankful for HeadsUp (a Head Royce equivalent program to CAN) to have given me that opportunity and thankful to Girls Inc for letting me shine light on college as well as giving resources to students without limits!”

Next week: What it 3as like on the tours.

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Activism

City Council Calls for Investigation of Merger of Mills College with Northeastern University

Claudia L. Mercado, Mills alumnae and advisor of the Save Mills College Coalition, said, “This historic women’s college and Hispanic-serving Institution was intended to serve women’s education for generations to come, not traded on the open market for pennies. 

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Speaking in front of Oakland City Hall at a press conference to save Mills College on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, were: Claudia Mercado, Mills Alumnae; Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao; Brandon Harami, Sheng Thao's council aide; Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills Coalition; and Kimberly Jones, Kaplan's chief of staff. Photo by Ken Epstein.
Speaking in front of Oakland City Hall at a press conference to save Mills College on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, were: Claudia Mercado, Mills Alumnae; Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao; Brandon Harami, Sheng Thao's council aide; Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills Coalition; and Kimberly Jones, Kaplan's chief of staff. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution celebrating Mills College as the oldest women’s undergraduate college in the West and called for an investigation of the decision of Mills’ board and administration to merge the institution with Northeastern University – saying that the merger was “sudden and had very little transparency.”

At a press conference on City Hall steps, hosted by Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Mills’ alums and members of the Save Mills Coalition vowed to continue to continue pushing for an investigation of the deal even though it was finalized on June 30.

Said Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills College Coalition, “It’s deeply troubling how little oversight there is in California for non-profit small colleges, even those with the historic importance of Mills. (This council resolution) will help us take this issue up to the state and federal level. Mills College deserves justice. Women’s colleges are particularly at risk.”

Claudia L. Mercado, Mills alumnae and advisor of the Save Mills College Coalition, said, “This historic women’s college and Hispanic-serving Institution was intended to serve women’s education for generations to come, not traded on the open market for pennies.

“We must hold the Mills administration leadership accountable who were responsible for actively undermining a viable California higher-ed ecosystem and safe space for women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students. Bad higher-ed leaders should not be allowed to fail forward and monetize on the hardships of students and community members.”

In her remarks, Thao said, “As a Mills Alum, I was deeply troubled when the university declared it was closing after 170 years of service. With women and the LGBTQ+ community under attack across the country, it is incredibly important that institutions like Mills be preserved.”

“This merger was sudden, confusing, and done with very little transparency,” she continued. “Many faculty members (including tenured faculty) lost their jobs while students from around the world suddenly found out the programs they were in were cut. This process has been incredibly disruptive to the lives of thousands of people.”

In a prepared statement, Kaplan said, “Without warning or attempt to work with the student body, alumni groups or any other stakeholders, in March 2021, the Mills College Board and administration announced that the school was going to close because of financial hardship? All of a sudden? Without warning?”

She pointed out that Mills has “always been on the cutting edge of women’s rights (and) equality,” the first women’s college to offer a computer science major and the first women’s college to openly accept transgender students. Famous alumni include filmmaker Sofia Coppola, the late actress Olivia de Haviland and Oakland’s member of Congress Barbara Lee, she said.

Kaplan called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the California Bureau of Private and Post-Secondary Education.

“From the beginning, students and alumni have asked questions that haven’t been adequately answered. But the process continued, and the merger with Northeastern was proposed. Still, student and alumni questions were not answered.”

“But an independent investigation will bring everything into the light,” Kaplan said.

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