A Year of Transition – New Faces and Leadership at Oakland International High School ACE Learning Center
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
I am always inspired by the dedicated educators and students at Oakland International High School (OIHS). It was one of the first ACE Learning Centers starting as an English as Second Language (ESL) and computer basics program for parents of OIHS students. But by thinking bigger, the ACE Learning Center expanded from just supporting families to the Learning Lab that identifies the barriers of OIHS’s diverse group of students and helps them overcome roadblocks and succeed.
Lauren Markham, who was the OIHS Community School Program Manager, will take over running the Learning Lab and all the other ACE Learning Center activities. It’s a transition year for her, but every OIHS student is in transition. In a recent visit, she explained the amazing diversity of the class of 2019/2020, which speaks to their challenges.
Students come from 32 countries and speak over 30 languages. Central America and Mexico make up the largest group (74%) including countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Dominican Republic. Seven percent are from Yemen. The balance is from other parts of Africa, South America and Asia.
Approximately 4% of students are refugees and 8% are asylees who have fled their country due to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Approximately 37% are unaccompanied minors who crossed into the US without parents and were apprehended by US immigration authorities. OIHS has always taken unaccompanied minors, especially since the increase began a few years ago.
Approximately 40% are Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) who have a gap of 2 years of more of education.
The OIHS students come to the campus from more that 12 Oakland zip codes and 40% of the students have a daily commute longer than 45 minutes.
The Learning Lab classes start with teaching English and it’s the basics. Not just vocabulary, but grammar, pronunciation, spelling and writing. Plus, proper use. If any student’s goal is to succeed in college, just learning US slang may feel triumphant but won’t get anyone past admissions.
Then there’s math. Also required for getting into college, especially algebra, that unifying thread for almost all mathematics. Classes focus on honors math and algebra to give a broad understanding and basic skill set that not only gets students past remedial math college classes but is helpful for everyday life. Made that perfect shot at a basketball or trash can? That’s algebra. Got a problem to solve? Breakdown the problem and find a solution – that’s algebra. Need to cook a frozen piece of meat? Figuring out the thaw time is algebra.
OIHS also partners with Oakland TV station KDOL to give students a look at what a job is about.
“KDOL wedges a real experience in student’s day to day,” said Markham. “These are real learning gains that support these kids and can impact their lives.”
OIHS Learning Lab and the many other programs that the school has developed to help this diverse group of students has been so successful that the Oakland Unified School District asked Sailaja Suresh, who was the Director of the Learning Lab, and Co-Principal Carmelita Reyes to develop and deliver these best practices for the district.
Markham has been with the ACE Learning Center/OIHS Learning Lab since its beginning, and she is taking over management of the program. Importantly, she understands the transitions each of these students and their families face. It is hard and full of challenges. Students are often at school from 8:20am to 6pm fulfilling their learning requirements. Many have to work or support and help their families. And there’s that 45+ minute commute to school.
But OIHS and its Learning Lab embolden and empower these students. It’s a model for best practices that support these students in their many transitions. I look forward to sharing many of these stories.