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By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
Sometimes you have to flip things to understand them better.
That’s what Oakland International High School (OIHS) does during their annual Community Walk. The classroom is flipped. It’s the students who teach the teachers along with other educators and visitors.
The purpose is for the adults in the room to listen to the students tell their various stories and perspectives about their background and cultures. For a day, students are the ones in charge. Not only are their stories about food, language, dress, dance and other traditions told, but stories are shared about challenges as new immigrants. It’s about learning a language. Navigating the legal system. Figuring out BART and other transportation options. Learning math. Understanding homework. Learning to read in English and one’s traditional language, and sometimes a third language to navigate all the paths. Making friends that understand and support. And figuring out what’s the value of high school? The value of college? And importantly, what’s their value to me?
All this flipped listening and learning makes a difference according to Lauren Markham, Community School Program Manager.
“Community walks are a beloved tradition in our community,” Markham said. “They invert the teacher-student relationship and encourage deeper listening as students and community members narrate their stories, share their perspectives and discuss what they need from us as educators.”
I attended the Guatemalan Community Walk at OIHS recently and learned how to say “hello, good morning” in the indigenous Mam language (Jey B’an jun Xie te teya) which is a Mayan language spoken by about half a million people in Guatemala. I also learned that when Spain defeated the Aztec Empire in 1521 and invaded Guatemala in 1524, they replaced the indigenous languages (there are 30 dialects in Mam alone) with Spanish. So, some students speak Spanish only, some speak Mam only and some both.
According to the Guatemalan Student Leaders, one of their challenges is to speak English. They demonstrated the difficulty using phrases in Mam to try to understand and speak. Their language uses mouth movements and sounds that are foreign to me, just as English has movements and pronunciations they’re not used to. And each dialect spoken is different.
I’m a forever French language student so I understand language differences. But this was amazing. Four letters in Mam can be pronounced in three syllables – and half of those are in the back of the mouth. Language can be a big barrier and OIHS does a great job with the students and their parents to help them learn with a variety of techniques from Survival English as well as a positive school culture that supports all learners.
One of the ACE Learning Centers is at OIHS and focuses on providing English language classes for all parents. Teachers are from Refugee & Immigrant Transitions and parents learn survival English to figure out transportation, immigration issues, understand their rights, get and keep jobs and a host of other things. OIHS even has a garden where parent students grow favorite herbs and vegetables and have days where they share traditional cooking.
Back to the Guatemalan classroom. We also learned about traditional clothes and that the color and style depend on the clan. Then we learned how to dance a favorite traditional dance with a one-two-three movement and a raised knee on the third step. I learned the technique from Christobal Hernandez Velasquez, one of the student leaders, and even got into the rhythm to turn a circle doing the three-step with him. He speaks Spanish, not Mam, but he sure dances Mam.
Our group then took BART to Laney College’s Latinex Cultural Center where we met the staff that supports the Latino community, including Guatemalan. The Center teaches Mam, but also helps students work out their personal education plans at Laney by helping students succeed in language and classes so they can finish Laney in two years and move on to a four-year college.
One of the Latinex Mam Instructors was Henry Sales who is an OIHS graduate. He also works at the US/Mexico border to interpret for those held by US Customs and Border Protection. With 30 Mam dialects, he can’t always help, but he is often there helping Mam speakers understand what is being asked of them and asking questions for them.
“They see me as hope, but I just interpret,” Sales said.
The Community Walk was over, and my interpretation was that these students are brave, strong, dedicated, curious and smart. They face more challenges in one day than many in the US face in a month. These Guatemalan students bring a lot to their classroom and to our country.
At OIHS, culture has a default meaning. Culture means community. Students teach, teachers learn and vice versa. The Community Walks help illustrate that definition of culture.
And how to dance in Guatemala. One-two-three, knee up.
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, Audience Supported Public Radio and Imran Ali Malik, Audio Academy ‘20
We got some really nice news this week regarding our education reporter (and Audio Academy mentor) Lee Romney. The Northern CA Branch of the International Dyslexia Association is honoring her for her outstanding role in education and social justice. Lee will be one of this year’s award recipients, in particular for her series “Learning While Black: The Fight For Equality in San Francisco Schools”.
Meanwhile, the Community Relations Managers (CRMs) at the two prisons where KALW teaches journalism to incarcerated people reviewed our programs. They gave us the highest possible ratings in all categories. The San Quentin CRM said, “KALW has provided consistency, and they have been a true partner with this institution,” adding, “They are well-organized and have provided a structured program, as intended.”
Have you heard Uncuffed, the podcast made by the 12 men we work with at San Quentin and Solano State Prisons? If not, check it out, and get a sense of the humanity people share inside the walls.
We’re increasingly reimagining the work our news department training programs produce as podcasts. The latest example is actually launching on Monday. It’s a podcast by, for, and about teenagers, and it’s called tbh. (That means “to be honest,” in case you’re not big into texting or social media.) The podcast is hosted by Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and Oakland Technical High School senior Samuel Getachew and features stories produced by trainees in our summer high school training programs. They hail from schools all over the Bay Area, from Oakland to San Francisco to San Jose, and even one from rural Pennsylvania! It’s the culmination of work we’ve invested in for 15 years now, helping to educate teenagers in week-long on-site workshops and in summer-long training intensives. Now we’ve got them spreading their perspectives in their own voices, and we hope the podcast is a big hit!
In case you can’t tell, I’m really excited about it, and you should be, too. Subscribe right here and spread the word!
My inspiration to write this blog post about celebrated projects stems from accolades earned by one person in our Audio Academy. Imran Ali Malik makes the podcast American Submitter about Muslims in the West and the spiritual teachings of Islam. The Bello Collective recognized one of its episodes as being among the top 100 in any podcast of 2019. It’s about Imran’s immediate family and the choices they make in raising their child. As a parent, myself, I relate deeply. This is beautiful, intimate work.
Imran has some thoughts to share this week about his experience as part of the Audio Academy. Here they are:
I first discovered narrative storytelling podcasts at a time of great transition in my life. I had never before appreciated power of the real human voice that tells a story of something that really happened to them, something that they really felt. What I fell in love with was the art of it—light on images but suffused with the human voice and heart. How it demands the focus and imagination of its listeners. When I was introduced to rock music as a teenager, it wasn’t long after that I got a guitar and spent all day teaching myself how to play. Over a decade later, I fell in love again, and I had to learn how to create and participate in this magic.
The Audio Academy is a rare chance to be initiated into this craft—a rare kind of craft that engages so much of your mind and spirit. We’re about halfway through the program. In a few short months I’ve learned a lot about ProTools from KALW’s excellent engineers. I’ve been mentored by a seasoned journalist who has shown me how to be tenacious and determined in getting sources for my reporting. I’ve learned how a newsroom and production team functions to produce a show that airs multiple times a week. But more than anything, I’ve been encouraged and emboldened to listen to my own curiosity, to use my own mind and voice to narrate the things that I see in the world, and to use that mind and voice to help others to hear what I have heard, and to see things as I have seen them. For that and other lessons, for the camaraderie, and for the initiation into a field that engages so much of the heart, I feel an enormous amount of gratitude to those who make my presence in this program possible.
How Oakland International High School Rethought Math to Meet Student Challenges and Help Find a Path to Success
By David Hansen, Vice Principal, Oakland International High School, and former head of the Math Department
In 2015, as the governor was looking to end the use of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), the math department at Oakland International High School (OIHS) debated which metrics we should then use to gauge a successful program. Given the unique needs of our student population – all of our students are newcomers, recent arrivals in the US – we thought it made most sense to look at college placement and work backwards.
That year, we had 80 seniors. Most of them would be going into community college, a few into CSU’s and maybe one or two into UC’s. Of those 80 students only three were placed in college level math class upon high school graduation. The rest were placed in remediation. Over half in fact were placed in Arithmetic, a class that was two-years below credit bearing math classes.
As we looked more at data and talked to more alumni, we found that math was most likely to be the thing that prevented our students from succeeding in college – even more than English despite the fact they were all still learning English. By being placed in remediation in college, they were likely to take years to move into credit bearing classes. Some students would never move into credit bearing classes and would be stuck in remediation in perpetuity.
As a department we decided we wanted to tackle this issue and affect both students’ success in college math and their placement upon leaving high school. We decided to take a two-pronged approach to this.
The first thrust would be to add dual-enrollment math classes after school. These are college classes that also give high school credit. Students would take the classes after-school and receive homework support during the day.
The second part was to work with students, to help them understand what math classes they could and should enroll in once they left high school.
This year at OIHS, we have approximately 85 student seniors. Of those 85, over 90% of them will be placed directly into college level math and almost 50% will have already completed at least one semester of college math classes. This dramatic shift has been made possible only by the hard work of the math department and the partnership work with Laney College.
It’s vital to rethink our educational systems on the structural level, using data to determine the gaps and pain points for students, then create alternative pathways to support them through.
The ACE Spectrum Blog will be sharing stories of those who have been making it happen in ACE Learning Centers. Check out their superpowers and be inspired by our local teens and teachers.