How Oakland college students would really like the varsity to be reinterpreted subsequent 12 months

Last year, Oakland youth went through a pandemic, organized protests as part of a national uprising against racism and policing, and grappled with the ups and downs of distance learning. Some lost family members or friends, while others were left with schoolwork, took additional jobs to support their families, or went through mental crises.

On August 9, Oakland Unified School District students will return to school in person on the first day of 2021-2022, and many of them will return to campus for the first time in 17 months. But many high school students don’t want to go back to the same schools they attended before the pandemic.

Students say OUSD leaders have the opportunity – backed by millions of additional federal and state funding – to create a more supportive and empathic environment that focuses on mental and emotional wellbeing. Without this support, the academic performance of students will be negatively impacted.

One plan that is gaining momentum is the idea of ​​a “restorative restart” in the fall. Students, teachers, and staff would use the first few weeks of school to purposefully rebuild the relationships that have suffered over the past year, rather than immediately delving into the academic curriculum.

“It’s a way to get back into school instead of jumping right into it because the quarantine will move us from one world to another when we return next fall,” said Mia Tran, a freshman at Oakland High School. “A restorative restart is a way of doing this that doesn’t overwhelm students with getting into something they are no longer used to.”

Tran, 15, said this year it is difficult to make friends while studying remotely and that school leaders should emphasize ways to forge those bonds, such as setting up peer support groups among students. These peer connections could be made between students in the same class or with students in higher grades who mentor students in younger grades, Tran said.

Diana Matias-Carillo, a freshman at Fremont High School, said it was a way to take time early in the school year to reconnect to acknowledge the trauma everyone went through in the past year. Matias-Carillo, 15, grappled with the death of her grandmother and an uncle last year.

“We don’t want students to feel that their feelings are invalid after being in total isolation with just their families for just over a year,” said Matias-Carillo. “The students’ families have lost a close relative or have financial or social problems such as politics.”

Matias-Carillo and Tran are both involved with Californians for Justice, a nationwide youth welfare organization with a contingent in Oakland. Californians for Justice, along with Faith in Action East Bay and Public Advocates, worked with OUSD board members last month to pass a resolution prioritizing socio-emotional well-being, mental health, and academic credit recovery. Jessica Ramos, one of the members of the student committee who sponsored the resolution, campaigned for more mental health support for students as she saw the toll this year took on her peers.

The resolution stipulates that at least $ 9 million in the OUSD budget will be used to hire community head teachers at each school, have teachers do home visits or check-ins for each student in the fall, hire more staff to cope with the mental and emotional Assisting students and staff retreats in the summer before they go back to school, and offering interventions such as Saturday School, Summer School, and other programs to reach students who are not on their way to graduation.

Last week, Sondra Aguilera, OUSD’s Chief Academic Officer, unveiled an expanded learning plan that uses approximately $ 27 million of the state funding the district receives from Bill 86 – one of several sources of COVID relief funding that OUSD can use to the school for students.

The administration’s $ 27 million plan would allocate $ 8.6 million to improve literacy by providing professional development skills for teachers and staff, hiring reading tutors to transition from kindergarten to second grade, and training parapedagogues; $ 5.3 million for tutoring, Saturday school, and summer school; $ 5 million for mental health and restorative justice; $ 3 million to train teachers and staff to make home visits to families; $ 3 million in case management and attendance incentives to meet attendance expectations; $ 2 million for a loan recovery plan; and about $ 93,000 on educational technology platforms. The board is expected to vote on the plan next week.

Aguilera also presented the plan to the All-City Council of OUSD, the district’s elected student association, but it’s not clear if it includes everything the students request.

“It’s one of the things that students don’t know about. We should be talking about it, ”said the director of the student committee Samantha Pal about the learning plan. She suggested setting up a town hall for all interested students to ask questions.

Oakland High School sophomore Natalie Gallegos has suggestions on how schools and the county could better support student welfare. This year, many of their teachers have incorporated mindfulness exercises into their classes and have taken a few minutes to meditate or do breathing exercises at the beginning of the class.

“When we go in person, we should always take time outside of our class to practice mindfulness because I feel that this is a way to ground everyone,” Gallegos said.

Also this year there was a wellness day for students and teachers, which on May 10th was a day off for teachers and students. The day was included in the letter of intent negotiated between the teachers’ union and the county in August, intended to give teachers and students additional time to attend to their own social and emotional needs. Gallegos, 16, believes that more spa days could have a positive impact on students’ mental health.

For the past two years, Gallegos has served as the LCAP student director for OUSD’s student association. In this role, she participates in parent-student council meetings and helps monitor the district budget. As a member of the council, she also helps develop the local control and accountability plan that sets funding for student groups such as the nursing and homeless, English learners, low-income students and others. Her priorities include promoting restorative justice programs and, especially for this school year, credit recovery options, which are programs that allow students to catch up on their failed grades.

For Gallegos, cultivating joy on the school grounds is another way to ease the transition back to personal learning. Things like pep rallies or an outdoor movie night in a field could liven up the students’ spirits, she said.

“More ways to get students involved, making the school feel at home for them, and another way for them to connect with the community at their school site,” said Gallegos.

In addition to mental health, students also want improvements in academic policy. This year many teachers have had more relaxed deadlines and some would like this practice to be extended to future school years.

“When students don’t have so much pressure to do their assignments right at the end of class or the next day, the job gets done better and with less stress,” said Tran.

Matias-Carillo, the Fremont student, said the Friday counseling hours, built into her school’s distance learning schedule and allowing students to reach out to their teachers and get help with their assignments, were helpful to her, especially in math, and she hopes this can continue for the next school year.

Students want their voice to be heard on these suggestions. And although the contribution of young people has long been a priority at OUSD, the students hope that the adults will not only listen, but actually incorporate the students’ perspectives into the plans.

“Adults may listen to us, but we don’t always know if they’ll take in what we’ve said,” said Gallegos. “Because after all, the district is for us. We are the ones who go to school. We are the ones who have to be in these classes and in the buildings. “

Correction: The first day of school for Oakland Unified is August 9th, not August 10th.

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