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Grants and Special Programs

Public Radio

Intermediate Public Radio Reporting, Spring 2007

Sandyha Dirks: In high schools around Oakland, as many as half of the current ninth graders will leave school one day and never come back. For black and Latino males the estimate is even higher-studies show up to seventy five percent of these young men will not graduate. From the Castlemont Community of Small Schools in East Oakland, Sandhya Dirks profiles two young people struggling to stay in school.

Listen to Sandyha Dirks's story

Thea Chroman: Many of the students in East Oakland are living with stress factors that make staying in school especially tough. In Oakland, homicide is the leading cause of death for young people. One out of every four kids is either currently on probation or has been. In East Oakland, many administrators say a huge number of their kids have no parent at home—they are living with relatives or in foster care. So, some teachers say, school often becomes the main source of stability in a student's life. And teaching isn't just about math or science anymore. Some teachers say they are deeply satisfied by the work they do—they can make a real difference in students' lives. But that kind of commitment requires energy and time, and in the Oakland Unified School District the teacher turnover rate is more than 30% per year, roughly three times the national average. From the Castlemont Community of Small Schools in East Oakland, Thea Chroman investigates what it's like to teach in the city's toughest schools.

Listen to Thea Chroman's story

Hallee Berg: One of the major reforms Oakland has instituted over the past few years is small schools. That's where a traditional school with a thousand students or more, is broken into smaller units. The idea is that students and teachers can form closer relationships-and that all the students, teachers and administrators are on a first name basis, so there is more accountability and caring. Oakland is at the forefront of the small schools movement—it's one of the main testing grounds in the nation. Philanthropists—like the Gates Foundation—have poured tens of millions of dollars into Oakland to help fund the initial costs of transitioning to small schools. Hallee Berg takes us inside one of Oakland's experimental schools...the Fremont Federation of High Schools in East Oakland.

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Jackie Kennedy: Small schools are experimenting with controlling their own budgets. That means that decisions that used to be made by districts are now in the hands of school principals. With that freedom comes a host of tough choices: books or teachers? Snacks or security guards? Principal Lucinda Taylor has to make those kinds of choices all the time. She runs a middle school in East Oakland—it's one of the recently created small schools. Taylor says she wanted to teach middle school because many of the systemic and social issues that pull kids away from schools and to the streets—like poverty and gangs—start before high school. Jackie Kennedy has this profile.

Listen to Jackie Kennedy's story

Sarah Gonzalez: Many teachers and students are leaving the district which makes Oakland's financial woes even worse. Public schools are funded in part based on student attendance, and with enrollment plummeting and students disappearing mid-term, Oakland's schools may well be locked in a cycle of under-funding and under-performance. According to district statistics, attendance rates in Oakland public high schools have been improving. Many schools—like Oakland High—have invested in truancy prevention methods to increase their attendance rates. But Sarah Gonzalez reports that some of those methods seem designed to provide the right numbers, rather than to keep kids in class.

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Melissa McDonough: The drop out dilemma is not a new problem. Back in the sixties, one of the answers was to create alternative schools, places like career schools, schools without walls, continuation schools and magnet schools. They targeted at-risk youth, dropouts and special education. Like many of the reforms being offered today alternative schools were small, encouraged strong student teacher relationships, and had relative autonomy. One such alternative school, the Emiliano Zapata street academy opened in 1973 and was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement. The idea was to literally pull truant kids off the streets and back into school. The academy has remained true to its original mission for 30 years, bucking all the trends of school reform. But as Melissa McDonough reports, the federal No Child Left Behind act may threaten the school's recipe for success.

Listen to Melissa McDonough's story

Carmen Aiken: In East Oakland, many kids are living in violent neighborhoods, they often lack health insurance, and about a quarter of all kids suffer from asthma. Some youth advocates are declaring this a health care emergency and they say schools can't handle the problem on their own. So, they've come up with an innovative reform: they're bringing health clinics to campus and into after school programs. There are now nearly 150 of these health centers in California, with many more planned. Carmen Aiken profiles one—the Youth Uprising Health Clinic in East Oakland.

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Shira Zucker: Many students are struggling to see why staying in school matters. That's what the new vocational education tries to do—make school more relevant to real life and real future choices. But it's not your parent's vocational ed—changing a tire in auto shop or making a cake in home ec ...Vocational education has been reborn—now it combines career prep with college prep. Policymakers have embraced it, and charter schools have popped up all over the state to practice it, but can the new vocational education solve some of the Oakland school system's toughest problems? Reporter Shira Zucker visited Oakland Aviation High School, one of these new charters, to find out.

Listen to Shira Zucker's story

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Last Updated: 12/12/08