Hard work and vision of educators, families and community make middle school a reality
By Ken Epstein
It was a coincidence that Oakland’s first new public school in more than a decade, called Oakland SOL, opened its doors Monday – the same day as the solar eclipse.
However, the School of Language (SOL) itself was not an accident but the product of community perseverance and vision.
Created through three-and-a-half years of hard work and careful planning – overcoming countless obstacles – this dual-language immersion, English and Spanish, middle school was developed as a partnership between the community and the Oakland Unified School District.
This year, the school – located at 1180 70th Ave. near International Boulevard – will serve 75 sixth graders and will phase in seventh and eighth grades during the next two years.
The school is still accepting new students – open to families that want their children to learn English and English-speaking students who want to learn Spanish.
At Oakland SOL, which is based on the energy and commitment of its families, the parents and students chose the principal and teachers. The site itself was a ”fixer-upper,” according to the parents, and families pitched in to paint and make the needed improvements.
“The district was had budgeted money to fix up the space. However, funds were severely reduced because of the budget deficit,” according to one of the organizers.
Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell enthusiastically endorsed the school, saying that community-based schools like Oakland SOL are the path forward for improving the Oakland Unified School District.
Exhilarated after finally being able to see the fruition of their efforts, members of the parent and student design team talked to the Oakland Post on Monday afternoon about what it took to make their school a reality.
The idea for the school started at Manzanita SEED – an East Oakland elementary school – when parents began to think about the need for a dual language immersion middle (sixth through eighth grade) school their children could attend after they finished fifth grade.
The families soon realized that other schools and other parents shared their interest, and they all would be stronger if they worked together.
Teaming up with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), which is based on a network congregations and schools throughout the city organized to improve conditions, they began to involve families and students from different schools and different backgrounds and cultures.
“We started involving families in different school communities, to make sure that there were opportunities for families from different cultures and different socio-economic backgrounds to participate,” said Alcaraz, a parent and member of the design team, as well a member of the board of OCO.
Team members learned to write grants and proposals to OUSD and other partners, which helped pay for them to visit schools in other communities and helped research existing models for what they wanted to accomplish.
“Some members of the team helped write grants, but this was not done with a lot of money,” said Alcaraz.
Besides parents and students, the design team included educators, including design team leader Katherine Carter, who is now principal at the school.
A lot of the work was done by volunteers, and OCO provided staff support to help with organizing, she said.
“In reality, my experience was that it was faith and commitment that led to this school,” she said. “I wanted this for my daughter Nathalia.”
“It’s been a long haul, but it doesn’t feel like that long because it’s what our hearts wanted.”
Almarie Frazier explained that she got involved because she wanted to make sure her daughter Kamari could continue to be bilingual when she went to middle school.
An OCO organizer “invited me to come to meetings about building connections with other parents. That´s how I got caught in the little web,” she said.
“I didn’t think about coming in and volunteering for all these years. But it was a great experience, getting to know better some people I wouldn’t usually get to interact with on a daily basis,” she said.
“This is our future – we live in a diverse place,” said Frazier. “I feel like I was part of something. I helped build it.”
Ajene Snaer, a sixth grader at the school, has been part of the design team from the beginning as a second grader.
“When I think about it, (I realize) I actually helped to build this school,” he said.
“We started with just a few people,” he said, “and it ended up being a big group of people, agreeing on the same things and making it into a reality.”
To find out more about the school or enroll a student call (510) 636-7992 or email Oaklandsolinfo@gmail.com
Published August 25, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post