History and Accomplishments
We began the school year of 2020-2021 knowing significant changes were coming our way. At the same time, we wanted to continue our efforts to offer as many as 40 mentors in three different schools (McClymonds, Oakland High, and Skyline). We recruited more widely, did more work online, checked with the schools regarding their plans, and began learning how it might be possible to mentor online.
By the beginning of 2021, we were as ready as we could be. Although administrative changes at Skyline meant we would need to wait before continuing at that school, we have been able to place mentors trained in distance learning in both McClymonds and Oakland High.
We continue to recruit a constantly growing corps of applicants eager to mentor Oakland youths and who steadily pursue training and clearance procedures. We are already at the point of having 40 newcomers ready to help. Some are doing so now; some will be placed in the fall semester, others may have to wait longer for school capacity to catch up to them, be it for continued virtual learning or the return to the classroom.
How We Mentored at McClymonds 2018 - 2020
Oakland Serves is the name of a nonprofit (501c3) organization formed a few years ago by several retired academics, business people, and government employees with a strong commitment to the City of Oakland and a history of living and volunteering in the city. We were dismayed by the high number of students who failed, every year, to graduate with their classmates. What happened? Where did they go? What happened to them? And what could we do to make a difference?
We found many good programs, some really impressive. But we found none that focused exclusively on students still in school whose teachers and counselors could identify as very likely to drop out soon. We did more research and found the strong correlations between hard lives and dropping out (trauma, poverty, racism, ill health, addiction) and also between dropping out and doing worse, so much worse than those with high school diploma in hand.
Certain of the need, we designed a program of our own that focuses on academic mentoring, introducing students in need to mentors whose primary task is to help them finish and turn in their homework in courses required for graduation, while also providing empathetic classical mentoring. We began recruiting mentors, part-time staff, and donors through an ambitious outreach campaign (the Graduation Advocate newsletter now reaches 500 readers).
McClymonds preferred that our mentors worked within the classrooms so that they understand the current assignment and the teacher’s wishes. Our mentors said which times were possible for them, and then showed up every week, as assigned.
Mentors sat with their mentees. They explained assignments, invited verbal responses, urged getting answers on paper. They made sure completed work was turned in.
During the first or second meeting, the mentor asked the mentee to answer brief questions about their hopes and goals.
Mentors provided simple supplies (pencil, note paper) as needed and offered simple rewards when progress was made.
All mentees agreed to join the program but some were nevertheless slow to participate actively. When that happened, our mentors still showed up, on time, greeted the student politely, and chatted in friendly fashion. They also offered help to other students nearby.
When the student needed to talk about something else going on in their lives, our mentors listened empathetically, and, if appropriate, offered friendly advice and encouragement, but they always came back to the assignments.
When students did not show up, their mentors were still there, helping other students in the classroom (with teacher's approval).
After each session, the mentor submitted a Weekly Mentor Report (WMR) and the Oakland Serves (OS) Coordinator responded to the mentor and shared any serious problems with the school.
Changes We Made in 2020-2021
Our campaign worked, and by 2018, we were able to establish pilot programs at Skyline and Mc Clymonds high schools, working in close collaboration with school personnel who identified and recruited the students and provided guidelines to follow. The results were good: At Skyline, the two seniors who worked with a mentor graduated with their peers; at McClymonds, 10 sophomores working with mentors improved their performance in courses required for graduation and did not drop out.
The success of the pilot programs permitted us to continue and improve at Skyline and McClymonds when we resumed mentoring in the fall of 2019. When mentees do not show up, mentors are always there nonetheless, waiting for them, and in the meantime helping in the classrooms as needed, working in cooperation with the teacher and paying close attention to current assignments. In every case the student has eventually shown up and in most have begun to work with the mentor. Here is a more detailed look at how it has been working:
Although there have been some recent improvements, the graduation rate in Oakland’s public schools remains at 73.5% in 2018 (as compared to 84.6% of American high school seniors and 83.0% of California seniors who graduate with their class). Some of those who do not graduate remain enrolled or are earning alternate diplomas, but 12.9%, more than one in eight students, dropped out of high school in 2018. Dropout rates are highest among African American and Latino students. [California Department of Education]
Failure to secure a high school diploma has serious consequences for youth, their families, and the community. Dropouts earn significantly less than high school graduates, a disparity that widens as the technology-fueled information economy reshapes the labor market. People without a diploma suffer not only reduced incomes but poorer health outcomes and a higher incidence of criminal activity and incarceration.
Of Bay Area youth, students in Oakland public schools have a particularly pressing need for support. The district’s low rates of literacy, math achievement, and graduation attest to its struggle as students, often coping with poverty, health issues, family dysfunction, cultural alienation, limited literacy in English, or low expectations due to racial stereotypes, bring needs that outstrip the district’s resources. Our program targets this population and provides badly needed assistance.
The Struggle Continues: Demonstration of Need
Help Us Bridge The Gap
This is an ambitious program. But we believe a program like this is the only way we can bridge the gap between early pre-school enrollment and high school graduation for all, the only way to send all our students on to the further education (be it a one year trade certificate or a Ph.D.) that everyone now needs for satisfying careers and lifetimes of civic responsibility.
Building A Bridge will save more money than it costs. It will save lives. It could save our city. Please contribute what you can.