History and Accomplishments
We have now been asked to continue at McClymonds, and we are negotiating expansion of our mentor corps at Skyline. At the same time, we have been asked to provide up to 15 mentors for Oakland High School for 2019-2020.
We welcome this challenge, and our goal now is to recruit, train, and guide at least 40 mentors through background clearances and trainings, as soon as possible. We will also need more part-time staff to monitor the mentors, including processing the Weekly Mentor Reports.
Progress is good. In addition to the 14 mentors presently active we have recruited 15 newcomers, all of whom have been interviewed and either completed or begun background clearances and trainings. We know that not all current mentors will be able to return and it is possible that not all newcomers will complete requirements. We are therefore seeking 25 additional mentor applicants.
We are also beginning a second Crowdfunding Campaign to bring in funds for additional staff. Click here to donate.
How We Mentor at McClymonds
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 prefers that our mentors work within the classrooms so that they understand the current assignment and the teacher’s wishes. Our mentors say which times are possible for them, and then show up every week, as assigned.
Mentors sit with their mentees. They explain assignments, invite verbal responses, urge getting answers on paper. They make sure completed work is turned in.
During the first or second meeting, the mentor asks the mentee to answer brief questions about hopes and goals.
Mentors provide simple supplies (a pencil, note paper) as needed and offer simple rewards when progress is made.
All mentees have agreed to join the program but some will nevertheless be slow to participate actively. When that happens, our mentors still show up, on time, greet the student politely, and chat in friendly fashion. They may offer help to other students nearby.
When the student needs to talk about something else going on in their lives, our mentors listen empathetically, and, if appropriate, offer friendly advice and encouragement, but they always come back to the assignment.
When students do not show up, their mentors will still be there, helping other students in the classroom (when teachers approve).
After each session, the mentor submits a Weekly Mentor Report (WMR) and the Oakland Serves (OS) Coordinator responds to the mentor and shares any serious problems with the school
Preparing for 2019-2020
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:
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.
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.