This is the first newsletter in a while and we want to catch you up.
Last year, all our efforts were focused on our mission of mentoring Oakland high school students at risk of dropping out and we had no time for keeping you up to date or for fund-raising. Here’s what we are up to:
Looking Backward to 2020 - 2021
Oakland schools were crushed by the pandemic. Overnight the classes became 100% virtual, and our mentors had to do the same. Students went from an immersive learning experience to sitting at home, often alone or responsible for younger siblings, and trying to engage through a screen. Class attendance dropped, and we too struggled to keep our mentee from McClymonds and Oakland High showing up to Zoom calls. Our access to classroom information slowed as well.
School teachers and staff were amazing at making sure students had access, but students could not get the education they would have had otherwise; they finished missing some of the preparation for the next year or for college. Despite these efforts, the 2022 graduation rate decreased and dropouts increased for the first time since 2016.
We are happy to say Oakland Serves managed to serve the same number of students in 2020-21 as we did in the prior year despite the odds but our work is now more important than ever!
Data taken from: https://www.ousddata.org/public-dashboards.html
Our Founder, Kay Lawson, Retires
Kay Lawson, on left in turquoise, leading a working meeting of the Oakland Serves Board in 2016.
This is how Kay Lawson summarized our history on Facebook:
“Oakland Serves is a nonprofit (501c3) organization formed by a few retired academics, business people, and government employees with a strong commitment to the City of Oakland and 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 (on average about 600) ... Of course, 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 … and also those between dropping out and doing worse, so much worse than those with high school diploma in hand. And thus was born our mission and our vision.”
When Kay, Professor Emerita, SF State University, wrote those paragraphs, she omitted the fact that the “we” who founded Oakland Serves, is mostly her. Without Kay’s research and writing skills, her determination to create something meaningful for Oakland students, her powers of persuasion – in short, her vision and the skill to communicate it – our organization would not have thrived. Of course, others have played key roles – even more people than at the Board meeting pictured. But it has been Kay all along who has led and gotten the best from all of us. Having retired once from her decades-long career as a professor of Political Science, Kay has pursued her work of building Oakland Serves for the last nine years.
Kay is a lifelong Oaklander; she graduated from Oakland Tech, where she and her future husband, Toby, met. When she told me, in 2013, that she wanted to do something more to give back to her community, I knew it was really her community she was talking about.
Thank you, Kay, for all your work in establishing Oakland Serves as an ongoing service organization for Oakland’s high school students. We have some big shoes to fill.
- Sharon Rose
We Went Back to School in Fall 2021
Students were elated to be back at school yet even the social ramifications and learning environment of the previous year and a half have dogged the schools, classrooms and students. Our contacts at the schools are no less busy dealing with students and their families this year as we work to engage more. Oakland Serves has adapted by providing both in-school and virtual mentors. Spring is already upon us, as is spring fever; students become restless and good intentions to improve trajectories begin to fade. As mentors, we need to help them sustain or regain their effort to comprehend material, complete assignments and succeed at tests until the last day of school. We will report back to you then!
An Amazing Mentor – Ingrid Bran
Ingrid Bran has mentored ten students over the course of three years! She says the rewards are as great as seeing students graduate (two have gone on to community college and one to a CSU) or as modest as helping someone pass statistics when the student was certain she could not. Ingrid is fluent in Spanish and has recently taken on helping English learners. Assisting one student complete his senior project gave him the opportunity to walk across that stage with diploma in hand. Her current 11th-year student faces more challenges and is sometimes tempted to drop out despite a dream of working in healthcare. Ingrid helps her with several subjects, but the relationship is more than tutoring. It’s sharing a laptop when the student’s computer isn’t working. It’s exploring together the opportunities to learn health science that might be open if she can stay in school. And it’s lending an empathetic ear to the difficult life of a sixteen-year-old newcomer to the US. Ingrid hopes to mentor this student again next year, and she argues that building such multi-year relationships should be one of our goals.
While she has helped many students, Ingrid said, “Helping just one student who otherwise would not graduate is completely fulfilling.”
Thank you, Ingrid!
Planning for Fall 2022 Starts Now!
And while all our mentors are volunteers, it takes substantial effort to recruit, train and prepare them for their mentees. In addition, we work on a weekly basis with school personnel to connect with challenged students. Over half of this work is currently done by volunteers. Even putting this newsletter out to keep you informed is fully volunteer today due to our limited budget. We have a goal for the 2022-23 school year to increase our school outreach and increase our mentor-mentee support (more of that in future newsletters!). Believe it or not, the next school year start is less than 5 months away and it takes planning, commitment and additional staff starting now! Please consider donating early. Let’s end this school year well and put us on the path to Fall 2022!
There are many ways to give. DONATIONS to Oakland Serves are tax-deductible. You may send checks (or advocate that others do so) to Oakland Serves, P. O. Box 19317, Oakland CA, 94619. Online donations by Credit Card or PayPal are also available on our website.
Interested in Mentoring English Language Learners?
Interested in mentoring? We will again be training mentors starting in the summer. As we expand our reach to new students, mentors willing and able to work with English language learners are a plus.
Currently, there is interest in Spanish- and Cantonese-speaking mentors but the student body at our schools are diverse. Please check out our website and subscribe to this newsletter for further updates.
Content Editor: Sue Wollowitz & Sharon Rose
Managing Editor: Ina Zhang
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