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Oh Why Bother?


A publication of Oakland Serves Vol. 1 Issue 4

OH WHY BOTHER? How easily we can say that about efforts to improve educational performance in Oakland’s schools, as we scroll through our email. Optimists, pessimists, and overloaded realists all find plenty of reasons - online, on television, in the newspaper, in conversations with others - to shrug and just go on.

“Why bother?" asks the optimist, “Things are going pretty well, you know. If you don’t believe it, just take a look.” Kyla Johnson-Merrill has been chosen as the new Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. Our Board of Education kept its promise and found a candidate everyone can feel good about. There were many good candidates, but also many serious problems to be addressed, and many fears that working hard on some problems would inevitably mean neglecting others. Proof is always in the pudding and Ms Johnson does not take office officially until July 1, but her beliefs and her credentials are very, very strong. We are all betting she will do a great job. Speaking of promises, how about that Oakland Promise made by our Mayor? Three million dollars in scholarships going to 400 great students on their way to college. What a wonderful program. Not only money, but mentors who give them personal support all the way through college, doing everything they can to help them make it to college graduation. I stand in awe. And let’s not forget our hard working teachers and administrators. Thanks to them the drop out rate has actually dropped a few points this past year. Their dedication knocks me out. I just sit back on my thingamajig and applaud. I’m sure they don’t want me to mess with them.

“Why bother?” asks the pessimist, “The situation just gets worse and worse no matter what we do. If you don’t believe it, just take a look.” Our school system has gone $10 million over budget this past year and has been making drastic cuts. What could I possibly do that would help with figures like that?Receivership is just around the corner. Four new supervisors in eight years! Why trust anybody? Even though the dropout rate has dropped a few points the overall graduation rate shows Oakland still lagging far behind its neighbors in Alameda County and in California as a whole The OUSD Cohort Graduation Rate is 64.9% but the Alameda County Graduation Rate is 85.6% and the California Graduation Rate is 83.2%. Are you kidding me? We now have a federal government that is selling the last shreds of our public school system off to the highest bidder. I’d rather play the lottery.

“Why bother?” asks the overloaded realist, “I would really love to help, but I just can’t do it.” I have too many family commitments. I have too many other social commitments. I have too many bills. I have problems of my own. AND YET these pesky do-gooders keep coming back, don’t they? Just like Oakland Serves, just like all good causes over the centuries of humankind, trying to persuade you with facts and arguments and unashamed appeals to your very best feelings. And sometimes they succeed. Here’s what we say to the optimist, the pessimist, and the overloaded realist: No matter how good or how bad things are, and no matter how overloaded you are, the fact remains:

  • That Oakland has one of the highest drop out rates in the country. Only 65% of our students graduate with their class.

  • That no other program in Oakland is working exclusively to identify and give targeted help to students about to drop out of high school.

  • That students who drop out become ineligible for 90% of all jobs in the country.

  • That 80% of students who drop out will get in trouble with the law.

  • That 68% of state prison inmates in the nation have not received a high school diploma.

  • That almost all serious problems are expensive to solve.

  • That it is good to seek wide-ranging sources of financial support, from small donations to large renewable foundation grants to government funding, because a) all honest money helps and b) the more you get money from one source, the more likely other sources will respond favorably to your request.

  • That our program is well researched: Mentoring works. Reducing poverty works. Improving self esteem works. Matching social need to social resources works.

  • That giving to a good cause makes you feel better about yourself than eating ice cream does. (Pretty sure that’s a fact.)

  • That if you cannot give $100 today, there’s a chance you could give $10 for 10 days over time.

  • That if you don’t have any spare cash at all, nor time to mentor, you probably have just a little bit of time to help recruit mentors. Print out our new flyer and post it where it will get some attention.

  • That maybe, just maybe, yourself can write to oaklandserves@gmail.comand fill out the form they will find under “Volunteers”.

Not convinced? How about sending us a few words about a mentor who helped you when all looked grim. Here are some we just made up:

"I wanted to finish school but I thought I was too stupid in math. This older girl in school decided to help me, I don’t know why. She certainly wasn’t in love with me! But she helped me do problems that had seemed impossible and she told me I was actually pretty smart. Somehow she made me see I could do it. I could stay in school."

OR "By the time I was assigned a mentor I did not trust anyone. But my mentor just kept coming to see me no matter how suspicious I was. He helped me with my writing but never made fun of it. He laughed when I told him dumb jokes. He helped me get part time work and keep it. He even told me I could go to college. It took a while, but finally I trusted him." OR "My mentor was my aunt. She helped me take care of my mom who was really sick. She always found time for both of us. She told me I could do it, whatever it was. That worked for me." OR "My big brother came out of juvie for the third time and told me not to be like him. He meant it and he helped me. I could see he liked doing that. I stayed out of trouble and so did he. He told me I was his mentor too."

California Department of Education


We have held multiple meetings of our four Committees in the past six weeks, with members taking on individual tasks to get done in between them. We have been working hard on contacts, publicity, grant writing, recruitment and clearance, and overall coordination.

We have renewed ties with the East Bay College Fund, established new ones with the Future Centers and begun exploring new ways to link our mentees to the Oakland Promise. We have a new paper flyer and are laying out designs for two more to be ready mid-June. We are writing grant applications and researching best choices and best tactics to improve our chances. Four of our new mentors (Bruce Calderon, Max Gardner, Shannon Harris and Vivian Zhang) are also joining the Oakland Serves Team and taking on key tasks. We are now working with two Pathway Directors at Skyline who are interested in bringing mentors in to help those who need it.

NEXT STEPS Mentor Recruitment and Clearance has been our top priority for the past six weeks. Our new opportunities mean we need more cleared mentors to be ready to go this fall. Overall, nearly 50 persons have answered our call over the past two years. Several have moved away or otherwise become unavailable and some cannot now mentor during school hours. Some of the rest have begun but not completed their clearances and others have not yet begun, so we are working on that. Clearance really doesn’t take much time at all. All you have to do is go to Be A Mentor,, the special site they have set up just for us. They are our partners and make it as simple as possible. Follow the prompts, do it all, mostly then and there, on-line, at no cost. Then take care of fingerprinting (so the FBI can do the security clearance; we can tell you a place near you) and TB check (probably your health insurance provides it). Keep receipts and we will cover them promptly. Take the 3 hour training at B.A.M., on a weekend. That’s it. Mentor Recruitment is crucial now. McClymonds and Skyline High School want to know we have our 20 mentors for the pilot programs ready to go. Then they can make their own arrangements to welcome them and Oakland Serves on campus, find good matches between mentor and mentee, and get the show on the road. Makes sense, right? So here is our new flyer. Please use it. Save a student. Be proud of yourself as never before.

DON'T THINK YOU HAVE TIME TO MENTOR? Oakland Serves mentors commit to 3 hours of mentoring per week during school days, plus transportation time. Think you don't have the time to mentor? Maybe you do! Do any of the following describe you?

My job has flexible hours permitting me to work at home during non-school hours and thus gives me mentoring hours. I am a self-employed person who can set aside Mentoring Hours. I am a student who can arrange course time to have Mentoring Hours free. I could use my mentoring assignment as an internship. (Oakland Serves can and will provide placement, supervision, appreciation letters, and recommendations) I am a retiree with suitable experience. I am a stay at home parent whose children are in school. I could mentor once a week during school hours if the time is right.


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