top of page

Getting on track to Graduate:  Oakland Serves Mentors at Work


A publication of Oakland Serves Vol. 2 Issue 3

Getting on track to Graduate: Our Mentors at Work

Welcome to the latest issue of The Graduation Advocate. Read about how the mentors working with Oakland Serves have been helping students at McClymonds and Skyline High School get back on track to graduate, bringing grades up, up, up.

Mentoring Works. How sweet it is. One by one, class by class, mentors and tenth grade mentees have been meeting for the past three months at McClymonds High School and lo and behold, grades have risen for each mentored student by at least one grade level, and sometimes more. At Skyline, one single mentor, working since last November, has shown two senior mentees who were not on track to graduate how much he cared and how they really could do the work and change their life goals – both of them graduated!

Both schools want our mentors back, and this time we will begin at the beginning of the year. Once counselors and administrators have identified students who need this help, McClymonds will ask them and their parents or other family members to commit to the program. Mentoring will begin by establishing a student’s goals for the year and for life and discussing how this program will work toward those ends, in conjunction with career pathway choices. More time for mentoring outside the classroom will be possible.

Going forward means bringing more mentors into the program, and we hope some of our readers will help us with recruitment this summer. You may know someone or you may be interested in doing this yourself. Click on the Volunteer tab on our website for how to get started.

But maybe you need to know more before you can be sure this is for you or for that friend you have in mind. What does it take to mentor? Is it hard? Is it gratifying? To find out what it takes to mentor, read this. To find out how hard and gratifying it can be, read on.

Make a Difference in Your Community

We are trying harder to recruit more mentors living near or personally connected to McClymonds and Skylines (see our new flyers). Mentor Emerson Hoff lives in the McClymonds neighborhood and wants to tell you what it means to him and his fiancé Liz:

“I moved to the Bay Area from New York City, with my fiancée, Liz, 6 years ago. There were many reasons for the move. I grew up in Marin County and wanted to return closer to home after more than a decade on the East Coast. We wanted a change from the grind of the big city and I was getting fed up with the four distinct, mostly unbearable “seasons” that East Coasters like to pretend to enjoy. We ended up in Oakland due to a combination of factors, but the main one was budget. We simply could afford a bit more and a bit better in Oakland, compared to San Francisco or Marin or the South Bay. There was some hesitation on our part. We didn’t know anyone in Oakland. The town’s reputation from my childhood was in the back of my mind. I was ignorant about everything amazing that Oakland had to offer.

Fast forward to the present and we are full on Oakland enthusiasts. We love the culture, are inspired by Oakland’s revolutionary history, and incredibly optimistic about what the future for Oakland holds. That being said, the problems in Oakland are upfront and cannot and should not be ignored. Homelessness, gentrification, income and racial inequality are obvious problems and the answers to the problems are not so clear. I don’t pretend to have the answers for these problems, but one thing I have always believed in is the power of community. We live in West Oakland and want to be a part of and contribute to that community. What better way to become a part of a community than by volunteering at the local public schools? Public education is one of our most important institutions. Oakland Serves gives me an opportunity to directly impact a student attending a public school in my community. The work is difficult. The classroom conditions are not ideal. The distractions for the students and teachers and volunteers are many. But over the course of the past several months I have seen how a couple of hours a week can benefit a student who is smart, but is struggling to get school work done, for whatever reason. It seems to me that this is a great way to help our community."


Graphics of the Day

Source: California Department of Education 2018

The average teaching experience in public schools in Oakland has been in decline over the past two decades. This data may suggest that more experienced teachers are leaving OUSD faster than teachers with less experiences are replacing them.


Source: California Department of Education 2018

The average certified staff years in public schools in Oakland has also been in decline over the past two decades. This trend is not apparent at the county or state level.


What is Oakland Serves?

Oakland Serves is the name of a nonprofit (501c3) organization formed a few years ago 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). What happened? Where did they go? What happened to them? And what could we do to make a difference?

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. Other programs often welcomed them, but sometimes just being surrounded by others who are doing better makes change hard. We did more research and found the strong correlations between hard lives and dropping out (trauma, poverty, racism, ill health, addiction) 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. Join us and learn more.


Join the Oakland Serves Team

Not everyone has enough time to mentor and some mentors do more than mentor. Right now the O.S. team is concentrating on six tasks:

Mentor Recruitment: This is urgent now and includes developing flyers and other publicity material and placing them in libraries, cafes and other public places and sending them out online (list serves, Next Door, Reddit). Help us find more mentors, and especially more mentors of color.

Outreach: Help build our contacts by attending meetings and networking with others doing related work in the schools or elsewhere. Help with the newsletter. Help find internships for students in our program. Share some of your own contacts. How else can we spread the word, build a stronger organization?

Fundraising: develop new budgets, apply to foundations, work with our crowdfunding sponsor and contact possible individual donors. This involves many small tasks and we need to build this team.

Website management: Improve format, access and content; periodically update our site, We are applying for funds to make this a paid position – here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor as a volunteer.

Research: Keep our Library (see website) up to date and do timely fact-finding. We seek to know and share timely and trustworthy information on all the causes and consequences of dropping out, and all the likely remedies. Most articles cited and annotated have been peer reviewed, but not all are – peers may be slow to recognize solid new discoveries (just ask Einstein if you don’t believe it!) – and we are adding some not found in scholarly journals.

Speakers Bureau: Be a speaker or help find speakers for student seminars. We will be developing this function in 2018-19.

All tasks can use your help – just a few hours or much more, depending on you. Contact one of our coordinators via


DeCal Mentors

If all goes well, UC Berkeley students will soon be able to get two units of credit and an important addition to their resumes by taking Help Those Who Need it Most: Mentoring in Oakland, the title of a new DeCal course Oakland Serves is proposing to U.C. Berkeley. For more information, contact experienced mentor and UCB senior Avi Sen, at


Keeping Up With The School Board (by Sharon Rose)

Following the debates and outcomes of the planning processes of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Directors often seems like it would require a full-time commitment. Here are some approaches to learning about specific aspects of the Board’s oversight responsibilities:

As we complete this newsletter, the Board is still considering how to balance its budget for next year by the June 30 deadline, and continues grappling with the need to make major cuts. The Board meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, with special meetings and retreats (that are open to the public) scheduled often as well. The regular Board meetings are held in The Great Room, LaEscuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Avenue, main entrance on 10th Street, parking and rear entrance, off 4th Avenue, at 11th Street. Other meetings are in the same complex of buildings, second floor, in the KDOL studio, adjacent to Met West High School (same entrance from parking lot). The Board meetings are live streamed on the internet and are broadcast on Xfinity cable channel 27. Agendas, minutes and video recordings of meetings can be found by clicking on the “Calendar” tab on this page.

The Board must also approve the work of the Measure N College and Career Readiness Commission, which controls a separate funding stream created by a parcel tax. On June 5 the Commission finalized its approval of a set of career pathway proposals from Oakland high schools and passed them on to the Board for final approval. Skyline High School, for example, will receive support for its Computer Science and Technology, Green, Education and Community Health, and Visual and Performing Arts academies. To view Commission documents, first click on the “Bodies” tab on this page. Scroll down and click on the “Measure N – College and Career Readiness Commission” link. In the agenda for the April 17 meeting, you will find links to several documents containing detailed data on Skyline’s student demographics and plans using the Measure N funds. (The video of that meeting contains a presentation from Skyline staff describing these Pathways programs.) A link to documentation of the Board’s assessment of that plan can be found in the agenda of the Commission’s May 15 meeting.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page