I’ve written about the high school our kids attend here in Oakland, but I haven’t shared anything about our elementary school yet. (There’s no good reason for the delay in writing, I’ve just been busy.) While our high school gets a 2 out of 10 on Great Schools, our elementary school gets a 6! Doesn’t that sound super high when you compare it to a 2? Hah!
You know how I feel about Great School ratings — I’m not impressed. But I am impressed with our school! The amount of programs offered, especially considering the resources available, is remarkable — California public schools have had budgets slashed like crazy. The community of people that supports the school is also remarkable. If you’re looking for diversity, our school wins. 18% Hispanic, 30% Black, 20% White, 17% Asian, 14% “Other”, and 1% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The school newsletter (see photo at top) comes in not one, not two, not three, not four, but 5 languages! Which is a small thing that makes me hugely happy.
The more I learn about the school, the more I’ve come to understand that the big improvements to the school came about because of a few strong advocates. This is how I’ve heard it from word-of-mouth stories: Apparently, 5 or 6 years ago, our school was experiencing a big shift — families were fleeing the neighborhood to go to more affluent parts of Oakland, or leaving Oakland altogether. School ratings dropped big time. But there was a local mother, who had a child just starting kindergarten, and she was determined to stay in the area and to use the public schools. So she got really involved. Her focus was on a strong parent support group and fundraising. And the differences her efforts made, and the efforts of the fellow parents she involved, is amazing.
Our school offers a weekly very-informative newsletter (in 5 languages!), a choir with weekly practices and seasonal performances, a tribal drumming teacher, a robust art program with an artist in resident, and apparently there’s a school band too (though I haven’t seen it yet). There’s an annual Bike Day and a big Art Event during the fall. There’s also a Fall Carnival — held during parent teacher conferences so parents can attend while their kids are at the carnival — making babysitters unnecessary, and boosting parent attendance (so smart!). There’s even a charming campus garden, growing food right before the students’ eyes. All of these programs are funded 100% by family donations to the school, and administered 100% by volunteers. That’s huge!
Of course, along with those programs are community building organizations attached to the school — like a Dad’s group that hosts a welcome picnic for all school families at the start of the school year, and a Friends of the School group that handles ongoing fundraising. And we’ve only been in school for 3 1/2 months. I don’t even know what’s coming down the line.
Obviously, the positive impact is so vast because many, many families ultimately donate or volunteer or get involved in some way. But when it comes down to it, there are truly just a handful of people that are making it happen behind the scenes.
My main takeaway from our experience at the elementary school so far: one person really can make a difference. A huge difference.
But it’s not just the parents, teachers in the school are incredibly resourceful. Oscar’s teacher takes the kids on a field trip every month, but she is allotted zero budget for this, so each child brings in $5 to fund the outing. If you can pay more, you do — and that funds the kids that can’t afford the $5. I’m so impressed with what she provides the kids on such a small amount of money! Another thing teachers at our school do is keep an open door policy for parents. Parents can come in to the classroom to observe, volunteer or help out at any time — a wonderful way to increase parent involvement.
Our school website describes the school as “A fine model of an urban learning community, our school reflects a richly diverse community in all ways: cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic. This is our strength and our joy. Classes are balanced in terms of gender, ethnicity, and academic achievement. We present a curriculum that addresses different levels of linguistic and cultural orientations, complexity, pace, and material to all students, and a variety of enrichment programs.”
This is our strength and our joy.
I love that!
Are there any downsides? Sure. Our school has many of the same issues any public school in America has. Prospective families wonder: Are the teachers being pressured to teach to state test standards? Are class sizes too big? But overall, we couldn’t be happier with our elementary school. Honestly, I can’t imagine what a 10 school would bring to the table that could improve on our 6 school.
Tell me, friends, you’re well into the school year now, are you happy with your school? Or will you be seeking another option for next fall? Would you send your kids to a 6-rated school, or do you consider 10-rated schools only? And how involved are parents at your school?