Oakland high schools showcase student work on big issues

Photo by Debi Mason.

Oakland Unified School District’s Excel and Mandela high schools have found the right formula to keep students engaged and invested in educations – and they are sharing it with the public.

With a focus on public service, Excel High School’s senior class recently stood before the student community and the public and discussed, presented the facts and defended their dissertations on varied topics. Some of these included teen pregnancy, homelessness, the affects of drugs and alcohol on families, single-parent households, literacy and even police violence.

As the students nervously waited their turns during the May 14 event, they all said that the reason they chose a particular topic was because they are presently living in the situation, they know a family member that has been through it and/or the topic is deeply personal.

Laryonda Ward, a 17-year-old St. Mary’s college-bound senior, addressed the issue of teen pregnancy.

“The media is still glamorizing teen pregnancy through shows like 16 and Pregnant and Juno,” she said. “When kids see these shows they don’t see the truth about how your life, your education, everything stops because you have a baby that you have to take care of.”

When asked why he chose the subject of police brutality, Asjonti Kirk, 18, told a harrowing story of how his grandmother and uncle were stopped by the police and physically pulled from a car when they were mistakenly identified as carjackers. Because of this, Kirk said, “I will probably attend a two-year college before going on to university to major in criminal justice.”

Senior Advisor, Rachel Hereford said that the students were expected to volunteer at a variety of nonprofit organizations to learn first-hand how these organizations are addressing the need within the community for support services and information on their chosen area of study. Principal Yetunde Reeves said the knowledge gained through the study of many of these issues has strengthened each of the students so that becoming a statistic is less of an option.

No one epitomizes this more than Robert Brigham, 18, who will attend Chabot College next year. He chose as his topic single-parent households. He said he was raised by his mother and through some difficult struggles, he became more and more determined to stay in school and has used sports to battle his own periods of depression and to stay motivated to do the right thing.

More than 80 percent of this year’s graduates are going on to two- or four-year colleges, which speaks loudly of the tireless efforts of dedicated teachers, principals and staff to give each student an extra push toward pursuing a higher education.

If you would like to sit in on the presentations, it is not too late. Students will hold another round of presentations from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 21. Excel High School is located at 2617 Myrtle St. in West Oakland. For details, email Tess Lantos at tesslantos@gmail.com.

Mandela High will conduct its senior project evaluations at 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, May 25, and at 1:35 p.m. Wednesday, May 26. The emphasis this year has been on the study of law and public service and students will use argument along with hands-on demonstrations to bring home the point of one of Nelson Mandela’s more famous quotes, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Outside observers are encouraged to attend. Mandela High is located at 4610 Foothill Blvd. in Oakland. Contact Randall Bustamante at bustamor@yahoo.com for more information.

This story was originally published at oaklandlocal.com

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