Last year, I became principal of Oakland High School, a diverse community of just over 1,500 scholars. I’m proud to say that we responded quickly to meeting students’ needs in the wake of COVID-19—Oakland High was the first school in the district to start distributing Chromebooks when the pandemic hit. And with the help of my team, we were able to continue fulfilling our educational mission and stay true to our student-centered approach.
Now, as we begin this school year, we’re focused on a restorative restart, which includes teaching kids how to communicate with one another again. Yes, addressing disrupted learning is important, but if kids don’t know they’re safe, and regain (or develop) those essential coping skills, learning can’t take place.
As part of our focus on restorative conversations, we’re incorporating aspects of race and equity into teaching and learning. At our school, one-third of students are Black, one-third are Asian, and one-third are Latino. Having these discussions helps our students understand each other better and also helps us as educators understand where our scholars are coming from.
Unfortunately, the Bay Area has recently experienced a lot of hate directed at Asian-Americans. Our teachers have found ways to provide space for students to process their emotions and engage in difficult conversations about what’s going on in the world.
To show that Oakland High is committed not just to talking about equity but to creating equitable learning opportunities, our teachers are securing the critical resources that students need to succeed. Fortunately, they have found a strategic partner that has been instrumental in these efforts: DonorsChoose.
For those who don’t know, DonorsChoose is a nonprofit platform that invites teachers to post classroom projects online to attract public donations. In a nutshell, it’s a crowdfunding site tailored to the needs of public school educators. DonorsChoose reviews each project, purchases the requested items, and ships them to the teacher. In addition to the satisfaction of knowing they helped make the project happen, donors get a thank-you from the teacher, photos of the project, and a report verifying how the money was spent.
Last year, one of our teachers turned to DonorsChoose to fund a project that provided her students with a more holistic understanding of science and the rich science traditions found in many non-Western cultures. Another teacher who had an idea to build a makerspace in our building—even though there wasn’t any room available at the time—also turned to DonorsChoose and received full funding from Chevron, a DonorsChoose Equity Focus Partner, as part of Chevron’s commitment to promoting racial equity through education.
The Oakland School District has been fortunate to receive $9.6 million in donated resources through DonorsChoose since 2008—a staggering number! The amount ultimately represents 11,800 projects requested by 3,300 teachers. Interestingly, 30% of those donations have come from outside of California. The materials most-often funded have been books, followed by instructional technology, classroom basics (like scissors, paper, pencils, and notebooks), and computers and tablets. Besides providing students with such supplies, DonorsChoose has also enabled teachers at Oakland High to support project-based learning and build full libraries in every classroom to support literacy throughout the school. DonorsChoose helps promote equity in our school because while we supply our teachers with a lot of basic things, the demand always seems to be greater than our capacity to provide. Our teachers leveraging this tool have been incredibly resourceful in recognizing their power to provide for our scholars. That dedication—and downright scrappiness—circles right back to our philosophy: It’s about the kids.