Maria Ramirez is an Oaklander, born and raised. She is currently in community college and is working hard to make a beautiful and dazzling life for not only herself, but family as well. Maria is grateful that she gets to give back to the city that made her, wonderful Oakland.
Last Tuesday I had the honor of attending the “Latino Student Achievement Community Report Out.” As a Latina from Oakland I felt embarrassed that before attending this meeting I, A)knew very little about the Latino community in Oakland, and B)was not aware that an OUSD Latino/a Achievement Office existed in my city and held meetings 2 blocks away from my house.
As I listened to concerned parents, students, and staff speak, I learned about the struggles my Latino brothers and sisters are facing within my community. Although some discussed topics broke my heart, they also rose a sense of urgency within not only me, but every individual in the room.
How are Latino/a students doing in school?
This is a question that was repeated multiple times and as we went over the report findings for preschool, middle-school, and high-school, I was shocked. According to the OUSD’s reports only 28.4% of Latino/a 3rd graders were reading on grade level. When students aren’t at grade reading level by third grade, a jail cell is built per student.
The fact that a child’s fate is being predicted based on their third-grade reading level in insane. At third grade, my little sister was reading below grade level, but showed promise through her other great qualities. Although my sister received the help she needed, many students do not have the same opportunities. In fact, less than 23.6% of Latino students in grades 3-8 scored Standard Met or Standard Exceeded on the Spring 2017 state test in English Language Arts/Literacy. This statistic made it clear that equity didn’t entirely exist within the system.
As someone who attended a majority Latino school, I was blind to the fact that equity within schools is hard to spot sometimes. I was aware that the main course of discussion for this event was equity within schools, but did not realize just how necessary these meetings are. What is happening within our schools? Our Latino/a students are suffering academically and this affects not only their grade school academics, but their future.
Changes need to be done in order to ensure Latino students are receiving the education and resources they need to succeed. In 2016-17, 59.5% of OUSD Latinos graduated high-school, 23.4% dropped out, and 15.7% remained enrolled and will take more than 5 years to graduate. Although over the past five years, drop-out rates have decreased by five percentage points, that is not enough.
Whether it’s academic, emotional, or financial support, Latino/a students need more. School can be very challenging and for Latino students in Oakland, it can be very difficult. Many times, parents must work crazy hours to support their families and due to time and limited education, they cannot fully support us as scholars.
Schools and teachers should provide the tools and resources to ensure that my hermanos y hermanas(brothers and sisters) are equipped with the academic and life tools they need because unfortunately, a lot of the times that is not given at home.
Equity is needed within our schools to help our Latino students, but how can we achieve it?
I had the privilege of sitting in on two discussion tables, both which brought me new perspectives. The first table was centered on factors to get youth more involved in their education. I witnessed students, school leaders, and community members come together to brainstorm ways to help our people. A point that stood out is that only 13.8% of OUSD teachers are Latino/a. One of the young people at the table questioned, “If we don’t see people that look like us and go through the same struggle we do, how do we know we can make it too?”
This made me think about the teachers I’ve had in k-8 and I felt a little uncomfortable when I came to the realization that only 2 have been Latino/a. It was an even odder feeling to know that before this meeting, I’d never had a problem with it.
The first table removed the shield from my bubble of comfort, but the second table completely popped it. The second table’s main discussion was on Supporting Central American Families and Students; more specifically, Newcomers. Here I found out that Oakland is home to more than 1,741 Newcomers in which more than 300 of those students are unaccompanied minors from Central America, ranging from 6-12th grade.
The difficult journey for Newcomers
It broke my heart that amongst Newcomers, drug abuse (specifically meth) and gang violence rates have increased alarmingly. The majority of the time Newcomers travel to the U.S not only in hopes of building a better life, but to escape the horrors of their home countries. The journey from Central America to the U.S is also dangerous and traumatic. Unfortunately, many times, when youth arrive in the U.S from Central America, they’ve already been exposed to a significant violence, alcohol, and drugs. This makes Newcomers more susceptible to drug use and violence.
My second table received the least number of visits from attendees, yet when each table discussed their group’s findings, it received the most impactful reaction. As the presenters reported out-loud what our group discussed, shock was evident on the faces of individuals. I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing: This is happening to students in my community? Students and families nodded in agreement when suggestions like mental health services, substance abuse courses, and overall involvement in helping our newcomers was suggested.
In addition to bringing resources to our newcomers, two parents reminded everyone in the room that Special Ed students are Latinos as well. A mother reminded us to not forget about her son who has special needs and is an English Language Learner because he too deserves to learn. Throughout my years in school, I’ve noticed that after elementary school, less resources for students with special needs are offered. Improvement in the Special Education department is crucial because all students deserve a quality education.
Happening in my backyard
I’ve lived 2 blocks away from Fremont High School for about 12 years now, but I’ve never realized what goes on within the school; or any OUSD school. I attended a majority Latino/a charter public school throughout high school and was never aware of the education Latinos were receiving.
After leaving my bubble of comfort and exploring the education in Oakland, I see there is a lot of work to be done. People that look, live, and struggle like me are not succeeding as they should and as a member of this community, it’s my duty to assure that all students receive an equitable education. I am grateful to be able to help those who need it most.
We must come together as a community to assure our hermanas y hermanos (brothers and sisters) receive the education they deserve.
Together, we can bring equity to our schools and communities.
Latino/a Student Achievement is a targeted initiative of the OUSD’s Office of Equity. Visit www.ousd.org/equity to learn more about the Office of Equity and other targeted initiatives.