“During those long years in the Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life experience.”—Huey P. Newton, (Minister of Defense Black Panther Party) in his autobiography, “Revolutionary Suicide.”
I loved the Latitude High School model when I first saw it, was even more impressed when I met the staff, and now I’m thrilled to see the school recognized as an XQ Super School, with all the benefits attached. This is a break-the-mold school that has the potential to empower Oakland youth as well as model how we can change the high school game more systematically.
Our schools are broken. Students report decreasing interest and enthusiasm each successive year in school. For our most underserved and alienated children they just stop coming. When you talk to youth, they will describe boring classes that seem generally irrelevant, uncaring teachers who don’t connect with them or understand, and a stale experience of sitting in rows, listening to lectures, and often sneaking out the door after attendance is taken. High school is a set of obstacles to navigate and trials to endure for too many students, and it could be so much more.
The best experiences most students have, the most memorable ones, happen out of classrooms, or in the classroom with that special teacher who makes it feel different than a regular class. Yet, we still do high school the same way—30 or so kids in a class, grouped mostly be age, running through a set sequence of classes, in 50 minute periods, sitting in big buildings, with little relevance to the world the live in, touch, desire to understand, and want to prosper in as they get older.
Preparing Students to Master Their Destinies—Flipping the School
Like Brother Huey, many of our current students struggle to find meaning, motivation, or relevance in their school classrooms. They live in, and pass through, one of the most vibrant cities in the world and spend most of their days trapped in a sterile series of boxes. Latitude had a vision that turned this on its head.
Latitude didn’t just flip the classroom, it is flipping the whole idea of high school. Real learning should not be exclusive to sitting in classroom, it should be out in the community. Students should be researching and finding solutions for real issues, learning the life and academic skills they need by working on authentic challenges and with mentors.
School founder, Lillian Hsu, described the model as “reimagining our vision of ‘school’ from a building to a set of experiences students have that enable their growth and mastery along academic and social emotional domains. At Latitude, we strive to design experiences that help level the playing field for all learners by ensuring all students have access to the resources and assets of the Bay Area to pursue their passions and achieve their life goals.”
Oakland is a rich city, rich in resources and experiences. Too many of our Flatland youth are watching the progress here pass them by, where they will be service workers in the new Oakland rather than owners and deciders. At Latitude, students, with help, chart their own paths and dive deep into the areas that most interest them. Creating those networks, mentoring experiences, and community based learning which are critical for our youth.
The Experiences Our Youth Deserve
Already these kids have been a part of amazing experiences, to help them discover their own passions and provide real models and advice for how to get there. Students visit over 10 different work places every year to investigate the anthropology of different professions across the Bay Area. Already this year, Latitude ninth graders have visited exhibit designers at Gyroscope Inc. in Jack London Square, entrepreneurs at Circuit Launch in East Oakland and Elevator Works in West Oakland, Communications Strategists at Apple Headquarters, sustainable development experts at Fair Trade USA, product managers at Seesaw, software engineers at Youtube, and more.
They are being exposed to greatness, from seeing the national shero, Michelle Obama, to digging in with our local heroes and sheroes, through one of the school’s initial projects, Oakland Changemakers.
Oakland Changemakers is the first project Latitude’s students are conducting to ground their skills and awareness of the community. Students researched and identified 15 changemakers in Oakland — social entrepreneurs who are taking creative steps to improve their local communities and the city as a whole. Through this project, students are learning how to conduct research using primary sources such as interviews as well as archival resources; synthesize and analyze research; develop creative narratives that are brought to life through podcasts; and more. At the same time, the project allows students to interact with members of the community and better understand the underlying local issues and challenges they are working to address, hopefully inspiring them to become future changemakers themselves.
These have included folks like Pastor Curtis Flemming, founder of Dignity Housing West, local author Pendravis Harshaw (A.K.A OG Pen), artist and entrepreneur Keba Konte, founders of Pochino Press, Xiomara Castro and Daniel Zarazua, and more.
These are the experiences that students need. The ones that will leave a lasting impact, developing networks, real world skills and also the students’ own passions. These are the skills student will need. As Hsu, stated, “Latitude students, nurtured by innovators and designers, entrepreneurs and activists, acquire the creative confidence they need to navigate an uncertain future. By extending learning beyond the walls of a school building, Latitude’s learning experiences help to demystify access to the full range of Bay Area opportunities and expand each student’s sense of possibility for their future.”
This is the type of school that Oakland youth need and deserve; a school that engages them in their passions and empowers them to be masters of the world ahead of them rather than servants. I hope that this revolutionary new school can feed the revolutionary spirit of our young people, and inspire the next Huey Newton, providing them even better tools to dismantle that the systemic inequality we trip over every day in Oakland.
(The author is a board member of Latitude High, which is currently accepting applications for next year.)