This week is the first anniversary of the last graduation of the Edward Shands Adult School. I had written last year that, “Thursday night may have been the last graduation the Edward Shands Adult School puts on. After 139 years of free basic adult education and ever-expanding offerings, including its high school diploma program, Oakland Unified School District has decided to close almost the entire adult school department.” See http://oaklandlocal.com/blogs/2010/06/edward-shands-school-close-adult-education-faces-severe-cutbacks-oakland-community-voices.
And it came to pass that Shands in East Oakland, the Neighborhood Centers schools in East Lake, and the Pleasant Valley School for Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities were all closed by June, 2010.
The remaining teachers were funneled into the Family Literacy Program, English classes for parents in their neighborhood schools, and GED preparation. In the video accompanying this you’ll hear long-time teacher Jessie Ortiz talk about the only remaining Spanish GED class which she taught last year. By the way, all of these classes had been offered in summer as well as the school year before the funding stream was removed by the state legislature.
The wonderful little Bond Street center near Fremont High School still holds a core of citizenship, computer and other literacy classes for second language learners. It has been threatened with closure repeatedly over the years but still hangs on. It may not last this next round of closures, but its demise is being hard fought.
There is some confusion in the video that is shared by many in the District. Oakland Unified provided one of the few, perhaps only, high school diploma programs for adults. Most people were only aware of the General Educational Development Test which results in a California High School Equivalency Certificate.
Fully 40% of Oakland youth don’t graduate with their original classmates but could come back and receive actual coursework in the Math, English, Social Studies, and Science classes needed to complete their high school credits. We graduated roughly 5000 students since the Shands campus opened.
The high school classes program no longer exists but GED classes are still being offered at some sites. Other GED prep classes are being taught by former Oakland Unified teachers at other institutions like the one being offered, for free, at the Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland. The problem is that not only are there not enough of them, most students are not even aware of their existence.
Last year we held a graduation in Laney College’s auditorium for 75 high school graduates and at least 50 GED certificate holders. Before joining the diploma program, I subbed in ESL at the Neighborhood Centers and some of the other ESL sites like Chinatown which had also been closed down. Then at Shands I moved from ESL to English to counseling to Government and Economics which I taught during the crash of 2009/10-interesting times.
Despite the low rate of pay and uncertain conditions-as an hourly teacher I had no guarantees and a lower wage than teachers with a District contract-I found the work immensely rewarding. The community of teachers and students and staff in our little marginalized world of immigrants, formerly incarcerated youth, single moms, and often desperately struggling families was a very cohesive one.
Everyone came to us across a minefield of obstacles that would knock most folks out for life. They continued despite lack of resources, health, support and even those difficulties unwittingly (I hope) caused by the District’s administration. Yet even those who didn’t always make it to class knew that the option to remake their lives was still available when they were ready.
One of the teachers I worked with summed it up best, “Adult Education survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, but now we can’t afford it. It’s ridiculous. Talk about not valuing what you have.”
The news is slightly better today than other days. The teachers and students have put up a helluva fight and are now getting some hopeful responses by at least one board member although the news from the governor is bad. He’s calling for more cuts if the tax extensions are not available.
At our last graduation of Edward Shands another teacher and I had made signs for the students to quietly wear over their gowns on the stage of the auditorium that said, ”Save our School & Save Adult Education.” Our principal, a perfectly nice man, told us to take them off. He said, “this is neither the time nor place…” I thought it was and I still do, but we’ll have to make the time and the place. No one is going to give it to us unless we demand it.
Please check out the video. It is my love letter to the community I miss, a community that must continue to exist, for all our sakes.