80 percent of the students live below the poverty line. The school is public, but limits enrollment and seeks public and private funds to continue the high costs of their college-preparatory program. I spend 20 minutes with each student, brushing up on vocabulary and reading comprehension, after they’ve been doing the same thing with 20 other students for the past five hours.
The student body is more diverse than Cal’s. About 68 percent of the students are Latino, 13 percent are black and ten percent are “multi-ethnic.” I tutor Jose, Pablo, Dakare’a, Javier and Daniel every week, asking each of them to please sound each letter out instead of making words up, if they’re not already walking away out of frustration.
When I’m not explaining the difference between the jails they’ve visited and obedience school for bad dogs in “Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters From Obedience School,” I try to keep it robotic, because we don’t have time to keep it real. Rolling “r’s” when saying sorry and spelling “’sup” in word games just isn’t acceptable behavior, since “literacy” is what we’re trying to BUILD, and college is where they need to go.
According to the school’s website, “less than one in 20 students in the Oakland Unified School District” meet the qualifications to get into the University of California. But the individualized attention and community-centered education methods of Think College Now and International Community School, two separate K-5 programs sharing the same space on International Boulevard, claim to improve those chances.
It can hurt, being a nerd in the real world. “Speaking the language” is key to assimilation/survival, but language and survival methods change according to zip code, housing tract and number of taco trucks. As of last year, 88 percent of Americans over the age of 25 hold high school degrees. Standardized tests may quantify our math and language skills, but the communities we live in test how much we really know about life.
Colorful murals and black and brown skin run through the hallways, wearing maroon “Think College Now” hoodies matched with khaki pants or navy blue slacks. Most teachers stick to jeans and Toms, reminding me to save hole-y tights and flitty dresses for the company of other oblivious Cal bears.
At the end of the school day, young women wearing three-inch heels and tube tops/bottoms make rounds across the street, waiting for a ride or two from any of the cars passing by. The lady wearing a reflector vest blows her whistle and holds up a red sign to stop the flow of traffic, to let the kids and their guardians walk to the other side. I’ve been taking the BART home since I realized that waiting for the 1 across the street in my loafers and cardigan might not be the best for business.
We are privileged — to be educated in a premier public university, unbarred by suburban isolation and situated in the ranging hustles of the Bay. While San Francisco’s beauty and utility claim tourists and Cal students every day and weekend, consider what goes on at the other side of the Bay.
Only a 30-minute bus ride away from Berkeley’s iPad-holding bros, hoes and nerds, sipping on some java or Jamba, nodding to texts and beats, I want some real Mexican food from the man who sells mangos with limon, chile, y salt on International Boulevard. Until it’s time to go home, East Oakland is where it’s at.
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