Occupy Education California holds outdoor classroom-style events

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The group known as Occupy Education California, which orchestrated the 99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice held in early March, is planning to hold outdoor classroom-style events in public parks around the Bay Area in July.

According to Elizabeth de Martelly, a UC Berkeley graduate student and one of the events’ organizers, these events are designed to raise public awareness about issues concerning the current state of public education in California.

“Public education in California is severely underfunded and becoming increasingly privatized, and there have been attacks on teachers,” de Martelly said. “We really need to distribute education in a time where there is a scarcity of education.”

De Martelly said these events — which will emulate the style of “Theater of the Oppressed,” where the audience becomes active participants in the performances — will create discourse for community members to brainstorm solutions to the problems present within the public education system.

According to de Martelly, each two-hour event will open with a general forum on public education and then move into a detailed discussion of the topic planned for that event and close with a conversation on the overall experience of the event.

Each event will focus on one or two different topics, to be led by a different member each time.

De Martelly said that the topics to be discussed include food sovereignty, the history of water in the municipality and anti-colonialism with a look into Tupac’s music.

“We came together to develop a toolbox of different things that people want to talk about,” said Sara Hicks-Kilday, another member of the group and organizer of the events. “We’ve talked about specific things, like plant biology, for example, and how to make this topic more accessible to young children.”

Hicks-Kilday said the first two outdoor classroom-style events were held in Richmond on July 3 and Mountain View on July 4.

De Martelly will co-facilitate the third event, which will be held this Saturday at 12 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley, and lead a discussion on deconstructing advertising fear tactics. The event will also feature a facilitation skill share for adults and interactive games for kids.

Hicks-Kilday said because the events are being held in diverse locations throughout the Bay Area, each event would be catered differently to the type of audience the group expects to receive.

“For our kickoff in Richmond, we tried to make it a really festive area,” Hicks-Kilday said. “We had large sheets for children where they could write about their visions for liberated education. In Mountain View, we had a circle meet-in and event social in the park, and it was a more focused visioning circle.”

According to De Martelly, the idea for the events originated while the group was participating in the 99 Mile March from Oakland to Sacramento, but the proposal for the events was created in May.

De Martelly said the group took inspiration from the sit-in movement known as “People’s School at Lakeview Elementary.”

In fall 2011, the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education approved a plan to close down five smaller elementary schools and redirect their funds to other schools in the district. One of the schools, Lakeview Elementary, closed for good at the end of this school year.

In response to the school’s closure, parents and members of Occupy Oakland organized a sit-in at the school, and the movement became known as the People’s School at Lakeview Elementary.

“They set up different events, like gardening classes, and worked in close association with the folks at Gill Tract for sustainable farming,” de Martelly said. “They discussed physical fitness, social justice and even racism. It raised the question, ‘How do we pass on the knowledge that we need to survive?’”

The sit-in was shut down by police last week, but according to de Martelly, the group has continued its protest at the Splash Pad Park right across the street from the school.

Hicks-Kilday, who has worked in early childhood education since the 1980s and has children who have attended public schools in California, recognizes the increasing problems within the public education system and says that these events provide a gamut for people to come together to try to fix these problems.

De Martelly also said it became clear to her that the major battle in California was for public education.

“We were really stretching our brains to come up with models for what we imagined on how to fix the situation,” de Martelly said. “We wanted to bring this classroom to life — this idea that started out as a simple conversation on the 99 Mile March.”