School Makes a Difference for Oakland Students
From left to right, Front Row: Jessica Lopez, Michael Brown, Emmanuel Greene, Paul Crossley III; Middle Row: Yemas McGhee, Numu Wockmetooah, Theoren Lulua, Jessica Gima, Anne Hurley; Back row: Htun Htet, Jesse Merino, Deven Patton.
By Jennifer Inez Ward
The front office of Street Academy superficially looks like many other high schools – teenagers and teachers milling about, checking mailboxes and turning in assignments. But this is not your regular school.
The Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy was born 40 years ago out of the commitment of a group of community members, teachers and administrators, a collective vision of people who were willing to put in the tough work to build the foundation and to take on the challenges of creating a high school that works for all Oakland teenagers.
Now, the school’s teachers, principal, parents, staff and board will have an opportunity to take a collective bow. On Thursday, May 30, at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, the school will hold a fundraising celebration of its 40th anniversary.
Music, an auction and dinner will all be a part of the festivities.
As Oakland’s first small alternative school, the Street Academy has successfully developed programs that OUSD strives to create.
The student body is a mixture of Latino, African American and a small number of Native American students. While the school is quasi-independent, it is affiliated with the OUSD.
Teachers take on an extra duties at Street Academy. Besides being instructors who encourage students to think for themselves and work hard, they are counselors and mentors.
An expansive number of elective courses are available at the school including dancing classes and theater. Street Academy regularly pays homage to a variety of cultural celebrations and history makers.
Support services and intervention programs are also available, including a mental health counselor for students.
Principal Patricia Williams Myrick can never close her door for a meeting, a phone call, or to catch up on her email. Students are in and out of her office in a constant flow.
They talk to her about school assignments, class placement and the latest gossip. Some students crowd her door to get a bit of advice from the guru principle, whose gruff style they respond to.
“It can be stressful, but I love my job,” Williams Myrick said. “When I went to school, you didn’t go to the principal, you tried to avoid that. (Students) know how I am, they know I’m very serious in what I expect, but they will come to me for anything and everything.”
She has heard and seen it all, and she loves her job, even as the challenges stack up.
“There are a lot of students seeking to change their ways, you know, where they weren’t living up to their potential, and then when they arrived here, they got a wake up call, and they finally decided to put some effort into it and blossom into doing better. I love that, I love to see that,” Williams Myrick said.
Reflecting on the 40th anniversary, former teacher and current board member Kitty Kelly Epstein said there are clear reasons why Street Academy has thrived as a model school.
“I think you can look at two parts,” she said. “One, Street Academy is doing a lot of things right with students who are not served well in the traditional system. A lot of kids feel comfortable and accepted (at Street Academy), and as a result they excel.
“Second, this is a high quality, joyful education where active learning and community building are just as important as test scores.”
While the school celebrates its 40th year in service, the faculty is well aware of many challenges ahead.
“Our major challenge is financial,” said Betsy Schulz who has been an instructor for all 40 years. “
Because the school provides lower class sizes, more electives, and more intense academic and personal support for students, ever-declining public funds are not enough to support the school, according to the staff.
The 40th anniversary celebration will be Thursday, May 30, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, Suite 290 at 388 9th St in Oakland. To enroll a student for the fall term or to attend the 40th anniversary celebration, call (510) 874-3631.