A back-to-school night for students at Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in Oakland is more than just shining apples and tidying books. Instead, the students sit in on lectures, engage with their community and become prepared for graduation in the process.
At the “Social Justice Fair,” as the event is called, local organizations meet with students to share their group’s mission and provide pathways to hands-on learning and volunteer opportunities within the community.
“We are doing work-based learning,” said Lara Lawal, Street Academy’s internship, college and career readiness coordinator. “We want to teach students, and we want them to do work in the actual field they are interested in.”
Students must complete 60 hours of community service and 60 hours of political action in order to graduate from Street Academy.
In order to help students complete that requirement, the Social Justice Fair introduces them to the very community-based organizations that they may end up spending the rest of the year with.
“I’m excited for kids to have a deeper learning experience and to develop their understanding of how organizations work to move towards change in the community,” said Street Academy principal Gina Hill.
This year, however, things were a little bit different than previous Social Justice Fairs, where organizations would set up small information booths outside for students to meander through.
Instead, attendees this fall traveled from classroom to classroom with a “passport” (a.k.a. their class schedule for the evening), taking mini-lessons from organizations like Youth Speaks, Girls Inc. of Alameda County, the Native American Health Center and many more.
“Having the presentations inside is more intentional, and the students build community with the actual providers because they will be working with them for a year,” said Lawal. “We want to set our students up for success, and we want to set up these organizations for success.”
Students learned how to apply for internships dealing with art and resistance with organizations such as Crucible or ArtEsteem, listened to victims of police violence who are trying to transform conditions in their community with groups like Urban Peace Movement, and even got a short health and yoga instruction from the Niroga Institute.
Street Academy isn’t the only school in Oakland offering work-based learning to students. Thanks to some additional funding from Measure N, which voters passed in 2014, several Oakland high schools now have programs like Street Academy’s that are designed to prepare students for college and real-world jobs.
“Sometimes there is a hopelessness that pervades these students’ age group, that they don’t have the power to make things change, that there will always be violence or poverty,” said Hill. “But this gives them some hands-on skills to produce the change and to be the change. I think that’s the most important part.”