Heroes Profile- Carmelita Reyes

Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

I believe I have an obligation to provide access to education for the students of Oakland.

Carmelita Reyes

Co-Principal, Oakland International High School

Did you grow up in Oakland?

If not, what brought you to Oakland?

I came to Oakland because of the small school movement in 2001. I wanted to participate in creating new schools that would better serve urban students in Oakland Unified School District.

What is your connection to Oakland Education? How would you describe your role in the community?

I’ve worked in Oakland for 15 years. In 2007, I opened Oakland International High School which serves 400 newly arrived immigrants and refugees who are learning English. Our goal was to create a school that supported both the academic and social emotional needs of this vulnerable community. More recently, I’ve served on a lot of committees and forums in an effort to improve systems and conditions for students, teachers, and principals districtwide.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? 

My favorite aspect of my job is seeing transformation in kids. The most satisfying student to see graduate each year is inevitably the one who gave me the most grief in 9th and 10th grades. It is usually a boy who used to be pissy with teachers, opt out of doing his work, get into fights, and on occasion call me a four letter word. However, overtime the school pushes, prods, supports, and encourages him. At some point when no one is looking he comes to school one day acting like a civilized human being — participating, helping, and lecturing the younger kids on how to pull themselves together. I love that kid.

Share a highlight from your career.

I’ve been extremely fortunate working in OUSD. I’ve had the unique opportunity to help open two schools, Life Academy as a teacher and Oakland International High School as a principal.

 What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?

My father is 87 years old. When he was growing up in Texas, schools were segregated and Mexican schools were far inferior to those of Anglos. Most Latinos never graduated from high school. However, my father and his 13 siblings all graduated from high school and college. My six aunts became teachers. Education and access to college were transformative for my family. I benefitted from their struggles, and I believe I have an obligation to provide access to education for the students of Oakland.

What is your best advice to young people?

Learn to read well and broadly. Recognize and apologize for your mistakes. Marry the right person. Be good to your family.

What motivates you?

I like hard, interesting work.

What do you like to do in your free time?

What free time? I’m a principal with a kindergartner and a 3-year-old.

What do you love most about Oakland?

I was born in Texas, and think y’all is a terrifically useful word that the rest of the country should adopt. When I arrived in Oakland 15 years ago, my y’all, y’all’s, and all y’all’s greatly humored my students. Reciprocity being important…. They taught me a terrific Oakland word, hella. It can be used as an adjective, adverb and exclamation … it is a hella useful word.

If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

There are a lot of things that I wish we could fix for kids. If I could only pick two things to focus on, they would be reading and conflict mediation. If students can read, they are forever empowered. If they can regulate their emotions and mediate conflicts, they will have successful relationships with community members, employers, friends, and family.

60 Seconds with Carmelita Reyes

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Heroes Profile- Darius Aikens

Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

I work to actively secure fairness and justice without discrimination based on race – that is the world we aspire to live in.

Darius Aikens

Student Director for the Board of Education, Oakland Unified School District

Did you grow up in Oakland? If not, what brought you to Oakland?

I lived in Oakland during my early years in life. At the age of 5 my family and I moved to Hayward, California. But, I’ve always had a connection to Oakland due to frequent visits to relatives. What brought me back to Oakland after nine years was a tragic moment in my life. My mother revealed that she could no longer take care of me, and I moved in with relatives.

What is your connection to Oakland Education?

How would you describe your role in the community?

I proudly serve as a Student Director for the Board of Education representing the voices of all of Oakland Unified School District’s amazing scholars. Additionally, I am actively involved in my community through the best organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In that capacity, I serve as the 2nd Vice President and Juvenile Justice Chair of the Youth Council advocating for the rights of my fellow African Americans. We work to actively secure fairness and justice without discrimination based on race–that is the world we aspire to live in.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? 

My favorite aspect is that students have entrusted me with the responsibility of representing them. I am a voice for the voiceless.

What do you love most about Oakland?

I love the potential that Oakland has and the doors that it has personally unlocked for me. This is the city where I found God. Because of God first and this city, I was introduced to a me that I didn’t know was inside of me. In short, this is the land of opportunity, and new beginnings.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love going to church, and reading my Bible or just spending time with friends.

What motivates you?

God.

What is your best advice to young people?

Don’t become weary or faint because of what you are going through. Everything that you endure is strengthening you, and preparing you for greatness. Be cautious of what you allow your spirit to be exposed to because everything influences you whether it’s music, television, people, a billboard, or whatever- it all has an impact on your life. Don’t let other people’s “No” stop you from God’s “Yes”. Stay encouraged!

If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

This would be a community where everyone learns and is held to high expectations that will lead them to do nothing but succeed in life. Ultimately, schools would become schools again.

60 Seconds with HEROES Darius Aikens

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HEROES Profile- Hope Settle

Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

“… always believe in yourself, never stop learning and study your history.”

Hope Settle

Aspire Berkley Maynard Academy

Did you grow up in Oakland? If not, what brought you to Oakland?

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. The beauty of California, family and the need for a new and meaningful challenge brought me to Oakland.

 

 

 

 

What is your connection to Oakland Education? How would you describe your role in the community?

Currently, I am a 4/5 teacher at Berkley Maynard Academy. My role in the community is to help to inspire young people to find their own constructive path by realizing their inner strength and beauty.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? 

Building relationships with the kids and watching them take ownership of their learning with vigor are the favorite aspects of my job.

Share one or two highlights from your career, in which you believe you made an impact.

One highlight is when I was asked to help start a First Lego League Robotics team at a Title 1 school where I was teaching in Texas. The girls and boys that joined were exposed to team building activities, programming and engineering design. They signed an agreement to keep their grades at a passing rate as well as upholding the values outlined in our behavior contract. As part of this team, not only did they win in two categories two years in a row, they became the super stars on campus. By the end of the school year the members of the team had a stronger desire to learn, moved with purpose and treated themselves and others with respect.

Another highlight for me is when the Galveston Ballet gave 15 of the elementary students a scholarship to not only to learn the art of ballet, but also to perform in their yearly production of The Nutcracker at the Galveston Opera House. I provided the students with background information on the history of ballet and how major athletic teams incorporate ballet as part as their strength training program. The strength training aspect of ballet resonated with one of my relatively quiet and reserved male students.

Although some of the boys laughed at the idea, by being in a safe learning environment he felt comfortable stepping out of his comfort zone and expressing an interest in an activity not traditionally an option for male students of color. He wrote the required essay, filled out the application and was accepted. Throughout the two months of after school and Saturday practice, there were transportation and scheduling issues. With all of those obstacles he never gave up. He enthusiastically learned his choreography. The day of the performance, he got there just in time to get dressed before his showcase. He entered the stage with his head held high as if everything were normal. He was amazing!

After that experience not only did he talk about how ballet increased his endurance and flexibility to improve his skills in soccer and football, he displayed a new sense of confidence in his schoolwork and his social interactions with his classmates. The Galveston Ballet Company offered him a scholarship to return the following year.

What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?

My mom was an amazing teacher. At the end of each school year, she taught summer school. Sometimes the assignment was in the inner city of Richmond, but sometimes it was in a rural county. I would go with here to assist in the classroom where I took note of her calm and loving demeanor with the kids. Regardless of race or socio-economic background, she treated all of the kids with the same level of respect and high expectations. Squabbles and frustrations in the classroom were not only quickly deescalated, they were handled in a way that they too became part of the learning process.

What do you love most about Oakland?

I love the diversity of the city. There are so many cultural activities to take advantage of, an abundance of multi-cultural restaurants and green spaces where I can explore with my dog, Barney.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I like to cook, explore the outdoors, take photographs, spend time with family, and read.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by a desire to expose children to a world they think is unattainable and to teach them the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their dreams and succeed in everything they put their heart into.

What is your best advice to young people?

My best advice to young people is to always believe in yourself, never stop learning and study your history.

If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

My vision of education everywhere is one where all children have equal access to a wealth of information via computers, books, guest speakers, science laboratories, and field trips. I would like to see Oakland offer students an incentive to graduate college with the promise to return to teach in their community for at least 3 years to increase a more diverse teaching staff.

60 Seconds with Hope Settle

 

 

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HEROES Profile- Karina Gonzalez

Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

“I wanted to help facilitate the healing in their lives. So my favorite part of this job? Listening to their stories and connecting with their hearts. I believe our people are resilient and they have amazing strengths and gifts.”

Karina Gonzalez

Clinical Intervention Specialist, Seneca Family of Agencies

Did you grow up in Oakland? If not, what brought you to Oakland?

I did not grow up in Oakland. I actually grew up in the southeast community of Los Angeles called South Gate. I made my way up to the Bay Area in the summer of 2004 to pursue my Masters in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Drama Therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, CA. I had been working in East Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights and Watts down in Los Angeles and I had every intention of returning “back to the community. However, in working throughout the Bay Area in Hayward and Oakland, I realized that “community” was everywhere and I decided to stay in the Bay Area to work with the community here. I felt very much at home in Seneca Families of Agencies because I witnessed the level of dedication and love that folks had for young people.

 What is your connection to Oakland Education?

How would you describe your role in the community?

I work as a Clinical Intervention Specialist at two schools in East Oakland – Lazear Charter Academy and Ascend School. My role includes being a therapist for students K-12, consulting with teachers on ways to support our young students in the classroom through therapeutic interventions, offer support to the campus through restorative justice circles and helping facilitate other conversations within the classroom community to address issues such as grief/loss, strengthen relationships and transitions. In addition, I also meet with families to help them work through issues that surface within their families and connect them to resources. I feel very fortunate to have a position where I’m able to move about the community to connect individually with other folks doing this same work in our community as well as having the privilege of listening to stories from the community. It’s very humbling.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? 

I love having the opportunity to connect with young people and their families. It’s very grounding and reminds me everyday why I went into this type of work. I wanted to help facilitate the healing in their lives. So my favorite part of this job? Listening to their stories and connecting with their hearts. I believe our people are resilient and they have amazing strengths and gifts. Sometimes, carving a little space for people to feel heard helps them reconnect with their strengths and gifts.

Share one or two highlights from your career, in which you believe you made an impact.

I think as a therapist on campus, I have been very fortunate to witness young people in action. I’ve helped facilitate conversations in group settings where young people have an opportunity to connect with each other and I also work with very amazing people in Seneca who whole-heartedly believe in this work as much as I do. I say this because this work cannot be done alone and if we shine is because we shine as a team. Last year, I, along with my esteemed colleague Ms. Tatiana Stewart (another clinician at the Lazear campus) were able to facilitate a conversation between young people in Middle School with their long term substitute teacher who replaced the revolving door of substitute teachers that were covering the class after the regular classroom teacher left mid-year. These conversations took place through Restorative Justice circles. We had the privilege of witnessing how that classroom was able to build a stronger connection with not only each other but their long term substitute teacher through those conversations. We also noticed how certain young people who had a challenging time staying present and focused, were able to shift to the point that they were able to express their appreciation toward the long term substitute teacher in front of peers.

 

 What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?

I really believe that this work is my life mission. I used to work with young people in Los Angeles and many saw clinicians who did not reflect their cultural experiences. As much as I loved working with young people and facilitating talking circles, I knew that in order to go deeper with families, I needed to pursue my Masters in Counseling Psychology. I wanted to be a clinician who mirrored their cultural experiences. I grew up in a working class community and I was the first to pursue higher education.

When I told my mom that I was going to college in High School, she responded, “we can’t afford it” and I said, “Well… I’m going.” As I reflect on my life experiences, I think that voice surfaced from a place where I knew that I wanted to create changes and getting an education would be means to get me where I needed to go. As I started to get more involved in social services and social justice, I became more aware of the disparity in resources and opportunities. My family did not have the option to pursue counseling services – we just functioned best we could. A lot of the families in Oakland are doing the same, trying to get by best they can to provide for their families. In their faces, I see my family reflected. For me, this work is about being able to help hold space for our families and young people to reflect on ways to create movement in their lives.

What is your best advice to young people?

Tap into your intuition and listen to the whispers around you. Those whispers may be your ancestors trying to provide some guidance or your gut trying to steer you on the right path.

What motivates you?

Healing for the seventh generation. As a “mixed blood person” from indigenous roots, I believe that we do this work in order to heal the generations before us who did not have the opportunity to heal and heal future generations. I am motivated by the future and creating a better place for that seventh generation one generation at a time.

What do you like to do in your free time?

It’s cliché but I do love spending time with my family and reconnecting with myself whether it’s through writing, singing or experimenting with a new recipe.

What do you love most about Oakland?

I love the people and the rich cultural diversity that exists within Oakland. To me, Oakland has a lot of heart and in the face of gentrification, our people here continue to move forward. I think working at a charter school that has been kept open by families has proven to me once again, the power of heart and commitment. At Lazear Charter Academy, the families were the ones who kept this school alive. If we have a wonderful place to work in, it is because of all those families who stood up and fought for the school to remain here in this community.

 

 

If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

I want a public education to have the opportunities for young people to feel inspired and dream big. I often hear from students that “school is boring” and I wonder if there were more resources and opportunities, would we be able to offer them an experience within public education for them to learn through experiential ways. Let’s give them a space where they can access not only excellent academic classes but access art, music, nature and theatre. I would also would like to see restorative justice circles at every school because it focuses on community building and having a place for young people to feel heard and connect with their teachers on a deeper level.

 

 

60 Seconds with Karina Gonzalez

 

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HEROES Profile- Pam Mullen

Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

What I love most about Oakland is the creative spirit.

It’s so diverse and unique.

Pamela R. Mullen

Oakland Educator

 

Did you grow up in Oakland? If not, what brought you to Oakland?

I was born and raised in Oakland, California.

 What is your connection to Oakland Education?

How would you describe your role in the community?

My connection to Oakland education would be the fact that I am so fortunate to have grown up and lived in a city with such amazing history, culture and beauty. And I feel it is my duty, right, and responsibility to share with my students this incredible knowledge. In hopes that they will share and keep the Oakland  legacy flowing.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

My favorite aspect of my job is when I have that one student who has been struggling in an area of study. He or she works so hard and they refuse to give up – you can see it  in their eyes. And one day, out of the struggle, THEY GET IT!! What a joy for them, their families and of course, ME!

Share one or two highlights from your career, in which you believe you made an impact.

 

 

One special highlight- and do know there are many-was a few years ago. I had a scheduled parent conference, and my parent walked in with a lady who look very familiar. The lady walked over to me and handed me an old, tattered certificate she had received in June,1992, for good behavior. It turned out she was my former student and I gave her the certificate. She said it meant so much to her and she saved it. It turned out she was the sister of my parent I was having a conference with that day. When my former student found out I was the teacher of her niece, she had to see me. What a joy!

What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?

I feel what led me to do what I am doing now is my mother and sister. My mother was a high school teacher for 47 years, and she taught at one high school. My sister worked with Special Needs students for 12 years. Both of these women are so amazing and they truly loved what they  did in education. They both were, and still are awesome models for me.

 What motivates you?

My daughter, Ciarra, my mother, Dorothy, my sister, Tamara, my uncle, Leon and close friends motivate me. They are the ones who believe in me and remind me never to give up. They support me through the good times as well has the bad times. They love me.

 

What do you love most about Oakland?

What I love most about Oakland is the creative spirit. It’s so diverse and unique.

 

 What do you like to do in your free time?

I am a super fan. I love to watch basketball (GO WARRIORS! ) and football (Please GO RAIDERS and 49ers! ). I’m also a super mom fan – my daughter plays Rugby all over. I try to make it to some of her games and it is so exciting to see her play. SHE IS SO AWESOME! ( That’s the PROUD mom talking.) I also like to watch any Tyler Perry movies.

 

 

Pam Mullen is one of the finest teachers I have ever seen with young children. She is currently a Kindergarten teacher at Garfield. She taught TK for 3 years before that and K-3 for 20 years before that. She’s simply amazing. She attends to the social emotional growth and early literacy and math skills while creating a culture of young scholars who LOVE school and her.

Susan True

Director of Education Strategy and Ventures, Kenneth Rainin Foundation

What is your best advice to young people?

My best advice to young people would be, regardless of what is happening around you, never stop loving and believing in yourself. You can always count on yourself.

 If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

 

 

My vision to reimagine public education in Oakland would be total Creativity and Play for our youngest scholars to our oldest scholars. Where students would be excited about coming to school because they would be learning Math Concepts, Reading, Language Arts, etc. by way of Creativity and Play – WHAT FUN! And the great thing about it, when the students were being assessed, they scored off the chart. How awesome that would be?!

 

60 Seconds with Pam Mullen

 

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HEROES Profile- Xotchilt Robinson

Hella-awesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

This is the last installment of Educate78’s series highlighting the work of SEEDS of Learning.

SEEDS of Learning is a proven professional development program that provides teachers with strategies to building social emotional, language and literacy skills in young children.

Gloria Lee spent an evening learning about their work and speaking with teachers. Stay tuned to Educate78 to meet these Oakland HEROES.

The training demonstrated the power of assessments to inform planning in real time. The data presented was very specific, enabling the teachers to focus on what to do with students in the coming weeks and months given the data picture of their progress.

Dr. Marc Hernandez, an expert on literacy assessments from the University of Chicago, also attended the meeting and commented on the efficacy of assessment data informed instruction. “Once teachers start using data, they don’t want to go back,” Hernandez said. Not having student data “is like trying to save money without knowing what’s in your bank account.”

This work also builds a common understanding among teachers about how to improve student literacy, and it can be integrated into any existing program. What is crucial is that this work begin early, the way it’s happening in Oakland PreK and TK programs. “There is a real gap that has to be addressed,” explained Hernandez. “It’s never too late to accelerate older children’s learning, but it is much harder to catch up when students enter kindergarten behind. And it is very easy to integrate this literacy work into play, social-emotional development, relationships, creative expression, and other preschool activities. It’s not an either-or proposition. This is really something we need to invest in.”

Horst couldn’t agree more. “This group of teachers is a model for the nation. They have demonstrated the ability to look at child-specific data and then make individual plans on how to improve instruction while being sensitive to each child’s development,” said Horst. “This is a high level of using data to inform instruction. They are stellar at providing children with high quality learning as well as warm and positive relationships.”

The educators at the Y are particularly inspiring. They know every child will succeed if given the opportunity and they are willing to try new strategies, support each other and hold each other accountable to giving kids daily evidenced based experiences to help children become joyful, respected and capable learners. They believe in and love their young students and their students have shown big gains!

Susan True

Kenneth Rainin Foundation

60 Seconds with Xotchilt Robinson

Know any Oakland HEROES?

If you know of any HEROES in your school community to feature, let us know!