Oakland Families Demand More Than “Crisis Learning”

Oakland schools had been failing to educate Black and Brown families for decades before COVID-19. Now, with students learning remotely, families have to contend with what the Oakland Unified School District is calling “crisis learning.” 

But Black and Brown students have been in “crisis learning” for generations. The situation in Oakland is unacceptable if our children are going to be prepared to compete and go to college. Yet this education crisis coupled with a health crisis creates an opportunity. For the first time, families who have not had access to a quality education have a chance to design and fight for the type of 9am-3pm instructional experience that puts their children on the road to college. As an advocacy and direct-service organization, The Oakland REACH is uniquely positioned to work with parents to achieve a better 9am-3pm, and that’s exactly what we are doing with our Citywide Virtual Hub.

The Citywide Virtual Family Hub

During the summer, The Oakland REACH built a Citywide Virtual Hub in the Google Classroom platform. The Hub put parents in the center, and gave them the tools and space to be  leaders in their children’s learning.

Phase 1 consisted of a five-week summer program with over 200 students. The Hub served families and students in K-8 grades across three centers: the Literacy Liberation Center (LLC), serving our K-2nd grade students, the National Summer School Initiative (NSSI), serving 3rd-8th grade students, andtheFamily Sustainability Center (FSC). The Family Sustainability Center provides parents with socio-economic and academic workshops and resources so that they can thrive and not just survive. Fully92% of our families qualify for free and reduced lunch. 

Phase 1 Accomplishments

  • We raised funding and distributed 200 laptops and 60 hotspots to ensure every participating student had their own device and access to the Internet. 
  • We reached over 200 students and their parents with five weeks of high quality live instruction and support from 14 Oakland district and charter teachers. 
  • Attendance at the Hub for K-2 students was a remarkable 83% during the summer, versus only 35% attendance for OUSD during spring distance learning.
  • Students grew about 2 SIPPS reading levels on average over the 5 weeks (a conservative estimate).
  • 9 out of 10 parents said the Hub is having a positive impact on their lives and their child’s education. 
  • The Hub was featured in more than a dozen local, national and even international media outlets like KQED, Time Magazine and BBC News (https://oaklandreach.org/news/).
  • Organizations and individuals from across the country are seeking us out to learn how to replicate the hub in their cities and communities. In late July, we hosted a Hub Visiting Day with almost 90 attendees representing local and national organizations and media eager to learn more about the Hub. 

Enter the Fall Hub: Helping Families Access, Assess, and Advocate 

The Hub is back — and this time with more than double the number of students, and nearly double the number of Family Liaisons. Our 18 Family Liaisons (50% are bilingual), began working with families in mid-October, and programming for our 368 students runs Monday-Thursday afternoons.  

Through our Phase 2 planning surveys, an astonishing 99% of Hub parents told us that they want a Family Liaison. We listened to them and are making Family Liaisons the backbone of Phase 2. Our Family Liaisons support families across approximately 80 district and charter schools. 
Family Liaisons are truly the “secret sauce” of the Hub. They make sure families can access distance learning via their schools. They then work with them to assess what quality and accessible education looks like — and whether their kids are getting it. And, throughout this process, we are building an advocacy agenda that centers on the lived experiences of families demanding high-quality instruction.

Family Liaison Spotlight: Ericka Njemanze

Ericka Njemanze

After participating in Phase 1 of the Hub and then experiencing a first week of school that was mediocre, Ericka sent a letter to her principal. She praised her experience in the Hub, expressed concern about her children’s educational experience, and explained with clarity and power that she will not allow for her children to fail. Her letter is an example of how The Oakland REACH “makes the powerless parent powerful.”

As a result of Ericka’s letter, her principal asked Ericka to lead the PTA and guide the school around parent voice and leadership. Ericka also applied and has been selected to be a Family Liaison for Phase 2 of the Hub. With her support, more parents will learn how to be powerful advocates like Ericka this Fall. 

Meet our Partners: Hub “Direct to Family” Programming

In addition to our Family Liaisons, families in our Hub will receive access to high-quality instruction and social enrichments. To make this possible, we are enrolling families across different partner programs, where they will have live instruction with incredible teachers, including: 

  • Reconstruction: Led by Kaya Henderson, former DC Public Schools Chancellor, Reconstruction offers individual, world-class education that reconnects kids to the magic of the Black community. Over 85% of our African-American families told us that they want this content for their students — we listened and responded. 
  • Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley: The Hall partners with world-class scientists, engineers, educational leaders, and teachers to develop and share the most innovative and effective STEM programs. Their mission is to inspire and foster science learning for all by engaging students in the same practices and activities that scientists and engineers use in their work.