By Kristin Psiaki
On November 8, 2016, we have an opportunity to enhance the experience of middle school students across Oakland. Measure G1 is a parcel tax that would provide an approximate 2 percent raise for all teachers and educational staff and give about $250,000 to middle schools for enhancing art, music, and world language programs.
Click here to get a Measure G1 yard sign.
Electives offer students the ability to thrive outside of their ability to read, write or complete math problems. Students in Oakland deserve to feel successful across all parts of academia, electives included. This is why I support G1; it will help bring equity to all middle schools in Oakland by increasing funding for elective programming. Funding that all students need and deserve.
Over the course of my 8 years in OUSD, I worked at three different OUSD middle schools as a special education teacher. Each school had a varying degree of electives offered. I saw first hand the difference that having access to electives made in the lives of my students. If you experienced a well-rounded education, rich with elective choices, you might not be able to envision the situation in some Oakland middle schools.
I remember my bright-eyed 6th graders on the first day of school being heartbroken at the shift from their elementary school to their middle school routine: no more recess, no art, no outside area that wasn’t covered in concrete. Day 1 of middle school, my students learned a harsh reality; electives, like art, gardening, music or technology only exist in schools with extra funding, and not in the flatland school they attended.
“Electives offer students the ability to thrive outside of their ability to read, write or complete math problems. Students in Oakland deserve to feel successful across all parts of academia, electives included. This is why I support G1; it will help bring equity to all middle schools in Oakland by increasing funding for elective programming. Funding that all students need and deserve.”
This school only offered an extra math or science class to fill out the students’ daily schedules. Teachers noticed increased behavioral problems, decreased self esteem, and intellectual burnout. We discussed how a student’s behavior would change from their first math class to the second time the student was in the class; stating students were more likely to express negative attention seeking behaviors, shouting out, “I’m bored,” or “Why do I need to have this class again?” Teachers would do their best to target individual student’s needs and not duplicate content, but even the best student suffered during their “elective” academic class.
Years later I switched to another Oakland middle school, across town with a mix of middle class and socio-economically stressed families. Although it was the same town, it was an entirely different world. The band director hosts an annual pancake brunch, takes his students to play the National Anthem at A’s games and networks to have his students tutored by the likes of Sheila E.
The art teacher uses her prep to host students in the outside classroom or meets with students after school to cultivate the school garden. Some teachers have even taught Spanish or Drama if the master schedule allows. I watched students of all education levels bloom through their electives: a student struggling with confidence master a song on the guitar, a student with autism find friends in art or a student rush to his journalism class to work on a project.
Schools have to make tough choices when funding is tight. The first thing to go is usually art and/or music. Measure G1 can help schools fund electives and free up money for the academic intervention that their students might also need. Every school across Oakland can and should have access to electives of all types. As a community we must decide to prioritize all of our students. A vote for Measure G1 is a vote for ALL of Oakland’s students. Join me in saying YES to G1!
Kristin Psiaki, Educator and Oakland resident