I support Oakland Kids First, because the organization's work is youth-centered and youth-led. Culture change is at the heart of OKF's mission, because the staff and youth involved in OKF's programs know that shifting school culture is essential to longer-term, broad-based systemic reform. Deeply held organizational values of connection, personal and collective responsibility and shared leadership guide this work, and, as such, alumni of OKF's program come back as board members and staff or go on to form their own social change organizations.
I joined the Board of Oakland Kids First last June after seeing the impact of the work on students' lives. The REAL HARD program gives students the skills and opportunities to lead their peers towards making positive changes in their schools and communities through culture campaigns. The Peers Advising Students to Success program empowers young people to teach other students the academic requirements for graduation and college acceptance. In a district with very few school based counselors, this program is essential for helping all students succeed. I firmly believe in the mission, the programs, and power of the dynamic staff to transform lives by partnering with student leaders for change.
I first became aware of the work of Oakland Kids First (OKF) when they were chosen to be a part of a cohort of youth programs to receive technical assistance and capacity building sponsored by the Cricket Island Foundation. OKF was chosen as one of the Bay area programs because of their unique approach to engaging school communities (including parents, teachers, administrators and students) in the Oakland School District in efforts to change the culture and climate of the schools from one of disenfranchisement and alienation to institutions with cultures that value and support student equity, teacher effectiveness and a passion for learning of the highest order. Over the past 6 years I have watched them grow and expand their model to include new and creative peer based programs for students and teachers, and to expand into new schools throughout the district. They currently work as close partners with the Oakland Unified School District in their advocacy for students, families and teachers committed to ensuring equity and quality education for all students.
I was a host teacher for the PASS-2 program, which trains 11th and 12 grade students twice each week throughout the school year to develop leadership, presentation and life skills. Once trained, these new leaders provide workshops to educate their freshmen peers on transcript literacy, barriers to successful completion of high school and A-G requirements. As a 10 year veteran teacher, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the Oakland Kids First staff, and the dynamic,engaging curriculum that transformed my students into leaders with a purpose.
I have been volunteering with Oakland Kids First for over a year and am proud of the work I am contributing to. At OKF the team strives to provide excellent resources and opportunities to young people who come from communities that are often overlooked. The students who benefit from OKF's programming develop strong leadership skills, interpersonal development, and a connection to their classmates and community. The transformation that OKF provides for the students is incredible.