Oakland Local

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Oakland Schools Try New Model to Provide Safe Place for Youth

Barbara Grady/Oakland Local

MyClymonds High School students Starletta Andrews and Astiee Carver and friends at Youth and Family Center.

McClymonds High School juniors Starletta Andrews and Astiee Carver remember how tough it was to find a safe place to hang out with friends after school this time last year.

"It's not safe to hang outside, even outside of the school," Astiee said about the streets surrounding this West Oakland high school.

But now, thanks to the full service community school strategy of the Oakland Unified School District, McClymonds teenagers have a brightly painted lounge with couches and games and books to hang out in or their choice of a computer room or a dance workout room at the new McClymond's Youth and Family Center. Moreover, they have access to tutors, counselors and peer mentors all at the place a mere walk across the parking lot from their school.

"It is a fun place and if we have a problem or something we can come in here and cool off," Astiee said. "You can also talk to someone."

Starletta adds, "I am thankful for it because without this place, I'd be outside or maybe we wouldn't be hanging out much."

Based on a range of comments last week when the McClymonds Youth and Family Center and the adjacent Chappell Hayes Health Center invited the whole school to visit for lunch and gave back packs full of school supplies to the students, the center has quickly filled a void and a need.

"The first week of school we had a grief circle here because a student died" in a nighttime shooting, said Charles Washington, one of the counselors. "I think everybody here is affected by violence. A lot of the issues I deal with are community violence and how to deal with that, a lot of grief and loss and how to deal with those."

About 100 kids a day have been showing up at the center, said Franklin Hysten, its director of community programs. "We see just about every kid at McClymonds. Everybody at school comes to at least one of the programs here."

Starletta said she and her friends come every day. Or their families come to Chapell Hayes Health Center - a clinic run by Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. Chapell is the neighborhood health clinic.

OUSD launched its full service community school initiative in an effort to turn around the district's 37 percent drop out rate and in recognition that a large number of students face inordinate stresses and trauma from neighborhood violence, poverty or unstable home lives. Realizing that students need to feel safe and fed and cared for in order to learn, it developed a strategic plan around these full service community schools to focus on a child's needs. 

Superintendent Tony Smith, whose idea it was to create the full service community schools, describes the initiative this way.

"The district's vision is for these school-based centers to serve as neighborhood service hubs for students and families with multiple nonprofits working together on site to offer a range of support services from academic tutoring and parenting classes to medical checkups and employment services, particularly for families grappling with poverty."

Across town, another Youth and Family Center opened at the Fremont High School campus and the oldest of the youth and community centes is located at Youth Uprising next to Castlemont High School in East Oakland.

But it isn't cheap and the theories behind the full service community schools have yet to be fully implemented, with lots of kids still facing obstacles beyond the classroom or whose needs are not being met. As Smith said in a letter to parents this fall "Creating a school district that not only sets high expectations for achievement, but provides the conditions needed to attain success, demands a dramatic revision of the way we operate and the way we interact with each other."

The jury is still out on whether the concept will work.

Also the well-equipped youth and family centers are not something the school district can afford on its own. Operating the centers involves significant investment from Alameda County, Children's Hospital, the city of Oakland, and nonprofits like Alternatives in Action, which operates the youth center, Kids First,, and Oakland Natives Give Back.

Dr. Barbara Staggers, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital Oakland and the medical director of the Chappell Hayes clinics, said delivering health care to adolescents "is about wrap around services" because the things that harm adolescents are rarely medical, as in disease based, but "things that happen to them."

"The leading causes of death for teens are car accidents, homicides and suicides. So you can't wait for teenagers to come to your office door because these things happen in the community," Staggers said. To practice preventative medicine, "you have to be where they are, you have to partner with the community, with parks and recreation and schools because the things the kill teens are not medical," she added.

Source: Oakland Local []

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