Career Day at Manzanita Community School

at 12:35 AM

It was career day last week at Oakland's Manzanita Community School. I went to talk about journalism. A nurse, a carpenter, a comic artist and a clown were among the other volunteers who told 3rd, 4th and 5th graders about our careers.

After a description of my work, stressing the importance of education, I took questions. Many of the students had prepared questions. Did I enjoy my work? What was my schedule? A little boy asked about the benefits. When I asked what he meant, he smiled adorably and said he didn't really know.

Kids always want to know if I've interviewed anyone famous. That's tough because I've usually never heard of the people they think are famous. I mention mayors or ex-governors and the names are met with blank stares. What exciting stories have I covered? I was shocked to find out they had been born 10 years after the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Some of the questions were surprisingly insightful. Where do I go for inspiration to write, asked a budding writer. A pensive boy asked did I think I would always be a journalist. Even with all the turmoil in the profession, I had to admit I probably would, in some way or another.

The students were attentive and smart. They waved their hands, eager to ask their questions. Their teachers kept a watchful eye on anyone who was writing notes or getting rambunctious. And of course the kids were beautiful. They were the picture of diversity. Asian-American, African-American, Latino and white kids. Two students were refugees from Nepal. A boy had arrived from Algeria just eight months ago.

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Their teachers had control of their classrooms and they were familiar with the particular talents of their students, talking about them with pride.

I was impressed with the students and teachers. But that's usually how I feel when I visit an Oakland public school. When I left, I felt hopeful. Given the reputation of urban public schools, hope is not what you'd expect to feel. Too often public education gets caught up in the politics and agendas of adults. We lose sight of the innate ability and desire of children to learn.

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With a Perspective, I'm Brenda Payton.

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