At the end of the school day at Franklin Elementary in East Oakland, second grade teacher Darissa Phipps is trying out new techniques with her class to keep them engaged. Ms. Phipps sits at the head of the class with some handouts, waiting to get the students’ attention.
“I find the kids charming and entertaining most of the time – and it’s really exciting to see them learn and grow and how they change over the year from the beginning to the end,” says Phipps.
Samara Shever is a second and third grade “looping" teacher at Learning Without Limits Elementary School. Looping means Shever stays with the same class through their second and third grade years. She's been teaching this way for six years.
“When I started, we had just founded our school as a small public school," says Shever. "The reason we need a small school is because it allows us to have relationships with our students, and with our families in a way that if there are hundreds and hundreds of kids, you just can’t maintain.”
California has nearly a 1,000 charter schools, making it the most in the nation. Thirty-five of those are in the Oakland Unified School District. Charter school popularity has spurred education pedagogy research, the documentary Waiting for Superman, and has left lots of people wondering what these independent schools have to offer.
At Castlemont High School in East Oakland, wedged between the parking lot and football field, live four chickens and two roosters.
There’s also a small but incredibly abundant garden, which under the supervision of garden coordinator Frankie Grace, is entirely run and maintained by students. On the day I visit, Graces is kneeling alongside them, chatting happily and pulling weeds. She lets three of the seasoned students direct what work needs to be done.
A group of enthusiastic men just finished discussing typical PTA issues at the Claremont Middle school in Oakland: issues like what their next fundraising event will be and where to hold their next meeting. What sets this group apart is the fact that it's composed of men. They call themselves ‘The Knights of the Roundtable."