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Why Rocketship Alum Rock Matters

The college professor who said such wrong in the student is a shame,
Lack of preparation in high school is to blame.
Said the high school teacher good heavens that boy is a fool,
The fault of course is with the middle school.
The middle school teachers said from such stupidity may I be spared,
They sent him up to me so unprepared.
The primary teacher said the kindergarten blockheads all,
They call it preparation, why it’s worse than none at all.
The kindergarten teacher said, such lack of training never did I see,
What kind of mother must that woman be.
The mother said poor helpless child–he’s not to blame,
His father’s folks are all the same.
Said the father at the end of the line,
I doubt the rascal is even mine!
-author unknown

Back in 2003 I started my teaching career with East Side Union High School District. My husband, an Oak Grove teacher with 12 years experience, taught upper level Spanish to college bound students. This was in stark contrast to my incoming freshman who arrived with less than a 4th grade reading level. It was as if we taught at two separate high schools; P.E. seemed the only heterogeneous classroom. My idealism or naiveté on how to help these underserved students were met with “It’s all been tried before” and, “if they don’t have the support at home then its good intentions gone awry.”

Despite the underwhelming enthusiasm for reform, I plunged in volunteering for opportunities such as AVID coordinator, Professional Development coordinator, after-school MESA advisor, Academy of Travel and Tourism teacher and ESTA union rep. However, I began to question the sustainability of a small number of teachers doing phenomenal work when there was no clear vision, consensus or belief that these students can or should access a college track curriculum. The API rarely moved more than 7-10 points in either direction precisely due to the fact the school could not agree on how to educate those whose motivation may be lacking and arrive without the requisite skills.

disconnectIt wasn’t until a PACT member spoke to our AVID parents that I was made aware of how grim the prospects were for our Latino and black students. Less than 10% of our students of color were even eligible to apply to a four-year college. There was a disconnect from what the data told us and the overall response to it. The tacit understanding was that teachers were doing our best and we can’t change a societal problem. I knew if I ‘paid my dues’ I would be given preps with Juniors and Seniors and the freshman classes would be passed off to the newest teachers.

When my twins Sophia and Maximo were born, it was the start of a five year panic over where I would send them to school. Living in the heart of Alum Rock I knew firsthand what happens to students who don’t succeed at school. The gunshots, murders in my own complex and helicopters blasting their search lights in my window were all the data I needed to know that somewhere along the line the schools were not prepared to change the trajectory of the students they received.
I had a visceral reaction against charters as I felt like many in my field, that they were self-selecting of students and shut out the working class parents. I felt like my back was against a wall. I even refused to teach my kids their own address in case I needed to beg a friend in another school district to use their address for admission purposes.

However, my neighbor and friend Anne Daniels sent her three children to a Rocketship school and one day invited me to visit the campus. “The culture and teaching is just amazing there,” she told me. I had major doubts, but for my beautiful twins, I decided I’d at least take a look.

Rocketship allowed me to observe the classrooms, recess, and their infamous launch/landing, which looked like a motivational seminar crossed with Richard Simmons dance moves. Everyone from the principal to the support staff could tell you the mission of the school, what it means to be a Rocketeer, and the core values to achieve the goal that EVERY child is prepared to attend college. I saw more coaching and administrators in the classroom in one day than I witnessed in my seven years of teaching.exciting

My panic began to subside. I was so impressed that I knew I had to get my kids into Rocketship. I resigned from East Side and took a job as a paraprofessional educator and then later as a tutor in order to guarantee my kids a seat in a Rocketship school.

It is exciting to be a part of something greater than myself or my kids — it’s for our community. It’s for the future of Alum Rock and the East Side. Trajectories of students and families can be transformed through a great education. Our community can be a place where 100% of students — Latino or otherwise — will be prepared to excel in college and beyond. This is why a partnership with Alum Rock and Rocketship matters to me.

Editor’s note: Support Rocketship’s work with Alum Rock to open Rocketship Jackson, a much needed elementary school option, this fall ➜ http://bit.ly/1easmC5

Kathleen is a tutor at Rocketship Sí Se Puede. She taught various subjects for eight years in East Side Union before accepting a position at Rocketship. She is the proud mother of two twins, Sophia and Maximo. Her husband, Marcelo, is also an educator in Oak Grove with more than 12 years of experience. Kathleen and Marcelo are excited for their twins to attend Rocketship Jackson (also know as Rocketship Alum Rock) next year. 

Published on April 10, 2014

Read more stories about: Parent Experience.