Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 11, 2015

The buddy system

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

After watching the school board meeting from Tuesday night it’s really hard not to have a cynical reaction to the Academy of Alameda pushing hard for their elementary school accommodation despite the creative accounting for next years’ enrollment numbers.   As I mentioned yesterday No Child Left Behind is now a thing of the past along with AYP and the reactionary Program Improvement process that ended up doing more harm then good.

One of the major punishments of being in Program Improvement status was the opt out that was made available to families.  Ostensibly this was to afford families the ability to have a “good” education at a non PI school but what it simply ended up doing was creaming off high performing students — students who would do well wherever they went — and left PI school with an imbalance in the number of students who required interventions: English language learners, students with unstable home lives, etc.  Worse, it would leave schools with uncertainty about whether or not all of the teachers would have jobs after the dust settled from these opt outs and re-shifting of students.

With the exit of NCLB and the introduction of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) comes a shift to a, currently unknown, state directed intervention at schools that are consistently unable to meet the needs of specific subgroups.  With the ESSA I can’t imagine that opt outs will be one of the invention tools used for all existing PI schools since interventions will, supposedly, be more focused than the punitive PI steps.  Given that it’s not the test scores that are at the heart of the reason that some families opt to not send their kids to their local neighborhood schools, the Academy of Alameda program offers an alternative to your socio-economically and racially diverse neighborhood school.  Particularly if opt-outs and transfers won’t be handed to families on a silver platter anymore.

On Tuesday night AoA asked parents to attend by providing free childcare and free t-shirts to anyone who would be interested in speaking about how awesome the AoA program is.  The interesting thing, as pointed out by speakers after the AoA crowd had left, most of the things that people were excited about are things that exist at other schools.  For example, I heard so many parents speaking highly about how upper grade students mentor the younger students.  Guess what?  That exists at Ruby Bridges too.  Upper grade students buddy up with lower grade students as reading buddies.  And, similar to a parent recounting how excited the younger grade students were to see their buddies in non-school environments, I can attest that my daughter always had the same reaction when she spied one of her buddies in the “real world.”  I imagine that other schools also have these buddy programs.

So that small cynical side of me says it’s not these buddy programs that is key to the amazingness of the AoA elementary program important, it’s the location that is key to making AoA viable as an alternative for the parents who are reluctant to send their little ones to a “bad” school like Ruby Bridges or Paden.  Pop AoA’s elementary school in an alternative location, like what they were considering when they had first proposed their elementary charter, the Marina Village Business Park and the viability as an alternative is greatly reduced.

In other news,  as part of contract negotiations, AUSD is opening an article to begin discussions on what it would look like if full day Kindergarten were offered.  It appears that Nea and AoA’s full day Kindergarterns have been popular, and it would be good for AUSD to offer the same.



  1. Buddy programs are nice but they can backfire, too. When my niece was in kindergarten, she refused to color for months. We finally figured out that the “big girl” helper told her that her coloring was messy and she took it to heart. Every time she was called on to color (and let’s face it, in the lower grades, it’s a lot) she was overwhelmed with shame and sadness because she believed she was incapable of doing it right. The good news is that she grew up, did well in school, has a great job, a wonderful husband, and it did not ruin her life. Whew! But, at the time, my sister viewed this as a major scar on her psyche, and I guess it was, at least temporarily. What she learned from it though was that not all authority figures can be trusted to know best, we can’t all do everything perfectly, and some things are more important to do well than others. We don’t want our kids to have negative experiences, but they certainly can learn from them if we help them process the information in a positive way.

    I think having kids in elementary school is kind of like going through adolescence. A temporary form of mental illness grips us. Everything is critical. Everything is so important. We lose our minds. I remember ranting on about the waste and bad judgment of giving every kid a trophy who participated in sports, and the teacher who all the mothers of boys agreed didn’t like boys, or the misspelling on my son’s award certificate. We all want so desperately for our kids to have the “ideal learning environment” but the truth is, everybody is different and one size does not fit all. It’s good to have options. If a child is doomed to be bullied by kids at a certain school, no matter what interventions occur, it’s best to move them, but sometimes (and I’ll admit it’s hard to know when) it’s better for them to endure the trial and learn how to cope, because life is full of do or die situations. The sooner kids figure that out, the better.

    Why kids do well in one environment and not well in another is often a mystery. We may think it’s the teacher but it may well be the fact that he’s now sitting somewhere where he isn’t distracted by what’s going on out the window. Some teachers are especially gifted but they still may not inspire your child in the same way others are inspired. I’ve seen people freak out over what teacher or school their kids were assigned and move heaven and earth to get them into the “good” one. The fact is, the most accurate predictor of future success in school is the enviroment at home. It’s also important to realize that a parent’s anxiety will be picked up by child. Today’s parents tend to overshare with their kids. In a spirit of openness, they tell a five year old to “wish on a star we get you into Edison.” When that wish doesn’t come true, the child, who had no prejudice one way or another about which school she gets into, is now just as devastated as the parent. If you must micro-manage, do it without your child’s awareness. We have to protect kids from ourselves and our own anxieties every bit as much as we do from those inherent in the system.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — December 11, 2015 @ 8:19 am

  2. Denise, Cobalt posted about failure being good for kids a couple days ago. I just tried to Google it and stumbled on this. also Two sides to everything as they say.

    My cynical self says that the other option to avoiding either closure or charter of Chipman would have been to bus kids from Lincoln and vise versa. Visions of Bay Farm parents reacting like South Boston parents in the seventies.

    Comment by MI — December 11, 2015 @ 9:14 am

  3. I listened to Arne Duncan interview with guy on NPR yesterday and the interviewer asked him if he and administration hadn’t failed in their initial plan and Duncan talked all around that without responding which had the interviewer not only accuse him of not answering the question but of asking if the Department of Education is actually warranted. At least Duncan talked about college affordability etc. in answering the latter, but gave a second non-answer to question of failure. Guess he should read the book Cobalt cited. The Obama administration has had whole lot of really heavy duty stuff on it’s plate but to me the place where they have been the most ineffectual is education. Presidents have cabinet members for a reason. C-. on education. Talking to Arne Duncan is like talking to a cardboard box.

    Comment by MI — December 11, 2015 @ 9:27 am

  4. Just wanted to add as well, since we’re talking about how great it is that AoA Middle Schoolers mentor the younger students and that is paramount to the success of their elementary school program. Ruby Bridges also has a longstanding relationship with ASTI whose students work with and tutor RB students,

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 11, 2015 @ 11:52 am

  5. So let me get this straight. We shouldn’t have charter school programs, yet when such schools do innovate and show success, AUSD then decides to look into new paradigms? Does AUSD have a way to come up with innovation on its own or will it always look to the charter school system for new ideas? I still believe that surveying all school aged families about their educational values and concerns about the existing public schools would go a long way towards enabling AUSD to create programs that keep families in AUSD schools instead of resorting to charter schools. Or perhaps AUSD needs to get better at communicating to the community about what their schools do offer. It still doesn’t change that my neighborhood school was unable to alleviate my concerns about their lack of socio-emotional learning, the cramped quarters of their classrooms or the poor design of the child drop locations. The reality is that people aren’t just leaving Ruby Bridges or Paden for racial, or socio-economic reasons, they’re also leaving highly rated neighborhood schools like Edison and Earhart because the climates there were not right for their children. Addressing the reasons why those families do want to leave, instead of just blaming them would make AUSD much more competitive for those families.

    Comment by Angela Pallatto Hockabout — December 12, 2015 @ 9:14 am

  6. I have mixed and complicated feelings about charter schools in general, but “choice” is one thing that I can respect that parents need when determining what is right for their children. I do take issue with charter schools touting that they provide superior outcomes to AUSD schools when they deal with a vastly different population than that in their immediate neighborhood.

    As to the question about what AUSD has been working to innovative, there has been a lot of movement on that front. Bay Farm is one, they have their K-8 program with a technology focus. Earhart is another with a Science focused program. I believe Earhart has a dedicated Science teacher as part of their program. Junior Jets is a new 6 – 8 program on the West End and after attending one of their info nights I was really impressed by the offerings. The most obvious innovative program is Washington’s change to Maya Lin which offers arts integration. From what I understand Wood Middle has been very successful with their STEAM offerings. Franklin is moving forward with a Blended Learning program. Haight is moving forward with Global Learning program.

    Ruby Bridges is actively working on an innovative program as well and, from what I understand, Paden is too.

    Within AUSD’s own schools there is a lot of variety in facilities, socio-economic diversity, ethnicity diversity, program offerings, teaching philosophy, education environment, social emotional learning, etc. I think that if families considered all Alameda schools (even those that are not their neighborhood schools) in addition to the charter and private school offerings when making their selection of what would be the best “fit” for their child, they may be pleasantly surprised that another AUSD school may meet their criteria as well.

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 13, 2015 @ 7:20 am

  7. Another factor to consider when comparing charter schools versus traditional school district schools is the choice being made by the teachers to teach at charter schools. Unless the charter school is part of a charter school network, teachers have a greater opportunity to contribute to innovation. Innovation at school district schools has to deal with the additional level of district office oversight.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — December 13, 2015 @ 9:09 am

  8. Everybody hates Michelle Rhee. I’m glad we’ve found common ground. Here’s more common ground, I suspect. I’m very happy this doesn’t reflect Alameda reality: “For the first time in the history of our nation, for-profit charter chains of dubious quality are enriching their owners and investors with taxpayers’ money that was intended for support of public schools

    Comment by gaylon — December 14, 2015 @ 6:20 am

  9. 5. “Does AUSD have a way to come up with innovation on its own or will it always look to the charter school system for new ideas? ” Lauren’s whole point is that AoA was touting buddy system which AUSD has already been using and not as an imitation of charters.

    “It still doesn’t change that my neighborhood school was unable to alleviate my concerns about their lack of socio-emotional learning, the cramped quarters of their classrooms or the poor design of the child drop locations. ” , It’s difficult to know exactly about these concerns because you are not completely specific. I would use the word “veracity” meaning “accuracy”, but somebody already accused me of calling them a liar for challenging the “veracity” of their statement. “Socio-emotional”. New term for me. Cramped quarters and poor drop off designs? With charters vying for more capacity the public schools have even bigger challenges on that from, but specifics would help.

    “Addressing the reasons why those families do want to leave, instead of just blaming them would make AUSD much more competitive for those families.” first off, AUSD is not making the criticism about charters bleeding it’s resources, we critics of charters are doing that, but there is the “C” word again. “Race to the Top”. Are we in a race against charters? The whole framing is wrong.

    You make a lot of vague demands but I’m not sure how deep your history is with regard to what AUSD has offered in the last twenty plus years and how those efforts have actually be undermined by having to “compete” under the strictures of NCLB. In m y opinion you are operating in a bit of a bubble based on your own immediate experience with your school and don’t seem to be trying to look at the big picture.

    Again, an imperfect analogy, but how are economically challenged tenants doing under the “competition” based on who can pay the inflated rents? Is this Darwinian or are we all in this together? You seem to imply laying blame is counter productive but you have no problem dishing it out for public schools.

    Comment by MI — December 14, 2015 @ 7:42 am

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