A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Helping Teachers Teach

A few years ago, I worked as a substitute teacher in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, one of the poorest districts in the state.
I loved the kids. They were sweet, bright-eyed and eager to learn, and they were just as smart as kids in more affluent schools.
They would be due to graduate from high school right now; but I wonder how many of them actually will because the deck is so stacked against them.
Few of them have ever been to the beach, or the East Bay hills, or the Lawrence Hall of Science, or even taken BART across the Bay to San Francisco.
They've never stepped on a college campus, even though UC Berkeley is only a few miles away. And it certainly never occurred to them that they could actually go to college there.
This is a heartbreaking waste of talent - not only for their sake, but for the country's.
That's why the work of a private group called the West Contra Costa Public Education Fund - better known as the Ed. Fund - is so important. It tries to fill in some of the gaps by giving small grants to good teachers for field trips, science projects, drug prevention and other enrichment programs, as well as college scholarships to promising students.
"We can't replace the $30 million the district has lost in the last two years, so we have to be smart and strategic about where we invest the money," says executive director Jennifer Henry. "We want the money to go directly to those teachers who, in some cases, spend more time with these kids than their parents do. They know how to spend it more effectively than anyone else."
The Ed. Fund will hold its major fundraiser, the annual Excellence in Education Banquet, on May 14 at the Doubletree Hotel in Berkeley, where outstanding teachers and students will be honored. Even if you can't attend, you can contribute anyway by visiting www.edfundwest.org or calling 510-233-1464.
Meanwhile, here's wishing a happy birthday to the Berkeley/Oakland YWCA, which is 120 years old this year.
The YW's motto is "Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women," and they really mean it.
Back in the 1920s, four decades before the Berkeley schools were finally desegregated, the YW already was calling for racial equality on campus and in the community.
In 1942, YW members protested the detention of Japanese Americans and later assisted the detainees' return to the Bay Area by meeting their trains, helping them get settled and finding them jobs.
In partnership with the student YMCA, the YW pioneered many services for Cal students - such as student housing, loans and freshman orientation - that eventually were taken over by the university itself.
Today, its focus is more on the local community, including a conversational English program for visiting scholars and a math/science program for 4th and 5th graders called TechGYRLS, where Cal undergrads mentor the next generation of young women.
"We haven't gotten stuck in our history," says the YW's unofficial historian, Dorothy Clemens. "We move along with the times, but not necessarily with the fads."
Clemens will sign copies of the new, updated version of her history of the YW at the 120th Birthday party on May 12. For more information, visit vww.ywca-berkeley.org or call 510-848-6370.

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