By: Esmeralda Argueta, Alihzey Black, Guadalupe Buenrostro, Janice Davis, Esther Gamez, Maria Muniz, Lee Simmons, Erick Zamudio
Students and teachers at East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA) are reacting with anger, resignation and curiosity to news that their small school plus two others may be combined into one big school on the Castlemont campus.
“Small schools are better,“ said Gloria Canela,17, an EOSA junior.
Canela said “that it would be better to have a small school because you have more attention, and by attention, I mean from the teachers — like, they can help you more. Also, with a big school, there would be more drama, meaning fight(s) and problems between peers.”
In 2004, Castlemont was divided into three small schools: Leadership Preparatory High School, Castlemont Business and Information Technology School, and EOSA. The campus became known as the Castlemont Community of Small Schools.
Under district plans, Castlemont’s small schools would remain in operation during the 2011-12 school year, but would combine for the 2012-13 school year.
EOSA, which was launched in 2004, has carved out a niche as a small school with a college-prep curriculum plus a robust arts program. The school’s website says that its vision is “to meet the needs of talented students who are considering careers in the arts by providing intensive arts instruction of the highest quality and a strong academic curriculum.”
According to EOSA Principal Matin Abdel-Qawi, the school “started at 400 students but now we are at 250.”
Guadalupe Gomez,17, an EOSA junior, isn’t a fan of big schools.
“In a big school, you can probably find enemies or even bullies that can cause you problems throughout the school years,” Gomez said.
Faculty see the advantages of both small and large schools.
“I deeply value the personal relationships that I am able to build with students,” said Aryn Bowman, EOSA’s assistant principal.
“However, I also recognize that in this time of financial crisis, the small school model is not sustainable.”
While larger schools can offer “staffing to provide AP courses or electives,” Bowman said that she does not want “one large high school that is not responsive to students’ socio-emotional needs, a school that does not have rigorous standards.”
Abdel-Qawi believes that the merging of schools is “good and bad, sweet and sour, up and down.”
Overall, Abdel-Qawi has mixed feelings about a combined Castlemont. In an interview, he said that small schools prosper as a small schools. Abdel-Qawi also mentioned that the low enrollment of students isn’t enough of a reason to make the schools come together as one.
Dividing Castlemont into small schools in 2004 was the right thing to do, Abdel-Qawi said, “(although) the students are not performing as well as we wanted them to. Also, there is a economic problem with the schools being split, because there aren’t many students coming to the schools.”
“If we get the schools together, maybe there will be more students to come to our school,” Abdel-Qawi said.
Asked if there is any way to stop the schools from being combined, Abdel-Qawi said, “Yes — sincerely, I believe in the voices of students and adults to make it work.”
Students had a wide range of reactions to the plan, with some recalling Castlemont’s days as a big school where fights were common.
“Back then, there would be fights between blacks and whites on a daily basis,” said an EOSA student, who asked to remain anonymous. Combining the schools “is bad because there will be more drama, and more fights.”
“We won’t feel safe — it’s just how it is,” the student said.
However, Saundrea McElroy, 14, a freshman, said a combined Castlemont might be easier to navigate. “I wouldn’t feel safer or more in danger,” she said. “I just think it would be less confusing without so many different schools on one campus.”
“It doesn’t matter to me so much because I won’t be here,” said Ayana Cruz, 16, a junior who plans to graduate next year. “I think it’ll be harder for you all (freshmen and sophomores) though, because classes will probably be farther away, and it would be harder for teachers to help you out because of all of the other students.”
Some teachers are reluctant to set aside all the work they have done to build EOSA’s special character.
“This idea makes me sad because EOSA has a really strong school culture and I don’t want to lose it,” said Katie Wade, physics and chemistry teacher.
“I think it’s an incredible idea (to have an arts school), because you get the opportunity to work with professional artists who have experience in art. You get to work with people who are dancers and musicians,” said Jarika Lewis, a visual arts teacher.
“People chose me to work here at EOSA, and I said ‘yes,’ because I love Oakland and I attended an Oakland public school. So I (got) the chance to work in the city I grew up in.”
Sandy Zamudio, a 18-year-old college student at CSU East Bay and the sibling of a current EOSA student, disagrees with plans to make Castlemont a big school because she believes “that the students that are achieving success are not going to have the same opportunity that they have now.”
Recreating a big Castlemont “intimidates me because there would be so many people, and (there) will be a lot of groups,” said Claudia Suarez, 16 and an EOSA junior.