EOSA students, teachers contemplate plans to combine Castlemont schools

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm

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.


East Oakland School of the Arts mourns death of student Chris Jones, gifted drummer

In Journalism on February 14, 2011 at 4:17 am

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By: Esmeralda Argueta, Alihzey Black, Guadalupe Buenrostro,Janice Davis, Esther Gamez, Maria V. Muniz, Lee Simmons,  Lilybeth Villasenor

Heartbreak. Pain. Grief. All are words that the students and teachers of the East Oakland School of the Arts are using to describe the loss of a gifted student who was the last homicide of 2010.

But there are other words as well–including “drummer,” “writer,” “star,” and “motivator” — words that describe Chris Jones, 17, who was shot and killed on New Year’s Eve.

“Why has he been shot?” That is the one question that lingers in the mind of his friends, family, classmates and teachers. Jones was shot in front of his home on Fresno Street in East Oakland on New Year’s Eve while he was putting his five-month-old niece into her car seat.  Police believe the shooting to be a case of mistaken identity.

Raymond Tavita, an 18-year-old senior, says, “ I was hurt to feel someone would want to kill him; he was a sweet boy.”

Tavita wants the people responsible for Jones’ death jailed and a lot of other people want the same thing.   “I believe in second chances but not that type of second chance.”

To show how much Jones will be missed the students held a two-hour musical performance on Jan. 26, including singing, dancing, music, and art. The seniors created a dance especially for Jones, interpreting all his passions. It included drumming, writing, and playing the piano.

The students, staff, and family members also held a candlelight vigil on Jan. 2, in front of his home in his honor, on a school day. Almost every student went to show their appreciation and love of Jones. To further honor Jones’ name, teachers and students wrote down feelings and memories of Jones, which were taped to the wall in the main hallway and later presented to his family. The people of EOSA and Jones’ family and friends will forever be in sorrow, but will find solace in knowing Jones will hurt no more.

Students that well knew Jones described his physical appearance. “He wore hoodies and nice shoes,” said senior Alyssa Davis, age 17. “He had some neat dreads like I never seen before.”

“His smile would light up the room,” said sophomore Nakirah Salaam. “He stands out every time he smiled and he always shook hands or gave hugs.”

“His smile would be so big and bright that it’s like if I’m looking at the sun,” said freshman Maatinee Seward, age 15.

Jones’ drum teacher, Hugh Humphrey, described Chris as a “leader” and “a very important part” of his class.  With Chris gone,  Humphrey has to work hard to make the class concentrate because the class needs Chris to work properly.  Humphrey also mentioned that Chris was a very respectful and pleasant student to be around. Overall, Chris was “a student that was interested in school, art and the environment,” according to  Helena Jack, director of the Arts Program.

Dejai Johnson, 17, a senior at EOSA, lives only a few blocks away from Chris’ home and was good friends with him.  Johnson told us how well he knew Jones: “We saw each other at the store.  We went to some classes together, and he was always smiling.”  On losing Jones, Johnson reflected, “When he died, it was hurtful.  It was the fourth funeral I’ve gone to since September.  I put my faith in God, and I get support from my family and friends.”

“Chris was never in trouble.  He never did drugs, he never messed with anyone.  He was different.  He shouldn’t have died,” says Jenah Keeby, 17, and a senior. “He would always say ‘wassup’ to anyone.”

Another of Chris’ good friend, Dawn McCladdie, 15, sophomore, told us the last words she would have said to Chris: “I would have told him that I love him, he was my sunshine, and that if I could change I would be like him.”

Elizabeth Nunez, a senior who shared several classes with Jones, described him as “really, really, really, really sweet. Like, so sweet. He’d tell me ‘hi’ even if the teacher was talking.”

Nunez said she would receive several hugs from Jones every day. When she heard about Jones’ passing, she felt extremely bad. She never expected something like that to happen to Jones.

“The good die young,” Nunez said.

Image Inspiration

In Arts Integration, Creative Writing, Spoken Word on June 22, 2010 at 6:41 pm

A ring of teeth

cat whiskers

a teapot sails on the dark waters

in the dark night

I think being lost at sea

would be a worse fate than being swallowed

Look at all the company!

The mouth and throat, really just an auditorium

For the fish, the bird, and the teapot

to stage plays.