Students in urban and poor communities are exposed to persistent forms of trauma that result from violence, hunger, unstable housing, and the broader effects of poverty and racism. Most will not perform well in school unless these basic survival needs are met. When urban youth do manage to find academic success, despite these challenging circumstances, the unspoken societal message is that success means “getting out” of their neighborhood. If the most resilient and successful young people leave their communities, then the vicious cycles of poverty and despair are never broken. We are determined to tackle these problems with love, hope and teaching methods that inspire students to achieve academic success while instilling in them a sense of responsibility to return to their neighborhoods to build thriving sustainable communities in urban centers in the U.S. and around the world.
What we’ve done
Jeff Duncan-Andrade has dedicated his adult life to supporting and developing urban youth to help create a sustainable urban community. He has been teaching and coaching in the Oakland public schools for 18 years and has found his success as a teacher and a coach to be closely related. Coaches work with athletes over a number of years. During that time, they have the opportunity to get more intensively involved with students’ families and their general well-being than most other adults in their schooling lives. Having tapped this opportunity as a coach, Jeff began using a “looping” approach in his classroom where he worked with a cohort of high school students for four years until they graduated. He offered his full commitment to each of them: 360-degree support on a 24/7 schedule. He became teacher, life coach, big brother, and offered his home as a safe haven when trauma struck in a student’s life. In return, he was able to demand a lot from them academically, as individuals and as a collective. The results were dramatic. In his most recent cohort, 24 of 26 students went onto four-year colleges or universities. Furthermore, over the years many of his students have returned to Oakland to serve the community, many of them as teachers. The approach is, at one level quite simple; he encourages students to take pride in their histories, cultures, and communities in order that they might share personal and collective commitments to grow healthier communities.
Jeff presently directs the East Oakland Step to College Program where he continues this looping approach as a volunteer high school teacher at Mandela High School. In 2010, the program received a $450,000 grant from The California Endowment to document the strategies being used and to study their impact on the hope and well-being of the youth. The result of these students’ successes and the implications for rethinking urban school pedagogy are resonating around the nation and the globe. Building on this success, we want to help shape a community in East Oakland that surrounds a school that provides this same kind of 360-degree support to all of its students and families from “cradle to grave”. The academic and personal achievement for youth at this school would inspire them to return to similar high need communities, investing themselves and their knowledge to build sustainable models of community revitalization.
Why should you care?
Our country is at risk of losing an entire generation of young people in urban centers who feel trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, violence, hopelessness and despair. Rather than continually investing in models that try to save the “deserving few” who can escape from these communities, we need solutions that can help the vast majority overcome these toxic conditions to become the responsible and productive adults that will eliminate those conditions. By creating a sustainable community, centered around a school that gives students and families security, nourishment, care, and education, we can create a model of success and revitalization that reverses decades of disinvestment. Instead of cultivating one rose that grows in concrete, we aim to break up the concrete so that an entire rose garden can blossom in our highest need neighborhoods.
Our short-term goal is to start a K-12 school-center in Oakland that embodies the principles and practices described above. The school will function as the center within the neighborhoods surrounding it and provide wrap-around services in education, health, housing, and job training. The long-term goal is to create a model for urban education that prioritizes the needs of youth and families as the pathway to building healthy and sustainable communities across the U.S. and around the world.
How to support us