As the school year comes to a close, we want to share some program highlights from this past semester. From bike club to garden club, healthy eating to job seeking, and music making to abstract painting, Oakland Leaf’s holistic youth programs supported the social, emotional, cognitive, creative, and physical development of more than 800 East Oakland students this past year.

Partner Spotlight: Cycles of Change
We are so grateful for our partnership with Cycles of Change, an organization that leads bicycle safety trainings and biking adventures for our middle school students. Our students have gained so much confidence as bike riders thanks to the encouragement and support of the Cycles of Change instructors. As just one of many examples, we had a middle school student who expressed interest in joining our bike club but she was nervous and embarrassed because she had never ridden a bike. Cycles of Change staff assured her that they would help her to ride safely and confidently. She decided to push past her fears and join the class. By the end of the very first session, she was able to ride a bike around the campus with the group. She was so happy and excited.

In May, thanks to our Cycles of Change partnership, we were able to give away 20 bikes to our students! It has been so wonderful seeing students ride their new bikes to and from school every day.

Leadership Development Spotlight: Job Seeking Skill-building
In addition to working as instructor aids in our afterschool programs, our Roots high school interns participate in diverse leadership development trainings to support their college and career success. All interns are supported to develop Individual Development Plans (IDP) that include academic, personal, and professional goals and action plans. Interns also receive one-on-one support with their college and financial aid applications. Among other workforce readiness soft skills, interns learn best practices in resume writing, utilizing LinkedIn, and preparing for job interviews.
“I’m able to give the gift of confidence to the afterschool program students I work with because Oakland Leaf has given this gift to me. I’ve learned so many leadership skills during my time as an intern. I’ve had trainings on time management, how to make a resume and interview for a job, how to facilitate meetings, public speaking skills, and so many more. My time as a Roots intern has made me a much better communicator and problem solver, and I’m more assertive and organized.” – Lucia, Roots intern

Creative Arts Spotlight: Abstract Emotions Paintings
We know through decades of direct experience — and an abundance of research in the field has confirmed — that creative experiences in childhood can have transformative impacts. Among other noted benefits, engagement with the arts strengthens young peoples’ academic, problem-solving, and social skills, and boosts confidence and motivation. Despite the evidence of these benefits, funding for arts education in schools has been dramatically reduced over the last two decades, with high-need schools experiencing the biggest cuts.

In addition to offering our dance, theater arts, visual arts, and music production classes, we integrate creative expression into many of our SEL and academic support activities to support more engaged and deeper learning. One of many projects our middle school students worked on this past semester was a series of abstract emotions drawings and paintings. For this project, students first discussed the definition of abstract art and looked at some famous examples. Next, they worked together to come up with a list of emotions they most commonly experience. With this list, they began to brainstorm what colors, shapes, sounds, images, and symbols they associate with each emotion. With this as a framework, students were asked to paint abstract representations of specific emotions (happiness, sadness, confusion, fear, anger, etc.) on paper. For a second iteration of this project, they discussed how we often experience multiple emotions at once, even emotions that we consider to be in “conflict” with one another (like experiencing grief and joy at the same time, or fear and excitement). Students were then asked to explore this kind of emotional experience with paint on canvas.

Academic Spotlight: Literacy Support

32% of OUSD elementary students, and 30% of middle school students, test at or above the proficient level for reading. In response to the high need for supplementary literacy skills development among our afterschool program students, in addition to homework support across all subjects, we offer focused small group and one-on-one literacy support activities. We draw from three curricula – Kidzlit, Reading with Relevance, and SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words). We utilize culturally relevant books and we work with students on reading comprehension as well as literacy. We also facilitate an early literacy group for newcomer students.

Wellness Spotlight: Cooking and Nutrition Class

Research shows that nutrition education that teaches students how healthy eating can impact physical and emotional well-being can influence the choices they make throughout their life. Oakland Leaf facilitates a nutrition curriculum – Food is my Fuel – for our elementary school students that provides them with weekly opportunities to explore a variety of flavors, prepare their own food, and design a community service project related to food and nutrition. We also create opportunities for students to share their own knowledge about the foods and recipes that reflect their families and cultures.

New Class Spotlight: Music Production
Research demonstrates that music education sparks creativity and imagination, advances self-awareness and cultural awareness, supports healthy social development, teaches discipline, and fosters a sense of accomplishment. This year, Oakland Leaf launched a new music production class for our middle school students. Students learned how to transform poetry and storytelling into lyrics, and how use music software to create beats. Their instructor, CT, is a musician and producer from East Oakland who has worked with many local artists.

Social-emotional Learning Spotlight: School Gardens

Participants in Oakland Leaf’s seven afterschool program garden clubs interact with the natural world through planting seeds, harvesting fruits and vegetables, picking flowers, studying insects, digging in the earth, and composting. An abundance of research demonstrates that the positive effects of nature exposure include improved cognitive functioning (including increased concentration, greater attention capacities, and higher academic performance), better motor coordination, increased social interaction, and improved social skills. Access to green spaces has also been shown to reduce stress and enhance peace, self-control, and self-discipline.

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Oakland Leaf’s spring semester. We look forward to sharing highlights from our new and expanded summer camps, kicking off next month. Thanks for being a part of our community!