As we kick off this new school year, Oakland Leaf is making joy a top priority in all our youth programs. In addition to being every child’s birthright, joy is a crucial youth development building block. Studies show that positive emotions contribute to improved heart health, stronger immune systems, and reduced stress. Additionally, the more we experience joy, the more readily we can trigger positive emotions just by recalling joyful moments or thinking about things that make us feel joyful. In this way, joy is an essential component of resilience.

The last few years have taken a tremendous toll on our students and their families. In addition to the disproportionate impacts of COVID on low-income communities of color, critical resources for marginalized youth – culturally relevant teaching, affirmative action, and gender affirming healthcare to name a few – have been under attack. Now, more than ever, we are committed to centering joy for our students.

Here are just a few of the ways Oakland Leaf staff inspire joy on a daily basis:

We prioritize lots of time for play.
Silliness and playfulness are empowering, meaningful, and joyful. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report advising that doctors write literal prescriptions for play. The report explained why play is vital not only for children’s mental and physical well-being, but why it’s important for their education, too.

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We cultivate our students’ capacities to be fully present and in the moment.
Society’s instant gratification culture is steadily chipping away at critical resilience skills like patience and the ability to focus. To counter these effects, we engage students in meditation, nature walks, garden observations, mindful doodling, improvisational theater games, and other activities that help kids calm themselves, experience wonder, and enjoy the “wow of now”.

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We help our students to cultivate gratitude practices.
Research demonstrates that the most effective way to cultivate joy is to practice gratitude. We facilitate daily gratitude and appreciation circles, where students can share words of affirmation about themselves, their peers, and their teachers, and where they can reflect on and savor the moments of joy they experienced that day.

We affirm Black and Brown identities
Oakland Leaf utilizes inclusive and culturally responsive books, materials, curriculum, and activities. When our students see themselves in the people, stories, and issues they are learning about, they feel seen, loved, and valued.

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We recruit and hire program staff of color from Oakland.
Almost all of our staff are young people of color living in the communities where our students live and go to school. Many of our instructors and program managers are former youth program participants. Students feel free to experience joy when their instructors, who look like them and understand their experiences, model joyful expression.

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Oakland Leaf is proud of our heart-centered, joyful approach to youth development. We are building creative, playful, and loving spaces where young people can be their full selves. Thank you for helping to make this beautiful work possible.

Much love,

Melissa Mendez Ochoa
Executive Director