Oakland teachers face challenges as schools enter critical learning phase due to COVID-19 pandemic

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- McClymonds High School teacher Clayton Evans likes to describe his engineering classroom as organized chaos.

But instead of the usual hustle and bustle in his classroom, Evans sits alone in a corner trying to connect with his students through distance learning. He is literally going to great lengths to engage students.

"Yesterday I was driving around Alameda County passing out kits in Hayward, Concord and Oakland," said Evans, who prepared kits with glue guns, plastic containers, fabric, wires and a tiny circuit board.

He hopes the kits will help his students focus and stay motivated while they learn engineering from a distance.

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Evans is part of the engineering pathways program that was started at McClymonds a few years ago when Intel Corporation gave Oakland Unified School District $5 million to improve STEM education at McClymonds and Oakland Tech.

The five year investment ended in June, but the engineering program will continue.

English teacher Dr. LuPaulette Taylor has been teaching at McClymonds for 41 years.

"I'm getting to know my students even though they are not here in this classroom. I am getting to know them from meeting every day in Zoom and reading their writings," said Dr. Taylor, who is lovingly called the matriarch of McClymonds.

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Among the first assignments she has given her senior English class is writing a personal statement.

"A lot of the essay topics are prompts for actual applications that we may need to write in the future," said senior Sidney Tchanyoum, who aspires to go to MIT or Caltech as a mechanical engineering major.

"We really work with them on the writing process so that way these personal insight questions are really accurately highlighting all of the strengths that our students possess," said Colleen Piper, College and Career Readiness Manager at McClymonds.

Dr. Taylor and Piper are part of what is known as The Graduation Team, an advisory group that was formed to increase graduation rates.

The personalized guidance has worked. While graduation rates at Oakland public schools hover around 73%, at McClymonds it is near 80% despite the fact that nearly 90% of students live in poverty and reading scores overall are below average. The pandemic could threaten those accomplishments.

"I really feel this year is a fight to save public education," said Evans. "I feel like COVID-19 has really exposed a lot of the equity issues that exist in public schools. Students may be wondering what the point of the system is when they have so many other needs that aren't being met."

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