Oakland Schools Have a Bold, Simple Idea for Helping Students’ Struggling Families: Raise Money for Them

This article initially appeared at The Oaklandside and is printed in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Exchange

Ana Carpio, a mother of three, misplaced her restaurant job final 12 months as Oakland and the Bay Area went into lockdown, forcing eating places to shut or drastically cut back their hours. Carpio was the first income-earner in her family, which on the time included her 18-year-old son, 10-year-old daughter and new child granddaughter. Carpio’s older daughter, who usually would have been in a position to assist out financially, wasn’t in a position to work as a result of she had simply given beginning.

Not realizing the place to show, Carpio obtained assist from a place she hadn’t anticipated: her youthful daughter’s elementary faculty, Bridges Academy at Melrose. She obtained $500 from the college final April and a further $250 cost in June, which she put towards lease and groceries.

“It’s like it fell from heaven,” stated Carpio, who was unemployed for 5 months. “It happened during a really critical time when I wasn’t working, so it was very helpful.”

Over the previous 12 months, some faculties in Oakland have stepped into a function that almost all didn’t have earlier than the pandemic: fund-raising and offering money funds to struggling households. What started as emergency reduction for primarily newcomer and immigrant households who weren’t eligible for federal stimulus funds has continued for greater than a 12 months. Schools are serving to to pay lease, housing deposits, telephone payments and extra for households in Oakland which are nonetheless recovering from the financial and well being impacts of COVID-19.

“If the family is in distress, the student cannot learn,” stated Anita Iverson-Comelo, the principal of Bridges Academy at Melrose, positioned in East Oakland. “It’s hard for us to turn our backs when families are on the phone crying.”

When faculty buildings shuttered a 12 months in the past, academics and faculty workers knew it will influence excess of simply their college students’ schooling, and began conducting wellness checks — making telephone calls to college students’ houses to ask what households wanted: Did they’ve meals at dwelling? Was their housing scenario secure? Has there been a lack of earnings? How about web entry? Was everybody wholesome?

Alyssa Baldocchi, who teaches humanities to newcomer college students — immigrants who’ve been within the nation for fewer than three years — at Elmhurst United Middle School, would usually join with college students and their households over Instagram as a result of they didn’t have telephone service. Baldocchi, together with fellow instructor Marisa Mills, launched a fund-raiser to gather donations to assist help their immigrant college students and households.

Around the identical time, Iverson-Comelo determined to donate her stimulus verify to considered one of her college students whose father had simply died. She advised to a few of her colleagues that they do the identical with their stimulus funds, and shortly it turned a bigger marketing campaign when Iverson-Comelo’s husband created a web site, stimuluspledge.org, to obtain donations from the general public.

To date, more than a dozen schools in Oakland, together with Elmhurst and Bridges Academy, have raised and distributed greater than $250,000 to households in the course of the pandemic.

By the top of this faculty 12 months, Elmhurst Principal Kilian Betlach expects that his faculty alone can have given away $25,000 to no less than 50 households, in $400 grants. He is anticipating making one other spherical of $400 funds in May.

The pandemic, stated Betlach, has introduced into focus how vital faculties are for college students and their communities, past schooling: Schools present meals, a secure place for youth to be in the course of the day and little one care within the early mornings and late afternoons. Some faculties in Oakland have campus well being clinics, dental vans that go to periodically, meals pantries and garments closets.

“If we want to serve kids, we need to wrap around all the needs that they and their families come with,” Betlach stated. “That shouldn’t be perceived as something that’s extra, but being in service of a community.”

Iverson-Comelo estimates that Bridges Academy has distributed $65,000 to its households this 12 months. The faculty retains a spreadsheet of households who want cash, and when donations are available in, they supply checks in various quantities, relying on the household’s bills and earnings. Some households get $500 a month for a number of months to assist pay their payments, whereas others might have a one-time cost of $1,500 to place down a rental deposit.

Mirian Obando Rojas, whose third-grader attends Bridges Academy, used to scrub homes with a good friend at the beginning shut down. At the identical time, her husband, a roofer, had his hours diminished to 2 or three days a week, Rojas stated.

The household obtained cash from the college final April, June, December and February, and can get $500 a month from March via May of this 12 months.

“I was able to pay my bills, rent, the telephone bill, and buy diapers for my little ones as well,” stated Rojas, who additionally has 2-year-old twins.

Iverson-Comelo stated it is smart for faculties with massive newcomer populations to tackle this function. Some latest immigrants might not qualify for federal stimulus funds, and language limitations might make it tougher for them to entry companies. Even if authorities help varieties can be found in Spanish or different languages, she stated, “people still need literacy skills to navigate the form.”

Bridges Academy serves about 430 college students, and 80 % are studying English. About 20 % of the scholars are newcomers, one of many highest percentages in OUSD elementary faculties, Iverson-Comelo stated.

Teachers and different faculty staff, added Baldocchi, are sometimes the primary level of presidency contact for households and have a accountability to attach them with assist.

“Families that are still struggling the most are the ones we’ve seen hit really hard with COVID,” Baldocchi stated. “Those families tend to have been out of work for a while, and a lot of their jobs don’t allow for paid sick leave or anything like that.”

Bridges Academy companions with the Oakland Public Education Fund and Community Check Cashing, a Fruitvale nonprofit group. The funds that Bridges Academy raises go to the Oakland Public Education Fund, which then writes a verify for the complete quantity to Community Check Cashing, which disperses particular person checks to households from a listing that the college offers. Parents like Carpio can then obtain the funds by going to Community Check Cashing and exhibiting an ID.

Oakland Unified faculties started to reopen for in-person studying on March 30, however Principal Betlach of Elmhurst United stated that so long as the college neighborhood is ready to elevate cash and be supported by the Oakland Public Education Fund, they’ll proceed to assist households with money. Many households had been struggling earlier than final March, he famous, and the pandemic simply exacerbated that.

“The need for huge portions of our community has gone away. But that doesn’t mean that some of the economic opportunities that were lost to the pandemic are magically back, or that folks are going to be able to access them again,” he stated. “These needs are going to remain for a long time, and they pre-dated COVID.”

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