EDITOR'S NOTE: A recent study by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute Education Policy Center identified numerous California high schools -- especially those attended by black and Latino students -- as "drop-out" factories. With fewer than one out of two freshman making it to graduate, the Oakland, Calif., public schools were among the worst. While experts and analysts wonder how to make young people stay in school, two who voted with their feet describe the conditions that made leaving look reasonable. YO! Youth Outlook (www.youthoutlook.org) is a magazine by and for Bay Area youth and a PNS project.
They Didn't Teach Me
By Janet Lagto, 16
I used to go to high school in Oakland but I dropped out.
If you ever happen to come by my old school you'll notice that it's the typical Oakland high school: ghetto, dirty, poor. Absolutely horrible.
A lot of my teachers were in their twenties and couldn't even control their students. It's difficult for the kid to have their minds focused on being behaved and trying to learn in that crappy environment. It's probably the same for the teachers, too, right?
One of my teachers was one of the nicest people I have ever known, but he just could not control his students. He never had one class behave for him or try to "learn" what he teaches. One student actually punched him in the face so hard he had to get stitches. He's resigning at the end of the year.
When I was a freshman, the students pushed my Spanish teacher so far over the edge that he actually had a heart attack and his doctor advised him to quite teaching. After that, we kept getting substitutes who would re-teach the class the same exact thing the previous teacher had tried to teach us. Unfortunately, I didn't learn any Spanish.
The same thing happened this year to the new freshmen coming in. There wasn't a permanent teacher for their biology class. When I looked out the window, I'd see them shivering outside the classroom because no one was there to open the door for them.
Most of the teachers didn't teach anything. All they did was put the assignment on the board and expect us to do it. In some of my classes, I never did my work and I still got good grades. What's up with that?
My sister dropped out of the same school when she was 15 because she hated it. She's 18 now and doing fine. My ex-boyfriend and his brother both dropped out because they kept getting into fights. My sister's ex-boyfriend dropped out at 16 because he wanted to go to Job Corps. My friend dropped out when she was 16 because people would call her fat ass and cottage cheese.
Now that I am officially a drop-out, I have become another one of the statistics. My family thinks I am insane and that I should go back to high school. They are the crazy ones because I am never going back to that gutter of a school. I may be weird, but I'm not stupid.
--Lagto is an intern at YO! TV.
More "street" than the street
By Nick Datesman, 16
A lot of my friends who started high school with me are now drop-outs. Me, Mike, Paul and Keith -- we all started high school together and now we are all somewhere else.
If I weren't going to MetWest -- a small alternative high school in Oakland -- then I wouldn't be going to school at all. I sure as hell wouldn't go back to my old school. Well, maybe, but just because I have a lot of friends there, and getting weed is as easy as raising your hand.
When I was a freshman, it didn't really feel like I was at school. I was just in a dirty, loud, dangerous place where I didn't want to be. The most work I did there was coming up with a fake name and writing some quirky little explanation after security guards caught me walking around the school during class time.
There were no consequences for bad behavior. When I was caught burning dank in the boys' bathroom, all the guard did was tell me not to smoke at school, take my lighter, and make me sit in the cafeteria with the rest of the kids caught cutting class.
Why should I be scared of the guards, I thought, when I had hustlers, drug dealers and gangs to deal with every day? My high school was more like the "streets" than the real streets ever were. At least on the real streets, all the hustlers aren't put together behind big gates and fences.
After about three months of mostly slacking off at home and going to various other high schools that I didn't much care for, I stopped going to school altogether. When it came time for tenth grade, I applied for MetWest High School. Finally, I found a school where I would stay the WHOLE day, and where I didn't have to deal with drug dealers and gangs on a daily basis.
At my old school, I'd see-or be in-a fight about every day. Other than a few verbal fights and the occasional "break-up drama," there are never any real fights at Met West.
At MetWest, everybody knows each other. We can all say, "Oh yeah, that's so 'n so, they really love to blah blah blah...." I hate the word "community," but that is what MetWest is. There is no point in fighting with each other. The school is so small, you're not gonna get away with anything. If you do fight, then you probably will have to make a public apology to the entire school and staff-and that's enough to keep most of us calm and cool.
My friend Paul didn't bother finishing high school and is now doing odd jobs like selling records on E-bay to make money. Mike eventually dropped out and got his G.E.D. and is working at UPS and a few other stores. Keith dropped out and then got into an independent study program. He's finding it hard to keep himself entertained every day and is thinking of going back to school.
If I were the superintendent, the first thing I would do for Oakland is get all the drugs and drug dealers out of the schools. I know the students would be devastated that they could no longer get bags at school, but I think the hustlers bring a lot of negativity (besides drugs) to school.
I also think if the schools had the proper equipment -- like chairs that aren't broken, desks, books for everyone -- then students' attitude towards school might change. And maybe getting more good-looking girls, a lot of them ... but that's just me.
--Datesman is an intern at YO!
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