By JR Valrey
With the Oakland Education Association (the teachers union) battling the Oakland Unified School District, over what defines a safe environment for the students and teachers to return to school, as well as the proposed mandatory covid vaccinations for students, teachers, and staff before the schools can open up, students, have been under tremendous stress to perform academically, in a brand new digital environment, where education is very low on the political totem pole, below safety.
The lack of distance-learning preparedness and organization on the Oakland Unified School district’s part, and the lack of training given to teachers, prior to the shelter-in-place order, on how to teach in a digital environment, has the Town’s educational system bursting at the seams, with thousands of children being left behind because of a myriad of educational and social issues that include lack of hardware to log onto to digital school, lack of software needed to access assignments, lack of internet access, lack of technical assistance, lack of personal one-on-one instruction, and more.
Tylicia Hooker, the first Black director, of the West Oakland based non-profit Boost!, sat down to discuss how the organization has responded to the needs of its students, while in a historic pandemic, what is needed to address this education crisis, and the upcoming Boost! virtual fundraiser. The war against Black survival in this country is waged on many fronts, the Black community must be vigilant on how our children’s physical health, mental health, and academic well-being are being affected by the pandemic. Check out local community pillar Tylicia Hooker, the executive director of Boost!, as she talks about solving some of the issues that our community is facing.
JR Valrey: Can you tell people what Boost is? And how did you become connected with it?
Tylicia Hooker: BOOST! is an organization that seeks to strengthen students’ academic performance, and cultivate leadership in self and community, through individualized one-on-one tutoring, mentoring, community activities, and enrichment opportunities. Currently we are launching our free virtual one-on-one tutoring program. Boost! has been in the West Oakland community for 23 years. 5 year ago, I became the first Black Executive Director.
JR Valrey: What is the significance of an organization like Boost to be operating in inner-city West Oakland?
Tylicia Hooker: At BOOST!, we believe that no matter what part of Oakland you live, that all kids should have equitable access to opportunities and educational experiences that inspire and support our students with the skills and the confidence they need. West Oakland is home to the Black Panther Party, and it was the section of the city hit the hardest politically and socially, over the years, and currently hit again with gentrification. Oftentimes, West Oakland is the forgotten part of Oakland. We exist to highlight the beauty and brilliance of Black and Brown children that still exist here, and to close the academic gaps that exist between them and their white peers in other parts of the city.
JR Valrey: How are the students that you work directly with, responding to the pandemic academically?
Tylicia Hooker: They are doing the best they can. If a family doesn’t have a computer and can’t access the internet at home, their child can’t go to school. In West Oakland, when the pandemic hit, many of our students didn’t have access to technology or the internet, and therefore couldn’t join the distance learning form of schooling this semester. For West Oakland students, this whole process has been inequitable. To paint a more detailed picture, I will highlight the academic history of one student.
We have a student who is now in the 6th grade. Last year, academically the student was two grade levels behind. When we combine that with the transition to distance learning and the loss of learning over the summer, this 6th grade student is academically on a 3rd grade level. Our goal is to work with students like that, one-on-one virtually each week, to support their current learning and help them move up in areas they have been behind in.
JR Valrey: What kind of services is Boost offering during the pandemic?
Tylicia Hooker: During the pandemic we are offering FREE virtual one-on-one tutoring for students K-6. We also do monthly giveaways based on what our families are articulating their needs to be at that time. In the past we have given away pillows, books, snacks, school supplies, and student laptop boxes. We are listening to our people and doing the best we can to support our community.
JR Valrey: What are your thoughts on how the district can overcome the academic hurdle of the children being out of school for over a year once this school year is over? There seems to be no end in sight to the pandemic.
Tylicia Hooker: The district can’t overcome this quickly. The Black community and the low income community has been hit too hard by various other factors that include the long history of tracking, disproportionate funding, the school to prison pipeline, to name a few that has resulted in the failing of students, for far too many years before the pandemic. In order to get over this new hurdle, OUSD must honor the whole student, and support all aspects of their needs until they exit the district. This should be a team approach, composed of academic and mental health professionals, families, and community services to support students as they grow through this time.
JR Valrey: What is it like being the executive director of Boost, during a historic pandemic, where there is no playbook for how people handled it before?
Tylicia Hooker: It has been a beautiful struggle. As a Black woman from the Oakland community, I knew I couldn’t run program business as usual. I was hurting, seeing how the pandemic ravished the little we already had in our community. However, I was thankful that for the first time many folks were waking up to injustice that exists, daily for Black people in the country. Like you mentioned there was no playbook. So I lead with my heart first. I did what I could, to make sure that the basic needs of my students were taken care of and it couldn’t just be by our organization. I connected their families with external resources. I did this by reaching out to over 100 students we served, pre-Covid. Next, I took time to do a radical act of self care, and I rested. During this time, I took space to examine my own feelings about the Anti-Blackness that permeates every part of this country, and what it truly meant for me to lead during this time. From that introspection and rest, came clarity of thought and direction. Now we are launching this year with free virtual tutoring for students all across Oakland. The future feels bright!
JR Valrey: What can people do to help you on your quest beyond this fundraiser?
Tylicia Hooker: Well definitely support our fundraiser. In all seriousness 90% of all philanthropic dollars go to white lead organizations. Support us and give anything that you can so we can keep this program free. Other ways you can support:
- Become a Tutor. We need tutors from as young as 12 to 100 to support the next generation. Folks can sign up at boostoakland.org
- Donate your talent – if you have some level of expertise you want to share with our students, to improve our administrative work, or you want to collaborate with a certain project- email us, so we can start building!
- Share our stories with your network.
JR Valrey: How can people keep up with your work?
Tylicia Hooker: Follow us social media @boostwestoakland