Sequoia Elementary is a neighborhood K-5 public school located in the Oakland foothills Upper Dimond neighborhood. Sequoia offers a positive learning environment for its 375 students and supports a culture of diversity balancing gender, ethnicity, cultural orientation, and academic progress while accommodating different learning styles. Its good reputation makes it an attractive option and a favored school of children assigned to Sequoia from other neighborhoods.
Although a public school in the Oakland Unified School District, Sequoia in terms of commitment of families, focus on academic achievement, and enrichment programs, functions much like a private school. Active parent groups are the main nucleus of support for the children. Parents restored many programs cut by the district due to budget shortfalls; physical education and music are two examples. Parents and neighbors donate time and money to provide the best education possible. Parent participation is expected and students reap the benefits of the rich child-centered environment.
The Families of Sequoia School (FOSS) is a group of parents, teachers, administrators, and neighbors who function similarly to a traditional PTA. The School Site Council mandated by school district, ensures student’s needs are met within budgetary guidelines. The Dad’s Club is the oldest parent activity; since 1939 it sponsors pancake breakfasts, potlucks, rummage sales, and the annual variety show to fund a host of school activities. The Harvest Festival, Walk and Roll to School Day, and Art Work, Art Play, Art Think plus a contest naming the new school mascot, the squirrel, are all fun projects.
Sequoia’s tremendous energy makes it a neighborhood magnet, and it enjoys support from the surrounding community. Families moving to Oakland include Sequoia Elementary School as a preferred choice regardless of where in Oakland they may settle.
“Sequoia has great teachers, a great after school program (Healthy Start) and the parents are involved. It’s a happy, safe, effective learning environment. I have a fourth grader and we’ve been at Sequoia since kindergarten. Couldn’t be happier with our experience,”- a Sequoia parent.
Multiculturalism in all its forms is celebrated at Sequoia and is reflective of the neighborhood and the city. The school has a gender balance of 43% girls and 41% boys. African-Americans (33%) are the largest ethnic group followed by Latinos (18%), Asians/Pacific Islanders (18%), White (14%), and children of two or more races (15%). The school is valued by its adoptive, LGBT, multiethnic, and multicultural families and the school appreciates the added the diversity.
According to Great Schools test scores are improved; they give the school an overall rating of 5 out of 10 based on its performance on state standardized tests. Sequoia was rewarded with recognition as one of the district’s most improved schools, its teachers are known for their dedication and excellence in the classroom. The Alameda County Office of Education presented the much coveted 2010 Teacher of the Year award to Sequoia Elementary School teacher Jessica O’Toole.
Academically, Sequoia offers its students a spectrum of learning models and environments. Resource specialists help special needs children throughout the week and accelerated programs are in place for advanced students. The majority, fully mainstreamed children participate in programs designed for children of their class level.
Test scores reveal performance weaknesses. Disproportionate numbers of Latino and African-American students are behind in math, language skills, and science. The school has a 18:1 student teacher ratio. CST scores for fifth grade (highest grade level) overall student scores show only 23% are proficient in English language arts, 38% proficient in mathematics, and 25% competent in science. Sequoia is faced with the same issues plaguing city schools everywhere.
Arguably Sequoia has too many underachieving children with poverty a common denominator; 41% of families meet the income guidelines for free or reduced-cost meal programs. Poverty is concentrated in some ethnic communities; Sequoia in Oakland is a prime example. Upper Dimond isn’t a poverty-riddled neighborhood, but between its own inherent poor, and children brought into the school from other areas of the city, a concentration of poverty and its attendant problems result.
The school must focus its energy on boosting the academic performance of its minority students by addressing the problem head-on. African-American and Latino families are the most represented however are least engaged in school activities; African-American and Latino students are less involved in the classroom, and over represented in problems regarding discipline and behavior. These attitudinal issues often reinforced by cultural differences must change.
Unfortunately, California’s big budget problems negatively affect education programs across the board and its impossible for parents to underwrite the school in total. Already, parents and neighbors volunteer and serve as helpers, assist classroom teachers, cafeteria, staff the library and school administrative offices, in addition to fundraising. What matters most to families at Sequoia is improvement, and improvement is a measure of achievement. This, coupled with the supportive and challenging learning environment provided by parents and community is what makes Sequoia a successful school.