Becoming a member of the Mills Ethnic Studies Elementary Education Inquiry Project felt a comfortable and necessary piece of professional development. At the time of joining this project, I had been teaching elementary education for 21 years. I looked forward to reflecting on my practice and documenting my curriculum through a specific Ethnic Studies lens. I was teaching in an East Oakland elementary school on a shared campus with another elementary school, a child development center, two middle schools and one high school. The five schools (not including the CDC) campus serve 1,500 students.
During a Social Studies lesson one day, the 34 students in my 4th grade class were studying the symbols of California. They came across the terms Sequoia Sempervirens and the Sequoia Gigantea. I explained to them that those were the scientific names for the Coast Redwood and Giant Sequoia. The students wanted to know more.
They were unfamiliar with the Redwoods. Lining the class up in front of the windows, I pointed to the Oakland hills and showed them the Redwood lined ridge. The students were shocked to know that Redwoods are all around us and the students desire to explore the hills and visit these trees was evident. Also evident were the invisible boundaries that keep communities contained. This is what I wanted to explore.
We are all residents of Oakland yet there was some distance to the redwoods/hills. I wanted to know more about how my East Oakland students were defining their neighborhoods and how were other students in Oakland defining theirs.Who or what is defining these neighborhoods, and how are existing political, social and economic systems supporting this segregation of Oakland?
With this on my mind, I came up with my first inquiry question for the Ethnic Studies Elementary Education project. Our students rarely leave their communities. Children who live in the Oakland hills rarely enter the flatland communities. They don't experience the same Oakland, let alone each other's worlds. How do I create public/private partnerships?
Leah Aguilera has taught students from preschool through high school and has found a passion for training beginning teachers. Ms. Aguilera has taught in public and independent schools, in both urban and suburban environments. She is able to cross communities with ease and believes that treasures can exist within our own backyards. In addition to exemplifying life-long learning, she also is the mother of a college-aged son, an accomplished dancer and a (former) marathon runner.