“Both personally and professionally, the strike has been challenging. All I want is what is best for my students. I am hopeful that organizing efforts like this will make change in the future because it is critical that our district, city, state, and nation prioritizes public education more.”
Nina Portugal is an English Teacher at Life Academy Oakland, one of Summer Search Bay Area’s partner high schools. She is one of thousands of Oakland teachers, counselors, nurses, and other educators who participated in the Oakland Teachers Strike.
The strike raised national headlines, as Oakland joined a growing list of cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, where educators have exercised the power of protest to fight for our public schools.
During the strike, teachers — working with the Oakland Education Association (OEA) labor union — gained support from parents, students, and other community members, which helped pressure school officials to accept some of their demands. OUSD and OEA reached an agreement on March 3, which contained a complex and controversial mix of wins and losses for Oakland public schools. In fact, some disappointed educators, counselors, and nurses expressed that they felt sold out by the OEA.
The issues surrounding the strike in Oakland speak strongly to the systemic inequities that exist throughout the U.S. education system that prevent intelligent, capable young people from succeeding — inequities that Summer Search and our community partners, like Nina Portugal, work to challenge and disrupt.
Students Standing Up and Speaking Out
“I know this break in their routine will be a disruption,” Nina explained. “[But] I know our students are supporting us and I hope this will leave an imprint on them about the importance of organizing and lifting their voices for change.”
Many Oakland students did support the strike in a variety of ways, from joining the picket lines, to not attending school during the strike, to participating in student-organized protests.
One of the larger youth-led demonstrations was a city-wide Sickout, where students skipped class to march from Oakland Technical High School to the OUSD’s downtown headquarters. Several Summer Searchers took part in the Sickout, including Donna F., currently a junior at Oakland High School.
Bay Area Summer Searcher Donna F. at the Oakland Sickout.
“I participated in today’s sickout because I want to see a change in OUSD — I want my teachers to stay in Oakland and keep their jobs,” she explained. “I want students like me to not have overcrowded classrooms and lack of resources. What I want for our schools is more funding for all students, teachers, and staff. By uniting at today’s student sickout, we are showing OUSD that we deserve more than what we get from them. We don’t want to see anymore budget cuts because that takes away our learning and resources that we need for our classrooms.”
Jennifer R., a junior at Oakland Tech, also shared her thoughts on the situation and why she was standing with her teachers.
“I strike because I want a better future — not just for me, but for generations to come!” she passionately stated. “Our hard-working teachers shouldn’t have to worry about how they will put food on their table or a roof over their heads. I’ve lost MULTIPLE amazing teachers because they couldn’t afford to stay in the Bay Area. Many believe that teachers are just asking for a higher pay, but it’s so much more than that. They want what’s best for everyone, especially students. With smaller class sizes, each student will be able to get the help and attention they need. I can’t express how necessary this strike is, and how much teachers need our support.”
Aparicio L., a Summer Search senior from Oakland International High School, stood front and center at a demonstration by the OEA, broadcasted on Facebook Live video. Aparicio — in the photo below wearing a black sweatshirt — is the first student to speak in the video, talking about the issue of class size and the impact it has on his learning environment.
“Every single student has different thoughts, different dreams, different strengths, and different strategies,” he explains. “So, we need to support our teachers, we need smaller classes so that everyone can learn, and everyone can be successful.”
Our mentors worked extra hard during the strike to make sure our students had support during this tumultuous time. With schools closed, Summer Search students could visit our Oakland office if they needed a place to go during the day. And since many students rely on school lunches, our team also made sure they received a meal if needed.
Mentors were in constant communication as the strike developed, so they could answer questions and provide support during their mentoring conversations. The overarching reason for the strike — chronic underfunding of our public schools — is something our students face every day, strike or not.
“The Oakland Teacher strike further showcases the lack of funding for our public education system that disproportionately affects students of color and those from low-income backgrounds,” explains Bradley Hill, Summer Search Bay Area’s Director of School and Community Engagement. “The ethos of this strike clearly connects with the purpose of Summer Search to combat educational inequity.”
Bradley continues: “Summer Search Bay Area stands with Oakland teachers and continues to strive to be a better member of the Bay Area community by supporting local and national movements that highlight inequity and injustice and aspire for a healthier, more accessible world for all.”
If you would like to learn more about the strike, stay up to date on new developments, and hear more student voices, check out these articles, websites, and social media channels.
Justice for Oakland Students Coalition