On Saturday, ASCEND K-8 opened its doors to students, families and the entire Fruitvale community for its Spring Exposition of Learning where students showcased written reports, artwork, multimedia presentations and musical compositions created during the semester.
The exposition was the result of months of preparation by students, teachers and parents. At the start of the semester, each grade level begins an “expedition” by selecting a theme. The students take the theme, examine it and apply it across the school’s curriculum. “The goal is to integrate math, art, science, music and reading into one project,” said J. Brett Wilson, a second grade teacher and one of the exposition organizers.
This spring, ASCEND’s kindergarten class studied patterns in the garden, learning about parts of the plant, what plants need to survive, invertebrates that live in the garden and the plant life cycle. During the open house the students presented six different plants to taste and seeds for visitors to plant, and each child had the opportunity to explain his or her aspect of the project.
The eighth grade class tested Newton’s Laws of Motion. They created a miniature truck and a ramp that was used to test the concepts of force by measuring speed and momentum at varying levels.
Third graders studied legends, including tall tales. For their research they read about Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan, created their own fables and performed an original play. Meanwhile, the sixth grade class started a mural and presented recited poetry inspired by this year’s annual trip to Point Reyes.
This was the fourth such event for fourth grader Edgar Martinez. He and his brother, second grader Leonardo Martinez, sat near the front of the entrance next to their mom who sat at one of the welcome tables. Edgar pointed to the pictures on the wall as he explained his project about what a family looks like. “My project is to write a connection to a story in a book called Family Pictures by Carmen Lomas Garza,” he said. “We’re supposed to write a story about it and then [create] a drawing that goes with our story.”
Fifth grader Paulina Rico said her class theme was personal symbols and artifacts. They did a lot of editing in order to complete journal entries and drawings of their personal symbols and of artifacts that represent things they like. “My personal symbol is that I like animals and sometimes animals are tortured for no reason,” Rico said. She said she loves dolphins and considers it her job to protect them. The students made drums showing their personal symbol, she said, picking up a white canister with a picture of a butterfly, two black and gray masks and a dolphin reading a book.
In class, students work individually, in partner pairs and in small groups to prepare their projects for the exposition, said kindergarten teacher Marta Capriles. “We try to have student choice as much as possible. They [the kindergarteners] selected a plant expert group to be in for the first half of the expedition. For the second half they chose an invertebrate.”
Each class at ASCEND has at least one supported expedition, Capriles said. There is allotted time for music and art integration, as well as collaboration with other teachers. Parents also participate by assuming roles as leaders for individual groups after students decide what group they will join.
The mission of ASCEND is to close the achievement gap in Oakland, Wilson said, referring to the disparity in test scores and dropout rates among students of different socioeconomic statuses. “We provide a unique program here in Fruitvale that you cannot find anywhere else,” he said.
ASCEND was founded in 2001 as part of the Oakland Unified School District reform movement, called the new small autonomous schools movement, said principal Larissa Adam, who was also one of the school’s founding teachers. It was originally a part of Outward Bound before it was spun off to operate on its own, Adam said. “We had the opportunity as a group of educators and parents working together to write a proposal to start a school,” she said.
For the most part the school continues to follow the expeditionary learning model from Outward Bound, which emphasizes active learning, service participation and leadership that promotes a better environment. School administrators and teachers have made adjustments to incorporate its arts integration program of visual art and music into the format.
Other campuses using this model in the Fruitvale district are the International Community School and Think College Now on the Cesar Chavez campus near the Fruitvale BART in Oakland, according to Wilson.
Many of the parents at the exposition said they appreciated the level of parent involvement at the school, including Sharonda Green. Her son is a former student, and the family was attending the exposition to support her daughter, an 8thgrader who will graduate next month. “I was here before the school was built, when there were only trailers,” Green said. “I chose the school because it was a small autonomous school and it was family-oriented. The families are united here. We all come together for the kids.”
As the afternoon approached, the parent dance began. A group of approximately 15 parents and students performed a dance titled “Sanza Azteca Mexica;” the dancers were dressed in traditional clothing, beads and feathered headdresses. This was followed by a final performance on the drums by the students.
The day’s events concluded with the dedication of the mural created by the 5th grade class with the assistance of art teacher Miranda Bergman, also a founding teacher at the school. Parents and students gathered around the area outside near the playground. The mural mounted on the wall was created with ceramic tiles painted in shades of blue and yellow with touches of red. Butterflies, flowers and animals were among the images each student created as portraits of themselves. They surrounded three trees in the center of the square to represent the strength of the school and the community.
Wilson hit the drum in front of him, signaling that it was time to cut the ribbon as students and their families cheered loudly.
“It’s really wonderful to have these kids have an authentic audience for all of their performances and presentations,” Wilson said as the day’s events concluded. “When they see that their parents and community support their learning, they strive to make it better and it builds their aspirations for the future.”