Canopies were up for The People’s School For Public Education on Tuesday at Splash Pad Park, where protesters who had previously been camping at Lakeview Elementary School have relocated the volunteer-run summer program to teach kids about social justice issues. Protesters are saying that Thursday will be the last time the People’s School will be held at Splash Pad Park before they choose another location.
At the entrance to the park there were signs reading “School Back In Session” and “Welcome to the Lakeview Sit-In and People’s School For Public Education Information Desk.” There were two canopies that housed art supplies, paper, blankets, books and a world map. Kids gathered on blankets to learn about counting—a strip of numbers borders one canopy’s lining—and about how to locate countries on a map for the day’s lesson on international music.
On Tuesday, 12 kids were dropped off or brought along for lessons. “We had them show up at 11 a.m. and then we did some reading,” said Flo Dickerson, who teaches OUSD after-school programs. “We are playing some games—they’re having lunch right now. We’ll have some drumming music later and then let them go over to the library in a little bit.”
Dickerson said the social justice curriculum can be added to the kids’ arts and crafts lessons. “I’ll have them draw what they would see their ideal school look like, their ideal community, that kind of thing,” she said. The drawings—with rainbows and half-colored suns—are taped on the back wall of the park’s water fountains.
The school’s food station—fried chicken, corn on the cob, vegan soup, beans, rice, sweet potatoes and pork loin—attracted a few homeless people who were each given a plate. The food supply came from Occupy Oakland Kitchen and Food Not Bombs. The table’s centerpiece was a cash donation box for passersby.
People walking by the school, often with their children, stopped to see what was happening and how things have changed since the school was set up on the Lakeview campus. “The encampment, I think, was a very good idea,” said Teddy Legesse, who has a daughter who attends Peter Pan Academy in Alameda. “People have to speak their mind. What they’re doing is very unfair to the Oakland children. Every day they’re closing schools. It does not make sense at all.”
“This is a problem that’s going on in terms of attack on public education, attack on unions and teachers, and the continued attack on children and thier basic right to a public education,” said Brother Muziki, who goes by that nickname, after grabbing a bite to eat. He teaches at Laurel Elementary School and taught fifth grade and music at Lakeview for 11 years. He came to the People’s School on Tuesday to host a drum and percussion circle. “I decided to come out today to basically help this movement and help to continue to bring awareness to the community,” he said.
Before staring the music circle, Muziki talked to the kids about culture and music in Africa. “Drum and percussion is very important to the community,” he said. “It’s used as a way of communication, celebration, as a way of ceremony for weddings, for people that are transitioning, for things like change of weather, the new harvest. The drums, percussion and the drum circle is very important and native to a lot of indigenous cultures. So we want to celebrate that today at the People’s School.”
Volunteer instructor Lindsey Boldt said she has always dreamed of teaching at a community-formed school. “This is my third time coming,” she said. “I observed a class when they were still at Lakeview and then I taught a poetry class that following Tuesday. I came back last week and the school had been raided, so I just hung out with the kids and we played in the fountain.”
Boldt, who lives in Oakland, is an art teacher in San Francisco. “I’m really excited about the People’s School and everyone sort of forming autonomous schools,” she continued. “It’s tough because you want to fight the school closures but at the same time it’s really exciting to see people forming the kind of schools they want to have, sort of like a free school model, [but] less hierarchical. The kids just seem like they’re really enjoying it and have a little more say in how things go.”
The Oakland Unified School District is planning to turn Lakeview into administrative offices, but protesters have asked for the support of local labor unions in forming a picket line that would block district officials from moving in. On Monday, the Alameda Central Labor Council debated whether to sanction a picket line, but declined to sanction it without support from more unions that employ school workers. (You can read more about the picket line here.)
If the picket line is sanctioned, Lakeview protesters said on Tuesday, they would stand in front of the Lakeview entrance, just off of Grande Avenue, to prevent the district from turning the school into administrative offices. Protesters expect the unions to make a decision within a few days.
“We do hope that the labor unions step up and realize that this is not just about Lakeview … and stand together with the community to send a strong message that we’re not going to let this happen,” said Joel Velasquez, a father with one son who attended Lakeview. “I think the unions doing exactly what they should—they’re protecting their workers and other union workers.”
By 4 p.m. on Tuesday, parents, teachers, and community activist moved the People’s School to Lakeview Branch Library and the playground with swings nearby.
Protesters are not disclosing where the school might move after Thursday.
The Lakeview Sit-in and People’s School will hold a concert and rally featuring Boots Riley and political speakers at Splash Pad Park on Sunday at 5 p.m. Oakland North will continue to follow this story.