Oakland High School is the first school within the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to have all their students enrolled in what they call “wall to wall” college preparation programs. School staff implemented them in the hopes of achieving higher retention rates between 10th and 11th grade, and higher graduation rates.
These college preparation programs include Advance Via Individual Determination (AVID), the Environmental Science Academy (ESA), Visual Arts and Academics Magnet Program (VAAMP), Project Lead the Way (PLW), and the Public Health Academy (PHA). These “pathways” allow a student to focus on a particular set of goals, and achieve them, with the help of teachers who are assigned to a specific cohort of students throughout their high school journeys. For example, students within the AVID pathway focus on becoming future college scholars. PHA students focus on gaining knowledge about the medical and health fields, while ESA students focus on learning science, and having hands-on experience in that field.
The students enrolled in specific pathways have the opportunity to take field trips to medical facilities, science labs, and art galleries. They are given the opportunity to interact with professionals in their desired career areas.
Martin Abdel-Qawi, the principal at Oakland High School, said he believes that college pathways set his students up for future success. “Pathways serve a lot of different functions. One of them is to connect them to careers and people who work in those careers. It exposes them to the different opportunities within those careers, but also exposes them to careers in general,” said Abdel-Qawi.
Jennifer Howard, an AVID teacher at Oakland High School, said all of her students have graduated from high school, and a majority went on to college. “I have seen extreme success in each of the three cohorts I have seen graduate,” said Howard. “I can probably count on a couple hands those who don’t attend any post-secondary education. … When you enroll in AVID, it is that intention, that college is the end goal.”
Rachel Hiloa, a senior in the Public Health Academy, believes that the program has helped her gain professional experience. The academy has allowed her to gain hands-on experience through internships and professional development training in areas such as resume building and interview practice. She said she wants to make her mom proud by graduating from high school and going on to become a nurse.
“Education is important, because most of folks just have a high school diploma or nothing at all,” said Hiloa.
Abdel-Qawi believes that this system of college preparation programs works well because it allows teachers to work with a group of students throughout their high school careers, and establishes a bond between them.
“Graduation rates for scholars that are in pathways are 20 percent higher for those who are not in pathways, and one of the primary goals for high school is to graduate scholars ready for higher education and careers,” said Abdel-Qawi.