June 16, 2011
By Deirdre Fennessy, head of Golden Oak Montessori School
It was 8:15 AM in Hayward, CA. Golden Oak Public Charter Montessori School filled a 57 passenger bus with Upper Elementary students, teachers, parents, Board members and Head of School and headed for Charter School Advocacy Day at the Capitol in Sacramento. We were fired up.
We had received several updates from CCSA about the proposed budget cuts to education on the horizon, reduced and delayed ADA payments for 2011-2012, and the ant-charter legislation that was being considered by our assemblymen and senators that day.
We have been very fortunate in our first two years of existence in Hayward, CA. Students, families, community members, teachers and staff have all been grateful for what we have accomplished as a team. In our first year we won an Environmental Achievement Award from the City of Hayward for our outdoor gardens and indoor non-toxic environments. Our first API score exceeded the 800 benchmark. Our population is exquisitely diverse -13% African American, 24% Hispanic, 26% Asian, 34% Caucasian and 3 % a combination of everything. For our first all-school donation drive, we received donations from 100% of our families.
The news from CCSA about the possible budget cuts and anti-charter legislation was too much to bear after such an eventful and strong beginning to our school, Knowing it could all be jeopardized by legislators in Sacramento energized us to do something.
When the invitation to join CCSA at the Capitol came, we were ready. The Upper Elementary students started researching the different branches of the government; and the process of deliberation that has to happen; the Board members got familiar with the language of bills, AB 1172, that wasn't passed that day, and AB 645 which was passed that day; we urged all our parents to call their representatives to vote no on AB1172.
It was a banner day. The sky was as blue as it gets, the temperature was in the hot 90's, but the lofty state buildings were all air conditioned and the mature trees surrounding the buildings provided all the shade and relief we needed.
In the senate chambers, Senator Corbett's aide spoke eloquently to our students about the basics of government and answered all questions no matter how far afield. Sitting in the balcony of that beautiful rotunda in the senate chambers was a rare experience in itself.
As our students ascended and descended the broad stairwell through the Capitol, I heard words like, "I want to be a governor." "I want to be president someday." For these students whose parents were recently immigrants, and whose experience in life revolves around Hayward, those were bold, courageous words, not heard before from this group.
Governor Brown's portrait was a singular experience. Our students looked for it because it was an item to be found for their scavenger hunt. There it was, hard to miss for its candor and openness, especially compared to the traditional portraiture on either side of it.
Even more exciting to the students were the 'vaults.' The old and the new. In the Treasury building, we were treated to an interview with Bill Lockyear who is a friend of one of our founders. He explained that the 83 billion dollar budget went to education first, health and welfare second and the prison system third. That was mind-boggling for me as an adult. I could only imagine what the students made of those priorities. It is a topic that reaches far into the future.
The students saw only paper and cardboard boxes in the current vault, even though the secure doors around it were massive. We lined up single file to descend a very narrow spiral staircase that took us to the vault. "Where is the money?" the students asked. The answer was familiar, "Ah, in the bank where everyone else's money is."
The lawmakers who habituate the halls of power had to work their way around the 300 students and adults who visited the capitol that day. As Senator Corbett's aide said to the students, "Now I know I have to pay attention to these Charter school bills because here you are reminding me what it is all about!. "
We will be back next year and maybe before depending upon what we hear from CCSA as to the urgency of our participation.
Golden Oak Montessori Charter School is guided by its vision to create a child-centered learning environment that involves families, educators, and the community in nurturing the whole child. Golden Oak uses a different approach to learning: Montessori. Montessori emphasizes self-governance and peer-teaching. For more information, visit goldenoakmoterssori.org