by Pamela Tapia
Before Rob Jackson came to McClymonds as a youth coordinator for Kids First, he believed the stereotype he heard at Skyline High School: that kids in West Oakland were academically weak, challenging and hard to reach.
Instead, he found them as open as kids anywhere. And as challenging.
“I was mostly impressed by the resiliency of kids here,” says Jackson, age, who finished his second year teaching leadership skills to a dozen of the most at risk students at the school as part of the after-school program — REAL HARD, Representing Educated Active Leaders Having A Righteous Dream.
“Most adults don’t think of youth leadership as a goal,” says Jackson. “I start by teaching students to be accountable to themselves and by providing structure, but then I go farther. I show them that they can work to change their environment and have an impact.”
Born and raised in Oakland, Jackson graduated from Skyline High School. He graduated San Francisco State with a BA in liberal arts. He was thinking of obtaining a teaching credentials but balked because of the restrictions he felt that teachers faced. Instead, he joined Kids First.
“The major challenge is to confront negativity, to have students believe they can make a difference,” says Jackson.
Mack was the second high school in Oakland to offer REAL HARD, a program that meets for two hours twice a week, which pays students about $150-200 per semester. Now every high school in Oakland offers it.
As part of REAL HARD, students run programs for other students at the school, that focus on changing the school environment into the better place and to promote respect each other.
Bonita Tindle, a senior who was involved in REAL HARD last year, remembers the creativity behind some of the program’s school-wide campaigns. For instance, REAL HARD students gave other students blue tape to wear over their mouths during school day to prevent students from “dissing” each other.
Last year, students started offering pizza to the entire school every Thursday. On another occasion, REAL HARD students passed out “respect my —-” and the students who received them would fill in the blank with words like “culture” “identity” “intelligence.” “Some students were original,” says Tindle. “They filled in the blank with ‘weave’ or ‘bootie.'”