Category Archives: Law Academy

Why Mack Students Should Care About Climate Change


by Anthony Beron

High asthma rates, diesel fumes from the Port of Oakland, pollution from four freeways near McClymonds High School. Add another environmental concern for students: climate change.

A March 23 workshop organized by Oakland Climate Action Coalition — which hopes to lure McClymonds students and other youths — will address the preparation and survival skills needed to address climate change for West Oakland residents.

“We don’t want to label ourselves as victims,” says Myesha Williams of the Rose Foundation, one of the event’s organizers. “We want to prepare ourselves as a community, to use our resilience, and share our resources.”

Several McClymonds students expressed interest in the issue and the day-long workshop. “Global warming impacts my future and my health,” said Brandon Von Der Werth, a junior. “I know that people suffer from asthma and we need to improve air quality.”

Lee Benson, also a junior, agreed that education and preparation were central to dealing with the environmental inequalities in West Oakland. “I want to stay healthy and help others,” he said.

Global warming’s consequences are prevalent in our biome, including West Oakland.

West Oakland is OCAC’s current main concern, because of its susceptibility to flooding.

“West Oakland is below sea-level, and is extremely prone to flooding,” said Williams.

That, combined with poor air quality have inspired Mack students to speak out. This would not be the first time McClymonds students were involved in environmental activism. When McClymonds was divided into small schools, its Law Academy explored pollution in West Oakland.  Its students testified about diesel fumes before state and federal boards.  The testimony helped change the rules about retrofitting trucks running on diesel fuel.

A four-year project by students in the Law Academy at McClymonds found that metal particles were present in the air surrounding the school community.  They took their findings to local media and eventually, they got the attention of Nancy Nadel, West Oakland’s City Council Representative.  With her support, a number of city agencies, including Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and City Attorney came together and conducted investigations regarding Custom Alloy Scrap Sales compliance with environmental regulations.   Their findings determined that CASS was in violation of a number of regulations.  Although CASS has taken steps to correct a number of the violations, they are actively seeking to move their location away from the residential neighborhood, where they have conducted business for more than 25 years.

After pressure by local groups, CASS was trying to relocate to vacant industrial land next to the former Oakland Army Base.

Some of the same issues — injustice, public health, equity and lack of  resources —  are in play in the battle against global warming as in the community fight against pollutants from a smelter, said Williams. “It’s time to start to take care of our community and its future.”

Inequality: Why Mack Needs To Be More Academic

by Stephen Vance

Will there be more academics at Mack next year? I certainly hope so.

Even though I was admitted to Cal Berkeley, I would have welcomed more AP classes, such as the ones proposed now by McClymonds alumni and the New McClymonds Committee. They proposed adding two AP history courses, two English courses, AP Calculus, AP Spanish and three AP science classes, as well as Environmental Studies and three computer science courses.

I would have benefitted greatly; these classes would have given me the opportunity to satisfy Cal’s requirements. Unfortunately, there was only one AP class available in my four years at McClymonds — AP English.

As these groups point out, we students at Mack are getting an unequal education — fewer AP and honors classes translate into lower skills, lower GPAs as we compete for college admissions, scholarships, and fewer opportunities. We also have fewer courses to choose from: 21 courses at McClymonds, compared to 72 at Oakland Tech. And we are the only high school in Oakland that is overwhelmingly African American.

As I look around me, I see students struggling to graduate because they are missing required courses, partly because they dropped a course along the way or never found a science course they liked.

However for the most part, some students can’t take the course because it is full. Consequently, these students will have to attempt to satisfy the requirement next year.

Personally, I took Pre-Calculus my junior year, but was unable to take Calculus in my senior year, because we do not offer the course. The pickings are scarce. I’ve seen the offerings shrink in my four years here: Environmental Science, Forensic Science, Media Studies, Video Production, Drama, African American Studies, and the closing of the Law Academy.

Two Mack students win in Northern California journalism contest


Pamela Tapia won several awards in 2011 for environmental and feature stories. Here she is pictured accepting an award from Betty Packard at last year’s Northern California Press Women Association awards’ ceremony.

Now a community college freshman, Tapia again won 2nd prize in 2012 in environmental reporting for a story on cleaning up West Oakland. The story first appeared in macksmack and was published in the June 2011 issue of  Oaktown Teen Times.

Stephen Vance, a senior at McClymonds and a summer intern at the Rose Foundation in 2011, won honorable mention for a story he wrote about the Greening of West Oakland.  The story first appeared in macksmack and was published in Oaktown Teen Times in December 2011.

Six McClymonds students selected as paid summer interns

by Pamela Tapia

Six students from McClymonds are among the 60 or so Oakland students selected for paid four-week summer internships through the city of Oakland’s  Mayor’s Office.

The students —  sophomore Devin Simmons, and juniors Eric Abundis, Dominique Albert, Jazmine McDowell, Victor Smith and Ciana Augustine — will work with Nancy Schiff at the Center for Youth Development through Law.

Students from the other high schools in Oakland will intern with businesses as diverse as Kaiser Construction, Metropolitan Golf Links, East Bay Zoological Society, More Radio, and KICU television.

In the past, as many as 250 students were selected as summer interns. “There is limited funding this summer for job slots,” said Cara Johnson, afterschool program coordinator at McClymonds. “The first place to cut in the budget is always programming for youth.”

Three Mack students win East Bay College Fund scholarships

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Silvia Cardona

Three seniors from McClymonds High School — Terranisha Nathaniel, Ernest Marshall and Shakuri Evans — have won four-year $16,000 college scholarships from the East Bay College Fund.

The three were honored Tuesday night along with 27 other students from Oakland public high schools  at a ceremony at the Oakland Museum. TV reporter Belva Davis and news cameraman Bill Moore spoke about their challenges, obstacles and success as African American journalists.

Nathaniel, who won the Princeton Prize in Race Relations last year for her environmental activism, plans to attend Chico State. Marshall has enrolled at the University of North Carolina, while Shakuri Evans will go to Humboldt State.

The New New Thing at Mack : Manufacturing and Engineering

photo by Pamela Tapia

by Pamela Tapia

School board Gary Yee brought along Dan Swinney of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council to pitch a new program to the staff, parents and faculty at McClymonds Wednesday night. However, Yee didn’t stay long at the meeting.

The change in focus at Mack — from law and environmental justice to manufacturing and engineering — was unveiled at a series of meetings, first with principal Kevin Taylor and then with the school’s alumni association.

“We could’ve prevented jobs lost in companies,” said Swinney as he introduced the program created at Austin Polytechnical Academy in West Chicago to the 25 people at the meeting.

The Austin Polytechnical Academy opened in 2007. A New York Times story in April reported that the school is facing funding problems, a decline in enrollment, and was placed in academic probation for the 2010-2011 school year.

In the latest news, on Monday, 100 students walked out of classes at Austin Polytechnic Academy to protest the firing of 7 out of 30 teachers by the interim principal. Students and teachers complained of poor communications and lack of professional development in a piece by the Chicago News Cooperative.

In an attempt to show that manufacturing jobs could be saved in West Oakland, Swinney said that there were jobs that could be filled if the people with the “right talent” applied. According to Swinney, even during the recession there were 3 million jobs in manufacturing.

“Whenever they think of jobs. they think of McDonalds, Wal-Mart, or selling drugs, they don’t think of manufacturing,” said Swinney.

According to Swinney, McClymonds was chosen because of the similarity to West Chicago’s demographics, namely high unemployment, a rise in African American population, and poor funding of public education.

There was many comments from parents after hearing that it took $75,000-100,000 to start the program from scratch and it cost $250,000 a year to maintain the machinery and hire specialized teachers.

“We don’t want to be a district dumping ground,” said Carol Ferguson-Jones, Mack class of ’88 and parent of a student.

“I’m not really excited if you don’t focus on academics,” said Rowanda McGee, a social worker at McClymonds.

“This whole idea is stupid. We need to divert the funds for something that will benefit everybody, not just the people interested in manufacturing. Our class can’t even do algebra, how are they going to do calculus to run a machine?” said Bonita Tindle, a senior at Mack.

Despite some negative reaction from parents, staffband students, the McClymonds administration welcomed the new focus.

“ Kids need another alternative. They need to find a career path with a skill set,” said council member Nancy Nadel. “College is not for everybody. The district needs to support us,” said Sam McNeal, attendance administrator.

“We need a safety net, nothing happens overnight,” said Karen Todd, vice principal at Mack.

There is no word when the final decision will be made.

Another loss for Mack: Arthur Jackson, college counselor, to leave for grad school

by Pamela Tapia

Another loss for Mack:  its dynamic and popular college counselor.

Arthur Jackson, a Mack alumnus and graduate of UC Berkeley, will leave for graduate school next year.

His departure is part of a major exodus from Mack over two years: first principal Yetunde Reeves and three teachers, now the closure of the Law Academy and “consolidation” of Ina Bendich and Craig Gordon, pink slips for teachers and the departure of Jackson.

“My goal is to hire a better person than me as my replacement,” he said.

Jackson plans to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he will pursue a masters in public policy and management.

A Lesson in Restorative Justice: Mack Students Do the Teaching

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Pamela Tapia

Strange sight.   The tables were turned at Mack last week.

Judges received a lesson on restorative justice from McClymonds students last Friday.

The 15 students opened “the circle” with agreements about trust and honesty. Senior Amber Hill read  a quote by Maya Angelou (“if we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die”) as students related it to violence in their lives. The judges from Hayward, Richmond, Chicago, and a Mack graduate, all former prosecutors,  looked astonished at the students’ analyses of the quote.

After the circle ritual, the judges praised the students as thinkers and reminded them about the need for more people of color to become attorneys.

As the demonstration of restorative justice came to an end, students who take part in the REAL HARD program escorted the judges to the Malcolm X room where the judges shared the life experiences that led them to become judges and attorneys.

Most Mack students paid particularly close attention to the Mack alumna (class of 1972), Alameda Superior Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, who moved from Mississippi to Oakland during the civil rights movement as a teen mom.

“You cannot use discrimination as an excuse (for not trying harder),” she told the group. “I know:  I lived through it.”

Mack will close its law academy: end of an era

by Sarai Cornejo and Pamela Tapia

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(with reporting from The Oaktown Teen Times and The Oakland Tribune)

There will be no law academy at McClymonds next year.

The news came last week in a form letter from principal Kevin Taylor to Ina Bendich, who has been director of the Law Academy for 10 years.

“I knew that enrollment was down and that the academy would likely be closed.  With approximately 230 students, and two academies that both require 90 students to remain solvent, it seemed inevitable that one would be forced out.  I hoped that the tradition of political action  in West Oakland would keep us open.”

A total of 45 students are currently enrolled in the law academy, which focuses on legal issues and environmental justice. It sponsors this blog, a debate team, mock trial, an annual Yosemite trip, summer internships, restorative justice, youth court and a partnership with the Rose Foundation, which has trained students to advocate for cleaner air in West Oakland.

“It taught me a lot about the law and the constitution,” said Asia Hill, 16, a junior.  “It means missing out on a lot of opportunities next year.”

It is unclear what will happen at McClymonds next year and whether the other academy, International Trade and Transportation, will survive.

The closure is part of a trend: small school or academies, which offer fewer AP classes because they are specialized, have lost financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which began funding them in 2004)  and many are closing due to dwindling enrollment and lack of state funding.

At its peak, McClymonds had close to 800 students, while it now has under 300.

In 2008, McClymonds had the highest scores on the  California High School Exit Exam in the entire district. It was also ranked number 1 in the East Bay and Northern California as the high school with most football players attending Division 1 universities.

Three small schools at Fremont and three small schools at Castlemont High Schools will  be “consolidated  in the fall of 2012.”

The Oaktown Teen Times reported that Castlemont received an extra $700,000 to “just stay afloat.”

“The law academy has led the community  in fighting air pollution,” says Jill Ratner, director  of the Rose Foundation. Together with environmental groups, students at the Law Academy discovered a nearby polluter and began monitoring the air for toxins.  In its partnership with the Rose Foundation, the law academy also sent students to summer internships to learn more about environmental justice and advocacy.

“The students’ work over the past years earned them national recognition and most recently, they were honored by the Environmental Protection Agency.  We have a lot to be proud of.  It’s been a great ride,”  commented Ms. Bendich.

Other teachers and administrators also received “consolidation” notices, said vice principal Karen Todd.

“If they’re going to treat you like this, Bendich,  you deserve better” said Lateefah Edmonds, an 18-year-old senior at Mack ,who has known Ms. Bendich since her freshman year.