School Case – Issue 4, Community Schooling Journal

Community Schooling | Issue 4 | Summer 2023

Oakland High School

Student Agency, Partnership, and Dignity 

Lucetricia M. Anderson, McKinney-Vento Liaison, Oakland Unified School District

Oakland High School sign with students

I have come to appreciate OHS for its emphasis on student engagement and activism, its partnership with a range of community partners and organizations, and its central belief that all students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”


In 2020-21, I began a unique and beautiful partnership with Oakland High School (OHS). I serve as the McKinney-Vento (MKV) liaison for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). As the MKV liaison, I ensure that OUSD students who are experiencing homelessness, and their families, receive the supports needed so that they can participate fully in their schooling experience. Over the past three years, I have collaborated with a teacher at Oakland High School’s Law and Social Justice pathway as she guided her students through youth-participatory action research focused on the needs of their peers experiencing homelessness. As the “client” for students’ real-world, action research projects, I have come to appreciate OHS for its emphasis on student engagement and activism, its partnership with a range of community partners and organizations, and its central belief that all students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. This opportunity to learn from and with OHS students has not only shaped my work as the MKV liaison, but has enabled me to know and better understand Oakland High School—its powerful history and the people that comprise the community.

Oakland High School: Place and People

Ain’t no power like the power of the youth, because the power of the youth don’t stop.”

 Image credit: Hulu

Then Oakland High School Senior and All City Council Governing Board Student Director, Denilson Garibo, concluded his remarks at a 2020 Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board meeting with this quote: “Ain’t no power like the power of the youth, because the power of the youth don’t stop.” He and his fellow Governing Board Student Director asked for a moment of silence to honor George Floyd, who had been murdered by police just weeks before. Garibo eloquently connected the national fight for police reform to that of the students of OUSD. For months, Garibo and his peers at Oakland High School had been working diligently to represent the 36,000 OUSD students with a focus on removing the OUSD Police Force. The students achieved this goal when the “George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the Oakland Schools Police” was passed in June 2020 (1).

That to organize together

For bread and roses…

Strong bodies and beautiful minds

Our necessity, our freedom to make.”

Just ten years before Garibo led his fellow students to a successful vote ousting the OUSD Police, his predecessors, OHS students of the 2011-2012 school year, participated in a different vote. This in-school election determined the names of several buildings on their campus. Each of its five buildings was named for a distinguished alumni and member of the Oakland community such as prominent historic figures, Jack London and Louise Thompson Patterson.  Among the alumni who were honored with a building as their namesake is poet and activist Nellie Wong. Wong attended OHS in the mid 20th century before embarking on an influential career as a poet and community activist. Wong’s poetry highlights the racism, sexism and classism that mark the lives of many in the Oakland community and inspired the students to nominate and vote to honor her in this way (2). At the 2011 naming ceremony, Wong toured the campus and noted that the new building was full of light and “conducive to learning” (3). For the ceremony, Wong wrote a poem entitled “The Building Song” to highlight the need for collective action to build a strong community, hallmarks of the OHS community: “That to organize together / For bread and roses / Strong bodies and beautiful minds /Our necessity, our freedom to make.”

OHS History and Vision

The shared values of activism and care for community present in both Denilson Garibo and Nellie Wong’s legacies are no anomaly. But, rather they are values cultivated in many generations of OHS students dating back to the school’s establishment in 1869.

As the oldest high school in Oakland and the sixth oldest high school in California, OHS has reflected the changing social, cultural, and political landscape of the city for over one hundred and fifty years. From its early years as a pioneering public high school to its recent achievements in academic excellence and social justice, Oakland High School continues to be a vital part of the Oakland community and an exemplar to other schools across the state and the nation.

One of thirteen high schools in OUSD, the community at Oakland High School reflects the racial diversity of its city and neighborhood, Cleveland Heights. Forty percent of students are Latinx, 22% are African American, 28% are Asian, including students of Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino, Mien, and Laotian descent, 2% are white; and 4% are of two or more ethnicities. While the school is rich in racial and ethnic diversity, the vast majority of the student body is identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged and 5% are documented as being unhoused (an underestimation as will be shown below) (4).

OHS is similar to many schools across the state; however, the school’s commitment to addressing the challenges faced by Black and Brown students who are marginalized by racism and economic disadvantage sets it apart. The work of addressing system inequalities in schools requires complex, system-wide solutions. At OHS this work has evolved over its one hundred and fifty-three year history; however, the integration of two key approaches—Community Schooling and its college and career pathways or Linked Learning—demonstrate how it continues to respond to the needs of its most vulnerable students. 

As the oldest high school in Oakland and the sixth oldest high school in California, OHS has reflected the changing social, cultural, and political landscape of the city for over one hundred and fifty years.”

Like a growing number of schools across the state, Oakland High School is a community school. In 2011, the OUSD School Board voted unanimously to become a Full-Service Community School District—one of the first districts in the country to do so. Since then OUSD schools have implemented a range of integrated student supports, expanded learning time opportunities, developed relationship-centered practices, and established responsive learning experiences that connect students learning to their community. 

Many of these responsive learning experiences occur through Linked Learning pathways. OHS students enroll in one of five Silver-Certified pathways: Environmental Science Academy, Innovative Design and Engineering Academy, Law and Social Justice, Public Health Academy, and the Visual Arts and Academics Academy. All Linked Learning pathways have their own instructional focus; however, at OHS, curriculum and instruction are aligned with the schools’ social justice mission. For example, the Environmental Science Academy teaches science content while empowering youth to engage in action aimed at mitigating climate change and combating environmental racism to create a more just and environmentally sustainable future. Curriculum and instruction in all five pathways at OHS are grounded in student interests, the needs of the community, and provide opportunity to learn from the rich assets of the community (e.g., businesses, non-profits, agencies). 

This article features my partnership with Mallory Logan, the LSJ social studies teacher. Mallory engages her students in youth action research projects, using a civic engagement methodology aimed at understanding the complex issues endured by students experiencing homelessness—Y-PLAN. Their research has yielded incredible insights and persuasive recommendations that have shaped the work of OHS and OUSD. Most importantly, LSJ students have taught me about the power of student engagement and activism, the importance of partnership, and that positive change is possible when we center our efforts on students’ sense of belonging, value and dignity. From the outset, it was clear to me that the issue of homelessness impacts the learning of all students as no young person can thrive when they know their peers are suffering.

OHS is similar to many schools across the state; however, the school’s commitment to addressing the challenges faced by Black and Brown students who are marginalized by racism and economic disadvantage sets it apart.”

Public Scholarship through Partnership

Student homelessness is a growing crisis in California. During the 2019-2020 school year, more than 244,000 students were identified as homeless throughout the state—a 48% increase over the previous decade (5). Data further shows that students facing housing instability and frequent moves perform more poorly on state assessments of academic performance. The federal McKinney-Vento Act of 1987 (MKV) guarantees certain rights and services to students who are unhoused so they can enroll, attend, participate fully and succeed in school. Yet inadequate funding, overburdened staff, and the centralization of support in district offices rather than at the school site have limited our ability to meet these standards in practice. As OUSD’s MKV homeless student liaison, I have experienced this strain on services firsthand. Nights spent reaching out to friends and colleagues to help a family find a place to stay, searching for a crib for the newborn sibling of an OUSD student, or attending court appointments to advocate for OUSD students who are experiencing homelessness are just a few examples of the critical work that often extends beyond my contracted hours and job description.

These experiences positioned me to engage OHS students in high quality research and innovation to assist in solving this real-world, community problem. For students, this project shifts from being a simple project to gain research skills and knowledge to a perspective-shifting and action-inspiring experience that impacts the learning of all students. For OHS and OUSD, the impact of the Y-PLAN project has powerfully influenced how we think about our work. Because of the student voice and advocacy at OHS, the OUSD MKV Program, for example, was able to advocate for and successfully hire 3 new case managers for students who are unhoused! One LSJ student in particular believed so much in her project that she presented it to the OUSD School Board. As a result of her and her peers’ advocacy and research, OUSD has hired three case managers.

Tripling the number of McKinney-Vento case managers in the district will have a significant positive impact and is an incredible example of the power of youth! However, there is still much work to be done to address the challenges associated with experiencing homelessness, and OHS students continue to advocate for their peers experiencing homelessness alongside the McKinney-Vento office and their OHS teachers. During the 2022-2023 school year, students presented 35 recommendations for improving the experiences of OHS students who are unhoused to the Mayor’s Chief of Education and Community Safety, Brooklyn Williams, during a poster session at OHS.

The LSJ student recommendations align with the broader goals of the Community Schooling approach, illustrate the very heart of the Oakland High School community, and can help us answer an important question: What does it take to implement the whole school, whole community, whole child strategy when students are experiencing homelessness?

Community schools have an explicit commitment to extending services beyond the individual child to their family, and their whole community. However, in 2017 (when I joined OUSD), six years after the district’s shift to community schools, it was clear that students experiencing homelessness were not receiving the services they needed. Over the past six years, guided by my experiences across the district and the recommendations from the LSJ students, I have found three critical components to answering this question: student agency, program integration, and centering dignity. Oakland High School exemplifies these values and has made great strides toward serving students experiencing homelessness as a result.

Student Agency

Student voices are honored at Oakland High School 

Throughout its storied history, OHS has honored the agency of its students. The names of the school buildings, the absence of a police force, the sounds of student research presentations, and the presence of more MKV case managers all evidence this. But it is not only decision-making that students influence at OHS. Through their community- and work-based research LSJ students also correct assumptions about their community by shining a light on the experiences of OHS students who are unhoused. 

As noted above, OUSD recognizes 5% of OHS students as being unhoused or experiencing housing insecurity. As is the case for many stigmatized and impermanent conditions, it is difficult to document homelessness, so it is unsurprising for the numbers to be underestimates (6). During the 2021-2022 school year, LSJ student research projects found that the number of students who self-identified as being unhoused is almost 30% (over the three years of data collection, the average percentage is approximately 30%, also). However, half of students surveyed are touched by the issue personally by either experiencing homelessness first-hand or knowing someone who has experienced housing insecurity. Thus, it is likely that the district records capture less than 10% of the students experiencing homelessness at OHS. Since LSJ students have direct communication with school, district, and city officials, they can present these more accurate numbers to important decision makers and advocate for more support for students who are unhoused in the district. 

By centering students’ self-definition of their own experiences, rather than district or legally imposed definitions, the adults at OHS and OUSD illustrate and operationalize their trust in the students. Many schools claim to develop students’ agency, but OHS follows through on this claim. In so doing, they not only foster the research and work-based experiences and skills students need to use their voice in various adult-centric spaces, but they also incentivize this process when students see their opinions, hard work, and experiences impacting positive change. 


Partnerships drive progress at Oakland High School 

Serving students experiencing homelessness is complex and requires multi-faceted approaches that move beyond short-term crisis management to invest in the futures of students who are unhoused. Some barriers to adequate support for students experiencing housing insecurity include large teaching and caseloads for teachers and McKinney-Vento liaisons and inadequate communication between the different support structures that exist within OUSD. This causes students to become stuck in a cycle of crisis management that prevents them from being held to the same academic standards as their peers who are housed and makes it even more difficult for those who wish to pursue postsecondary education. This further marginalizes these students, so ensuring every student receives the full resources and support they need to succeed in school is paramount. 

Several first steps toward this goal have already been implemented at OHS. By formalizing ongoing partnerships with local services, businesses, and higher education, like the Y-PLAN program through Linked Learning, OHS is maximizing the resources available to their students. OHS has also established a strong partnership with the OUSD McKinney-Vento office. This partnership has already made significant gains toward integrating services that support students experiencing homelessness. However, it is critical that these partnerships continue and that students who are unhoused benefit via district changes based on LSJ research, but that they also have full access to participate in academically rigorous programs like Linked Learning. In my role as MKV liaison, I have collaborated with the Linked Learning office and OUSD data analysts to systematically identify the Linked Learning pathways in which students who are unhoused are enrolled. In so doing, we (along with the newly hired case managers) can match students with MKV-provided tutors who are qualified to support their specific pathway, support their full integration into all learning opportunities, and provide them with the college and career preparation that will ready them for postsecondary success. 

OUSD has also implemented another approach to increasing  the access to education of students’ experiencing homelessness by focusing on the physical, mental, and emotional needs that are foundational to pursuing academic success. Beginning this semester, the Office of Social Emotional Learning has allocated a grant in the amount of $250K, to provide stipends to students to ease financial strain that results in seeking employment that causes school absences. Finally, the McKinney-Vento program will hire a high school counselor to serve students who are experiencing homelessness and support their mental and emotional health—based on the research and recommendations of OHS students. 

Centering Dignity

Every student has inherent value at Oakland High School

Underlying the work of the OHS LSJ scholars is a core belief in the dignity of students experiencing homelessness and their right to receive the support and services they need to be successful. This is perhaps the most important resource that can be offered to students who are unhoused. In each of their research presentations the students emphasize that: “We must combat the shame and stigma associated with homelessness every chance that we get, in our language and demeanor as much as our funding priorities.”

We must combat the shame and stigma associated with homelessness every chance that we get, in our language and demeanor as much as our funding priorities.”

We aim to combat this shame and stigma in all of our interactions with students identified as being in need of MKV services. We always emphasize that housing insecurity and homelessness are not a state of being or an identity. They are experiences, and experiences come and go in our lives. They do not define us. The research conducted by OHS LSJ scholars fights this stigma by ensuring the voices of their peers who are unhoused are heard, shedding light on their experiences, and by fostering peer support and advocacy. They are no longer invisible and have peers to tag team in the fight for equity and support in education. With dignity as its foundation, the action research of OHS students encapsulates and epitomizes the vision of ensuring all students receive an education that serves the whole child, whole school, and whole community. 

  1. Nicks, P. (Director). 2021. Homeroom [Film]. Hulu.
  2. Poetry Foundation. (2023, May 5). Nellie Wong.
  3. Mendicino, T. Oakland students choose to name building for radical poet Nellie Wong. (2011). Freedom Socialist Party. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from
  4. School Profile: Oakland High (CA Dept of Education). (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2023, from
  5. Homeless Youth in California Schools—Student Group Information (CA Dept of Education). (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2023, from ; Jones, C. (n.d.). California schools see big jump in number of homeless students. EdSource. Retrieved June 14, 2023, from
  6. Miller. (2011). An Examination of the McKinney-Vento Act and Its Influence on the Homeless Education Situation. Educational Policy., 25(3), 424–450.

This case introduces you to a particular community school journey, which is intended to help you think about your own journey to create, develop, or support community schools. There are resources in the sidebar to dig deeper on particular topics and a discussion protocol designed to be used in a faculty meeting or professional development workshop. If you use these resources and have any feedback that might strengthen future school cases, please let us know.


To explore the school’s history and experience further, check out these websites, reports, lesson plans, magazine articles, and more. These resources are curated to speak to different audiences, including teachers, researchers, policymakers, and the general public.


Anderson, L. (2023). Oakland High School: Student Agency, Partnership, and Dignity. Community Schooling, Issue 4, Summer 2023. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for Community Schooling

L. Anderson

Lucetricia M. “Trish” Anderson is currently the Program Manager, for OUSD’s McKinney-Vento Program housed within the Community Schools, Behavioral Health Unit. She has served as the District’s McKinney-Vento Liaison for 5 years and as the previous Alameda County liaison. Prior to her position with OUSD, Trish held all but one administrative support position for the County Office of Education. 

Trish has served in the community as a Project Administrator and Medical Case Manager in the area of Infant Mortality and Morbidity. She is a certified grief counselor and trained Stephen’s Minister. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a M.A. in Christian Education and is a Graduate of the Executive Leadership Institute for the National Forum of Black Public Administrators (NFBPA.) 


This school case benefited from the careful review of an Assistant Principal at Oakland High School, Jennifer Howard. Jennifer joined Oakland High School as an English teacher in 2007 and became an Assistant Principal in 2022. Her knowledge of the Oakland High School Community, its people and its important history, enriched this report.