David Kojan: Assistant Head / Academic Dean, STOak teacher

David Kojan: Assistant Head / Academic Dean, STOak teacher Education: UC Berkeley, BA, MA, PhD

Describe STOak: Social Transformation Oakland.
STOak is a yearlong course that explores the many facets of social transformation—such as social justice, local economics, the role of government, and environmental activism—during a spring semester class, an intensive summer internship, and a fall semester class. We start with a mix of structured course work, group discussion, field work, as well as student-directed research into the economic, social, and political history of Oakland. The six-week full-time summer internship pairs students with mentors working in local community organizations in one of four areas of concentration: the environment, health, education, or social equity. In the fall semester, the program concludes with independent and collaborative work, as well as the preparation of a formal presentation for the wider College Prep community. Enrollment is open to sophomores and juniors by application.

What was the genesis of this program?
Prior to becoming Assistant Head / Academic Dean, I taught history here and realized, especially with seniors, that these students can pretty well master whatever materials you want them to learn, or excel at any test you administer. This got me thinking about the possibility of learning in a different context, of introducing experiential learning—the opportunity to tackle current day issues and grapple with the complexities of working in the real world. I explored a couple ideas, then decided to focus on a humanities version of the successful applied learning STEM class College Prep has been offering for the past few years.

How do you integrate experiential learning and current events during the school-year?
Spring semester is spent doing a deep dive into the history of Oakland, as well as a look at contemporary issues. We discuss some of the big challenges the City is facing and try to get into the community as much as possible to talk to people. Currently we have students in pairs or trios working on designing an Oakland history walking tour. They are in neighborhoods like Chinatown, Fruitvale, or Lake Merritt, or some are mapping religious institutions. Simultaneously we’re reading articles about what’s going on with the state budget, and talking about current events like the recent Oakland teacher strike.

How are summer internships determined and what outcomes have you seen?
I contact a variety of organizations to see who might be interested in taking on interns. (Prep community: please contact me if you have connections with Oakland non-profits that could be a match for our students.) Once all of the organizations are vetted and then assigned, the students intensively research the institutions they’ll be working with, and do a site visit before starting their summer internships. I try to place students according to their interests, strengths, and where they might be a good fit. I’m pleased that our students tend to be very flexible about the particular topic on which they’ll be working for six weeks. Students keep a diary of their work over the summer, with a daily entry and a longer, weekly reflection about what they accomplish or the challenges they face. This is in a Google Doc and I take a look periodically; it’s really thrilling to see their growth during these internships. Last year, students worked with ten amazing community organizations on a variety of important issues including Destiny Arts which uses arts education to combat youth violence; Urban Strategies Council which focuses on college programs for formerly incarcerated individuals; and MISSSEY which works to eradicate human trafficking, as well as seven other effective non-profits.

mens conscia recti

a mind aware of what is right