Longtime educator and consultant, Shane Safir, recently profiled OIHS's Community Walks on Edutopia. Thanks, Shane! Read an excerpt, below, and the entire piece here.
I recently attended a community walk at Oakland International High School (OIHS) in California, which serves newly arrived immigrants from 33 countries who speak 32 languages. This walk focused on unaccompanied minors from Central America—students who immigrated without papers or the presence of a legal guardian. We listened to students tell their immigration stories, interviewed a panel of support providers, and walked the Fruitvale neighborhood, where many students live. We ended our day at Centro Legal de la Raza, talking with a legal advocate about the impact of recent changes to immigration law. It was illuminating.
Why Do Community Walks?
Oakland International has been doing community walks with all of its major language and cultural groups for several years. According to principal Carmelita Reyes, the result is nothing short of transformational. She tells a story about two Yemeni boys who got into a fight at school, which none of their friends intervened to stop. Reyes called the local imam, or spiritual leader, who had participated in the Yemeni community walk.
The imam came to campus within hours to facilitate a restorative circle—a structured dialogue that allows participants to listen, express themselves, and repair interpersonal harm—with the eight boys involved. According to Reyes, the group discussed “what had happened and what needed to happen in the future to maintain a safe school community.” The discussion, she says, was “bigger than the fight—it was about the collapse of supportive culture.” After the circle, there were no further incidents.
Gerardo, an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador, describes the purpose of community walks in this way: “People from another country can tell their story and can tell how difficult it is to get to the United States.… It’s a way to make American people and people who immigrate come together.” Reyes points out that walks instill cultural pride in students: “‘Hey, teachers think our community is important!’ There is a real sense of validation.”