In the basement of the Downtown Oakland Senior Center, there’s a group of  people who spend their weekday afternoons sitting around a computer lab discussing neurons and glial cells. They’re students in a popular new course at the center aimed at improving memory.

Like their peers around the country, Oakland residents are living longer, and they are more active in caring for their own cognitive health. Now, for the first time, the center is responding to their needs by offering a computerized brain fitness course developed by San Francisco-based PositScience.

Ranging in age from 61 to 97,  they work through a series of six  listening exercises each designed to challenge a different part of the brain and to stimulate the release of neuromodulators, or learning chemicals.

And six weeks in, some in the class are already reporting increased alertness, sharper focus and better learning.

“Now I remember what I’m forgetting,” quipped April Hecter, 65, of Oakland.



This Saturday at 10 a.m. students, staff and volunteers at Castlemont High School will have a work party to restore the school’s garden, which has lain dormant for a number of years.

The workers will restore the greenhouse and knock down weeds that have overtaken the garden’s 37 raised beds and 16 fruit trees.

Malcolm Hoover, director of the Castlemont’s after school program has big plans for the garden which include a pond and several benches.

“We’ll turn it into an organic garden that kids can feed their families from. Hopefully, some of the food will be used in the school salad bar. Eventually, we’ll have an organic farm stand,” Hoover said.

The school recently won a $2500 grant from UC Davis that will fund the project.

By Allison Firestone

Dedication ceremonies were held Tuesday at Oakland International High School, a new facility devoted solely to educating recently arrived immigrants.

The school is part of the International Network for Public Schools, a nationwide non-profit organization supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Though the school’s first class of nearly 70 ninth-graders began their year on Aug. 27, the ceremony sought to officially introduce the school’s staff and students to the rest of the Oakland community.

“We’ve had a lot of support from Oakland Unified as well as financial donations from private parties,” said Denise Walker, the school’s secretary. “We wanted to thank them.”

The school is made up of immigrants from all over the world, including at least 18 different countries. It approaches these newly arrived students with close teacher-student interaction in the early years and opportunities for internships and community service for juniors and seniors. Tuesday’s ceremony included an open house where Oakland educators and community members could observe classrooms and facilities.

The school is a member of the International Network for Public Schools, an organization that formed in 1985 from a group of similar schools in New York City. The network now includes nine New York schools and Oakland International, its first in California.

By Maya Mirsky

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation Saturday that would have returned the Oakland school district to local control, citing concerns that the law moves too fast, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“The pace at which it seeks to restore the authority of the school board may surpass the pace at which the state administrator can imbed sustainable reforms,” he wrote in the veto message.

AB 45 was publicly opposed by state superintendent of public instruction Jack O’Connell, who said he believes the school district is not ready for the timeline set by the bill.
The Oakland school district went into state receivership in 2003 because of massive debt. Under current law, O’Connell has the authority to decide when to return the district to school board control

Cathy Parker and Cyrus Bradford

OAKLAND – Three years ago, Duke Johnson, didn’t know a thing about computers.

“I just started learning to turn the computer on and terminology,” said the 65-year-old, retired sheet metal worker.

These days, Johnson spends eight hours a week in an intermediate computer class for seniors at Eastmont Computing Center in the Eastmont Mall . He owns a laptop so he can practice what he and about 25 other seniors are learning.

Eastmont is one of the few computer technology centers in the country that focuses on learners of all ages. And some of its most popular programs are for those who are least likely to be part of the digital age – seniors such as Johnson. The center has been offering senior computing classes for nine years to help boost the economic and social well being of Oakland seniors.

“It’s social. It’s not computers just for the sake of computers. They become family,” said Tony Fleming, director of the center.

OAKLAND – Controversy surrounding the library at Castlemont Community of Small Schools flared Sept. 26 at an Oakland Unified School District Board of Education meeting, when directors Alice Spearman and Gregory Hodges asked why the Castlemont did not have a fully functioning library.

“There are some things a school has to have. They have to have libraries,” said Spearman.

While there is a library room at Castlemont, it is less than half the size it was in 2004 when the underperforming school was split into three smaller schools that share one campus. That’s when principals at the three schools reprioritized their budgets with an eye towards improving attendance and student performance, and school librarian, Lillian Webb was laid off.

When school let out at Peralta Elementary Tuesday, there wasn’t a rush for the exits. Instead, curious children lined up for 25-cent plums while their parents browsed through leafy greens and handled firm, shiny eggplants. (more…)

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