Before moving to Oakland to teach 4th grade at Acorn Woodland Elementary, Hanna Sufrin taught 2nd and 3rd grade in Brooklyn. “I loved teaching those grades,” she says, “but I knew I was meant to be with kids who were a little older and independent, who were coming into their own identities.”
After meeting a group of her students, we see what she means. Here’s 4th-grader Areli (second from left above) on what Hanna’s class asked of the president in letters penned during their persuasive writing unit: “Treat women nicely, don’t build the wall, don’t make deals with Russia, don’t deport immigrants, respect Muslims, support transgender rights.”
Pretty worldly for 4th grade. A theme of equity and equality also runs through their letters—something near and dear to Hanna.
“I came to teaching out of a concern that we’re not offering equal education to all students in our country,” says Hanna, now in her third year at Acorn Woodland. “As you can tell, our kids are super special, and they deserve the same opportunities here in East Oakland as students in wealthier areas. I wanted to teach in a school that shared that mission, in a community that is determined to give kids equal opportunity regardless of barriers. When I moved here, I toured a bunch of schools and I fell in love with Acorn Woodland.”
Her commitment, and Acorn Woodland’s, to equity and opportunity come into vivid focus during her class’s annual Hidden Villa outdoor education field trip, a unique chance for students to camp, hike, and connect with nature and wildlife over the course of three wilderness-filled days.
Made possible in part through an Ed Fund A to Z Fund grant, the adventure gives kids hands-on experience with the concepts they learn during their Environmental Justice unit, from composting to endangered animals to deforestation. “It’s amazing to see them have eureka moments at Hidden Villa that would be harder to come by in the classroom,” says Hanna.
As 4th-grader Nkem puts it, “Our time at Hidden Villa really shows us how to respect wild things and care for the environment.”
A loving vibe
A true team effort co-led by fellow 4th-grade teacher Sarah Horwitz and a team of parents and school staff, the Hidden Villa excursion reflects Acorn Woodland’s “all-for-one” culture, Hanna says. “It’s very much a collaboration between families and teachers and students. There’s a deeply loving vibe here, but also a serious academic one. Kids are very aware that’s a focus, and that they are a part of a hardworking, determined group of people. We have really committed teachers and staff and an amazing community of families that is not going to let anything get in the way of their kids’ future success.”
“Acorn Woodland is the best school in Oakland because our teachers care about us and push us until we get the right answers,” says Joseph, one of Hanna’s 4th-graders.
“Something that’s also important about Acorn is we’re a bully-free zone,” says 4th-grader Areli.
Hanna concurs. “This school puts a huge focus on positivity and warmth and being allies. I was looking for a school that has the culture Acorn has, and it’s amazing to have been welcomed into it. The power of the values is always in the air, and any student can articulate it. I love that combination of ‘we will love each other and treat each other kindly and we will work really hard because learning is powerful,'” says Hanna. “That’s why I’m a teacher, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
If you’d like to support teachers like Hanna to provide extraordinary learning opportunities, please make a gift to our A to Z Fund here!