To celebrate our inspiring Oakland School Volunteers, we’re asking them to share their stories. These are their Volunteer Voices.
For most of his life, Chris Broski didn’t know many first-generation immigrants.
Now, he knows dozens, thanks to his work as an ongoing volunteer at Oakland International High School, where the students are all newly arrived immigrants and refugees.
“There have been moments that surprised me when I served as a cultural ambassador or a bridge, and it’s led to meaningful connections with students that I didn’t expect,” Chris told us.
“It’s been impactful for me to hear some of the students’ immigration stories, and so special to see how they’ve grown not just academically but also as people during our time together.”
Chris volunteers two days a week, spending a couple hours in two different-level math classes—a great match for his background as a private math tutor. Most of his volunteer time is spent with small groups or individual students to give them more focused learning support.
Given that students are not just learning new math concepts, but learning them in a new language to boot, the extra attention makes a huge difference. One-on-one time with Chris also gives them more opportunities to practice soft skills, like collaboration and critical thinking, as well as the nonverbal cues of a new culture.
Sanctuary City, Sanctuary Schools
Oakland is a Sanctuary City and OUSD is a Sanctuary District, which means schools do not require students or families to provide proof of legal immigration status. Teachers and school leaders stand behind students, no matter where they were born or the barriers they have overcome to be here.
Community volunteers like Chris affirm that welcome for newcomer students, and send the message that Oakland values the richness of cultural diversity. They also help students gain the skills and knowledge needed to graduate ready for college, career, and community.
The emphasis beyond the classroom is especially relevant for students in the classes where Chris volunteers. Most are aged 14-18, but a handful are 19 or possibly older, depending on whether their immigration journey has kept them out of the classroom for long stretches of time.
“Many of the students I work with have their sights set beyond school, and many are already working. There’s a lot more maturity, as well as a lot more responsibility, especially for those who are legal adults.”
Even so, the students are still in high school, and so there’s a lot of fun to be had, too. Chris was invited to join the class on field trips to the California Academy of Sciences and the Oakland ice skating rink, but one day stands out in particular:
“We set up a bunch of propane stoves at school, and students were asked to cook a dish from their country of origin to share. I love cooking, so it was really fun to watch the students cook, learn what they cook at home, and hear them talk more about the countries they come from.
“What made it really wonderful, though, was to see the pride these students had, and how much they wanted to share their food with everyone: with their classmates, with me, even with a group of parents who were at the school for English language lessons. It was a real cultural connection.”
Volunteers Learn as Much as They Teach
Beyond learning about new cultures and the immigration experience, Chris is learning more about teaching, too.
“I became a volunteer as a way of giving back to the community where I live, but it’s also been a way for me to push past my fear and finally explore teaching as a career, something I’ve been interested in for the last 10 years.”
Oakland public schools are nationally recognized for programs that foster success for newcomer students and culturally diverse classrooms. Oakland International in particular has a great group of volunteers, student teachers, and interns who create a strong camaraderie that keeps Chris looking forward to the coming week.
Volunteer coordinators at both the school and here at the Ed Fund have been important resources, too, helping Chris find a level of commitment that he has been able to sustain all year—the key to the long-term relationships with students that have been so meaningful.
“I was hoping to have impact, but I wasn’t expecting it to feel as great as it does. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be an Oakland School Volunteer.”
Ready to join Chris and hundreds of other Oakland School Volunteers? We’d love to help you find the right fit—click here to get started!
If you’d like to make your own Volunteer Voice heard, please email Oakland School Volunteers Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.