Carmelita Reyes

State and City of Residence:
Berkley, CA

Job Description: 
Principal at Oakland International High School

Why do you work in education? 
My father was born in 1928. He attended rural “Mexican” schools until segregation ended in his south Texas county during the early 1940s. Unlike all of his fellow high school graduates, he had the opportunity to attend college. That opportunity transformed his life and future generations of my family. My goal is to give this transformative opportunity to as many students as possible. 

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community. 
Nine years ago I founded Oakland International High School (OIHS) and remain in the Principalship today. The school targets a population of students, newly arrived immigrants and refugees, who have historically been underserved nationally, in California, and in Oakland. OIHS students come from over 30 countries and speak more than two dozen languages. Over the last decade, my goal has been to create a school with social, emotional, and academic support systems to meet the needs of this unique population and train all teachers to incorporate language acquisition into every lesson. 

At the moment I am working on an exciting project to create an adult learning lab at our school site. As the immigration numbers have risen dramatically, more and more schools and districts have reached out to us asking how to better serve English Language Learners and newcomers. In response, we are designing a learning lab to grow the capacity of educators to create schools, support structures, and classrooms designed to meet the academic and social emotional needs of English Language Learners. 

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?
I loved hearing about the challenges and the exciting work happening across the country. Too often we are in our own silos and don't learn from the hard work and experiences of educators in other contexts.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?
If I could change the current system, I'd make sure that all schools were "community schools" that had cultural competency in supporting immigrants and provided links to social services.  Moving is difficult for anyone. However, crossing international borders, learning a new language and culture, and leaving behind your family, school friends, church, cultural competencies, and support structures is incredibly hard for students. Due to language barriers they are ill prepared to explain their stories and problems at a new school site. The social-emotional needs of newcomers go largely unaddressed at most schools. In addition, Immigrants need wrap around support services - legal, housing, medical etc. Too often they don't qualify for, or know about, the government sponsored safety nets such as food stamps and Medicaid.