Public Comment

Commentary: Community Partnerships Academy Seniors Leave Us Stronger

By Susannah Bell
Tuesday May 15, 2007

I have taught the Community Partnerships Academy (CPA) Class of 2007 every year since they were freshmen. Never in my 18-year career have I taught the same group of students over a four-year period and never before has teaching a group of students make me feel sincerely that they are my family.  

Next year, the seniors will be attending UC Berkeley, Morehouse, Laney College Biotech Co-op, UC Santa Cruz, Beloit, Loyola Marymount, Spelman, UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, Cal Poly, San Francisco State, University of San Francisco, Northeastern University, St. Mary's College, Holy Names University, and many others. Some have earned scholarships. 

The list of college acceptances is impressive, but more impressive to me is the fact that as second semester seniors, they have the largest number of students among all four grades on the CPA honor roll. As second semester seniors, the majority of them have never worked harder in their high school careers. They have internalized the admonition to “keep up their habits” so that they don't just get into college, they succeed once they are there. Their work ethic and enthusiasm for learning is contagious. Many of my students who struggled in past years are now succeeding, largely because of the inspiring hard work of their classmates. 

They are the last class in our small school before the “small school lottery” required an even mix of students from all socioeconomic levels. Thus, as ninth-graders, all of these students lived in neighborhoods of mid- and lower-income socioeconomic levels. Yet 85 percent passed the Exit Exam on their first try as tenth graders. So a commonality of this class is that they are relatively high achieving in spite of the obstacles they have faced. And they have faced obstacles. Most of them are children of single parents. Many will be the first in their family to attend college. Many have had to play the role of parent to their siblings. Some have had to fend for themselves at some point in their lives. Nearly all have, in their short lives, suffered the losses of close friends and family members. Some have experienced brushes with death themselves, due to illness and violence. 

They may not look like a diverse class, but they are. This class is comprised of many East Bay natives, but also first and second-generation immigrants from Germany, Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Belize, Ethiopia, Japan, India, Yemen, Pakistan, the Philippines, China, Kenya and El Salvador. They are Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Buddhist and athiest. In the same class are the son of a Black Panther and the great-granddaughter of famed Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange. These students are BHS student government officers (the president and treasurer of the senior class), cheerleaders, yearbook staff (including the editor), football and lacrosse players and Youth Together officers. They are students in CPA’s first AP English class, but they are also students in AP Calculus, AP Latin, AP Statistics, AP Environmental Science, AP Spanish, AP Chemistry, and AP Biology. Some of them are among the most talented writers I have ever taught. 

These students also give of themselves. They have educated their classmates on immigrant rights and African history; they have traveled to Native American Reservations to teach Aztec Dance; they have fed the homeless at the holidays and raised money to buy poor children Christmas presents; they have privately attempted to raise money for a scholarship fund so that their classmates can attend college; they have taught elementary school children how to read. 

Yes, I am proud of this group of seniors. And yes, I will most likely be a mess at their graduation. But when they walk across that stage, it will be a good day for all of us. This group leaves us at CP Academy a stronger school for their example and though it may sound cliché, I wholeheartedly believe they will create for us a hopeful future. 


Susannah Bell is an English teacher at CP Academy.