What if nearly half of African-American boys in the United States did not drop out of high school? What if instead of leaving without a diploma and ending up incarcerated, thousands upon thousands of black boys were to continue their education?

What if public schools located in urban neighborhoods plagued by poverty, crime and despair were to find a way to engage students and give them hope for a better future -- regardless of their family circumstances? If instead of being pipelines to prison, these schools were to begin teaching students valuable skills that would prepare them for good-paying jobs?

That is the world that Kevin Taylor, principal at McClymonds High School in West Oakland, envisions. Taylor, a West Oakland native who is African-American, is on a mission to prepare his students for technical careers that will enable them to compete on a level playing field for the jobs of the future and help revitalize West Oakland.

McClymonds and its surrounding area were once a thriving community. Many African-American families who migrated to Oakland from the South during World War II for jobs in the ship building industry and at the Oakland Army Base, settled there. But when manufacturing plants closed, taking good-paying jobs with them, West Oakland began a downward spiral.


Advertisement

The student body at McClymonds is more than 90 percent African-American. Sixty percent of students qualify for reduced or free lunches. Sixty percent of students graduated in the academic year 2010-2011, according to the Oakland Unified School District.

McClymonds is part of Oakland Unified's efforts to create a science, technology, engineering, and math "STEM" corridor among its West Oakland schools. The idea is for children to learn math and science skills as early as elementary school to prepare them for jobs in the sciences. The curriculum continues through middle and high school. By the time students graduate, their education has prepared them for a host of careers where they can earn a good wage -- many of which do not require a four-year college degree.

McClymonds has partnered with the national nonprofit group, Project Lead The Way, that has developed a STEM curriculum for middle and high school students used by 4,200 schools around the country. It is part of a larger national effort to address the shortage of Americans graduating from colleges and universities with degrees in math and sciences -- impeding our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

The Project Lead The Way curriculum -- funded by Chevron -- has allowed McClymonds to expand its science curriculum. Students learn critical thinking skills through courses such as introduction to engineering design. They create three dimensional designs using Autodesk inventor -- software that is used to simulate products. They take courses in robotics.

It's a curriculum that can potentially open up a whole new world for students who have had limited opportunities. Careers in civil and mechanical engineering. Computer design. Drafting and manufacturing.

"You can take a lot of these skills anywhere," says engineering teacher Kathryn Hall. "And the kids get it."

McClymonds has long been known for its storied athletic program.

Known as the "School of Champions," McClymonds has churned out star athletes over the decades.

NBA legend Bill Russell; Frank Robinson, who would become the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball; Jim Hines, the first sprinter to officially break the 10-second barrier in 100 meters.

Taylor's dream is that McClymonds will one day become as recognized for its academics as its athletics.

"I'm hoping that in the next couple of years, people will be hearing about our engineering and robotics programs," Taylor said.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin