Hands-On Empowerment at Oakland International High School

“The idea is that your voice can be heard. You can develop this skill that engages the community, but also there’s a final product that everyone can enjoy.”
-Mallory Moser, Computer Graphics Teacher and Media Academy Director, Oakland International High School

At Oakland International High School, which serves 100% newcomers, regular classes come to a close late May, leaving the last three weeks of the year to Post Session, where students enroll in one physical education or art based class. In 2017 OIHS received a Maker Empowerment Grant from the Abundance Foundation, which allowed for the creation of several multiple maker-centered learning classes, including Careers In Computing, Biking, Mural and Mosaics, and Bag Design.

In Careers In Computing students used Makey Makeys, Arduinos, and Rasberry Pis to get hands-on with computer coding. This was the first time these technologies were introduced at OIHS and at first students were confused, but the physical computing aspect of these technologies soon got them excited and engaged.

“I realized that our students don’t have enough opportunities to get their hands on different kinds of technology, and to not just use them but to write their own programs and think about themselves as agents.”
-Courtney Couvreur, Math Teacher, Oakland International High School

The Biking post session focused on ridership and bike maintenance. Students learned how to ride and repair a bike, enabling their own empowerment in a mode of transportation that they may be familiar with or altogether new. For many students it was their first time using tools, and taking apart a familiar object. As Math Teacher David Hansen described, “I think for some students using tools isn’t a new idea, and they’ve done it before. But for other students, a lot of them in fact, this is the first time they’ve used tools to take something apart and to put something back together. I think that basic skill and confidence is hugely important for a lot of different things.”

Students in the Mural and Mosaics session collaborated and created a permanent public artwork on campus. By learning and utilizing the design process, students learned how to work together, how to implement symbols in artwork, and learn the technical skill of making a mosaic. Students chose to represent butterflies in the mural to symbolize immigration. Alexis Calderon, a 10th grader, described the symbol: “We made butterflies because we think that they represent immigration because butterflies fly together to different countries. That’s the same as us, we came from different countries to this country.”

In the Bag Design class students took bags apart to see how they were made and learned to create multiple styles before designing their own final project. They learned different design techniques, how to hand sew, and how to use a sewing machine. As with all classes at OIHS the curriculum in this post session emphasized language development, with a specific emphasis on vocabulary and verb usage. But the biggest takeaway was being a productive maker. Says the Art Teacher, Sara Stillman, “My students have learned that it’s super easy to make something that they can use, which I think is super empowering.”  


Oakland International High School is a public high school in Oakland, California, that serves predominantly newly arrived immigrant students from approximately 30 different countries. The school relies on public funding, foundations and community support to keep their work going. With today's political climate and funding shortages, they need your support more than ever before.  Here's how you can help:

Donate: Funds enable us to do the work that we do. All donations are tax-deductible. Donate here.

Buy an OIHS Sweatshirt: The perfect gift to keep you warm and wear with pride. All funds go to buy much-needed bus passes for OIHS students.

Support an OIHS Teacher: Our teachers have listed project and supply needs on Donors Choose. All donations made will be matched during the week of December 8!

Volunteer: Can't give financially, but want to support us with your time? We are always looking for more volunteers! Check out our volunteer opportunities here.