Josue Diaz Jr.: Director and Teacher of The Green Academy at Oakland Technical High School

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December, 28 2012
By Lisa Hewitt

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Josue Diaz Jr. never thought he’d be teacher. It wasn’t until his mother helped get him a TA position in a local kindergarten class that he began to consider the possibilities of a career in education. School wasn’t always his central focus; Diaz graduated from Cal State Northridge and after dropping out once he reapplied and returned to school. Diaz worked days and took classes in the evenings where he was surrounded by much older adults making him feel alienated by the entire process. As the first in his family to go to college, it was unclear to him what was involved in the college system,

“I didn’t know what financial aid was until my senior year of college. I didn’t even know you could get financial aid. I had no idea how the college system worked. I just knew my mom put an application in front of me, I filled it out and I got into Cal State Northridge. I had no idea about all the opportunities because I was the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t have anyone to help me out or guide me through high school. So I sort of fell through the cracks.”

Struggling with his own college experience, he knows the importance of preparing students for life after high school. He feels an obligation to guide the students he comes in contact with, from helping students with their transcripts to providing his classroom for after school clubs.

After graduating with a degree in education and his teaching credential, he moved to San Diego and began teaching elementary classes at a charter school and eventually went on to middle school and high school where he taught Earth Science. Working for over 13 years in education, Diaz has taught in a variety of schools, some with world class laboratories and state of the art learning tools.

“They tore down this one [high school], it was in South East San Diego, the part that’s not on the postcards, they tore down the school and rebuilt the school from scratch. And put laptop carts…and smart boards in every room. Our lab was just as good as [The University of California’s]. The thinking was the more resources you have the [more the] scores will go up. But I just found it more challenging to keep the students engaged especially in the labs. And they took a lot more things for granted. It was so much easier for them, ‘Oh here’s a graduated cylinder, oh it broke…we got boxes of them in the back,’ whereas at the charter school with those 6th grades we got really creative with some of the stuff. I think that’s what’s lacking, the imaginative...side of science.”

In the schools with limited resources Diaz and his students had to be more creative. At his first job in San Diego teaching elementary science labs, all the supplies they used could be found at home or bought cheaply, so the lessons could be recreated with their families in order to solidify the lesson they learned in class. After spending several years in the San Diego school system, Diaz and his wife moved to Oakland when her former high school assistant principal at Oakland Tech informed her of an opening in the science department. Diaz took over as director of the Green Academy in his first year of teaching.

As part of the Oakland Unified School District's Linked Learning initiative, the Green Academy offers students academic and practical training in the sciences in order to prepare them for work in the growing environmental sector. Community partners in the sustainable energy sector help provide students with academic training, internships, and job shadowing. They also come to Oakland Tech and give guest lectures and teach labs. They often have equipment unavailable to the average high school, for instance, the East Bay Young Scientists from the Lawrence Hall of Science, are currently helping to test the water quality of Oakland Tech.

The aim of the Green Academy is to make science less abstract and more relevant to the lives of Oakland Tech’s students. Beginning four years ago, the Green Academy focused on broader scientific concepts, since Diaz has taken over, he’s sought to change the focus and explore more of the students’ interests and emphasize action research, which are projects designed to effect social change. At the beginning of the year, students think of a problem they see in their community that relates to the environment. Throughout the year, Diaz and the students do experiments outside of the school to guide their research, which results in a lengthy term paper.

Beyond the academic side, it also functions as a community service activity; it has to affect the community in a positive way. Some projects that have come out of the Green Academy were a fundraising project for community planter beds and promoting South Pacific culture while researching the effects of global warming and rising sea levels. Due to lack of staffing and Diaz’s own demands as a teacher, the Green Academy is going on indefinite hiatus, but he’d like to bring it back when the support and preparation are solidified. For the time being, Diaz hopes to continue to work with Bay Area partners to bring alternative education and job experience to his students.

If you’re interested in contacting Josue Diaz as a community partner please visit http://oaklandtech.com/staff/jdiaz/.

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