We are writing in response to the September 28 article about the recommendation to close Open Alternative School (OAS). We are alumni of OAS who deeply value our experiences at OAS. We support any proposal that keeps the OAS philosophy intact because it was a crucial part of our later success, as adults. You may have stories about how happy OAS children are and how much they love their school. Here, we want to discuss the various ways OAS alumni uniquely contribute to their communities.
Open Alternative School does not operate on a stratified system in which students were classified as “brightest,” “middling,” and “difficult/struggling” according to a narrow range of academic subjects and extracurriculars. This culture leaves OAS alumni free to explore new paths in their education and careers.
Some of us were special-needs students who later went on to excel academically. Christina Boardman ’02 was part of both the GATE and special education programs. She graduated from Scripps College, one of the prestigious Claremont colleges, and is currently on leave from her master’s in neuroscience, at the University of Strasbourg, in France.
Some of us followed passions outside of academics, and egalitarian culture at OAS has supported us in our choices. One student we grew up with recently opened her own farmers’ market stand, and another made a career of teaching English abroad, after graduating from Berkeley. Some of us have taken creative paths within more traditional careers. For example, Emily Chow-Kambitsch ’00, a lecturer at UCSB and an Oxford alumna, is exploring ways to make classics more accessible and relevant to a modern audience. Meanwhile, Athena Brown ’02 is using her psychology and art degree to help inmates transition to life after prison. OAS fostered the compassion and creativity that compel their work.
The stories above are highlights from our immediate friends, who graduated within a few years. Other OAS alumni we know personally have gone on to found the OAS lunch program or run a local perfume company. Many OAS alums have taken the love of learning OAS instilled and have become teachers in Santa Barbara schools.
We understand concerns about the cost of the school, but we also believe calls to close OAS fail to consider the unique community surrounding it. We ask the board to consider the long-term costs of closing a 40-year-old program. OAS is more than experienced-based and democratic learning that encourages student empowerment and engagement. It is a community built around a love of learning and mutual respect between children and adults. This kind of culture takes years to develop. It is passed down from older students to younger ones. It cannot be replicated by applying some OAS-like principles to a completely new program.
The proposal to close OAS and start some new “alternative program” is a waste of this student-centered community and 40 years of institutional knowledge. We already have an alternative program that we know works. The board can save money by moving OAS to a site where it can share resources with another elementary program. The board could lower the per-student cost and allow OAS to serve more students by moving OAS to a neighborhood with more young families. The board should not close OAS entirely and start from scratch.