The year was 1987, and Head-Royce’s then new Head of School, Paul Chapman, had a vision. He aspired to start a program to prepare underserved Oakland middle school students to thrive in academically challenging high schools and colleges. With the help of a $100,000 grant from the Irvine Foundation that same year, he initiated a pilot program by providing scholarships to five students to attend the already established HRS Summer Middle School Program. The pilot met all of its goals and proved the model could not only work, but have significant impact. The Heads Up program* was born.
Today, the 125 public school students who attend Heads Up are nominated by principals and teachers from OUSD. In order to be selected, each student has to complete an application and go through an interview process. 95% of the students who apply are accepted into the program. Each participant is expected to make a four-year commitment and attend the program from 6th–9th grade. Being in the program for this length of time allows them to build lasting relationships with one another.
Heads Up students take classes in all of the core subjects, as well as enrichment classes in sports, technology, and the arts. These classes allow students to explore their interests in a mixed grade level setting with master teachers in their craft. Each academic class is designed to put students ahead of the curve so they are prepared to tackle new material in the upcoming school year. Students consistently report feeling prepared academically but also have the tools to advocate for themselves as learners.
The program has undergone several curricular changes in the past several years with a focus on social-emotional learning and intentional community building. These additional classes have been added to support the growth of students and prepare them for their new school years.
“We don’t want students to just feel prepared for their academic classes, we want them to feel empowered. We want them to feel like they have agency. We want them to dream big and pursue their passions as they enter high school and beyond,” Director of Heads Up Liz Solis said.
“The friendships you form here are really amazing. The teachers always prepare us for the next grade and teach us strategies and different ways we can be better and more successful as students at our school,” current Heads Up student Viviana said.
After graduating more than one thousand students, the program has become a cornerstone in Oakland for preparing socially responsible young adults.
“While similar programs exist in the area, what makes Heads Up unique is its small scale and intentional social justice centered socio-emotional learning. What also makes us unique is our workforce development program,” Solis said.
Erin Walker, a former Heads Up student and summer camp counselor, said she feels like the Heads Up program was instrumental in helping her grow into the person she is today.
“When I first started the program, I didn’t open up to people. But, when you have teachers at school who are there for you and see the light in you, it really changes you. You just know they have your back. Being at Head-Royce allowed me to open up much more and have new experiences,” she said.
Each year, anywhere between 50-75% of students go on to become counselors in the Lower School Summer Program, and many become ASP counselors and work at the School year round.
On Saturday, September 15, this inspirational program turns 30, and the entire community is invited to celebrate this exceptional milestone at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Center. The lineup includes a live headline performance from Oakland’s hip-hop/jazz/soul ensemble, SOL Development, and a talent showcase from Heads Up and Head-Royce students. Longtime program supporters including Sue Woerhle, Margarita Scarlata-Cabrera, and the Fremont Foundation will be honored for their ongoing support of the program.
Head’s Up alumni are invited to a special pre-reception, hosted by Paul Chapman, Crystal Land, and Barbara Gee.
Please visit the event page to let us know you are coming!