Every Monday morning, sophomore Jessica Wishard leaves her dorm
room in Orchard Meadow, and drives down the tree dotted street of
Mills College. Ten minutes later, she arrives at Fremont High
School. She walks past throngs of teens smoking cigarettes, through
the chain link fence and into the campus, where reported gang
activity led to a shooting two weeks ago.
Wishard is one of 15 students in a cutting edge Service Learning
program founded by Dr. Robert Andersen, the head of the
It places Mills students in teaching assistants positions at
Fremont High, an inner-city school.
The program is part of an effort at Mills to build bridges to
the Oakland community.
Service Learning students were shaken two weeks ago, when
Fremont High School made the news. A dispute at the school between
rival Latino gang members, the Nortenos and Surenos, led to a
drive-by shooting that injured one teenager and killed 25-year-old
Rogelio Solis, an innocent bystander who tried to aid the
This is not the first incident of gang-related violence
involving Fremont students, according to Lt. Howard Jordan of the
Oakland police department.
Gang violence outside the school has been escalating since
What began as a fight between students at a nearby Burger King
has turned into a cycle of retaliation between teenagers affiliated
with rival gangs.
Violence, and more specifically, gang violence, is nothing new
to Fremont High, according to the school’s full-time police
Despite six security guards and $40,000 in surveillance
technology, “Everyday we see something…this is nothing special,
this kind of stuff happens all the time,” Howard said.
Despite the violence, Mills students have continued to return to
Part of the service learning team, Freshwoman Laraine Downer
said she was surprised by the shootings, but doesn’t want to stop
“If we did,” she said, “progress would never be made.”
Junior Marie Pence agreed. When she heard the news of the recent
shootings, she knew she would continue.
“I don’t want to alienate myself from the students,” she said.
“We don’t want to show that we distrust or fear them, but we want
to stay safe.”
As for what she expects from the Service Learning program she
said, “I want to learn as much from them as them from me and have
it as an exchange.”
Senior Sue Burdick is an Oakland resident who “walked right in
there with eyes wide open.”
She said she knew there was a level of risk involved with the
“I’m not going to focus on that,” she said.
“Everything is a risk. It’s an opportunity to give back,”
“We are blessed to share what we have as Mills students. Part of
being an intelligent human being is giving a hand up and in return
you are bringing the whole universe up,” she said.
Wishard had already overcome her initial fear of the Fremont
campus when she heard about the shootings. On her first day at
Fremont this semester, male students verbally harassed her as she
walked from her car to the school. Her nerves were shaken, but she
was determined to continue with her work.
Wishard’s work at Fremont involves assisting a teacher in a 9th
grade English class and observing the students. From her
experience, the teacher is “strict and straight-forward, yet highly
The students are “bright, but struggling and constantly testing
the teacher’s limits.” She said she leaves class “with a head full
of thoughts…eager to return next week.”
Junior Alicia Brite, a coordinator of the Service Learning
program, has spent the last two years volunteering at Fremont.
“There is so much emphasis on violence in Oakland, when it is
happening everywhere. The focus is on crime and violence rather
than the positive things, the unsung heroes,” said Brite.
Too much emphasis “adds to the social ill of increasing racism
and fear on the youth. We need to stop focusing on crime that
stimulates so much fear. We need to look at [the shooting] as the
product of a much larger issue,” said Brite.
She said the shooting made a few of the Service Learners nervous
at first. However, “they realized that that kind of crime can
happen anywhere…they are not the target and it isn’t going to
stop them from doing the greater good.”
She found her service learning experience so compelling that she
devotes much of her time and resources, not only to the service
learners but to Fremont High.
“I can’t separate my life experience from my passion for helping
the youths at Fremont,” she said.
The program is showing signs of success; according to Brite,
“Now, teachers are coming after us for Mills students.”
In addition, Brite is working with two teachers to create the
school’s first Gay/Straight Alliance.
The program has been rewarding for Brite. “[Service Learning]
answered the question about which direction I wanted to take my
career in,” she said.
She is currently working towards her B.A. in anthropology and
plans to eventually obtain a teaching credential.
Brite attributes discovering her goals to Dr. Andersen.
“If Dr. Bob hadn’t set this [Service Learning program] up, I
wouldn’t have gotten this far. I never would have known it was a
possibility. It is part of Bob’s dream to connect the Mills
community to an inner-city school.”
Dr. Andersen is a member of Fremont High class of 1944. Although
Mills is only ten minutes away, he had not been back until 1999
when he attended his 55th reunion. Shortly after the reunion, he
asked two Mills sophomores who graduated from Fremont High to take
him back and show him around.
“It was then when I realized the school was in bad shape,” he
said. “I wanted to do something.”
Mr. Schmookler, one of five principals at Fremont said that the
school is working to become a safer learning environment.
“The climate has improved [it has become] quieter. Teachers have
been able to teach. Almost all 9th graders go on to 10th
As for the student who was the intended target in the Solis
shooting, “He no longer goes here, we transferred him to a
different school,” Schmookler said.
According to Brite, “Service Learning women represent the Mills
campus in general are an ethnic mix of socially-conscious,
dedicated women. [Service learners] get out of those gates and look
at the world at large.”