by The People’s Minister of Information JR
Ty-Licia Hooker is one of the most dynamic Black women under 30 living or working in Oakland for the good of the Black community and other communities that are underserved, like the Latino and Southeast Asian community. This former Black Girls Rock awardee is the executive director of Boost! West Oakland, a non-profit dedicated to empowering young people and strengthening their academic performance.
They were just awarded the prestigious Partner Organization of the Year Award from the Oakland Unified School District. Check out this local trailblazer in her own words.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell the people what’s the name of your organization and what does it do?
Ty-Licia Hooker: The name of the organization is Boost! West Oakland.
The mission of Boost! is to empower West Oakland youth with the skills and confidence needed to become positive contributors to society. Boost! fosters healthy attitudes toward learning and strengthens students’ academic performance and self-esteem through individualized one-on-one tutoring and mentoring, field trips and family engagement events.
Boost! steps up to meet the community’s needs by providing long-term individualized support to each student in the program. Boost! carefully selects volunteer tutor-mentors, trains them, and pairs them with students based on the tutor’s talents and the student’s needs and interests.
Each tutor provides his or her student with individualized academic and social-emotional support for a year or more. For many of the children, this is the only time that they have such a high level of dedicated, positive attention from an adult, and the effect can be life-changing.
The mission of Boost! is to empower West Oakland youth with the skills and confidence needed to become positive contributors to society.
Despite the fact that students are referred to Boost! specifically because of academic and social-emotional difficulties, they routinely make large gains in literacy, math, motivation and self-esteem assessments. Research shows that having emotional support from even one consistent, caring adult can greatly improve the resilience of children facing severely adverse conditions (Werner and Smith, 2001).
As one Boost! graduate – now a university student – said, “School always seemed like a big escape for me from everything else that was going on at home and in the world. School was like the haven, the sanctuary. I wanted to excel, but if you don’t really have the tools to do it, there’s only so far you can go. Boost! gave me the tools I needed.”
M.O.I. JR: When and why was it started?
Ty-Licia Hooker: Boost! was founded in 1997 by Howard and Joan Poulter, Oakland residents who wanted to address the disparities between educational opportunities in wealthier communities and those available in West Oakland. Motivated by a strong belief that all of society could benefit by helping low-income children reach their full potential, the Poulters organized members of their church to donate to a nearby public school, Lafayette Elementary School.
The school principal invited them to visit the school and help identify the best use of their donation. Through those visits, they began to understand the enormity of the challenges the children were facing.
The donation was used to purchase the school’s first computers, but it was apparent that the children were going to need much more to overcome the obstacles to their success. Howard and Joan began Boost! by matching 12 students with 12 volunteer tutor/mentors. Over the past 19 years, Boost! has matched over 2,000 children with tutor/mentors and has made long-lasting improvements in the children’s lives by helping them build a foundation of basic academic skills; by facilitating positive, long-term relationships with caring adults; and by introducing students and their families to a variety of enrichment experiences.
Boost! was founded in 1997 by Howard and Joan Poulter, Oakland residents who wanted to address the disparities between educational opportunities in wealthier communities and those available in West Oakland.
I was brought on to the team this year as the first African American executive director. I took on this role because I saw the potential and power this organization could have on the community at large. We have always done an amazing job with one-on-one tutoring and I felt we could do more community building, educating the whole child, and educating families this year – and we have.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us about the award you just got from the Oakland Unified School District? Why?
Ty-Licia Hooker: Oakland Unified School District is transforming their schools to become community schools. Thus each year, OUSD partners with community-based organizations who are key to the community schools vision. Out of 350 organizations that were nominated, Boost! was named partner organization of the year.
M.O.I. JR: What services do you offer at this time?
Ty-Licia Hooker: One-on-one tutoring and mentoring: All students have one-on-one tutoring for 90 minutes per week. Tutors help students strengthen specific skills in reading, writing, oral language, math and science. The trained volunteer tutors work one-on-one with their students during this time, and each lesson is tailored to the child’s specific needs, learning style and interests.
Tutoring includes homework help, in-depth academic skill building and recreational activities that build the student-tutor bond. The choice of tutoring activities each week is based on the goals described in each participant’s Student Learning Plan, as well as current classroom work, interests and challenges.
Boost! uses a balanced literacy approach, which aligns with the school district’s curriculum and recommendations for differentiated learning. Every session emphasizes language arts activities, such as reading books and engaging in meaningful conversations about them, writing on the “gratitude wall” and playing phonics games.
Within this framework, a newly expanded writing component encourages students to respond to thought-provoking topics and display their work. Extensive educational materials are available in the Boost! room including over 1,000 books organized by subject and level (based on Fountas and Pinnel system), phonics and word games, a comprehensive writing center, SRA reading comprehension workbooks, a computer and tablet, and 10 cabinets full of hands-on teaching materials.
All students have one-on-one tutoring for 90 minutes per week. Tutors help students strengthen specific skills in reading, writing, oral language, math and science.
Mentoring is integrated in the weekly tutoring sessions for all students, and approximately half of all participants are also mentored outside of the formal tutoring time. Mentoring takes many forms. For example, mentors may take students on field trips; serve as advocates for their students; and connect students and their parents to additional programs and services, such as summer camps, sports teams or services for students with learning disabilities.
Mentoring activities that take place outside of tutoring time are set up on a case-by-case basis, based on the schedules of each student-tutor pair, individual interests and needs, and support and permission of the parents or guardians.
Field trips: Boost! offers free monthly field trips as opportunities for students to learn and become more involved in their community. Recent trips have included a visit to the Oakland Zoo, the Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Oakland Museum of California, art at the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art, a trip to Berkeley’s Adventure Playground and a hands-on science lesson at Crab Cove in Alameda. Field trip destinations are chosen in collaboration with parents at the beginning of the school year. Parents and tutors are encouraged to participate with their child.
Parent and family engagement: Boost! leads a series of parent “Lunch and Learn” workshops. Topics are chosen based on the needs expressed by the parents. Recent themes have included: reading at home, accessing educational resources online, and what to expect at parent-teacher conferences. The workshops give parents the tools they need to support their child’s education.
Boost! also hosts two annual family celebrations, featuring games and crafts for children, book giveaways and achievement awards. These events, attended by 150-200 people, bring together families, tutors and staff to get to know one another and to celebrate the children’s accomplishments.
M.O.I. JR: What can the community do to help you and the organization?
Ty-Licia Hooker: Join. We need the community to keep this program going. We need the community to donate money, supplies, snacks for students and to donate their time. We only require 90 minutes once a week. We have 20 students on the waiting list for next year. There is no way why these babies should not be served. No matter who you are, you can serve.
As we move into next school year, I would love to see this program be more diverse, more representative of the community. We have tutors serving as young as 12 and as old as 80. We need YOU.
M.O.I. JR: How can people stay up with you?
Ty-Licia Hooker: You can find me on social media all day: Follow me on twitter @iamtyhook, Instagram @tynique, Facebook @ Ty-Licia Hooker.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.