Maria Carrillo High School '03
Sarah Lawrence College '07 - Bachelor of Arts, Biology, Psychology
Allison Slater, who recently left Teach for America (TFA) after several years as Director of Human Capital and School Partnerships, and two colleagues have launched a three-week overnight summer camp program for children in Oakland. Inspired by memorable and life-changing summer camps they attended as children, the founders aim to profoundly reshape expectations of students from some of Oakland’s most disadvantaged schools. Camp Phoenix (the symbolic reference to the phoenix of Greek mythology and its promise of renewal is intentional) opened this summer with an initial enrollment goal of 45 rising sixth graders.
The Camp Phoenix founders targeted this age group for an early intervention that they hope will prevent a common decline in school performance and career expectations that they have observed can begin in sixth grade and continue through high school.
“While Oakland K-5 student performance has improved in the last decade, middle and high school performance at many schools has declined and graduations rates vary widely between ethnic populations,” she explained. “The graduation rate among African-American and Latino students is approximately 50%, which is significantly lower than the very high graduation percentage of white students.”
One source of the problem, as Allison and her Camp Phoenix colleagues determined, lies in the phenomenon of a summertime slump in academics in which students sometimes erased approximately 2-3 months worth of educational gains made during the school year over the summer vacation. “While there are a lot of people in Oakland trying to address academic issues, their focus has been on school-year academic issues, few are addressing the summer slide phenomenon, which Camp Phoenix is doing in a unique way, she noted.
“We recognized that one of the differences in our lives had been overnight summer camp experiences that profoundly influenced our lives. Not only had we engaged in fun camp activities, we made lifelong friends and enjoyed amazing experiences that profoundly influenced our expectations. We also retained—and strengthened— our academics skills as we enjoyed our summer camp experiences,” she said. “When we asked our Oakland kids about their summers, they told us their biggest concern was being safe, not finding fun summer opportunities that offered recreation and academic possibilities.”
“There is nothing like Camp Phoenix in Oakland,” Allison said proudly. “It’s inexpensive and offers an academic component as well as a range of traditional camp activities in an overnight setting.”
Allison work’s in the nonprofit arena on behalf of underprivileged children is rooted in a family ethic of service that earned her special recognition when she was at SCDS. At our 1999 graduation ceremony, Allison received the Community Service and Compassion Award. She is, in fact, the school’s only recipient of that award!
“My mother (SCDS substitute teacher Ann Slater) had always emphasized giving back to the community and when I was at SCDS it became really important that the students become aware of homeless hunger issues in Sonoma County,” she recalled.