Center for Independent Living. Access for all
Close this search box.

Main Menu

CIL in the News: In Oakland Unified’s young adult program, students with disabilities gain life skills and community

Students participate in band practice at Santa Fe's Young Adult Program in North Oakland on March 8th, 2024.
Students participate in band practice at Santa Fe's Young Adult Program in North Oakland on March 8th, 2024.

CIL in the News: In Oakland Unified’s young adult program, students with disabilities gain life skills and community

CIL was recently mentioned in Oaklandside’s article about an Oakland Unified School District program for young adults with disabilities. Read the article below:

Students participate in band practice at Santa Fe’s Young Adult Program in North Oakland on March 8th, 2024. Credit: Katie Rodriguez

At the Santa Fe school in North Oakland, students are working campus jobs, like making and selling coffee and tea, playing instruments in a band class, taking a breather in the sensory room, or preparing for their job at a local business.

From the outside, it may look like a traditional school, but Santa Fe is home base for the Oakland Unified School District’s young adult program, which aims to empower students with disabilities from ages 18 to 22, equipping them with academic, vocational, and life skills to live meaningful lives. The foundation of OUSD’s young adult program is community integration—through jobs, volunteer work, internships, and community college classes. 

For students who may have spent grade school years excluded from general education classes and extracurriculars, and for families who have been told that their children would never be able to work or live alone, the program can be life-changing. The goal is for young people to find employment at an organization like Creative Growth, an Oakland art studio for people with developmental disabilities, or continue their education at community college or in adult education programs.

“We worry, when a student turns 22 and graduates and then they’re just at home, that would feel like a failure,” said Jake Hall, the assistant principal. “We feel like part of our job is to shore up those connections and give them as much experience and exposure to what’s out there so that they and their family can continue on this journey instead of just letting 22 be the end of organized schooling.”

A view of the front of Santa Fe Elementary School’s Young Adult Program in North Oakland on March 8th, 2024. Credit: Katie Rodriguez
The hallways at OUSD’s Young Adult Program in North Oakland are covered with signage for events, art pieces, and posters for students running for student government on March 8th, 2024. Credit: Katie Rodriguez

The young adult program has been at the Santa Fe campus, which used to be an elementary school, since 2021. School leaders are hopeful they’ll be allowed to stay there, making it the program’s permanent home. The young adult program was previously housed in West Oakland at the Foster campus but had to move when construction began on OUSD’s Central Kitchen, which was unveiled in 2021. After Foster, the young adult program moved to the former Cole Middle School campus but had to relocate once more when construction began to turn Cole into OUSD’s new administrative center.

Now with a permanent home, school leaders are optimistic that they can form more partnerships with organizations and businesses and grow. While Santa Fe provides a home base, not all young adult program classes happen there. F.M. Smith Recreation Center, Defremery Park, Merritt College, and Laney College also host classes. 

OUSD school board director Sam Davis, whose district includes Santa Fe, points to the site as a successful alternative use for campuses that were once K-12 schools but have since closed. Santa Fe Elementary closed in 2012. Other examples include Kaiser Elementary, which is now the site of an early education center, and Parker K-8, which closed in 2022 and now houses adult education.

“The opportunity to be included in their community”

Students arrive at Santa Fe or one of the other sites ready to work and learn. They may start the day by putting together a budget so they know how much to spend for lunch, or looking at bus schedules so they can take AC Transit to their job or volunteer position. They have lessons in life skills like cooking a meal or putting together a resume. Some attend classes at Merritt or Laney College, where the Peralta Colleges has developed certificate programs in art, music, and kinesiology for OUSD’s young adult program. 

A student works with a teacher on how to use an electronic communication board to converse with others in North Oakland on March 8th, 2024. These devices are used to help those who are speech impaired communicate without using their own voice. Credit: Katie Rodriguez
A student uses an electronic communication board to converse with others in North Oakland on March 8th, 2024. Credit: Katie Rodriguez

Nate Failing, the coordinator for student accessibility services at Laney College, said he appreciates the smiles on the faces of parents who were told before that “your kid will never go to college” when they “know that they are going to college and they’re earning—they’re not being given—certificates.”

Student art from those in the young adult program will be exhibited at Laney College over the next year, Failing said. Between 120 and 140 students from the young adult program are enrolled at the Peralta Colleges at any one time. Last year, between 75 and 90 students attended Laney.

Partnerships are the foundation of the program, said program director David Cammarata. Along with the Peralta Colleges, they also work with agencies like California Children’s Services, which is planning to occupy the portable space on the Santa Fe campus, the Regional Center of the East BayClausen House, community organizations like the Bay Area Outdoor Recreation Program, Safeway, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Prescott Circus, and more. 

Kerry McKee at the Center for Independent Living holds workshops with young adult program participants about self-advocacy, public transportation and the environment, digital citizenship, and a social club.

“Many of the students in the young adult program use communication devices such as a phone or iPad to communicate,” McKee told The Oaklandside. “We help them understand the importance of technology and the ways they can be more conscientious about their technology use.”

There are plans to continue making the Santa Fe campus more accessible, including a wheelchair-accessible commercial kitchen, Cammarata said, so more students can gain experience working in the food industry. The team has already created a sensory room, with bean bags, soft chairs, and a plush carpet for students who need a break. They’ve also turned one of the rooms into a mock apartment, with a bed, dresser, and washer and dryer. 

In this mock apartment, participants in the young adult program can practice keeping house. Credit: Katie Rodriguez

“The vision behind our program is to say that our young folks with disabilities deserve the opportunity to be included in their community and to be given the same access to opportunities as their peers,” Cammarata said. “And the mission of our program is to help our students become the responsibly independent young people that they want to be and to build the meaningful lives that we all know that they deserve.”

While the vast majority of students in OUSD’s young adult program attended district schools in their K-12 years, they may have had very different experiences on campuses that are largely geared toward general education students. The young adult program at Santa Fe currently serves about 140 students with moderate to intensive support needs. 

The population of students with disabilities in OUSD is growing. Between 2013 and 2023, the population of students in OUSD receiving special education services has grown by 35%, from 5,085 to 6,890, according to a report by OUSD’s executive director of special education Jennifer Blake. 

Challenges for the program to grow include continuing to advocate for inclusion in school and community organizations. The program recently became a full-fledged school, which means it can receive additional funding, including resources from OUSD’s “College and Career for All” fund, a tax measure that supports career education and internships for secondary students. And they’re always looking for more businesses and organizations to partner with that can provide jobs and internships to their students. 

Students who are a part of the young adult program in Oakland Unified School District learn the skills to prepare for adulthood and living independently. Credit: Katie Rodriguez

One of the major ways that the program measures success is how students do after they leave the program, Cammarata said. 

“We have students who join our program having never ridden AC Transit, and by the time they leave us, they’re traveling on AC Transit to and from their day program independently. We have students who have never considered going to work, but by the time they leave us they’ve gotten interviews to direct-hire positions,” he told The Oaklandside. 

“What’s really exciting to me is the work we’re putting in that students are benefiting from—where they’re able to see themselves in employment or continuing education,” Cammarata said. “And families are starting to have a different view of what’s out there for their young person.”

About Us
What's New
Get Involved

Contact Us