OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — He’s helped hundreds of Oakland students go on to college, but this week’s Jefferson Award winner says most of the work happened outside of the classroom. Jeff Duncan-Andrade says the key to student success does not start with the academics. It starts with relationships.
When Jeff Duncan-Andrade is your teacher, you get a lot more than you bargained for. Robert Bisquera Jr. gets texts and phone calls from him outside of class.
“His ability to reach out to students and care and meet them where they’re at is something I don’t see from most folks,” Bisquera said.
Duncan-Andrade lectures on educational equity at San Francisco State University, and all over the world. He instructs students like Bisquera on how to become effective educators serving low-income communities. He says students do their best when teachers show they care.
“Teaching and learning always boils down to one thing and one thing only, and that’s relationships,” he explained.
And he should know: he’s taught more than 20 years in the Oakland schools. He gravitates toward the kind of student he was himself:
“I was the kid with anger management problems,” he remembered. “I was the kid who couldn’t sit still.”
And he was the kid who got crushed, trying to tell one teacher exciting news: that UC Berkeley recruited him as an athlete.
“I tell him and he laughs in front of the whole class and says to the class, ‘He thinks HE can go to Berkeley. ‘”
So when Duncan-Andrade decided to teach, he wanted to become the kind of teacher he never had.
He became like a big brother and strict father to Dennis Thompson 20 years ago. Thompson said he didn’t care much about school until he ended up in Duncan-Andrade’s middle school English class. Jeff would check on his welfare, on and off campus.
“It was like, ‘Man, this teacher’s at my house!’ I knew at that time, all right, this guy’s not playing, he cares,” Thompson remembered.
Today, Thompson manages 140 employees at an Oakland business and volunteers in his community. He says he believed in himself because Duncan-Andrade did.
“He really gave his all. He wasn’t gonna give up on you,” Thompson said.
He’s not giving up on future generations either. He’s planning a new kindergarten-through-8th-grade charter school in East Oakland, called Roses in Concrete, that’s scheduled to open in a year. It comes from a community-based group he co-founded, iSeed, that works toward solving the community’s most critical problems.
“What I love is the opportunity to engage in deep meaningful relationships with kids and families and watching them pursue their dream,” Duncan-Andrade said.
So for investing in the lives of his students and equipping a new generation of teachers, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jeff Duncan-Andrade.