The Profiler: Encinal High's Dexter Moore

The Profiler: Encinal High's Dexter Moore

Janice Worthen

Encinal High School's Dexter Moore (rear; second from right) poses with the first class of interns from his Summer Matters! program. Contributed photo.

At Encinal High School, Dexter Moore Jr. doesn’t just talk about change – he lives it, daily. As the school’s educational equity and family engagement coordinator, Moore’s goal is to ensure that all of its students have an equal opportunity to succeed in the classroom and job market.

Last summer, Moore piloted the Summer Matters! Internship program, to keep students engaged during the summer by connecting them to community resources that teach them job skills and helping them make connections that will guide them into a meaningful career path. Six students participated, interning with the Ecovery Project, Girls Inc. of the Island City, Wes Café, Perforce and the Alameda Police Department.

“I feel like because of this internship I am more confident working in general and handling a job. It makes me feel as though I can do anything, and my career ambitions are so much higher than they were because I feel like I can reach higher,” one student said of her summer experience with Girls Inc. of the Island City.

Moore said he works toward his goal of providing equal opportunity in three ways: by creating learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom, getting families involved in their children’s education and changing any policies or systems that prevent success. Although Moore works with students of all races, his work is currently focused on black and brown students because he has found that these students often get left behind or left out.

His efforts come as teachers and administrators at Alameda Unified, like many other school districts, look for ways to close yawning achievement gaps that often leave black and brown students behind – and as the district works to implement a new Common Core curriculum that aims to better prepare students for college and careers.

“People say ‘achievement gap,’ but I tend to stray away from that term,” Moore said. “I say I want to close the opportunity gap, the access gap.”

“Intention is important” when choosing a focus, Moore said; he identifies which students are struggling and works to help those students. If nothing exists to fill the needs of these students, Moore creates whatever’s necessary. Moore has been with Encinal High School going on three years now, and while his work for student equity has not always been easy, he said he won’t give up.

Before Moore came to Encinal, an equity and family engagement position didn’t exist at the high school. He was working with Miami Jackson High School in Florida, and Kevin Gorham, assistant principal at Encinal High School, called him about the work he was doing with students in Miami. Gorham wanted to initiate some of that work in his own high school and persuaded Moore to move to Alameda and become an intervention specialist at Encinal.

The first year Moore worked at Encinal, he spent half of his time as an intervention specialist and half his time in after school programs for the high school’s struggling students. Moore said he was sent what people label the “bad kids,” and he patched them up and sent them back to class; however, Moore soon realized that these students were stuck in a cycle and that the problem was deeper than just poor behavior.

He told administrators he need to work with staff as well as students to address biases and expectations that were contributing to the problems he was seeing. Moore also told administrators his position needed to be for the regular school day, if they were going to get “the most bang for their buck.”

Administrators made the position a consultant position for the second year based on Moore’s feedback. Moore said this allowed him to really analyze and solidify the position and outline a job description that can be used in the future. He worked with school administrators to present the position to the school board for approval.

Because of Moore’s success with the position and his work in defining the position and its importance, equity and family engagement positions are district recognized and approved for other schools. The position is currently funded through each school’s site discretionary funds, and Moore hopes to see the position gain district funding in the future so it can more easily take root in other schools.

Besides the internship program, Moore’s other projects include family nights, a sophomore advisory class and a “Distinguished Brothers” group. Moore chose to do family nights because he noticed that families of struggling students weren’t coming into the school except when necessary because they didn’t feel they belonged there or that the school wasn’t a place they were welcome.

He held the first family night this past spring and went door to door to encourage families to attend. Thirty-five families participated out of the 50 he contacted. Childcare and dinner were provided for these families, and workshops helped families get involved. Moore said the most popular workshops were the ones on college and career readiness and the parent panel that allowed parents to voice concerns, provide feedback, and share experiences.

“What kept coming back to me was that there isn’t one parent who doesn’t want their child to go to college, and there isn’t one parent who doesn’t want their child to do better than they did,” Moore said.

He created the sophomore advisory class for students who behave well in school but have low grades; the students analyze their performance as freshmen to find areas for improvement, and Moore shows them how important their studies are by taking them on field trips and getting them involved in community activities.

Moore gives students in his Distinguished Brothers group the opportunity to enjoy Bay Area treasures as well. He recently took them to the Palace of Fine Arts and to a nice restaurant.

Moore said exposure for students is important. Because Alameda is an island, it can seem isolated for students who lack resources, so he tries to create programs that allow students to explore and experience the culture of the Bay Area.

Moore said many Alameda students lack the means and resources to participate in summer camps or travel and that instead, these students usually just sit at home all summer. He wanted to find a way to keep these students engaged, so he chose to create a program that allows students to get hands-on experience in real work environments. To fund the internship pilot program, he hosted a cocktail party fundraiser in June of this year.

Before the students started their internships, Moore held a workshop to prepare them for their work environment. He discussed workplace etiquette, expectations, and how to interact with coworkers and supervisors.

After interning with a company or organization, students were required to write three letters of gratitude to company staffers, hand in their final work schedule and write a three-page or longer letter to Moore about the experience. After successfully completing all of these requirements, students received a $400 stipend.

Moore said the challenges he faced in rolling out the Summer Matters! program included finding the right selling point for students and the community and the right organizations and people to conduct the internships. He said he had to show people that overall, the program offered a win-win situation: Companies got labor and positive community recognition, students got invaluable experience, and the community benefited from successful students who contribute.

But he said the benefits of the program continued for many of the students even after their internships ended. One student said he felt like he had a place at school and clear steps to follow to secure the career he wants, Moore said; another built confidence and leadership skills he uses in student government and as a member of Encinal’s Black Student Union.

“The internship has helped me really stick to a daily routine and become more organized which will help me academically. Becoming more skilled with computers will also help with projects and essays in school,” one student wrote in his reflection letter about an internship at Perforce. “Furthermore, going into college next year it will be important for me to be comfortable with computers and now I will be ahead of the game in my classes.”

Families also appear to be grateful for the opportunities Moore provides. Moore said the mother of one intern sent him an e-mail saying that during the internship, her son was happy, positive, and eager to work. She said it was like he had new life.

Moore said participants of the program really “sold the program” at school by telling other students about their positive experiences. Students have now approached Moore about participating in the program in the future.

Moore hopes to enroll 20 to 25 students in next summer’s program and is looking for funding to accommodate the growth. He plans on applying for grants and continuing his community outreach. Moore is also trying to find more organizations willing to take on a student intern, he said.

He said the work being done at Encinal High School is really innovative: Not only are students learning how they can succeed beyond the classroom, they are developing the confidence to do so.

“I get chills when I think about next spring, and (my) students are preparing for college,” Moore said. “A lot of those students are going to be first generation college students.”