Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Aileen Moffitt ’68
I remember coach Marva Eichelberger (Mrs. E) who came to Tech when I was in 11th grade. She led a lot of girls sports teams to championships over the years and later went to Oakland High. We had a wonderful connection and I felt very close to her. Another favorite teacher was Betty Wilson who taught leadership. She was married to Warren Wilson, brother of Lionel Wilson who became Oakland’s first African American mayor in the late 70’s. You had to get up early if you were involved in student government because the leadership class was held during A period. Mrs. Wilson cared a lot about us and even gave us individual typed reports about each of us to go with our report card instead of just a grade. She was a model for us during a time when interracial dating was very new and quite scandalous. She encouraged us to be progressive thinkers. Later she taught at Berkeley High and did a panel on gay and lesbian issues. She was way ahead of her time.
I was fortunate to go to India as a foreign exchange student (AFS) during the summer between my Junior and Senior years. This was an amazing opportunity to see life outside of Oakland while meeting kids from all over the world. We spent 10 days on a ship with kids from all over the country who were on their way to be exchange students all over the world. This was where I first heard the term “Black Power” and by the fall, many of my Tech peers were into that movement. I was also part of an All City Teen Club that was held at the North Oakland Recreation Center that is now called Studio One. I spent many Sunday evenings there.
Tragedy struck during April of my Senior year. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. All Oakland schools were then closed down for the day. I was on the Scribe staff at the time and I remember all of us taking great pains to decide what the banner headline should say. Marshall Friedman was our Scribe advisor. I must also mention my 10th grade World History teacher, Mr. Dale Curtis, who first helped me question the Vietnam war and opened us all up to more points of view. I’ve heard Parker Merrill is still at Tech – in our day he was a young cool teacher and he had a pony tail!
Being a part of girl’s sports was important to me. In Mrs. E’s gym class we wore regulation blue gym suits – blue shorts with elastic in the legs and shirts with snaps. You had to have a safety pin on each side of your collar to get full credit and avoid penalties called “burpies” (squat thrusts). If you didn’t meet the requirements or if you were late or missing part of your uniform, chewing gum or mouthing off you had to do 30 burpies! The Girls gym was on 42nd street behind the bleachers next to the tennis courts. I still run into women from that era and we all remember those burpies. I also remember being an “IWE” in the gym. It stood for Inside Work Experience so I took an extra period of gym to work as a helper. This was perfect for me because I wanted to be a gym teacher in the future.
The school was supposed to have racial integration. I was in a mixed circle of friends, but overall there was a lot of separation. 1/3 black, 1/3 white, and 1/3 “other” as I remember it. I was in academic classes with mostly Asian kids and these classes were tracked. Inaccurate assumptions may have been made based on racial stereotype. The only class I remember not being tracked was 11th grade World History. Other than that, all my classes were tracked. Most of my friends were from P.E. or after-school sports. I still see Kathleen Lowe, Sheila Stauder, and Eileen Lum.
Another form of social separation was that the “Foreign Born” program was in the Tech basement. Those students seemed to be kept separate and somewhat out of sight even. There was also an “EMR” program (Educable Mentally Retarded) and these students were not integrated with the rest of the school, either. Tech had a number of blind students, I think in partnership with the School for the Blind. Steve Welsh was blind and a champion wrestler and student leader! I remember blind students in swim class also.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, I became a teacher in OUSD. I taught PE at Montera Junior High School for 7 years. Then I took some time to get a Masters degree and came back as an elementary classroom teacher at Prescott School in West Oakland from 1982-2009. I loved teaching, but that’s not what I became known for. During that time, I started an after-school program teaching circus arts. Although I retired in 2009, I am still working to support this program, now in its 30th year! Elementary age kids learn juggling, acrobatics, unicycling, stilt dancing and clowning and then perform in the community at all kinds of events, about 50 a year! For many years, I was teaching school all day, then teaching circus after school several days a week, writing grants at night, and taking the kids to perform on the weekends! It was fun but so exhausting. I was finally able to switch my job to full-time with the Prescott Circus Theatre for my last 7 years. We were able to add programs at 6 other Oakland schools so we have about 200 Oakland kids a year learning circus arts. I feel lucky to have happened on something that was so much fun and gave me so much satisfaction. What I gave to students in circus classes was possibly more significant than teaching them to read had been, and that’s saying a lot! Two of the kids I worked with are now on the Prescott Circus teaching staff. Two others are now on our Board of Directors. We were one of the first circus arts programs for youth in the country and now there is a whole youth circus organization with national festivals.