Melrose Leadership Academy

MLA Pioneer Promotion

 (bryan farley)

In 2009, the first two classes of Melrose Leadership Academy dual immersion kindergarten students started school. Last month, the first two classes of 8th grade MLA dual immersion students finished middle school. I photographed the June 7, 2018 promotion ceremony and a celebration dinner the day earlier.

When we started at the school, we could only imagine the first 8th graduation class. Now, these students are part of the school’s legacy. I have included photos from the first kindergarten graduation as well as photo galleries from the Promotion Ceremony and 8th Grade Party.

 (bryan farley)

I have collected nearly 100 photography galleries in my MLA Photography Collection. I started photographing some of the graduating Melrose Leadership Academy students when they were still in pre-school. My daughter was part of the first kindergarten class; my son started two years later. My children did not finish at MLA, but they are also part of the legacy.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy Kindergarten

 (bryan farley)

This is the first school year that one of my children have not attended Melrose Leadership Academy since the school began it’s dual immersion program in 2009. I have been taking pictures of the school before my kids started attending.

 (bryan farley)

During the first year of the dual immersion program, my daughter was a kindergarten student. I began photographing all the kindergarteners. When my son started at MLA, I continued photographing the kindergarten class.

 (bryan farley)

When the school moved to the new site, I kept taking pictures. After my kids left the school, I did not know what to do. Eventually, I decided that I would continue. My kids may have left the school, but I will always feel connected.

 (bryan farley)

This year, Harold Lowe helped me when I photographed the kindergarten class. Harold has three children at MLA. Harold and I have become friends; our children are friends too. To view the gallery from this year, click the link.… Read the rest

Chinese American Exclusion

Last month, Melrose Leadership Academy’s fifth graders traveled to San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America. We walked to a nearby playground in Chinatown before we visited the new permanent exhibit “Chinese Americans: Exclusion/Inclusion.”

 (bryan farley)

We took a bus across the Bay Bridge from Oakland. I took some pictures. I included the photo gallery here. (The individual photos are from the gallery.)

 (bryan farley)

San Francisco’s Chinatown is a popular tourist destination, but its history is often overlooked. Chinatown was almost lost after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act restricted the number of people who could become legal citizens. Americans enforced the restrictions. During the field trip, the students learned how some of the immigrants were tested at Angel Island and other sites.

 (bryan farley)

The new exhibit asks, “What does it mean to be American?” This is a recurring question for our country. It seems that some people are allowed to sail across oceans and land on our shores and become Americans.… Read the rest

The 2017 Melrose Leadership Kindergarten Portraits

This is the eighth year that I have photographed the Melrose Leadership Academy dual immersion kindergarten students. I have photographed every kindergarten class since MLA introduced the Spanish bilingual program. My daughter was in the first class; my son started two years later. I have also photographed other activities, often as the Historian. (See the MLA Collection of Galleries.)

 (bryan farley)

MLA is an OUSD district school. We have created something special in a place where failure is expected. If I did not have my pictures, I would question whether we ever built the school. Some days, I still wonder if I am hallucinating.

 (bryan farley)

One of my mentors, Jim McNay, recently sent me an article about long-term projects from the Magnum Photo Agency site. The authors provide “Five lessons in developing and sustaining a long-term photographic project.” The first lesson: have a mission statement. Why is this story important?

 (bryan farley)

My goals have changed during the eight years, but my reasons have remained consistent.… Read the rest

2017 Winter Performance Expo

I wanted to publish positive images today… reminders about the beauty of my children’s world.

 (bryan farley)

On Wednesday January 18, 2017, Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland held their Winter Performance Expo. Here is my photo gallery slideshow of 121 images.

 (bryan farley)

On Wednesday night, Oakland Unified held another board meeting to discuss budget shortfalls. Today, our new President said in his Inaugural Address that America had “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

 (bryan farley)

It has not been my experience, first as a teacher in OUSD, and now as a parent in OUSD, that we are either “flush with cash” nor depriving students. We have not deprived students the 8 years that I have had a child at MLA.

 (bryan farley)

We have often struggled in our neighborhood and in our school… we have often struggled at the neighborhood school, but there has always been something to celebrate.

This is the 8th year I have photographed students at MLA.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy Peace March

“Imagine all the people living life in peace”

John Lennon

 (bryan farley)

Yesterday, my son’s Spanish bilingual school, Melrose Leadership Academy, organized a march through our Maxwell Park neighborhood in Oakland, California.

Here is the photo gallery of the peace and kindness march.

 (bryan farley)

The march had been planned before the recent tragedy in Oakland; however, our school community benefited from the supportive event. If you are avoiding news, Oakland has experienced the deadliest fire since 2003 in the United States. The Oakland Ghost Ship Fire was about two miles from MLA. National news outlets have asked questions about the fire that our community might not be prepared to ask. We needed a reason to gather.

 (bryan farley)

I was also aware that the peace march was held on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Some people might view these images and not find the march patriotic. I don’t. My son wanted to paint his face red, white and blue, because he sees America in his classmates and teachers.… Read the rest

Another First Week

Last week my children started school again. My son attends a Spanish dual immersion school in Oakland, California. (My daughter attended Melrose Leadership Academy the first six years of MLA’s bilingual program. Now she attends 7th grade in a neighboring district middle school.) MLA is not for everyone, but I believe in the school.

 (bryan farley)

When my daughter was in the first class of bilingual students at MLA, I was concerned, but confident. I know what it means to be the first at something. I have also known people who were the first. I have known trailblazers, and this experience has given me comfort. I have probably taken these experiences for granted.

 (bryan farley)

This last year, my son started playing baseball. He loves playing catcher. I attended a high school that is known for producing Major League pitchers and catchers. Fresno High School also produced the first Mexican American MLB manager. When I was a kid, my grandfather had married into his family.… Read the rest

2016 Spring Performance Expo – Melrose Leadership Academy

I have been photographing performances at Melrose Leadership Academy longer than many people have been taking pictures. Earlier this month, I photographed my 14th “Performance Expo” at my son’s dual immersion Oakland public school. You can access the Spring 2016 photo gallery here.

 (bryan farley)

I am an educator as well as a parent, so I probably view these performances differently than some people. I look at the educational and developmental value. As a photographer, I am continually looking for the visual opportunities. Every time I photograph the performance expos, I find opportunities and value.

 (bryan farley)

Earlier this year, I shared some photos from previous expos. In the January 2016 post, I also wondered if educators could create a standardized test for collaboration. You have probably heard the phrase, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”  Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is working on the standardized test yet, so I keep dreaming.

 (bryan farley)

When I attended an art educators meeting last month, I claimed that art is an afterthought… it is an add on.… Read the rest

The 2016 Melrose Leadership Kindergarten Portraits

This is the seventh year that I have photographed the Melrose Leadership Academy kindergarten students.

 (bryan farley)

I started the project when my daughter was in kindergarten.  My daughter is no longer a student at MLA, but some of her former kindergarten classmates still attend MLA and they helped me with this year’s shoot.

 (bryan farley)

Last year I wrote about how the project began. Each year I search for a new idea. I wish I had thought about including the original kindergarten students earlier.

 (bryan farley)

I want my images to reflect MLA’s community spirit. By including the older students, the kindergarten portraits show more of the community spirit that I have always witnessed. I remember when my fourth grade son started MLA. He liked having the older role models. Did the older kids realize how much they were appreciated?

 (bryan farley)

Today is Cesar Chavez Day. Some agencies and districts honor the holiday. It’s a complicated holiday for many reasons. I think that the holiday is even more complicated, because it calls for us to honor community building.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Performance Expo

 (bryan farley)

The Melrose Leadership Academy after school program students presented the 2016 Winter Performance Expo on January 20, 2016. I believe that I have photographed each performance expo since my daughter started MLA in 2009. If I am correct, this is my 13th.

A baker’s dozen

 (bryan farley)

The 2016 photo gallery can be accessed here. I have also included the Spring 2015 Performance Expo gallery.

 (bryan farley)

I enjoy watching our younger students prepare for their first assemblies. I enjoy watching them grow into confident performers.

 (bryan farley)

I also cherish seeing older students. Some of these older students I have been photographing since they were in pre-school. I wish our school system would create standardized tests that measured collaboration and presentation abilities. Our students would exceed expectations.

 (bryan farley)

Technology has changed since I first started photographing MLA students… and the marketing of photography products reminds us that “everything has changed about photography.”

But it hasn’t. Kids are still kids.

 (bryan farley)

And adults teach children how to find their place on the stage.… Read the rest

The 2015 MLA Kindergarten Portraits

When my 11 year old daughter began kindergarten at Melrose Leadership Academy, I had a simple idea. I thought I could photograph each kindergarten class as long as my children attended the school. I live in the neighborhood. How difficult could it be?

 (bryan farley)

As I tell my photography students, simple and easy are not the same. “Simple” is difficult and my simple idea has become more difficult this year. I teach in a district an hour away from my home. We have the same breaks, so I don’t have a week to visit the school.

 (bryan farley)

There is another complication. I try to create something different each year. MLA was at a different site the first three years, so those pictures all look different from the more recent images. Each year I wonder how I am going to create something interesting. Last year, I gave the kids magnifying glasses. This year, the students photographed me with my smartphone.… Read the rest

Mills Healing Plant Tour

On a standardized test, what does a leader look like? How do you build standardized assessments that reward collaboration and creativity? If you wanted to identify the next Julia Morgan, would you rely on the SAT?

 (bryan farley)

The two 5th grade pioneer classes from Melrose Leadership Academy visited Mills College in Oakland, California. Mills College is in our neighborhood, so the students walked to Mills. Melrose fifth graders are the architects who have built MLA into a model for urban education. This year, I photographed Ms. Jessica’s 5th grade students during their neighborhood field trip to Mills. In April of 2012, I photographed the 2011-2012 kindergarten classes  for their expeditionary learning project at the campus creek. That was also our the last year that MLA was at the old Elizabeth Sherman site. The walk was shorter.

 (bryan farley)

During both visits, students learned about native plants and the natural environments supported by a native ecosystem. This year, Mills College students taught MLA students how to remove invasive plant species so that natives can return to the creek bed.… Read the rest

MLA Song and Dance

On Thursday March 5th, Melrose Leadership Academy held the first TK-5th Grade Choral Concert in Oakland, California. (You can view a photo gallery of The Choral Concert here.) Earlier this school year, MLA held its annual Dance-a-thon. (I have included dance-a-thon images at the bottom and a gallery here.) Since today is International Women’s Day and yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I thought that I would revisit a quote painted on one of the murals where my two children attend school… the quote is about dancing across bridges.

Si no puedo bailar tu revolución no me interesa – Emma Goldman

 (bryan farley)

Melrose Leadership Academy is a dual immersion public school in Oakland. (It is not a charter school.) The kids at MLA are smarter than I am. I can only speak English, and I often forget how to speak and write in my first (and only) language. When my daughter translated the Goldman quote into English for me, I understood that Goldman was advising advocates that social movements needed charisma.… Read the rest

With Love From Me to OUSD

The last time I attended an Oakland Unified School Board meeting, I taught at an OUSD elementary school. I was an active Oakland Education Association (OEA) union member. People read newspapers. Nobody had a Facebook profile. Board meetings were held in the old district office, but everything else felt oddly familiar.

 (bryan farley)

If anyone is interested, they could probably find an old Oakland Tribune article titled “The Classroom Shuffle.” A reporter learned about classroom consolidation and how it disrupts entire schools six weeks into the school year. Consolidation almost always occurred at low-income/ low-performing schools. It was like a Twilight Zone episode. I could not continue teaching for a district that allowed consolidation to continue. One night I was called by someone who I believe tried to warn me. He told me that if I kept exposing the situation I would lose my job. I kept exposing. I lost my job. Was it related?… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy 2014 Community

My two children attend Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland, California. MLA is a Spanish dual immersion K-8 school. Our school is part of Oakland Unified School District. In previous years, I have posted more frequently about our school, but this year I have been busy teaching photography and yearbook at Pittsburg High School. Both school districts finish their year next week.  In this post, I will share a few events I photographed during 2014.

The first photos are from the 2014 Winter Performance Expo. The middle photos are from the 2014 Spring Academic Expo. The last few photos are from the 2014 Spring Performance Expo.


 (bryan farley)

When I walk into the school, I “read” the signs on the wall. I see many of the signs when I am editing my photos. There is one sign that I seem to see more than any others. It reads, “Somos responsables de nosostros mismos y de nuestra comunidad.”

We are responsible for ourselves and our community


 (bryan farley)

I do not speak Spanish, but I can look at my pictures and see people caring for each other.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Kindergarten and First Grade Photos

 (bryan farley)

Registration just started for the 2013-2014 school year.  Kindergarten families and first graders register today. (I remember registering our first child before the Spanish immersion program started. We were scared!) Many people worry when they send kids to school… any school, so I thought I would post the galleries  from last year’s kindergarten and first grade classes.

 (bryan farley)

Here are photos of both first grade classes. Except for the photo that includes me, I took these photos in June. 2012-2013 First Grade Photo Gallery. I think a first grader took the photo of me, and I probably should give him credit and ask permission before posting it. (bryan farley)Here is the 2012-13 Kindergarten Photo Gallery. Did you think your kids would have this much fun by the end of kinkindergarten? Tomorrow the second through fourth graders register. On Friday August 16, the  sixth through eighth graders register.   Remember to click the link if you wish to view the photo gallery.… Read the rest

The Dual Immersion Curriculum Development Institute

When I first became a parent, I felt as if I had joined a secret club. Membership included our own version of a secret handshake too. (It is a sleepy head nod.) New parents could identify each other anywhere. We would also commiserate about our lack of sleep and share our humbling experience of becoming a parent. We knew parenting would be rewarding, but we did not know that it would be so difficult. Sometimes we discussed how we finally understood our parents… or worse, how we had become our parents.

 (bryan farley)

Becoming a teacher was a similar process for me. I assumed it was going to be easier, probably because I had worked with young people for many years. I had also been a good student! What could be so hard? It was a good stable career. I liked kids. Besides, there is all that vacation. (Just like parenting has all that free time when the kids go to bed.) Well, if you have ever been a parent who looked forward to Friday night housecleaning, you might understand teachers and all their free time.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy Spring Performance

Besides learning Spanish and English, Melrose Leadership Academy students also learn presentation skills. In the four years of the Spanish dual immersion bilingual program, my daughter has participated at least nine times during a “presentation expo.” There is always a Winter Expo and a Spring Expo. A few times the students perform twice each season. My son, who finishes first grade next week, has performed at least five times. On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, MLA held the Spring Performance Expo.

 (bryan farley)

As the official PTSA Board Historian for two years, it has been my responsibility to document many of our school activities. Before we had a PTSA, I documented most of the Performance and Academic Expos. I have enjoyed the responsibility. I am able to see the students and educators prepare backstage. I see many of the performers support their classmates. I witness their personal growth.

 (bryan farley)

Our school is a community.… Read the rest

Sausal Creek Trail Field Trip for Melrose Leadership Academy

I often tell my son, “Today is a good day. Do you know why?” He does. If he is having trouble, he reluctantly answers, “Because you get to spend it with me.” And it is true. Every day I spend with my boy (or my daughter) is a good day. Yesterday, was a great day, because the first graders from Melrose Leadership Academy went to Sausal Creek to study the restoration project and habitat.

My son loves animals and habitats. For a first grader, he is either obsessed with living creatures or really smart. He studies animals the way I studied dinosaurs. We argue about whether insects are animals. (He believes that insects are in fact animals.) He has taught me that “water spiders” are actually “water striders,” and that the largest dolphin is… ? Wait for it? Just when you thought nothing was new… the killer whale. (look it up!)

 (bryan farley)

I learn as much during the field trips as the students, and I suspect that the other parents learn too.… Read the rest

The Writing Center at 826 Valencia

On Wednesday March 6, 2013, third graders from Oakland’s Melrose Leadership Academy traveled to 826 Valencia in San Francisco.  MLA students attended 826 Valencia’s interactive Screenplay program, which is similar to the popular Storytelling and Bookmaking program the students attended last year.

2013 MLA 826 Valencia-3963-2

Photography Gallery of the Melrose Leadership Academy Field Trip to 826 Valencia Writing Center in San Francisco

On Tuesday, workshop leader Jami Johnson collaborated with Melrose students to create “The Stolen Ice Cream.” Students practice their writing skills developing characters and story concepts. Before the students voted on their title, the students set the story, “Deep in space on planet Banana Split.” With the “Setting” decided, students chose characters.

 (bryan farley)

Characters were identified by protagonist  sidekick and antagonist. The students named these characters Agent Cheese, Agent Doggy and The Foot. For the story, the students learned how to add actions to the script. AGENT CHEESE (stamps his foot) …

 (bryan farley)

Kavitha Lotun, who helped as the group’s typist, encouraged the students to expand their story.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy After School Assembly

When parents toured Melrose Leadership Academy during the current school year, many asked about our after school program. Parents, grandparents and guardians asked if our students learned about different cultures. We were asked if our children were engaged and challenged. Most people wondered if there were enough physical activity.

Nobody asked if the parents were expected to dance at our twice annual Expos. Until Wednesday night, I am not sure if we had been and since I am scared to dance, I probably would have remembered. My daughter would have remembered, because she is scared to watch me dance.

 (bryan farley)

When the older folks were too slow to move onto the stage, the younger people moved down onto the floor and we became more comfortable. (I think we enjoyed ourselves.) I often tell prospective families, Melrose Leadership is not for everyone. We are often pushed past our comfort zone into something magical.… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy Oakland PUBLIC School

My two children attend an innovative public school in Oakland. The school, Melrose Leadership Academy, is part of Oakland Unified School District. Many people believe that MLA is a charter school, but is not. Our students learn how to lead… in a district public school.

Melrose Leadership Academy is dual immersion OUSD public district school. Families tour the school as part of the  OUSD Schools Options Process (School Choice). (bryan farley)

During the annual period known as the “Options Process,” families tour schools searching for an educational community for the following year (and years.) Many parents will not send their children to a charter school, so it is important that parents know our status as a district school.  During tours, some parents reported that even OUSD staff have incorrectly identified our school as a charter. It has happened often enough, that I believe the reports, but I cannot confirm that it has happened.

 (Bryan Farley)

I am not necessarily against charter schools as much as I am against the confusion. Why do so many people think we are a charter?… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership Academy Fall 2012 Dance-a-thon

How do you measure success? It seems that education reformers want innovation, but use outdated test scores to measure achievement.

How do you measure parent involvement? Do you measure fundraisers by the amount of money raised or by something qualitatively different? If you are a parent, do you want your children to learn by your example? Do you merely want your children to give money or give something more substantial?

Do you picture your children learning how to become better community members?


At Melrose Leadership Academy, our students take tests and our parents donate money. We also donate time. (Considering our size, we volunteer a great deal.) Our community also does something more.

We trust each other.

Even when it is uncomfortable, we trust that our diverse community is creating leaders for the next generation. We trust each other when we stop for another parent to translate English to Spanish (or Spanish to English).… Read the rest

Melrose Leadership First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school for Melrose Leadership Academy at our new school site. MLA has moved from one Maxwell Park neighborhood site to another. Despite the move, the first day was a success.

Of course, the first day was still stressful. For some families, yesterday was their first day attending any school. Since MLA is a Spanish language dual immersion school, some families could not understand the teacher. Fortunately, many parents helped the new parents understand the transition.

I love first days. I remember being a kindergarten student and I remember each year that my children start school. What do you remember?

bf… Read the rest