by Jeff Adams, Project Director—Oak Tree School Remembered
View the final exhibition of Building Oak Tree School: A Living History of Education on the San Juan Ridge at an opening reception hosted by the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center on Saturday, July 11, 2015, 2 to 5 pm.
In 1975, a group of recently minted contractors on the San Juan Ridge broke ground to build a school for this rural community in the Sierra foothills, assisted by, at times, more than 100 local residents. The community faced a host of challenges throughout the process – opposition by union leaders for hiring local rather than union employees, independently sourcing all of the materials and equipment to construct the school, having to quickly learn a host of state and local laws to ensure the project’s regulatory compliance, and internal debates over the structure and content of the school curriculum. Despite all of that, the community still managed to build the school. Then, on February 4, 1977 – a little over four months after opening – almost all of the buildings comprising the Oak Tree School campus burned to the ground.
The construction of Oak Tree School was nothing short of a radical experiment in community building, local politics and grass roots education. While the impetus behind the building of the School grew out of the back-to-the-land ethos, its construction and operation brought about unprecedented cross-cultural collaborations—and at times conflicts— that have had a lasting influence on the San Juan Ridge community.
The story of Oak Tree School invites us to explore what education means to different people and how education can be a site for community and social transformation. The final exhibition will feature excerpts from interviews with the builders of the school and the students who attended it, design drawings and documentation of the process to build the school, original photography, and other artifacts. The exhibition will also address how school choice later decreased attendance to the point that the school was eventually forced to close.