Friday, January 31, 2014

Storyteller celebrates 25 years of success stories

Newspaper column
January 29, 2014

Children love it when adults tell them stories. Sadly, many children live in households where happy stories are few and far between.
We know that the traumas associated with poverty, abuse, neglect, or violence can cause developmental and behavioral problems. We also know that homeless and at-risk children are most likely to suffer these challenges.
Storyteller Children’s Center, a true community treasure, has been filling a void for children and families since its inception, serving those most in need of these targeted services. In fact, I view Storyteller, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, as an organization that embodies the heart and soul of the Santa Barbara community. It delivers free, high-quality early childhood education, coupled with comprehensive support services for families.
Storyteller provides children with nutritious meals, vision and dental screenings, and therapy for developmental delays. Parents are able to finish school or work full-time while their children are enrolled; they can also take part in parent education classes and receive counseling, case management, and referral services on site.
While the value of these services is self-evident to those who work with these children and families, researchers at UCSB have been able to quantify the benefits. A longitudinal study, currently in its fourth year, shows that students who graduate from Storyteller receive “proficient” and “advanced” marks on their kindergarten and first-grade report cards, faring much better than children from similar circumstances who did not go to Storyteller.
There is also a monetary value to the community at large. For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education programs like Storyteller, taxpayers receive a $17 return on the investment in a few short years, from the young adults who are contributing to society and avoiding government support through welfare, health care, or jail time.
For 25 years Storyteller, a truly innovative nonprofit, has developed a national model for meeting the social, medical, psychological and educational needs of homeless and at-risk students. It has done this along with well-earned community support and resources, a tribute to the respect and appreciation the public has for the remarkable results the organization has been able to achieve.
As a long-time supporter I have seen first-hand that this system of intervention works. Data from the UCSB Graduate School of Education’s study confirms this observation.
The dedicated and visionary staff and board members at Storyteller are community heroes who deserve our heartfelt support and thanks. Their good work touches the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable children every day. And best of all, it provides those children with positive, happy stories that they otherwise would have to do without. That is the true gift of any storyteller.

All involved should take a bow. Happy 25th anniversary, Storyteller, and thank you for all that you do.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Children and crises

Radio Commentary

Whether it's a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake far away, or a fire or shooting closer to home, parents and other caregivers must meet the challenge of reassuring children during times of crisis.
The way caregivers respond has a huge impact on how children will react. 
To help, a booklet from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, called When Terrible Things Happen: A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Their Children, offers some good advice.
For example, infants and toddlers, age zero to three, can’t understand how a crisis or a loss has changed their environment. 
But they can recognize and respond to changes in adult behavior. 
The best way to help infants and toddlers is to keep a routine and resume normal activities as soon as possible. 
Pre-school children, ages three to five, may not talk about their feelings openly. Talking while playing games can help children of this age group express their thoughts more easily. 
School-aged children, age five to 12, have more understanding of how and why things happen and will want to ask questions. Parents can help by talking, listening and answering their questions directly and honestly.
We cannot control a crisis or catastrophe. We can only control how we react to them, especially with our children.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Media myth

Radio Commentary

We are all concerned about the mass media’s influence on children. 
Certainly the media help reinforce some widespread myths, and people often act on perception rather than reality. 
For example: Violence in videos and on TV helps create the impression that our neighborhoods are dangerous places, and we need guns, police, and the military to protect us.
Detailed reports of crime and terror create the perception among young and old alike that the world is unsafe. As a result, more people stay home, especially in urban areas, or act in a more guarded way. 
Ironically, this isolation by law-abiding citizens actually helps make areas less safe. 
News programs generally lead off with the most violent occurrence of the day — as opposed to less newsworthy acts of ordinary kindness, courage, and friendship. 
This helps give a distorted view of just how much violence occurs around us.
Children who understand this distortion are better prepared to deal with the real world. 
They understand that news reports are merely samplings of what is going on in the streets and around the world. 
They understand that decisions on editing and story selection are made from thousands of choices, and are made according to professional standards of both news and entertainment value. 

It is the oddity that is “new” and therefore considered news, rather than acts that are commonplace. And that is exactly the problem.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Economics, happiness

Radio Commentary

An early goal for public education in this country was to help people become economically self-sufficient.
Our leaders felt that public schools would give all Americans the basic reading and math skills they needed to succeed in the workplace. As a result, poverty and its consequences would be reduced.
Early national leaders also saw the public schools as a “social escalator in a merit-based society.”
They thought it would enable children of humble birth to pursue financial success and improve their lot in life.
Later, as the Industrial Age introduced new occupations, the public schools offered more courses with direct vocational content.
Early proponents of public schools also saw an educational role in enhancing individual happiness. 
They felt that knowledge produced people who could think rationally, apply the wisdom of the ages, and appreciate culture.
In 1749, Benjamin Franklin said: “The good education of youth has been esteemed by wise men in all ages as the surest foundation of the happiness of both private families and of communities.”

It is very important as we continue to reform and improve public education that we keep our eye on the big picture — the lofty goals our founding fathers had in mind.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reading for meaning

Radio Commentary

Getting meaning out of what we read is one of the secrets for success at any age, but most particularly for young people in school. 
Experts always cite reading as the skill students most need for classroom success. 
Studies show that having a lot of reading materials around while children are growing up helps them in more ways than we may ever know.  
Being surrounded by words helps make children comfortable with language.  
Submerging children in a culture of words helps them learn that words have meaning.  
Words are the building blocks for thinking and learning all through a lifetime.  
But just learning to read is not enough to ensure school success.  
It’s important to be able to sound out different letter combinations, but children must also learn to find the meaning in different combinations of words.  
Reading out loud helps focus on pronunciation and word recognition. The next step is understanding what those words signify, and learning how to put them together in combinations to get meaning across. 

Only then can students put what they read to its best use. Reading for meaning is always the goal. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bad influences

Radio Commentary

Limiting children’s exposure to objectionable or harmful material is a top priority for parents.
A good start is to resist putting TVs or computers in your children’s bedrooms, even though there may seem to be good reasons for doing so.
In fact, it’s a good idea to place the television and computer in areas of the house where everyone has access to them.
Choose a place where you can talk with your pre-teens and they can talk with you about what they’re watching or doing online.
Never underestimate the power of your influence.
Even though children won’t often say thank you for your sound advice, or act grateful when you set limits, they appreciate your efforts in the long run.
TV, Internet and video content can overload young people with violent or confusing images and ideas. They may believe or worry that outside the confines of your family those values are the norm.
Especially in the era of reality TV, these thoughts can be very troublesome.
By keeping TVs and computers in a shared area of your home, you can enjoy them together and monitor what is being viewed. It can also spark important family discussions.
It truly makes a difference.
            I’m Bill Cirone.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

First two Rs for testing

Radio Commentary

High-stakes testing is a fact of life. Students of all ages will take standardized tests throughout their school careers. 
While some students are naturals at test-taking, others need help to do their best.
A publication titled “Principal Communicator” outlined four conditions that parents can use to help their children feel confident about tests.
They all start with “R”: Being Receptive, Relaxed, Ready, and Rested.
Being “receptive” is important. Parents can help young people develop a receptive attitude toward school in general, and testing in particular.
They can do this by making sure students understand that testing is merely a part of the learning process, and that it is a measuring stick for how much they have learned. 
The second “R” is for “Relaxed.” Anxiety can block the best-prepared student from doing well on a test. 
Two effective ways to overcome the worst anxiety are the third and fourth “R’s” — getting Ready by studying well in advance, and being Rested rather than staying up late to cram.
It’s important to help children avoid getting hung up on how hard a test might be, or the consequences of doing poorly. Remind children about the satisfaction that comes from trying their best.
Make sure they know you think they will do well, but that your approval of your child as a person does not depend on a test score.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Innovation and tradition

Newspaper column
Jan. 2, 2014
Innovation and tradition have always worked hand in hand. Take Jeff Bezos, founder of, a company that did not exist 20 years ago. Bezos recently purchased The Washington Post, itself a product of 19th century innovation, which was nonetheless struggling to adapt its medium to a world that had transitioned from print to electronic communication. We don’t know yet how the new configuration will play out with Bezos at the helm, but it is easy to have confidence that the combination of innovation and venerable tradition stands the best chance of success.
Education is also adapting to changing times, taking advantage of new approaches and modern delivery systems. Teachers use technology every day to enhance learning, tapping into the new world their students inhabit, while continuing to meet traditional educational needs.
Of the innumerable benefits we all know education confers, high on the list is preparation for the world students will enter when their schooling is complete. That task can be tricky.
Technology evolves at such a dizzying rate that we must prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist. The new Common Core curriculum will help students acquire the foundation they need, providing students with the core knowledge and critical thinking skills that will enable them to be agile and able to learn what arises in real time.
Career and technology education continues to play a crucial role as well. Those programs embody a career exploration model that takes teaching and learning to new levels and uses traditional vocational and career programs to elevate academics to even higher standards.
Our county’s ROP/CTE programs continue to fill critical needs in helping students acquire job-related skills of the highest order, while demonstrating concrete uses for academic learning. This approach can be seen bearing fruit countywide.
The strength of ROP/CTE, an acronym for Regional Occupational Programs/Career and Technical Education, has always been its adaptation to the needs of the time. Since the program’s inception decades ago, its virtue has been its linkages and strong partnerships with local businesses and industries. These partners have informed our program regarding current workplace needs, a crucial element in making sure our programs remain cutting-edge. They also reinforce the need for the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom, applying those basics to real-world needs.
Modern times demand this approach. The jobs we envisioned yesterday are being filled today, and our ROP/CTE programs are making sure students have the needed skills through state-of-the-art model programs countywide.
Here’s a quick sampling:
The Graphic Communications/Design Lab at Cabrillo High School in Lompoc is a state-recognized program that has sent many students to the Oakland School of Art and Design, and provided several jobs and internships for Lompoc students. Teacher Scott Schaller has provided outstanding career and technical training and opportunities for his students, while incorporating basic academic training seamlessly into the program. His students learn typography, letterforms, and graphic design. They work on logos, building signs, labels, and a host of modern uses for a traditional art form.
The Dons Net Café at Santa Barbara High School is a nationally recognized Virtual Enterprise program that focuses on ecology and real-world applications of academic learning. Teacher Lee Ann Knodel teaches computer accounting and computer business applications along with virtual enterprise. Her students also help members of the community with their tax forms, using the most up-to-date software applications.
Students of Chip Fenenga, at Santa Ynez High School, use three-dimensional scanning to solve problems and conduct research, connecting with the global effort to preserve historical sites in digital formats. Students in the Environmental and Spatial Technologies Program are the first in the world to use Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging to capture millions of points of data and then create a three-dimensional image of an object. Using that technology on buildings and historical sites can be of particular value in reconstruction should a tragic fire or flood damage the building, helping preserve the cultural heritage for all time.
The Engineering Academy at Dos Pueblos High School has won state, national, and international awards for it robotics program. Director Amir Abo-Shaeer founded the program with a mission of gender equity among the students taking part, making sure the mix of boys and girls remains at 50-50. Robotics programs, which integrate textbook learning with hands-on, project-based applications, are skyrocketing in popularity among students. In fact, robotics programs can be found countywide, including Orcutt and Santa Maria.
ROP courses ranging from vintner programs to automotive repair continue to serve students by merging innovative technology with traditional academic and practical needs.
Innovation and tradition. This is the future. We are very fortunate that it is here, now, in Santa Barbara County, bearing fruit for students every day.