Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolving to support our children

News column

Traditionally, the beginning of a new year is a time for making resolutions. Some of these promises we keep, and others we break, but the simple act of asserting these goals can sometimes help us focus efforts in the right direction.

Resolutions for parents have circulated for years, and they bear repeating:
  • I will always love my children for who they are, not who I want them to be. It’s an important distinction because each child is unique and has special skills and attributes. It’s important to acknowledge those assets, rather than focusing on perceived shortfalls.
  • I will give my child space to grow, to dream, to succeed and even to fail. Without that space, it is very difficult for growth to take place.
  • I will create a loving home environment, regardless of what effort it takes at any given time. This can be hard, because pressures on parents can be overwhelming, but the focus on a loving environment is crucial.
  • When discipline is necessary, I will let my child know that I disapprove of what he does, not who he is. It is a vital message to send to children at all times.
  • I will set limits and help my children find security in the knowledge of what is expected of them. They will not have to guess what is right or wrong.
  • I will make time for all my children and cherish our moments together. Many a senior citizen has voiced regrets over this very issue. Life is complicated — it takes a certain amount of discipline to slow down and cherish those moments with children.
  • I will not burden my children with emotions and problems they are not equipped to deal with.
  • I will encourage my children to experience the world and all its possibilities, taking pains to leave them careful but not fearful. This is difficult but important.
  • I will try to be the kind of person I want my children to be: loving, fair-minded, giving, and hopeful.
It’s a tall order, but these goals are all worth the effort. Each one can make a real difference for children. In fact, let’s resolve together to make 2015 a wonderful year for everyone in our county, young and old alike. Happy new year to all.  

Thanks to business

Radio Commentary

With a new year beginning, I’d like to take this opportunity to say thanks on behalf of all our public schools for all the support received throughout 2014.

First, I’d like to thank the community members who support their local classrooms in so many ways.

Parents volunteer in classrooms. PTA members play invaluable roles at every school. Relatives and friends support local fundraisers, and neighbors pitch in at every turn.

I’d also like to thank our local business community, whose support of our schools continues to be strong and invaluable.

Businesses and local foundations have contributed generously to Computers for Families to ensure that we can address the digital divide for years into the future.

Members of local businesses also help serve as mentors, making themselves available for “job shadow” programs of all sorts. And the Partners in Education alliance, recipient of the California School Boards Association’s prestigious Golden Bell Award, is recognized as being one of the strongest school-business partnership programs in the nation.

Those of us who work in public education feel that what we do is so very important to the future of our community.

But we couldn't maintain the quality of all our programs without the full support of the community we serve.

So please accept my sincere gratitude for helping in ways both large and small to make this community a better place for young people and families. That support is evident at every turn, and it is deeply appreciated.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Radio Commentary

There is great virtue in old-fashioned stick-to-it-ive-ness. ‘Smart’ students don’t always know the answers on tests. But they are resourceful.

When they realize they don’t have enough time or information to give a correct answer — they don’t give up. They give it their best shot.

Here are some ideas you can suggest that your children try the next time they get stuck on a test question:

  • Politely ask the teacher to clarify the question or the kind of answer expected.
  • Skip over the question and allow the sub-conscious mind to work on it. Sometimes this will trigger a thought and help with earlier questions.
  • Rephrase the question.
  • Start writing something — anything — that relates to the topic. Other ideas might start to flow.
  • Replace the question with a related one you can answer. Let the teacher know you’re aware that you’re not answering the question asked, but that you are demonstrating your knowledge. The process might trigger the answer to the original question as well.
  • When you don’t know what something is, write down what it isn’t. This will show you have at least learned something.
  • If there is not enough time to finish, write “Short of time!” and finish the answer in outline form. Sometimes that will earn a student partial credit.

When taking tests, stick-to-it-ive-ness has proven helpful for many students.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Time capsules

Radio Commentary

With 2014 winding down in a few days, it can be fun for families to create a time capsule. It can also provide a practical use for items you might otherwise throw away.

Creating a time capsule is an interesting activity to give children a sense of historical perspective.

Storing a collection of artifacts from the present to be opened some time in the future will give clues to those in the future as to what life was like in our times.

Have each family member select a few things to donate to the cause.

Put a date on the box when your family can open it again. You might even want to bury it somewhere.

Years later, when your children open it, memories will flood back. Or, they might choose to let the time capsule go forever, to be discovered by some future explorers.
The unknown aspects of the future can spark young imaginations and provide encouragement to a wide variety of interests, from science to science fiction.

This project could even start young people on the road to planning goals to achieve by a certain date.

Time capsules provide a real opportunity to channel children’s sense of wonder. They also help bring the concept of history right into your own backyard.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Good health

Radio Commentary

Good health is essential to success in the classroom. It is simply not possible to concentrate as fully as possible if you are not feeling well, no matter what your age.

For this reason, all children should have regular checkups by their doctor. Often, doctors can find and treat a problem that could affect a child’s learning both in the short term and in later years.

Symptoms that seem small or insignificant could be forewarnings of more serious conditions. A trained medical professional will know the difference.

Vision screenings are also essential. A child who cannot see clearly cannot fully understand what is being taught.

Good nutrition is also an important part of good health. Children need to eat a variety of foods each day to maintain healthy bodies.

Good nutrition helps increase resistance to germs and diseases that are more prevalent in places where many young people gather.

The fresher the food, the better. Keeping processed foods to a minimum is always a good idea for young and old alike.

Also, try to help your child choose healthy snacks. Fruit, yogurt, plain popcorn, and carrot sticks are all good choices.

Good health is the first essential ingredient to success in life and in the classroom.

Every effort that is made to help young people in this area is a step toward a higher quality of life and more productive living.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy holidays

Radio Commentary

In this most joyous of holiday seasons, we wish the entire community a world of peace, happiness, and goodwill, all year through.
In the spirit of the season, we hope that everyone will keep in mind the least among us, and reach out a helping hand of support and hope to the children and families that form our larger Santa Barbara neighborhood.

There are so many sayings that cover this spirit: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ And most appropriately for this week, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’

There is a Mexican-American proverb I really like. It states: “Everyone in the world smiles in the same language.”
We have also heard much of the Reverend Martin Luther King’s famous statement:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Much is changing locally and in our nation and world. We see that all around us, in ways both large and small.

As we witness and live through these changes together, we send our best to all in our community, along with all good wishes for a holiday season and new year brimming with hopes fulfilled.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ed in our community

Radio Commentary

America’s schools are teaching young people how to succeed in a complex and ever-changing world.
They are helping young people look beyond the problems and find new opportunities.

The world is different, and so are our schools. In fact, schools are being transformed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Many new techniques and new tools, like technology, are changing the way educators teach and students learn.

This is important if we are to compete in a global economy by using best practices to conquer modern challenges.

While schools are changing, community support and parental involvement remain key to the success of today’s students.

This is because America’s schools are everybody’s business. Their success is our nation’s best weapon against all future threats, be they economic, social, military, or strategic.

Take some time to visit a local school. See what’s going on.
Volunteer to help.
There’s no doubt that the future of our democracy and the health of our economy depend on what is happening in today’s classrooms.

Your support and assistance will make a tremendous difference.

Let’s all resolve to help.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Easing stress

Radio Commentary

Here are some good tips for reducing stress in your family.

First, show affection! Let your children know you love them. Hug them often.

Nurture your children’s self-esteem. Listen to their needs and help them develop their own problem-solving skills.

Encourage their interests and abilities. Treat them as individuals with their own special qualities.

Give your children some of your undivided attention every day.

Give them a chance to talk about both the happy AND the stressful events in their lives.

Some every-day concerns that can cause stress for children are school pressures, alienation, and the demands that they succeed at everything — school, sports, music, dancing, or other activities.

Show your children you understand their concerns and take them seriously.

Have weekly family meetings to discuss family activities, routines, and problems.

Give everyone a chance to speak and don’t allow angry or negative feedback. Work at problem-solving rather than confrontation.

Use humor or empathy — rather than orders, anger, or sarcasm — when asking your children to do something for you.

These seem like small steps, but they can really make a big difference.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Class participation

Radio Commentary

Everyone benefits when students participate in class discussions at school.

Teachers enjoy lively interactions. It means that they have struck a chord with an interesting subject. For students, lively discussions can engage them in the material in new and interesting ways.

For that reason, parents should encourage their children to be inquisitive. It gives them the self-confidence to raise their hands in class and to ask questions.

Classrooms where honest, give-and-take discussions take place are wonderful learning environments.

To help nurture class discussion, it's important that parents react positively to questions from their children at home.

Don’t be impatient. Engage your children in conversations about what they are learning and questions they have.

Also, if students really get into the subject matter and think of a variety of related questions, it helps them better understand the material.

Remind shy students that everyone feels some fear about being called upon to give an answer in class. Your children are not alone if they feel this way. But they should not let this stop them from trying.

Class participation is a common part of school life, and it can translate positively when it comes to life beyond school.

Give your children the best chance to succeed and to learn by encouraging them to take an active role.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Santa Barbara High School’s Dons Net Café honored as 2014 top-rated nonprofit

News release

Dons Net Café has been honored with a prestigious award by GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews about nonprofit organizations. Dons Net Café was part of the inaugural group to qualify for the year.

“We are excited to be named a Top-Rated 2014 Nonprofit,” says Amazing Grace Llanos, CEO of the Dons Net Café. “We are proud of our accomplishments, which include the 21st year as a top rated free tax site through the IRS VITA program, and the formation of 10 other student-run ventures that all ‘do some good in the world,’ giving at least 5,500 hours yearly to the Santa Barbara community.” The Top-Rated Nonprofit award was based on the large number of positive reviews that Dons Net Café received — reviews written by volunteers, mentors, and clients.

People posted their positive, personal experience with the nonprofit. John Trotti of Forester Communications wrote, “Of the many benefits of the program, the one that I see as most important is its promotion of citizenship...the aggregation of an entire range of attitudes and behaviors that are the key to success in a society that values the individual and individual achievement. Its foundation lies in presenting its participants with challenges that relate academic pursuits with real world actions within a team-based framework...the lifeblood of the free enterprise system.”

“Savvy donors want to see the impact of their donations more than ever,” said Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits, “People with direct experience with Dons Net Café have voted that the organization is making a real difference.”

About GreatNonprofits

GreatNonprofits is the leading site for donors and volunteers to find reviews and ratings of nonprofits. Reviews on the site influence 30 million donation decisions a year. Visit for more information.

About Dons Net Café — Media Contact

The Dons Net Café, a Regional Occupational Program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is a group of 11 student-run businesses that represents a 21-year commitment to inspire students to create positive social and environmental change through ethical commerce and service learning. The main aspect of the Dons Net Café is “Doin’ Some Good in the World,” by following the teachings of Dr. Jane Goodall to benefit students, people in general, the environment, and/or animals. Further information is available by contacting

Joyful child advice

Radio Commentary

The Joyful Child Foundation provides important safety advice for young children. It’s a good idea for parents to go over these items with young members of the family.

Advice from the foundation includes:

  • Big people should never ask you to go with them without letting you ask your parents if it’s okay.
  • Big people should not look at you without your clothes unless your parents say it’s okay, like at the doctor’s office.
  • Big people should not tickle or touch your body’s private parts — the places covered by a bathing suit or underwear.
  • Big people should not tell you to keep secrets or say they will hurt you or anyone else if you tell.
  • Big people should not ask you to help them find things like lost pets. They should get help from other big people.
  • Big people should not take your picture or give you presents without asking for your parent’s permission.
  • If anyone makes you feel scared or hurts you, YELL, SCREAM, RUN and TELL a grown-up you trust — a parent, teacher or principal.

This advice is important for every child. It can provide peace of mind for all involved if children are well-trained in these concepts.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Partnerships make the difference

News column

Partnerships were on display at the annual business appreciation breakfast of the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council recently, demonstrating what takes place when businesses join hands with education to make a real difference in the lives of young people countywide.
The annual Computer Connections distribution at the breakfast provided eight area students with new computers. In September and October, 10 computers had been provided, and over the past 10 years, the program awarded more than 200 computers to young people who otherwise would be on the wrong side of the digital divide that separates students with access to technology from those without.
In modern times, such tools are essential to the learning process and to the workforce. The research opportunities, the connections made through email, and the chance to take part in online learning can no longer be duplicated through any other medium. Students need Internet skills for schoolwork and for workforce preparation as well. Young people without those skills and tools will be at a real disadvantage in an ever-more-wired world.
The Computer Connections program, a model partnership with many area businesses, including Santa Maria Energy, Wells Fargo Bank, and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, therefore makes a real difference in young lives. In the South County, the Computers for Families program, another major partnership, helps bridge that divide as well. This is enlightened self-interest on the part of all our business partners — by investing in our students they help secure an educated, informed, and skilled workforce and consumer base.

At the SMVIEC awards breakfast, each north county school district superintendent selected a company, individual, or nonprofit organization for special recognition, in light of outstanding efforts to support education. The broad range of honorees this year included:  Altrusa International Foundation of Santa Maria, Assistance League of Santa Barbara, Colette Hadley of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara,  Del Taco #833, long-time educator and master teacher Georgia Schrager, Plantel Nurseries, and Rabobank. The diversity and range of honorees underscores the breadth and depth of partnerships that abound.

These organizations, institutions, and individuals, along with scores upon scores of others honored at the program, provided funding, program support, and mentoring opportunities that will truly change young lives.

It is not possible to overstate the positive impact of these partners and all those countywide who pitch in to help students and schools.

I have always believed that the strength that comes through partnership cannot be matched by any other individual effort. That is why my office strives to form and nurture partnerships in all aspects of the programs we provide to students. Partnerships are the central thread that runs through the fabric of all we do countywide. Those partnerships create a synergy that benefits students, teachers, schools, and programs.

We salute all those businesses, large and small, who provide resources or support that makes a difference in the lives of children. Partnerships are key. In this most loving and giving of seasons, we thank all our partners for their generosity of spirit.

Tips for self-esteem

Radio Commentary

Study after study shows that students who have a basic level of self-confidence perform better in the classroom.

They are more willing to take part in discussions and offer opinions. They are less hesitant to ask for help when they need it.

These are all important to school success.

Here are some self-esteem building tips for parents to help cultivate those traits in their children.

The suggestions all involve “accentuating the positive.”

• Give plenty of love and hugs. Children thrive on it.

The opposite is also true: Never physically or mentally hurt your child. The wounds go deeper than you think and are longer lasting than they seem.

• If both parents work, arrange the best child care possible. If your child is alone, provide safety and activity rules that are to be followed without fail. Whenever possible, avoid changing childcare arrangements.

• Be a confident role model. Children need parents to set the pace. Shore up your own self-esteem — but avoid having your children feel that they could never rise to your lofty level.

• Place a value on education by providing quiet time for homework, and help out when necessary. Talk about school, and show support by keeping your school appointments and by attending school events.

All these actions help children feel good about who they are and what they do.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Find the positive

Radio Commentary

Negativity appears everywhere in media reports, because conflict makes news.

Violence and negativity also appear in movies, games, and music videos, mostly because the manufacturers consider it entertaining — and because they are rewarded financially by producing this sort of content.

This negative bombardment can give a false impression to young people that the world around them is not very positive.

For this reason, it’s important to find time to talk with children about good things.

Focus especially on what is positive in their neighborhood and their school.
Positive stories surround us if we make a point of looking for them – neighbors who’ve helped neighbors, people who support worthy causes, and so forth.

It’s also very clear from the research that developing a positive attitude in school-age children is important to success in the classroom.

In fact, hearing positive news can help your child feel good about school in general and schoolwork in particular.

Make it a special point to share your enthusiasm about students who help out and make a difference in the community.
By holding up those young people as a model, your children may then strive to be one of them.

That’s how the chain of compassion begins, and that’s how we can help pass it along for future generations. 

Rotary of Santa Barbara honors elementary teacher

News release
April Van Wickle

The Downtown Rotary Club of Santa Barbara selected April Van Wickle as its outstanding elementary teacher of the year. Van Wickle teaches at Washington Elementary School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Since 1986, the club has honored outstanding teachers from South Coast schools each year. It awards a high school, junior high, elementary, and special education teacher with a certificate and a $1,000 check to spend on classroom needs.

Van Wickle was recognized at the club’s luncheon meeting Dec. 12.

“This kind of continuing support for local educators is especially meaningful and rewarding,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the recognition with the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. “Showcasing the exemplary efforts of classroom teachers makes a special impact on students and their schools. The annual Rotary awards provide recognition and resources for outstanding teachers to enhance the classroom experience.”

“I have been impressed with April Van Wickle from the moment I met her. April is an amazing teacher and thoughtful colleague,” said Washington Elementary School Principal Sierra Loughridge. “It is a joy to be in her class. Her enthusiasm for learning and her own curiosity are infectious.

“April inspires her students to read, write, calculate, and explore. She engages all students. As a result, their academic abilities and social development are burgeoning. Her class is inclusive, active, and happy. She purposefully prepares lessons, communicates effectively with parents, and is a problem solver.

“Under her watch students are safe, valued, and learning. It is an honor and privilege to nominate her for this outstanding teacher award. Her hard work and dedication are truly appreciated and she is everyone's favorite teacher. Thank you, Mrs. Van Wickle, for all you have done for so many little Wildcats!”

“I sincerely believe in a child-centered approach to teaching that honors every student,” Van Wickle said. “I enjoy establishing a relationship with each student, helping them discover their strengths. I hope to help them find their motivation to succeed. I enjoy keeping current with educational topics, like brain research, learning, and of course, common core. I am happy that I still enjoy teaching, after almost 30 years.”

"Everyone loves April and after many years as a teacher she is still in love with teaching,” said Brian Sarvis, chairman of the Teacher Recognition Committee of the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara.

Van Wickle has been an elementary teacher, mostly second grade, but has taught various combinations for 25 years. She graduated from Cal State, Long Beach, majoring in Educational Psychology, with a Biology emphasis, and started her teaching career in Long Beach, teaching third and fourth grade for three years.

The Rotary Club of Santa Barbara meets at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays. Recipients of the club’s Teacher Recognition Awards are made with the assistance of the Teacher Programs and Support Department of the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

For more information, visit or

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fellowship of humans

Radio Commentary

The 25 lessons for life written by Marian Wright Edelman could be a syllabus for everyone’s schooling.

As president of the Children’s Defense Fund, she wrote the book for her own children, but they truly stand the test of time for all.

One lesson, for example, cuts to the heart of many of our nation’s problems.
She writes: “Remember, and help America remember, that the fellowship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society.”

She writes to her children: “Be decent and fair and insist that others be so in your presence.”

She asks how long our nation will take before it understands that its ability to compete and lead in the world is bound as tightly to its poor and nonwhite children, as it is to its white and privileged ones.

When it comes to building a decent and just America for all our children, Edelman says:
“We are not all equally guilty, but we are all equally responsible.”

Certainly these are important words for all children to hear and absorb, and important thoughts for the adults who impart this powerful message.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Improving teens’ futures

Radio Commentary

George Gallup Jr. polled American teenagers for nearly 50 years, helping his nation keep a pulse on young attitudes. In his surveys, teens reported that they need guidance, structure, and the proper values if they are to be strong leaders for our country’s future.

Gallup cited two trends as especially troubling:  First, America is polarizing into a land of rich and poor, so the number of children at risk is growing at a shocking rate.

Secondly, juvenile crime is rising and could be even more random and brutal in the future.

He had some suggestions:

  • Educate young people about alcohol abuse. Virtually every major societal problem has an alcohol component, he said.
  • Put constant pressure on TV and movie producers to make movies that uplift rather than degrade humanity.
  • Put character first in schools and homes, or else colleges will turn out brilliant but dishonest people.
  • Invest in the lives of children in direct, hands-on ways, such as mentoring. 
  • Pay attention to matters of right and wrong. Youngsters with a value system tend to be happier and better adjusted than their counterparts, and more likely to keep out of trouble, he said.

His suggestions continue to make good sense.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Parent volunteers

Radio Commentary

Parents everywhere are finding that involvement as a school volunteer improves student achievement.

This happens whether parents volunteer in the classroom or simply behind the scenes.

Here are some tips for volunteering for your school:

  • Be honest in your approach and attitude toward students.
  • Be patient. If students are having trouble with a subject, they don’t need additional pressure. They need your patience, support, and encouragement. 
  • Be flexible in responding to the needs of students. Different students need different kinds of approaches. Try to figure out what approach will work best.
  • Be friendly. A smile and a ‘thank you’ can accomplish miracles. 
  • And be respectful. Treat students in the same manner you would like to be treated.

An effective volunteer is also regular in attendance, appreciative of the effort of the school to educate all children, and willing to be discreet, sincere, dedicated, and punctual.

These very basic approaches make a world of difference with children.

Sometimes the support and help of a volunteer can make all the difference.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wheelchair etiquette

Radio Commentary

Both inside and outside the classroom, it’s important to overcome the myths and stereotypes that many have about those with disabilities.

It’s important to remember that every young person and adult has unique talents, skills, abilities, and inabilities.
Here are some bits of wheelchair etiquette, for example, that teachers try to practice in the classroom.

  • Don’t hang or lean on a person’s wheelchair when talking. Never pat the person on the head or shoulder.
  • Never move a wheelchair or crutches out of the reach of the person who uses them.
  • Ask someone in a wheelchair if he or she would like help. 
  • Never push the wheelchair without first getting permission.
  • Speak directly to the person. If the conversation becomes extended, pull up a chair and sit down at eye level.
  • Don't pet guide dogs or other service animals — they are working.
  • And maybe most importantly, remember that being in a wheelchair does not mean someone is “sick.”

When adults demonstrate these behaviors, they help children overcome stereotypes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Local Leaders - Erik Frost

Erik Frost
Santa Barbara Foundation

Local Leaders - Janet Garufis

Janet Garufis
Montecito Bank and Trust

Talking with Teachers - Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson
Montecito Union School

Cirone on Schools - Katrina Rogers

Katrina Rogers
Fielding Graduate University

Best things are free

Radio Commentary

Holiday time can be a loving time and, at the same time, the most materialistic period that our children go through each year.
Sometimes it’s good to reinforce that the most important things in life do not always involve the exchange of dollars.

It’s so easy for a parent to reach for some money or a piece of candy as a reward for good grades or extra effort.

But there are much better ways to show gratitude and pride. The National PTA insists that “hugs, kisses, and compliments are worth more than anything money can buy.”

In fact, some of the best incentives don’t cost any money at all, but continue to reap rewards year after year.
You’d be surprised how much more staying power hugs have, or pats on the back, smiles, or extra attention.
Reading together could be another reward. It’s a gift that brings you close to your children.

Also, compliments have much more impact when they are given face to face, or said to others loud enough so that the child can hear them. It can also be effective to hold family testimonial dinners for children.
The successes can cover any special contribution — fixing the DVD player, helping someone in your neighborhood, or meeting a goal. Be specific about the good things happening in your child’s life.

It’s never too early to underscore for children that many of the best things in life are not “things” at all, but attitudes and actions that show kindness, concern, and appreciation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Armchair critics

Radio Commentary

In attempting to help children become wise to the ways of television, it can help if parents encourage them to become armchair critics.

As a start, one important principle to stress is that the TV world is not the real world. This seems so obvious to us as adults that sometimes we forget to point it out to young people.

Children — particularly those under age seven — are especially vulnerable to the illusion that the events portrayed on television are real.

According to developmental research, it’s not until about the second grade that children develop the intellectual ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is imaginary.
At that point, discussions should take place about what is being viewed.

Parents can learn to casually “pull out” bits of information about laugh tracks, and the mashed potatoes that masquerade as ice cream in commercials. Pointing out these techniques helps break the video spell.

Showing how these images are manipulated helps persuade children to be skeptical about what they see on the small screen.
In turn, being skeptical cuts down on the manipulation that media messages can exert on young people.

So give your young “armchair critics” the ammunition they need to dissect media messages and understand how advertising, cartoons, and other programming can exert great influence.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Joy of reading

Radio Commentary

A Columbia University professor inspired a generation of teachers to help young children become better writers.

One of her books is a parents’ guide to raising lifelong learners, and it offers some very good advice.

Her basic counsel is that all things come to those who read. If children read avidly and read a lot, they will write better, spell better, they will know more, and they will care more.

For parents, it is critical not only to support reading, but also to do it the appropriate way.

She paints two different pictures to illustrate her point. In the first scenario, the parent asks a child arriving home from school if she has any homework. The child says, “Yes, I need to read.”

The parent says, “It’s good to get your homework done right away. Why don’t you go to your room, sit at your desk, and do your reading? It really matters. That’s how you get ahead — by reading.”

That’s one way to support reading. Here’s another: The parent greets the child by saying, “You’ve had a really long day at school. I bet you’re ready for time to rest and snuggle. Why don’t we each get our books and read here on the sofa? I’m in the middle of mine now.”

 “I don’t know that book you’re reading. What’s it like? You are so lucky to have teachers point you to great books like that.”

The professor says that though both approaches support reading, the second conveys the message that reading is one of life’s great gifts.

And that can make all the difference.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Solving problems

Radio Commentary

Decision-making and problem solving are important skills to teach your child.

Talk with children about challenges they encounter. Helping them create a list of possible responses to a variety of situations can be a great learning tool.

Set up “what if” scenarios when children tell you how they might handle or deal with a certain situation or problem. Brainstorm strategies and options as you show them how to take steps to tackle an obstacle.

It will allow them to feel confident about solving a problem or making a difficult decision.

Be sure to follow through when you are confronted with a problem and show children the approach you use. Tell them about the tough decisions you have to make.

Realizing that everyone faces similar experiences makes children feel less frightened and helps them become better prepared.

When you’ve handled something you never thought you could, you really feel stronger and more self-confident. This is what really builds self-esteem.

Young people who experience these feelings are much more willing to face new challenges with confidence.

Remember: Don’t just handle problems for your children or make their decisions for them.

Teach them the decision-making skills they’ll need to solve problems on their own. This is an important skill that will last a lifetime.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Get involved

Radio Commentary

Any teacher will tell you: Children whose parents take an active role in their education usually do better in school, and seem to enjoy learning, and school, more than those who do not have much parental support.

 They improve their skills and attitudes, develop self-confidence, and are generally better prepared for the future.

The difference comes from the message the child gets that the whole family is moving together toward the same goal.

The child gets the idea that education is important and what he or she is doing is valued.

Here are some suggestions for ways that parents can stay involved with their children’s schools throughout the school year.
  • Continue to build a good relationship with your children’s teachers, the school’s principal, the guidance counselors, and other staff members at your children’s school. 
  • Take part in school activities: Be sure to go to Open Houses. Attend all parent-teacher conferences. Volunteer as an aide. Chaperone field trips. Join the Parent-Teacher Organization at your campus.
In short, do all you can to let the school know you support their mission and you’d like to help.
  • Help your children make the most of their studies by making your home a place of learning. 
  • Show your child that you value education.
Stay involved! It can be one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences you’ll have. And as we all know, your children will be the beneficiaries.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rotary of Santa Barbara honors special education teacher

News release

From left to right:  Brian Sarvis, Leslie MacDougall,
Steve Keithley, Cathy Christman, and Casie Killgore
The Downtown Rotary Club of Santa Barbara selected Leslie MacDougall as its outstanding special education teacher of the year. MacDougall teaches at Franklin Elementary School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Since 1986, the club has honored outstanding teachers from South Coast schools each year. It awards a high school, junior high, elementary, and special education teacher with a certificate and a $1,000 check to spend on classroom needs.

MacDougall was recognized at the club’s luncheon meeting Oct. 24.

“This kind of continuing support for local educators is priceless,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the recognition with the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. “Showcasing the exemplary efforts of classroom teachers makes a special impact on students and their schools. The annual Rotary awards provide recognition and resources for outstanding teachers to enhance the classroom experience.”

“The Rotary Club of Santa Barbara is committed to supporting the Santa Barbara County Education Office, and honoring excellent local teachers like Leslie MacDougall,” said Brian Sarvis, chairman of the Teacher Recognition Committee of the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. “Rotary of Santa Barbara and Rotary International members know that educators like Leslie MacDougall are shaping our local youth into successful citizens who will be our future community leaders. Her passion for education is an inspiration to all in our great community.”

“Leslie is an outstanding educator,” said Casie Killgore principal of Franklin Elementary School. “She is always seeking opportunities to take her craft to the next level. In addition, Leslie is always collaborating with outside organizations to provide a richer experience for all her students. Leslie cares deeply about her students and makes a point of contacting each family at the beginning of school to introduce herself and inform the parents/guardians that she is always available to support their son or daughter.

“Leslie has volunteered to be on several school committees, which shows her commitment to ensure that all students, not just her students, at Santa Barbara Junior High School will have an outstanding experience academically, socially and emotionally,” her principal added. “I feel very honored to work with Leslie and I feel grateful that she is providing an incredible educational experience for the students at Franklin Elementary School.”

“My educational belief is that we must have high expectations, use multi-sensory techniques consistently, and always teach with a sense of humor,” Leslie said. When asked to describe herself as an educator she replied, “relentless.”

“It is that persistence that is the key to her success,” said Brian Sarvis. “Leslie uses all of her resources to get students to learn, and is simply relentless, building on their own successes until they view themselves as accomplished learners.”

MacDougall has been a special education teacher for students in grades 2-5 at Franklin Elementary School for 14 years. Prior to her work there, she worked in both the Hope School District and the Santa Barbara Unified School District in the areas of speech, art, and special education.

She and her husband Peter are parents of three and have 10 grandchildren.

The Rotary Club of Santa Barbara meets at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays. Recipients of the club’s Teacher Recognition Awards are made with the assistance of the Teacher Programs and Support Department of the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

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Ethic of caring

Radio Commentary

An ethic of caring is worth fostering among our children if we want to live in a society that is compassionate and kind.

Research confirms what common sense tells us: the more young people value compassion, kindness, and helping people, the more likely they are to actually help out when the need arises.

That’s why it is important to promote values of caring in our communities, our schools, our families, and our congregations.

This is especially the case these days, when the media messages that bombard our young people are filled with conflicting values — violence, celebrity worship, materialism, and very little of the old-fashioned “sweet” stories young people used to hear and see at every turn.

It is unlikely a young person will develop caring values unless he or she is continually exposed to adults who model and reward them.
This includes parents and teachers, as well as a broad array of other adults and role models as well.

What’s more, it is critical that these values be reinforced in young people’s everyday lives in order to override the competing messages that surround them through music, videos, games, and television.

Though we live in a time when the country appears polarized and fragmented, the goal of fostering an ethic of caring is not impossible to achieve.

It will take a concerted effort among those who value that outcome. It is clear we ALL have our work cut out for us if we want to succeed. I, for one, feel deeply that it is worth the effort. 

Malala wins Nobel prize, inspires us all

Newspaper column

At age 17, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest individual to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She earned it for her outspoken and brave advocacy of education for young girls, particularly in her native Pakistan.

At the United Nations in July last year she said, “One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”

She first came to international attention two years ago. She was traveling home in a school bus in northwest Pakistan when Taliban gunmen boarded the bus and shot her in the head point-blank. Her “crime” was defying the Taliban’s ban on female education, and condemning their bombing of schools.

Her public campaigning, on a blog and through media appearances, advocated the rights of young girls to go to school. She had waged her campaign for four years, since she was 11, despite repeated threats to silence her.

"I don't know why, but hearing I was being targeted did not worry me. It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day," she wrote in a book published last year.

Asked by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last year why she felt so strongly that she was the one who had to speak out she said, “Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government, to the army, that they would help us … for them to help me? Why don’t I raise my voice?  Why don’t we speak up for our rights?”

We can all take inspiration from those words.

In a BBC interview that same year she said, “I think that the best way to solve problems and fight [injustice] is through dialogue … for me the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is just a simple thing: educate the next generation.”

Asked in a CBC radio interview what she would tell the Taliban gunman who shot her she said, “I would tell him shoot me but first listen to me. And I would tell him that education is my right and education is the right of your daughter and son as well. And I’m speaking up for them. I’m speaking up for peace.”

She added: “They only shot a body but they cannot shoot my dreams.”

After first being shot she was treated in Pakistan and then sent by air ambulance, provided by the United Arab Emirates, to Britain where her skull was repaired with a titanium plate and some of her hearing was restored. Because she couldn’t return to Pakistan, she and her parents and younger brothers stayed in England.

It’s clear that by trying to quiet her voice, the Taliban helped amplify it instead.

She told one awards assembly, “You are helping me to bring awareness to the world of my cause, to which I have dedicated myself. Nothing is more important for me than the right of every child to be educated.”

She has used her platform well. She became a global voice for the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram. She helped Syrian refugee children cross the border to safety. The fund she established made a long-term commitment to girls’ education through the Clinton Global Initiative. She accomplished all this, and much more, in the same year.

Her story is powerful and her message is simple. Perhaps she summed it up best when she said, “If we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.”

Those are inspiring words from an inspiring young woman who has now become a Nobel laureate.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Santa Barbara County Education Office promotes 2nd Annual Hour of Code

News release

In collaboration with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, all 20 school districts in Santa Barbara County have signed up to participate in the 2nd Annual Hour of Code during the week of Dec. 8 to Dec. 14. The Hour of Code is a global event involving millions of students in over 180 countries.

The Hour of Code was created by as part of their efforts to promote computer science education. Self-guided tours are available at Students and teachers can implement the tutorial without much background in computer science or coding. Celebrities from Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai to President Obama are participating in this campaign to get younger and more diverse students interested in the growing field of computer science. There are now more jobs in this sector than in all of the other STEM fields combined.

Information on how your school or family can participate, along with supporting resources and videos, can be found at, or by contacting David Bernier, Coordinator of Instructional Support and Technology Integration at the Santa Barbara County Education Office at or 964-4710, ext. 5348.

Core values

Radio Commentary

Dwight Moody once said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”
In the current national climate of political attack and shrillness, it seems more important than ever to make sure our young people acquire the core values of honesty and decency.
This idea is not new. Several years ago major corporate employers rated the five employee traits that are most and least important to them.

The highest rankings were all “work ethic” items: arriving on time, not stealing, putting in a full day’s work, being reliable.
Interestingly, the lowest-rated items were academic background, knowledge and experience.

Author Rushworth Kidder reinforced these findings through his own research. He pointed to troublesome indications that adults’ ethics have been moving in the wrong direction.

Today we can cite hedge fund managers and a broad range of banking and white-collar fraud.

The good news is that a large portion of the public has noticed and seems to care.

Several schools throughout our county have been using constructive programs that provide values education.

The Anti-Defamation League’s programs, “A World of Difference,” and “No Place for Hate,” are excellent, and the Beyond Tolerance Center is a resource hub for educators at every level. The common thread is that important values are selected, discussed, and practiced.

No single institution is responsible for the challenges that face our youth and adults today, and no one institution can solve the problems in isolation. I applaud our public schools for becoming an increasingly large part of the effort. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


Radio Commentary

Feeling safe helps children feel confident that they can meet new people, try new tasks, and take on new responsibilities.

As children grow, they also need time to explore their own power and abilities. This means parents need to let go of some control and help their children take “healthy risks.”

How do parents help their children learn what it means to be more self-sufficient? Think about these questions:

How do your children work through their fears or doubts? How often do you do things with your children rather than for them?

What do your children do that makes you laugh or feel proud? Do they know it?

To help empower your children, tell them often that you appreciate what they do around the house, at school, and for friends.

When your children tell you about problems, confirm their feelings and help them think through solutions.

Encourage children to take new roles at school or try new activities that will be enjoyable but not stressful.

Let children take full responsibility for some chores. When you do your own chores, do them with good cheer even if they aren’t fun. Your children will learn from your example.