Thursday, December 31, 2015

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 2015.

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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Vision for the New Year

By Bill Cirone

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to take stock, and to share our visions for the year that is about to take shape.

This is a good time to restate my personal vision for children in Santa Barbara County. We do not know what 2016 will hold for them, but I am confident most members of our community share this vision for all our young people.
We envision children growing up in good health, with a zest for learning and living.
We see them with a spark inside that makes them want to share their talents with those less fortunate, and work for the benefit of others, simply because it is the right thing to do.

We see children who are free of fear, free from abuse, free of drugs, and free from prejudice.

We see children who are free to reach beyond their circumstances, whatever those might be, and to join a society that welcomes their contributions on the job, in the community, and in the voting booth.

And we see a community willing to work together to bring all our children closer to that dream.

Indeed, community cooperation is vital to helping our children reach their full potential. I would like to thank the individuals and organizations 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.

Many local businesses also provide steadfast support of our schools. That support continues to be strong and invaluable.

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

Local business people also help serve as mentors, making themselves available for “job shadow” programs of all sorts. And the Partners in Education alliance, a past-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.

Parents, teachers, and organizations in Santa Barbara County have a long and distinguished history of forming a circle of responsibility around our children.

It is only with the full support of the community we serve that we are able to maintain the quality of the programs that are designed to improve children’s lives in meaningful ways.

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.

Happy New Year to young and old alike.

Vision 2016

Radio Commentary

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to take stock, and share our visions for the year that is about to take shape.

This is a good time to restate my personal vision for children in Santa Barbara County. We don’t know what 2016 will hold for them, but I’m sure most members of our community share this vision for all our young people.

We envision children growing up in good health, with a zest for learning and living.

We see them with a spark inside that makes them want to share their talents with those less fortunate, and work for the good of the order, just because it's the right thing to do.

We see children who are free of fear, free of abuse, free of drugs, free of prejudice.

We see children who are free to reach beyond their circumstances, whatever those might be, and to join a society that welcomes their contributions on the job, in the community, and in the voting booth.

And we see a community willing to work together to bring all our children closer to that dream.

If we all work together, and resist pointing the fingers of blame, we can form a circle of responsibility around our children.

We can make sure that our efforts are focused on improving the conditions of children in our community, and work together with that goal always in mind.

Happy New Year to young and old alike.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Post holiday stress

Radio Commentary

Few times of the year match the winter holidays for the sheer joy and excitement felt by young people.
Children tend to get excited by the presents, special food, and even the change of schedule from the everyday routine.

Then it’s all over. The post-holiday letdown can sometimes escalate into post-holiday stress among young and old alike.
If this seems to be the case with your own children, encourage them to talk about their feelings. Give them a chance to draw or write about what might be troubling them.

Reassure them that these feelings are normal for everyone.
You should not be surprised if children exhibit some regressive or aggressive behavior. Try not to get alaramed or overly critical if it does appear.

Remember that this type of behavior is a normal reaction following periods of great excitement.

With your love and support, your children will do just fine.

In fact, it is often a very important lesson to learn that life has peaks and valleys in terms of excitement and happiness. Things can’t always be perfect or thrilling.

It’s both the ups and the downs that lend texture to life, and ultimately lead to wisdom. It’s a hard lesson for children to learn, but an important one.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Wipe slate clean

Radio Commentary

Here's a great tip for parents who want to help their children do better as school resumes after the holidays: Begin the new year with a clean slate.

Simply erase anything bad that has happened up to this point.

If your children have faced challenges with studying or doing schoolwork, and if that has been a source of conflict, take time out to offer a “peace treaty,” or give them amnesty.

Have both parties agree to allow those memories to fade away into the past and start fresh.

It might be helpful to meet with your child's teacher and ask him or her to do the same thing.

Coming at a challenge from a different perspective, or without a lot of baggage, can lead to better performance and increased motivation.

Children, like adults, must learn to let go of negative thoughts or experiences and start over with new enthusiasm and a can-do attitude.

There is a feeling of renewal that comes from letting go of previous difficulties, and making peace with the challenges that have to be faced.

It helps create an attitude that makes real progress possible in the future. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

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.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Parent tips

Radio Commentary

By cultivating the right attitudes and good work habits, parents can help make sure that their children are able to take advantage of all that is offered at school in the second half of the year.

Make sure they know that school is interesting and important, and that parents are valued partners.

Be prepared. Know the school rules. Know what type of homework is assigned, how often, and how long it should take to complete. This information helps your child prepare for each day.

Talk with your child’s teachers throughout the year. They need your help and have as much to learn from you as you do from them.

Attend events at your child’s school.

Talk often with your child about what is happening at school. Ask questions about schoolwork, teachers, and activities.

This will show that you really are interested and really do consider school important.

Establish and maintain a good learning environment at home. Read with your child. Check homework every night, serving as a coach.
Ask teachers for advice. They know about child development and they spend a lot of time with your child.
Be sure to give teachers information such as changes in family circumstances, illness, or a death that could upset your child’s learning. 

Teachers can better address a child’s needs if they know the circumstances that might be affecting behavior. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Avoid hollow threats

Radio Commentary

Parenting is a challenge — mostly because children seem determined to make it so.

When a parent is trying to get a child to do something — or stop doing something — it is often easy to issue a threat.

Some threats, delivered in the “heat of battle,” can be counterproductive and undermine credibility:

“If you don’t come take your bath right now, we are not going to Disneyland this weekend.”  Or, “If you don’t stop bothering your sister, I’m going to give away your new toys.”

It’s easy to think, “I’d never say that” — but it’s a rare parent who has never gone that route under stress.

The problem is that children are very good at sensing insincerity, and they know when a threat is so wild that you will not follow through. That makes the process ineffective. It simply doesn’t work.

Stating consequences can be a very effective means of discipline, especially if there is a logical relation between the response and the behavior, and if the consequences are carried out exactly as described.

The bottom line is that it’s very important for children to learn that you mean what you say. If a consequence is credible, and if you follow through, the behavior stands a good chance of changing in the direction you are hoping for.

Make yourself clear when explaining consequences, and always follow through. That’s the best advice of all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Schools of Thought with Bill Cirone

Donna Barranco Fisher
Story Teller Children's Center

Local Leaders with Bill Cirone

Dr. Carola Matera
California State University, Channel Islands

Innovations in Education

January 2016

Children and second-hand smoke

Radio Commentary

An estimated 39 percent of U.S. households with one or more children under age six have at least one smoker in their midst, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you are among those who smoke and find it hard to stop, bear in mind that parental smoking is a serious health hazard for children.
Small lungs fill quickly, and concentrations of poisons affect them more potently.

Children who live in homes with smokers cannot avoid inhaling cigarette smoke. The second-hand nature of the smoke does nothing to diminish the dangers.
As a result, these children run a higher risk of developing asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and middle-ear disease. Studies show they also have more difficulty getting over common colds.

Also, of the 4,000-plus chemicals in environmental tobacco smoke, at least 40 are known to cause cancer.

If you would like to quit smoking but can’t seem to do it, contact your physician. Many low-cost programs can help.

Never allow smoking inside your home. If another member of your household is a smoker, have him go outside — and leave all ashes and cigarette butts outside as well.

And remember:  It is illegal to smoke in an automobile if children are riding along. The confinement increases the potency and the risk of harm.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Time capsules

Radio Commentary

With 2015 winding down, 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 18, 2015

Childhood stress

Radio Commentary

Many adults think of childhood as a happy, stress-free time. However, experts in child development say that in many ways childhood is as stressful as any other age.

Young people also report that stress can make some of their days miserable. Fortunately, the following activities have been found to help stressed-out children at any age:

Help them get exercise. Learning good exercise patterns can help them release stress.

Teach them to breathe deeply and slowly. This can help them calm down if they feel themselves tightening up.

Have them get involved in an activity that is just for fun.

And, probably the most effective stress-reducer for children is for parents to reduce the stress in their own lives. Studies show that the ways parents deal with stress has a strong influence on their children’s ability to cope.

Parents can model good coping skills by keeping themselves in control at all times.

Parents should set aside time every day to do a stress-reducing activity with their children, like taking a walk, gardening together, playing cards, or cooking.

And parents can help relieve children’s stress just by listening. Children need to be able to tell someone when they are worried, scared, or angry. 

These steps can go a long way toward helping children manage stress.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Santa Barbara Rotary Club recognizes Nicole Caiazza

News release

Left to right: Steven Keithley, SBCEO; Jo Anne Caines,
 La Cumbre JHS; teacher Nicole Caiazza, La Cumbre JHS;
 Richard Meyers, Rotarian
On Dec. 11, The Rotary Club of Santa Barbara recognized La Cumbre Junior High School teacher Nicole Caiazza for her extraordinary contributions to public education. It is the second of four such awards the Rotarians will present to area educators this academic year. Caiazza teaches seventh grade English Language Arts and Social Studies, and the AVID elective course for eighth graders.

Since 1986, the Rotary 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. Marco Silva from Peabody was the first recipient this year, having been recognized in late October.

“Our educators do amazing things for the students and families of our community,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the recognition with the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. “We are delighted that the annual Rotary awards recognize those contributions, and help provide teachers the resources for them to enhance the classroom experience for local school children.”

“The Rotary Club of Santa Barbara is committed to supporting the Santa Barbara County Education Office, and it gives us great pleasure to recognize the efforts of outstanding teachers like Nicole,” 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 Nicole Caiazza have a tremendous impact on their students, who one day will be the leaders of our community. Nicole says that the secret to her success is attitude,” Sarvis continued, “and she certainly lives that motto for both her students and her peers.”

“Nicole Caiazza is one of the brightest spots not only at La Cumbre Junior High School but in the entire district,” says her principal, Ms. Jo Ann Caines. “Her classroom is like a museum walk, engaging students from the minute they enter the room. La Cumbre is indeed lucky to have such an energetic, eager, stellar teacher on staff, and she is recognized as such by students, staff, and the community.”

Caiazza has been teaching at La Cumbre for the last eight years. She earned her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University, and received her teaching credential and masters in education from UCSB.

“My hope is that each year I can create an environment where students build curiosity, learn to ask higher level questions, and work together toward a common goal,” Caiazza states. “When they make mistakes along the way, I praise them because that is when they will truly learn the most. I want students to be proud of their growth and have a better attitude about how they see themselves and their potential to successfully reach their future goals.”

Caiazza and her husband of two years, Iain Garcia, love Santa Barbara. When they need to recharge their emotional batteries, they look to the outdoors, playing beach volleyball, running, or going on bike rides along the coast.

Caiazza is the first in her family to attend college, and she is the first to earn a graduate degree. “As a first generation college student myself,” she says, “I understand the importance of education, and that it is not always an easy path to achieve your dreams of higher education. I always encourage my students to make good choices, have a positive attitude, and set goals for their future, no matter what obstacles seem to be ahead.”

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

Creating connections

Radio Commentary

Several types of activities can help create and maintain connections with your children as they get older.

Share a hobby. Explore an interest that you both enjoy, whether it’s rollerblading, playing golf, or skimming through fashion magazines or websites. Time spent this way can result in hours of naturally-flowing conversation.

Look at baby pictures. A walk down memory lane is a great way to bring up other awkward topics including the many physical and emotional changes that occur throughout your child’s life.

Make time in the car for conversation. The moments you have together in the car can help you share important information and emotions.

You can also learn a lot about your child if you pay attention to conversations with friends while they’re riding in the back seat.

See your child as others do. Many parents only see their children when they’re at home. Get involved with your child’s school or summer program. Volunteer to help with extracurricular programs, such as theatre, clubs, or sports.

You may discover new and wonderful aspects to your child that you otherwise would have missed.

All these activities help you create and maintain connections as your children travel into adulthood. They also form the basis of shared experiences and close relationships throughout a lifetime.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Renewing our commitment to a can-do spirit

By Bill Cirone

As 2015 draws to a close, here is a tip for parents to consider as they start off a new year: Turn the page on contentious encounters they may have had with their children since the beginning of the school year.

One frequent source of conflict between parents and children is homework. If children faced challenges with studying or with homework, both they and their parents will be well served by a mutual decision to let those memories fade. They can use the holiday break to let go of those tensions. It really helps to start fresh.

Freedom from a burdensome past enables parents and children to approach challenges from a different perspective. This, in turn, can lead school children to better performance and, more importantly, increased motivation to do even better. It is a lot easier to focus on how to move forward without all that baggage.

It helps, too, if parents remember to love their children for who they are, not who they want them to be. Children need space to grow, to succeed, and even to fail. Learning from failure is a vitally important component of the maturing process, because it strengthens resilience — a trait that is very difficult to teach but often makes the difference between success and failure in the future.

If discipline is necessary, it is important that children know their parents disapprove of what they did, not who they are.

These approaches help redirect negative behavior and channel energy in a far more productive direction. Plus, time and again it’s been proven that fear and despair can sap a child’s ability to do well, and that a positive attitude can enable a child to stretch to higher levels of performance.

Adults, like children, will also benefit from letting go of negative experiences that have drained their energy. Starting over with renewed enthusiasm can also apply to interactions with schools and teachers, and even with school district policies and procedures. Think of the powerful energy a positive approach can send to all involved, helping forge better relationships and stronger partnerships.

There is a feeling of renewal that comes from letting go of problems from the past, and making peace with the challenges that lie ahead. For both young and old alike, in all sorts of circumstances, it’s an approach that can make real progress possible.

As we approach a new year, let us all resolve to move forward together in an effort create the best possible outcomes for our children and families. It is well worth the effort, and can help make 2016 a very good year for all. 

Math teacher thank you

Radio Commentary

A math teacher in a Dallas High School received a wonderful present recently, in the form of a thank-you note that was reprinted in the Dallas Morning News.

The letter reads, in part: “Before school even started, I dreaded your class. I honestly hate math and I didn’t want to repeat Algebra One again.

“Over the year, you’ve shown me what it’s like to have a teacher that truly cares. I walk into your class every other day willing to learn and do my work, not because I enjoy school or math. I do it because you deserve it.

“I see the effort you put into you job. I don’t know much about you and you don’t know much about me … I don’t talk in your class but I do sit back and learn from you every day.

“It was not only coincidence that I was placed into your class, but a great learning opportunity. I am thankful I was placed in your class.
“Thank you for teaching me what no other teacher has.”

It’s easy to see why teacher Jennifer Davis considers this one of the best gifts of all time.  How nice for all of us to see a teacher acknowledged so movingly for her skills and her caring.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Talking with Teachers with Bill Cirone

Geri Coats
Righetti High School

Good health

Radio Commentary

Good health is essential to success in the classroom. It is simply not possible to concentrate fully 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.

Friday, December 11, 2015

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 10, 2015

Innovations in Education - December 2015

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 — doing household chores, 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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Showing you care

Radio Commentary

During this holiday season, it’s appropriate to note that a parent’s love is the foundation of a child’s self-esteem.
And though you might feel it’s already understood, sometimes it’s important to say it out loud.
A child simply can’t hear those words too often, but they are especially important before a child leaves for school and before bed at night.

There are infinite variations on ways to say you care. Here are some common forms the message can take:

“You’re important to me.”

“You brighten my day.”

“You mean the world to me.”

“That’s really great.”

“Well done!”

“What a good job you did.”

A big hug counts, too. In fact, sometimes it’s a good idea to think up new ways to say and show you care.

If a child has a strong sense of self-worth, that’s more than half the battle for facing anything that can arise.

That strength is important both inside and outside the classroom.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

TV and information

Radio Commentary

Children used to gain knowledge of the world in a slow, controlled way. They learned how to behave by watching adults and repeating their actions.

The slowly developing reading skills of young people restricted them mostly to stories and facts deemed suitable for their age level.

But times have changed. Today’s children are flung quickly into the realm of adult knowledge as mass media bombard children with messages.

Rock and rap song lyrics, DVDs, Facebook, and advertising all play their parts. TV and computer games are also major players.

Messages in advertising, TV programs, and games — and even some content on the nightly news — would have been shocking to see just one short generation ago.

Young viewers can’t always distinguish between the drama and trauma of soap operas, adventure shows, or computer games, and the day-to-day routine that most adults live.

Without proper guidance, children can grow up dissatisfied with lives less exciting and glamorous than the movie heroes they admire or those on their computer screens.

They can become frustrated when they can’t resolve a conflict in 22 minutes — or worse, 22 seconds. Be aware of media content and use good judgment in your selections.

Doing so is a key to raising healthy, well-adjusted children. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Santa Barbara County Education Office promotes 3rd annual Hour of Code

News release

“If you can create technology,” says YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, “you can change the world.” Whether you want to program droids and create your own Star Wars game in a galaxy far, far away; understand the basics of JavaScript programming for art and design; or use code to join Frozen’s Anna and Elsa as they explore the magic and beauty of ice, it all starts with “an hour of code.”

The Santa Barbara County Education Office is proud to announce that over 70 schools in all 20 school districts in Santa Barbara County will be participating in the 3rd Annual Hour of Code during the week of Dec. 7-13. The Hour of Code is a global event involving millions of students in over 180 countries. Students, teachers, and parents can implement the tutorial with no background in computer science or coding. “No experience needed,” the website helpfully states, and adding that it is targeting “ages 4 to 104.”

Since Hour of Code’s launch in 2013, more than 145 million people have tried their hand at coding. Over 48% of those have been female, according to their website.

The Hour of Code was created by as part of their efforts to promote computer science education. is a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color, with the idea that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science as part of the core curriculum.

Information about Hour of Code, along with supporting resources and videos, can be found at, or by contacting Scott Spector, Coordinator of Innovation and Academic Events at the Santa Barbara County Education Office at or 964-4710, ext. 5348.

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 activities help children feel good about who they are and what they do.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Latchkey suggestions

Radio Commentary

Many parents worry about the need to leave children home alone while they work. Here are some tips that can help ease your mind.

First, make a set of rules and post them where they can’t be missed. Some useful items for the list include:

Children should go straight home and not speak with strangers on the way.

They should always keep the door locked.

They should always answer the phone, but never say they’re alone. They should say their parents can’t come to the phone, take a message and hang up.

If children find a door or a window broken, they should go straight to a trusted neighbor and call a parent or the police.

Drill your child on how to call the police and give your complete address clearly.

Children should have clear access to emergency numbers, and know what to do in case of fire, or when the smoke detector goes off. Have a fire escape plan.

Set up a telephone routine if you can be at a phone each day when the child is due home. Call and say hello, and have the child call you back. Work out an alternative so children can be assured human contact if you are unavailable.
If you’re going to be late getting home, let your child know well in advance.
Even young people who are quite confident about staying home alone can have some nagging fears set off by a strange noise or an ambulance siren.

Many schools have programs for children of working parents. Remember, you’re not alone. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

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 2, 2015

Advancing the common good

By Bill Cirone

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This quote from Maimonides captures the true spirit of what we try to do in our public schools — teaching children from all walks of the life the knowledge, skill, and dispositions they need to thrive and contribute in our democratic society.

Sharing success stories is perhaps the best way to capture the importance of public education in creating an informed and engaged citizenry.

Today I profile and salute Santa Maria’s Andrea Martinez for the path she travelled to her leadership position in our community, along with her passion for education and philanthropy.

Martinez, whose mom worked the fields of Santa Barbara County for 15 years and whose dad left home when she was 10, is the current chair of the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County. She also serves as the membership services director at the Santa Maria YMCA. Prior to that, she worked for the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

Committed to philanthropy and the values of community engagement, Martinez says, “I think non-profits are part of my DNA.” Recalling her childhood, she remembers how as a child she used to run after her playmates as they pedaled around on their bikes.

It was a rough-and-tumble existence, she says, pointing to the small scar at her hairline, and another one just under her chin. “But we were too poor to afford a bike,” she says matter-of-factly.

When she was five, a local non-profit organization gave Martinez a bike. “That was a very good day,” she says, smiling.

“We were a migrant family,” Martinez, the third of five children, told me recently when I asked about her upbringing. “I attended 10 different elementary schools growing up.”

Despite that instability, Martinez nonetheless did well in school. As an adolescent, her intellectual curiosity began to blossom.

“I was in the AVID program at El Camino Junior High in Santa Maria, and Mr. ‘Milt’ was encouraging students to think about rigorous course selection in preparation for college. I approached him after that session and asked him, ‘What’s college?’”

“I’m sure he fielded plenty of crazy questions from students over the course of his teaching career,” Martinez continued. “But I’ll never forget that thunderstruck look on his face after I asked my question. I don’t think he saw that one coming.”

Today, Martinez, who did not have a concept of college until the seventh grade, is a 2010 graduate from UCSB. A passionate supporter of the power of education, she understands the wisdom of Plato: “The direction in which education starts a person will determine their future in life.” She works to help today’s youth in their quest for education and a bright future.

In January, Martinez will begin her second consecutive term as chair of the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County. The Fund’s goal is to respond to the community’s most urgent needs, by making substantial gifts that translate their values into actions while serving as a catalyst for change on behalf of the women, children, and families in North County.

Recent beneficiaries of their generosity include The Santa Maria Valley YMCA, The Friends of the Los Alamos Public Library, and The Central Coast Literacy Council. The Women’s Fund gave over $75,000 to these three organizations in 2015. Recognizing the needs in our community, Martinez notes that “our focus currently is on education literacy.”

The power of education is exemplified in this daughter of migrant laborers, and today she is a tireless advocate concerned with giving back — in time, resources, and gratitude. Her life’s journey and growth, despite obstacles many of us can only imagine, vividly demonstrate the true function of education, which in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King is “to teach one to think intensively and critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of a true education.”

Andrea Martinez is a role model who uses her intelligence and character to help others, while advancing the common good and making our community a better place. Santa Barbara County is lucky to have Andrea Martinez, and countless others like her, living and working amongst us.

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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Education 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.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Domestic abuse

Radio Commentary

Parents often underestimate what their children see and hear. It’s best to assume that children know everything that’s going on in the household.

This is especially the case with domestic abuse. It is estimated that 10 percent of children nationwide live in households where there are violent disagreements.

Even children who do not see violence first-hand are vulnerable to its effects. Overhearing emotional or physical abuse behind closed doors can increase a child’s risk for emotional and behavioral problems.

A child who is anxious about domestic abuse might not say anything, but is likely to act out by misbehaving at home or at school, crying excessively, or wetting the bed.

The best advice, if you are living with domestic abuse of any kind, is to get help right away.

Locally, CALM is a very good resource. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at, also helps victims of violence.

It can also help to talk to a family or marriage therapist. It takes time to change or eliminate destructive patterns, so be patient.

You can learn to reconcile differences peacefully. The old rule that people should never go to sleep angry can be a powerful life lesson.

What’s important, for the sake of children affected by the situation, is to take the steps necessary to move forward as a family.

The safety of all involved should remain the primary concern.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks

Radio Commentary

There is an anonymous quote I’ve always liked. It says, “Without teachers there would be no other professions.”

The obvious meaning is that no one is born knowing a profession — someone had to teach practitioners what to do.
An equally important message imparted by the quote is that teaching itself is a profession. It requires just as much skill and training as any other career — maybe more so than many others.

As we celebrate this day of thanksgiving it is fitting to give thanks to the many unsung heroes and heroines in our midst, who make a difference every day in the lives of local children.

Teachers personify our society's belief that universal public education is key to meeting the challenges of a changing world.

They strive to make every classroom an exciting environment where productive and useful learning can take place and each student is encouraged to grow and develop.

Our teachers reach out to foster the well-being of each student, regardless of ability, background, race, ethnicity or religion. Teachers also motivate students to find new directions in life and reach high levels of achievement.

We are thankful for all they do, and for the support from parents, business leaders, and members of the community, that is so vital to their work. Thank you all. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Eating disorders

Radio Commentary

Media coverage of eating disorders has generally improved, but unrealistic body images continue to appear. The pressures to be thin are very great, especially for girls.

The state PTA warns that between five and 10 million Americans have eating disorders, mostly teens and young adults.

Anorexia is a fear of becoming fat, coupled with an unrealistic body image that leads people to restrict severely the amount of food they eat.

Bulimia involves bingeing and purging — eating excessive amounts of food and then forcing it out.

Eating disorders all involve preoccupations with weight and food. But they are often rooted in other issues, compensating for aspects of life that appear to be out of control.

Many young people who suffer from these disorders also have feelings of inadequacy, troubled relationships, or a history of being teased because of weight.

Parents should teach children positive and healthy attitudes toward their bodies.

Media coverage of celebrity eating issues can offer a good chance to ask your children what they think.

Be sure to point out that healthy, fit bodies don’t all look the same.

Experts say parents who are worried should communicate their concerns without judgment and without oversimplifying the issue. Express support and seek professional treatment if necessary. These issues can be serious.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How parents can help

Radio Commentary

Sparking a child’s curiosity can be key to lifelong learning. Parents can help.

Make up trivia games that you can all play regularly, even when you’re on the run. Give children a chance to experiment around the house with measuring, cooking, repairing broken items, and other activities that require finding and using information.

Also, be sure to know what’s going on at school. Attend school events. Your presence will show your children that you’re interested in their school life and value it.

Ask children for detailed descriptions of what they’re studying and doing at school.

You should also help children establish a sense of ethics. Have the courage to say NO when children’s interests are not acceptable.

As children get older, continue to uphold firm, clear limits. But gradually give them more chances to make choices and live with the consequences.

It is easier to set these standards in first and second grades than in preteen years. But there are also ways to encourage preteens to stick to standards of behavior.

Teach children of all ages to say “thank you” and write thank-you letters when appropriate. Tell them stories of justice. Teach them that there is a right and a wrong way to do things.

In these areas, parents are the most important teachers of all.

Monday, November 23, 2015

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 other 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.