Thursday, April 30, 2015

After children graduate

Radio Commentary

If you have an empty nest because your last child has left the house, that doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to support education in your community.

In fact, it’s a great time to stay involved, make a strong contribution, and stay young at heart.

As a start, keep up with issues that affect local children. If you can, get involved in the school activities of your neighbors’ children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren, or your friends’ children.

Remember that strong schools make strong communities. Educated young people make our entire society healthier. By helping them, we are investing in our future together.

How can you help?

Children of all ages love to have fans attend their soccer games or basketball games. Cheering for local children can also be an opportunity for you to keep in contact with various neighbors and community happenings.

Think of interesting ways you can participate in school programs. Share your special talents. If you are a photographer, give a seminar to the yearbook staff.

Or maybe you have connections to interesting local companies that would make for great field trips.

We can all serve as volunteers and mentors in our local schools. We can provide an extra set of hands to help in the office, or an extra set of ears to help children with reading.

This nation was built on a foundation of community support for local schools. It is what keeps our democracy strong and vital. And it will continue to do so — with the help of all involved.

Dons Net Café teacher and students win big at UCLA Project Echo

News release

Lee Ann Knodel, the Regional Occupational Program instructor of the Dons Net Café, won the prestigious Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year Award, announced by the Project ECHO Board of Directors at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management on April 12. Project ECHO (Entrepreneurial Concepts Hand On) is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing students with vocational and entrepreneurial skills as a way to aid them and educators around the world. The Dons Net Café has a long and distinguished history at the annual competition sponsored by Project ECHO.
“I truly enjoy mentoring the Dons Net Café students and their excitement about business is contagious,” stated local businessman Teddy Ho. Ho, a graduate of UCLA’s Anderson MBA program and Head of Marketing at Santa Barbara-based Barkback, an online feedback platform designed to improve communications between businesses and their customers, has proven to be a dedicated mentor for the past four years.

Although Knodel was traveling to New York with a group of her senior Dons Net Café students for a National Trade Fair at the time of the announcement, she managed to send a short clip thanking the Project ECHO Program.

Knodel wasn’t the only Don to win praise that evening, however. In addition, a group of three students were able to compete and showcase their newest business, “Finding Common Ground,” a partnership between Santa Barbara High School and Escuela Agrícola de San Francisco, located in Asunción, Paraguay. The student group consisted of dedicated sophomores Elizabeth Avila and Julia Danalevich, and junior Victor Valadaz. Not only did they get to accept their teacher’s award, but they also took second place and $600 for their business plan.

The Common Ground business plan had some tough competition from senior-led teams, but they were well prepared, thanks to their mentors’ help. The Dons Net Café would like to thank not only Teddy Ho, but also Chris Morales and Will Freeland of Montecito Bank & Trust, and George Rusznak of SCORE for their mentorship and support during the intense competition time.

The Dons Net Café, a Regional Occupational Program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is a group of 14 student-run businesses that represent a 21-year commitment to inspire students to create positive social and environmental change through ethical commerce and service learning. All profits benefit employees and associated projects, because they believe in “Doin’ Some Good in the World.” Further information is available by contacting Lee Ann Knodel at 963-8597 or

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Children’s Oral Health Summit slated for May 1 at CenCal Health

News release

The second Children’s Oral Health Summit, featuring medical and dental providers, public officials, and members of the Children’s Oral Health Collaborative, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 1 in the CenCal Health Hart Auditorium on 4050 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Experts in the field and public officials will be presenting 10 years of information about dental disease rates and the impact of prevention strategies to improve children’s oral health in Santa Barbara County.

The summit is geared for health professionals, school and community leaders, medical and dental providers, nurses, members of the philanthropic community, and public officials.

“We are very excited about this opportunity to bring together all the key players who will share what they have learned about children’s oral health in recent years, and to make plans for moving forward in this county to improve the oral health of all our children,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone, whose office is part of the collaborative.

Participants will learn about local concerns and hear from experts about the larger health impacts that poor oral health has on children. They will also discuss the role of pediatric medical providers in providing oral health assessment, some promising methods to prevent or stabilize dental risks in young children, suggestions as how to develop and sustain a community oral health program, and an understanding of cultural differences and approaches to counseling families of different cultures.

Featured speakers will include Dr. Susan Fisher-Owens, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences at UC San Francisco, and Dr. Irene Hilton, a consultant with the National Network for Oral Health Access.

Local presenters will include Dr. Betty Lane, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara-Ventura Counties Dental Care Foundation; First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; Dr. Mark Maddox, Chief Medical Officer of CenCal Health; and MaryEllen Rehse, Oral Health Program Manager for the Santa Barbara County Education Office Health Linkages program.

The summit is sponsored by the Health Linkages program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office in partnership with Santa Barbara County Children’s Oral Health Collaborative, First 5 Santa Barbara, the Community Action Commission, KIDS Network, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Direct Relief International, and the Santa Barbara/Ventura Counties Dental Care Foundation.

Further information is available from Naoko Gamble at the Health Linkages program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. She can be reached at 964-4710, ext. 4453.


Radio Commentary

Trust is an important issue with preteens and teenagers. Parents often wonder how they can question their children without being accused of doubting their judgment.

Checking up on your children’s outside activities may not be met with enthusiasm, but it is important.

Many parents have heard the refrain: “I can’t believe you don’t trust me.” This can be a young person’s way of keeping parents at a distance and feeling more independent.
It is not uncommon for young people to feel invincible and to resent interference with their social life.

One author recommends that parents respond to this resistance by saying, “We trust you, but we are concerned about the situation you’re going to be in.”

This response shows you’re concerned not with the child but with the circumstances that could occur.

Point out to your children that they won’t always have control over what can happen when they’re at a friend’s house without adult supervision.

Ask questions in a calm, non-confrontational way.

Safety issues top the priority list for parents. Young people are more likely to accept questions and supervision when it is framed in this context. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Drug advice

Radio Commentary

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America provides good suggestions for parents to help their children stay off drugs.

Their ideas deserve parents’ consideration.

For example, parents are urged to make sure the information they offer fits their children’s age and cognitive level.

When a six or seven-year-old is brushing his teeth, parents can say, “There are lots of things we need to do to keep our bodies strong and healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also some things we shouldn’t do because they can hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicine when we are not sick.”

An eight-year-old can understand a simple lesson about specific drugs, like marijuana or alcohol.

If marijuana is mentioned on TV, take advantage of the chance to ask your child if he knows what it is. Say it’s a bad drug that can hurt your body.

If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments, repeated often enough, will get the message across.

For older children, you can add more details. Explain to a 10- to 12-year-old what marijuana and crack look like, their street names, and how they can negatively affect the body.

Don’t be afraid to talk about these issues. Cocaine, crack, heroin, and meth are very dangerous and illegal drugs that can kill a user, sometimes even if they are taken only once. It is important to be honest about these types of dangers.

Monday, April 27, 2015

More good books

Radio Commentary

We know that no single book has all the answers when it comes to good parenting. Even experts disagree on the best practices. Still, we know it can be helpful to read the parenting classics, so here are some bestsellers to consider.

Two competing books offer some good insights on sleep issues.

Dr. Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems became famous for “Ferber-izing” your baby. This is also known as the “Cry It Out Method.” Dr. Ferber gives step-by-step instructions, and this book is still considered one of the gold standards when it comes to getting a child to sleep through the night and nap during the day.

Taking a counter-approach is The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley. 
It is set up like a workbook, allowing parents to review options and put together a customized sleep plan unique to their baby’s needs.

For those who want to gather information at an earlier point, there is the bestselling series, What to Expect When you’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel.

Nearly 90 percent of pregnant women read these books, and more than 34 million copies have been sold in the last 30 years. The books in this series are revised to provide up-to-date advice, including information about every stage of pregnancy.

Remember, it’s best to trust your own heart and your own judgment. No one knows your body or your children better than you do. You may not feel like the ultimate expert, but when it comes to your children, you truly are.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Charting success

Radio Commentary

It can be fun for children to create a “success chart” by designing a bar graph or a line graph to show progress on various tasks.

Be sure to keep the goals realistic. You might want to coordinate the plan with your child’s teacher, factoring in school effort or improvement.

Start out with smaller goals so your child can gain some positive momentum that can lead to larger successes. Talk with your child to increase their understanding and buy-in.

Building in incentives can be an important part of this activity.

Figure out what types of items work best in your family.

Rewards like a family activity, movie, or a computer game rental might be the right way to go.

Monetary rewards for reaching a goal might be appropriate if children learn to save it for something they really want, or use it to support an important cause.

Though positive reinforcement is an effective tool in changing behavior, everyone reacts differently. What is right for one child might not work well for another, so work with each child individually.

Allowing your children to chart their own progress is a great way for them to see and experience results.

And seeing improvement in such a graphic fashion can show them that their efforts do actually pay off. The hope is that they will see that hard work yields graphic results. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Common Core explained — What, why, and how we measure student success

News column

Few things excite the passions of concerned parents more than substantive changes to the ways in which their children are taught and their progress is measured. The new “Common Core” set of standards for teaching and learning being enacted nationwide has a lot of parents and teachers very excited, though there are some who are understandably concerned about what Common Core is, what it does, and how it will affect their school-age children. While not exhaustive, this article will provide a brief overview of Common Core, as well as address some of the apprehensions parents have about Common Core that have evolved over the several years since the new standards were announced.
Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, were developed by educators, adopted by 43 states, and implemented voluntarily by communities and districts to help prepare students for a complex and unpredictable future. The motivation for these new standards was the overwhelming consensus that “No Child Left Behind” requirements were actually impeding learning and the development of critical thinking skills in students. Further, they were hamstringing teachers by forcing them to “teach to the test” — or face dire consequences. Common Core seeks to move away from a “Test-and-Punish” policy, and move towards a “Build-and-Support” approach, says former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig. Honig also served as the Chair of the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the California State Board of Education.

While states like New York and Kentucky have seen considerable consternation surrounding Common Core — due to what many argue was a “too much, too soon” approach — California’s approach has been more measured. There has been less reliance on testing, while local districts have been empowered and provided more autonomy and resources necessary to improve. While there is not — and never will be — unanimous support for Common Core, even among educators, the majority have embraced these new expectations embedded in CCSS, and feel they will make an important difference in how children learn and how we measure our classroom outcomes.

In the past, testing was largely relegated to one end-of-year assessment, called “summative” because it ostensibly summed up the year’s work. The first major shift, then, is that there will now be three components to assessment, rather than one single end-of-year assessment. Summative tests will be retained as an important means of identifying progress that has been made. In addition, there will be interim assessments in the middle of the year, for teachers and districts to gauge how and what students are learning, and to make adjustments if they are not. The third component involves process. A digital library will be available to teachers year-long, providing strategies, tools, and resources for determining how students are learning as the year progresses.

The second major shift involves test targets — what are the goals? Instead of having students merely accumulate knowledge, the Common Core targets are now designed to measure how well students understand the material and can use their new learning. Along with reading to follow a story, for example, students will learn to read in order to cite evidence and draw logical conclusions. They will use math to solve real-world challenges, rather than merely picking out the correct multiple-choice answer.

The new tests are not just harder versions of the old tests; they are truly testing new things — ways of thinking and analyzing information. A fourth grade math question, for example, will have students select and use the right tools to solve a problem and interpret the results in a given context. If you or your child is interested in seeing what kinds of questions will be on the California Common Core tests, you can take a sample test here (

These new tests are made possible by newer technology involving computer adaptation. Students take the tests on computers that enable them to highlight passages, drag and drop a series of symbols that answer a question, and even react to a correct or incorrect answer by changing the type of question that follows. Rather than requiring five to ten questions to see if a student has mastered a given concept, the new computer adaptation enables students to move ahead to higher levels of questions if they answer the first levels correctly, or step back to a slightly easier version of the same question if they are incorrect.

Why make these changes? “The standards are seen both to embody the kind of education we have long desired for our students,” Honig says, “as well as providing a tremendous opportunity to stimulate much-needed discussions on how best to improve practice at each school and district and develop the collaborative capacity to support such efforts.” In Santa Barbara County, we encourage that collaboration to continue — in the form of a robust, meaningful conversation amongst parents, teachers, and students — as we move forward with Common Core. 

Preventing power struggles

Radio Commentary

Parents may be relieved to know that there are positive alternatives to struggling with teens. The situation is never hopeless!

First, be sure to use friendly actions whenever possible. Young people are very tuned in to negativity and they react to it very badly. Sarcasm, for example, is never a good idea.

Second, use one-word messages whenever possible. It may be hard to focus your thoughts into a single word but it is well worth the effort to try.

Once you are focused, it is easier to get your child to focus appropriately as well.

Next, set clear limits and stick to them. It’s hard, but effective, to do this.

Teach students that when they say “no” they can do it in a respectful way. Remind them it’s not the “no” that can be a problem, but rather how it is delivered and what it seems to signify. Give them alternatives, and try to negotiate win/win outcomes.

Focus on priorities. Nothing gets communication off track more quickly than bogging down in trivial matters.

Give students appropriate ways to feel powerful. No one likes to feel powerless. It can be frustrating and it can lead to more challenges.

Finally, if a major blowup occurs, a cooling off period can often place many things into perspective for young and old alike. All these actions can help you and your struggling teen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Not just workers

Radio Commentary

Respected author Jonathan Kozol, who is an outspoken supporter of public education, takes issue with the idea that the primary purpose of education should be to create the next workforce.

He wrote: “The notion of kids as workers raises a question: Is future productivity the only rationale for their existence?”

“A lot of the things that make existence wonderful are locked out of the lives of children seen primarily as future clerical assistants or as potential recruits to office pools.”

Certainly education must prepare young people to be productive adults. But there is danger in focusing exclusively on the employment aspect of their lives, he wrote.

We can’t overlook that they will also need to be consumers, voters, audience members, and participants in our entire culture.

They may well be parents or volunteers, and may have a hand in running a household or a committee.

They may coach, they may tutor, they may recycle. After they work, they will likely retire and have more years to contribute and enjoy life well beyond the activities of the workforce.

Kozol argues passionately that we must remember all these roles that citizens fill in our democratic society.

We must absolutely acknowledge that most will be workers and must be prepared for those roles. But we must also keep that goal firmly rooted in the context of an overall productive existence.

Otherwise, he warns, we remove the joy that connects young people to their communities and gives meaning to their lives.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Talk to your child

Radio Commentary

Books, magazines, and talk show hosts all bombard parents with advice on how best to raise their children. But there is simply no substitute for a caring adult who spends quality time with a child.
Children pick up language skills and knowledge about the world around them during interesting conversations with responsible adults in their lives.

In daily life, parents can help by pointing out and reading printed words that appear in a child’s environment — signs on storefronts, labels on jars, and titles of television shows.
Even toddlers can share in making grocery lists and checking them off at the store as each item is found.
Above all, talk to your child whenever possible. There is no substitute for a focused, interactive conversation between children and trusted adults.

Parents can sing songs and tell stories whenever the opportunity arises. The rhythms and sounds of language fascinate children and lead to future learning.

That’s why children love nursery rhymes, though the actual words can seem to make little sense to adults.

It’s the sounds of the language and the word-play that children find so appealing, and it gets imbedded in their consciousness. In a very real sense, language is like music to a child’s ears. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Working hard

Radio Commentary

It is one of life’s great truths that success in almost any arena comes from effort, not just ability.

We must make sure our children know that “smart” is not something you simply are. “Smart” is something everyone must work hard to achieve.

Too many people believe that success in school is mostly a factor of inborn intelligence and aptitude. But the fact is that children who work hard at a subject often learn more than very bright students who don’t put in the effort.

The message carries over to the rest of a child’s life as well.

Certainly all students are born with different aptitudes and abilities. But the true key to success is how they use the strengths they have, and how they work to overcome any shortfalls.

Even the most gifted athlete can’t be a winner without training hard every day. Even the greatest artists need to study their craft.

The highest achievers, inside and outside the classroom, are those who work the hardest and do the most with the gifts they have.

Parents can help motivate children by telling them that success in school really is something everyone can achieve. It is not beyond anyone’s grasp.

But it requires effort, attention, and hard work. It requires listening carefully in the classroom, asking questions, completing all assignments, and studying hard. It also requires an honest awareness of where weaknesses lie, and a determination to overcome those weaknesses.

Students who take this approach are truly smart. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Homework problems

Radio Commentary

Homework is an essential part of schoolwork. There is no getting around it.

It is best when children accept homework as a part of their obligation as a student.

To avoid homework hassles, parents should monitor their children’s assignments. They should act as a resource or coach, but avoid the temptation to do the work for the student.

If problems do arise, despite your support and help, then parents, teachers, students and school personnel might need to work together to resolve the issues.

First, share any concerns directly with the teacher.

If a child is refusing to do an assignment, despite your encouragement, there might be some larger issue.

 Also approach the teacher:

  • if instructions seem unclear, 
  • if you can’t seem to help your child get organized to finish the assignments, 
  • if you can’t provide needed supplies or materials, 
  • if the assignments appear to be coming too often, or are too hard, or too easy.

Contact the teacher especially if a child has missed school and needs to make up assignments.

Remember that communication between teachers and parents is very important in solving homework problems.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Encourage writing

Radio Commentary

Look for ways to get your child’s creative juices flowing when it comes to writing.

When young children tell stories, write down the words. Your children can add their own illustrations and create a complete “book” to give to a grandparent or good friend for a very special birthday gift.

Children may also find that keeping a journal is a great way to express themselves and sort out their feelings.

Writing is interwoven into every part of a child’s academic career. If your child seems to have a natural affinity for it, you should encourage it in every way.

Teach children to become more observant of people and nature. It opens up whole new worlds of interest and inspiration to them.

Have them notice shapes and colors, and then have them describe what they see. Their senses are an unlimited universe of potential for learning and adventure. Be sure to give lots of positive reinforcement.

Whatever the topic your child raises, listen with interest and ask questions. Don’t stifle curiosity. If you start to brush off questions, you may find that your child stops asking.

Above all, make learning as interesting, inviting, and as much fun as possible for your children. Enthusiastic, creative people enjoy learning new things at any age.

Santa Barbara Rotary Club recognizes Marcia Merrifield

News release

Marcia Merrifield
The Santa Barbara Rotary Club recognizes three to four local teachers annually for their outstanding contributions to their students’ academic development. On April 10, Rotary Club officials were pleased to announce Marcia Merrifield, who has taught English for the past 21 years at La Cumbre and La Colina junior high schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, as the latest honoree.

Merrifield is particularly gifted in teaching students who are English learners. Her principal, David Ortiz, commends her excellence in effective teaching, her dedication, and her passion for guiding students to future success. He sees her emphasis on ongoing effort, engagement in learning, and working through adversity as keys to her success. Says principal Ortiz, “Highly effective teachers such as Marcia Merrifield make the difference in students’ lives. Her gift is clear and unrelenting — love, support, and caring.”

Ms. Merrifield started teaching in Michigan, moved to Washington State, then moved to Santa Barbara, where she earned her Master’s Degree at UCSB.

Ms. Merrifield says reading has been her passion, and that her Master’s program included an emphasis in reading. She agreed to train to teach an intensive reading intervention program designed for English learners five years ago. Her goal was to get her students reading at their grade level as quickly as possible. She wanted her English learners to have equal access to any curriculum.

“I believe all students can learn,” Merrifield says. “All students should be given an opportunity for a college or career future. My students often ask why they have to do this assignment or that assignment. My response to them is because you can, and I will guide you.”

“I know that I am just part of their journey toward becoming productive adults,” she concludes. “However, I get a thrill to hear from the occasional former student. One student came back to school to visit and told me he could ‘hear my voice’ as he wrote his English assignments in ninth grade. He wanted to tell me that he is now in the Honors English program at his high school.”

Ms. Merrifield has three children, Joe, Clark, and Lauren, and three grandchildren, with a fourth due in April.

Santa Barbara Rotary congratulates Marcia Merrifield as an outstanding teacher and is providing a check for $1,000 to be used in the classroom.

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, April 14, 2015

Children’s future

Radio Commentary

Each year, some 350,000 children are born to mothers who are addicted to cocaine. And 40,000 children are born with alcohol-related birth defects.
Those staggering numbers have tremendous implications for our health care system and our school systems.

These children are likely to have strikingly short attention spans, poor coordination, and language problems. They are almost two times more likely to require special education.

Their ability to learn is severely hampered by their physical challenges. Yet so many of these consequences are preventable, which makes the situation all the more tragic.
For example, one-fifth of America’s preschool children have not been vaccinated against polio. Yet the heartbreak and consequences of this terrible disease are completely preventable.

One-fourth of all pregnant women get no physical care of any sort during the crucial first trimester of their pregnancy.

It is estimated there would be 20 percent fewer handicapped children if their mothers received just one physical exam in the first trimester.
Modern medicine can detect all sorts of potential problems. And basic care can prevent many common maladies.

We know that children are our future. We know that they will lead our world. We know our future is in their hands.

What are we doing about their future, right now, while we can?

Local Leaders - Steve Lyons

Steve Lyons
Santa Barbara Man of the Year

Local Leaders - Sheriff Bill Brown

Sheriff Bill Brown
Santa Barbara County

Innovations in Education

April 2015

Students get new incentive in Battle of the Books

News release

Nearly 200 students in fourth through sixth grades from more than 30 schools throughout the county will test their knowledge April 29 at the 14th annual Battle of the Books in the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) auditorium.

About 8,000 students in public schools countywide have been challenged to read as many books as possible from a pre-selected list of 30 to qualify for the event. These books will be the source of the questions and challenges that the students will face at the “battle.”

Students are encouraged to read all 30 books, but they must read at least 15 to attend the Battle of the Books. Each school can send a maximum of five students.

This year, a partnership with Granada Books, a community bookstore in downtown Santa Barbara, has given students an added incentive: Participating students can earn certificates for free books to keep.

“This annual competition is an entertaining opportunity for students from throughout the county to come together for a friendly ‘literary battle,’ but it’s also an important reading incentive program,” said county Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the event.

Granada Books will offer a free book for every 10 books a student reads, with certification from a teacher, up to the entire 30 on the official list. That means each child could earn up to three free books.

“This is a win-win opportunity for Granada Books and our sister nonprofit, Pomegranate Arts, to give back,” said Emmett McDonough, co-owner of Granada Books. “One of our core beliefs is that by providing children with an opportunity to earn their own books to keep, we help encourage more reading, as well as the love of books.”

Many schools will have more than five children who have read multiple books, so the bookstore’s owners will offer the same incentive to students who are not chosen to attend the “battle.” South County children and parents can redeem their certificates at Granada Books, and North County families will be able to redeem theirs at a temporary “store” that Granada set up in Santa Maria for Apr. 8.

In addition to encouraging literacy and making reading fun, the Battle of the Books rewards reading comprehension and teamwork. Two teams of six or seven students compete against each other by answering 20 comprehension questions based on the 30 books. The students must agree upon and offer their answers as a group.

All teams will compete in a round-robin tournament of four battles, and then the highest-scoring teams will take the stage for the final battle, facilitated by guest author Wendelin Van Draanen.

“When they arrive for the Battle of the Books, the students will be re-blended into teams so that no one school competes against another,” said Matt Zuchowicz, director of Educational Technology Services, the SBCEO department that conducts the event. “Regardless of who wins the final battle, every student is rewarded with certificates, and the winners receive books and T shirts,” he added. “Students also have an opportunity that day to vote for a book they’d like to see on the list for next year’s event, which is a fun way to motivate and engage the young readers.”

For more information, call Rose Koller at SBCEO, 964-4710, ext. 5222, or Granada Books at 845-1818.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Birth to one

Radio Commentary

Babies grow and change dramatically during their first year.

They begin to develop some control over their bodies — they hold up their heads, roll over, sit up, crawl, and some even walk.

They also become aware of themselves as separate from others. They learn to look at their hands and toes and play with them. They recognize their own names, and they may cry when their parents leave.

Communication and language skills also begin to form in the first year. First, babies cry and make throaty noises. Later they babble and make lots of sounds. Then they begin to name a few close people and objects.

Playing games becomes an important part of child development.

They begin by playing with their hands and then show an interest in toys by banging them together. Eventually, they carry around dolls or stuffed toys.

During this critical first year, babies require a loving caregiver who responds quickly to their cries and gurgles.

They need someone who gets to know their special qualities and can keep them safe and comfortable.

They also need opportunities to move around and practice new physical skills, along with a supply of safe objects to look at, grab, bang, pat, and roll.

They need safe play areas and the chance to hear people talking as they learn to make their own sounds.

It’s a time of rapid growth, and loving caregivers make a real difference.

Friday, April 10, 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 an 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.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Activities for literacy

Radio Commentaries

To help encourage literacy, ask your young child to draw a picture and tell you what the picture is about. Match pictures with written words. Write words or help your child cut out a word from a magazine.

Encourage writing skills, even scribbling, at an early age.

To help develop strong language skills, practice clapping out the sounds in words, saying letters, and sounding out words.

Use songs, finger plays (like Where is Thumper?), poems, games, rhymes, repetition, and patterns to help develop your child’s language skills.

Teach your child new words, explaining the meaning in simple terms. Over time, this really helps.

Simple conversation also helps encourage literacy in children, so talk to your child about the colors, sounds, and images in your home and surroundings.

Talk to your child about daily activities — for example, name the clothing as you dress your child, or locations as you drive.

Ask your child questions and encourage your child to ask you questions.

Speak in whole sentences and use a variety of words when talking to your child.

Encourage children to tell you about experiences and ideas that are important to them.  It’s fun AND educational. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Are you really MAD?

News column

No, the question posed above is not meant to antagonize. Rather, it is a question I ask Santa Barbara County residents at large, in particular as California observes Public Schools Month in April, which we have been doing in the state since the California Freemasons first made the proposal 95 years ago. Are you MAD — Making A Difference — in your local public schools?

That is what this year’s proclamation challenges us to do, and that difference-making can come in the simple form of volunteering as a tutor, to more elaborate forms, such as organizing essay contests and scholarship initiatives which can produce tangible rewards for achieving students — particularly those in need.

The truth is, in a diverse population such as ours in Santa Barbara County, the ability to match skillsets to particular volunteer opportunities are limited only by a person’s creativity and generosity. One Santa Barbara County resident who used to work admissions at a highly-selective undergraduate institution in the Rockies volunteered a number of hours this past fall helping students edit and polish their college application essays. There is the Santa Barbara County resident, an award-winning voice over talent, who “donated” his voice last month for a promotional video an enterprising student group had created in advance of a major fundraising effort. And there are the countless, unsung heroes every day who go into classrooms to help students read, who chaperone school children on trips to museums, who organize blood drives, who judge sporting events or competitions, and who compose mock interview panels, among many other endeavors.

Fortunately, here in Santa Barbara County you don’t have to start cold calling local schools to brainstorm ideas as to how you can get involved. Partners in Education, whose mission “is to connect businesses and individuals with schools and youth-serving nonprofit organizations that serve them,” has been making a difference since 1977. Chris Janeway, a local financial planner, has been volunteering with Partners in Education since 2009. “I focus on financial literacy in schools,” Janeway says. “It’s what I know. Partners in Education allows me to connect my experience on even the most basic levels for students who in many ways aren’t trained on financing class. If I can give them that one leg up,” he concludes, “it’s very rewarding.”

And it is not just our kids who benefit from your generosity. A recent post at the Harvard Medical School blog suggests that volunteering also provides both physical and mental benefits to the volunteer. “A growing body of evidence,” the author writes, “suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health — including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.” If you have ever derived a sense of purpose and accomplishment from a meaningful volunteer activity, the above observation probably comes as no surprise. If you have been sitting on the “volunteer sidelines,” however, now you have even more incentive. It’s good for you!

“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot famously wrote, but for those of us taking the observance of Public Schools Month seriously, April affords us a chance to be MAD. I encourage you to start — or continue — making a difference for Santa Barbara County public schools and the children they serve today. As Frosty Troy, Oklahoma’s award winning editor and commentator said when he visited Santa Barbara, “everything America is, or ever hopes to be, depends upon what happens in public school classrooms, where millions of boys and girls will get their chance in life.”

10 things for parents

Radio Commentaries

A booklet called “The National PTA Talks to Parents” includes 10 items PTA members feel could be helpful for all parents.

It says parents should be involved in their children’s education. Parents should provide resources at home for reading and learning —items such as books and magazines that children can read each day.

The PTA says parents should set a good example by showing they believe reading is enjoyable and useful. It also helps if parents encourage children to do their best in school.

Parents should help children set goals that are reachable, and avoid getting children over-involved in extracurricular activities.

Academics should be a family’s first concern, according to the PTA. Then should come workforce preparation and involvement in extracurricular activities.

The PTA booklet says parents should support school rules and goals, taking care not to undermine school discipline. They should also encourage children to do their best, but avoid applying too much pressure.
It’s also best if parents exercise responsibility and don’t expect the school or teachers to take over their job. Teaching basic discipline is, at base, a parental responsibility, according to the PTA.

Parents should also call teachers as soon as a problem comes up so that they can take action right away. These are common-sense tips that make a difference for young people.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Public Schools Month 2015

Radio Commentary

Since 1920, the Free and Accepted Masons of California have sponsored Public Schools Month in April.
The goal of the Masons has been to encourage communities to understand more about their public schools and to enlist support in the cause of public education.

As Frosty Troy, Oklahoma’s Pulitzer Prize winning editor and commentator said when he visited Santa Barbara some time ago, everything America is, or ever hopes to be, depends upon what happens in public school classrooms, where millions of boys and girls will get their chance in life.

In proclaiming Public Schools Month, the Masons always emphasize:
And I quote: “It is crucial for America that the youth of our state and nation receive the finest and broadest-based education available … so that our standard of living, technological advancement, and national destiny are maintained.” End quote.

They see public education as the ultimate public service.

It is little wonder that PTA parents are the most ardent supporters of our local public schools — they see first-hand the good news that goes under-reported.
They see, close-up, the real challenges that are overcome and the successes that are achieved every day.

So during Public Schools Month, take a minute to visit a local school. You’ll be impressed at what greets you — enthusiasm, dedication, lots of hard work, and great results.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Earthquake Prepared Month

Radio Commentary

Every year, April is designated California Earthquake Preparedness Month by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Though earthquakes can occur virtually anywhere, California is a more frequent site than other parts of the nation.
For this reason, it’s important that California residents, young and old alike, know what to expect and are prepared to act quickly and effectively.

The statewide preparedness project stresses awareness of the risks throughout California and urges people to make an earthquake safety plan at home and at work.
Because schools must comply with the Field Act that requires more earthquake safety features than other structures, schools are often designated as evacuation sites for emergency purposes.

Throughout April, special preparedness activities are held each year for government and emergency services, business and industry, schools, and family and community members.

Our schools have always been an important part of this effort.

Knowing what to do and what not to do is the best defense in an emergency situation. It is the only effective way to minimize harm to people and damage to property.

That’s the kind of information that is spotlighted during Earthquake Preparedness Month. We urge every community member to get involved for the basic safety of all.

Las Cafeteras to perform for 4,800 students at Santa Barbara Bowl

News release

Children’s Creative Project, The Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, and ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! are pleased to present Las Cafeteras in two free performances for Santa Barbara area public schools at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Wednesday, April 22. More than 4,800 elementary students will experience Las Cafeteras’ performances of son jarocho, music of the Veracruz region of Mexico, featuring dancers from Ballet Folklórico de Los Angeles, with guest Ventura County based jaranero Jorge Mijangos.

Las Cafeteras create a vibrant musical fusion with a unique East L.A. sound and a community-focused message promoting equality and respect. In a remix of traditional sounds Las Cafeteras’ music is brought to life by an eclectic instrumentation including jaranas (a ukulele-like instrument), requinto, quijada de burro (a donkey jawbone), a bass instrument called marimbol cajón, and a wooden platform called the tarima used to dance zapateado. Las Cafeteras school shows will feature songs in Spanish and English such as La Iguana and La Bamba, as well as their own creations celebrating the lives of everyday people and the cause of social justice.

Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles is a professional Mexican-American folk dance company founded in 2011 by artistic director Kareli Montoya, with the mission to teach artists to respect and love the art of dance, not only for the personal satisfaction it provides, but more importantly for the positive and lasting effect it has on society. Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles has appeared with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano at the Ford Amphitheatre and Lila Downs at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. These special performances at the Bowl are a product of a unique collaboration of organizations dedicated to providing diverse art and cultural opportunities for children and families. The free performances for students at the Bowl are funded by the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, Children’s Creative Project, and The Towbes Foundation.

“I applaud the collaborative efforts and passionate commitment of the Bowl Foundation, Children’s Creative Project, and Viva el Arte! to increase access to art and culture and make this extraordinary opportunity available to so many of our youth,” states Ginny Brush, Executive Director of the County Arts Commission.

Since 1981-82, the Children’s Creative Project has presented free annual performances by world-renowned artists at the Santa Barbara Bowl and Arlington Theatre. A program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, Children’s Creative Project presents visual arts and performing arts instruction by resident artists and touring artist performances in 92 schools serving more than 50,000 students in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties each year.

Children’s Creative Project presents the annual I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival to support, in part, their arts education programs. This year’s festival at the Santa Barbara Mission will be May 23–25 featuring 150 large-scale, colorful street paintings created using chalk on pavement by professional artists and young people. The Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation Education Outreach is dedicated to provide support and funding for performing arts education in the Santa Barbara community, and dedicates one dollar of every ticket sold at the Bowl to this end. Education Outreach, part of the Bowl’s core mission, reaches some 20,000 touch-points with students each year. Education Outreach provides funding to artists, schools, and nonprofit arts programs to advance performing arts education in our area

¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! enriches the lives of Santa Barbara County residents with high quality, no-cost, and accessible performing arts experiences that represent the unique cultural heritage of our community. ¡Viva presents Las Cafeteras in a community jarocho workshop on Thursday, April 23, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Franklin Neighborhood Center, as well as free family performances on Friday, April 24, 7:00 p.m. at Isla Vista School; at Guadalupe City Hall on Saturday, April 25, 7:30 p.m.; and at The Marjorie Luke Theater at Santa Barbara Junior High on Sunday, April 26, 7:00 p.m. Las Cafeteras were named the Best Latin Alternative Band in 2013 by LA Weekly, and described by the Los Angeles Times as “Uniquely Angeleno mishmash of punk, hip-hop, beat music, cumbia, and rock … Live, they’re magnetic.”

The two morning performances are not open to the public. The performance times listed below are for your information only. Your writers and photographers are welcome, but no flash photography or bright lighting for recording is allowed during the two performances on: Wednesday, April 22, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

To make arrangements to attend this event, please contact Kai Tepper at Santa Barbara Bowl Education Outreach at 962-7422, ext. 7, or

Friday, April 3, 2015


Radio Commentary

It may seem obvious, but it is very important to talk with your children — really talk with them.

In this fast-paced world, it is easy to fall into conversational patterns like, “Hi, how are you?” or “How was your day?” But it’s well worth the effort to stay more connected to your family.

One of the most powerful conversation blockers is television. During meals, make “no TV” a priority. That way you can have a family conversation when all your schedules allow everyone to be present.

Children might complain if they have to miss their favorite shows, but make sure they know that keeping up with other people’s lives, feelings, and concerns is important in every family.

In fact, mealtime conversation can prove enlightening for all involved. You can provide direct attention, support, and advice.

Lively discussions about current events might prevail. Whatever the topic, getting input from all family members succeeds in bringing you all closer together. Real interaction helps prevent misconceptions and misunderstandings.

It’s doubtful that anyone will miss the witty dialogue of a sit-com later in life, but they may well regret not knowing their children or parents as well as they could.

Start when the children are really young and it will be easier. Whatever the ages of your children, remember that interacting with them is always worth the effort.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

About averages

Radio Commentary

There is a tendency in the media to overuse the word “average” and misrepresent what it really means.

Take, for example, “average” test scores. As we all know, to get an average, you add up all the scores and then divide by the total number of scores. It is often the case that no individual score actually falls at the average.

An average isn’t a median or midpoint. It doesn’t mean that half the scores fall above and below that point. In fact, you could conceivably have a situation where ALL scores fall ABOVE the average, except for one score that is so very low, it pulls down the average.

This helps explain the seeming paradox with test scores. For many years the AVERAGE SAT scores were DOWN — but scores were UP for every subgroup that took the test.

That included Hispanics, Asians, blacks, whites, etc. — and scores were up for every academic level represented — “A” students, “B” students, and “C” students.

If test scores rose for every academic level, how could the overall average be down?

Because far more C students are now taking part. And even though scores rose for students who are still learning English, far more of those students have also been taking the test, too.

So when you disaggregate the tests and look at every group that took them, you see a success storiy. But when you aggregate the tests and look only at the overall average, the picture is very different.

This is a critical concept in assessing what needs to be “fixed” in our schools. Sadly, it is always easier to deal with simple rhetoric than with complicated facts. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Abstract thinking skills

Radio Commentary

Throughout childhood and adolescence, children’s brains are developing in important ways.

One sign of this development is the ability to think about abstract concepts, such as “truth” and “justice.”

During middle school, children become better at abstract thinking, but they still need guidance.

Parents can initiate activities and conversations that involve these skills. Here are some examples that have worked for others:

  • Challenge accepted ideas. Ask, “Why shouldn’t athletes cheat?” or “Why don’t children go to school on the weekends?” Making young people support their accepted beliefs helps them understand the concepts behind those beliefs.
  • Talk with your child about imaginary situations. Ask: “What if you won the lottery?” or “What if eating ice cream became illegal?”
  • Do science experiments, and have children guess what will happen. Ask: “If we shine a lamp on this plant, will it grow faster or slower?”
  • Play games that require thinking ahead. “Battleship,” checkers, and chess are good examples of games that require some strategy. 
  • Let your children make choices. It’s OK if they make minor mistakes, such as spending their allowance too quickly. Use real-life situations to help your children learn from their choices.
  • Play “Twenty Questions.” Use categorical questions in general terms. Ask: “Is it a city?” instead of “Is it Miami?”

All these strategies help children develop their critical thinking skills.