Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kindergarten learning over summer

Radio Commentary

Parents often think about how to keep academic skills sharp for their children over the summer.
For children finishing kindergarten, this is an especially important time, so you might want to touch base with the teacher before the school year ends.

By now, your child can probably use letters and sounds to figure out how to spell words.  Practice in this area can be helpful.

Reading and understanding stories designed for early readers is good practice.

Ask your child’s teacher whether his or her work proved satisfactory this year.
How could it be better?  Ask if your child is on track to be successful in first grade.
If there are any concerns, ask what would be helpful to reinforce over the summer.
If your child needs extra support, or wants to learn even more about a special subject, ask the teacher if there are resources available that could help.

Teachers and parents share the same goal:  they both want their children to succeed.

Summer is a needed break for many children, but there are many enjoyable ways to help keep academic skills from getting rusty.  Teachers are a great resource.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Only in America

News column

This weekend the United States marks 239 years since the founders boldly asserted certain “truths to be self evident.” They stated early in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal,” and are entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But as the awful events that unfolded on a sultry Wednesday evening at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina recently demonstrated, not every citizen subscribes to that elusive ideal of equality. Tragically, some choose not to pursue happiness, but rather pursue bigotry and hate — with murderous zeal.

A member of my staff happened to be visiting family in Charleston during that tumultuous time; his plane touched down in coastal Carolina about an hour after police apprehended the 21-year old alleged murderer. When David returned to work the following week, I asked him about some of his observations.

“It was surreal,” he said. “The entire community seemed shaken to its core. And there were so many emotions swirling: fear, anger, bewilderment, suspicion. And intense grief. But what was most remarkable,” he continued, “was the eagerness with which the victims’ families sought healing and reconciliation, and offered forgiveness.”

Several of us talked about a number of things that afternoon: gun control, the Confederate flag debate, race relations in the U.S. — a conversation that was rich and expansive and thought provoking, and which makes me grateful that we work and live in a place, a city, a state, and a country that places a premium on those kinds of discussions.

But we all seemed to gravitate back towards that striking demonstration of forgiveness and healing. I know we were not alone in that marvel. A day earlier New York Times columnist David Brooks told NPR’s Melissa Block that this gesture by the victims’ family members demonstrated a “depth of graciousness of spirit that's almost beyond fathoming.” Indeed.

Last Friday, June 26, President Obama delivered the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight of his parishioners, was senselessly gunned down nine days earlier in one of his church’s classrooms. It was clear that Obama, too, was moved by the community’s eagerness to heal, as “grace” was the dominant theme of his message. “The alleged killer,” the President observed, “could not have imagined…how the United States of America would respond: not merely with revulsion, but with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.” In an extraordinary moment towards the end of his remarks, the President leaned into the microphone and began singing “Amazing Grace.” The thousands in attendance at the memorial soon joined in. Only in America.

July 4 marks another anniversary, one considerably lesser known but which also obliges me to say, “Only in America.” On July 4, 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — the second and third American Presidents, respectively — died within hours of each other. These two signers of the Declaration went on to become bitter political rivalries. Later in life, however, they largely set aside their political differences, and in their post-presidencies began a written correspondence that is unmatched in the history of American letters.

The exchange is fascinating, but one quote from Jefferson, writing from his home in Monticello, Virginia, stands out. “I steer my bark with Hope in the Head,” he wrote to the New Englander Adams, “leaving Fear astern.” I would argue that the contemporary version of Jefferson’s observation was heard from the pulpit at Pinckney’s memorial service. “Weeping may endure for a night,” said Bishop John Bryant, “but joy comes in the morning. Touch the person next to you and say, ‘Good morning.’” 

It is my hope that, as our country once again celebrates its independence this July 4, we renew our commitment to leave behind the fear and hatred that was on such conspicuous, painful display recently. Instead, we should aspire as citizens of this extraordinary nation to heed the admonition of both Jefferson and Bishop Bryant to grow, to be better versions of ourselves, and to continue in our learning and self-discovery.

Pool safety

Radio Commentary

Swimming pools are a great place for children to have fun and get exercise. But they can also pose some dangers.

The American Red Cross has important safety tips for supervising children anytime they are at a pool or pond:

Never let a child swim alone. Constant supervision is a must.

Never leave a child unattended in the pool area — even for the length of time it takes to answer a telephone.

Pool owners should make sure there is fencing around the pool, with a locked gate.

Deep and shallow sections of the pool should be clearly marked and separated with a line if weak swimmers or non-swimmers use the pool.

Anyone supervising children near water should know simple reaching techniques for rescues.

These can include extending a towel, shirt, branch, or pole to the swimmer, or throwing a life preserver or other buoyant object.
It is also important to know how to administer CPR.

With water safety always in mind, everyone can have fun at the pool this summer. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer activities

Radio Commentary

Summer can continue to be a time of learning for young people, and it’s important that parents keep that in mind.

As a family, choose an important news event to follow for a day or two. Ask each person to find as much information on the topic as possible — read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch TV news, or check online. Then talk about what everyone has learned.

You can also make a family game of discussing a special issue. For example: “Teenagers should be allowed to vote.” Or, “There should never be any homework.”

Ask your children to think of all the reasons they can to support their views. Then ask them to think of reasons opposing their views.

Which views are most convincing?

For variety, you can assign family members to teams and have them prepare their arguments, pro and con.

Exercise also helps keep the mind sharp, and summertime is a great time for fitness. Ask your children to do at least one kind of exercise every day. For example, they could run or walk briskly for 10 minutes.
When possible, they should walk, instead of riding in a car, for any distance less than a mile.

Have your children create their own week-long exercise plans. Try to think of a modest reward for sticking to the plan. Then exercise right along with your children, for everyone’s health.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dons Net Café takes first place at business summit

News release

From left to right: Instructor Lee Ann Knodel; student
 Maddie Mender (CEO), George Rusznak, 
Santa Barbara
 SCORE; student Julia Danalovich; 
and student
Elizabeth Avila (next year's CEO).
Dons Net Café’s newest business venture took first place at the Small Business Summit in Sacramento June 19. After successful performances at three preliminary rounds earlier in the spring, the team flew to the capital for finals. Local business mentor George Rusznak of Santa Barbara SCORE and Sharon Henning of the SBHS Alumni Association also made the trip with the team.
In addition to a vocal, enthusiastic local audience at the competition site, the event was also broadcast live to 10 community college campuses throughout California. The students put on a flawless presentation and answered five minutes of questions that demonstrated clear thinking, grace under pressure, and sophisticated business knowledge.

The Dons Net Café winning presentation was entitled “Finding Common Ground,” a partnership between Escuela de Agricola de San Francisco of Paraguay and the Dons Net Café to sell jewelry made by the Toba Tribe, an ethnic group living in Bolivia and Argentina as well as Paraguay. Both schools use a portion of their business profits to benefit their programs, while another percentage goes to a charity of their choice.

The Santa Barbara students were introduced to their Paraguayan counterparts by their mutual supporters at Toms Shoes, following a class visit to South America last year. The two geographically disconnected groups also interacted via bi-weekly Skype sessions and a Facebook group.

"This win shows that anything is possible with commitment, passion, and the true desire to do some good in the world," said student and CEO of Finding Common Ground, Maddie Mender.

The Dons Net Café, a Regional Occupational Program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is a group of 11 student-run businesses that represents a 22-year commitment to inspire students to create positive social and environmental change through ethical commerce and service learning. The slogan of the Dons Net Café is “Doin’ Some Good in the World.” In this two-period class at Santa Barbara High School, students practice “real life” entrepreneurial skills through hands-on experience in business, social entrepreneurship, and economics. Further information is available by contacting 963-8597 or sbdons@hotmail.com.

Special thanks to our loyal business partners at Montecito Bank & Trust, Athens Capital, BarkBack, and Santa Barbara SCORE.

Passion for learning

Radio Commentary

Turning children into lifelong learners can be the ultimate joy for teachers and parents alike.

The benefits of this effort will continue to emerge throughout an entire lifetime.

Getting A’s is a great feeling for a student. But in the long run, generating a genuine curiosity and desire to learn can make a bigger difference than any grade on a test.

Imagine the potential of children who are curious about the world around them and who are happy with themselves.
That combination can lead to success in almost any arena.

Parents and teachers have the power to set the tone for a child’s academic accomplishments.

Praise children for their effort, for working independently, and for the energy they’ve spent in achieving a goal.

The process of studying well and learning deeply should be the highest priority.

If you look behind good grades you will often find a great deal of love and support.

Your children deserve the best chance to become true, lifelong learners.

Help maintain their enthusiasm for gaining knowledge, not just good grades.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New – Iceberg (results)

Radio Commentary

Test scores are just the tip of the iceberg.

That is the finding of a major new report by a partnership that included the Horace Mann League of the U.S.A., and the National Superintendents Roundtable.

The researchers studied the education systems of nine prominent nations.

They found six areas that proved essential for student success: economic equity, social stress, support for young families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes.

Among the countries studied — Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States — we scored very low on economic equity and social stress.

The study also found that U.S. teachers work significantly longer hours per year than in any of those other nations.

The U.S. scored the highest of all the countries in terms of system outcomes:  years of education completed, possession of secondary and bachelor’s degrees, and the global share of high-achieving science students.

To improve education more effectively, the study demonstrated, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on below the waterline in areas like economic equity, social stress, overall support for schools, and support for young families.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mothers’ degrees

Radio Commentary

High standards and accountability are critical to school reform, and I strongly support both these areas.
I do worry that using test scores as the sole measure of progress can mask the more complete picture. Here’s a quiz we often use to illustrate the point:
Which of the following factors is the most accurate predictor of a school’s standardized test scores?

A.  The quality of the teaching staff

B.  The percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches

C.  The number of children who moved from another school during the year

D.  The average number of hours volunteered each week

E.  The number of mothers who hold a college degree.

The answer is E.

Nationwide, schools with the highest number of mothers with college degrees have the highest test scores. No other factor correlates as highly.

But the answer is also ‘all of the above,’ because ALL these factors correlate with test scores.
Everyone agrees we must have a means to evaluate how well a student has grasped the subject matter that’s been taught, and good tests do just that.
But sometimes it is hard for students to show on a test what they really know quite well. The problem is dealing with the way a question is asked, not the information itself.

We need to know which students are truly falling short in knowledge so that we can help them succeed. The correlating factors remind us that when it comes to achievement, test scores can never tell us the whole story.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Road rage

Radio Commentary

It seems that more and more drivers are acting out their anger when they get behind the wheel.

After they've been cut off, tailgated, or slowed down by a car in front of them, these angry drivers can even commit acts of violence.

Teaching your children about road rage, and how to prevent it, is vital to their health and well-being.

One study of more than 10,000 incidents of aggressive driving revealed that at least 200 people were killed and another 12,600 people were injured because of driver anger.

Remember that you are a role model for your children. Keep your anger in check, and model behavior for your teens that shows them how to be a safe driver.

One good rule: Don't take actions that might offend other drivers. These might include cutting drivers off, driving slowly in the left lane, or tailgating. Avoid these actions at all costs.

Also, don't engage. One angry driver can't start a fight unless another one is willing to join in. So take a deep breath and move on.

It also helps to “steer clear.” Give angry drivers lots of room and avoid eye contact. If an angry driver is following you or using a car as a weapon against you, call for help if possible.

Anger-management courses have helped many individuals gain insight and practical techniques to keep their tempers under control.

When your children are riding in the car with you, remember that they will copy your behavior. Be a good role model for their sake as well as for your own.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Reading over the summer

Radio Commentary

Summer gives children a good break from the stresses of the academic assignments and tests they face during the school year.

But it is important to keep some skills active so that children don’t completely lose the drive to learn and to read.

Studies show that children who read during the summer make gains in their reading skills. Those who do not read over the summer can experience learning losses.

Here are some ways to help keep your child learning and reading throughout the extended break from the classroom.

First, have plenty of reading material around your home.

Storybooks aren’t the only thing that young people can read for fun. Be sure to have newspapers, magazines, and informational material on hand that might spark the interest of a young reader.

Continue to read aloud with children. Take them to see a local storyteller — or be one yourself. Don’t forget to improvise different voices or wear a silly hat to make the story that much more interesting.

What’s important is to keep the reading skills active.
It’s also critical to reinforce for young people the idea that reading can be fun and exciting. It can cure boredom and expand the mind. It can provide great adventures and help them meet really interesting people.

And it’s a great way to spend your time. 

Thursday, June 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Family matters

News column

“Tell me and I forget,” an ancient Chinese saying goes. “Teach me and I may remember. But involve me, and I learn.” Throughout the school year, teachers, administrators, and school counselors work on improving the lives of their students in ways that go beyond simply improving their book smarts. Our educators work tirelessly at helping students develop ways to appropriately express themselves, and methods to deal with stressful, emotional situations. Just because school is out for the summer, however, does not mean that those lessons should stop.

Education begins at home, and parents have the ability in the summer to exercise their enormous influence on their children in ways they might not be able to during the school year. Specifically, parents can model certain behaviors and help their children navigate through challenging family interactions. Those lessons in turn can become positive influences that affect children’s abilities to have meaningful relationships with siblings, friends, employers, fellow students, and teachers. Below are a few things parents might consider when continuing their children’s informal education during the summer months.

Sibling rivalries: It is understandable for parents who have been through a long, challenging day at work to want to intervene quickly when conflict erupts between their children. They are entitled to some peace and quiet, after all. But unless there is the threat of real violence, parents should try to stay on the sidelines during these spats. In so doing, parents are helping their children learn how to appropriately work through contentious exchanges. Once the dust has settled, parents can look for opportunities to have a teaching moment. There is no need to reignite the conflict. While it might sound hokey at first for parents to encourage children to think and talk about their feelings, the truth is that open lines of communication tend to directly diminish the likelihood of future angry outbursts. Children are never too young to learn the value of becoming more diplomatic.

House rules: Recently I noted how important it is for parents to be consistent in their application of rules. “Changing the goalposts” — whether done by a parent, teacher, or employer — is unfair to the child, invariably makes everyone unhappy, and can be a serious impediment to family harmony. Even giving in once can be problematic; winning is addictive, the old adage goes, and if that “win” subsequently results in a child’s persistent challenge to the house rules, parents can quickly feel besieged and overwhelmed.

One way to prevent this sort of outcome is to put the house rules in writing. When the child breaks a rule or tries to negotiate a “better deal,” the parent can point to those printed rules. “What is the rule?” the parent can ask, and thanks to the printed house rules, the answer is clear. For parents to do so is not an abdication of their duties. It is more like a compass. “It says here we are headed north.” That’s not being glib; it is merely stating a truth.

Huddle up: We live in a fast-paced, tech-centric, rapidly evolving world. While a great deal of technology has had a positive impact on our daily lives, the fact remains that it can be easy for parents to become preoccupied with all the distractions that swirl around them. When that happens, personal relationships can suffer. “True happiness,” the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said, “is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future.” More often than not, that email, text message, or phone call can wait. Why not try setting aside at least one night a week for family a meeting. Create the opportunity of an open forum in which everyone gets a chance to talk about what is important to her, what is going on in his world, what is of pressing concern to them. The family meeting certainly should not serve as an occasion to punish or discipline. Rather, it should be opportunity for parents to listen to their children's feelings and concerns, and to ask them to listen to theirs. Open and honest communication amongst a family will invariably increase its ability to engage in positive relationships, and will enable them to grow closer to one another.

Some of these parenting tips may well be things you are doing in your home already. And if you were raised in such a home, you are to be envied. The odds are that those memories of your upbringing are fond ones. But it does take work. “To be in your children's memories tomorrow,” author Barbara Johnson wrote, “you have to be in their lives today.” 


Radio Commentary

Feeling safe makes children feel more confident when they can meet new people, try new tasks, and take on new responsibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

TV and information

Radio Commentary

Children used to acquire knowledge of the world in a gradual, controlled way. They learned how to behave by watching adults and modeling their actions.

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

But times have changed. Today children are flung quickly into the realm of adult knowledge.

Certainly the mass media bombard children with messages at every turn. Rock and rap song lyrics, DVDs, and advertising all play their parts. Television, the Internet, and computer games are also major players.

Messages in ads, TV programs and games — in print, online, 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 reality shows and adventure shows, 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 TV heroes they admire or those on their computer screens. Those figures can avoid handling conflicts that can’t be solved in 22 minutes — or worse, in 22 seconds.

Creating a family of media critics is one answer to this challenge. “Talking back” to the TV or computer screen is a good first step. And remember to be aware of media content, and use good judgment in your selections.

These steps are a key to raising healthy, well-adjusted children. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Young Learners Preschool to open

News release

The Santa Barbara County Education Office has announced the opening of a new preschool for the 2015-2016 school year. The Young Learners Preschool, located at La Canada Elementary in Lompoc, will open in August. The center teacher is Rosalinda Fletes.

Young Learners Preschool is established to serve children aged three or four years old by Sept. 2, 2015. Once open, the school will offer two sessions. The morning session will be held from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.; the afternoon session will run from noon to 3 p.m.

The Young Learners Preschool will be the sixth Lompoc preschool operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The other SBCEO-operated preschools in Lompoc are La Honda, De Colores, Just For Kids, Early Steps, and Learning Place.

An information meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 8 at 3 p.m. in the La Canada Auditorium, located on 621 West North Avenue in Lompoc. If parents have questions about the meeting or would like to be placed on the registration list, they should call Ana Hernandez at 964-4710, ext. 4409.

Preteens and friends

Radio Commentary

When children become preteens, their interest in friends and social activities often increases dramatically. Parents may be faced rather abruptly with issues of trust and peer pressure.

Preteens may resist having parents check up on their outside activities. They may say, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me.”

One good response is, “I trust you, but I don’t like the situation you’re going to be in.” Or, “I trust YOU to stay away from trouble, but I can’t be sure your friends will.”

Preteens may think they can avoid peer pressure on their own, but they actually will appreciate having you help them.

If your child is going to a party, ask a lot of “what if” questions.

For example, say, “What if your friends dare you do to something that is against our family’s rules?”

Many parents also report great success with “escape lines” that allow preteens to blame you when resisting pressure.

For example, a preteen offered alcohol can say, “No thanks. My dad always smells my breath when I come home.”

The bottom line is that parents of preteens must sometimes be willing to be unpopular. They don’t have to let preteens go somewhere or do something just because their friends’ parents allow it.

Parents must continue to set limits on behavior and be willing to say “no” when necessary. It’s absolutely necessary, and their children will be grateful — if not today, then some day soon. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Opinion differences

Radio Commentary

There will come a time when you and your child have different opinions. It’s inevitable.

Accept this fact and understand that depending on a child’s age, personality traits, and peer influences, he or she is certain to see things from a different perspective at times.

Accept these differences of opinion and use the opportunity to discuss the topic in question.

Encourage independent thinking and listening to others. Getting to know people better and understanding their perspectives can be vital to future emotional and psychological well-being.
It’s also very healthy and affirming for children to hear you say these words when appropriate: “You’re right – I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

When children grasp the idea that we can always learn something new and see something from another point of view, they are more likely to keep open minds as they engage in a spirited defense of their own beliefs.

Help them flesh out their arguments and approach issues from different sides. Show them that everyone is entitled to an opinion but that not all opinions are equally valid, especially if they are based on emotion or misconceptions, rather than fact.

A thoughtful debate is often very educational and stimulating. Helping your children become articulate, thoughtful, and respectful will help them at all stages of their lives. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Let children reveal concerns

Radio Commentary

During stressful times, it’s important to make it easy and comfortable for children to express their concerns to you.

Often, if we ask a child, “Are you worried?” the answer is likely to be “No.”

But if you ask instead, “When you are concerned about this, what part worries you?” your child is more likely to open up.

This is a statement of assumption — you are letting your child hear that you assume there are concerns and you’d like to hear his or her thoughts about it.
You could also distance your child all together from having to reveal personal concerns by asking what he or she thinks others are feeling right now.
That seems to be a safe way for young people to express their worries without having to come out and say that these things bother them as well.

Parents can then suggest how “the others” might deal with those worries.

The important point is to get children talking so that you know what they are feeling and can reassure them properly, no matter the issue.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dons Net Café students make a successful pitch

News release

On June 1, Dons Net Café students were selected as high school division finalists for the state-wide competition “Get a Taste of Success” Business Plan Pitch Competition. The finals will be held June 19 in Sacramento at the Small Business Summit. The summit will also be simulcast at 10 community college locations around the state, so as to increase the breadth of competition, discussion panels, and roundtable discussions.

In the preliminary rounds, which were open to the nine educational regions of California, the Santa Barbara High team placed in the top three. This score secured them a trip to the state capitol, and they are already guaranteed a $500 prize along with a package of business services. They will compete for the first-place prize of $2,000, which also includes a one-to-two minute explainer video for their business ($825 value), scriptwriting, four hours of HD videography, and editing/motion graphics.

The students will present their newest venture, “Finding Common Ground,” by giving a 10-minute presentation, showing a two-minute elevator pitch video, and answering questions from a panel of judges for five minutes. Finding Common Ground is a partnership with Escuela Agricola de San Francisco, located in Asunción, Paraguay. It was inspired by the idea that students from different countries can come together to construct a profitable business, all while developing friendships, respect, and the ability to solve individual and mutual social, environmental, and business problems.

By all accounts, it has been a banner year for the students of Dons Net Café. They received first place in the Scheinfeld New Venture Challenge, a perfect score on their IRS audit, received a top nonprofit rating, and earned second place at UCLA’s Project ECHO. Faculty advisor Lee Ann Knodel was also named the Chip Goodman Entrepreneur Teacher of the Year.

The Dons Net Café, a Regional Occupational Program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is a group of 11 student-run businesses that represents a 22-year commitment to inspire students to create positive social and environmental change through ethical commerce and service learning. The slogan of the Dons Net Café is “Doin’ Some Good in the World.” In this two-period class at Santa Barbara High School, students practice “real life” entrepreneurial skills through hands-on experience in business, social entrepreneurship, and economics.

Further information is available by contacting 963-8597 or sbdons@hotmail.com.

Learning on trips

Radio Commentary

Summer is often a time for family vacations and trips. But going away doesn’t mean that learning has to stay at home. Try these activities to help keep young minds active:

Put reading skills to practical use whenever the opportunity arises.

Gather bus routes, and schedules, to places like a zoo, a museum, or a baseball stadium. Let your children plan a portion of a trip, figuring out the travel time required, the cost, and the best time to go. Let them write out a schedule to follow.

You can also help sharpen their math skills while on a trip.

When filling your tank, ask your children to compute the gas mileage for your car.

On the highway, ask your children to read the signs and check the different speed limits. They can check off license plates from different states. Have them estimate distances between cities and check the estimates on a road map.

Of course, one of the most important parts of a summer vacation is the valuable time spent interacting with your children in a setting that is different from your home, without the normal interruptions.

Showing your children you love them and are proud of them is the best teaching tool of all.

Combine this with activities that stimulate the mind, and you will teach your children to appreciate life and lifelong learning.

Practicing Kindergarten skills

Radio Commentary

With summer underway, it’s a good time for parents with children who will be entering kindergarten to start preparing and orienting them for the classroom.

In Kindergarten, children will work on naming upper and lower-case letters and matching those with their sounds. Practice in this area is especially helpful.

Children will compare the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories like fairy tales and folk tales. This can be fun to do together.

Kindergartners also use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to describe an event and include their reaction to it.

They learn to recognize, spell, and properly use those grammatical little words that hold the language together, like “a,” “the,” “to,” “of,” “is,” and “are.” Helping them practice that will make them feel more confident.

In math, they will count objects and compare groups to tell which has more units. They will solve simple addition and subtraction word problems, with sums of 10 or less.

Also, they will name shapes regardless of orientation — if a square is oriented as a “diamond,” it is still a square.

Parents and children can both have fun practicing these skills over the summer to help prepare for the coming school year.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer schedules

Radio Commentary

In most households, summertime means a change of schedule from the usual routine. When children are involved, this change can get tricky to navigate, because children tend to be creatures of habit.

Here are some suggestions to help make the transition as smooth as possible:

If children will be home alone for a while, discuss your expectations and household rules. Tell children what they can’t do, what they can do, and when they can do it.

Be very specific and try to cover as many contingencies as possible.

Stage a practice run before you leave children alone. Let them rehearse the routine while you’re away but nearby.

They can call you if they run into any snags, and you can show them how the situation should be handled in the future.

Make sure your children know that you trust them, and that letting them stay alone is helping them become even more responsible. But be sure to warn them that if they can’t follow the rules, they will lose the privilege of caring for themselves.

Post the rules on the refrigerator door where they will be easily accessible.

As an example, many families allow snacking but no cooking. Children should not be allowed to have visitors except for those you have approved in advance.

Rules of this sort protect your children’s safety while giving them a sense of importance and responsibility for their own actions. It’s never too early to start on that important road.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Second two Rs for testing

Radio Commentary

Testing is the student’s equivalent of death and taxes — an absolute certainty in modern classrooms.
Some students don’t seem to get very stressed about tests. Others feel anxiety and need help to do their best.

A publication titled “Principal Communicator” outlined four words starting with “R” that can help parents help their children feel confident about tests:  Being Receptive, Relaxed, Ready, and Rested.

It makes sense that being “ready” is of critical importance.

Tests measure a child’s knowledge at a given point in time.
Parents can help by making sure their child has completed and reviewed all the schoolwork that the test will measure.
Get informed about the nature of the tests at each grade level, and pay special attention to test dates.

Ask how the school prepares students for these tests and what support a parent can provide.
Another very important trait, that can be overlooked or ignored during periods of intense studying, is for a student to be “rested.”
Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep the night before a test and a good, nutritious breakfast that morning.

Receptive, relaxed, ready, and rested:  These four preparation traits could help ease the stress of year-round tests.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Communication don’ts

Radio Commentary

When communicating with teenagers, keep this sentence in mind:
“Please think about what you just said to me.”

Sometimes that simple statement can diffuse a lot of emotion and distractions.

On the other hand, here are some important, teen-tested statements that will kill off communication and should be avoided at all costs:
  • “Who do you think you are talking to?”
  • “Why did you do that?”
  • “What were you thinking about?”
  • “How could you be so foolish or selfish?”
  • “Don’t use that tone of voice with me.”
Communication is critical, so it helps to know and avoid these “killer” phrases when attempting to keep those lines of contact strong with a teenager.

Focusing on the positive is always the most effective way to go, though it can take a great deal of self-discipline on the part of a parent, who sees so clearly what needs to be changed.

If you can take the time to listen carefully, move the conversation in a positive direction, and avoid phrases that can turn a teenager stone-cold in an instant, you’ll find it is much easier to keep the lines of communication open.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Summer assignments

News release

I marvel at the fact that we are about to close the book on another highly successful academic year here in Santa Barbara County. From remarkable student accomplishments to teacher awards and recognitions to the tackling of important issues affecting our children and communities, the 2014-15 school year has been filled with achievement and promise. But as our 67,000 students across the 20 school districts of Santa Barbara County prepare for their summer vacations, I wanted to talk to parents about some ideas that I hope will help build upon the momentum our students have generated over the last 10 months.

While nearly every teacher will talk about the many rewards that come with being in the classroom and interacting with young people on a daily basis, that fact remains that educators also face many challenges fulfilling the obligations of in loco parentis — Latin for “in the place of a parent” — every school day. Frequently, a portion of those challenges can be traced back to a child’s home environment. Studies have shown factors such as a lack of structure and little to no accountability at home can lead to significant struggles in the classroom. Those factors can adversely affect the child’s ability to keep up with coursework and retain important information, but, in more extreme cases, can also become impediments to learning for that child’s peers as well.

Parents would love it if their children, without prompting, become diligent, hard working, responsible students. But anyone who has ever been a parent or spent any significant time around children can attest to the fact that such kids are the exception, not the rule.

The reality is that good parenting is hard, and demands that parents take an active interest in their child’s life. That they understand that parenting is not a popularity contest. That they set clear boundaries and standards for their child. “The standards you walk past,” a friend of mine is fond of saying, “are the standards you accept.”

Boundaries, standards, and accountability measures will of course vary from family to family. But there are some features that can remain fairly uniform despite familial and cultural differences. I call them the “Three C’s”: communication, clarity, and consistency. Persistent application of the Three C’s can be a challenge, but like most efforts that involve hard work and dedication, they can become an important part of a family’s routine, and can have a profound, positive effect on a child — both in the classroom and at home.

Communication. Parents often complain about the difficulties they encounter when trying to engage their children in conversation. They are too plugged in, distracted, or uninterested. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat. “My son is here, but he’s not present,” one parent recently complained to me. The things that occupy our children are often so foreign to us as adults that we don’t even know where to begin, such that we might not even bother. But don’t give up on your efforts to communicate, parents. It is not always easy to tell what is sinking in. And you just might be pleasantly surprised.

Clarity. It is the bane of every parent’s existence to hear his or her child complain, “But that’s not what you said!” There is no foolproof antidote that will prevent a child from arguing that his or her parents’ rules are vague, from taking a rule out of context, or from willfully misinterpreting those rules. But that does not absolve parents from trying to be as clear and precise as possible when laying down the law.

Finally, consistency. There are fewer ways to exasperate a child than for a parent, teacher, or employer to have an inconsistent application of the rules. Something that was OK on Monday is suddenly forbidden on Tuesday. When adults “move the goalposts” in such a fashion, their expectations of children can be reduced to a guessing game. It need not be. They may not always meet those expectations, to be sure, even if you remain consistent. But at least they will know there will be consequences.

Most of us are probably familiar with the adage that “Education begins at home.” Schoolteachers and principals would doubtless be among the first to attest to the truth of this claim. Over the next two months, many parents will be seeing much more of their children during the day than perhaps they have over the last 10 months. As you enjoy their company, parents, I want to encourage you to communicate with your children with clarity and consistency. In so doing, you will earn the admiration and appreciation of your children’s teachers next fall, when those teachers will build on the great work you will have accomplished. 

Communication do’s

Radio Commentary

In these times when everyone is very rushed, it’s more important than ever to take the time to talk with your children.
This is especially the case with teenagers who may be going through some challenges.
Timing your talk is critical. Choose a time when your child seems most receptive.
Here are some quick, practical, teen-tested phrases for adults to use successfully in communicating with adolescents:

  • First, say nothing for a while — just listen.
  • Then say:  “I’ve heard you say…” and paraphrase your child’s point.  
  • Ask: “Is that accurate?”
  • “Say: “What were your options or choices of action?”
  • Ask: “How were others affected by your actions?”
  • Then ask:  “How could you have handled things differently?”

This sequence of comments – listening, paraphrasing, confirming, asking about options, focusing on others, and then reaching a good conclusion— are all positive ways to communicate with a teenager. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cirone on Schools - Mary-Grace Langhorne

Mary-Grace Langhorne
Santa Barbara Teen Star 2014 Winner

Talking with Teachers - Maggie Mason

Maggie Mason
Dos Pueblos High School

Local Leaders - Rona Barrett

Rona Barrett
Rona Barrett Foundation

IQ scores up

Radio Commentary

An interesting fact has emerged from IQ testing over the past 60 years: Scores have risen so dramatically and so quickly that scientists say heredity cannot be the cause.

Because IQs are always adjusted into a bell-shaped curve, with an IQ of 100 being the mid-point, the rise in raw scores has not been readily apparent.

But researchers for 10 years now have been giving subjects IQ tests that had been unchanged for almost all of the last century.

The results show that today’s American children would perform 20 points higher in IQ on the scale given in 1931.

Today, about 25 percent would rank as intellectually superior on that 1931 test, when only 3 percent fell into the category at that time.

Scientists offer a variety of possible reasons behind the rise in IQs: 

  • better nutrition, 
  • improved child-rearing in smaller families, 
  • more exposure to schooling and testing, 
  • the bombardment of media stimulation, 
  • and modern teaching techniques. 

They all agree that heredity could not account for the rise.

IQ tests measure intelligence, abstract reasoning, or mental sharpness, and scientists say this is apparently more responsive to changes in the way we live than to our genetic makeup.

Living in a richer, more stimulating environment may not make people wiser, kinder, or more accomplished on tests of recall. But it does seem to make them smarter in the ways that intelligence tests can record. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Problems solved

News release

While viewers across the country were tuning in to ESPN’s SportsCenter to get breaking news on the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee, over 350 of south county’s best and brightest 4th through 6th graders assembled at the Earl Warren Showgrounds May 28 for the 33rd annual South Coast Math Superbowl.

The event, first held in May 1982, featured participants from 31 local private and public schools. It is organized annually by the Montecito Union School District, with support from Cold Spring School, Peabody Charter, the Santa Barbara County Education Office, and volunteers from the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Jeff Linder, math specialist at Montecito Union, has been orchestrating the event for the last several years.

“A number of adults devoted a lot of time and energy to pull this off, and I am deeply grateful for their dedication and sense of teamwork,” said Linder. “But I think every one of us would say we are inspired by the intellect, energy, and enthusiasm of these awesome kids.”

The Superbowl has three components: individual concepts and procedures, individual problem solving, and team problem solving. Students also participated in a hands-on engineering competition to build cantilevered structures using clay and toothpicks.

The day’s events were kicked off with an opening address from Dr. Nick Bruski, chief academic officer at Montecito Union School, and also featured a keynote address from Sam Woodard. Woodard was on the Monte Vista Elementary team from 1997-1999, and later co-founded and became CEO of mathchat, a technology company that creates an electronic tool for students to collaborate around mathematics on their phones or tablets.

“The big thing I took from the Math Superbowl was the thrill of problem solving,” Woodard says. “It gives students a chance to really struggle with challenging questions. As a kid, it afforded me the chance to be celebrated for solving difficult problems, and it heavily influenced my college and professional career paths.”

While Woodard’s story is an inspiring one, it was the young mathletes who were the stars of this show.

“It is such a privilege to witness these teams of students taking on intellectual challenges, persevering, and just enjoying learning mathematics,” said Ellen Barger, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction with the County Education Office. 

Overall standings
1st Washington
2nd Kellogg Elementary
3rd Peabody Charter
3rd Monte Vista School
5th Isla Vista
6th Mountain View

4th Grade Team - 1st Washington, 2nd Kellogg, 3rd Isla Vista
5th Grade Team - 1st Peabody, 1st Washington, 3rd Isla Vista
6th Grade Team - 1st Kellogg, 2nd Vieja Valley, 3rd Washington

4th Grade Individual Standings
1st Emanuel Manzanarez Washington Elementary School
2nd Daniel Nickolov Isla Vista School
2nd Hunter Hulsey Washington Elementary School
3rd Valentina Juricek Washington Elementary School

5th Grade Individual Standings
1st Jacob Snodgress Monte Vista School
2nd Alejandro McCotter Gonzalez Peabody Charter School
2nd Kai Edick Washington Elementary School
3rd Barrett Collins Peabody Charter School

6th Grade Individual Standings
1st Magaliel Madrigal Santa Barbara Community Academy
1st Owen Pearson Peabody Charter School
1st Tetsuto Katsura Vieja Valley School
2nd Samuel McCarty Washington Elementary School
2nd Tuan Anh Dang Isla Vista School
3rd Andy Qin Monte Vista School