Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chess crazy

Forget about the folklorico dancers, the singers or the speeches. All 13-year-old José Jacobo wanted to do was play chess. So on the corner of the Breadbox, while the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts celebrated the inauguration of their performance space, José was playing timed chess
against two -- TWO -- opponents.
"I'm using the knight strategy" he told me excitedly. "I'm going to work with the queen and then the bishop."
José is protegee of Alberto Murillo, the real estate agent turned teacher and chess evangelist. Alberto is convinced that chess will transform Salinas from an agricultural center into an "ideas" center.
First, he will have to convince local school districts to bring his programs back. Anybody heard about budget cuts?

And speaking of extra-curricular activities that work like magic for student achievement, Evan Liddle from Salinas High School was selected to attend the 2010 Congressional Academy which was held from June 27 to July 9.
The Congressional Academy for American History and Civics is a program for high school juniors to learn about pivotal turning points in American history memorialized by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Only 112 high school juniors -- out of 775 applicants -- from across the country were selected to participate in the Congressional Academy. The professors conducting the Congressional Academy are among the finest scholars of American history and government.

Evan spent two weeks in Washington, DC, with day trips to Philadelphia and Gettysburg, studying the American Revolution and Founding, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. Students are thereby exposed participants to the ideas and arguments that shaped these three great American epochs, the documents that make up our history, and the places where the history was made. During their stay, participants were surrounded by the streets and halls, the battlefields, public places, and private lodgings where the history we studied took place.
It'll be great if we can get more Monterey County students participating in this academy. For more information, click here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Speaking of life-long learners...

Learning never ends, and here's a few opportunities for those of us past our high school years to take some refresher courses in whatever it's out there. Learning can be so much fun.

The first opportunity comes via CSUMB's Osher Lifelong Learning institute, aimed at "50-and-better" folks. In its fourth year, the OLLI expects to have a membership of 500 by the end of the year, which will trigger a $1 million grant from the Osher Foundation to provide an endowment.
Among the course offerings are the OLLI Writers' Circle and several other writing and poetry classes and workshops; Unearthing the Past: the Prehistory of Monterey Bay; Introduction to Oceanography; the Three Worlds of Jazz, about the Monterrey Jazz Festival; and back by request, OLLI Goes to the Movies: International Social-Issue Films.
Several classes, such as Autumn Bird Migration and Salinas Chinatown: Once and Again involve field trips. Most of the classes will be held on the CSUMB campus; several will be offered at locations in the local community.
Former Assemblymember Fred Keeley is back with a six-session class on the 2010 California elections that will include polling and campaign updates and a post-election summary. And popular MPC instructor John Provost will offer an eight-week class in integral philosophy.
Students can purchase individual OLLI class offerings or may become members by paying a $149 annual fee or $99 semester fee which includes complimentary tuition for three OLLI courses per semester and other benefits including a parking pass, invitations to social events, discounts to the university’s sports center, swimming pool, athletic events and World Theater performances. To find out more, visit the OLLI website.

The second offering comes via the Monterey Bay Christian School, which is offering a series of free parenting classes based on the book, “Value-Packed Parenting – Raising Rock-Solid Children in a Pleasure-Driven World” by Dr. Kevin Lehman. The classes will be held on Thursdays, September 9th to October 28th, from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM in the Fellowship Hall at the Monterey Bay Christian School, located at 1184 Hilby, in Seaside. Topics that will be covered include anger, discipline, self-confidence, communication and birth order. Babysitting will be available, including nursery care from birth to age 2 years, and the Royal Rangers and Girl Ministries for kids ages 3 to 18. Parents of students at Monterey Bay Christian School or Little Ones Preschool will receive $100 off their tuition for the following month if they attend seven out of eight of the classes.
Monterey Bay Christian School has classes from preschool through middle school at three location in Seaside, California. For more information, click here.

And last, but not least, an opportunity for Spanish-speaking residents in the Salinas Valley to get a peek at the wonderful world of computers. The South Monterey County Center for Arts and Technology will host the first computer fair on Sunday, along the Day of the Agricultural Worker festival in Greenfield. Volunteers will demonstrate the benefits of owning a computer and the wonderful things they can do -- and in the interest of full disclosure, I will be one of the volunteer tutors at the event. Megan Heath, founder of SoMoCoCAT, wanted to bring the event because she's seen the need to bridge the digital divide with our neighbors in South County, and many are heeding her call and helping her out in her efforts. Still time to volunteer! Give Megan a call at 831-869-6055 or email her at information@somococat.org.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Race to nowhere

So after all that huffing and puffing, California ended 16 in the latest round of Race to the Top grants, the carrot the Obama administration is dangling to states to implement some school reforms. At a press conference this morning, California Superintendent of Public Schools Jack O'Connell said California's scorecard would be released Wednesday, and that President Obama is asking Congress for another $1.3 billion for more Race to the Top. We won't know until tomorrow why California scored so low, but in the meantime, it may be a good idea to ponder whether the chase is worth it...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grading the teachers

L.A. Time reporters Jason Felch and Jason Song will be available Thursday at 11 a.m. to discuss the findings of their investigative report "Grading the teachers." Felch, Song and Doug Smith analyzed tons of data to see which teachers are more effective according to how their students score on standardized tests.

I can almost hear everyone now holding their breath. And yes, their work has both earned praise and drawn ire. Praised from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who endorsing the release of such data publicly. The ire from Los Angeles teachers union president A.J. Duffy, who called for a boycott of The Times in response to the report.

Among the investigation's findings:

• Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year. There is a substantial gap at year's end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%. The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.

• Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided. Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.

• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

• Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students' academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

• Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers' effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students' performance.

Read the report and drop me a line. I'd love to hear what you think.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's the season to compete

You saw them identifying car parts. Now you can see them putting together a carburetor.
During the "Carburetor Challenge," 19 high school teams from San Andreas, Hollister, San Diego, Lodi, Visalia, Monterey, Seaside and Castroville will tear down, inspect and re-assemble an Edelbrock carburetor at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Aug. 14. Ohio Technical College, sponsor of the will award $1,500 to each participant, while the four fastest teams will compete in a final challenge to earn prizes including Edelbrock gear, Matco tools and tuition scholarships. The first place winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship; second place $4,000; third place $3,000; and fourth place $2,000.
The Carburetor Challenge starts at 8 a.m. with the awards ceremony beginning at 6 p.m.

Speaking of competitions, young and talented musicians who want to be a part of the Youth and Honors Orchestras can register online for an audition to be held Aug. 28. All new and returning students must register online before Friday, August 20, 2010 for the 2010-2011 concert season. Students who need to audition will tryout on Saturday, August 28, 2010 from 9am-5pm at the Monterey High School Band Room located at 700 Pacific Street in Monterey. Season begins Wednesday, September 8, 2010. Rehearsals begin Wednesday, Sept. 8. For more info, click here.

School's back in session -- at least in some school districts -- so more competitions are likely on the way. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Of teachers and students...

A brand new school year is afoot, and the folks at the Salinas Public library are gathering backpacks and/or donations to give to families in financial distress.
Backpack Extravaganza is back by popular demand.
On Sat. Aug. 15, folks at the library will give free backpacks and supplies on a first-come first served basis while supplies lasts. Their goal is to help 500 children,
Donations of $20 or more would help meet their goal -- each $20 will provide one backpack and basic school supplies for one child. Backpacks and school supplies may be donated at "bins" placed at all three Salinas Public Libraries.
Send a check to: Salinas Public Library Backpack Extravaganza, Attn: Mary Ellison, 350 Lincoln Ave., Salinas, CA 93901. Or drop off a backpack or make a cash donation at any Salinas Public Library:
John Steinbeck Library Cesar Chavez Library El Gabilan Library
350 Lincoln Ave. 615 Williams Rd. 1400 N. Main St.
For more information, visit www.salinaspubliclibrary.org

Monterey native Amanda Penn has joined Teach For America, the national corps of top college graduates who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools in
low-income communities.
Penn is a 2006 Monterey High School and Monterey Academy of Oceanographic Sciences, 2010 graduate of University of California, Los Angeles, and will teach in the Mid-Atlantic beginning this fall.
Only 12 percent of the 46,000 applicants got a job. Consequently, admissions were more selective than ever.