Thursday, June 25, 2015

California Assembly committee will hold special hearing on the status of boys and men

Members of the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color will host a hearing to discuss issues young men in Salinas are facing.

The hearing will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, June 26, in Building K of the Performing Arts Center of Hartnell College, 411 Central Avenue.

Participants will include:
Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, SR., Select Committee Chair;
Assemblymember Nora Campos;
Marc Philpart, PolicyLink;
Jerry Tello, National Compadres Network
Andrea Manzo, Building Health Communities—East Salinas
Ray Bullick, Monterey County Health Department
Brian Goldstein, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Frank Guzman, National Center for Youth Law
Ray Corpuz, City Manager, City of Salinas
Gary Petersen, City of Salinas, Salinas GRE Committee
Kelly McMillin, City of Salinas, Salinas Police Department

A special book sale for educators coming to Marina

It's that time of the year when students and teacher take a deep, deep breath and stock up in energy and good humor.

While you're at it, why not stock up in books?

The Friends of the Marina Library will host a "special educator's sale" at their sorting location in Marina. Cristina Medina Dirksen, former Herald reporter and mom extraordinaire is organizing the event, so come by check out their goodies.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 3195 Tallmon St. in Marina. For more information text 277-8586, email,  or like their Facebook page here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Helping shape the next generation of journalists

For the next couple of weeks, I'll be a staff member with The Mosaic, a  workshop that brings together some of the brightest aspiring journalist in Silicon Valley.

And boy, they smart! During the first day of the workshop, our young reporters came up with really good story ideas, all based on what's making headlines these days and their own life experiences. Like, how frustrating it is to take the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, the new way California will evaluate how students learn. They were time consuming and scheduled right after AP testing, which means they took a toll on the students. Were they worth it? I'll find out when my reporter gets don with his story.

Another reporter is writing about counselors-for-hire. And yet another about race relations in this country. And these are only my reporters: the other newsroom staffers are writing about the drought, the ban on plastic bags, the Warriors epic season, and more. So much meaty stuff.

The Mosaic San Jose High School Journalism Workshop began in 1993 when a group of San Jose Mercury News journalists put into practice their idea to inspire the next generation of journalists. Participants complete a rigorous application process, and during the two-week workshop they develop their journalistic skills by hitting the streets for news stories and opinion columns that reflect the community from a teenage perspective while meeting professional standards.

I'd been asked to teach journalism in high school before, but haven't been able to for  complicated reasons. If I'd known how fun and rewarding this could be, I would have done it sooner.

Seaside students get a taste for higher education during "Imagine College."

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Friday – early for many teenagers on summer vacation – and a group of Seaside High students are hunched over worktables in a chemistry lab, thick plastic goggles protecting their eyes. 

Beneath a Periodic Table of the Elements, the students are making biodegradable plastic from vinegar, glycerin and tapioca starch.

The class is part of the Imagine College Summer Scholar Institute at Cal State University Monterey Bay. The program's goal is to give students a taste of campus life and encourage them to think that college is a realistic possibility. During the weeklong program, the students take a class of their choosing, go on field trips, tour campus, and attend a panel where first-generation college graduates tell their stories.

This summer, they could choose to take a class in kinesiology, chemistry or SAT test preparation for those who are entering their senior year.

Giselle Duenas chose the chemistry class. The junior said she’s interested in science, took biology at Seaside High, and was eager to try a different subject.

“I thought it was going to be in a classroom, with lectures,” she said. “But, every day we have done experiments. It’s been fun.”

Friday’s experiment followed from their visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium the previous afternoon.

“They learned about the problems with plastics and the environment when they visited the aquarium. The experiment we’re doing today makes them aware of their use of plastics,” said Crystal Gonzalez, a CSUMB instructor who is teaching the class.

A lesson earlier in the week involved cosmetics and chemistry, where students made their own lip balm and lotion. Other lessons involved the chemistry of crime science investigation, where they learned about DNA extraction and fingerprint analysis.

“It’s a great program. We’ve gotten to do some cool things I wouldn’t have had a chance to do otherwise, said junior Justin Doolittle.

Imagine College is a local collaborative with some school districts to bring high school students experience a taste of college. As an additional bonus, a local resident donated money to provide a $4,000 scholarship to any student who graduates from Seaside High with a 2.5 grade-point average, attends two weeks of Imagine College while in high school and gets accepted to a college or university.

-- Joan Weiner, CSUMB

Alisal students take part in Hartnell's "Panther Day"

About 1,200 fourth graders from the Alisal Union School District took part of “Panther Day,” a one-day extravaganza at Hartnell College that introduced them to their local community college and the possibility of higher education.

Administrators and staff welcomed the “future college graduates” in the Gymnasium. The fourth graders were treated with a special skit by The Western Stage staff, demonstrations by robotics, student-athletes presentations, information about accessibility to college, financial aid and more. Hartnell College students served as tour guides and introduced their young peers to specialty facilities that included the nursing simulation lab, science labs, library, athletic facilities and others.

Organizers hope this type of events hope it becomes a staple and help inspire more students to pursue higher education. Looks like students had a great time!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Election season is upon us

It's school board election season, and several trustees are up for re-election -- Jon Hill, Debra Gramespacher and Diane Creasy among them.

For the would-be candidates out there, the Monterey County Elections Department is hosting a candidate seminar and invites anyone interested in running for office in the November 3 elections to attend.

The seminar is scheduled from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, June 13 at the Schilling Place Building, 1441 Schilling Place, Salinas.

Personnel from Monterey County Elections will provide an overview of:

Requirements for office
Filing procedures
Important deadlines
Campaign finance reporting obligations

Attendance is free. To RSVP call 831-796-1499 or email Greta Arevalo at For more information click here.

Salinas Valley Dream Academy returns from East Coast tour

Whether it's Hernandez v. Texas, Brown v. Board of Education, or Gideon v. Wainwright the Supreme Court is where these landmark cases were all decided. And last week, a group of hardworking Salinas teens had a chance to visit where it all happened.

Members of the Dream Academy, a club started by Alisal High School teacher Ruben Pizarro, took a week-long tour of Washington D.C. and New York City, where they had the opportunity to visit monuments, universities, and even had a debriefing at the White House.

"Academy students are learning that if they fight for what they want, even if it takes some time, justice will prevail," Pizarro said in an email.

During the briefing students from different high schools across Salinas learned about loans and college finances, education, health care, advocacy, immigration reform, among others topics.

Students in the mostly low-income community fundraise for the entire school year to be able to pay for the trip. Although the academy focuses on scholastic efforts such as touring colleges and learning about civic engagement and career opportunities, the main thrust of their efforts is to tour the East Coast and expand their horizons. 

A total of 96 students left for the trip on May 31 and returned June 7. Judging by their photos on Facebook, they had a blast.

Congratulations on another successful trip, Mr. Pizarro. Next time I'm going to have to join you!

Twenty intrepid climbers go up Mt. Shasta for foster youth

Next week, 20 climbers will brave Mt. Shasta to raise funds for two organizations that lobby on behalf of foster youth.

One of the climbers is my kid, the brave and tenacious Heidi Moran. But that's not the only reason I'm writing about this.

Over the years I've learned about the difficulties children in foster care have to endure, chief among them having to be separated from their families -- as bad as they could be, it's all these children know, and often it's an ordeal for them to start anew with a different family or a group home.

But having to be away from their families is just the beginning of a long journey. Many face tremendous challenges to graduate from high school and college; much higher than the hurdles faced by youth who have the support of their next of kin. Yet, many go on to successful, fulfilling careers.

Organizers say they chose climbing Mt. Shasta as a fundraiser not just because one of their leaders is a climbing enthusiast. Going up a volcano is a good metaphor for the mountains foster youth have to conquer.

“You get to see people experiencing the mountain for the first time, putting on crampons, wearing a headlamp,” said Heather Matheson, outreach associate for Fostering Media Connections and a coordinator for the climb. “As an adult you don't get to do this often, and it gives our youth climbers a chance to channel their drive and resilience to overcome a mountain metaphorically and in reality. They’ve overcome so much and it's an exciting thing to do to build confidence.”

Matheson, who will be on her third climb, said the “Questival” is also a great chance for the adult climbers to be around foster youth, something they may not usually have the opportunity to do. Interestingly, it’s the youth climbers who have more success reaching the top, she said.

“It comes down to resilience,” Matheson said. “It's a huge mental battle and the youth climbers are more than ready for that kind of things.”

The California Youth Connection, a youth-run and led legislative advocacy organization, is composed of hundreds of current and former foster youth who embody the inspirational story of foster care children succeeding. Fostering Media Connections is a non-profit organization that harnesses the power of journalism and media to improve the foster care system. Together, CYC and FMC are helping to give foster youth a platform to make their voices heard. These are the two organizations that will benefit from the "Questival", the fourth annual Mt. Shasta fundraiser

Please consider supporting  these brave souls and their worthy cause. You can find their link here.