Monday, January 30, 2012

Studying trauma in S.F. middle schools

By: Jill Tucker

An Aptos Middle School student sits alone and draws during
Game Club. This student is not suspected of having PTSD, but
social workers say troubled students may isolate themselves,
Game Club helps them to interact.
One in every 6 students surveyed in San Francisco middle schools this year experienced community violence, abuse, the death of a loved one, war or other traumatic event, putting them at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder or other trauma-related problems.

The results showed that on average five or six children in every classroom are burdened by mental, physical or emotional symptoms related to stressful events in their lives outside school, regardless of race, family income or neighborhood.

The screening was the first extensive survey of student exposure to trauma in the district, which welcomed the researchers and training they are bringing to schools to identify and support students.

It was part of a larger scientific study by education researchers at SRI International to test the effectiveness of school-based group therapy to improve student coping skills and in turn academic performance.

Seven of the district's 13 middle schools are participating in the first year of the four-year, $3.4 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Education. About 613 incoming sixth-graders, about 40 percent of the students in that category, were surveyed.

At Aptos Middle School, a high-performing school in the Balboa Terrace neighborhood, about half of the sixth-graders who took the survey reported experiencing at least one significant traumatic event.
"I just felt we needed to find out," said Aptos Principal Doug Dent. "There's a lot of behavior (among students) that didn't make a lot of sense to adults."

Students have been known to storm out of class for no apparent reason; overreact to minor encounters; yell or get in frequent fights; or get angry when asked to remove a coat or a hat. Others simply withdraw, refusing to participate or engage, teachers and administrators said.

"They can't benefit from the education they're getting," said Carl Sumi, senior education researcher at SRI, an independent research institute in Menlo Park.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Beating the deadline to apply for SF schools

Counselors and parents handing in applications for school
are silhouetted against a screen in the San Francisco
Unified School District Board Room, where a temporary office
was set up Thursday to deal with the rush of applications.
Kindergarten applications have spiked. The deadline: Today.
Counselors and parents hand in their applications for public school in the Board Room, where a temporary office was set up to deal with the rush of applications coming in close to deadline, at the San Francisco Unified School District Administrative Office on Thursday, January 26, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif.

Interest in SF public schools has been on the rise, with 22% more kindergarten applications in 2011 than in 2005 (5% more in 2011 than in 2010).

The application deadline is January 27 and students entering the public schools for the first time must submit original proofs of residency in order for their applications to be processed.

SF Schools Pushing Kids To Drink More Tap Water

By: Patricia Decker, Bay City News

San Francisco public school officials are hoping to encourage students to drink more water--both at school and at home--by promoting the benefits of tap water and allowing students to use refillable water bottles in classrooms, district officials said today.

As part of a pilot program to promote an alternative to single-use plastic water bottles, the school district, in partnership with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, has installed new water fountains that allow for easy bottle filling.

The pilot program was conducted at five public schools, and this morning Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and representatives from the SFPUC and SFUSD announced the successful completion of the pilot's first phase.

According to the school district, slightly more than 1,800 students attend the five initially participating schools--Tenderloin Community School, John Yehall Chin, Jose Ortega Elementary School, Sutro Elementary School and Wallenberg High.

The initiative is expanding to 21 additional public schools, district officials said.

In the city's North Beach neighborhood, all students at John Yehall Chin Elementary this morning received new 16-oz stainless steel water bottles for use at their school's new "combo tap" station, district officials said.
Beyond providing containers, the initiative aims to educate students about how water is a part of everyday life, where water comes from, and why it is important to conserve, the district's director of sustainability, Nik Kaestner, said.

"Teachers talk about the benefits of tap water and talk to them about the importance of filling up these bottles regularly," Kaestner said. "We're basically trying to displace their desire to drink other beverages."
So how many bottles aren't students using?

According Kaestner, the school district plans to conduct a survey at the end of February to quantitatively measure the pilot program's success.

The survey will compare the water use and drinking habits of three of the pilot schools to that of three schools that did not participate, he said.

According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in the city, bottled water is at least 300 times more expensive than tap water, considering that the SFPUC sells water for approximately $0.003 per gallon.
The Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park supplies 85 percent of SFPUC tap water, and health department officials said the reservoir is a "highly protected, high quality" source that meets EPA regulatory requirements.

Compared to tap water, bottled water also uses more resources, produces more waste, and requires time and energy to transport the water from the store to the home or office, according to the public health department.

Students are being encouraged to drink three bottles--or 48 oz. of water a day. Any more, Kaestner said, and teachers would be concerned that students would be distracted by too many trips to the bathroom.
"We're asking them to drink three, instead of drink freely," he said.

Allowing the in-class water bottles, which have been outfitted with sport tops for quick (and quiet) drinking, means that students will no longer need to be constantly excused to use the drinking fountain, according to Kaestner.

As for establishing healthy habits at home, Kaestner said that the students often are able to convince their parents to change their behavior.

"They have the opportunity not only to do the right thing at home but to take it beyond the classroom," he said.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In S.F. schools, it's the process that's tested

By Jill Tucker

At Starr King Elementary, Latrice Simmons, a convert to the
benefits of benchmark assessments, teaches third grade.
Every spring, California schoolchildren pick up their No. 2 pencils to take standardized tests, filling in answer sheets hour after hour. The tests go on for several days, after days and days of preparation and practice for those tests.

There's too much testing and not enough learning, Gov. Jerry Brown said during his annual State of the State speech last week.

Brown proposed curtailing the number of tests students have to take, an idea met with enthusiasm by teachers who long have complained about the national obsession with standardized tests.

Yet, in San Francisco, district officials added an asterisk to that support.

That's because city schools are testing kids more than ever before. District officials don't call them tests, though. They call them assessments. There's a big difference, said Richard Carranza, deputy superintendent.

Assessments explained

Tests, whether given by the state or in class by a teacher, are a snapshot of a point in time, he said. They are used to determine a student's grade or to rank a school.

With assessments, which San Francisco started administering last year, district officials can check to see how well students are learning. A uniform district-wide assessment is given three times a year in elementary grades and twice in high school.

"It's checking for understanding," Carranza said. "It informs you: What do you do next?"

He doesn't see a conflict with the governor's proposal, which is connected to a belief that local districts should have greater control over decision making.

The district's benchmark assessments, which include multiple choice, open-ended questions and writing, are scored for the most part by the district and then returned to schools within 24 to 48 hours.

Charts and other data show what academic concepts students understand and what they don't. The data also show trends across schools and the district as a whole. Parents get individual reports about their children's scores.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gay Straight Alliance takes hold in earlier grades

Social worker Meghan Graber films students in
Everett Middle School's Gay Straight Alliance for a video.
By: Jill Tucker

It took just a single word for Marcel Brown to make up his mind to join his school's Gay Straight Alliance.

"I was walking down the hallway with my little brother, and he was messing around with his friends and they called him a 'faggot,' " said Marcel, an eighth-grader at San Francisco's Everett Middle School. "And I thought, 'That's messed up.' My older brother is gay."

Since that day a couple of months ago, he has spent lunchtime each Tuesday in Room 107 with a dozen or so members of the middle school club.

While common in high schools across the country, chapters of the Gay Straight Alliance with the younger school set have been slower to gain a foothold, in some cases because of the controversy the clubs stir up.
But there are signs of increasing acceptance.

There are now 500 middle school Gay Straight Alliance chapters nationwide, up from a couple dozen three years ago, according to the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Many of the clubs formed after publicized suicides of middle school children such as 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi (Kern County) in 2010 and 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Mass., in 2009. Both were bullied because they were believed to be gay.

Realities of middle school


At Everett, where the club started about five years ago, students talk about bullying and slurs associated with sexual orientation and brainstorm ways to address it.

While critics might argue middle school students are too young to tackle such topics, supporters disagree.
"Thinking it's too early is really blind to what it's like in middle school," said Eliza Byard, the educational network's executive director. "Anyone who walks through the halls of a middle school knows what it's like. The words 'faggot' and 'dyke' are weapons of choice."

Marcel, 14, hears those words all the time.

"It just makes me mad because they're using it in the wrong way," he said.

Studies consistently show that bullying, assault and harassment - including incidents related to gender or sexual orientation - are more common in middle school than other grades.

Brisk breakfasts feed scrambling students in San Francisco high schools

Breakfast burritos are among the meal options for students at some San Francisco high schools.
Breakfast burritos are among the meal options for students at some San Francisco high schools.

Students at Wallenberg High School now have no excuse for missing the most important meal of the day. Starting last week, the school began handing out bagels, muffins and breakfast burritos at the door for students to eat in their first-period classes.

The Western Addition campus is the latest participant in the San Francisco Unified School District’s Grab ‘n’ Go Breakfast program, which was already operating at Balboa and Mission high schools.

The program, funded by the California Department of Education, will be rolled out to nine high schools and 10 middle schools this year, district spokeswoman Heidi Anderson said.

While more than 60 percent of San Francisco students qualify for free or reduced-price school breakfasts, taking advantage of that used to mean getting to school early and eating in the cafeteria. The convenience of the new program has led to nearly 30 percent more students eating breakfast at Mission High, Anderson said.

Grab ‘n’ Go also may help the district nutrition program’s bottom line. Although most students who eat breakfast at school are not required to pay, the district receives subsidies from the National School Breakfast Program.

Mission district grant will help brighten kids' futures

Mike Koozmin/The SF Examiner
Mike Koozmin/The SF Examiner
Brighter future: The Department of Education chose
the Mission as one of President Barack Obama’s
Promise Neighborhoods.
Despite the Mission’s escalating property values, it remains one of The City’s poorest neighborhoods. The teen birth rate is nearly double the citywide rate, and more than three-quarters of young children live in low-income homes.

Given the odds stacked against young people in the Mission, it’s no wonder that school test scores are generally lower and dropout rates higher than in other parts of The City. But a federal grant for $500,000 — which could be followed by $30 million more over the next five years — could begin to change that.

The federal Department of Education announced this week that the Mission district will be part of Promise Neighborhoods, a program promoted by President Barack Obama and launched in 2010.

An application from the nonprofit Mission Economic Development Agency was one of 20 chosen from a pool of more than 200 nationwide.

The thinking behind the concept, which was inspired by a program in Harlem N.Y., is that children need more than better schools to get ahead.

“I’m getting kids when they’re 5 or 6,” said Guadalupe Guerrero, assistant superintendent for the Mission campuses of the San Francisco Unified School District. “If we got them to arrive at kindergarten with some of those skills middle- class kids have, what a difference that might make.”

The $500,000 planning grant will allow the agency, district and other local entities to begin assembling “cradle-to-career” programs that will help Mission kids escape the neighborhood’s persistent poverty.

“Most of the services are available, but they’re not integrated with the schools,” said agency Director Luis Granados.

In the Mission Promise Neighborhood, children will get better access to preschool, health care, after-school programs and college admissions help.

Parents will receive financial literacy training, as well as help finding jobs and affordable housing.

“Studies have shown economic stability bodes well for student achievement,” Granados said.

Granados said the $500,000 will go toward data collection, surveys and meetings with the community. The planning must be complete by June, when the agencies behind the program will apply for an implementation grant that could be worth up to $30 million over five years.

About 15 to 20 neighborhoods nationwide will be eligible for that money, and at least 10 grants will be available. Granados said he was confident about the Mission’s chances.

“Those are pretty darn good odds, and it’s a big payoff, especially in these tough economic times,” he said.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

San Francisco schools report fewer absences

By: Amy Crawford

AP file photo
For the first three months of the current school year, the
San Francisco Unified School District reported a drop in
chronic absenteeism in nearly every grade.
Chronic absenteeism is down among San Francisco public school students, according to recently compiled school district records.

For the first three months of the current school year, the district reported a drop of two percentage points or more in nearly every grade since the 2010-11 school year. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days.

Spokeswoman Gentle Blythe attributed the gains to a new early warning system and automatic parental notification. The district has paid special attention to ninth grade, which has a chronic absenteeism rate of 9 percent this year, compared to more than 15 percent two years ago.

This year, the district made the most progress in getting kindergartners to school. Just under 9 percent have been chronically absent this year, compared with 13 percent last year.

The highest rate of absenteeism, 11 percent, was in 10th grade, but that figure was nearly 13 percent last year.

Absenteeism is a risk factor for dropping out of high school, Blythe said, and the state also uses attendance figures to calculate funding

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

SF Balboa High's coach uses 'sport to teach life'


Balboa High School basketball and volleyball coach Val
Cubales, speaks to his players during a recent practice
in San Francisco, Ca., on Wednesday November 23, 2011.
The only sound louder than the squeak of 10 pairs of high-tops on the Balboa High basketball court is the beating of 10 nervous boys' hearts, scrambling to escape the coach's glare.

"You did it again!" shouts school Athletic Director Val Tintiangco-Cubales, halting play with a shriek of his whistle.

He instructs a player how to throw a more strategic inbound pass.

"You turned your back, that was your demise. Get the ball and open up, face the court. OK, hustle up, do it again, let's GO, let's GO, let's GO!"

Breaks are few and far between in the two-hour practice, as players run for lay-ups, do baseline sprints, and practice free throws and three-pointers. Even the water breaks are timed - 30 seconds to chug down sweet water from green Gatorade bottles.

"He's tough, but we like that," said point guard Di'jon Jones, 17. "He wants everything right, and we give it because he's always here for us."

Cubales, 40, wants it right because as he sees it, he's not teaching a sport, he's developing character - turning his charges into young people who know to take their hats off indoors, relinquish their Muni seats to seniors, and win without gloating or lose without pouting.

"I'm using sport to teach life," said Cubales, who acknowledges that he's known as a "yelling coach."
"I want them to be competitive because they will need to be in college and in their careers, yet they need to know how to handle the pitfalls, too."

Cubales, who also coaches girls volleyball and teaches P.E., says he has a soft spot for his athletes, sharing a similar background others euphemistically refer to as "low-income," or "at-risk."

Cubales grew up surfing and playing basketball in Santa Cruz, and attended a high school with an athletic losing streak that reminded him of Balboa when he arrived in 1997.

Many of his players have parents who work several jobs and can't attend their games. Some live in frenetic homes, without clear supervision.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

SF schools simulate disabilities, foster understanding in kids

courtesy photo
Class act: Students at Miraloma Elementary School
participated in simulations of disabilities such as
blindness, paraplegia and limited fine motor skills during
Inclusive Schools Week.
Ember Klein-Coletti was trying to complete a worksheet, but first the Miraloma Elementary School second-grader needed to pick up a pencil with a green quilted oven mitt on her right hand.

“This is hard!” the frustrated 7-year-old said. “I can’t even pick one up!”

The exercise was designed to simulate being disabled — specifically, having limited fine motor skills.

“You can’t grip the pencil the same way, can you?” said parent volunteer Sirena McCart. “How did everybody feel?”

“Weird!” some of the children exclaimed.

“I wasn’t used to that,” Ember replied.

The activities, which also included simulations of blindness and paraplegia, were all part of a national movement called Inclusive Schools Week, a recent five-day series of events designed to get kids thinking about all kinds of diversity, from disabilities to cultural and racial differences.

“Inclusive schools are about building a school that’s welcoming to everybody,” explained Catherine Dauer, a parent who helped organize the week’s activities at Miraloma, one of several San Francisco schools that participated.

The goal of the day’s simulation was to get the children thinking about how to better include their disabled peers in classroom and playground activities.

“They’re definitely empathizing with what it could be like to have a challenge,” Dauer said. “They’re learning to be helpful and respectful, but they’re realizing that if they had a challenge, they wouldn’t want help all the time.”

Dauer was speaking from experience. Her son Avery, 7, has cerebral palsy and uses crutches and a walker to get around. The second-grader said he was glad his classmates got to experience what it was like to have a physical challenge.

“It makes me feel more confident that they understand me,” Avery said, noting that his classmates were already good about modifying schoolyard games so he could play too.

Avery’s mother said she hoped he learned something from the day’s activities as well.

“I hope that he is as empathetic toward people with challenges as they are to him,” she said. “Every child has some kind of challenge.”