Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the Classroom: A SLANT Approach to Learning at the Paul Revere School

By Matthew Williams | KQED

Cynthia Vasquez teaches her Pre-K students at the Paul Revere School in San Francisco with the methodology of learning through play. Her approach is influenced by a group of teachers from the San Francisco Unified School District's SLANT (Science, Literacy, Arts, and Technology) program where she explores ways of integrating each of these disciplines into her students' learning objectives.

In this installment of In the Classroom, Ms. Vasquez has selected the unit of study "things that roll (or do not roll)" and we see her students explore this theme in a variety of playful activities derived from their curiosity and desire to learn through play.

Although many Pre-K learning models emulate play, Ms. Vasquez argues that this approach can serve students at all grade levels where they become more active, following their curiosity and inquiry to perhaps
 stimulate a growth in academic achievement and an interest in becoming life long learners.

See the video below:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dream Act students apply for college aid

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

S.F. Mission High School students and their parents attend a meeting to
learn about filling out college financial aid forms.
Photo: Sarah Rice, Special To The Chronicle 
At this time every year, parents of college-bound 12th-graders pack high school auditoriums and cafeterias to learn about the confusing and confounding process of applying for financial aid.

This year, undocumented immigrants are eager to find a seat.

For the first time, those families will be able to apply for state financial aid under the controversial California Dream Act.

While federal funding is still out of reach, the state measure now allows children who were brought to the country illegally, but who attended a school in the state for at least three years to qualify for up to about $12,000 in Cal Grants to use toward college.

In San Francisco, district officials are holding meeting after meeting, in at least three languages, urging the families of every 12th-grader to fill out a form.

In prior years, about 60 percent of students completed the application for state or federal aid, and 90 percent of those who did ultimately went to college, said Maureen Carew, director of San Francisco Promise, which helps city students access higher education.

"That's why we're going for 100 percent - because we can," she said.

At Mission High School, there is at least one 17-year-old who is eager to help the district reach that goal.

Boost for top student


When Sharon was 12, her parents broke the law as they carried their two daughters into the United States from Mexico in search of a better life with greater opportunities.

They landed in San Francisco, where Sharon's mother worked as a babysitter and her father as a butcher at a meatpacking plant.

While her parents worked, Sharon kept her end of the bargain for that better life, learning English, excelling in school and dreaming of college.

Now a Mission High School senior, she has a 4.4 grade-point average, mentors younger students, does community service and plays soccer.

She did everything right, but until this year, that college dream was out of reach for her and others like her. Without a piece of paper saying they belonged here, they couldn't apply for financial aid, and without the help, couldn't afford a higher education.

"Many students that I know of didn't have this opportunity," said Sharon, who only wanted her first name used to protect her family. "They just gave up on their dream."

Scholarships typically require Social Security numbers, but even if they don't, there are one-time funds that might pay for a semester or maybe a year, said Mission Principal Eric Guthertz.

40% of class undocumented


And that meant that students like Sharon couldn't complete their degree.

"This is the girl this law was passed for," Guthertz said. "She is something else."

And there are many more like her, he said. It's unclear how many students qualify or will apply for funds under the Dream Act.

In San Francisco, district officials don't ask students whether they are here legally. Guthertz estimates that as much as 40 percent of a given senior class at Mission is undocumented immigrants.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, helped pass the California Dream Act in 2011.

"We often hear and use the phrase that our youth is our nation's greatest resource," Leno said. "Prior to the Dream Act, we were not making use of a significant portion of our greatest resource. It made no sense ... to be so wasteful."

Critics said the allure of college money for undocumented immigrants would only draw more people to illegally cross the border, while costing the state more than $50 million more a year.

In San Francisco, district officials are pushing to get every high school senior to fill out either the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the alternative Dream Act application.

Some fear system


The Dream Act is not just for undocumented residents, but also citizens or legal residents who are going to school in California but don't meet state residency requirements.

The deadline to apply for state financial aid is March 2.

At Washington High School, Principal Ericka Lovrin said she fears many undocumented immigrant parents will be scared to fill out a government form requiring all their personal information.

"It's about trusting the system," she said. "I think people are a little resistant to trust this system."

Yet, Sharon will be waiting by the mailbox for her Cal Grant award in March and then college acceptances in May.

She has applied to four University of California campuses and Santa Clara University. She wants to study political science and journalism.

"I love to write," she said. "I want to tell the stories of people that aren't being told."

Financial aid 


For more information, go to:

Note: The deadline to apply for state financial aid is March 2.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cyber Bullying Curriculum Incorporated In SF Public Schools

By Tim Ryan | KCBS

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — All 55,000 San Francisco public school students are learning how to spot and avoid cyber bullying. In an effort to teach kids how to be safe and smart online, Common Sense Media is heading a program for K through 12th grade on the topic along with privacy and ethical behavior.

Merve Lapus with Common Sense told us their program is now being implemented as part of the curriculum.

“Sometimes kids that engage in cyber bullying aren’t necessarily being malicious. Sometimes they’re just mad about one thing,” Lapus said.

Andre is a 7th grader at Aptos Middle School and thinks the district wide training will be helpful.

“It’s a good thing because it teaches kids what not to do, what to do and how to help,” he said.

And the issue of cyber bullying is real to District Attorney George Gascon.

“56 percent of our young people are reporting that they are being victims of cyber bullying.” Gascon said with increasing internet access in schools and among the young, it is important for kids to learn at an early age to learn how to be good cyber citizens.

Friday, January 18, 2013

SF students get rare look at whale specimen

A biology class is turning out to be a lot of fun for students of George Washington High School in San Francisco as they get a rare look at one of the most interesting creatures found in our oceans. 

A lot of people have read the classic novel "Moby Dick." The description of the whale at the center of that story is unforgettable, but few high school students actually get to see and touch the real thing. Granted, Moby Dick was a white sperm whale. The one these students are learning about is a gray whale, smaller. Still, it's a chance for them to get up close and personal.

"You can put it on a table and that's what I like to see you doing. Don't be afraid of touching," Dan Sudran told students Tuesday. Sudran is the whale's owner and he encourages students to explore by touching it, unlike most museums. "I'd rather that this last 10 years and reach 20,000 kids instead of last 200 years and the only interaction is to see it far away," he told ABC7 News.

The gray whale washed up at Pescadero State Beach in August 2011. With the blessing of the National Marine Fisheries Services, Sudran allowed the sun, bugs, and birds to have their way with the 30-foot long mammal. "So when we went down, it was pretty much skin and bones. It was like cutting a carpet and then pulling the carpet back and then there's just," he said.

Sudran soaked the whale's 56 vertebrae in water along with 26 ribs and the skull. Few people realize the flippers have bones too. "The hand thing was pretty interesting. I thought it was just something flat, not have any bones in it, but pretty awesome," student Chris Ramos said.

The bones look heavy, but they're actually quite light. "The only super heavy bone is the skull," Sudran said. "I thought it would be heavier. I thought it would be harder to pick up and I thought it would be more fragile than it is," student Student Yokabet Paulos said.

Sudran, who heads a science workshop in San Francisco's Mission District, believes this kind of interaction gets students to become more curious about their world. "As far as I know, we are the only people crazy enough to pack up a whale in a truck and take it around and let the kids themselves do it," he said.

The next stop for the traveling whale is Lincoln High.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Diana Chan legacy: school social workers

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Clarence Chan with his late wife's portrait: The couple created a
$1 million endowment. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

Diana Ming Chan strongly believed in "dumpling diplomacy."

As a social worker for almost 50 years, much of that in San Francisco schools, she knew those in her profession could make a difference in helping struggling children learn. But school social workers were rare, considered extraneous among the demands on the state's limited education budget.

And Chan, one of two district social workers, didn't want to see the position disappear when she retired in 1999.

So, she served dumplings - to San Francisco's superintendent, school board members, politicians and anyone else who would listen to her appeals.

And they listened.

A $1 million endowment she created with her husband, Clarence Chan, to pay half of two social workers' salaries also caught their ear.

It was a rare direct donation to a school district, one that would perpetually cover paychecks.

By 2002, Chan had persuaded then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman not only to pay the other half of those salaries, but also to fund another 10 social workers, a number that has multiplied with the blessing of subsequent school boards.

In the past, the job was mostly associated with child welfare - taking children away from harmful circumstances - or helping families get food stamps.

It's now much more that that, said Robert Ayasse, UC Berkeley lecturer in the School of Social Welfare.
A study on the effectiveness of social workers in city schools showed that schools with that support had higher standardized test scores, Ayasse said.

School social workers support "the social and emotional needs of children so they can better access that education," said Ayasse, who coordinates intern placements.

Addressing needs


Sometimes that means individual or group counseling. It can also mean helping connect families to social services or working closely with teachers to manage behavioral issues and address each child's needs.

For example, if a child is perpetually truant, they find out why.

They are therapists, advisers, mentors, social-services referrers, counselors, teacher supporters, child advocates, parent trainers and more.

The job description "goes on and on," Ayasse said. "We don't just try to go in there and fix the kid."

There was no one like that to help Chan growing up. Born in 1929 to a former prostitute brought to this country through the sex-slave trade, Chan was sent to a San Francisco orphanage after her mother's death when she was 18 months old. She later lived with her father, who handed her off in the evenings to an opium addict.

At school, she was a troublemaker.

"In the early years, I was a naughty child, and I did not endear myself to teachers. I raised hell," Chan wrote about her early years in a Chinatown anthology. "I was an unhappy child."

Her fifth-grade teacher offered her a different worldview, inviting Chan and other students to her home. It was there, Chan wrote, that she played for the first time in her life.

Chan would later grow up to become a social worker, devoting nearly five decades to helping children with similar life stories.

Extending her loyalty


Despite giving much of her life to public service, she decided it wasn't enough.

With the support of her husband, an engineer and university professor, she took a chunk of their nest egg, compounded by good investments, and created the Learning Springboard endowment for San Francisco Unified.

Since the endowment was created, it has funded the $67,000 cost of one social worker position annually. For the past five years, the fund has paid for a supervising social worker who oversees 12 interns, meaning the donation supports 160 to 240 San Francisco students each year.

More than that, her commitment and financial backing spurred the district to embrace the need for social workers.

At her retirement in 1999, the district had two. This year, in addition to dozens of counselors and psychologists, there are more than 70 social workers, with another 40 to 50 interns, enough to staff each of the district's schools with a handful to spare.

"She made some good dumplings," Ayasse said with a laugh.

It's a rare commitment to the position. Statewide, there were just 448 social workers last year scattered among California's 10,000 schools.

Most districts budget for counselors and/or psychologists, but no social workers.

"Really, these positions address the barriers to kids' learning," said Kristen Edmonston, San Francisco Unified program administrator. "It really speaks to the need of high-quality mental health support in our schools."

Chan died in 2008, a year after her induction into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.
The endowment lives on, and her husband makes sure of that. He still adds extra money in any year the endowment proceeds fall short of $67,000.

'She was a giver'


Would his wife be proud of what she accomplished with the endowment and dumplings?
Clarence Chan, 82, smiled.

"She never worried about being proud," he said. "She was a giver."

S.F. schools get perfect score in audit

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Good government doesn't usually make the news, but we'll make an exception for especially good government.

The San Francisco school district just got back the results of its annual financial audit and not only did it pass (not unusual), but it also passed with squeaky-clean flying colors (very, very unusual, if not unheard of, among school districts).

The no-findings audit means the auditors couldn't find anything wrong. Nothing.

"I've never seen an audit with no findings," Superintendent Richard Carranza said Wednesday, adding that he's worked for three school districts over several years.

School board member Jill Wynns also said she's never seen such a perfect audit - in her 20 years on the board.

Even the auditors said they've never seen it.

District Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh, with 12 years of San Francisco Unified budgeting and finances under his belt, said it was "unprecedented."

Usually, there are at least a couple of nitpicky paperwork problems, district officials said.

That might include minor lapses in keeping perfect attendance records at every school for after-school participation, for example. Or incomplete time sheets from employees paid in part with federal dollars, which means they have to document precisely how much time they spent on the federal dime and how much from other funds.

Carranza praised the district's budget office as well as all the district workers who dotted every "i" and crossed every "t."

"It's significant," he said. Then, smiling, he thought of a better word. "It's huge."

In short, the minor details matter when public workers are spending taxpayer money, and it's the rare school district that follows every rule on every piece of paper.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

SF Public Schools Serving Healthier, Fresh Prepared Lunches From Local Provider

By: Anna Duckworth | KCBS

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— The San Francisco Unified School District began serving freshly prepared, healthier meals to tens of thousands of students this week as it moves to improve nutrition.

A new meal provider contract with Oakland-based Revolution Foods went into effect as students returned from winter break. The company’s CEO Kristin Gross Richmond said all of their food is made fresh daily and within a 24-hour period of being served so that it doesn’t have to be frozen.

Compliments filled the lunchroom at Tenderloin Elementary School when 4th graders said things like, “it’s really good,” and “it’s better.”

Richmond said the SFUSD contract is about a 33,000 meal a day contract, which is “extremely significant and important” to them she added. The contract with San Francisco’s school district is the company’s largest since they were founded seven years ago.
School Superintendent Richard Carranza said the previous vendor sent frozen meals from the Midwest. When the contract with that vendor expired they wanted to find a fresher, healthier alternative he said.

“From parents I’m hearing, ‘I don’t have to pack lunches for my kids anymore,’ and from students I’m hearing, ‘wow, this tastes like real food’. I think that kids say the darnedest things, but they’ll always tell the truth,’ Carranza said.

Revolution Foods currently serves about 200,000 meals a day in 11 states.

Monday, January 7, 2013

SF school to get healthier lunches

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Sixth-grader Evan Feist eats a lunch of Cajun chicken and 
sticky rice. All the meals use local ingredients and contain
no high-fructose corn syrup. Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Chronicle / SF

Ajna Singh, 12, nibbled on the cheese enchilada with a side of rice served in the Oakland School for the Arts cafeteria, using fingers instead of a fork.

In between bites and balancing the meal's recyclable tray in one hand, she said she liked the school food, which included rice, packaged grapes, milk, dinner rolls and a self-serve tray of broccoli.

"It's especially better than my mom's cooking," Ajna said. "I'm appreciative."

Not all of the sixth-grader's classmates at the Oakland charter school were as enamored with the offerings, provided by Oakland's Revolution Foods, with one seventh-grader describing the meals as "like, nasty."

The indiscriminate tastes of preteens notwithstanding, the Oakland students are getting what many parents and school officials across the country consider the top-shelf version of school lunches.

Revolution Foods never serves reheated tater tots, greasy pizza or mystery meat. The meals are prepared by chefs using local ingredients, no high-fructose corn syrup, and nothing is ever fried or frozen. They are in the hands of students 24 hours after coming out of the oven.

Starting Monday, those fresh meals will be in San Francisco schools.

While Revolution Foods has been around since 2006, few large school districts have signed up, despite parental pleas for higher quality cafeteria food, because of the higher cost.

But over the last few years, Revolution has been among the fastest-growing urban companies, with production centers in California, Colorado, Texas and the East Coast, serving more than 200,000 meals every day to children in private, public and nonprofit school programs.

Cost savings came with the growth, allowing Revolution Foods to compete for bigger contracts, going up against national school lunch providers offering frozen meals shipped to school sites all over the country.

The company, created by two moms as part of a business school project, nabbed its biggest client yet in December, when it beat out bigger companies to get a $9 million contract with San Francisco Unified.

"We're really excited," said co-founder Kristin Groos Richmond. "I feel like it's such an honor for us."

Adding workers 


In less than a month, Revolution has had to prepare for serving 33,000 meals to 114 schools in San Francisco and has added 40 workers to the Oakland site, bringing the company's total to 965 employees nationwide.

In addition, the company often uses local suppliers, including meat from Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora and rice from family-owned Massa Organics in the Chico area.

To meet the increasing demand, Revolution Foods has shifts going 24 hours a day, prepping, cooking, refrigerating and packaging the meals.

"There are so many school organizations out there who want good food for kids," Richmond said.

Richmond started the company with UC Berkeley classmate Kirsten Tobey, creating the equivalent of a high-tech Silicon Valley startup in the food industry.

At the time, small, parent-driven movements were kicking soda and junk food out of schools, and Berkeley chef Alice Waters was making sure that children knew what kale looked like through school garden programs.

Richmond was pregnant at the time, and she was advised to wait to kick off such an ambitious endeavor.

She refused to listen.

"I remember thinking at the time, no way," she said. "This is the right time for this movement in the country."

The company has had some growing pains in recent years, including tangles with labor unions in New Orleans.

The new contract in San Francisco will require working closely with union cafeteria workers who will reheat and serve the food. School board members reiterated their support for the union workers before unanimously approving the Revolution Foods contract.

Cost increase 


Despite the concerns raised by labor organizations, district officials and parents celebrated the new contract, which will cost $1.95 per lunch, up from $1.79 charged by the previous provider, Preferred Meal Systems. The 18-month contract caps the costs at $9 million annually.

Students not eligible for free or reduced-price meals will be charged $3 for lunch and $1.50 for breakfast.

District officials hope that more students will buy the meals, helping to offset the higher costs.

At Oakland School for the Arts, which serves about 50 Revolution Foods lunches each day, several students are willing to pay the $4.50 the school charges.

Sure, some of the veggies - squash, beans and carrots - are sometimes a hard sell, said Kai Johnson, who monitors the cafeteria during lunch.

"It's just like at home, when you're sitting at the table saying 'eat your vegetables,' " she said. But with Revolution Foods, "it's not an option. They're going to eat healthy no matter what."