Tuesday, October 29, 2013

S.F. schools combat online cruelty amid wide concern

By: Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Kellyn Dong listens with her son Lucas, 11, during
"Stand Up, Don't Stand By: How to Put an End to Bullying
in a 24/7 Digital World," a presentation on cyberbullying at
James Lick Middle School in San Francisco.
Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

With each beep or buzz, a message flashes across the screen: You're ugly. No one likes you. You're a slut.
You should kill yourself.

About half of American teens receive similar personal attacks - verbal or visual cyberbullying - on their phones or computers each year. That's up from about zero just a decade ago.

The reverberations trickle onto schoolyards and into classrooms, where distraught students can't focus, avoid interacting, or skip school altogether to avoid embarrassment or threats.

The list of kids who take the texts or posts so seriously that they kill themselves is on the national radar.
"When it happens on the playground ... there are people looking out for that," said Kevin Truitt, San Francisco school district associate superintendent of student, family and community support.

"When it's on these devices, it's more sinister in a way. It's so invasive, and we can't stop it."

The escalation of electronic attacks has politicians, parents and school principals scrambling to catch up to today's tech-savvy kids to prevent more damage - and death.

San Francisco school and city officials are trying to head off a worst-case scenario like the one that took place in Florida recently, where authorities are prosecuting two girls, ages 12 and 14, on charges of aggravated stalking related to the suicide of a classmate they allegedly harassed online.

Doing something

District Attorney George Gascón recently gathered parents of school-age children and school staff at James Lick Middle School to talk about cyberbullying and what parents and others can do about it.

He stood at the front of the school's auditorium and peered out over the audience of mostly empty seats.

"There should be standing room only," he said. "This is a problem that affects so many kids. The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of cases every year where kids are suffering in silence."

And by the time a case hits his desk, "It's already too late," he said.

Parent Edgar Beals was among the 50 adults in the auditorium.

He said he is trying to monitor the online world where his son, 12, and daughter, 14, spend a good deal of time.
"My daughter and son opened Facebook accounts secretly before I knew about it," he said, adding that they lied to get around the site's minimum age requirement of 13. "They are rogue in terms of their use of cyberspace. They know it and they are way ahead of me."

The dark side

Co-sponsored by the San Francisco school district and Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates media and encourages cyber-responsibility, the event offered parents a glimpse into the dark side of the digital world and advice on how to guide their children through it.

"Kids are speaking another language we adults don't understand," said Merve Lapus, educational program manager for Common Sense Media. "Even if you don't understand everything your kids are doing, you can still parent."

Teens send an average of 3,400 texts per month, and children 8 to 18 spend about 53 hours on electronic devices - not including phone calls or homework, Lapus said.

New social media sites and apps are popping up all the time, offering novel ways to communicate and the potential to torment.

Graphic illustration

As parents filed into the auditorium, Gascón pulled out his iPhone to illustrate how quickly an online innovation can go from entertainment to intimidation.

He Googled an app called Snapchat that Stanford University students developed. It allows users to send a photo or video that, once the recipient sees it, is almost instantly deleted.

The idea is to send an image that has a one- to 10-second life span.

It is, teens and others have discovered, the seemingly perfect app for sending nude or semi-nude pictures or videos.

Without trying hard, Gascón said he instantly found "leaked Snapchat" images, saved from a screenshot or other method by recipients and then blasted onto the Internet. Some of those images are of semi-nude and pornographic photos taken by Snapchat users, some of whom appear to be underage.

So much for short-lived. Recipients can take a private message and share it, perhaps after an ugly breakup.
School policies and laws are increasingly acknowledging and addressing the problems associated with malicious use of digital media, especially after highly publicized suicides connected to cyberbullying.

Tragic consequences

Last year, Saratoga High School student Audrie Pott hanged herself after boys she knew sexually assaulted her when she passed out at a Saratoga home and then took pictures of her that were posted online. The boys are facing charges of sexual battery and possession and distribution of child pornography, plus a civil suit filed by Audrie's parents.

This month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that allows educators to suspend or expel cyberbullies, even if the harassment has nothing to do with school and occurs off campus.

Some school districts have gone further. In Glendale, officials have hired a firm to monitor middle and high school students on social media.

After hitting 'send'

In San Francisco, the district is focused on prevention, offering monthly lessons on "digital citizenship" to help students understand the possible results of their actions after they hit the send button.

And on Nov. 12, San Francisco schools will hold the second annual Digital Media Safety Instruction Day, offering 60 to 90 minutes of advice to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Truitt, the San Francisco school official, has seen the emotional toll cyberbullying takes on students, with students as young as 6 or 7 experiencing digital harassment.

And he has seen the text messages from students encouraging classmates to kill themselves.

"They keep it, they hold it, they let that simmer in them and it eats away at them," he said. "Schools have been taking much more ownership on dealing with these things."

What is bullying?

California defines bullying as "any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, and including one or more acts committed by a pupil or group of pupils ... directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following:

(A) Placing a reasonable pupil or pupils in fear of harm to that pupil's or those pupils' person or property.
(B) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantially detrimental effect on his or her physical or mental health.
(C) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her academic performance.
(D) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

Source: California Education Code

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Improving School Lunch by Design

By Courtney E. Martin | New York Times

Nicolas Zurcher
At the Everett Middle School in San Francisco, students, parents, school
administrators and community partners toured an exhibit displaying the vision
for new dining experiences in local schools.
What if the secret to getting kids to eat healthier is to stop focusing on food?

In spring 2013, the San Francisco Unified School District (S.F.U.S.D.) began a five-month collaboration with the design firm IDEO to re-imagine the school food system. This effort might not sound unique.

Childhood obesity has become a hot topic, in large part thanks to the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign and projects by high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters have aimed at getting fresh, healthy foods in schools.
When adults eat outside the home, it’s about more than just food. The same is true for children.
In this case, however, the adults aren’t as concerned with what students are eating as they are with how they are eating.

“When adults dine, we don’t just think about the food,” explained Orla O’Keeffe, the executive director of policy and operations. “The food is important, but so is what’s going on around it: the ambience, the service, the company. Why would we assume kids are any different?”

And yet that’s just what most school districts do. The S.F.U.S.D., to its credit, has made great strides in the quality of food available to students in the last decade, most recently engaging Revolution Foods, a company dedicated to creating healthy meals for schools, as its primary food vendor; but, until now, they hadn’t put as much effort into considering what the 40 short minutes that students actually have for lunch are like. IDEO, known for putting people’s experiences, not objects, at the center of the design process (what they call “human-centered design”) insisted that this be the starting point.

On July 11, 2013, at Everett Middle School, a diverse crew of high school students sit around low round tables in a cafeteria and look at a picture of Maru, the Japanese cat that became a YouTube sensation for jumping in and out of boxes, illuminated on a screen. “Maru is the best prototyper ever. Fearless. Fun. Today we want you to channel your inner Maru,” instructs Coe Leta Stafford, the design director and project leader from IDEO. The teenagers have come to participate in a prototyping session, which will help determine what it is that high school kids really care about when it comes to lunchtime.

Joyce Gu, a senior at Thurgood Marshall High School, lets out a giggle. She’s wearing skinny jeans and Converse All-Stars, scrolling through her Instagram feed on her cellphone. She’s known for posting pictures of unusual foods that she’s tried (the most recent was Chinese abalone).

Joyce is one of the 56,000 students in the district, 61 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch (a family of four that makes $40,000 or less a year qualifies). Despite the district’s location in San Francisco, which is 43 percent white, only 12 percent of the public school students are white (24 percent are Latino, 42 percent are Asian, and 10 percent are African-American.) Many white students end up at one of the many prestigious private schools in the city.

Joyce and 14 other students spend the next hour participating in simulations of their lunch hour. They are given an allowance ($5 for the whole week and various options for how they might pick up their food each day, including the traditional lunch line (not a big hit), a vending machine (though the food appears to be fresh, students are skeptical), and a mobile cart featuring meals from a local restaurant (everyone’s favorite). Afterward the students are asked to reflect: What did you choose and why? What works best for you? How did you choose?

The answers are wide-ranging and sometimes surprising. Some students delay gratification — choosing to bring a lunch from home until Friday, when they will reward themselves by spending all $5 at once. Some talk about prioritizing sharing food with their friends who don’t have any — a dent in their budget, but a boon for their social lives. Still others focus on figuring out which meal they can get the fastest (they have homework to do) that will also give them the most energy for sports practices later in the day. Almost universally, they say that lunchtime is about spending time with friends — first and foremost — not food. The IDEO team documents their answers painstakingly.

Then Stafford asks the students to check out an app on the cellphone stationed at each table. It’s a prototype of what IDEO calls “smart meal technology”— where kids can pre-order meals in the morning that they will eat later in the day. They can also provide feedback on the meals and set dietary preferences; student nutrition services, for their part, can collect data on kids’ preferences and eliminate food waste. The kids intuitively start tapping away.

Joyce looks at O’Keefe, who is seated at her table observing, and says, “This is too good to be true. Who cares what students want?”

O’Keefe looks crestfallen. When I talk to her about the exchange later, she says: “It was a profound moment. You spend so much of your existence serving kids and then they are genuinely shocked that adults would be invested in doing something for them.”

The collaboration, aimed to change that perception, was paid for by the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, which essentially bought the S.F.U.S.D. time (multiple staff members, like O’Keefe, were pulled off their day-to-day grind to participate), and of course, IDEO’s expertise.

But it also bought them something more intangible — the space to be truly innovative. Superintendent Richard Carranza explains, “If you look at the private sector, they have R&D [research and development] departments where people get to dream and create things that don’t already exist. That’s a luxury that doesn’t exist within the school system where we are often barely able to keep the trains running on time.”

The S.F.U.S.D. is the largest meal provider in the city of San Francisco, serving 33,000 school lunches and snacks a day. Even so, it’s greatly underutilized. Currently, only 57 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch eat it, and only 13 percent of those who don’t qualify do. Not only is this a lost opportunity for improving student health (research consistently shows that those who go off campus eat poorly, if at all, and that children consume 40 percent of their daily calories at school), but also for the district’s budget (Student Nutrition Services has consistently operated with budget shortfalls the last few years.)

The S.F.U.S.D. — like most school districts — would have traditionally approached a challenge like this by doing an assessment of its current labor, vendors, equipment, budget etc., and then writing a lengthy report of recommendations for improvement. Places like Oakland High School, right across the bay, have recently taken to closing school campuses during lunch in order to force kids to eat the healthy meals provided.

“Sure, we could close all the campuses and get the same results,” says Sandy Speicher, an associate partner at IDEO, “but designing with the kids’ desires in mind makes them feel valued. Kids learn about what they’re eating through their choices. The district learns about consumption patterns and reduces waste. Everyone gets smarter.”

Over 1,300 students, parents, nutrition staff members, principals, teachers, administrators and community partners were involved in the process, which included workshops, prototypes and experiential exhibits — all trademark IDEO tools. The IDEO and S.F.U.S.D. teams, consisting of almost a dozen people, then worked together to consolidate the learning and come up with 10 design recommendations and a comprehensive plan for how they might be prioritized, paid for and realized in schools.

The whole team presented its proposal at the Board of Education meeting on September 17 to an unusually full house, starting — not surprisingly — with student voices and also including testimony from nutrition staff workers, the other population for whom the design of the food experience in schools is most urgent.

They proposed three very distinct eating experiences aligning with the developmental stages in a student’s life, but most fundamentally based on what the students themselves expressed wanting. For elementary school, they imagine lunchrooms where kids sit together at round tables and eat family style — learning to serve one another in stages (healthiest foods are brought out first by nutrition staff workers who oversee their own carts).

Principal Dennis Chew of Lau Elementary, who had initially expressed skepticism about the communal dining idea during an early workshop, was inspired by the final design and the idea of bringing back the ritual and lost art of communal dining: “The elementary school children are the best teachers for the parents.”

He requested that the pilot program take place at his school, where a large majority of the 700 students are Asian immigrants. “Their exposure to American culture is coming through the food that the dining services provides,” Principal Chew explained. The cart concept would work well, he believed, because it would be reminiscent of familiar styles of eating, like dim sum, but feature new foods.

For middle school, the focus shifts toward more independence; students can choose “grab-n-go lunches” from mobile carts and then sit in spaces designed by them.

And in high school, it’s all about choice; students multitasking on their short lunch break leverage the convenience of new technology, like the app tested out in the simulation, and are rewarded with discounts for making healthy choices and eating at school more frequently. They spend less time waiting in lines and more time hanging with friends.

After hearing the presentation, Jill Wynns, the commissioner of the Board of Education expressed some apprehension: “I am, of course, along with the rest of the board, excited about all of these recommendations and appropriately skeptical and nervous about the ongoing costs…As a matter of principle, we need a go-slow plan.”

But the other commissioners, seven in all, seemed on a much faster track: “Put me to work. I’m really excited about this. I want to see us move forward,” said Hydra Mendoza.

“Sometimes when we involve students, it’s often just to say we did and it’s in a token way,” admitted Matt Haney. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many of the students involved in this project and they said it was the opposite of that. If we can do that, not just with school food, but with everything we do as a school district, we’re going to get better results.”

Only time will tell if the S.F.U.S.D. team is able to realize the recommendations, but they have continued support from the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation and are fiercely determined. “I’m long in the tooth,” says O’Keefe. “I’ve seen the ‘thud effect’ with consultants — they plop down a big report and move on before you’ve even finished the engagement. This never felt like that. We all have a genuine desire to see this come to fruition.”

Carranza, the schools superintendent, puts it a little more poetically: “We’ve had a chance to imagine where the rubber meets the sky. Now we’re getting back to the road with a totally new vision.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

San Francisco Middle Schools Receive $2.7M Donation From Salesforce CEO

Bob Butler | CBS SF

The CEO of Salesforce.com visited a San Francisco school on Monday to highlight a $2.7 million donation by his company to the city’s middle schools — the largest one-time donation in the school district’s history, city officials said.

Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza joined Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in the city’s Portola neighborhood to announce the donation.

Lee said the donation came about after discussions with Benioff and other local tech leaders about how to improve education in San Francisco, saying the city’s elementary and high schools were getting the bulk of the attention while resources were lacking in some middle schools.

Benioff’s donation includes $1.5 million that will go toward technology and infrastructure at the district’s 12 middle schools, as well as $100,000 for each school’s principal to use for innovation and improving STEM — or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — learning.

The first phase of the project is the introduction of 750 iPads to the schools. School officials took Benioff and the mayor to a science class in which each student was equipped with a tablet.

When the teacher asked a question, each student answered it individually on the tablet.
“Every teacher knows the exact answer that a kid gives,” Lee said. “I don’t think you get that kind of feedback as we used to do by asking one or two kids to give an answer and the rest of the class is not paying as much attention. So I think that type of technology is tremendous.”

Benioff said his donation, given via the Salesforce.com Foundation, is “about our children, the most important resource in San Francisco.”

He said that with the tremendous wealth being generated by tech companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valey, “if we don’t give back, it’s all for nothing.”

Along with the financial gift, the Salesforce.com Foundation has pledged to commit thousands of employee volunteer hours to support the city’s middle schools.

Lee said Benioff is also giving him a year to come up with a proposal asking for an even larger donation from Salesforce.com.

Superintendent Carraza said, “This is a seminal changing point for public education in San Francisco.”

“We are in the technological Mesopotamia of the world … and our public schools should reflect that innovation,” he said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

Tech titan's high-grade gift to S.F. middle schools

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com founder
Photo: Steve Jennings, Getty Images For TechCrunch

Some months ago, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and schools Superintendent Richard Carranza met with Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff to ask the tech titan for some financial support to boost access to technology in the city's 12 middle schools.

It was a gutsy plea - enough to buy hundreds of iPads, provide wireless access in classrooms, and leave enough extra to train teachers to use all of it well.

But Benioff was frustrated by the size of the request.

"You have to think bigger," the CEO told them.

Instead, let's start with $100,000 for each middle school principal to spend - an "innovation grant" to pay for what is needed most at each school, Benioff told them.

And, by the way, yes to the iPads and the rest, too, he added.

The three city-school-tech leaders are scheduled Monday to announce the $2.7 million donation, the largest single-year business investment in the district's history.

But Benioff isn't done.

He asked the mayor, who has made the city's middle schools his top education priority, what else he wanted for the 12 sites.

Lee didn't have an immediate answer.

"You don't ever get to do what you really want to do," Lee told The Chronicle.

Offer open for a year


With pen poised above a checkbook, Benioff told Lee he had a year to figure it out and come back for more.

"We wanted to make this bigger," Benioff said. "The city and school district weren't ready for us to do more."
How much more?

"We're loaded with money," he said and the mayor's focus on preparing middle-school students for the future workforce is a perfect match for the tech company's philanthropic foundation.

"Why shouldn't San Francisco have the best 12 middle schools in the country?" Benioff said. "What is preventing that? We are their partner in this."

The school district and mayor's office are already planning, working with the schools, parents, teachers and others to think big.

"I know that I don't want to take his money and waste it," Lee said. "You want to make sure it has the kind of impact it deserves.

"Mayors just dream of these opportunities."

Business support


The long-term goal, however, is to bring more businesses into the district's philanthropy fold, following Salesforce.com's footsteps, Lee and Carranza said.

That's already happening, the mayor said, with Autodesk agreeing to load 3-D technology onto the iPads.

With the innovation grants, principals have been buying additional technology, including equipment and supplies for robotics clubs at Presidio and Roosevelt middle schools.

Teachers have been incorporating the tablets into class work since the beginning of the school year.

(Unlike Los Angeles schools, which had to confiscate iPads last week after students took them home and hacked into them, San Francisco middle-school kids can use them only in class.)

In Griffin Gorsky's seventh-grade science class at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School on Friday, students spent the first part of class taking a paper-and-pencil test and then switched to the iPads to draw a picture of an eye and then make an audio recording of a poem they wrote about their own eyes.

"My eyes are mysterious, big and wild," Ruqaiyah Angeles recited into the tablet. "My eyes are brown and shiny like a bronze medal."

She read the rest of her poem and then held the tablet's speaker to her ear to make sure it had recorded. Then, with a push of an icon, she electronically turned in the work to her teacher.

"In the olden days, no one got to do that," she said.

The incorporation of the tablets hasn't been without some struggles, Gorsky said at the end of the class.  There have been some wireless issues, and some students can't seem to remember their log-in information.

One artistic student created a picture of an eye on the tablet, only to accidentally and irrevocably erase it.

In the past, computers and other technology have been pushed into schools, but were never fully utilized by untrained teachers or were left to collect dust after they broke or became obsolete.
The tablets aren't the goal, Carranza said.

"The iPads are just a tool," he said, adding that the donation is related to the district's emphasis on STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.

Critical thinking


For example, students are already making iMovies with the tablets, rethinking the actions of historical figures and embedding historical documents, he said - a combination of doing critical thinking using a high-tech tool.

"I think it would be shortsighted for anyone to look at this and think it's about iPads," he said. "This is really about putting the T in STEM."

For Benioff, it was about making a seven-figure down payment on what he promised would be a long-term partnership.

"All the city has to do is tell us what they want," Benioff said. "This will not be our last grant."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Preschool for All gives youths edge in kindergarten

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Instructor Oscar Chavez guides students in a building project at
S.F.'s Zaida Rodriguez Early Education School. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Over the past nine years, San Francisco's property-tax-paying residents have spent $94 million to put 18,000 children through a year of preschool - a huge investment made without knowing what the payoff would be.

"People need to know whether it worked or not," said Wei-min Wang, program coordinator for First 5 San Francisco, which coordinates the taxpayer-funded preschool program. "It was the right time to ask the question."

The answer was yes.

Children who participate in the city's Preschool for All programs have a huge advantage when they get to kindergarten, according to a scientific study released to The Chronicle.

The report showed the preschoolers had a three- to four-month advantage over kindergarten classmates who didn't participate in the program.

Sharper skills


In simpler terms, it means the Preschool for All students were way ahead in identifying letters and words, counting numbers and doing simple adding and subtracting. They were also better at listening, following directions, focusing for longer periods of time and controlling impulses.

The preschools are primarily funded by Proposition H, a 2004 voter-approved measure that established the universal preschool program, as well as art, music, physical education and other enrichment activities. The 10-year tax measure expires after next year, and city officials are expected to ask voters to renew it.

This year, an estimated 3,400 4-year-olds will get a free half-day of preschool at one of the 137 sites across the city through the program - about 65 percent of those eligible, said Laurel Kloomok, executive director of First 5 San Francisco.

All told, 83 percent of San Francisco children attend preschool, compared with 74 percent nationally.

High quality


Significant gains were seen in preschool participation rates among African American and Latino children, with 80 percent now in preschool programs, compared with 68 percent and 54 percent, respectively, before 2004.

"It's free for everybody," Kloomok said.

And not just free, but high quality, she added.

School district and federal Head Start preschool programs that existed prior to 2004 had to go through a rigorous evaluation to qualify for the Preschool for All approval and associated funding. Program officials hope to add nonprofit and private preschools to the list, with each meeting qualifications including a minimum enrollment of 25 percent low-income students.

While there was pressure to push quantity over quality, organizers pushed back.

"We kept our eye on what we wanted, Kloomok said. "We kept up that standard."

To the untrained eye, most preschools might look the same - children playing, painting, singing.

But there's a difference, said Kathlene Dominguez, a veteran kindergarten and preschool teacher.

Play teaches skills


In Preschool for All programs, play is structured to learn skills. Teachers know how to communicate with students to get them to think critically. Activities and lesson plans help students learn social skills and how to follow directions.

In addition, there are health and vision screenings as well as mental health consultations and support for children who might need special education services.

As soon as Preschool for All children hit Dominguez's kindergarten classroom, she could tell.

"I did see a very huge difference when Proposition H went into effect in terms of what the kids were bringing in," she said. "They were ready and they knew what school was about."

The students knew how to get along with classmates who looked or acted differently; they knew how to share; they could sit for 45 minutes to do academic work, she said.

They knew the little things that matter, like how to ask a classmate to play or even what a friend was.

With academic expectations now higher than in years past, a kindergarten teacher can't focus on finger-painting and doesn't have as much time to teach students how to be kind or how to be a good friend, Dominguez added.

"You're getting a lot of children learning the basic social foundations we take for granted in the school environment," she said. "It's very easy to identify the Preschool for All kids."

Learn more

For the full report, go to www.first5sf.org and to learn more about the Preschool for All program or information on enrolling, call (415) 354-3873.