High School Students Provide Crucial Summer School Support Thanks to Collaboration Between SVEF, SVUSD, Teen Services and SVBGC
The following was posted by Sonoma Valley Sun July 12, 2021:
A New Kind of Summer School Experience
By Leslie Nicholson | Sonoma Valley Sun
Sporting their new blue Teen Services/Intern shirts, 20 high school students reported for duty at the Flowery School campus on June 14 and have been busy working in classrooms to support teachers, staff, and students for the past four weeks.
They are not only an essential part of the plan to make up for learning losses resulting from the pandemic shut-down – they are the first-ever group of paid interns to be part of the district’s summer school program.
“Not only will this benefit the younger students with social and emotional learning, but the high school students also need this connection after a year in distance learning,” says Joe Hardeman, Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley vice president of program operations.
What started as a brainstorming idea at the Sonoma Educational Foundation and SVUSD, blossomed into a community-wide collaboration to include Teen Services/Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Club.
“The Ed Foundation has raised funds to support Summer School programs for the past ten years,” explains Ed Foundation director Angela Ryan. “With COVID funds that the District had for funding Summer School, we were able to use Ed Foundation funds to start the Intern Program.”
But before the Interns set foot onto Flowery’s campus, they went through a full hiring and training process to give them real-life experience as applicants and new hires, making $15/ per hour.
“They submitted applications, interviewed, and went through all of the required fingerprinting and TB testing for SVUSD employees. They were then required to spend a week in training that included training in child development,” says Eric Gonzalez, senior director of teen programs for Teen Services/Boys & Girls Club.
Except for knowing that they would be working in the classrooms, he sayds, the Interns did not have specific assignments for student drop-off and pick-up time. “They jumped in and started helping with lunch distribution, crossing guard duty, and have really shown up as team players.”
“A lot of the kids were very shy and reserved at first, and now I see them running groups in the classrooms and finding their ‘voices’ with the kids. We have had great reviews about the programs from the Summer School staff and I am very excited about how we can continue this program into the next school year and summer.”
Summer School Principal Sonia Castaneda is grateful that the Intern program came together and has supported the entire elementary Summer Literacy and Math program. “The interns filled the gaps where we were in need of staffing. Initially many of the teachers had never met the Interns and no one knew what would develop as the teens moved into their new classroom roles,” Castaneda explains.
Looking beyond the summer, Hardman sees the Intern program as something that will continue into the upcoming school year and next summer.
“We are already thinking about how we can make the interns an integral part of our Power Hour during our after school programs and expand our tutoring efforts. There are so many opportunities for small groups, one-on-one tutoring, and for kids who need extra help with focusing,” says Hardman. “Giving these kids more real life work experiences and helping them with their career paths is such an important continuation of what we have established with this summer’s program.”
See below for the Sonoma Index Tribune's article on the pandemic's impact on preschools and child care.
Local author and mother Jennifer Churchill and her son's father Kenta Gilmore stand behind their son Weston, 7. When the pandemic hit and childcare became scarce, Gilmore quit his job and took over Weston's schooling and care during the day while Churchill worked. Churchill and Gilmore do not live together but worked together to create a strategy for Weston's care. (Photo: Jennifer Churchill)
By JANET PERRY
June 17, 2021
The pandemic has brought into sharp relief the struggle of local parents to find adequate, affordable child care.
As preschools and day care centers closed down under COVID, parents scrambled to find ways to keep working while they cared for their children and oversaw their education.
Many families found there wasn’t enough child care before the pandemic. After COVID hit, the situation became dire.
In 2019, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) undertook a study of the preschool landscape of Sonoma Valley. It looked at the availability of care for children ages 3 to 5 in centers and family child care homes. The study concluded there was a gap, particularly in subsidized care for families that couldn't afford tuition-based programs.
Sonoma, Calif. (May 26, 2021) - The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) today announced a unique summer school internship support program that will be hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley. This new initiative will benefit both youth attending Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) summer school, and teens involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley’s Teen Services Ready to Work program.
“The generosity of our donors has created a powerful opportunity for our organization to think critically and creatively about where funding can be most impactful, which in this case, is building upon the good work of the Boys & Girls Club, and adding a significant dimension to SVUSD’s summer school offering,” said Angela Ryan, Executive Director of SVEF. “Knowing we’re serving both teens and grade school level youth in the Valley with one program inspires us to continue to use our resources to create additional opportunities for kids outside of the core programming being offered.”
Hosted in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, the program offers teens who will be Juniors or Seniors in the 2021-22 school year the opportunity to gain work experience and build their resume by assisting in middle and elementary summer school classes. They will support students with one-to-one and small group guidance in subjects including reading, math and language development.
There is no experience required for teens to apply, and once hired, the teens will be given training and compensated for both the training itself and the time spent in classrooms.
In addition to the unique work experience this program creates for teens, it also enhances the experience and instruction students attending summer school will receive by lowering the ratio of students to support and educational staff. With educational interns available in classrooms, students looking for additional aid and assistance will have access to more targeted help throughout their school day.
“This partnership marks an important trend we anticipate seeing in the coming months and school year where our partner organizations - working closely with SVUSD - find strategic ways to amplify and build upon what each is doing to best serve the youth in Sonoma Valley,” said Dr. Palazuelos, Superintendent of SVUSD. “This is a tremendous display of creativity by SVEF in how our nonprofits can elevate the strides we’re making at the District level, and how we can support kids both in and out of the classroom.”
The program is currently open and accepting applications. Interested teens can apply at https://www.bgcsonoma.org/careers/
For additional inquiries or questions, please contact Angela Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Sonoma Valley Education Foundation
The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation was founded in 1993 by public school parents seeking to support and enhance their students’ educational opportunities. Throughout 28 years of providing support to SVUSD schools, SVEF has invested over $20 million dollars in Sonoma Valley public schools. Our mission is to enrich the student experience by partnering with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District as the primary fundraising and volunteer resource for innovative programs. We focus on results and report to our donors and community.
About Sonoma Valley Unified School District
Sonoma Valley Unified School District is a public school district serving grades K-12 in Sonoma, CA. The district is comprised of five elementary schools, Dunbar Elementary School, Flowery Elementary School, El Verano Elementary School, Sassarini Elementary School; two middle schools, Adele Harrison Middle School and Altimira Middle School; two charter schools, Woodland Star Charter School and Sonoma Charter School; one high school, Sonoma Valley High School and a continuation high school, Creekside High School.
About Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley
Founded in 1962, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley currently serves more than 2,600 children and teens annually across seven Sonoma Valley locations. Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley serves approximately 60% of the total student enrollment in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District with afterschool programming, athletic leagues, and summer camps. Our mission is to provide positive opportunities for youth and teens to learn, succeed and discover their full potential.
See below for the Sonoma Index Tribune's coverage of how Sonoma teens are putting culturally inclusive reading materials into Sonoma public schools.
Making education more inclusive, one book at a time
Local students advocate for more culturally diverse reading materials at Sonoma schools
By KATE WILLIAMS
INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Ask a typical teenager what’s on their mind, and you’ll get a spectrum of adolescent concerns: What’s new on TikTok?
Did my Insta story get likes?
Will I ever learn to draw a cat eye with liquid eyeliner?
But Victoria Hernandez, 15, and Lily Gelb, 14, are not typical teens. They spend their time pondering weightier things. At the moment, what’s occupying their thoughts is the fact that many local children haven’t had the advantages they’ve had, and the likelihood that that inequity may penalize those kids forever.
Specifically, Hernandez and Gelb are concerned about what they see as a dearth of culturally inclusive reading materials in Sonoma’s public schools, books in which marginalized communities might recognize themselves. Race, class, gender, orientation: many of the books available to young readers disregard the diversity of the melting pot in favor of monochromatic characters and themes where white, middle- class, and cisgender is the norm.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your involvement with summer school at SVUSD.
A: I love watching children learn how to read and create a learning environment where they see themselves in the literature, and develop a sense of identity that propels their sense of inquiry and curiosity. I have dedicated my professional life to support the vision of academic excellence, identity, curiosity and joy! To that end I am coordinating the K-12 summer school program to help students continue that journey of learning this summer.
Q: What are you most optimistic about for students?
A: The technology skills they have developed this year are like no other year of learning. They had opportunities to learn technology skills that otherwise would not have been available. I have watched student presentations on environmental issues and read powerful persuasive writing about what children want in their schools. My optimism is rooted in that this generation is living a historical event that has challenged and changed all of us. Children have developed skills and knowledge as a result of this experience. I have watched children champion causes in their community to help serve a greater good. This awareness may not have developed had it not been for this epic moment in time.
Q: Why is summer school important? Will it be different this year?
A: Summer school helps support the ongoing development of student learning. In person learning time was limited this year and therefore summer school is more important than ever to help kids build their academic muscle for the fall. We know there are opportunities gaps for many students, and summer school is a good place for them to get that extra attention they need for their continued growth. Summer Literacy will expand to include math instruction.
Q: What message would you like to give our community?
A: I think it is important to build on the strengths and assets we have as a community of learners. The educational experience of our students was disrupted this year from what we have come to know as normal. Some students found success in an online environment and many need in person instruction to thrive. Taking the lessons we learned from this period of time and applying them to future educational programming could inspire some innovative opportunities for our students. There is an opportunity to revolutionize how we do education. Our teachers made dramatic shifts in their teaching from spring 2020 to fall 2020. They are innovative and responsive, we don't want to lose that energy!
Ms. Gray values humor in the classroom and looks forward to resuming her infamous Greek Mythology plays in person.
Q: During this very challenging year of Distance Learning, what are some ways you have tried to keep your students engaged? What worked? What did not?
A: One of my gifts is humor, and throughout distance learning, I have tried my best to use it to engage students. One of the ways I know it works is that my students tell me that I should make my own YouTube channel because I am so funny -- yes, I get compliments from teens, and I know how crazy that is. While I am no Mr. Gibson, nor am I Mr. Tierney, I think I bring that similar type of comedic banter but at a 9th-grade level (fart jokes for some and beauty guru drama for others).
I have also implemented a "QOTD" (Question of the Day) at the beginning of every class. Most recently, a battle broke out in the Zoom chat over whether a hot dog was a sandwich; the class was divided, and I loved every moment of it. Why? Because I am in the midst of teaching the research paper where I am trying my best to hone their argumentation skills. It was great to see them try to make their points by pulling definitions from various sources online unprovoked. They were so passionate about it, you would think we were arguing about politics or religion (granted, a really good hot dog can be a religious experience if made right).
Q: What has worked?
A: Teaching literature that is both engaging and showcases the human condition has definitely worked.
Q: What has been trying?
A: Teaching about a real-life issue where it requires the student to do research and come up with their own educated opinion has been quite trying. While this is difficult every year, I wonder whether it is more so this year as students are bombarded daily with the very serious concerns we have in our society right now (the attack on the Capitol, Covid, etc.). However, this skill is incredibly important and especially so this school year. While teaching research has been difficult, I think this is one of the reasons I am so happy that we were able to figure out how to continue ABU (independent reading) so that students were still able to enjoy a bit of escapism.
Q: Is there something that was introduced during online learning that you hope remains when students return to class?
A: I think the ability to connect with students on a video chat is great, and I am so happy we all learned how to do that this year. When a student is absent or if a teacher is willing to meet on a weekend to offer additional support on an assignment, both teachers and students will be able to now because we all know how to. I also think this is great for when parents need to meet with teachers but are unable to make it into school. Moving forward, this is something I plan to continue using when necessary.
Another thing that has been absolutely amazing is pre-recording myself teaching a concept. For example, I have been teaching the "dreaded" annotated bibliography for years, and every year I try to figure out how to teach it better as it can be frustrating for both the teacher and student. Last summer school, I decided to prerecord myself modeling how to type one (the format of it is the Olympics of formatting for most high school students). I have never seen a better set of annotated bibliographies and my co-teachers who used my video said the same thing. If it is in a video format, students can replay the video, speed up/slow down the rate of speech, and even add closed captions to it, which means that this is an absolutely excellent scaffold for English Language Learners and students in SPED.
Q: What are you most excited about when you and students return to school?
A: I am excited to see their faces! Many students keep their cameras off and/or pointed to the ceiling. While many keep it off due to wifi issues/poor-performing devices, many do so for a myriad of personal reasons. This can make it difficult to foster a connection (mind you, not impossible). It is also difficult because much of teaching is seeing their reactions to something. Nothing screams louder that you do not understand something than a look of confusion and a pencil down; when the camera is off, one of our most important tools is gone. Thank goodness for incredible tools like GoGuardian where we can see what is happening (or what is not happening) on a student's computer screen.
Finally, if we come back soon enough, I cannot wait to, maybe, put on some of my infamous Greek Mythology plays - costumes and all. Former students generally talk to me about how that is one of their absolute favorite memories of my class, and I long to give my current students the same Mrs. Gray experience. While I would definitely have to alter it to meet Covid restrictions, I am confident, time permitting, that I can make this hope come to fruition.
Matt Pope, who spent a year in the Peace Corps (Honduras), has been teaching with SVUSD for 21 years.
Q: During this very challenging year of Distance Learning, what are some of the ways you have tried to keep your students engaged? What worked? What did not?
A: I always strive to make things fun and humorous for the students. We never know what is truly happening at home so I like to lighten things up. I always start the day off with a song of the day and talk about the artist briefly. This will often turn into a spontaneous dance party. It's very fun to see kids jumping around in their little boxes. Our grade level has also found time each week for our students to meet in breakout rooms just to socialize. They get to pick who they want to be with and there are no guidelines as far as what they talk about. This, we have found, has been something that they look forward to and helps address the void of the social-emotional component of learning that so many students are lacking right now.
Another thing that has worked well is having "Virtual Field Trips" each Friday. We always try to tie them to what we are learning about. For instance, our theme last week for language arts was the different ways that you could fly so we showed them a live video of a hot air balloon over Sonoma Valley and skydivers in wingsuits soaring the cliffs of Sweden. These field trips are always a great way to start a Friday.
What has been challenging is trying to give help to the students that need it. Some subjects are extremely more difficult to teach online than others. Math, for instance, is probably what stands out the most. Trying to reteach concepts without having the manipulatives for the younger ones and not being able to see what they are doing in real time also adds to the frustration. Apps like Kami, Dreambox, and Bridges Math Apps are definitely helpful but not in comparison to what we have and use in the classroom.
It's also been difficult to meet the needs of the students who don't have parent support at home. Many of my students are with grandparents, neighbors, or in a different place everyday. I think that this is a hard way for a student to find a rhythm with their learning when they are trying to attend class in a noisy multipurpose room, at home with younger siblings, or even at times in the back of the car as it is driving.
Q: Is there something that was introduced during online learning that you hope remains when students return to class?
A: I would like for the district to consider using Zoom and Google Meet for things like parent conferences. I think for some parents having that flexibility to be able to connect with their teacher via a device would be very practical for those that have a hardship of meeting during the day. As far as learning goes, I would hope that certain online learning platforms could still be made available. Things like EPIC, Raz-Kids, Dreambox and many others are excellent resources for reading and for math practice. They make it easy for teachers to monitor progress and provide assistance. Platforms like this would be great to supplement the learning happening in the classroom.
I would hope that we would consider having students and adults wear masks during the flu/cold season. Now that masks are normalized why don't we make this a standard practice at schools during the winter months? If a child is sick and cannot stay home, is it too much to ask them to wear a mask while inside the classroom? This is the first time in over 21 years teaching that I haven't had a cold. Knowing how much learning is lost due to sickness, I think it's something worth considering.
Q: What are you most excited about when you and students return to school?
A: I am most excited to hear student chatter, laughter, and just to see them physically. I am also excited to be able to teach someone and not be at the mercy of having to share my screen, or unmute my mic, or turn on my camera, and not being interrupted by slow internet connection.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share with the community?
A: I want the community to know that Sonoma teachers are very dedicated and care deeply for their students and families. I can't think of any teacher (except for the ones that have specific needs that factor into whether or not they can return) that would prefer to finish the school year this way. We have been wanting to come back for a long time now and we are happy that this is finally happening safely and that teachers have been able to cooperatively work with district administrators so that we have a say in what our work conditions will be.
Lastly, COVID 19 has highlighted the inequity that exists between the haves and have nots. This is very evident in Sonoma Valley. The students in my class who are going to be the least affected by this are mostly the same ones that are consistently showing up for class and turning in their work. In almost all of these cases, these students have at least 1 parent at home that can help and can afford faster internet. Many of these families are not burdened by having to physically show up to be able to work. How are we as a community going to address this inequality as we move forward?
Meet SVUSD's Interim Superintendent Esmeralda Mondragón & Bilingual Family Tech Support Specialist Heather Harrison
Dr. Esmeralda Mondragón, interim superintendent for SVUSD
We recently caught up with Dr. Esmeralda Mondragón, interim superintendent for Sonoma Valley Unified School District. She brings a wealth of experience to this role, which she will hold through June 2021 while the district completes the search process for a new superintendent.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to fill the interim position?
A: I retired as superintendent of the Calistoga School District in 2017. Since then, I have been consulting with districts in Sonoma County, coaching and mentoring new administrators and supporting district staff in the completion of specific projects.
Q: What are your major tasks as interim superintendent?
A: My responsibilities include overseeing all aspects of the functions and operations of the school district–the same tasks that are expected of the sitting superintendent. I am particularly passionate about focusing on decisions that are in the best interest of students, as well as understanding and valuing who our students are and what they bring to us when they step into our schools.
Q: What are you most optimistic about for our students?
A: Our students live in a disruptive and rapidly changing world! The pandemic disrupted the traditional classroom setting and pushed students to engage and learn in new and different ways. For example, they are learning time management and becoming independent learners. I believe that this is an opportunity to break down the classroom walls and provide more choices for our students to learn from anywhere and at any time.
Q: How do you stay positive during these challenging times?
A: I am optimistic and have faith that the pandemic too shall pass! I strongly believe that each child/student has the potential to succeed. Working on their behalf brings out the best in all of us.
Q: Do you have a message you would like to give our community?
A: I thank the community partners for their commitment and generosity to the children and youth attending our schools. They are the future of tomorrow so we must support them in their journey to adulthood. We are grateful for your support.
Heather Harrison, Bilingual Family Tech Support Specialist at SVUSD
Thanks to a generous grant from the Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund, we have been able to help the school district provide a family technology support helpline so families can receive personalized assistance with their Chromebooks, hotspots, and more. We spoke with Heather Harrison, the new bilingual technician, about how this program is making an impact.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your history with the school district.
A: I moved to Sonoma at a young age, and attended El Verano, Altimira, and SVHS. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, I studied and lived in Chile for three years. Later I received my bilingual teacher’s credential from SSU.
I first started working for SVUSD in 2015, first as an instructional assistant, and later as a library media specialist. The new family technical support position is a perfect opportunity for me to continue supporting students and families during distance learning and beyond.
Q: What are some of the ways you've helped students already?
A: I help students understand it is normal to feel frustrated and upset when experiencing technical problems with their devices. I also give them simple steps to resolve some technical problems on their own, which gives students a sense of empowerment and independence.
Q: What do you hope to do for/with students in this role?
A: Technology is ever changing and there is always something new to learn everyday. My hope is to help students and families build confidence and give them tools they can use when common technical issues arise.
Q: How can parents and students contact you if they need help?
A: Please call our hotline at (707) 385-9408, or email email@example.com.
Click here to read Anna Pier's Q & A with Angela: https://tinyurl.com/y6clyc97