INDEX-TRIBUNE SENIOR REPORTER
May 11, 2022
Dunbar Elementary School’s latest mural project is the product of 150 fledgling artists, all students at the TK-to-fifth-grade campus in Glen Ellen.
“Every student at Dunbar will have worked on this mural,” said one of the project coordinators, Nikko Kimzin, proudly. “It’s very aspirational.”
Many hands make light work, indeed. Dunbar’s latest mural – the campus now boasts nine – is the product of a new strategic arts plan at the school – cleverly dubbed “dunbART” – meant to help kids develop their self-expression skills, while countering setbacks from the social isolation wrought the past two years by the pandemic and subsequent distance learning. The theme of the mural is "Each One to Community.”
The mural is dedicated to the memory of Luis Colin, an 8-year-old Dunbar student who died along with four family members in a car crash near Fresno in January of 2021. “There’s been a lot of grief and sorrow the past few years and the arts is way to honor that in a safe way,” said Kimzin, 32. “It’s a way to continue that healing process and shows Dunbar as a small community that cares for one another.”
The program, which launched in February, is a collaboration between the school and Kimzin Creative, a Sonoma County arts and equity consulting group, in partnership with the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.
INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
May 10, 2022
He was participating in distance learning at Creekside High School, but the staff there never actually saw him, only noticing his icon on Zoom. When he came back to the school in person this school year, he had a difficult time transitioning to the environment—until he discovered its new art program. “This student came alive and was so engaged in his self-portrait plot,” said Liz Liscum, principal of the small continuation high school in Sonoma. “He even shared his experiences with members of the community on a site visit. It was a big moment for him.”
He is enrolled in Building Community and Belonging Through Art, a program originally proposed by Sonoma Community Center (SCC). Sixty-five students in grades nine through 12 at Creekside are taking part, which debuted this school year as a collaborative effort between Creekside, Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) and SCC. It was the brain child of Lexi Bakkar, youth program manager for SCC.
“Lexi is passionate about building community and creating opportunities for youth through art,” said Charlotte Hajer, SCC’s executive director. “Lexi develops youth programs that leverage the power of art for kids and teens, and recognizes that programming offered at the community center can be challenging to access for some communities. That drove her to pursue school-based programs, especially for students who otherwise experience barriers to accessing arts and creative activities.” The center approached several schools about expanding arts programming on campus.
“But this program [Building Community and Belonging Through Art] was developed specifically with Creekside students in mind once we reached an agreement with Liz Liscum, the principal, to move forward with a project on their campus,” Hajer said. “The Creekside student population includes a disproportionate number of kids from underserved backgrounds, kids who have experienced trauma—and indeed, few of them have easy access to creative opportunities, even on campus. Though [Sonoma Valley High School] has lots of arts resources, they aren’t accessible to Creekside students.”
When SCC told Sonoma Valley Education Foundation administrators about Bakkar’s idea, and they were all ears. “We loved the idea because it aligned perfectly with our intent to bring art education to underserved communities of SVUSD students and supported our mission to fill gaps in services in the 2021-22 school year,” said Angela Ryan, executive director of SVEF. “In addition, it leveraged the amazingly talented local art and creator community, exposing students to a variety of artistic disciplines. It also allowed students to use art to channel their emotions and self-expression, and combat social isolation caused by the pandemic.”
SVEF approved the program as it was proposed, with no tweaking necessary. The foundation is providing the bulk of the $20,000 annual funding, with additional dollars provided by Creekside, SCC donors and Sonoma Plein Air Foundation. “SVEF’s traditional role has been to fund raise for programs in the school district,” Ryan said. “However, in 2021 the school district, like every district in the country, received a large influx of federal and state stimulus funding, which meant that the need for SVEF’s fundraising was not as significant. SVEF knew that there were still big needs among students and families in the community after COVID and distance learning, so we decided to form partnerships with existing nonprofit agencies throughout Sonoma Valley to increase opportunities to help students catch up, recover and thrive. “Arts education was one of our priorities, so we called for innovative proposals for programs to expand arts education access. Sonoma Community Center responded with a fantastic proposal to bring creative expression opportunities to Creekside students.”
INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
May 5, 2022
A Sonoma parent found herself in a quandary. She realized the benefits of sending her young boy to preschool, but was in no position to afford the costs, and yet she wasn’t able to stay home to take care of him due to her work responsibilities. Sassarini Elementary School has resolved that all-too-common dilemma for parents with its free, full-day preschool program. “Full-day preschool is important because it allows parents and families more time for work,” said the parent, who asked not to be identified. “It also provides more social time for the child, which means more learning and social skills. I see that my child has grown immensely—from his social skills to his interest in learning letters and writing them.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford care for my child without it being a struggle financially. I am very fortunate he has the opportunity to be a part of this program, with amazing staff and teachers. Preschool is vital and often undervalued. Kids who attend preschool are on a path to a healthy school journey.”
Sassarini hosts a six-hour preschool program for 24 students five days each week. It is an inclusive, bilingual program with two bilingual teachers who support the students and their families. It aims to prepare the whole child as a lifelong learner by providing opportunities for children to meet their needs emotionally, physically, socially, cognitively and creatively. The safe, healthy, reliable, stimulating, culturally and linguistically appropriate environment actively engages children in acquiring the skills needed to succeed in school.
“Some children come into our program who have never been away from their parents, have very little to no English, learn differently, have behavioral issues or have learning disabilities,” said Lisa Bell, child center coordinator and director of Sassarini preschool program since 2017. “A high-quality English program like we offer at Sassarini helps those students be kindergarten-ready. Preschool helps to close the achievement gap and helps children build strong social/emotional, pre-math, language, literacy and general life skills.
“Research shows that children who attend preschool have high academic achievement skills, lower incarceration rates and higher overall earnings. Preschool helps set the foundation for a child’s path in life.” The Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) also offers free preschool at two other elementary schools. El Verano, which began its preschool program in 2008, hosts one three-hour morning class and one three-hour afternoon class, both for 24 students, five days each week. Prestwood, which established its program in 2016, hosts one three-hour class in the morning and in the afternoon, both for 16 students, five days per week. “There are many more amazing preschool opportunities in Sonoma, from family home care to center-based preschools and additional subsidized programs offered by 4Cs and Head Start,” Bell said of the well-known young education programs. “While there are many options, most of them are not affordable to many families in our Valley.”
Students qualify for SVUSD’s preschool programs through income eligibility or special education designation. Some 10% of current students enrolled at the three district sites are special education students. SVUSD began its first preschool at El Verano with funding from the California State Preschool Program. Since 2012, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) has also contributed funds to help the local preschool program grow.
“SVEF got involved with SVUSD’s program to expand it to additional sites and additional students,” said Angela Ryan, the foundation’s executive director. “We have also supported other efforts to study and understand the Valley-wide preschool landscape and encourage the creation of additional public-private partnerships for preschool programs.” Ryan said that it is very difficult for parents to afford preschool for their children, since in Sonoma Valley tuition costs an average of more than $15,000 per year. “In a community where the average income is $30,000, this poses a substantial challenge to many families that live here,” she said. “In addition, we know that two out of every three students in Sonoma Valley public schools face risk factors and socioeconomic disadvantages, so creating preschool access for families of the highest need is essential in helping close achievement gaps and secure future success in life for those students.”
Ryan said that research suggests that a full-day preschool experience is necessary for students with risk factors to achieve the same benefits as their peers.
“So, we felt it essential to expand Sassarini to a full day of completely subsidized preschool at the beginning of the school year to ensure students with the highest need have access to high-quality preschool,” Ryan said. She thinks that it is now especially critical for Sonoma Valley children to attend preschool.
“After two years of a pandemic, isolation and distance education that compounded the traumas already present in this community, the pressures on the early childhood education world and our youngest learners have never been more significant than what they face today,” Ryan said. “As day cares and child care centers were forced to cut back or close entirely, our community in Sonoma Valley saw a 70% decrease in available capacity for preschool during the height of the pandemic. Much of that capacity may never come back, or if it does, it may take a significant amount of time to return, which we know directly impacts our youngest learners’ trajectory for success in school and life.” Bell said that a dedicated staff is needed to offer a high-quality preschool program.
“What’s needed is a teaching team that is dedicated and can adjust their teaching styles to match the needs of their students and their families each and every year,” she said. “You have to be able to ‘meet children where they are’ and intentionally teach for each child’s personal growth. Inclusive preschool practices work because we are all working on something and inclusion brings us all together.”
DANIEL JOHNSON AND DAN JOHNSON
INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
May 3, 2022
The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation is excited about resuming its Barn Talks in May after suspending the speaker series during the pandemic.
“With the lift of mask mandates at schools beginning on March 14 and the return of in-person events and fundraisers throughout Sonoma Valley, we feel comfortable resuming the Barn Talks speaker series,” said Angela Ryan, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.
Kori Schake, a Sonoma Valley High School alumnus who is now a national security and NATO expert, will discuss “Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine” with Andy Gibson, chair of the history department at SVHS who is also an alumnus of the school. The event will be held at Sebastiani Theatre on Monday, May 9, and will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the discussion at 7 p.m. Typically, Barn Talks receptions serve as a gathering time for alumni who come to hear a classmate speak. Several of Schake’s classmates plan to be at the event. The last Barn Talk took place on Feb. 20, 2020, featuring historian Gaye LeBaron and former Index-Tribune publisher/editor Bill Lynch. The talks are the brainchild of Laura Stanfield, a parent of four SVHS alumni, and Gail Diserens and Megan Kaplan, members of the school’s class of 1980. They created Barn Talks to serve as a speaker series that showcases SVHS alumni and to connect interesting graduates with current high school students.
Besides Schake, LeBaron and Lynch, other past speakers have included quantum physicist Charlie Marcus, former Salesforce Executive Vice President David Havlek, Salesforce Executive Vice President Meredith Schmidt, retired U.S. Army Col. Jeff Martindale and actor/comedian Brian Posehn. “We’re always looking for interesting speakers from varied careers that are comfortable speaking to large audiences,” Ryan said. “We’re in communication with former school principal and alumnus Bob Kruljac, who has been managing the selection of the Dragon Hall of Fame since 2008.” The Barn Talks have been held in barns throughout Sonoma Valley, some more than 100 years old. The Barn at the Vadasz Family Vineyard, Cuneo Barn, Tyge Williams Barn, The Old Redwood Barn at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Broadway Farms Barn have hosted the events. Attendance is predicated by the size of the barn, but typically ranges from 100 to 250 people.
INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 27, 2022
She’s one of the world’s preeminent foreign policy experts, having served in leadership positions on the staffs of Gen. Colin Powell and Sen. John McCain as well as for some of the nation’s top policy organizations, but back in the 1970s she was a self-described “dreamy, impractical kid” at Sonoma Valley High School after attending Altimira Middle School and El Verano Elementary School. And quite literally, she’s coming soon to a theater near you.
She’s Kori Schake, and she’s returning to her roots to share her expertise during a presentation at Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma on the topic, “Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine” on Monday, May 9. Schake will be conversing with Andy Gibson, chair of the history department at SVHS who is also an alumnus of the school. The event will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the discussion at 7 p.m.
The presentation is part of Barn Talks, a series of events presented by the Barn Talks team, Sonoma Valley Education Foundation and SVHS that began in 2017 featuring alumni who have made notable accomplishments in their fields. Angela Ryan, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, is particularly excited about featuring Schake to kick off the renewed series. “We’re thrilled and honored Kori has been added Barn Talks to her West Coast trip schedule,” Ryan said. “The convergence of the mask mandate being lifted from schools, Kori’s visit to the West Coast, and her unique expertise on the Ukraine conflict and world events make her an ideal speaker at this time.”
Sonoma Valley Education Foundation Evolves 2022 Red & White Ball Gala Format to Community Celebration
Sonoma, Calif. (April 26, 2021) - The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) announced today that its signature fundraising event would return to in-person this coming August 27, taking place in its usual location, the Sonoma Plaza, though this year it will unveil a new format. The traditional gala is being replaced with a community celebration, including a picnic-style dining experience, dancing, and the opportunity for families, donors, and community members to connect and unify around Sonoma’s public schools.
“After two years of successful fundraising in a remote capacity, we felt compelled to reimagine this popular fundraiser and evolve it into a platform that not only better reflects and celebrates the community we serve, but safeguards from untimely cancellations due to fire season or pandemic-related shutdowns,” said Angela Ryan, Executive Director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. “We’re thrilled that the generosity of our donors has given us the confidence to host a more inclusive event that helps families, donors, and the community at large feel more invested, engaged, and connected to our public schools and one another.”
The event will take place from 5 pm - 10 pm in the Sonoma Plaza, where families and community members have the opportunity to come together and enjoy a picnic in the park that directly benefits Sonoma Valley public schools. The $40 ticket price includes a reusable wine tumbler, a complimentary glass of wine, and a picnic blanket. Ticket sales open in June, and a sliding scale pricing will be available to ensure the event is accessible to all.
The Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) Parent-Teacher Organizations and partner organizations, including Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Kimzin Creative and Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance will be in attendance with booths highlighting the great things happening at schools and programs made possible by donor support to SVEF.
The evening will conclude with a dance party and performance by local band Funk Fatale.
“We are beyond excited to keep the elements of this annual event that our community has loved, while also evolving its format to feel more welcoming and inclusive,” said Gail Chadwin, Director of Development for SVEF. “The nature in which fundraising has progressed over the past two years allows us to reengage the community we’re here to serve and invite families to feel more invested and connected to supporting our schools and community.”
For more information on the event and how to participate, please get in touch with Sarah Carroll at email@example.com
About Sonoma Valley Education Foundation
The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) was established in 1993 and has since provided over 20 million dollars to Sonoma Valley public schools through grants to teachers and administration, sponsored community initiatives, and meaningful programming such as Summer Literacy Academy, Preschool For All, and more. As the primary fundraising and volunteer resource for Sonoma Valley Unified School District, SVEF strives to enrich the student experience and help Valley youth succeed in the classroom and beyond. For more information, please visit https://www.svgreatschools.org
I’m writing today because I want to share a wonderful story–about how you are helping both teachers and students!
Your generosity to Sonoma Valley Education Foundation is making fully-subsidized preschool possible for 104 young students throughout our community. But your impact doesn’t stop there. You are also helping teachers.
Kristen Carlson is a teacher at Sassarini Elementary School. We talked with her about how preschool not only prepares individual students for success, but also benefits their peers and their teachers–especially in kindergarten classrooms.
According to Kristen, “From my experience teaching kindergarten, I could definitely notice some differences between children who had attended preschool versus those who had not.
“The biggest difference I saw was social-emotional. The students that had attended preschool were less apprehensive and more so ready to jump in socially. They were able to communicate with peers and easily learned procedures because they had practiced in preschool.”
There are also clear academic benefits as well. Kristen notes, “Students who attended preschool had been exposed to books, numbers, and letters, which was a big advantage. Also, they often had more developed fine motor skills because they had practiced cutting and gluing, pencil holding, and sensory play.”
Kristen goes on to highlight the critical importance of preschool in our community.
“If preschools weren't available it would be a huge loss for children, and for kindergarten teachers,” says Kristen. “Kindergarten teachers would essentially have to back up and teach all those essential skills students gain from attending preschool. It would be a tremendous step back in school readiness.”
“Bottom line, preschool is IMPORTANT and needed! In my opinion, it’s the most important thing we should provide for our children!”
Thank you for supporting local teachers like Kristen and their students. If you’d like to help another teacher today, you can click here.
Thank you for helping both local teachers and our community’s youngest learners!
Angela Ryan, Ph.D
The Red and White Ball is the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s biggest fundraiser of the year, helping to fund Classroom Grants.
(Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)
The following press release was published in the Sonoma Index Tribune December 3, 2021:
The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation is well known for helping teachers out with grants to cover field trips, special projects and other classroom needs. This month, they decided to double the amount that school staff can apply for, from $500 to $1,000. The nonprofit also will expand the funding guidelines to allow teachers to apply for continuing education opportunities.
This longstanding grant program enables teachers a one-time grant to accommodate a creative learning opportunity or project that benefits students but falls outside schools’ standard operating budgets.
“It’s no secret that teachers have carried an enormous workload over the past two years, both navigating distance learning during the pandemic and now working tirelessly to help students catch up,” said Angela Ryan, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. “Which is why we are expanding this year’s grant process to include not only increased funding per teacher but also continuing education opportunities for educators. We hope our generous community in Sonoma Valley will join us in supporting this initiative to ensure that we can award every application we receive from our hardworking teachers.”
Past Classroom Grant recipients have used funds for innovative projects, including a Sassarini teacher who invited a children’s book author to visit the school and give copies of her book to all students, El Verano painting its blacktop with bright and colorful games and labyrinths, Sassarini students who received trumpets to take home and use for online lessons during COVID, and a Prestwood teacher creating a calming nook in her classroom for kids with big feelings called a Peace Corner.
This year’s expansion to include continuing education for teachers is a unique addition, with positive long-term impacts on both the teachers expanding their professional expertise, along with the students that benefit from the most up-to-date teaching and learning strategies and applications.
In addition, the amount awarded to the recipient will double, making this the first time in Classroom Grants history that teachers will receive up to $1,000. Increasing the funds awarded creates a significant opportunity for teachers to dream big and secure funding for projects, resources and experiences that local youth would otherwise not receive.
The donation period is officially open and through the generosity of two SVEF board members, all donations made during December will be matched, up to $20,000.
For more information about Classroom Grants or to donate, visit svgreatschools.org or contact Gail Chadwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on November 17, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun
The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation went national this morning in a big way — a message of thanks on the huge Nasdaq Tower on Manhattan’s Times Square. Executive Director Angela Ryan coordinated the salute in honor of American Education Week.
“We know our educators, school administrators, and staff have been doing their jobs under extraordinary circumstances since the beginning of the pandemic and continue to face the aftermath of distance learning today,” Ryan said. “To express our gratitude for their sustained and tremendous commitment to students, we wanted to find the most public stage to express our appreciation, and what better place to do that than Times Square in New York City.”
Ryan urged the Sonoma Valley community to “celebrating the many good people who work tirelessly to help our youth remain successful and engaged despite an unprecedented year of learning.”