Hot Topic

Photos by Scott Buschman

Last spring, when U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) came to visit Oroville High School, science teacher Rich Hogan asked him a question about climate change. The congressman’s reaction — in front of students and staff — surprised the Oroville Secondary Teachers Association member.

“He got pretty defensive and asked me how long I had been a teacher,” recalls Hogan. “He wanted to know if I was teaching both sides of the issue. It created quite a stir.
I didn’t know he was a climate change denier.”

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Rich Hogan

The heated exchange occurred very close to the Oroville Dam, where 200,000 people were evacuated last winter after the emergency spillway began to erode, threatening catastrophic flooding. Scientists assert that we can expect to see more flooding emergencies in a hotter world due to climate change.

Politics should not determine what is taught in science, says Hogan, who recently received a book in the mail from the Heartland Institute (which is funded by the Koch brothers) challenging scientific evidence of human-caused climate crisis. According to the Associated Press (AP), thousands of teachers were mailed Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, a book that the National Science Teachers Association calls “propaganda” and encourages educators to recycle.

“We need to teach students to wade through information and become independent critical thinkers and be socially aware of issues that will affect their generation more than mine,” says Hogan, who has taught science for more than 20 years and is a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC), a partnership between Stanford University and CTA that promotes best practices for the new standards. “And we need to do it fast, before we get past the tipping point.”

Teaching the facts

The debate over teaching about global warming in schools is heating up, according to the AP, which reports several states have considered measures to teach opposing points of view about climate change. In 2012 in the Southern California community of Los Alamitos, for example, the school board told teachers they must prove climate change lessons are “politically balanced” rather than scientifically accurate, which created an outcry.

Science has shown conclusively that human activity is changing the global climate. Even the 2017 “Climate Science Special Report,” authored by scientists from 13 federal agencies as part of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment done every four years, forcefully supports this view. (The report is pending approval by the current administration.)

This and many other scientific studies, and President Trump’s decisions to withdraw America from the Paris climate accord and dismantle environmental protections, have given many educators a renewed sense of urgency to teach about the subject.

“We have a responsibility to teach about climate change. It’s happening in our world today.” – Darlene Killgore, Oxnard Educators Association

“We have a responsibility to teach about climate change,” says Darlene Killgore, an Oxnard Educators Association member and science teacher at R.J. Frank Middle School. “It’s happening in our world today. You teach the facts, and students make their own decisions. You can look at changes during the Ice Age and warming trends that are documented historically — and see that now our planet is warming up at an increased rate that has never been seen before.”

Indeed, Earth reached its highest average temperature on record in 2016, breaking the record set just a year earlier in 2015, which beat the previous record in 2014. Most climate scientists think global warming has contributed to unusually devastating weather patterns in recent years such as drought, heat waves, and intense precipitation and storms. The massive rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in August may have been exacerbated by climate change.

Killgore incorporates global warming into multiple lessons and units in hopes students will understand that climate change affects where they live.

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Darlene Killgore with student Kelsy Rodriguez

“We talk about solar power, wind and other sustainable energy versus the burning of fossil fuels. We can start with small ways to change our dependence on fossil fuels by walking to school, riding a bike or taking mass transit. These students will be voters soon, and the next generation will need to decide what laws should be in place.”

One of her students, seventh-grader Harmony Svestka, admits she worries about climate change. “It’s scary to me because it could cause our world to end. It will affect my generation, but it’s not our fault.”

Teaching about climate change is challenging, says Killgore, because schools are in the process of transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and teachers desperately need new curriculum with up-to-date information.

Climate change challenges teachers

Under NGSS, teachers are being asked to teach not only the causes and impacts of climate change, but how science and engineering can help solve problems and inform policy. But materials are lacking.

A 2015 Stanford University study found textbooks used in California schools — the same books still in use — contain misleading information about climate change. The good news is that new NGSS-aligned science textbooks will become available in 2019. Meanwhile, teachers must find supplemental materials themselves, and they are not always sure these materials are accurate, says Lisa Hegdahl, a science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School, member of the Galt Elementary Faculty Association, and former president of the California Science Teachers Association.

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Lisa Hegdahl

Nearly two-thirds of students in the U.S. are taught about climate change at school, but there is a great deal of room for improvement, say researchers from Pennsylvania State University, Wright State University in Ohio, and the National Center for Science Education in California. Their 2016 nationwide survey of 1,500 science teachers finds most students spend only an hour or two per year learning about climate change in middle and high school — and much of what they are taught is confusing or wrong. For example, only 38 percent of schoolchildren are taught that climate change is linked to fossil fuels. Seven percent of teachers surveyed attribute recent warming to natural causes. Another 22 percent say there is “significant disagreement” among scientists about the cause of global warming, when in fact 97 percent of climate scientists agree that it is caused by human activity.

Many teachers surveyed say they lack training to teach about climate change, and the information is changing so rapidly, it is difficult to keep up.

The study, published in the journal Science, concludes that giving short shrift to the subject — and sending mixed messages about climate change in the media — leaves students more susceptible to disinformation spread by political or corporate interests once they enter adulthood. The study also notes that the energy industry spends millions on climate denial research and supporting candidates who deny global warming.

Environment as a teaching tool

Science lab teacher Laurie Scheibner, Tahoe Truckee Education Association, recalls that California experienced a multiyear drought that was devastating for families in the area, many of whom depend on the skiing industry for their livelihood.

“But we shouldn’t get excited, just because we had normal snow last year,” she says. “We had a lot of rain-on-snow events, which caused immediate runoff, and then because of a winter with lots of snow, we also had big spring runoff. Students noticed how different this is in their short lifetimes. The runoff impacted everyone along the Truckee River and caused some flooding issues downstream.”

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Laurie Scheibner watches as her students test the “dam” they designed to hold back runoff water.

A study of the snowpack found last winter’s snow to be wetter (containing more water) than usual, which caused flooding and avalanches. In February, an avalanche buried the crest of the main mountain highway between Reno and Lake Tahoe beneath about 20 feet of snow. Climate change is also heating up the lake, causing algae to bloom and reducing clarity.

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Laurie Scheibner

“Because of climate change, we’ve had either no snow and drought conditions, or heavy wet snow because the ocean is warmer and is affecting global patterns,” says Scheibner.
She often asks students how people can adapt to climate change and how engineering might help. During a lesson last spring at Tahoe Lake Elementary School, she asked students to design dams to hold back runoff water, with a variety of manmade and natural materials including Popsicle sticks, rocks and pine needles, to see what worked best.

Beforehand, she showed clips of the Oroville Dam at its crisis point as an example of the need for engineering designs as the climate changes.

“This way I’m not just telling them what happens; they have to figure it out themselves,” she says. (To see more about this lesson, visit the PBS Kids website, to.pbs.org/2feIjIZ.)

Kelsi Himmel, who teaches AP environmental science and chemistry and biology at Argonaut High School in Jackson, takes students on wilderness excursions in nearby El Dorado National Forest to make them more aware of how climate change impacts their environment.

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Kelsi Himmel takes her high school students on wilderness excursions to see the effects of climate change firsthand.

“I’m a firm believer that if my students are going to make any real connection with their curriculum, they must view the impact of climate change firsthand, so we can discuss what we love about our area, why we live here, and why we want to keep it that way. They’ve seen the effects of multiple years of drought on our forest with bark beetles. You can see ridges of dead trees. Plants are more susceptible to beetles and other diseases after multiple years of drought and not having cold winters to kill them off.”

She recalls that when she was in college, there were very few degrees in environmental science, called the “gloom and doom” department. But today there is much to be hopeful about, with alternative energy sources and green technology. The challenge is finding a collective will to implement changes that can save the planet.

“We need to start talking to our friends, our families and politicians. We can cry about it — or we can examine ways to find solutions to our problems together.” – Aba Ngissah, Inglewood Teachers Association

Al Gore’s new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, asserts that the stakes have never been higher, but the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion. A sequel to An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the documentary addresses the progress that’s been made to tackle the problem of climate change and Gore’s global efforts to persuade governmental leaders to invest in renewable energy, culminating in the landmark 2016 signing of the Paris climate agreement.

Climate change as a social justice issue

Aba Ngissah has been teaching climate change for two years at Hudnall Elementary School in Inglewood. She uses free materials available from a state program, the California Education and the Environment Initiative, to supplement her school’s science books. The ILC instructor and Inglewood Teachers Association member has also signed up for the organization’s in-person trainings and webinars.

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Aba Ngissah

“We talk about glaciers that are shrinking and how that affects animals, plant life and tundra,” says Ngissah. “We look at the rising waters and how that will affect islands. Students learned that some islands will disappear due to rising sea level. There’s going to be displacement of people and animals in coastal communities. One student was very aware of the social issues, noting that climate change affects poor people and those who live in Third World countries the most, where it becomes difficult to grow crops and sell them in the marketplace.”

Indeed, climate change disproportionately affects minority and low-income communities, notes the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, particularly regarding heat waves, poor air quality, and increasingly powerful events such as hurricanes. A United Nations report warns that up to 122 million more people worldwide could be living in extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change and its impact on farmers’ incomes, which in turn would impact the ability of poor people to receive education and health care.

Ngissah believes students can relate more to climate change when it is viewed through a social justice lens, since most of her students are from low-income communities.
“It’s crazy to think about,” she says. “Climate change affects every part of humanity. My students ask how they can help change this. I tell them we can’t sit back; we need to start talking to our friends, our families and politicians. We can cry about it — or we can examine ways to find solutions to our problems together.”


 

Tools, Resources for Teaching About Climate Change

• An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017), Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth (2006).
• Resources and professional development available from the California Education and the Environment Initiative (californiaeei.org).
• Videos on climate change produced by National Geographic (video.nationalgeographic.com), including “Climate Change 101 with Bill Nye.”
• Content from NASA Global Climate Change (climate.nasa.gov) and Climate Kids: NASA’s Eyes on the Earth (climatekids.nasa.gov), a website for young learners.
• Global Oneness Project’s (globalonenessproject.org) free resources and toolkits examining the impact of climate change on people and communities.
• Earth-Now, a free app that allows students to manipulate color scales on a 3-D model of Earth and see reports on temperature, carbon dioxide, sea level and other climate factors.
• National Center for Science Education at ncse.com/climate.


 

Facts About Climate Change

  • Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the past two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.
  • The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking. Together, they’re losing more than 100 cubic miles of ice every year, which flows into the oceans and contributes to sea level rise. And the rate of ice loss is accelerating.
  • Since the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased
    by about 30 percent due to humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and from there into the oceans.
  • Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming
    trends over the past century are the result of human activity.

Where in the World…?

Give an educator a summer break, and they’ll travel somewhere — to relax, work, learn. We received a robust response to our call to send in photos of you on break with your Educator magazines, and this year we noticed that more than a few members like to travel together. That proved to be the case with several of the contest winners, who each receive gift cards for school supplies. We also feature several Honorable Mentions. Keep an eye out for more educators with Educators in the next issue. Congratulations to the winners!

Winners

Kim Read-Smith, San Pasqual Elementary Teachers Association, Humanities/VAPA instructor

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“On our annual pilgrimage to decompress, 10 teachers from Escondido went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Here we are about to go down the Snake River on raging rapids. Left to right are: Bonnie Blanton, retired; our river guide, Alex; Lisa Gangel, first grade; Francis Juarez, kindergarten; Nicole Marshall, kindergarten; Kim Read-Smith; Carol Schiefer, kindergarten; Kris McLaughlin, fifth grade; and Teri MacDonald, retired.

“We went because a family at our school offered us their ski lodge in Jackson Hole as a thank-you for teaching their children. The best part was the white water rafting. Our group grows closer every summer and more united in our sisterhood. This bond helps us through the school year when life gets tough.”

 

Rachel Staab, Glendale Teachers Association, Special educator

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“Two of my colleagues and fellow GTA members and I went to Westhaven Children’s Home near Montego Bay, Jamaica. We volunteered several days at this residential home for children and adults who have moderate to severe special needs. We played with them, sang to them, fed them, walked them around, and just gave them our presence. From left are Andrea Fay, speech-language pathologist; me; and Mary Ann DeWitt, school nurse at College View School.”

Darcy Long, United Teachers of Richmond, Elementary technology coach  

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“Here I am with in Zanzibar, East Africa, in front of Freddie Mercury’s childhood home, known as ‘Mercury House.’ Next was an eight-day safari through the Serengeti and five days in Rwanda, tracking mountain gorillas in Virunga with two close friends. As a member of a nature journaling group, my purpose was to closely observe and document the flora, fauna and other surroundings through both scientific and artistic lenses — and to practice my drawing and watercolor painting. My time with this group was transformational. The consistent daily practice of being present with what was right in front of me changed how I see the world, literally. The most unexpected discovery for me was how gentle, kind and thoughtful the people of Tanzania were. Peacefulness and calm was observed and felt throughout my stay.”

 

Honorable Mention

Benny Heredia, Alhambra Teachers Association, CTE, soccer coach

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“This summer I traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia, to visit family and relax.  This particular trip took us to the countryside, full of lush greenery and tropical humidity.  At a family gathering we celebrated to Afro-Caribbean drum music, typical of the region.”

“The musical group pictured is all female, a first.  They represent a break through in the stereotype that such groups should be only male.”

Nicole Naditz, San Juan Teachers Association, NBC French teacher

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“When I attended the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages convention last November, I won a raffle for two round-trip tickets to Paris. My mom and I went in June and added a trip to Luxembourg, which is where her paternal relatives emigrated from in the 19th century before settling in Iowa.”

“This photo is with Steven Kennedy, my former student, who reached out to me when he saw on social media that I would be in Paris. It was my first time visiting Europe as a tourist; usually I’m either a chaperone for student trips to Europe or enrolled in a study program there to enhance my language skills and cultural knowledge. My mom and I explored southwest Luxembourg. It was meaningful to walk the streets of these villages, knowing our family had been there before.”

 

Jack Hollander, Saddleback Valley Educators Association, Civics and American government teacher

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“Here I am at Green Gables (inspiration for the Anne books by Lucy Maud Montgomery) in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, Canada. I went to the Maritimes following the NEA Representative Assembly in Boston. I’ve wanted to visit Prince Edward Island ever since I read the Anne books. I also visited historic Fort Louisburg on Cape Breton Island. The national park facility is set up as a French fort of 1745, including costumed soldiers and citizens. I found out that Alexander Graham Bell was born Canadian and had his summer (and retirement) home on Cape Breton Island; in fact, he was one of five pioneers who developed Canada’s first airplane. Baddeck, Nova Scotia, is the ‘Kitty Hawk’ of Canada, and there is a Parks Canada museum dedicated to Bell and his wife, Mabel, in Baddeck.”

 

Christy Ireland, Vacaville Teachers Association, Digital media teacher

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“I was on a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in June with three other educators from my school (one had to take the photo). Pictured left to right are Lindsay Wilson, me, and Gayle Morrison. This was taken right before our catamaran sail. We picked Cabo because of the beach, the price and location. I enjoyed relaxing and not being worried about work — and I got my first stamp in my passport!

“I teach introduction to digital media, so I am taking back to the classroom the variety of apps I used, such as Google Translate and Currency Converter.”

 

Your Online Professional Learning Community

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By: Gabriela Orozco Gonzalez, Montebello Teachers Association

Want to connect with educators who share your passion for teaching visual art? Need to commune with other new teachers? Are you an ESP with a hot topic for discussion?

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NEA edCommunities is the place for you. It is an online professional practice and learning area where educators can share their strengths, exchange ideas and resources, create innovative materials and tools, join webinars, and engage with others who are committed to improving student success.

Free and open to all, it allows you to:

  • Connect with colleagues across the country and with virtual learning events to expand your professional development opportunities.
  • Collaborate with other educators and education professionals.
  • Share classroom-ready resources and assessment and instruction materials.
  • Explore new ways of teaching and learning that work for your students.

You can customize your NEA edCommunities experience by selecting topic categories that match your interests, such as professional practice, leadership, and social justice. From there, you can find relevant groups to follow. You can also start a group to advocate and collaborate on an issue that matters to your students and school.

CTA’s Gabriela Orozco Gonzalez, a member of the Montebello Teachers Association, oversees the thriving Common Core K-5 group, which she started four years ago. The group aligns with her interests and expertise. In addition to teaching, she presents on the Common Core with CTA’s Instructional Leadership Corps and at conferences, and maintains a blog devoted to the topic (Common Core Café, commoncorecafe.blogspot.com).

Gonzalez finds that NEA edCommunities offers opportunity to expand on her work. “I started the group because there are always questions after I present that I can’t get to, and my blog doesn’t lend itself to collaboration,” she says. “The group is a great way for people to collaborate with me and with each other, and to share resources and ideas — nationally.”

She notes that the posts and discussions are broad, ranging from lesson and unit plans and cross-curricular approaches to literacy to math manipulatives and getting your classroom ready for the year.

Just a few of the many other groups in the professional practice category:

  • Digital Tools and Learning (by grade levels)
  • Gifted and Talented in the 21st Century
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Middle School Strategies
  • National Board Certification
  • Secondary Math 6-12
  • The Power of Health and PE

Gonzalez thinks the advantages of NEA edCommunities are great and obvious. “It’s one of the largest professional learning communities for educators across the nation,” she says. “It’s a professional practice group where we connect and support each other, focusing on improving student success. This is something provided with our membership, and it’s free. We need to use all the resources we have out there.”

Join thousands of other educators on NEA edCommunities at mynea360.org.

 


 

Works4Me!

Practical tips from teachers just like you

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From teaching strategies to classroom resources, Works4Me offers ideas and tips for student success from educators all over the country. Part of NEA edCommunities, Works4Me encourages educator submissions, which are shared online as well as in a biweekly newsletter.

Recent newsletter offerings have included mentoring first-year teachers, a description of and link to great virtual engineering field trips (at real engineering projects nationwide), and “Classroom Management Must-Have Strategies” from retired Iowa teacher Katie Ortiz, who listed a few classroom management basics that could work for any grade level:

  1. Teach people first, subject second.
  2. Praise work and effort, not ability or intelligence.
  3. Prepare well.
  4. Show enthusiasm for learning.
  5. Use mobility, proximity and facial expressions.
  6. Know your triggers and disengage emotionally when your buttons are pushed.
  7. Be what you want students to be. Teach behavior by modeling.

Further details about each of these are online, as are many other tips on multiple topics. See them all, and sign up for the newsletter, at nea.org/works4me.

 


 

Support When You Need It

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One of the easiest ways to search all of NEA’s professional supports content is through supported.nea.org. Use the search bar to find exactly what you’re looking for.

California Reads

Educators know that reading is the foundation of learning, and must be highlighted year-round to make a lasting impression. CTA’s California Reads program offers teacher-recommended book selections for all grade levels, all year long. For the full 2017-18 list, see cta.org/californiareads; #californiareads. Among the books on deck for fall:

Grand Canyon (grades 3-5), written and illustrated by Jason Chin, explores the natural wonder through the eyes of a father and daughter as they hike and discover life present and past. Die cuts, for example, show how a fossil today was a living creature long ago, perhaps in a completely different environment. The book contains a spectacular double gatefold, a detailed map and extensive back matter.

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In The Hate U Give (grades 9-12) by Angie Thomas, teen Starr Carter moves between her poor neighborhood and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. She witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil, who is unarmed, by a police officer. In the aftermath, some say Khalil was a thug and drug dealer; others protest in the streets in his name. Starr is torn between her two worlds as she deals with speaking her truth while trying to stay alive herself.

NewsNotes6The hero of The Real Boy (grades 6-8), by Anne Ursu, doesn’t know where he came from; he just knows he’s different. Oscar has deep knowledge of magical herbs and their usage, and when children start falling ill, he and his friend Callie try to solve the mystery. They discover a dark secret that may answer Oscar’s questions about himself.

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And They All Saw a Cat (pre-K, kindergarten), by Brendan Wenzel, shows youngsters the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see.

 

 

A Site to See

Used to be you had to know at least the basics of coding to get a website up and running. Now even those of us who would never be called tech-savvy can just choose a template, drag and drop the features we want, input a little content, and voilà! We’re being a little flip here, but the truth is that creating a website or just a good-looking blog has become relatively easy. (Updating a site can still be challenging, however!) Here are our picks of the website builders out there.


WordPress.com

Skill needed: Beginner-Intermediate
Cost: Free and paid plans

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WordPress powers 28 percent of all the websites on the Internet, and there’s good reason why. Their simple tools allow anyone to create a gorgeous website without any design or coding skills. This hosted version of the open-source software allows you to build a blog, a full website or a combo by choosing from hundreds of customizable themes.

Squarespace.com

Skill needed: Beginner-Intermediate
Cost: Free to try; paid plans
TechTips_SSteachAlthough WordPress is the most popular website system in the world, it’s not the only option. Squarespace separates itself from other low-cost website builders with its extremely easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface. Use one of their beautifully designed templates with hundreds of customizable features, and then style it to look any way you want.

Webflow.com

Skill needed: Intermediate-Advanced
Cost: Free and paid plans
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If you’re ready to take your Web design skills a step further, but you’re not ready to write code just yet, give Webflow a try. Webflow gives you all the power of HTML, CSS and Javascript. But instead of writing code, you manipulate it visually. As you build your website and lay out your content, Webflow generates clean, semantically correct, standards-compliant code for your site.


Website Essentials

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Graphics: Canva.com

Strong visuals are essential to every website, and Canva makes creating them a breeze. Use their drag-and-drop interface to create stunning professional-looking graphics. Many elements are free or available for a nominal fee.

Domain name: Domains.google

A custom domain name makes it simple for people to find you and helps you stand out on the Web. For example, if you’re known as Zeta Education Association, you can choose ZetaEA.com (unless that name is already in use — Google Domains can tell you).

Fonts: Fonts.google.com

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Got a good typeface? Google’s free, open-source font directory is the best way to inject personality and performance into your website. Its extensive catalog features best-in-class fonts that are made for the Web and hosted on their blazing fast servers, helping your website run faster. And it’s free.

Analytics: Analytics.google.com

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What posts were most popular with your members? Knowing your audience and what they want is an important success factor for any website. The best way to learn about your audience is through your website traffic stats, and Google Analytics provides all the info you need — for free.

 

Narratives of Courage

Jerry Sloan and Jerry Falwell were best friends as classmates in the 1950s at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Both became clergymen.

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LGBTQ+ pioneers honored during the premiere of “The Spectrum Archives: Narratives of Courage” last November.

Flash forward to the 1980s as televangelist and conservative activist Falwell went on to become the Moral Majority leader and Sloan founded two gay churches. After hearing the hateful, vicious things Falwell said on his nationally syndicated TV show, Sloan showed up at a local Sacramento television show where Falwell was appearing. Sloan rose from the audience and confronted Falwell about the malicious statements made on TV.

“It’s an absolute lie,” Falwell shouted. “And I’ll give you $5,000 if you can produce that tape.”

Sloan did. In what has become known as “The tale of the two Jerrys,” a municipal court judge, and later an appeals court, ordered Falwell to pay up after Sloan shared a tape of the broadcast. That was in 1984. Ultimately, the payment topped $8,900, and the funds helped start the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.

Sloan’s story and those of other Sacramento-area LGBTQ+ pioneer activists have been recorded and made into short videos through a Sierra College oral history project called “The Spectrum Archives: Narratives of Courage.”

 Funding the oral history project

Sierra College, located in Rocklin, Placer County, is one of three community colleges statewide that have a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies Department. It offers an associate degree program with an interdisciplinary, multicultural major that emphasizes the history and culture of LGBTQ+ persons and covers the ways that sexual orientation and gender identity and expression intersect with ethnic, racial, socioeconomic and political identities.

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Sierra College Faculty Association president Johnnie Terry

Sierra College Faculty Association president and LGBT studies faculty member Johnnie Terry and colleagues had been contemplating a small-scale oral history project, one in which students could record their experiences at college. Terry had created an academic standing committee focused on retention of LGBTQ+ students and staff.

“We called it Spectrum because acronyms kept changing,” explains Terry, who was recently honored by the Community College Association. “There is a spectrum of orientations.”

Spectrum was working with the director of the college foundation, Sonbol Aliabadi, to raise startup funds for the project. Aliabadi arranged a meeting between Terry and her friend, former Assembly Member Dennis Mangers, dubbed by news media as the “Gay Godfather of Sacramento.” He helped the story take another direction.

Mangers, who was seeing his friends aging, pitched the idea of an oral history project featuring Sacramento-area LGBTQ+ pioneer activists.

“I went back to campus feeling like I met a truly great man,” says Terry. He contacted his colleague, instructor and videographer Angie Coughlin, who researched costs and wrote the proposal. Mangers provided funding to start the project.

 Neglected history comes to light

That was over two years ago. Today, students can take a one-unit LGBTQ+ narrative class and a videography class. Then they have the opportunity to participate in Interviewing LGBTQ+ pioneers in the Sacramento region. Coughlin works with advanced videography students who scan photos and articles for “b-roll” in the videos, and oversees the conversion of over 60 hours of raw footage into 15-minute short documentaries, or shorts.

Student intern Kate McCarthy became deeply involved in the project. McCarthy, who had been a K-12 teacher, retired six years ago and decided to take one college class per semester. Her first class was Queer Theory, and that’s how she met Johnnie Terry — and the rest is, well, history.

“From a teacher perspective, this is history that is neglected by the mainstream media,” she says.

The response has been awe-inspiring and sparks dialogue, akin to projects like Japanese internment camps and veteran projects. – Kate McCarthy

McCarthy took photos of the process, which can be seen on the group’s Facebook page. She enjoyed watching the younger students interview the pioneers.

“They get so engaged with older people — it’s a marvelous thing to watch,” she says, adding that it’s important to capture this history for the LGBTQ+ community and as a part of local history.

The project premiered in November, just days after the 2016 election. As people watched the video documentary, “you could feel the energy building, and the excitement,” Terry says. “There was crying, laugher, applause. It was overwhelming.”

“The response thus far has been awe-inspiring and sparks dialogue, something akin to projects like the Japanese internment camps and veteran projects. Just the process of capturing history for posterity enriches the people involved, and this product that can be accessed by generations to come,” McCarthy says. “I’ve been lucky to do it.”

The video will be presented at the CCA Fall Conference in San Jose, Oct. 13-15, and is viewable online.

Meanwhile, the student-produced short videos are being submitted to events such as the Sacramento International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. “It’s great for students who make the shorts to win awards. Imagine how that’d help their careers,” Terry says.

 

A Win-Win

Each May for the past five years, Fontana Teachers Association (FTA) member and Kaiser High School special educator Michael Giardina has coordinated “Splash and Dash,” a districtwide event that embraces disabilities and values student diversity.

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Similar to the Special Olympics, Splash and Dash brings together all of Kaiser High’s students and educators, in addition to athletes from other schools, in an uplifting celebration. Its impact goes far beyond a single day to longer-term student relationships and achievement.

“Splash and Dash started at Kaiser as an event that adds the fun of water alongside educational components of living a healthy lifestyle,” says Giardina, known as Mr. G. “The event embraced the entire school community.”

This year, more than 250 participants with special needs — 20 classes from Fontana Unified School District’s seven high schools and transition programs (age 18-22) — competed in running and field events as well as water challenges, supported by more than 150 student volunteers and leadership groups from Kaiser High.

“The best of who we are was on display at Splash and Dash,” says Dinny (Diana) Rasmussen, an FTA member and Kaiser High counselor. “A regular education student struggling with depression ran joyfully alongside her friend with critical needs who could not contain her own happiness. A transgender youth helped his partners cross the finish line. A star athlete laughed uproariously as he struggled to keep up. Kindness won the day!”

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“Administration support and teacher buy-in is key. Ideas such as Splash and Dash that become realities showcase educators’ investment in education.” —Michael Giardina, Fontana Teachers Association

Because of its size and scope, Splash and Dash has become one of the largest district special education events in California. And now Giardina and FTA are looking to expand it to other districts and chapters.

That makes sense to Leslye Mendoza-Lopez, a senior who volunteered for the day. “It was the best experience of my life,” she says. “Seeing how happy the teachers, peer tutors and staff made the students made me want to pursue a career as a special needs teacher. Splash and Dash is really something all schools should have because it motivates students and makes them feel proud of their accomplishments.”

Splash and Dash starts with the athletes’ welcome at Kaiser High. They are cheered as they step off their buses by the Kaiser student “Link Crew” — trained ambassadors who help direct and assist during the day’s events. The crew escorts them to the auditorium, where they eat breakfast and hear presentations on health and nutrition.

Athletes next participate in a parade, each group preceded by their school banner. The Kaiser High School marching band provides musical accompaniment as they cross the campus. Teachers open classroom doors and students cheer as athletes make their way to the stadium. At the opening ceremony, the school’s JROTC, drumline and cheerleaders perform before competition begins.

“I had so much fun,” says Autumn Gilmore, an 11th-grader in Giardina’s class. “Helping with the preschoolers, the water activities, and watching Mr. G get soaked were my favorite parts. I also enjoyed all the student volunteers that helped and made it such a special day.”

As regular education student volunteers have become more involved, Giardina has observed two substantial student benefits he did not foresee. First, removing barriers to interaction with special ed students has led student volunteers like Mendoza-Lopez to consider special education teaching as a career path.

Second, as regular education class mentors built friendships and increased interaction with special ed students, the latter’s verbal and auditory skills showed faster improvement.

Splash and Dash, in effect, has fostered a safe environment where stigma gives way to intellectual and emotional growth on both sides.

“It was a powerful realization to its original creators that a program built for students with special needs would create more lasting change to those who did not compete,” Rasmussen says. “By pulling down barriers that limit inclusion, all students in the district have benefited.”

For more information about Splash and Dash, contact Michael Giardina at GiarME@fusd.net.

 

A Real Life-Saver

Last year, Richard McDowell got a call from a distraught teacher upstairs at Galileo High School in San Francisco: A substitute teacher had fallen on the walkway and was bleeding. Because McDowell runs the school’s Health Academy, which includes an emergency medical services class in its program, it’s not unusual for students and faculty to turn to him if they can’t reach the front office or find the nurse.

McDowell ran up, noticed the man had no pulse, and started doing hands-only CPR, considered as effective as mouth-to-mouth CPR in the first few minutes of sudden cardiac arrest. He continued to do compressions even after paramedics arrived. Ever the teacher, McDowell pointed out to his students that the device paramedics were inserting into the injured man’s mouth to keep his airway open was the exact same device they’d been covering in class.

On the annual American Heart Association lobby day: “Students get to see how government works, how citizens take action. They work on their leadership and communication skills.”

The man survived, and McDowell, a member of United Educators of San Francisco, was recognized in May by the city’s Department of Emergency Management for his life-saving effort.

“The irony is that the year before, my students and I traveled to Sacramento to convince lawmakers to support an American Heart Association [AHA] bill to include instruction in hands-only CPR in any required high school health course,” McDowell says. (The bill, AB 1719, passed and will go into effect next year.)

Every year for nearly 10 years, McDowell has brought up to 70 students by bus to the state Capitol to advocate for AHA policies. In June, he received the association’s Western States Affiliate 2017 Outstanding Advocacy Efforts Award, one of its top honors given to volunteers. “Hundreds of his students put a face to our issues, and are key to securing meetings with legislators,” notes the AHA release.

McDowell says the annual trip is “golden.” “Students get to see how government works, how citizens take action. They work on their leadership and communication skills.”

McDowell has been an educator and Galileo teacher for 20 years, starting the Health Academy in 2001 to “create a pipeline from school to work, or a postsecondary program or college.” Juniors and seniors learn about issues and careers in health science. The curriculum includes courses at City College of San Francisco and internships at California Pacific Medical Center.

McDowell has also been recognized by AHA for helping pilot a cooking nutrition class that brings in chefs to teach students how to make inexpensive, heart-healthy meals. The program has expanded to five other states and over 100 schools.

While his hands-on classroom contains everything from oxygen tanks to obstetric mannequins (to practice delivering babies), McDowell admits that his real-life life-saving feat had a big impact on his students. “It gave me cred for a couple of months.”

Curing the Lunchtime Lonelies

Looking for a place to eat in the cafeteria can be nerve-wracking and at times excruciating for students who are not part of the campus social scene. For shy, bullied or unpopular students, lunchtime is typically the most painful part of the day. Such scenes are staples in pop culture depictions of high school (who can forget the heroine of Mean Girls eating lunch in a bathroom stall, or Hannah Baker dining alone in 13 Reasons Why?). Feeling rejected and unconfident from these experiences can carry over into adulthood.

Lunchtime cliques divided along racial, religious or other lines create boundaries few dare to cross. This may intensify isolation, racism and intolerance on campus.

In the San Fernando Valley, teachers, education support professionals and students are working to change this. A few share tips to make lunchtime more inclusive.


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Jada Gamble and Paula Mercado at a lunchtime ice cream social in Ashley Cooper’s classroom.

Start a ‘No One Eats Alone’ program

Ashley Cooper’s classroom at Thousand Oaks High School is more than just a place where students take health, biology and peer mentoring classes. It’s also a place for students to make new friends during lunchtime. On any given day, 30 to 40 students find a safe haven in Room E7.

Cooper started a No One Eats Alone program at her school to make lunchtime less lonely for students who are socially awkward, new on campus or seeking a wider friendship circle. Several students volunteer as peer mentors, who help introduce students to others and socialize.

Recently Cooper received a letter from the mother of a ninth-grader who said her child usually came home from school in tears, and now walks through the door with a smile.

“It is making a difference,” says Cooper. “Students feel that teachers and other students at school care about them. And we have noticed improvement in the classroom when it comes to behavior and grades. Students are happier overall.”

A national organization, Beyond Differences, launched the No One Eats Alone program in California in 2012. Today schools in all 50 states participate.

Starting a program was a natural extension of Cooper’s peer mentoring class. Created after a student committed suicide, the program offers support to students struggling with loneliness, depression or anxiety. The goal is to make students feel welcome, rather than underscoring that they have nobody to eat lunch with.

Teens perceived as isolated by Cooper and the peer mentors are issued invitations to lunchtime events such as pizza parties or ice cream socials. For some, it is the first time they’ve been invited to anything in high school. The program has become so popular that students without invitations are showing up. Cooper believes a bigger venue will be needed soon.

It is making a difference. Students feel that teachers and other students at school care about them. – Ashley Cooper, Unified Association of Conejo Teachers

“It’s become an everyday program,” says Cooper, who belongs to the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers. “Everyone is welcome — and we still issue invitations to those who are not feeling connected to campus.”

Participants call themselves “The Lunch Bunch,” and during a recent ice cream social, there was plenty of laughter, visiting and good will.

“I didn’t know what to think when I received an invitation,” admits Rachael Hood, a senior last year. “But I thought, ‘Why not branch out a bit,’ and I came back every day. I made new friends. I’ve become a little more confident. I’ve become a little more comfortable.”

Madison Young, who began attending as a sophomore, says it is a relief to sit with others who aren’t going to judge her and people she can relax and feel “goofy” with.

“Joining the Lunch Bunch helped me meet others and come out of my shell,” says Sam Barton, who didn’t know very many people on campus when he enrolled as a freshman.

Peer mentors say they benefit just as much as those they invite. Cooper was surprised by this.

“Peer mentors are popular kids, but it’s come to light that they have just as many social insecurities as other students — they just mask it better,” Cooper says. “Everybody worries about what people think — especially with so much social media. I am so proud of their authentic compassion for others and their desire to support their peers.”

Peer mentor Melissa Franco says it has been a learning opportunity, and she has enjoyed getting to know others outside of her social circle.

“It feels like one big family hanging out for lunch.”

Peer mentor Jaylynn Boyd puts it in simpler terms.

“It just makes me feel happy,” she smiles.

For more information about the No One Eats Alone program, visit beyonddifferences.org.

Start a Humanitarian Club

When incidents of racism on social media rocked Buena High School in Ventura in January 2017, Farah Ali decided it was time to bring students together by forming a lunchtime club to explore differences in cultures, races and religions. The special education paraeducator joined forces with a colleague — college and career teacher Emmet Cullen — to create the Humanitarian Initiative Club, which meets Wednesdays during lunch.

The club includes students from diverse backgrounds, and has general education students as well as those with special needs.

Ali, who is Muslim, wants to make inclusion the new cool at school, because she feels the divisiveness on campus reflects the global situation in today’s political climate.

“A lot of people have forgotten what it means to be human, so we formed a club to promote humanity and inclusiveness. We make sure everyone has a voice on campus, so we can have an environment where people feel confident and develop a sense of self-esteem,” says Ali, a member of the Ventura Education Support Professionals Association.

“Regardless of who people are and what they look like, they will be treated with empathy, compassion and respect here,” says Cullen, a member of the Ventura Unified Education Association. “Being humanitarians helps students connect to the world around us.”

Club President Olivia Velasquez, a senior this year, says it offers more than a safe place to eat lunch. She believes the rich discussions will eventually help transform the overall school climate.

Senior Mackenzie Pina thinks the Humanitarian Initiative Club helps students feel more hopeful about the future.

“The world isn’t all bad. But when bad things happen, it’s what you hear about. One of my goals here as a student is becoming empowered to make changes in the world. I want other students to know that together, we can be that positive change.”

Lessons Learned

By: Adam Holland, Hart District Teachers Association

Many say that teaching is a lifestyle, a hard life but a good life. The life of a true teacher is a distinguished one among so many occupations in this world.

But what happens when life interferes with our teaching lifestyle? In 2014 my life changed forever: I was diagnosed with brain cancer. While my private life was redefining itself in many ways, one area that wasn’t being redefined was teaching.

For me, teaching and the classroom were wonderful diversions to my own personal fight for life, a reminder that the world was continuing on and that despite my cancer I still played a role in this world. I knew there were things in my life that were bigger than me, like my students, my school, my colleagues, and most of all my faith.

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I waited until after my students took their AP European History exam to tell them. They were amazingly supportive. One of the most wonderful things they did was to write letters to me, laminate them and put them in a book.

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In addition to daily encouragement, school staff gave me a bouquet of historical figures containing gift cards for meals, for when I would be too tired or sick to make dinner. Several of them were willing to give me their own sick time in case I needed to take an extended period of time off.

Thankfully, I didn’t need it. But I will always cherish how staff, students and students’ families reached out to help me. I had always been told we were a family at West Ranch, and now I experienced it.

In the summer of 2014 I underwent two brain surgeries, and one of my greatest concerns was healing before school started. I didn’t want to miss it at all. I even considered putting off the second surgery for a year so that it wouldn’t affect my students’ education. A great group of people knocked sense into me, and I had the second surgery three weeks before going back to work in August.

Radiation and chemo were on the docket for the fall, and throughout it all I felt terrible and physically exhausted. I woke up each morning, dressed, went to work and did the best job I could. My colleagues and students inspired me to press on. That year I did not miss a single day because of how I felt, save one day when I suffered some side effects from a spinal tap. Through it all I committed myself to my students and school.

 “I had always been told we were a family at West Ranch High School, and now I experienced it.”

As I recovered in 2015, I realized that my journey and what I had learned were not just for me. There were others on the journey — my parents, my friends, my faith family, my colleagues and my students. I wrote about this in what eventually became a book, Anchored in the Storm, as a way not just to share my story, but to encourage and inspire those who go through any type of suffering in life. It’s been an incredible blessing for me to see and hear how one journey and experience can help others. My journey continues to this day.

One of the lines from the book is: “There are people who have literally poured so much into others, there is nothing left for the history books; they have given themselves away.” Teachers do this on a daily basis, and I am proud to serve among so many wonderful educators. I am now so proud to be among the many cancer warriors out there.


Adam Holland on how surviving cancer changed the way he teaches:

  • I tell students that challenges are not always bad. I teach AP European History. During the year, so many kids wonder why they took such a difficult course, but at the end of the school year or even years later, it all clicks, and they see that the challenging times were worth it. When we’re going through those hard times, I tell them that I had cancer, and it was one of the greatest gifts I ever received. I truly mean that!
  • I want all students to know that I’m on their side and want them to have the best education I can give them. To do well, they need to know they are supported and cared for. I teach students history; I don’t teach history to students. It might be a subtle shift of words, but it’s enormous when it comes to teaching. Students always come first in education.
  • I tell them that life doesn’t always go as expected. They’re looking ahead, and the future looks so bright. They want to take on the world, and I love that passion in them. But I also want them to have realistic expectations. Like climbing a mountain, you don’t jump from valley to peak at once. You take it a step at a time, and eventually with persistence and fortitude you get to the top.
  • I tell students they need to do something they love and they’ll never work a day in their life. That’s a big part of my own story. I wake up tired, but it is a joy to come to work each day, work hard with and for my students and staff, and go home tired. I am much happier than so many who have so much more than I ever will. I love teaching.

Adam Holland teaches social studies at West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch. A member of the Hart District Teachers Association, he is a National Board Certified Teacher and author of Anchored in the Storm (2016).

In 2016, former students of Holland created a short video about his story and book: