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Audience: Homepage

 

Advancement Consultant and Master Trainer Patrick Bolek will address a community forum about the Artful Learning® Model. This informative presentation will explain how the transformative learning model uses the Arts to stimulate and deepen academic learning. 

 

Schools across the country have used this methodology to improve academic achievement in all subject areas, increase student engagement and motivation for learning while transforming the school culture and community.  Roosevelt Middle School leadership and faculty, Vista Unified School District administration and School Board members have been actively investigating the viability of using the Artful Learning Model for the past year.

 

A presentation and engaging, interactive opportunity for participants to experience a strategic approach to learning will be part of the forum. A panel discussion will immediately follow the presentation with Interim Superintendent Matt Doyle, Roosevelt Middle School Principal Elise Ochenduszko and teachers from the school leadership team, and Patrick Bolek to answer questions from the audience. The session is open to the public, parents/guardians, and interested community members.  Childcare will be provided.

 

The forum will be held on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at Roosevelt Middle School, located at 850 Sagewood Dr., Oceanside, CA 92057, in rooms C-1 and C-4 beginning at 5:00 P.M.

 

Artful Learning

Established in 1990 and founded by American music icon, Leonard Bernstein to strengthen education on a national level by preparing educators to use the Arts and the artistic process to learn across all academic subjects.  Inspired by Maestro Bernstein’s vision that music and the other fine and performing arts – in combination with a concept-based, interdisciplinary construct – could be used to improve academic achievement and instill a love of learning.  This reformation of thought embeds the Arts in the learning process and serves as the method of response for students to convey understanding across the curriculum.

 

The signature education program of the Leonard Bernstein Office is based on over 20 years of intensive collaboration and refinement, field research and implementation with leading educators, researchers, and ultimately, practitioners of the model.  The Artful Learning Sequence is a framework for educators to explore and deliver their curriculum in way that revitalizes teaching, learning and leadership – grounded in the artistic process.  Extensive research-proven professional development empowers educators to use this methodology over a three-year implementation process – ultimately building a sustainable and effective learning community.

Visit www.artfullearning.org and www.leonardbernstein.com.

 

Patrick Bolek

Patrick Bolek specializes in creating project-based education programs that are experiential and immersive for professional, community and student audiences alike that include the Arts Education Master Plan | Napa, Nashville Music Education Project: Music Makes Us Master Plan, GRAMMY Camp, GRAMMY Pro Sessions, GRAMMY Master Class series and the Hal Leonard Corporation.

 

Bolek serves as Advancement Consultant and Master Trainer for Artful Learning®, the signature education program of the Leonard Bernstein Center, overseeing all aspects of the arts-aligned transformative learning model across the United States.

 

Formal education includes the BMI Film Scoring Scholarship and Certificate from the University of California at Los Angeles, a Bachelor of Music/Music Education degree with honors from the College of Musical Arts at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and graduate studies on scholarship from the University of Southern California.  Bolek brings nearly 30 years of teaching and administrative experience to education initiatives requiring visioning, design thinking and implementation. Currently a presenting consultant, author and program designer for education organizations with his company Momentum ProjectLab. Visit www.momentumprojectlab.com.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/24/17




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The 2017 Summer meals program is about to start serving at locations across the communities served by Vista Unified School District. The program, run by the USDA, ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.

 

Dates and locations vary across the VUSD area. In addition to the menu and location information available for download in this article, interested parties can text FOOD (for English) or COMIDA (para Español) to 877-877 to find the nearest location.

 


 


 

 


 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/18/17




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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

 

Two Vista USD Elementary Schools Approved as International Baccalaureate World Schools

Four-year long project results in certification for

both VUSD magnet elementary schools

 

VISTA, CA. May 18, 2017 – On May 17th, 2017, The International Baccalaureate welcomed two Vista elementary schools into the global community of IB World Schools. Casita Center For Science, Technology and Math, and Vista Academy (of Visual and Performing Arts) each received confirmation from the international organization, congratulating the two magnet schools on their achievements.

 

“We are thrilled to become an IB World School. It truly is magical!” explains Vista Academy Principal Catina Hancock. “This [authorization] transforms the educational experience for our students. The IB Primary Years Programme has a rigorous, research- and inquiry-based curriculum that complements our ongoing focus on developing the emotional, intellectual, and artistic potential in every child.”

 

As to the 48-month long process of training teachers and integrating the IB curriculum, Hancock says, “This is a validation of four years of dedication, hard work, and focus on what is best for students in preparing them for the challenges of a global community.

 

Adds Casita Center Principal Laura Smith, “IB sets the international bar for schools. As a California public elementary school principal, I am so proud to offer this caliber of education to our students.”

 

Smith is particularly pleased that the certification carries global recognition from fellow educators. “Educators world wide honor this training, and Casita is honored to be part of a global community of schools committed to developing knowledgeable, caring young people who will be ready to negotiate their futures successfully and make contributions resulting in a more harmonious and peaceful world.”

 

The International Baccalaureate (The International Baccalaureate Organization) is a global network of over 4,800 schools in 147 countries, serving 1.3 million students. Schools seeking to be certified go through an extensive process that includes professional development.   

 

Casita and Vista Academy teachers completed two years of coursework  to earn the IB Certificate in Teaching and Learning. The VUSD teachers did this through Cal State San Marcos. Teachers also gained training in curriculum development and worked collaboratively to integrate content standards into units of study.

 

Vista USD Board member Cipriano Vargas joins the celebration. “As a former graduate of Vista Unified schools, I look forward to the impact our IB schools will bring to classrooms. IB programs help bridge the gap between a global perspective and Vista, in particular for many of our students who often times do not know the community beyond San Diego County. All of our students have great potential, this is another avenue to help reach those minds and better prepare them beyond high school.”

 

“Having Casita Center and Vista Academy recognized as certified International Baccalaureate schools is another shining example of the focus, dedication and hard work that our teams are modeling as leaders in educational innovation and excellence,” says VUSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Matt Doyle. "This certification of our two elementary schools completes our goal to create an uninterrupted IB pathway for students from preschool to graduation in both STEM and the arts.

 

Andrew Macdonald, Chief Schools Officer for The International Baccalaureate, expressed in a letter that the IB, “Looks forward to welcoming your schools’ PYP faculty members into the IB community of educators, where they will find collaborators and a dynamic global network of professionals dedicated to the best practices in teaching students and in sharing those practices with each other.”

 

Elsewhere in the district, Vista Magnet Middle School offers an IB Middle Years Programme, and both Rancho Buena Vista High School and Vista High School offer an IB Diploma Programme. This makes Vista USD unique as one of the only California school districts to offer an IB pathway through all three grade levels. Vista joins San Diego Unified as the only other district in San Diego County to offer such a broad pathway.

 

About the International Baccalaureate:

Founded in 1968 the International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit foundation, which offers four high quality and challenging educational programmes for a worldwide community of schools. For close to 50 years, IB programmes have gained a reputation for their rigour and high academic standards, for preparing students for life in a globalized 21st century, and for helping to develop citizens who will create a better, more peaceful world. Currently, more than 1,3 million IB students attend over 4,500 schools in 147 countries. For further information about the International Baccalaureate please visit www.ibo.org.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/18/17




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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/15/17




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By Ray Huard

 

Fatima Martin was stunned when she saw two horses no bigger than a child’s hobby horse standing in the courtyard of Major General Murray High School. “I didn’t know they existed that small,” said Fatima, a junior.

 

Rootbeer and Edward are two miniature horses who visited Murray High School as part of Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Pet Encounter Therapy (PET).

 


Major General Murray High School junior Fatima Martin walking Edward

 

Just being able to pet and even walk the horses and other animals has worked wonders with the students, said Principal Chuck Hoover.

 

Rootbeer, Edward and the other animals that come on campus through PET form a bond with the students that spills over into the students’ interaction with each other and their teachers, Hoover said.

 

There are fewer disciplinary problems, shy students come out of their shell, and you can just see the students relax. The miniature horses are extra special because they’re unusual and few students have seen any before, Hoover said.

 

“I thought they were donkeys,” said Antoni Pina, who took a turn walking a miniature horse.

 

“It felt like you were walking a dog, but stronger,” said Alexus Montanez after leading Rootbeer around the courtyard. “It was a weird experience.”

 


Rootbeer the minihorse gets some attention from students Jair Rojas, Trevor Rivera and Savannah Smith Ortiz 

 

Rudy Pulido declared the horses to be “pretty cool” after watching Rootbeer perform his trick – rearing back on his hind legs.

 

Edward’s trick was snacking on grass and hay.

 

Rene Townsend, who was superintendent of the Vista Unified School District from 1988 to 1994, said she likes to bring Rootbeer and Edward on campus, “to make people smile.”

 

“That’s their job,” said Townsend, who adopted the two miniature horses a year ago. “Everybody that walks by, everybody, smiles at them, everybody.”

 

Edward is 15 years old, 31 inches tall, and weighs 150 pounds, Townsend said.

 


Students Michael Maldonado, Catalina Limon and Kade Prouty with Rootbeer

 

Rootbeer, who got his name from the foamy appearance of his mane, is 14 years old, 34 inches high and weighs 200 pounds.

According to the American Miniature Horse Association (www.amaha.org), horses can be no taller than 38 inches to qualify as miniatures. The association has about 230,000 horses registered as miniatures nationally.

 

Although miniature horses are sometimes mistaken for ponies, they are smaller – ponies are about 60 inches tall – and have different characteristics, such as rougher manes and tails, according to the website, www.differencebetween.com.

 

Miniature horses also are often used as therapy animals, as are Edward and Rootbeer.

 

In their case, they’ve been part of PET since February, and have visited a children’s center and a retirement home, as well as the high school, said PET Manager Robin Cohen

 

“Rootbeer and Edward have already proven themselves to be wonderful therapy animals,” Cohen said.

 

Accompanying the miniature horses on their visit to Murray High School were three dogs: Zuul, a pit bull/mastiff mix who was rescued after being hit by a car; Balonee, an 11-year-old Pomeranian; and Cody, a 9-year-old mixed breed with a laid-back personality.

 

On past visits to Murray, PET has brought snakes, lizards, guinea pigs and rabbits, along with therapy dogs, Cohen said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/15/17




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UPDATED STORY
 

By Ray Huard

 

Not so long ago, children started school in kindergarten, or maybe even first grade.

 

If parents still wait that long to put their children in school, their children will start their education with “a distinct disadvantage” that often sticks with them as they progress through school, said Carol Herrera, a trustee of the Vista Unified School District.

 

“That’s difficult for some parents to understand, because they believe they should keep their children in the home until kindergarten or first grade,” said Herrera, a former teacher.

 

Don’t wait, was the message Herrera and others emphasized at the Vista Unified School District’s recent Third Annual Early Childhood Education Fair at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.

 


Over 1,300 attendees were welcomed to the 3rd annual Early Childhood Education Fair on May 6, 2017

 

A central theme was that preschool, which is for children 3 to 5 years-old, is where children should start their education. “It’s more than important, it’s essential for the growth of these children that we get them as early as we can,” Herrera said. “We have to make parents aware that the schools are there for them. They just have to take advantage of them.”

 

Vista Unified offers half-day preschool at 11 district elementary schools through the nonprofit, Educational Enrichment System. The schools with preschool classes are Beaumont, Bobier, Foothill Oak, Grapevine, Hannalei, Maryland, Mission Meadows, Monte Vista, Temple Heights, Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, and Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math.

 

The school district also offers full-day preschool through Education Enrichment System at the David and Jillian Gilmour Facility, 735 Avenida de Benito Juarez, and at the Vista Child Development Center, 410 West California Ave.

 

Other preschools participating in the fair included Children’s Paradise Preschool, Happy Times Child Development Center, and MAAC Head Start & Early Head Start.

 


More than 30 community partner organizations had booths to share information and resources with families

 

They were among more than 30 nonprofits and other groups represented at the fair, which drew about 1,300 people, according to district Family & Community Engagement Network Lead Jacqueline “Kiki” Bispo.

 

Interim School Superintendent Matt Doyle said that the fair is meant to draw needed attention to preschool services. “If we put more focus, attention and support into the early stages of child education, we can have a greater impact on our society,” Doyle said.

 

Vista Unified’s goal is to become the model of educational excellence and innovation, and Doyle said, “Excellence starts at the earliest levels.”

 


Activities were offered to all attendees throughout the three hour fair

 

Board of Education President Rich Alderson, a former teacher and former high school principal, said that the pace of learning has accelerated so much that children need the early start that preschool gives them.

 

“I go back and look at this from the time I taught, and the rigor has really increased from kindergarten through fifth grade,” Alderson said. “By the time kids are in kindergarten, they’re expected to know numbers and colors, and things that used to be taught in kindergarten.”

 

For those whose native language is not English, preschool also can give them “a leg up,” Alderson said.

 


(L. to R.) Vista USD Interim Superintendent Matt Doyle, Family & Community Engagement Network Lead Jacqueline "Kiki" Bispo, Vista USD board members, and Educational Enrichment Systems' CEO Robin Layton (third from right).

 

Among other things, preschool teaches children important social skills, such as sharing and independence and just gets them used to being in a classroom setting, said Marisa Jackson, educational coordinator for Educational Enrichment Systems.

 

“We read a lot of books, so they get exposed to that literacy,” Jackson said, adding that parents also get accustomed to the routine of waking their children at a certain time, getting them ready and dropping them off at school.

 

Along with providing information on preschool, parents at the fair could enroll their children in preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten is for children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 and are too young for conventional kindergarten, which is for children who turn 5 before Sept. 1.

 


Ballet Folklorico performed at the fair

 

The fair also featured performances by preschool and elementary school students, including Ballet Folklorico, dancing and musicians playing guitars and drums.

 

Parents could also take home free books and learn about services provided by a wide range of agencies from the Boys & Girls Club of Vista and Manpower Employment Agency to Vista Storm Soccer Club and the Vista Community Clinic that have formed partnerships with Vista Unified.

 

The number and variety of the organizations that are working with the district and helped with the fair were impressive, Alderson said. “What pleased me the most is to see the community partners,” Alderson said.

 

Echoing Alderson’s comments, Bispo said the fair “brings together schools, families, and community partners to support early childhood education, collaboration and love. It’s a true celebration of unity and all of the beauty and richness in our large and extended community.”

 

Activities for attendees were held throughout the fair









 

 

 

ORIGINAL STORY

The 3rd annual Early Childhood Education Fair was held this past weekend, on Saturday, May 6th, from 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM at the Linda Rhoades Community Center in Vista.

 

More than 1,300 people attended the event, which featured free refreshments from WaveCrest Cafe, mini-workshops for parents, and games and play activities for kids, as well as student performances, and information from 33 community partners.

 

The Early Childhood Education Fair is an opportunity for families to connect with preschool and elementary school teachers and leaders, as well as learn more about parent volunteer opportunities and resources.

 

“Vista Unified is committed to help support the role of parents and family members as a child’s first and best teachers,” says Jacqueline “Kiki” Bispo, VUSD’s Lead of Family & Community Engagement.

 

The fair was produced in partnership with Educational Enrichment Systems (EES) Preschools, the Del Norte PTA and the San Diego County Office of Education.

 

“Many in our community may not know that there are 11 Part-Day Preschools located on VUSD elementary school campuses, and two Full-Day EES Child Care Centers ready to help prepare children for success in school,” says VUSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Matt Doyle. 

 

Both the part-day and full-day preschool programs are free to families that meet income eligibility requirements as determined by the California Department of Education.

 

For more information about Early Childhood Education programs, click here.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/11/17




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A Letter From Interim Superintendent Dr. Matt Doyle

 

Esteemed Colleagues, 

 

It is with sincere pride and appreciation that I congratulate all Vista Unified School District Certificated and Classified team members who will be retiring this school year.

 

The Human Relations Department recently hosted a beautiful retirement reception to honor 179 teachers and staff who collectively have provided almost 5,000 years of service to students and families. During the ceremony, I had the opportunity to speak with many teachers and staff members about their individual stories of supporting students and families over many decades.

 

It is humbling to know that our staff and teachers have played such a significant role in the lives of thousands of students. 

 

On behalf of the Vista Unified School District, I would like to thank every retiree for their service and commitment to the students of our great District. I wish you all well in your retirement and hope to see you visit our schools in the future.  

 

Sincerely, 

Matt Doyle, Ed.D.

Interim Superintendent of Schools

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/10/17




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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/9/17




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By Ray Huard

 

She’s the best in the country, so said Magnet Schools of America in giving its top award to Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell.

 

Fennell, who heads the Visual and Performing Arts Department at the Vista Unified School District high school, has been named National Magnet School Teacher of the year by the organization, the national association for magnet and theme-based schools.

 

There are about 4,000 magnet and theme-based schools in the country, according to Magnet Schools website.

 

“As a classroom teacher, Anne Fennell focuses on educating the whole student,” Magnet Schools said in naming Fennell its teacher of the year. “Mrs. Fennell is practiced in educating students as well as leading other professionals in arts integration across curricula.”

 

This is but the latest in a series of awards for Fennell, who won state and regional awards for innovation in music education earlier this year and who was one of 10 finalists in 2016 for the GRAMMY Music Education Award.

 

“It’s been crazy,” said Fennell, who was a founding faculty member at Mission Vista High School.

 

A classroom teacher for 30 years, Fennell said, “I just love my students and I love music,” adding that, “It’s nice to know those things I envision in my life are coming true for my students, and to get recognition for that is icing on the cake.”

 

Fennell, a classical flutist, said her philosophy is that, “Every human being is a musician. It’s my job is to pull that out of them.” “My goal is for every musician to be a lifelong music maker,” Fennell said.

 

That philosophy is reflected in the way she teaches.

“I don’t tell them what to do,” Fennell said. “I’m not the conductor in charge. I am the facilitator. They get to make decisions.”

 

At Mission Vista, Fennell teaches three levels of music composition through technology and three levels of steel drum ensemble.

 

Her introduction of the steel drum ensemble is one of the innovations that has drawn praise from colleagues. “I picked that because I wanted a world music instrument,” Fennell said. “I wanted students to be able to walk up to an instrument and be able to play something immediately.”

 

A steel drum enables them to do that, she said. “Then the challenge becomes, I teach them how to arrange it,” Fennell said.

 

Her advice to other music teachers is “be relevant.” “Meet the students where they are, continue to connect with them to discover who they are as human beings.” Fennell said. “It takes time and it takes effort and it takes the love of students and the love of music. It’s a discovery process, like mining for gold.”
 

 

 

ORIGINAL STORY FROM 3/23/17

Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell has scored a regional award for innovation from the California Music Educators Association.

 

“How cool is that,” asked Fennel, who has racked up numerous awards as creative arts chair and instrumental and music composition teacher at Mission Vista.

 

The CMEA award honors Fennell for showing “excellence in music education, including emerging and digital media” among music teachers in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

 

In 2016, Fennell was chosen as one of the top 10 finalists for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award and received the CMEA’s SBS Innovation in Music Education Award.

 


Fennell in 2015 won an “outstanding program” award from San Diego County’s Digital Media Arts Showcase for the music composition program she runs at Mission Vista. She also received a CMEA Illuminating Culture Award in 2013 and an association Southern Border Section Outstanding Music Educator Award in 2008.

 

“I feel honored to be recognized, but it always and has to be about the kids and what I can do better for them,” Fennell said.  “I believe in lifelong music making and I believe students can be lifelong musicians. That’s the most important thing, finding joy in themselves and finding that joy in the music and sharing that joy with others.”

 

A classical flutist by training, Fennell said that she performs herself at weddings and other venues.

 

Vista Unified School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that Fennell “exemplifies educational excellence and innovation.”

“Her most recent recognition affirms her continued leadership and impact,” Vodicka said. “We are truly fortunate to have outstanding educators like Ms. Fennell who are dedicated to student success.”

 

Innovation is central to Fennell’s teaching style. “Everything I teach at this school is outside the traditional band,” Fennell said.

 

For starters, the music composition courses she teaches at Mission Vista are far from typical in a high school curriculum.

“Music composition is never taught in high school. Usually, you wait until a junior in college,” Fennell said.

 

About 150 students take the composition courses each year, writing their own music. “They read, write and compose at the same time,” she said.

 


The Mission Vista High School Steel Drum band performs throughout the county each year, and is headed to Hawaii in 2017.

 

Fennell also has gone beyond the typical high school band by forming a steel drum band, which performs at numerous venues throughout the region, with a trip to Hawaii planned for later this year.

 

About 130 students take steel drum every year.

Fennell said that she decided to teach steel drum because she thought it was a good first instrument for introduction to music and less intimidating that other instruments.

 

“We thought, there are too many kids who don’t choose music in middle school, and then they get to high school and they never take it,” Fennell said. “If you’ve never learned music, you can still walk up to the (steel drum) pan and find a melody on it.”

 

The philosophy that guides Fennell is that, “Anyone can learn music and anyone can create,” especially with the evolving technology of smart phones and computer tablets.

 

“That’s what’s neat about technology,” Fennell said. “You can create with a touch of a finger.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/8/17




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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/4/17




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By Ray Huard

 

Sophie Crawford wanted to depict the struggles and challenges she and others overcome as they work through high school.

 

She did it with a photograph of classmate Taylor Honore, wearing a red graduation cap-and-gown, holding what appears to be a diploma in his left hand, standing with arms outstretched on the running track at Rancho Buena Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District.

 


Sophie Crawford's award-winning photo

 

Jessamene “Jess” Perez wanted to make a statement about how people from diverse backgrounds should respect each other, “and they should be able to hang out as one and not judge one another by what they look like or where they come from.

 

She did it with a photograph of a soccer ball as seen from below, held aloft by several hands with a bright blue sky in the background.

 


Jessamene “Jess” Perez's award-winning photo

 

The photographs by Jess and Sophie won the state-wide Education for All photography contest, sponsored by Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost law firm and The Association of African American Superintendents.

 

The award comes with a $1,000 scholarship for each student.

Sophie, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista, said she was “in awe,” when she heard that her photograph was a winner.

“My jaw dropped, I thought, ‘No freaking way,’” Sophie said.

 

Jess, a junior at Rancho Buena Vista, said that she was “really excited and freaking out” when she got the news. “I didn’t think I’d actually win or anything,” Jess said. “When I got notified, I was really excited and happy.”
 

Their teacher, Kelly Moncure, said that Sophie and Jess “are both really terrific kids. It’s really nice to see them both kind of blossom,” Moncure said.

 

She said that Sophie’s idea of a graduating student reaching the finish line on a track “was really clever.” “She had a very strong sense of what she wanted and I think she was able to execute it.” Moncure said.

 


Sophie Crawford

 

Sophie said that running high school track for three years made her think of using the track as the setting of her photograph. “Track is really hard on your body, but you still get through it,” Sophie said. She said the same is true for high school academics and the challenges some students face outside of school.

 

In a written explanation of her photograph, Sophie wrote that “In high school, you run into many struggles and conflicts that may bring complications to achieving your goal. But no matter what, you still get up and push through all the way to graduation.”

 

Sophie wrote that crossing the finish line in a cap-and-gown represents academic achievement, “because graduation is the ultimate achievement in high school,” adding that, “I thought the perfect way to show achievement in education was through a race to the finish line.”

 

“The next step after crossing the finish line is what comes next in your journey of life,” she wrote. Sophie will attend Vanguard University, a private Christian school in Costa Mesa. Her goal is to become a teacher, and her dream job would be to teach at Vista Unified’s Lake Elementary School, where she interned.

 


Jessamene “Jess” Perez

 

Jess said that after watching schoolmates form cliques, she wanted her photograph to make a statement about diversity and inclusion. “Teens divide one another in social groups because they don’t look or act the same way we want them to. It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences,” Jess wrote in a note explaining her work.

 

“As we get older, we don’t see the beauty in diversity, we see colors and divide one another by them,” she wrote. “Young people need to be taught that diversity is OK and should embrace it.”

 

Moncure said that she was impressed by the way Jess staged the photograph. “I kind of like the way she’s reaching up to the sky,” Moncure said.

 

Jess said she gets her interest in photography from her mother, who is a professional wedding photographer. “I like capturing pictures that people don’t see with their own eyes,” Jess said, adding that, for now, photography is a hobby Jess said. She plans to study nursing at Palomar College.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/30/17




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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/26/17




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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 4/25/17




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By Ray Huard

 

Mission Vista High School and Rancho Buena Vista High School have been named Gold Ribbon schools by the state Department of Education for outstanding academic achievement.

 

“We’re super excited,” said Mission Vista Principal Nicole Miller. “I’m just super proud of our programs and our faculty and the experience that they provide to kids every day that are really unique.”

 

Rancho Buena Vista Principal Charles Schindler said that earning a Gold Ribbon award “is a great honor and a tribute to the staff at RBV for our academic programs we offer all students.”

 

With the latest round of awards, all three of the comprehensive high schools in the Vista Unified School District have been honored as Gold Ribbon schools. Vista High School won the designation in 2015.

 

“This is a remarkable achievement that reflects well on the hard work of our students, staff, families and partners,” said Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.

 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that the Gold Ribbon schools “are leading the way in embracing our new rigorous academic standards and showing others how to help students succeed on their way to 21st century careers and college.”

 

The Gold Ribbon awards recognize California schools that have made gains in implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the state.

 

“I look forward to traveling the state to honor these schools and to help share their programs, methods, and techniques that are working,” Torlakson said.

 

Mission Vista High School was recognized for its programs in math, science, biomedical, engineering, theater, music, visual arts, dance, and Career Technical Education (CTE), Miller said.

The school has 17 CTE courses, from digital art to computer science, taught by professionals who worked in the field they teach.

 

“Our math program is really unique because we have hour-and-a-half periods, so our teachers really focus on the application of math,” Miller said. “Our kids are really looking at how the math applies to the real world. It’s a lot more than plugging numbers into equations.”

 

As a magnet school, Mission Vista has a class schedule that allows students to take more electives and advanced classes, Miller said.

 

The school is on what Miller said is a four-by-four schedule in which students take four courses in the fall semester and four different courses in the spring semester, unlike a traditional schedule in which students take six courses for a full year.

“They do a whole year in one semester,” Miller said.

 

Because it’s a magnet school, students must apply to attend Mission Vista and Miller said that there is a waiting list at all grade levels. Students are admitted by lottery.

 

Rancho Buena Vista High School was recognized for its reading and writing program that involves English and Social Studies classes.

 

The program “prepares students with writing strategies and techniques as well as the analysis skills needed to write complete essays on a variety of topics,” Schindler said. “The nice thing is this award recognizes a built-in program that we have been working on here at RBV for the last five to seven years and has produced very successful student assessment outcomes.”

 

When the program started, 71 percent of juniors were proficient on state tests that focused on reading, writing and analysis, Schindler said.

 

By the spring semester in the 2015-2016 school year, 75 percent of juniors were proficient on those tests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/23/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

Twelve-year-old Rachel Palmer has become a bit of an expert on aquaponics – the process of growing plants and fish in water.

 

She and her classmates at Madison Middle School have built an aquaponics system outside their seventh-grade classroom with the help of Eco Life Foundation, an Escondido-based nonprofit that promotes sustainable farming.

 

“It was really fun,” said Rachel, who was a gardening aficionado even before her class got involved in aquaponics. “I like to grow my own food and cook it.”

 

The system she and her classmates built will grow lettuce and raise koi fish. The waste from the koi acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants, which use the nutrients in the waste and return fresh water to the fish.

 

“Aquaponics is really just another way to help the environment,” said America Velasco, 12. “You recycle water instead of using new water, using the water over and over again.”

 


Madison Middle School student Rachel Palmer with the school's aquaponics system as it was under construction.

 

The project is part of seventh grade science teacher Kristina Morrow’s efforts to take students beyond supermarket shelves when they think about food. “We’re trying to get kids to understand where their food comes from, other than the grocery store,” Morrow said.

 

Morrow said the class chose lettuce for the aquaponics system because it’s easy to grow, and they chose koi, because koi is a hardy fish that can withstand fluctuations in temperature.

 

“You could do this with tilapia, or something like that if you want to harvest the fish for food, but we’re not at that point,” Morrow said. “Eventually, once this system is going, we want to build more.”

 

Not only do students learn about how to grow crops efficiently with the aquaponics system, but they get a taste of what it’s like to be an engineer by designing the system and building it themselves, with guidance from Eco Life, Morrow said. “We had a general idea of what we wanted, and then they helped from there.”

 

Working with Eco Life, the students “kind of got to go through the design and engineering process, which is something that the new science curriculum really wants to do,” she said.

 

The students also learned how to collaborate, how to work as a team, and rely on each other, social skills which are critical in college and in the workplace, Morrow said. “We had to research what kind of fish to get, and how to build stuff,” America said. “It was a fun, new experience.”

 

In addition to the aquaponics, Morrow’s students designed and planted a conventional garden, and have a composting bin outside her classroom.

 

Principal Susan Ford said aquaponics has been a great addition to the school. “It’s tremendous. It’s teacher initiated and student driven,” Ford said. “We have students who are considering careers in science and biology because of the work they’ve been doing.”

 

Aquaponics fits right in with Madison’s emphasis on science and technology, Ford said.

 

She said the school has 13 computer science classes, including classes in digital art, graphic design, coding and digital broadcasting, along with three marine biology classes.

“We have more kids signed up for marine biology than we can provide classes for,” Ford said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/20/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Second-grader Chelsea De Los Santos won’t get a birthday party this year when she turns 8.

She won’t get any presents either.

 

“For my birthday, instead of getting gifts for myself, I’m going to donate toys to the sick children at Rady Children’s Hospital,” Chelsea explained, reciting a talk she gave to her schoolmates at Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) in the Vista Unified School District.

 

So far, Chelsea has collected more than 100 toys, everything from dolls to coloring books, said her mom, Cristina De Los Santos. “My living room and dining room are full,” De Los Santos said.

 

Chelsea’s not finished.

 

“I want to collect more toys,” she said, standing outside her classroom.

 

Her mom said that Chelsea would like to collect enough toys so that every child in the hospital will get one.

Chelsea’s adding her own contribution, using part of her $5 weekly allowance to buy coloring books and board games to include in the toy drive

 

She came up with the idea of a toy drive on her own one night in January, when she and her mother started talking about what Chelsea might want for her birthday, April 20.

 

“Every year, we have a party for her, usually two parties, one for friends and one for relatives,” De Los Santos said.

 

This year, Chelsea had other ideas. “I’ve already had lots of birthday parties,” Chelsea said. “I already have lots of toys.”

 

When Chelsea said that she wanted to collect toys for children in a hospital, “It just caught me by surprise,” her mom said.

 

To be sure, De Los Santos said that she asked Chelsea over several days in January if Chelsea really wanted to give up her party and gifts.

 

“She was very, very insistent,” De Los Santos said.

Soon after Chelsea announced her plans and started collecting toys, her teacher, Denise Shaver, gave the class a writing assignment asking students, “If you could do anything to make a difference in the community, what would you do?”

 

Chelsea wrote about collecting toys for sick children, and the essay prompted De Los Santos to think about expanding Chelsea’s toy drive.

 

“I thought, maybe I should email Mrs. Shaver, that we’re already doing this, asking if she wanted to get the class involved,” De Los Santos said. Shaver loved the idea.

 


Chelsea De Los Santos, her mother Cristina, and Vista Academy 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Denise Shaver with a few of the toys collected for Chelsea's project.

 

VAPA is an International Baccalaureate School, part of a program that encourages children to think globally and get involved in their community.

 

“International Baccalaureate is all about students taking action,” Shaver said, and Chelsea was sure doing that.

Not only did Shaver’s class take up Chelsea’s toy drive, but it went school-wide, with Chelsea taking one day to make presentations to other classrooms with a simple plea – “Please help me bring happiness, hope and share a smile to the sick children at Rady Children’s Hospital.”

 

“She did it all herself, I’m so proud of her,” Shaver said, adding, “Chelsea’s a wonderful student. She’s one of the top students.”

 

Hospital Media Relations Officer Carlos Delgado said others interested in forming a toy drive like Chelsea’s or donating to the hospital can contact Rady’s Children Foundation at 858-966-4015.

 

Chelsea said there really wasn’t anything in particular that prompted her decision to give up her party and presents.

 

Smiling shyly, Chelsea said, “I don’t know how I thought of it,” although her family has a history of helping others.

When Chelsea’s 26-year-old sister, Sarah, was Chelsea’s age, the family would hand out boxes of food in their native Philippines, De Los Santos said.

 

Giving to others is an important value in their family. “It’s better to give than to receive,” De Los Santos said. “It opens your heart to everyone.”

 

In addition to the toy drive, Chelsea sold 425 boxes of cookies as a Brownie in Vista Girl Scout Troop 1925. She’s also a member of Vista Voices choir, the Music Conservatory at VAPA, and performed in two musicals through the school’s Drama Conservatory.

 

Chelsea’s not sure why people are impressed by her toy drive. “Really, anyone can do it, any kid,” Chelsea said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/11/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

At Temple Heights Elementary School, third graders in teacher George Doyle’s class will welcome their parents to an April open house with a video they created on iPad computer tablets.

 

With Doyle’s help, they discovered through the Internet how to sketch a self-portrait that will be included in the video, write a script, and how to navigate websites they’d use to produce the video.  

 

“Most of it, they learned by doing it,” Doyle said. “Sometimes, when you raise expectations, kids can do more than you expect.”

 

A few doors down, in teacher Ramiro Santana’s third grade class, students were hard at work designing a garden they’re making on a small plot of land outside their classroom.

 

“They’re researching the kind of plants they want to the point that they were calling Home Depot,” Santana said. “They were learning a lot about what they wanted to put in here, including the cost, and then they wanted a water fountain.”

 

The students designed and made a solar-powered fountain.

All of this and more was on display during a recent Leadership Day in which Temple Heights showed off the changes it’s making through a “Leader in Me” grant and as an Apple Distinguished Program.

 


Temple Heights third graders build the solar-powered fountain they designed.

 

Temple Heights and Monte Vista Elementary School in Vista Unified were each awarded grants of $45,000 during the 2015-2016 school year from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me Program” that teaches leadership skills, such as being proactive, setting goals, and listening before speaking.

 

Temple Heights also was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Program for 2016 to 2018 for its use of iPads to support personalized learning from kindergarten through fifth grade.

 

Principal Kim Morton said that it’s taken six years, but every student now has an iPad to use in the classroom, and those in the second through fifth grades can take them home.

 

“We’re really proud of what we’re building,” Morton said. “We want to offer things that stand out from the traditional.”

 

With about 650 students, Temple Heights is a neighborhood school serving families who live nearby, but Morton and Assistant Principal Kerry Perez said that they wanted to make Temple Heights something special.

 

“We feel very passionate about doing something extraordinary out of the ordinary,” Perez said. “We wanted to get at what captures our kids’ hearts.”

 

As part of that, Temple Heights is piloting a move from traditional teaching methods to personalized learning in which lessons build on the strengths and interests of each student, guided by teachers.

 

“We just want them to love school. We want them to jump out of bed in the morning and want to get to school,” Morton said. “We’re trying to get away from getting everyone to do the same thing at the same time.”

 

As part of the Leader in Me Day, students served as ambassadors, showing guests around the school.

 

Fourth-graders Trevor Cobb and Emily Macias made a point of showing off the unconventional furniture Temple Heights is using, from stand-up desks and bouncy stools to picnic tables and outdoor sofa-like covered seating areas where students can stretch out and work on their iPads. “They help you relax,” Emily said.

 

Trevor said that he’s fond of the outdoor couches. “We sit in these couches and think,” Trevor said. “We can find our own comfort.”

 


Fourth-grader Trevor Cobb delivers his self-designed class presentation on an iPad.

 

Fifth grade teacher Rya Hege brought in some wooden lawn furniture, which has turned out to be the most popular spot in her classroom. Her class is far from the traditional setting, where desks were arranged in rows and the teacher lectured from the front of the room.

 

Students roam about Hege’s class, iPads in hand, sharing information as Hege guides their research. “They don’t really have an assigned seat,” Hege said. “It depends on the project they’re working on.”

 

Perez and Morton said the personalized approach to learning is paying off, with improved student reading scores, Perez.

“It’s really about the kids,” Morton said. “You can see how excited they are, and engaged.”

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/7/17




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

A Vista High School senior described by one of his teachers as “the real deal” has been named San Diego County March student of the month by the San Diego County Office of Education and San Diego NBC7.

 

“I never thought this would happen,” Kevin Medici said as he was greeted by cheering friends, teachers and family members at a recent surprise award ceremony at the high school.

 

Kevin was picked from among thousands of high school students “for making a difference” in his school and the community at large, said Music Watson, chief communications officer at the Office of Education. The monthly award is sponsored by Mission Federal Credit Union.

 

Among other things, Kevin is an honor roll student, a member of the school Character Leaders program, co-president of the Environmental Club, a leader of the school Buddies Club which works with special needs students, and is a member of the Outdoors Club. He also helps run the campus recycling program and is involved with a variety of off-campus activities, said teacher David Hanlon, who nominated Kevin for the award.

 

“He is kind, humble, leads by example, and is dedicated to making the world a kinder, gentler place for people, animals and our natural environment,” Hanlon wrote in nominating Kevin.

 

Principal Anthony Barela described Kevin as “an amazing kid. As a student leader, he’s always there for the benefit of others,” Barela said. “He’s just been awesome.”

 

Caught off-guard by the recognition, Kevin said, “I’m trying to be the best I can be for others.”

 


Kevin Medici gives his friends the thumbs-up sign as he's surprised with his Student of the Month award, as his sister, Marissa, looks on.

 

One way he does that is by helping to put on a prom for students with special needs and by working with a volunteer soccer organization for children with special needs. “He really enjoys helping the developmentally disabled kids, which is nice,” said his mother, Rebecca Medici. “We’re all very proud of him.”

 

Kevin said that his work with special needs kids is no big deal. “To see them happy makes me happy,” Kevin said. “We should all care for each other.”

 

Kevin’s sister, Marissa Medici, said that her brother was “one of the most trustworthy people I know.”

 

“He really does deserve the award because he worked so hard to overcome a lot,” said Marissa, a 2015 Vista High School graduate who’s in her second year at Yale University.

 

Kevin was an avid soccer player, but was sidelined by two knee injuries. “It limited his playing time and he’s been able to handle that,” Barela said.

 

Not one to give up, Kevin has taken up track and field as his new sport of choice. He said his motto, taken from the movie, “Rocky,” is “It’s not how hard you hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

 

At home, Kevin is “a very calm person,” his mother said.

“When everything goes sideways, he’s so chill,” she said. “He’s a great presence that way.”

 

Looking ahead, Kevin said he’s looking at Humboldt State University as a possible college choice and is thinking of becoming a teacher “because I like to inspire people to be the best they can be.”

 

Asked who his role models were, Kevin said “My mother really inspired me to help others and my sister really inspired me to help the environment.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/5/17




Audience: Homepage
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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 4/4/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Vista High School Principal Anthony Barela said that his biggest challenge is “just managing the sheer volume of things that come up.”

 

Barela has met the challenge so well that he was named 2017 high school Principal of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators Region 18, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties.

 

“I was shocked, absolutely shocked,” Barela said. “I’m very honored and humbled, but I think it’s more a reflection of the school.”

 

His colleagues said that the award was well deserved.

Assistant School Superintendent Donna Caperton said that Barela “is one of the best high school principals I have had the pleasure of working with.”

 

“He is dedicated to serving his students and making sure his students get what they need,” said Caperton, who was among those who nominated Barela for the award.

 

“He is innovative in his thinking,” Caperton said. “He rolls with the punches and adjusts as necessary.”

 

For example, Caperton said that when the bleachers in the high school stadium were found to be unsafe and had to be replaced, Barela came up with a plan that allowed the athletic season to proceed while the old bleachers were removed and new ones constructed.

 

Under Barela’s leadership, Vista High School also won a $10 million, five-year grant through XQ: The Super School Project to expand the school’s focus on personalized learning, with curriculum and classwork tailored to meet the needs and interests of each student individually.

 

“It started off as a small school within a school. Now it’s blossomed into this beautiful opportunity with this XQ grant, starting with next year’s classes,” Barela said. “With the personalization of learning, it’s really going to play into students’ strengths and passions. They’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with their teachers learning, going much deeper than they have in the past.”

 

Barela figures that winning the XQ grant played a part in his selection as Principal of the Year.

 

While winning the XQ grant was highlighted in the award nomination from his colleagues, they also wrote that Barela, “Actively promotes the development of flexible learning spaces,” advocating “for the redesign of a model classroom equipped with state-of-the art technology, as well as furniture that easily reconfigures to accommodate different student groupings.”

 

They praised his ability to collaborate with other administrators, teachers, parents and students. “Mr. Barela encourages feedback through staff surveys and community focus group meetings,” they wrote.

 

His advice to other principals is, “Find balance, because this job is a lot.”

 

“Find time for your family, find time to stay healthy and surround yourself with a good support network, because being surrounded by good people is a great thing,” said Barela, who has two sons and two daughters – Dominic, Michaelis, Gianna, and Jude.

 

Despite the demands of being a high school principal, Barela is a volunteer at St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church in Oceanside.

 

Barela has been principal at Vista High School since 2014. Before that, was principal of Roosevelt Middle School in the Vista Unified School District, as well as a principal, assistant principal, and teacher at schools in other districts.

 

“It’s a lot of work, but in my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest professions out there,” Barela said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/3/17




Audience: Homepage


 

 

*** UPDATED APRIL 30, 2017 ***

 

By Ray Huard

 

Ingenuity and a knack for storytelling won Rancho Minerva Middle School students a national award from a nonprofit organization that promotes innovation and the use of technology in education.

 

Students in Nichole Santangelo’s design lab and Beth Duncan’s video journalism class collaborated to produce a product and document their work on video – a joint project that made Rancho Minerva in the Vista Unified School District among two middle schools and one high school in the nation to win the Digital Promise filmMAKER Challenge.

 

“I was ecstatic for our students,” Santangelo said. “They work really hard and deserve to get recognition for their amazing work.”

 

The other winning schools were Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, VT and South Fayette High School in McDonald, PA.

 

Digital Promise President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Cator said that Digital Promise “engages students with relevant, inspiring, and challenging work to help them develop important skills,” among other things.

 

“The winning submissions of the filmmaker Challenge are demonstrations of the creativity and inventiveness that happens when students are empowered to solve problems and take action,” Cator said.

 

The challenge was for middle school and high school students to reinvent an everyday product, and make it into something more sustainable, beautiful or accessible, and to create a short documentary about their experience.

 

Four students in Santangelo’s class – Francisco Lozaro, Brian Perea Herrera, Jesus and Mariah Campos - after working through several variations, designed and produced a computer chip holder that allowed the school information technology department to load software and deploy laptop computers more efficiently.

 

Francisco, Brian and Jesus did the initial work and Mariah fine-tuned it and produced the finished product to meet requirements set by Sebastian Rossi, a district systems support technician. The students used a 3D printer to create prototypes and the final chip holder.

 

When they were done, Duncan’s video journalism students went to work, creating a four-and-a-half minute report on the project, including interviews with Rossi and DeWayne Cossey, district information technology director.

 

In the video, Rossi said that the chip holder that the students produced made his job much easier.

 


Click the photo to view the winning Digital Promise filmMAKER Challenge video

 

“We’re very satisfied with how it (the chip holder) turned out,” Rossi said.

 

Duncan said that the video was made by a team of students from the Rancho Minerva Video Journalism class.

 

Lead storytellers were Odalis Ramirez, Octavio Martinez, Priscilla Pagaling and Brisa Martinez. Also participating were Antonio Brady and Paola Morales Bazan.

 

The students shot video and conducted interviews at the district Information Technology Department and at Rancho Minerva.

 


Rancho Minerva Middle School video students filming their award-winning KWN Video Challenge news segment

 

 

The Digital Promise recognition is but the latest in a string of national film awards Rancho Minerva’s students have won.

Duncan’s students also won the CoSN Digital Equity Challenge, which earned them a trip to Chicago, and the KWN Kid Witness News Panasonic National Video Challenge, which came with a trip to New York City.

 

For the KWN challenge, the students made a video letter which interspersed segments of a 92-year-old veteran and a 14-year-old girl talking about their lives and families.

 

For the CoSN challenge, the students produced a video explaining how to close the so-called digital divide between those who have access to the Internet and those who don’t. The video tells how to find free Wi-Fi connections to the Internet, and urges students to help their parents and grandparents learn how to use it.

 

A full story about the CoSN video challenge is below.

 

“It’s been an extremely exciting and successful year for our Video Production Team,” Duncan said. “When my students receive such positive results for their work, they realize that all their hard work and dedication to these projects is being recognized by production specialists and professionals across the nation.”

 

Duncan said that the awards show students that, “They are making a difference in our world by capturing epic stories happening at our school and within our community, and share it through storytelling.”

 

As satisfying as it is to win the awards, Duncan said, “The change in the way my students see themselves as valuable, successful filmmakers is the real prize.”

 

The chip holder designed and produced by Santangelo’s students is but one of many products they’ve made. Among other things, they’ve made the bathroom passes for the school, lanyards for a local horse club, a replacement handle for an umbrella, and an iPad holder, Santangelo said.

 

“We also do logos, posters and banners,” she said.

Her class has created an online business, ABCPrintingBulls (www.abcprintingbulls.com) to sell what they make and take orders.

 

“All of the orders go to sustain the class,” Santangelo said.

Rancho Minerva students have been invited to present their work at the Bay Area Maker Faire in May and the World Maker Faire in New York in October.

 

“These students are getting experiences that are life-changing, that will set them on a path to future success,” said Rancho Minerva Principal Ben Gaines. “The awards that we’re receiving are a testament to the hard work and innovative approach that our teachers are taking.”

 

Washington, DC (March 24, 2017) – CoSN today announced that Rancho Minerva Middle School in California’s Vista Unified School District is the winner of the first-ever Digital Equity Student Video Challenge. The school was chosen among more than 50 student groups from across the United States and Canada. 

 

Leaders and students from Rancho Minerva Middle School were presented with the national award at the ASCD Conference in Anaheim, California on March 25th, 2017. They will also be honored and recognized at the CoSN 2017 Annual Conference, April 3-6 in Chicago, Illinois.

 


You can see their digital equity story and winning submission here.

 

“Digital equity is the Civil Rights issue of today in our communities,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “As the contest showed, school district and community leaders are increasingly committed to bridging the digital divide and helping all students be able to learn anytime, anywhere. Congratulations to the students and educators at Rancho Minerva Middle School, Vista Unified School District, as well as each school system that demonstrated their efforts and are making digital equity a top priority.”

 

For the Digital Equity Student Video Challenge, school systems submitted either a four-minute documentary or a one-minute Pubic Service Announcement on how digital equity is affecting students outside of school – and how the districts are addressing this challenge. The CoSN Digital Equity Advisory Panel launched the challenge to give students the opportunity tell their stories and elevate their voice in the digital equity discussion. 

 

Rancho Minerva’s winning documentary was developed by a 10-member team that formed two working groups to develop the video storyboard, script, filming, and post-production editing. The video shares how the school’s students and the Vista Unified School District at large are working to connect students outside the school day as well as educating parents on the importance of increased Internet access for learning.

 

“I am proud of our students for their stellar work on this important project. I am hopeful that educational and community leaders will listen to their voices, which are drawing attention to a critical equity issue for our nation,” said Devin Vodicka, EdD, Superintendent of Schools, Vista Unified School District.

 

“I could not be more proud of the hard work our students are doing to solve this relevant, real world problem. Many of the minds that worked on this project will directly benefit from the digital equity work in which they have so deeply invested. This is an exciting moment for Rancho Minerva,” said Benjamin Gaines, EdD, Principal, Rancho Minerva Middle School.

 

To learn more about advancing the Digital Equity movement, please visit: cosn.org/digital-equity.

 

The Digital Equity Student Video Challenge is made possible through the support of AT&T, Brocade, Filewave, HMH, HP, and Kajeet. 

 

About CoSN 

CoSN is the premier voice and resource for K-12 education technology leaders nationwide. Serving more than 13 million students in America’s school systems, CoSN provides education leaders with the tools and relationships to leverage technology and advance modern, engaging learning environments. Visit cosn.org to find out more about CoSN’s focus areasannual conference and eventsadvocacy and policymembership, and the CETL certification exam.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/30/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

When Linda Guerrero was in high school, a guidance counselor told her she wouldn’t go to college.

 

“I didn’t fit the profile,” Guerrero said. “I didn’t have parents who were involved. I didn’t have parents who spoke English. I hadn’t been exposed to college.”

 

But an English teacher took an interest in Guerrero, told her that she could go to college, and that she could have a career.

 

Guerrero earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from California State University San Marcos, became a teacher, then an assistant principal, and is now director of English Language Development for the Vista Unified School District.

 

She wants to provide the same inspiration to young girls that the English teacher gave her, in part through an April 8 Girls Conference for middle schoolers at Rancho Minerva Middle School.

 

In November, Guerrero and Rancho Minerva Assistant Principal Nicole Adams formed a Girls Empowerment Club at the school, which meets once a week after school. “At this age, girls are really trying to find their way and come into their own,” Adams said. “We want to empower girls to be themselves, to be strong.”

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that he was “inspired” by Guerrero’s efforts to help girls succeed. He said the conference “is an excellent example of our commitment to achieve our vision to be the model of educational excellence and innovation.”

 

A goal of both the conference and the club is to provide role models girls can emulate, to counter some of the negative messages girls pick up from social media and conventional media, and to show girls they have many career options. “I think there’s a fixed mindset on what girls are good at,” Guerrero said.

 

The conference is meant to dispel that, with women from a wide range of professions talking about their careers, how they got into them, what they might have had to overcome.

 

“We’re really trying to bring in a diverse group of expertise to be able to share our stories with young girls,” Guerrero said. “Everyone has a story to share, how they got into their profession. Sometimes it’s a straight line, sometimes it’s a zig-zag.”

 

Sessions also are planned to talk about financial literacy, nutrition, social media, healthy relationships and body image, among other topics. “Our job is to plant the seeds,” said Guerrero, whose own story is one of perseverance.

 

She was in the first generation in her family to go to college.

Her father, a landscaper, never got beyond third grade in school. Her mother, a homemaker, went through fifth grade.

“My parents just taught me to work hard,” Guerrero said. “I don’t try to sell the story that life is perfect. I try to tell the story that life has ripples and valleys, but it’s what you bring into your life that matters.”

 

Adams said that she had strong role models in her parents. Her mother was a teacher in an inner city school in Bakersfield. “It wasn’t until I became a teacher, and, now, an administrator that I realized how lucky I was to have someone I could look up to,” Adams said. “I carried on the family tradition.”

 

Her hope is that the conference and club will provide strong role models for girls who don’t have them. “A lot of the women that are involved in the conference had someone they could look up to and those relationships have lasted for years and years,” Adams said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/28/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell has scored a regional award for innovation from the California Music Educators Association.

 

“How cool is that,” asked Fennel, who has racked up numerous awards as creative arts chair and instrumental and music composition teacher at Mission Vista.

 

The CMEA award honors Fennell for showing “excellence in music education, including emerging and digital media” among music teachers in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

 

In 2016, Fennell was chosen as one of the top 10 finalists for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award and received the CMEA’s SBS Innovation in Music Education Award.

 

Fennell in 2015 won an “outstanding program” award from San Diego County’s Digital Media Arts Showcase for the music composition program she runs at Mission Vista. She also received a CMEA Illuminating Culture Award in 2013 and an association Southern Border Section Outstanding Music Educator Award in 2008.

 

“I feel honored to be recognized, but it always and has to be about the kids and what I can do better for them,” Fennell said.  “I believe in lifelong music making and I believe students can be lifelong musicians. That’s the most important thing, finding joy in themselves and finding that joy in the music and sharing that joy with others.”

 

A classical flutist by training, Fennell said that she performs herself at weddings and other venues.

 

Vista Unified School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that Fennell “exemplifies educational excellence and innovation.”

“Her most recent recognition affirms her continued leadership and impact,” Vodicka said. “We are truly fortunate to have outstanding educators like Ms. Fennell who are dedicated to student success.”

 

Innovation is central to Fennell’s teaching style. “Everything I teach at this school is outside the traditional band,” Fennell said.

 

For starters, the music composition courses she teaches at Mission Vista are far from typical in a high school curriculum.

“Music composition is never taught in high school. Usually, you wait until a junior in college,” Fennell said.

 

About 150 students take the composition courses each year, writing their own music. “They read, write and compose at the same time,” she said.

 


The Mission Vista High School Steel Drum band performs throughout the county each year, and is headed to Hawaii in 2017.

 

Fennell also has gone beyond the typical high school band by forming a steel drum band, which performs at numerous venues throughout the region, with a trip to Hawaii planned for later this year.

 

About 130 students take steel drum every year.

Fennell said that she decided to teach steel drum because she thought it was a good first instrument for introduction to music and less intimidating that other instruments.

 

“We thought, there are too many kids who don’t choose music in middle school, and then they get to high school and they never take it,” Fennell said. “If you’ve never learned music, you can still walk up to the (steel drum) pan and find a melody on it.”

 

The philosophy that guides Fennell is that, “Anyone can learn music and anyone can create,” especially with the evolving technology of smart phones and computer tablets.

 

“That’s what’s neat about technology,” Fennell said. “You can create with a touch of a finger.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/23/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Teachers, administrators and Classified staff who stood out among their peers were recently honored with Golden Apple Awards by the Vista Unified School District Board of Education.

 

“Every year, it is a privilege to recognize and honor our amazing employees who serve students, families and our community,” School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.

 

“Our award recipients are an incredible group of dedicated and humble team members who represent the best of our profession,” Vodicka said. “I am hopeful that the Golden Apple Award serves as a small token of appreciation for the great work of all of our staff members who are impacting the future through their daily efforts to promote learning opportunities for all students.”

 

Seven district staff members were honored with the annual award for 2017.

 


Mindy Ayers of Monte Vista Elementary School

 

Mindy Ayers received a Golden Apple for her work as a resource teacher at Monte Vista Elementary School, where her coworkers said that she leads by example, “treating everyone with respect.”

 

Ayers had been an elementary teacher, a literacy coach, and a content support teacher before becoming a resource teacher. “In her daily work, this employee leads professional development in many instructional areas, and is also the lead support provider for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program, providing valuable support for our newest teachers,” her co-workers wrote in nominating Ayers for the award.

 

“She is friendly and helpful to all students, families and staff. She is well-known across VUSD (Vista Unified School District) for being the employee who helps each person feel valued and comfortable, which is so critically important for our teachers who are new to the teaching profession,” they wrote.

 

“Her upbeat and positive, professional attitude is easily observable as she works with others in her supportive roles. VUSD is most fortunate to have someone of this employee’s caliber to support and guide our new and veteran teachers at Monte Vista Elementary School.”

 


Susan Moynihan of Madison Middle School

 

Madison Middle School mathematics teacher Susan Moynihan was honored for being “a positive, enthusiastic, and inspirational math teacher, who cares deeply about each of her students.”

 

“Her deep care for students and each staff member is exemplified by how she has spearheaded many endeavors that help children learn respect for themselves and others,” her colleagues wrote in nominating Moynihan.

 

A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a former military officer, Moynihan was co-creator of the Natural High Club, “which inspires students to remain connected to school, healthy lifestyles, and positive social relationships,” her colleagues wrote.

 

“Her deep care for students and each staff member is exemplified by how she has spearheaded many endeavors that help children learn respect for themselves and others,” they wrote. “This teacher cultivates trust from others with her strong work ethic, compassionate nature, and high level of integrity. One cannot be around this individual without catching her passion, positivity, and enthusiasm.”

 


Craig Gastauer of Vista High School

 

Craig Gastauer, a resource teacher and XQ Internal Director at Vista High School, earned a Golden Apple as “a highly successful teacher” who “is a key leader in the redesign of the traditional high school model,” his coworkers wrote.

 

“Based on this teacher’s drive and motivation to provide his students the very best every day, under his guidance, a group of students has been selected to be involved in a series of learning opportunities, such as being participants in the Salk Institute,” they wrote.

 

Praising his “relentless pursuit of excellence,” Gastauer’s colleagues wrote that, “During this school year, this teacher has crafted a model professional development plan for school-wide implementation.”

 


Rosy Simmonds of Vista Academy of Visual and Perfoming Arts

 

Receiving a Golden Apple for her work as office manager at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts was Rosy Simmonds.

 

Simmonds co-workers wrote that she “exhibits compassion” in her work. “Regardless of how busy the front office may become, she will drop everything she is doing to focus on the needs of students, staff, and parents,” they wrote. “While providing support to others, this employee leaves nothing to chance and truly believes that it is her job to ensure that others can do their job.”

 

Simmonds is sometimes referred to as “the ‘patrona’ or the boss of the school because of the way she greets everyone who enters the front door,” her colleagues wrote.

 

They said Simmonds’ cheerful manner “is very refreshing to everyone she meets as she works to build a positive sense of community at her school site,” adding that she “has built effective working relationships with staff on site and across the district as the go-to person for many other office managers.”

 

Praising Simmonds for having “excellent organizational, communications, and interpersonal skills, her coworkers wrote that, “Her dedication, leadership skills, and hard work sustain high levels of support for everyone so that they can be successful in their jobs.”

 


Judi Luna of Child Nutrition Services (aka WaveCrest Cafe)

 

Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Judi Luna was honored for implementing a system for the WaveCrest Cafe at each school that increases the speed of serving meals to students.

 

“This technology allows students more time to enjoy their breakfast and lunch, so that students can eat and return to class well-nourished and ready to learn,” her coworkers wrote.

 

“With VUSD being one of the first school districts to implement this new technology, this supervisor installed the technology, and tested and maintained the equipment so the new system would run efficiently.”

 

Because of Luna’s “myriad contributions over the past three decades,” the award to Luna “is a very well-deserved recognition,” her coworkers wrote.

 

Doris Shapiro, Nurse at Vista High School

 

Also receiving a Golden Apple was Vista High School nurse Doris Shapiro, who has worked as a district nurse for 27 years and previously received an award as School Nurse of the Year from the San Diego County School Nurse Association.

 

Shapiro also was Vista Unified’s teacher of the year in 2001, and in 2004, received the “Honor V” award, the highest recognition given each year at Vista High School.

 

She coordinated Vista High School’s first blood drive in the summer of 2006, and was one of 39 school nurses from the United States to participate in a Johnson & Johnson fellowship grant.

 

Shapiro also received a Tobacco Use Prevention Education grant, “which allowed for the implementation of non-smoking, site-based intervention programs and that brings awareness to alcohol-related incidents among youths, such as ‘Friday Night Live’ and ‘Every 15 Minutes,’” her coworkers wrote.

 

They praised Shapiro for demonstrating “leadership and tireless efforts in the promotion of health care for students, staff, and within our community.”

 


Heather Golly of Rancho Buena Vista High School

 

Heather Golly, assistant principal at Rancho Buena Vista High School, collected a Golden Apple “for displaying kindness, respect, and dedication to all students and staff.”

 

Golly’s colleagues praised her for placing “special emphasis on planning, designing, and implementing professional development in support of instruction, (and) providing teachers with tools to develop critical-thinking skills and the application of problem-solving skills to increase student learning.”

 

Calling Golly “a truly valuable asset to the Rancho Buena Vista High School Community,” her colleagues wrote that, “This administrator is highly visible and approachable so that she can respond swiftly and appropriately to the needs of others.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/21/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

From building insect habitats to testing herbal oils to see how well they battled bacteria, more than 400 students showed off their ingenuity and know-how at a recent Vista Unified School District expo.

 

“Every year, I am amazed at what our students bring to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Fest,” said Kellie Fleming, a content support resource teacher and coordinator of the annual exposition held this year at Vista Innovation & Design Academy – a Vista Unified magnet school.

 

“They transform into these experts who talk about their work with knowledge and understanding of what they were able to do and achieve,” Fleming said. “To me, this is probably the most important and rewarding piece about STEM Fest – having our students proudly share their work, interacting with all age groups, on a night that’s all about them.”

 

Connor Baker and Gavin Humann, second graders at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math, became experts on insect housing for STEM Fest. They demonstrated how they used cardboard toilet tissue tubes and twigs to create what they called “insect motels” to give moths and other insects safe haven.

 

“You stuff twigs in here so they can hide from the predators,” Connor said as he jammed twigs into the cardboard tube. “You need to stuff things together so the moths don’t get eaten by chameleons, anything that eats bugs.”

 

Killing bugs of another kind was the point of an experiment displayed by Jacob Toney, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School who hopes to become a chemical engineer doing ground-breaking research.

 

With bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to drugs, Jacob said he wanted to determine if there were alternatives that would be effective.

 

According to the results of his experiment, there are. Jacob tested penicillin and several herbal oils to see how well they battled e-coli bacteria. “Cinnamon oil and tea tree oil are at least as effective as penicillin,” Jacob said.

 


Empresa Elementary Fifth-grader Christian Campoamor's Tiki hut mosquito catcher

 

Bugs also figured in a STEM Fest display by Christian Campoamor, a fifth grader at Empresa Elementary School, who built a solar power Tiki hut mosquito catcher.

 

Christian said the bug catcher worked as predicted when he tried it out in his backyard. “We caught two mosquitos,” Christian said. “There’s not that many mosquitos in the yard, mostly gnats,” Christian said.

 


Rancho Minerva Middle School's marble roller coaster projects.

 

Nearby, Rancho Minerva eighth graders showed off the work they did to explore kinetic and potential energy and Newton’s laws of motion.

 

Teacher Desiree Willson gave her students a challenge – build roller coasters out of construction paper that would keep a marble rolling along its course for 15 seconds. “It was a pretty tough challenge, but they did a pretty good job,” Willson said.

 

Most of the roller coasters on display at STEM kept marbles rolling for five to eight seconds, but the project was a valuable lesson for her students.

 

“They spent about a month designing, testing and improving,” Willson said. “They learned the importance of testing and improving, testing again and improving.”

 

Olive Elementary fifth-grader Sheila Sainz faced a different challenge – pick a stressful situation and devise a way to ease the stress.

 

Her challenge – picking the right clothes for a night out. Sheila’s solution, as illustrated in a drawing she displayed, was to have a robot that would pick out just the right outfits, although she didn’t actually build a robot. That’s a challenge for another day. “It helps people, because they don’t know what to wear,” Sheila said.

 


STEM Fest attendees generate energy on the Schneider Electric "Green Bike."

 

For the more athletically inclined, Schneider Electric provided a stationary bicycle hooked up to a light that shined brighter and brighter, the harder students pedaled.

 

The idea was to show kids a fun side to engineering, and maybe spark their interest in the field, said Valerie Houchin, a Schneider account representative.

 

By riding the bike, “They understand, they’re helping generate electricity,” Houchin said. “I want them to know, you can do your part to save energy and create energy.” The company has donated the bike to the school district. “It’s going to travel from school to school,” Houchin said.

 

In choosing VIDA as the site, STEM Fest was returning to its roots. The district’s first STEM Fest in 2014 was at VIDA, which was then Washington Middle School, but has since been transformed into VIDA.

 

STEM Fest is open to all Visa Unified students.

 

“We don’t have any specific requirements to exhibit, other than they must be safe and do no harm to anyone,” Fleming said. “Students are welcome to work on anything that incorporates STEM, including the arts.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/17/17




Audience: Homepage


 

Vista USD Unveils New State Evaluation “Dashboard”

Test Score Measurement Replaced With 11 Indicators For Measuring Performance

 

Vista, CA | March 14, 2017 – “Schools and students are more than test scores,” states Vista Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka. “The new LCFF Evaluation Rubrics and the California School Dashboard will give a more comprehensive look at district and school performance.”

 

On Wednesday, March 15th, the state will publicly introduce this new “Dashboard” means of measurement. As it does, Vista USD has established its own set of resources to explain the new measurements to students, staff, families and the communities served by the district. VUSD’s “Dashboard” resource page can be found here.

 

These new reports replace the old California accountability system called the Academic Performance Index (API). The Dashboard ​provides a way to track district and school performance through multiple measures of performance, a method far more comprehensive than simply using student scores on standardized tests.

 

The Dashboard looks at 11 indicators and determines a district’s or school’s performance based on the current rate and whether there was improvement over several years. Those indicators are: chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, graduation rates, student performance in English language arts and math, parent engagement, school climate, progress of English learners, college and career readiness, implementation of state standards, and basics, such as teachers, materials, and facilities.

 

For all of these measures, districts will be able to see overall student performance and filter the results for particular groups of students, such as English learners.

 

Says Vodicka, “Initial results from the first LCFF Evaluation Rubric indicate that Vista Unified is showing good performance. The district showed growth (called “change”) in all but one indicator, with the greatest improvement overall in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Our graduation rate has increased by 3.1% to move up to 93.1%. The suspension rate declined by 0.6% to an all time low of 3.4%. Our goal is to use these tools to continuously improve our efforts to ensure every student succeeds.”

 

When the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was implemented by the state of California in 2013, school districts received more freedom with how they could spend their money in exchange for a different level of accountability. As part of the budget planning process, school districts are now required to develop a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). Our LCAP, written with parent and public input, identifies our goals, actions and services and how we will measure student progress.

 

To read Dr. Vodicka’s summary of Progress and Accountability,  click here.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/14/17




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

An eerie photo of an 11-year-old girl appearing as a shadowy figure on a darkened walkway, and a photo of a tattoo artist intently focusing on his work won two Vista High School seniors regional photography awards and a place in a national competition.

 

Isaac Tapia and Tyler Bobadilla-Wright were awarded the top prize of gold keys in the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a non-profit based in New York that provides recognition and scholarships to high school students.

 

Their photos will be entered in the alliance’s national competition.

 

Vista High School seniors Kaylee Hughes and David Maynes were honored with silver keys for their photographs.

 

“I’m really proud,” said teacher Laura Olden. “This is the first year we’ve ever been awarded gold in the competition and we’ve got the most (photographs) we’ve ever had in the competition.”

 


Isaac Tapia's photo, "Scary Ghost," was awarded a gold key.

 

Isaac’s photo, entitled “Scary Ghost,” is meant to portray a haunting Halloween spirit. “I feel like when you see a ghost picture, most of them are the same,” Isaac said.

 

To get a different look, Isaac posed his sister, Anna, at night wearing a filmy dress, standing on a walkway outside his family’s apartment. The image of Anna is blurred, giving it an other-worldly effect, while the background is clear and in focus. Isaac shot the photo at slow speed while his sister moved back and forth.

 

“Isaac’s ghostly image was taken around Halloween, using a slow shutter speed,” Olden said. “There was quite a bit of planning, and some trial and error to get the effect he was looking to achieve. For Isaac, this image was a little different from his typical work, but he was able to experiment and with planning and executing a setup shot, and controlling technical aspects of an image for a more creative effect.”

 

“It took me almost an hour to get this picture,” Isaac said, experimenting with the timing of Anna’s movement. “She got a little frustrated,” Isaac said, adding that, because it was dark, “She was very scared.”

 

Isaac judged the end product “pretty OK,” and said he was surprised to win a gold key.

 

As much as he loves taking photos “to capture the moment,” Isaac said that he’s planning a career as a barber, partly because he’s gregarious and likes chatting with people, and, “It’s fun.”

 


Tyler Bobadilla-Wright's gold key winning image, "Permanent Story."

 

Tyler said that his photo, entitled “Permanent Story,” was, in a way, a tribute to tattoo artist Juan Ortiz, who is the subject of the photo. Ortiz “kind of motivated me to keep going on my photography,” Tyler said.

 

The photo shows Ortiz intently focusing on inking a tattoo on the left arm of Tyler’s 23-year-old brother, Justin. The photo is meant to show “someone doing what they love,” Tyler said.

 

“Tyler’s work often captures a moment that tells a greater story and this image is a prime example. He was able to capture the moment of his brother, Justin, getting a tattoo, but the angle of the image puts focus on the tattoo artist, Juan,” Olden said.

 

“You can see the pride Juan takes in his art as he works on Justin’s arm. Tyler used a wide angle setting to include the setting of the studio and showcase Juan’s own tattoos. The closeness of the shot makes you feel as though you are right there in the studio with them.”

 

Taking photos is one of Tyler’s loves, and he plans to take photography classes at Mira Costa College, but isn’t sure if that will lead to a career in photography.

 

“I definitely want it to always be a part of me,” Tyler said. He said he was “pretty honored” to get a gold key. “For them to look at mine as one of the top images was pretty cool, I thought,” Tyler said.

 


Kaylee Hughes image, "Shake," garnered a silver key award.

 

Kaylee said she was going for a mysterious and dark look in her photo, “Shake,” of classmate Guadalupe Barajas, shaking her head back and forth, her long hair creating a blurry image.

“I just had her start moving around to get it blurry,” Kaylee said. “I didn’t know what I was really expecting when I took the picture.”

 

Olden said Kaylee’s photo “is a graphic exploration of motion through the use of slow shutter,” adding that, “The subject’s movement is expressive and Kaylee’s use of space and the graphic line create a simple yet bold image.”

 

When she entered the competition, “I didn’t really expect anything from it,” Kaylee said. “I thought it was really cool when I saw I got the silver.”

 

Kaylee plans to major in cinema in college, although she’s not sure where. “I want to do editing for videos or directing or producing, probably like movies,” Kaylee said. “I have a lot of favorite movies. I think my favorite one that I recently saw was ‘La La Land.’”

 


"Shadows Cast," by David Maynes, was granted a silver key award.

 

David’s photo, “Shadow’s Cast,” shows three forks leaning against a white board. “The shadow of it kind of looks cool, kind of like an abstract idea,” said David, who also specializes in taking family portraits.

 

“It’s such a simple picture, I thought people would look at it and forget it,” David said. “When Mrs. Olden told me I got silver, I was pretty excited.”

 

The photo “shows David’s creative approach to a common object,” Olden said. “In his abstract image, he explores light, creating a dual image of the forks and contrasting shadow,” Olden said.

 

David often carries a camera with him, looking for people and things to photograph, and is hoping to turn his interest into a profession. “I want to go into photography as a career in the future, work for a magazine or something like that, or have my own photography business,” David said. “When I first started, it was not really a big thing to me. Once you take that first picture, you get hooked.”

 

The winning students shot their photographs in color, but printed them in black and white. “It’s more moody,” Olden said.

 

David said he likes black and white for the classic look it creates. “I like the old-fashioned look and style,” David said. “You see a lot of old photos in black and white.”

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/7/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Crystal Flores was one of about 150 people who sampled everything from glazed roast duck to sweet and sour cabbage with beans at Vista High School’s recent Farm to Fork dining experience.

 

She said she was delighted by the wide array of dishes. “I’m trying things I never tried before,” Flores said. “The quiche was fantastic, really, really good.”

 

Started in the 2013-2014 school year, Farm to Fork is a chance for students in Vista High School’s agriculture and culinary arts programs to showcase their work.

 

Culinary students prepare the food they serve at the event, using produce and meats raised and grown on campus by students in the agriculture program.

 

“This is the kind of program we need for our kids,” said Board of Education Trustee Rosemary Smithfield. “I love everything about it.”

 

The menu included cider-brined turkey sliders with cranberry mayonnaise, pulled pork sliders, beef roast, baked ham, beef meatballs in marinara sauce, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, broccoli with garlic butter, Asian ramen coleslaw, golden and red beets, beef heart and barley stew, garlic braised beef shank, lamb burger sliders, pork chops, lamb chops, grilled pork shoulder steak, radishes and carrots.

 

Trustee Cipriano Vargas was partial to the lamb. “It’s delicious,” said Vargas, a Vista High School graduate who took the agriculture course, but before Farm to Fork was part of the program.

 

Vargas, who is a teacher, said the agriculture courses helped him hone his public speaking skills as he gave presentations to various groups explaining the program.

 

About 100 students are in the agriculture program this year, said Sara Benner, the teacher in charge of it. “What they get at this particular event is pride,” Benner said of Farm to Fork. “They get to show off what they do behind the scenes.”

T

he same goes for the 120 students in the culinary arts program, said Chef Kim Plunkett.  “They’re so proud and energized,” Plunkett said. “At the end of an event like this, they can say, ‘We did a good job, we wowed everybody.’”

 

Senior culinary student Mario Santiago, 17, said that he likes the reaction he gets when people sample the food. “I just like seeing them smile when they eat the food, that’s what I like most,” Mario said.

 

Senior Jennifer Quinonez said that she likes collaborating with the students in the agriculture program. “It brings the classes together,” Jennifer said.

 

Senior Mansera Martinez, 17, a student in the agriculture program and vice president of Future Farmers of America at Vista High School, said she likes showing off the skills students learn in the culinary and agriculture programs,

 

“We’re able to promote both programs and show how we take it to the real world,” Mansera said. “We’re also able to educate the public about what we do behind the scenes.”

 

Senior Valerie Wolf, 18, president of Future Farmers of America, said that she likes Farm to Fork because it it’s a chance to see how the work she does “turns into something people actually enjoy.”

 

Kevin Jackson, whose son, Tyrik, is a culinary student, proclaimed the Farm to Fork to be “awesome.” “I think it’s great,” said Jackson, a sentiment shared by Tyrik’s grandmother, Twanda Dortly. “I didn’t have to cook it, that’s the main thing,” Dortly said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/3/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Rancho Buena Vista High School has, for the first time, fielded a team in robotics. Calling themselves, “Robohornz,” 16 RBV students built a robot that will challenge machines from more than 50 other schools in a regional robotics competition.

 

“It’s exciting, but at the same time, scary,” said sophomore Ivan Chavarin.

 

The Rancho Buena Vista team will take to the floor at the Del Mar Arena March 9-11 in the 11th San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, presented by Qualcomm.

 

Founded in 1989 in Manchester, N.H., FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national not-for-profit organization aimed at inspiring interest in science and technology.

 

The goal of the Rancho Buena Vista High School team is to get Sparky, their robot, to roam about the floor, scoop up balls about the size of grapefruit and deliver them to a bin.

 

Sparky also must slide a gear about the size of a small dinner plate onto a peg; when that’s done, it must climb a four-foot rope and hang suspended from a bar at the end of the rope.

Robots from more seasoned teams also must toss the balls into a tower, which is about eight-feet tall, to complete their task.

 

Sparky isn’t quite up to that challenge, said Dadre Rudolph, who teaches robotics and computer science at Rancho Buena Vista, and was the team’s lead mentor. The other mentor was Matthew Young, a guest teacher at Vista Unified and robot enthusiast. “Just making it to the competition and having a robot that works is a tremendous accomplishment,” Rudolph said. “It’s a big learning curve.”

 

Sparky is a box on wheels, a little larger than a milk crate, measuring 40 inches by 36 inches by 2 feet.

 

Working with a FIRST starter kit that came with a chassis, controls, drive motors, wheels, gear boxes and miscellaneous electronics, the Rancho Buena Vista students had to come up with their own design and make the rest of the robot body for Sparky.

 

The team had a tight deadline - exactly six weeks to design and build Sparky under the FIRST competition rules, and they were working right up to the end of the last day. After that, Sparky had to be bagged up and put aside until the competition date. “It actually took us a lot of trial and error,” said senior Andrew Garcia.

 

Evidence of the error part was scattered about Rudolph’s classroom, with discarded robot sections lying on desks and page after page of designs that didn’t pan out. “It does get very frustrating,” said freshman Justin Rodriguez Salazar, “but once we actually get it, it’s fun.”

 

That trial and error is a big part of what Rudolph hopes her students take away from building Sparky and the competition.

“They experience the whole engineering process and see how many iterations you have to do,” Rudolph said. “It’s an excellent lesson, not only for engineering, but for life. Keep going. Things are going to fail, but just keep going.”

 

Most, but not all of the Robohornz members are students in Rudolph’s robotics class. “I have some kids on the team who were not in my class at all, they just came in and said, ‘I want to be part of the robotics team,’” Rudolph said.

 

To be on the team, students had to be interested in robotics and willing to work hard, including during lunch breaks, after school, and on weekends. “They didn’t have to have any experience, be good at building or anything,” Rudolph said.

 

Along with Ivan, Andrew and Justin, Robohornz team members are seniors Andres Madera, Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Gomez; juniors Raymond Harding, Olivia Garcia, Grace Ehm, Erik Marquez and Angel Mendez; and sophomores Aiden Colin, Tod Manotharauk, George Zavala, and Kaitlyn Chavez

Support for the robotics team came from a $6,000 grant from NASA and a $2,850 grant from Qualcomm.

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/28/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Charlene Smith never imagined herself becoming a school principal, but the former accountant’s assistant, who doesn’t like attention, was named elementary school principal of the year by a group of her fellow educators.

 

“I feel good for my team, because I feel like they’re getting the recognition they deserve as well,” said Smith, who was singled out as a top administrator by the Association of California School Administrators Region 18, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties.

 

Since December 2011, Smith has been principal of Monte Vista Elementary School in the Vista Unified School District.

 

It’s a job she never sought, but is happy she was chosen for it.

“I believe I’m here to serve the community, and I take great pleasure in creating opportunities for the students and their families that might otherwise not happen,” Smith said.  “It can’t be about you. It’s about serving others.”

 

She’s been a teacher, an elementary school reading specialist and an instructional coach in Vista Unified at Casita Center for Technology & Math and Monte Vista.

 

When Monte Vista’s principal left at mid-year, “I was asked to fill in as an interim principal for the rest of the year,” Smith said. “It was quite an honor, so I took it. The rest is history.”

 

Smith’s colleagues said that the history she’s made at Monte Vista has been remarkable.

 

“Charlene has completely transformed Monte Vista in her six years as principal,” Monte Vista Assistant Principal Sheryl Schmidt wrote in nominating Smith for principal of the year.

“She has offered the hope of college to students and families who never dreamed it would be possible,” Schmidt wrote. “She is the epitome of professionalism and efficiency, while also being the most nurturing and compassionate leader one could meet.”

 

Under Smith’s direction, Monte Vista in 2015 earned membership in the No Excuses University Network of Schools, a nationwide organization that promotes the notion that higher education should be an option for everyone.

 

As part of that, flags from colleges and universities across the country hang outside the doorway of every classroom and each class adopts a college or university as their own, learning about the schools.

 

“Students whose lower economic status might have made college seem foreign and unattainable before, now proudly chant their class’s adopted college fight songs and wave their college flags proudly,” Schmidt wrote. “Parents whose educational careers stopped in high school, are now able to understand college application processes and scholarship possibilities for their children.”

 

In October, Monte Vista hosted a career fair open to students from throughout the school district to inspire students to think about what careers they might want to pursue.

 

During the career fair, students posed for photographs of themselves dressed in cap and gown, holding a frame that said what year they would graduate from college.

 

“These photos inspire students and their families to become lifelong learners who believe in themselves, and stop at nothing to achieve their goals,” Schmidt wrote.

 

Assistant Superintendent Matthew Doyle, in writing to support Smith’s nomination as principal of the year, said that she “is highly respected among teachers and administrators across the district and county.”

 

“She is known not only for her knowledge and expertise as an educational leader, but loved by all for her cheerful, respectful personality,” Doyle wrote.

 

Sharmila Kraft, district executive director for elementary schools, wrote in support of Smith’s nomination, that she is “a hands-on principal who makes a difference at Monte Vista Elementary.”

 

“As a principal, it is not always what you know, but how you deal with people,” Kraft wrote. “Charlene is effective in building relationships. Teachers truly respect her opinions and appreciate her open door policy. Parents feel their children are treated fairly and respectfully and with the best interest of their child in mind. Students know she is an advocate.”

 

Growing up in Ohio, Smith initially thought that she might go into teaching, “Then, as I got older, starting in high school, I wanted to be an accountant,” Smith said.

 

Working for a certified public accountant changed her mind, adding, “I learned that sitting behind a desk was not for me.”

Moving to California 24 years ago, Smith got a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and her teaching credential from California State University. She became a teacher at Casita in 1995. “The only two schools I ever worked at were Casita and Monte Vista,” Smith said.

 

As much as she loved teaching, Smith said that the principal’s role suits her. “When I was a classroom teacher, I could impact the students in my class, but now, I can impact so many more students,” Smith said. “One of the great things about Monte Vista is, we are like a big family. It’s very rewarding,”

 

Smith starts her school day greeting every student as they come to school, giving hugs, high-fives and smiles. “I want them to feel love when they walk onto this campus, and I want them to feel safe,” Smith said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/24/17




Audience: Homepage


by Ray Huard

 

Kelly McKinney is a woman on a mission: to ramp up the high school courses in Vista Unified School District that give students the training to go to work when they graduate or move on to college.

 

“We learned from the community that they’re asking for this,” said McKinney, who was appointed district Career Technical Education (CTE) coordinator in July. “The community said, ‘why don’t we have more of this?”

 

More is on the way.

 

The district this year added five courses to its CTE curriculum, including computer science, theater stage technology, medical terminology, and a medical course for students interested in becoming paramedics or emergency medical technicians.

 


Vista USD robotics students design and create machines as part of their CTE classes

 

CTE is the modern take on what used to be known as vocational education, McKinney said, but it’s been retooled with many CTE courses offering college credit at Palomar College.

 

“They can absolutely take this and go on to college, but not every kid is college-bound,” McKinney said. “CTE gives kids hands-on experience that can lead directly into a career.”

One thing that makes CTE courses different is that they’re taught by professionals who worked in the field before becoming teachers.

 

“These courses are not typical textbook courses, so you want kids to know what’s happening in the industry. It’s not theory-based, it’s practical,” McKinney said. “In order to be a CTE teacher, you have to have industry experience. You have to have at least three years of actual industry experience.”

 

Vista Unified offers about 52 CTE courses in the 2016-2017 school year, and about 2,200 students took a district CTE class in the prior school year, McKinney said.

 

The courses cover a wide range of subjects, from agriculture, culinary arts, and pre-engineering to video broadcasting, computer gaming and web publishing.

 

By taking a CTE course, students can get a taste of a career that might be of interest but not to the point that they’re ready to commit to it, said Michael Gomez, a CTE guidance counselor on special assignment.

 

“It goes both ways,” Gomez said. He’s seen students who found their passion through a CTE course while others might decide that a different career might better suit them. “It gives them that experience,” Gomez said.

 


Vista High School's award-winning Culinary Arts class is part of the district's CTE offerings.

 

As the field changes to adapt to current trends, the attitude toward CTE is changing, McKinney said.

 

“We’re trying really hard to change people’s thought process to think of this as a way to explore options,” McKinney said. “Right now, the buzz is that we need more CTE in the nation. It’s kind of a pendulum swing.”

 

Vista Unified’s drive to increase it’s CTE offerings comes as CTE is marking its centennial nationally, and February is national CTE month as school district’s across the country highlight their CTE programs.

 

“That’s kind of cool, that it’s been around for 100 years,” McKinney said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/21/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

High school student Joseph DelVal discovered he had a knack for writing music. “I played music a lot, but I never really thought about composing,” said Joseph, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School.

 

Classmate Alyssa Maloney created a one-woman theatrical performance of a scene from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” done in the style of German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

 

And a group of elementary school students from Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) had the audience clapping, cheering and swaying as they did a dance routine combining music from bygone eras, from the Charleston of the 1920’s to a disco number straight out of the movie “Saturday Night Fever.”

 

Their performances were all part of a recent presentation outlining the Vista Unified School District’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, which stresses learning with a global perspective and encourages students to explore subjects beyond what they might otherwise choose.

 

“It really pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Joseph, who said that the IB higher level music course he’s taking helped him develop a new talent in composing music. “When I started doing it, I found I was really able to communicate things that I wasn’t otherwise able to communicate,” Joseph said. “I felt the IB program was really worth it.”

 

Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968, the IB program works with about 4,585 schools worldwide, according to the IB website, www.ib.org.

 

Vista Unified offers the IB program in grades 11 and 12 at Rancho Buena Vista High School, Vista High School; in grades six through nine at Vista Magnet Middle School, and at elementary schools Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math and VAPA.

 

“We have a district that’s fortunate enough to have a K (kindergarten) through 12 (12th grade) program of IB, which is pretty rare, said Tess Kim, a content resource teacher who organized the IB Community Night with fellow teacher Carolyn Thom at Rancho Buena Vista to acquaint parents and students with the IB program.

 

“Any child that cares about the world, who wants to have an impact on the world – this is certainly great for them,” Kim said.

The IB program is rigorous, but meant for any student who wants to challenge themselves, Kim said.

 

Among other things, the IB program requires students to take a second language and emphasizes critical thinking over memorization. “We really want our students to think about what they want to learn about and go research it,” said VAPA Assistant Principal Benjie Walker. “We give them that opportunity to really personalize their learning.”

 

Rigorous doesn’t necessarily mean more homework, several students said during panel discussions on the IB program. They have to take responsibility for completing several projects and the work can pile up if they procrastinate or don’t budget their time well.

 

A big advantage of the program is that it better prepares students for college, and gives them an edge getting in and staying in, said Michael Pink, IB coordinator at Vista High School. “They are overwhelmingly more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than the average student walking onto campus,” Pink said.

 

Another enticing aspect of the high school IB Diploma program is that students are often able to apply IB coursework for college credit. In some instances students have earned two years’ worth of college credit upon graduation from high school in an IB Diploma program.

 

VAPA librarian Philomena Romo said that all three of her children went through the IB program and it made them more confident as adults.

 

An integral part of the IB program is making presentations in front of classmates and others, which Romo said has made her children comfortable with public speaking.   “Because of this program, they view life differently, they’re more big picture – aware and caring,” Romo said. “They’re not afraid to ask questions.”

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/9/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

Shanghai sixth-grader Youan Xi said she was surprised to see every student at Vista Magnet Middle school working on computer tablets. “In the class, they use computers. We never use computers,” said Xi, one of 14 Chinese middle school students who spent a week going to classes at Visa Magnet.

 

Zhao Jing, an English teacher in Shanghai and one of two chaperones accompanying the students, said she, too, was surprised to see Vista Magnet students using computer tablets in class. At her school, “Teachers may use laptops or tablets in the class, but not the students,” Zhao said.

 

She said students at her school have computer labs as part of their curriculum, but she was struck at how the Vista middle-schoolers did much of their work independently, with teachers guiding them, but not lecturing them. “In China, maybe the teacher talks too much,” Zhao said.

 

Zhao and her students were getting a taste of the personal learning approach Vista Unified School District has adopted as championed by Superintendent Devin Vodicka.

 

Rather than all students learning the same thing at the same time, lessons are tailored to play to the strengths of each student individually. They use the computer tablets to research and solve problems. “This way is better, because the kids enjoy the class,” Zhao said.

 

She also was impressed that time is set aside during the school day for reading. “Our emphasis is always have a book ready,” said Vista Magnet Assistant Principal Steve Post, who organized the Chinese students’ visit.

 

Post said it was particularly fitting that the Chinese students spent a week at Vista Magnet because it is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, offering a curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and global involvement.

 

“As an IB school, here we are, being international, building bridges globally,” Post said. “We’ve been learning from them about some of their culture and they’ve been learning about American culture.”

 

Several Vista Magnet students who spent the week as guides for their Chinese counterparts said it was a learning experience. “Everybody was wanting to meet them and ask them questions,” said eighth-grader Kayla Megerdichian, 13.

“They’re from another country, another world to me,” Kayla said. “In their own way, they’re just like us. They’ve got their phones that they play on.”

 

Carrie Haynes, a Vista Magnet language arts and history teacher, said that the Chinese students fit right in with her other students. “Students are students around the world,” Haynes said. “They have the same mannerisms, the same questions.”

One difference she did notice was that, “Our students in America, I think, are more casual.”

 

For instance, she said one of her students went to hug one of the Chinese visitors, who was a bit surprised by the gesture. The proper greeting was a more formal bow, Haynes said.

 

The Chinese students were fairly fluent in English, although Haynes said, “Google translator was a lifesaver for me” when her class was going over Medieval Europe and the Chinese students could go online to get a translation to what she was saying and take notes.

 

Vista Magnet art teacher Roger Royster said, “It’s been really fun to watch our kids interact with them.”

 

Shanghai fifth-grader Zhang Ziyuan, 10, said that he was fascinated by the classes at Vista Magnet, and liked the food in the school cafeteria.

 

Asked what the biggest difference was between the Vista classes and his back home, Ziyuan said, “My school is more boring.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/2/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

Something as simple as furniture is a sign of a school district on the move. So said Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka as he reviewed progress made during his first five years as superintendent of the Vista Unified School District.

 

“We’re swapping out furniture that stays in one spot, and we’re moving to the more mobile options, flexible types of settings, so that we can adapt the environment, based on what we’re trying to do with learning,” Vodicka told district workers at a recent Professional Development Day.

 

Check out a classroom in the Vista Unified School District and there’s a good chance it will be noisy, kids will be moving around working in teams, and they won’t be sitting at stationary desks.

 

That’s just part of what’s happening as the district moves to personalized learning in which classroom lessons are tailored to the needs and interests of each student, building on their strengths.

 

“This is the thing that has drawn a lot of attention to our school district,” Vodicka said. “When we talked to our kids, they said they wanted to have more ownership in their learning. They didn’t want learning to happen to them. They wanted to have choices, they wanted to be more active. And so, we said, ‘great, we’re going to work on making your learning more personal.’”

 

A big part of that shift is developing lessons that show how what students learn in school applies beyond the classroom.

“When most of us went to school, we spent a lot of time just filling out work sheets and doing school work that had very little connection to the world outside of school,” Vodicka said. “What we want to see is our students taking what they learned and applying it to make the community a better place, make the world a better place.”

 

When that happens, students see school as an exciting place.

“Their level of engagement goes up. They’re more interested in learning, and there’s a whole host of positive outcomes,” Vodicka said.

 

Students also are being encouraged to speak into the pace of their learning.

 

“For a long time, students all got the same thing in the same way at the same time,” Vodicka said. “Whether they’re learning quickly or slowly, we’ve been treating them the same. That doesn’t necessarily work for any of us.”

 

Along with the acclaim Vista Unified has gotten from other educators, parents satisfaction with Vista Unified schools is rising, according to district surveys.

 

“Parents are observant,” Vodicka said. “They’re not going to tell you what they think you want to hear. They’re going to tell you what they experience and what they’ve observed, so this is really good validation of our hard work.”

 

Besides getting a review of the district’s progress from Vodicka, teachers and other school workers broke off into separate sessions for training in a variety of topics.

 

Some non-teaching workers got everything from healthy cooking tips to CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) while teachers got hands-on training on a new computer system for grading papers to creating lessons to meet new science teaching standards.

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/31/17




Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard

 

Perseverance paid off for a Vista eighth-grader, who dreamed of sending a science experiment into space.

Thirteen-year-old Evie Currington is among five Vista Magnet Middle School students whose proposal to study the effects of microgravity on the regeneration of a type of flatworm was chosen to be included on a mission to the International Space Station later this year.

 

“I remember sitting in my chair when they announced it, it was amazing,” Evie said. “The whole day, I was just smiling.”

 

Principal Anne Green said the entire school erupted in a burst of celebration when the word came through that, for the second straight year, a Vista Magnet team’s experiment made the cut for a trip to the Space Station.

“I think the whole school was stamping their feet,” Green said. “I’m just beaming. I’m so proud of our girls.”

 

Working with Evie in designing the experiment were 7th grader Isabella Ansell, 12, and 6th-graders Sydney Wagner, Isabel Camacho, and Charlotte Currington, all 11. Charlotte is Evie’s sister.

 

They were competing against teams from Vista Innovation & Design Academy and High Tech High North County.

 

The Vista Magnet’s team was picked because their proposal was well documented, built on earlier research, and was aimed at ultimately solving a real-world problem – how to prevent astronauts from losing muscle and bone mass while working in the microgravity environment of the space station, said Dan Hendricks of Open Source Maker Labs, which oversaw the competition. “It was very thorough, all the way through,” Hendricks said.

 

The Vista Magnet students got advice on the project from Eva-Maria S. Collins, an assistant professor of physics and biology at the University of California San Diego. She is providing the worms for the experiment.

“It’s really cool,” Isabella said of her team’s success. “I always loved the idea of working with scientists up in space.”

 

Isabel said developing the experiment was “a really good learning experience, and my mom said it looks good on a college application.”

 

There was a time when Sydney wondered why people were so interested in outer space. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sit through a space movie,” Sydney said. “When I heard about the project, I thought, maybe this could get me interested.”

 

Now, she’s eager to see how the experiment turns out.

Charlotte said she was inspired by Evie and wanted to work with her. “It’s exciting,” Charlotte said of being part of the winning team. “It’s something that won’t happen every day. It’s good to think I get to see my experiment go up in space and see the results.”

 

Evie led the Vista Magnet team as the principal investigator.

 

As a sixth grader, Evie worked on a different proposal for a space station experiment involving flat worms, but that one fizzled.

 

The winning proposal in that competition came from three other Vista Magnet students – Karsyn Lee, Vitoria Arseneault and Lexie Kondo. Their experiment, which was sent to the space station last year aboard a Space X rocket, showed that organic strawberry seeds could germinate in microgravity.

 

Rather than give up, Evie worked with her new team to refine the experiment for the new competition. “I definitely learned to stick with things,” Evie said. Working on the Space Station experiments “opened my eyes to the sciences.”

 

“In fourth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer,” Evie said. “Then, I thought, maybe I don’t want to sit at a desk and write essays.” These days, her interests are leaning toward a career in science or engineering.

 

“I have no idea what type of science,” Evie said.

Her teammates have similar career choices in mind.

Isabella wants to become an astrophysicist, and said that one of the reasons she enrolled in Vista Magnet was because of its emphasis on science and math. She’d like to go to Princeton University because it has a strong astrophysics program and is hoping to work for NASA.

 

“I want to be part of the team that puts people on other planets,” Isabella said. “I want to be part of the Mars team.”

 

The experiment the team devised will send to the space station 10 headless Dugesia Japonica worms to see if they’ll grow new heads, as they do on Earth.

The worms will be in a 6-inch clear plastic tube containing water in one section and formalin, a preservative, in a second section.

 

After approximately three weeks on orbit, space station astronauts will release a clamp, allowing the preservative to mix with the water and worms.

 

The project is part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), which is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the use of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/27/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

Michaela Jackson said she wanted classes that would dare her to think critically. “I wanted to challenge myself,” Michaela said.

 

Alexander Kriksciun wanted a curriculum that gave him a taste of the freedom he’ll have in college to choose what he studies.

Bryce Picton wanted courses that looked “at broad concepts rather than individual facts.”

 

The three Rancho Buena Vista High School seniors are enrolled in the school’s International Baccalaureate diploma program.

 

Rancho Buena Vista’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program along with IB offerings at Vista High School, Vista Magnet Middle School, Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math and Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) will be explored at a 5 p.m. Jan. 31 International Baccalaureate Community Night at Rancho Buena Vista High School.

 

“This night is really focused toward the community and parents who are interested in International Baccalaureate and want to find out what it’s all about and what advantages it gives their child,” said Carolyn Thom, a resource teacher in the Vista Unified School System who is organizing the event with Teresa Kim, also a Vista Unified resource teacher.

 

“There will be examples of students’ work, then we will break out into panels and students who graduated from the International Baccalaureate program will be talking about how it helped them in college or whatever occupation they have,” Thom said.

 

The Community Night is open to parents from other school districts and private schools as well as Vista Unified and baby-sitting services will be available, Thom said.

 

Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968, the International Baccalaureate Program works with about 4,585 schools worldwide, according to its website, www.ib.org.

 

Rancho Buena Vista High School and Vista High School offer the IB Diploma Programme for students aged 16 to 18, Vista Magnet offers the Middle Years Programme for all of its students, and VAPA and Casita are in the process of being certified for the Primary Years Programme for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

 

At the high school level, students can take the full Diploma Programme to earn a separate IB diploma when they graduate, along with their school diploma, or they can take a selection of IB courses and receive an IB certificate in addition to their school diploma, said Melissa Neumann, Rancho’s IB and Advanced Placement program coordinator.

 

The IB program encourages students to look at issues from an international perspective. The work is demanding and requires students to take more and more responsibility for what they study as the progress through the grade levels.

 

“I love the program because it’s really well-rounded,” Thom said. “It’s very inquiry-based so students are finding things that are interesting to them and they do a lot of their own research and it’s very global.”

 

In keeping with its global perspective, the IB program requires students to study a second language starting at the elementary school level, and connects students in Vista with students from around the world, Kim said.

 

For example, students at Vista Magnet one year had a video conference call with students from a village in Peru, exchanging notes on their differences and similarities. The Vista students also raised money to help buy books for the Peruvian students.

 

“Really, the IB program is looking for opportunities to connect students to a global community as often as possible,” Kim said.

Although the work is rigorous, the IB program is meant for “anybody who’s willing to work hard in school,” Neumann said, adding that, “You have to be disciplined, hard-working.”

 

Michaela, the Rancho Buena Vista senior, said she gets “a little more homework” in the IB courses than she would otherwise, and the work also is more complex.

 

“It definitely does take a lot more of my time,” Michaela said.

Classmates Bryce and Alexander said they don’t notice more homework, but agreed that the work is more challenging.

For example, in high school, students pursuing the Full Diploma are required to write a 4,000 word essay on a topic of their choosing from within a broad category, Neumann said.

A student interested in math might write an essay related to math, while a student more interested in film can write about film.

 

Another requirement of the Full Diploma, known as Creativity, Action and Service (CAS), requires students to work on a project that benefits the larger community.

 

Alexander said that for one class, he chose to work on an essay about Woodstock and the counter-culture of the 1960’s.

“That’s a time in history I’m really interested in,” Alexander said.

For his CAS project, Alexander is working on a “Write for Rights” letter writing campaign through Amnesty International.

Bryce is helping to organize the school’s second annual poetry slam as his project.

 

Michaela said she helped put together an international film festival to “kind of bring more culture on campus.”

 

Just as with Advanced Placement (AP) courses, students can get college credit for IB courses they take in high school, Neumann said.

 

Research from the IB organization also has shown that students who take IB courses do better in college.

Rancho Buena Vista, which has offered IB courses since the school opened in 1987, this year expanded the number and variety of IB courses it offers and was chosen as the host of the exposition to highlight its programs, Neumann said.

 

“We wanted to showcase our IB program at Rancho Buena Vista,” Neumann said.

 

Newly added courses include higher-level psychology, standard level design technology, higher-level film and standard and higher-level dance, Neumann said.

 

The school also is looking at further expanding its IB program in the future. “What we’re trying to do is create a pathway for more students to complete the IB Diploma Programme,” Neumann said. “We’re trying to make it more accessible.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/24/17




Audience: Homepage


 

By Ray Huard

 

When San Diego County school official wanted to overhaul the way schools respond to threats on and off campus, Jeff Geyer of the Vista Unified School District was among those they turned to for help.

 

Geyer, the district’s safety and environmental manager, had long felt that schools needed options beyond going automatically to a hard lockdown, especially if the threat involved something like a police chase near a school that didn’t directly involve the campus.

 

In a hard lockdown, an alarm is sounded and teachers, students and administrators run to the nearest room, close the door, turn off the lights, hide, and wait for an all-clear to be sounded. They can’t leave the room, even to use a restroom.

That makes sense if there’s someone on school grounds with a gun or other weapon.

 

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s an off-campus threat,” Geyer said. “There’s a police chase near a school or police activity near a school.” In those cases, Geyer and others felt that something less dramatic would be sufficient.

 

Working with law enforcement and school officials from throughout the county, Geyer helped develop what they’ve dubbed a “secure campus” option.

 

“Representatives from 46 school districts and every law enforcement agency in the county were involved in developing the program,” Geyer said.

 

The idea is to keep off the school grounds anyone who could pose a threat, and to keep students in a safe environment.

After determining that no one on campus poses an immediate threat, school officials would lock the gates so no one could enter school grounds from the outside.

 

“The goal of this is to keep whatever’s going on out there, out there,” Geyer said.

 

Rather than run to any room when an alarm is sounded, students and teachers would go to an assigned classroom, lock the doors, but not hide. Teachers could go on with their lessons, and students could go to the restroom with an adult escort. “We want to avoid all the traumatic stuff,” Geyer said.

 

If there is a threat on campus, such as someone with a gun, then schools go to hard lockdown. The new protocols call for more training on what to do, even in a lockdown.

 

For instance, if there’s a clear escape route, take it, Geyer said.

“If you know where a shooter is, and you can get off campus safely, run,” Geyer said.

 

While improving schools’ response to threats is critical, Geyer emphasized that the odds that any school will face an active threat are remote. The chance of someone being the victim of a school shooting are more than one in three million, Geyer said.

 

In Vista Unified, Geyer is working with Michelle Walsh, coordinator of student services, and school police resource officers to form two to three three-person teams to train administrators, principals and teachers on using the new protocols.

 

“We have to be prepared,” Geyer said, a motto he’s lived by since becoming a Boy Scout in St. Peter’s Troop 731 in Fallbrook. To this day, Geyer never leaves home without packing an emergency kit in his truck, including food and blankets.

 

“My scoutmaster and several other adult leaders were Marines, so we did a lot of self-sufficient/survival type camping in remote four-wheel drive-only accessible areas,” Geyer said. “I learned to love off-roading and camping, with a heavy respect for military, law enforcement and hunting/defense weapons.”

 

Geyer also was an active CB radio fan. “Magic Dragon was my handle,” Geyer said.

 

Working with other CB’ers, Geyer was part of a radio communication system during law enforcement search and rescue missions. “Back in the ‘70’s, nobody had cell phones,” Geyer said. “We would four-wheel drive to the top of a hill and be relaying messages.” These days, Geyer said, “I’ve really found my passion in this emergency preparedness world.”

 

Colleagues said Geyer is a joy to work with. “I just like being around him because he has a great attitude, a great personality,” said Tim Ware, school intervention manager at Oceanside Unified School District.

 

Ware and Geyer have similar responsibilities in their school districts, and the two often share ideas and tips. “He has one of those attitudes that’s infectious, to strive for excellence,” Ware said.

 

Shari Fernandez, Vista Unified’s director of elementary curriculum and instruction, said Geyer’s concern for school safety goes from pushing for security cameras and improved fencing at schools to walking the paths children follow to school to look for any obstacles they might face.

 

“I know of very few districts that are putting the effort that Jeff is putting in in Vista schools,” Fernandez said.

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that Geyer “is a tremendous contributor to the safety of all students and staff. He has established a leadership role throughout the county as a result of his commitment to his own professional learning and for his thoughtful and compassionate approach.”

 

A 1976 graduate of Fallbrook High School, Geyer worked for his brother as an electrician while in school and continued in the trade after graduating, owning his own business for a time and working for several others companies, including Souther/Birtcher Development, where he became project manager/superintendent.

 

He got a job with Vista Unified in 1991 as an electrician, and slowly worked his way up to his current position in 2012. His wife, Tanya, is the health/attendance technician at Temple Heights Elementary School.

 

Two years ago, Geyer went back to school. He’ll receive a bachelor’s of science degree in homeland security and emergency management this month from National University, graduating magna cum laude.

 

“As I immersed myself in my new passion – school emergency preparedness and safety – I found that I have something to offer both law enforcement and school folks,” Geyer said.

 

Geyer said that he’d been thinking about going back to school, and when National University offered a degree program that involved emergency preparedness, he jumped at the chance. “I decided I needed to have the requisite education and diploma,” Geyer said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/13/17




Audience: Homepage

 

By Ray Huard

 

Make graduation cards for eight-graders.

 

Give out free hugs.

 

Hand out notes of kindness to random people on campus.

 

Paint a mural.

 

Those were just some of the suggestions students at Roosevelt Middle School came up with to make theirs a kinder campus.

 

The suggestions, written on Post-it notes and pasted up in the school library, were part of an exercise the students went through recently as part of Rachel’s Challenge, an international program aimed at making schools safer, where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect and where students feel more connected to their school.

 


Roosevelt Middle School students paper a column with ideas of how to make the school friendlier.

 

Rachel’s Challenge gets its name from Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine High School shooting of April 20, 1999.

 

Rachel’s father, Darrell Scott, created Rachel’s Challenge to continue the work Rachel started with simple acts of kindness, which her classmates said had a profound impact on their lives, according to the program’s website, rachelschallenge.org.

 

Roosevelt Middle School is among about 23 schools in San Diego County that have signed up for the three-year program, said Rachel’s Challenge Presenter Fred Lynch. The goal is to get the program in about 40 schools in the college.

 

Although curbing aggressive behavior and bullying is the aim of the program, “We hardly every use the word bully,” Lynch said.

“Our whole goal is pro-compassion, pro- caring,” Lynch said. “It’s really cool to be kind. That’s our model, making it cool to be kind.”

 


Rachel's Challenge presenter / coach Fred Lynch speaks with Roosevelt students about creating a pro-compassion, pro-caring campus.

 

The program started at Roosevelt with a November rally at the school led by Lynch. Subsequently, the school formed a Friends of Rachel Club, where about 50 students meet monthly to come up with ideas for promoting kindness on and off campus.

 

The Post-it notes were part of that.

 

“It’s really creating a positive culture on our campus,” Roosevelt Principal Elise Ochenduszko said. “Middle school is really a challenging time for children." Emotions run high, and “sometimes we see that coming out with kids being mean to each other.”

 

With the program in place for little more than a month at Roosevelt, there aren’t any hard numbers on how well it’s working. “I certainly notice more kids wanting to take ownership of the school,” Ochenduszko said.

 

A key part of the program is getting kids to feel connected with each other, with their teachers, and with their school, Lynch said.

 

Among other things, teachers were trained to bring Rachel’s Challenge into their classrooms with short, simple lessons by connecting with their students. They do that by talking about things like the scariest movie they’ve seen, their favorite pizza topping, their most embarrassing moment, and asking the students to do the same.

 

“What it really builds over a period of time is this net of connective-ness,” Lynch said.

 

For an upcoming “Challenge Day,” students will spend six hours combining physical activities with sessions designed to get to know each other, Lynch said. “All the kids are blown away by how many kids are like them,” Lynch said.

 

The idea is, that when students learn about each other, they realize they’re more alike than different and they are more likely to treat each other with respect. “Not only do the kids feel safer, but we see the grades increase, we see the fighting decrease,” Lynch said. “Our ultimate wish is to create safer, more connected schools.”

 

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Published: 1/10/17




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Published: 1/3/17




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By Ray Huard

 

The soup was yummy – loaded potato, with bacon, cheese, chives and sour cream made and served by culinary art students from Vista High School.

 

Better yet, it came in colorful ceramic bowls, each one a different work of art, hand-crafted by students at Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA), a middle school in the Vista Unified School District.

 

And to top it off, the $495 raised selling the soup-filled bowls at $5 each went to the North County Food Bank as part of an “Empty Bowls” project organized by VIDA art teacher Heather Williams, who was looking for ways to connect student art projects to real-world issues.

 


PTA President Kim Hilder and her son, Eric, sample the clam chowder made by the VHS Culinary Arts class. 

 

Empty Bowls is an international program run by the nonprofit organization Imagine Render, which lists its mission as creating “positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build community.”

 

The idea is that people buy a meal in a bowl to raise money for organizations that fight hunger, like the North County Food Bank, and they keep the bowl as a reminder of the empty bowls in the world.

 

“I love that they’re giving to the Food Bank,” said Kim Hilder, president of the VIDA PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and the Del Norte PTA. Kilder's 13-year-old son, Eric, is an eighth-grader at VIDA. “It warms my heart, just like this soup will warm me.”

 

The soup and bowls were served up as part of a recent VIDA exposition that included displays of a wide-range of student projects, from underwater robots that dove and surfaced in the school swimming pool to live drama and music performances.

 

VIDA Principal Eric Chagala said the idea was “to share with the public and the parents the work the kids have been doing.”

The Empty Bowls part of the exposition fit nicely with VIDA’s design-thinking curriculum, which stresses learning by doing, said Williams, a founding faculty member of VIDA.

 

“Everybody knows education has to change from the teacher standing up there, talking,” said Williams, who was a founding faculty member of VIDA.

 

Connecting the student’s creativity with a community issue was a hit with Amy McGuire, whose daughter, Chloe, is a seventh-grader at VIDA. “We got here early because we were excited about the opportunity for feeding the hungry,” McGuire said as she sampled some soup. She proclaimed it “very delicious.”

 


Jessica Garcia with daughter Brooklyn, enjoying their soup and hand crafted bowls.

 

Jessica Garcia, a substitute teacher at Vista Unified’s Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math elementary school, said she was impressed by the collaboration between the VIDA art students and the high school culinary students in making the bowls and the soup.

 

“What a great combination, to get everyone working together,” said Garcia, whose daughter, Joelle, is a seventh grader at VIDA, and daughter, Brooklyn, is a fifth-grader at Casita.

The soup “tastes like what you’d get in a restaurant,” Garcia said. She liked the ceramic bowls so much that she bought four of them.

 

Chef Kim Plunkett, who created the culinary program at Vista High School, said that her students took the idea and ran with it. “They made it at school today,” Plunkett said on the day of the exposition. “I gave them the recipe and that was it.”

 


Vista High School Culinary Arts students serve their creation.

 

VIDA seventh-grader Lindsey Huezo, who made two bowls, liked the idea of linking her art work to a community issue.

“It will help people who are hungry,” said Lindsey, 12. “I think the money will help a lot.”

 

VIDA sixth-grader Belen Martinez, 11, said the project was “really cool. I get to show my imagination by making bowls. It’s really fun.”

 

Her father, Marcos Hernandez, was impressed with the bowl Belen made. “It’s fantastic,” he said as he got in line for soup.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/23/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Tuba player Teresa Anderson felt from the start that this was going to be a special year for the Rancho Buena Vista High School Marching Band.

 

“We all kind of just clicked a lot better this year, and we all knew how to put emotion in whatever we were doing, and we all knew exactly what we were doing,” said Teresa, a 17-year-old junior who helped the 220-member band take top prize as the KUSI-TV marching band of the year for San Diego County.

 

‘It’s like a really great achievement,” Teresa said. “We all worked so hard, and we’re all like a family, and to just be able to be known for something that we all love is just incredible.”

 

Band director Eric Weirather said that being chosen “has definitely been fantastic,” adding “I’m proud of my kids and their hard work. They deserve it.”

 


The Rancho Buena Vista High School marching band in action.

 

Drum major Taylor Anderson, 16, a junior who also has played the flute, said that band members just seemed to click. “This year, in particular, our band has just been very motivated,” Taylor said. “I’m really proud of our band this year. We couldn’t have done it if all the members weren’t devoting hours and hours to this program.”

 

Senior Mason George, 17, said he and others who are in their final year with the band, “can’t quite comprehend” being named the top marching band in the county. Mason attributed the band’s winning performance to teamwork and collaboration among veteran players and newbies.

 

“The staff and the students just coordinate so well, and a lot of the upper classmen were able to teach the lower classmen,” Mason said.

 

In presenting a winning performance, the Rancho Buena Vista Marching Band does a lot more than march.

 

“We always like to tell a story, to draw the audience in to what we’re doing,” said Weirather, who’s been at Rancho Buena Vista for 17 years. “It’s all about the audience, making sure it’s a very entertaining show.”

 

This year, the band’s performance, entitled “Once Upon a Time,” told a “storybook tale,” in which band members created an actual storybook prop with the help of band parents, Weirather said.

 

During the performance, which featured an appearance by three witches, “Our color guard would come in and out of the storybook,” Weirather said.

 

Ending with a quote, “good always overcomes evil,” the performance “was kind of a traditional children’s story,” Weirather said. “A lot of people fell in love with the show, including the students.”

 

In addition to being chosen Marching Band of the Year, the Rancho Buena Vista band has received several other awards this year, winning tournaments throughout Southern California.

 


The RBV Color Guard performs with the band to tell their story.

 

“Our hard work has paid off a lot,” said senior Emilia Spagnuolo, 17, who performs in the band color guard. “We’ve had a really successful season.” Emilia said that this year’s players built on the work of those who were in the band in previous years.

 

“I always tell the color guard that each class before us has contributed to putting us where we are now,” Emilia said. “We get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

 

It’s been about 10 years since Rancho Buena Vista was last honored as marching band of the year, Weirather said.

“It’s not about winning for us, it’s about the experience for the students and their hard work and their work ethic,” Weirather said. “The other thing that does make our school special is our parents, we have amazing parents.”

 

Looking ahead, Weirather said that he may enter the band next year in the competition to be in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. He said Rancho Buena Vista last marched in that parade in 2003. “It’s a whole heck of a lot of work, but I think it’s good to do it,” Weirather said.

 

He’s also looking for more opportunities for his students to perform. “We’ve gotten a lot of exposure, that’s really my goal, to get out in the community, and let as many people as possible hear the kids’ hard work and musicianship,” Weirather said. “If somebody wants us to play for something, we very rarely say no, especially if it’s for a good cause.”

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/22/16




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Click here or on the image to see the 10 News story about the Talent City kickoff

 

An innovative partnership between the Vista Unified School District, the Vista Chamber of Commerce, and local Vista businesses was launched on Tuesday, December 6th. Local media including 10 News (ABC), The Coast News and LaPrensa were on hand to tell the story.

 

The program is designed to develop Vista into a “Talent City,” where local students receive practical, hands-on experience in priority work sectors in the area.

 

Dubbed “talent experienceships,” the event, at local business Solatube, Inc. is the first in a series of opportunities for the district and the private sector to work together in building a Talent City in Vista. The overall goal is to build talent readiness aimed at graduating students that are immediately employable in careers aligned to the region’s priority sectors, as outlined by the San Diego Workforce Partnership:

 

- Advanced Manufacturing

- Clean Energy

- Health Care

- Information & Communication Technology

- Life Sciences

 

“This program is an exciting new step for Vista’s schools and students to gain direct, practical experience of what employers need from their current and future workforce,” said Vista Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Dr. Matt Doyle. “And local businesses have the opportunity to see the intelligence and innovation from students already in the community.”

 

Adds Vista Chamber of Commerce CEO Bret Schanzenbach, “The Talent City campaign is a fantastic opportunity for Vista’s business and educational communities to collaborate to bring opportunity and value to employers, students and the entire community. Developing home grown talent for our city’s businesses only strengthens our community and showcases why Vista is a great place to live, to learn and to work.”

 


To see a short documentary of the Talent Cities launch produced by the Rancho Minerva Middle School video team, click here.

 

The day saw the Principal, a teacher and five students from each of VUSD’s five middle schools participate at Solatube. After learning about the company and what they do, students learned about various job functions, including manufacturing, marketing and engineering.

 

Solatube then identified a Project Challenge for the students, connecting them with the company’s day-to-day operation. Students self-selected into teams based on their strengths and interests and designed and presented a plan to addresses the challenge. Students will follow up their experience by reflecting on what they learned and how it relates to career readiness.

 

A further aspect of the "Talent City" program will see students learn about and begin to demonstrate essential skills, and they will receive badges as part of a district personal learning profile. These badges will eventually form a skills transfer pipeline in North San Diego County. Vista Unified will prepare a holistic (anonymous) report for local HR and entrepreneurial leaders on the skills and talents students have developed during their schooling in Vista Unified.

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Published: 12/13/16




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Published: 12/12/16




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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/7/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Don’t take no for an answer and don’t let people say you can’t do anything.

 

That was the advice that U. S. Air Force Reserve pilot Jengi Martinez gave students during a recent career fair at Madison Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.

 

She was among dozens of professionals from a beekeeper and a body builder to a race car driver and a lawyer, who told the students how and why they got their jobs, and what their work entailed.

 

The idea behind the fair is to inspire kids and let them “see how many opportunities there are,” said Principal Susan Ford. “This helps link what they’re doing in school with something in the future,” Ford said. “We’re spending a lot of time talking about careers. We have to. That’s the way to get students engaged in education.”

 

Seventh-grader Tess Moya made the rounds of several displays set up around the school courtyard, where students could talk to people in a variety of professions. “I just like asking questions,” Tess said between talking with Martinez and heading over to a booth staffed by FBI agents. “I’m thinking about doing something that involves action,” Tess said.

 

Classmate Nickolas Barbera said he’s already got a career in mind – becoming a firefighter like his father. “I kind of want to follow in his footsteps,” Nickolas said. “It’s what I want to be when I grow up.”

 

Seventh-grader Yahaira Baroja said she was thinking about joining the Marines or becoming a nurse. “I like to help people and make them feel better,” Yahaira said.

 

Seventh-grader Holden Manno said he was thinking about becoming a Marine or a rap music artist.

 

Military service was a key career step for Crystal Salumbides, a lawyer in the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office who served in Iraq. “I was one of those kids that kind of struggled. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it,” said Salumbides, who enlisted in the Army when she was 19.

 

Salumbides said she became a lawyer after serving as a paralegal in the U.S. Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps and getting a law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law after she got out of the Army. “There are a lot of things the military can offer,” Salumbides said. “There may be some people who need a little discipline and that’s what I got from it.”

 

But before recommending the military to students, Salumbides said, “I always want to know what their end goal is. If someone wants to do art, the military probably isn’t for them.”

 

Having a career fair for middle schoolers is a good idea because it gets them thinking about what they might want to do, she said. “Granted, things will change,” Salumbides said. “The main thing is, they stay in school and finish their education. Then, the options will be open to them.”

 

Martinez, who flies huge C-17 cargo planes and is also a certified airplane accident investigator, said she wanted to be a pilot since she was 16 and saw the military as a way to reach her goal. “Our humanitarian missions take us all over the world,” said Martinez, who’s also flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve taken fire engines, trucks, you name it, we take it.”

 

Martinez is particularly keen on encouraging girls to aim high in their career goals. She said that of the about 14,200 pilots in the military, only 683 are women, and fewer than 50 are fighter pilots.

 

“Barriers are continuing to be broken,” Martinez said. “Surround yourself with people who are positive, who are goal oriented.”

San Diego filmmaker Keith Russell told the students to “create and dream big.”

 

Growing up in what he described as “a pretty trying neighborhood” in Chicago, Russell said, “I was told I wouldn’t make it, I wouldn’t amount to anything. I was going to be another statistic.”

 

After spending nine years in the Marines, Russell said he found a new career after going to film school in Los Angeles. “My message to you is, if I did it despite all the challenges, I know all of you can do it,” Russell told the Madison students. “If I can do it, then you can do it.”

 

For those who might be considering a career in law enforcement, Jason Omundson, a crime prevention specialist with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, suggested that they might consider joining the Sheriff’s Explorer Program when they turn 16.

 

“It gives them the experience,” Omundson said. “They can go on ride-alongs with deputies. They wear the (Explorer) uniform. They go to a (training) academy, just like the deputies do.”

 

In addition to giving Madison’s 1,150 students insight into a wide range of careers, Ford said that the fair has given the school a valuable connection to the community.

 

“I think it’s energizing for presenters,” Ford said. “It’s something we want to continue. We don’t see any downside.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/6/16




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by Ray Huard

 

They took on professional engineers.

They took on college students.

And they beat them all.

 

A team of nine computer science students from Mission Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District took first place in their category in a recent AT&T Mobile computer programming hackathon from among 10 teams comprised of 100 programmers.

 

Hackathons are computer coding competitions in which teams build mobile apps, which are presented to judges with prizes awarded for the best apps.

 

The competing teams included professionals from companies such as Intuit, Qualcomm and Intel and students from several universities.

 

“We were thinking we’d give it a shot and try to learn something,” said Luke Harvey, a member of the Mission Vista High School team.

 

With a hackathon theme of “Smart Cities” for their category, the task of the Mission Vista team was to design and implement a cell phone app that had practical uses for the city of San Diego, and they had to do it with a computer coding system they’d never used before, and they had to do it all within 24 hours. “It was definitely a big challenge,” Luke said.

 

Joining Luke on the Mission Vista team were Alan Krause, Tyler Cook, Isaac Howard, Allan Garcia, Ryan Green, Annora Jones and Andrew Yates.

 


The Mission Vista High School Hackathon championship team

 

Their teacher, Jeffrey Yee, said it was the students’ perseverance and determination that paid off.

 

“Where a lot of kids would give up, not knowing the technology, they actually spent hours learning, going on the Internet finding examples, trying to learn this technology to win,” said Yee, who teaches computer science as part of Career Technical Education (CTE) at Mission Vista.

 

“I’m definitely surprised that they performed so well, but I’m not surprised that they could go out and learn something fairly rapidly,” Yee said. “I would hire them if they were actually looking for a job.”

 

The students created an app called SD Connected, which works on Android cell phones, to allow people to find information describing city events like concerts, sport matches and festivals. “You can sort it by type, date and time of day,” Andrew said.

 

The app also enabled people using it to find their polling places on Election Day.

 

“A lot of us had done some coding, but we had never made an Android app before,” Luke said. “It was really difficult for us, because we had never programmed an Android before.”

 

Team members worked around-the-clock. “Most of the students slept for only a few hours, spending most of the time focused on completing the app,” Yee said.

 

Along with the first place finish, the Mission Vista team received a prize of $500 in Amazon gift cards and a tour of the San Diego City Cybersecurity Division led by Gary Hayslip, chief information security officer.

 

“The hackathon would have been a success even if they had not won, but winning was the icing on the cake and confirmed that they could perform at the highest levels,” Yee said.

 

The students plan to refine their app over the coming months as a project for their high school computer programming club.

As exhausting as the hackathon was, Andrew said that given the chance, he’s ready to go to another hackathon. “When the opportunity comes up, we’re always here to grab it,” Andrew said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/1/16




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Don’t tell Tina Shinsato you can’t do math.

 

“If you have the ability to think, you have the ability to do math,” said Shinsato, a math teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School. “You might not care to do it, and that’s your choice, but in no way are you incapable of doing math,” she said.

 

That kind of drive and determination rubs off on Shinsato’s students, and led the California Mathematics Council to give Shinsato its annual George Polya Memorial Award in November.

 

Named after a renowned Stanford University mathematics professor, the award is given to one educator who has shown excellence in teaching math over a sustained period of time.

 

“I appreciate and I’m honored by the award, but it’s an award for the people I work with,” said Shinsato, who has been teaching math for 23 years, nearly all of them in Vista Unified.

 

“My ideas aren’t original. I’m a communicator,” Shinsato said. “My ideas were taken from a lot of people. The award represents all the people I’ve ever worked with.”

 

Shinsato’s colleagues said that she’s too modest.

 

“I cannot begin to count how many high school students she has masterfully guided through math class,” said Renee Kollar-Bachman, a close friend and head of the Rancho Buena Vista math department.

 

“Everyone knows she’s already an incredible teacher, but she’s always thinking about how to make what she does better,” Kollar-Bachman said. “I kind of want to be like her when I grow up. She loves the outdoors. She loves camping. She owns an RV (recreational vehicle) so she’ll go on one-to two-month treks in the summer. She also makes you laugh when she knows you need to laugh, even if you’re going through a sad time or an angry time.”

 

Rancho Buena Vista Principal Charles Schindler said Shinsato “is a champion of all students learning math. We are fortunate to have such a professional at RBV, not just for our math program, but for all students and staff members,” Schindler said. “We at RBV are extremely proud of Tina’s accomplishment and award. It is well deserved as she is a champion of math at RBV and for the district.”

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that the Mathematics Council recognition of Shinsato was “a well-deserved award. “We are incredibly fortunate to have talented and dedicated teachers in Vista,” Vodicka said. “I am pleased to see Ms. Shinsato recognized for her contributions. Students describe her as an energetic teacher who is genuinely interested in ensuring that all students develop a thorough understanding of mathematics.”

 

Shinsato said she was drawn to math “for the problem-solving aspect.” “I like that it’s hard and takes perseverance,” Shinsato said. “I like that I can have both success and failure.”

 

A 1989 graduate of Southwest High School in San Diego, Shinsato earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California San Diego and a master’s degree in mathematics from California State University San Marcos.

In college, she initially majored in engineering.

 

“In all honesty, I had no idea why. Most likely, because that was the cool thing to do,” Shinsato said.

 

Working summers in a Girls Scout camp helped change her mind. “I realized that I liked working with people,” Shinsato said. “I like helping kids overcome challenges and enjoyed celebrating success.”

 

She decided to major in math in her junior year “so that I could be at teacher,” Shinsato said, adding, it was the “best choice ever.”

 

In the classroom, Shinsato is an innovator who is always looking for new ways to make math interesting and accessible for her students, Kollar-Bachman said.

 

“One of the things she started doing, which has caught on, was put white boards all around her classroom,” Kollar-Bachman said. “Now, it’s not uncommon for every student to be at their own group’s white board, writing something, putting something down.”

 

Shinsato said that the white boards fit with her philosophy that people learn best by doing and collaborating. “I want my kids to do their work on the board and talk to each other, I don’t want to be the one talking to them all the time,” Shinsato said. “In my ideal day, I like to present a problem to students that they are curious enough about to say, ‘Hey, I wonder what the answer is and how are we going to solve it?’”

 


White boards surround students in Tina Shinsato's class, encouraging collaboration.

 

Outside of class, Shinsato is a ball of energy, working with other teachers, staying before and after school to work with students who need extra help, and serving as co-adviser to the Gender Sexuality Alliance, an organization for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students. The alliance gives those students “a place just to be safe and not be judged,” Shinsato said.

 

She also teaches up-and-coming teachers at California State University San Marcos and has served on the board of directors of the California Mathematics Council.

 

“You name it, she’s done it, and she’s not done yet,” Kollar-Bachman said. “I can’t imagine someone being better at their craft and she’s always working on it.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/28/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Exciting and engaged were the two words Vista community leaders used most in describing the students they saw in visiting school classrooms, filling in as principals for a day.

“Every kid there was engaged in their classroom,” Vista Assistant City Manager Aly Zimmermann said of her stint at Vista High School. “A couple of them wouldn’t leave when the bell rang.”

 

She was among 18 people who spent a recent morning learning what it’s like to be principal in the Vista Unified School District.

 

The purpose of Principal For A Day, now in its third year, is to strengthen the school district’s ties to the community and give people a better understanding of how and what students are learning, said Superintendent Devin Vodicka.

 

“To support our work, we know it takes more than the school district,” Vodicka said.

 

Vista Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Bret Schanzenbach, who organized the event, said he spent much of his time with Bobier Elementary School Principal Jenifer Golden visiting classrooms instead of sitting in the principal’s office scolding students.

 

“Back in the old days, the principal would have had a lot of work to do just dealing with kids in trouble,” Schanzenbach said.

 

Discipline is a very small part of her job, Golden explained.

“We’re more instructional leaders, we’re trying to be more innovative,” Golden said. “We switched from a culture of ‘caught you being bad’ to a culture of ‘caught you being good.’”

 

Golden said her work also includes offering ongoing workshops for parents, many of whom struggle to learn English, and offering them access to computers to help them find jobs.

 

After dropping by a parent workshop, Schanzenbach said the connection Bobier has with parents was impressive. “They were engaged. They were just totally involved in what’s going on,” Schanzenbach said. “Engaging parents is ultimately a key to succeeding, and they’re engaging the parents really, really well here.”

 

Vista City Councilman John Aguilera said he was most impressed by the way students greeted him as he walked the hallways of Vista Magnet Middle School while going from class to class.

 

“The kids were a lot more respectful than I expected, well behaved, more than when I was in school,” Aguilera said.

He also was impressed with the way Principal Anne Green and her staff greet every student. 

 

That personal touch pays off with better student behavior, Green said. “Every time you personally check in with a student, you’re eliminating a potential discipline problem,” Green said.

 


Vista City Councilman John Aguilera meets with students at Vista Magnet Middle School to learn about their experiences.

 

Aguilera started his stint as fill-in principal at Vista Magnet by having coffee with Green, Assistant Principal Steve Post and three students – sixth grader Peyton Wilson, seventh-grader Perla Lopez and eighth-grader Juan Diaz.

 

“Since I was in second grade, I told my mom, ‘I want to come to Vista Magnet,” Perla said. She said the school’s reputation for offering rigorous classes was appealing.

 

Asked to name her favorite class, Perla said “I love every class, to be honest.” If there’s one thing she’d change, Perla said she’d strengthen the school’s counseling program.

 

Peyton, who was wearing a Mira Costa College sweat shirt, said she liked the friendly atmosphere at Vista Magnet.

 

“When I came into sixth grade, the teachers and Mrs. Green and Mr. Post were welcoming,” Peyton said. She wouldn’t change anything “because I think this school is great.”

 

Juan, who is thinking of attending California State University San Marcos, said Vista Magnet teachers “make a great effort to help everyone understand” what they’re studying, but he said the amount of homework he gets can be daunting.

 

It would help if teachers would coordinate the projects they assign so they’re not all due around the same time, Juan said.

 

“An amazing experience,” was how Vista Assistant City Clerk Kathy Valdez described the morning she spent at Vista Innovation & Design Academy with Principal Eric Chagala.

“I was just blown away by all the programs they have there,” Valdez said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/16/16




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By Ray Huard

 

A class of third graders at Bobier Elementary School couldn’t wait to bite into the snacks being passed around the room.

It was the week before Halloween, but it wasn’t candy bars or potato chips that had these kids excited.

 

Red grapes did it, sweet yet a little tart too, explained Amy Haessly, nutrition education and training supervisor for the Vista Unified School District.

 

Along with an emphasis on physical fitness, Bobier’s drive to improve the nutrition and health of its students and their families made Bobier one of six San Diego County elementary schools chosen for a three-year wellness development program by the Center for Community Health-School Wellness at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

 

“Bobier is the model of how to build a wellness program and a culture of wellness to achieve student success,” Haessly said.

On the day she introduced the third-graders to red grapes, Haessly also taught them how to interpret nutrition labels on food packages, from knowing that a calorie is a measure of the energy food provides to figuring out the size of a single serving.

 

“This is when your math skills really help out in the real world,” Haessly told the students as she had them figure out what a half-cup single serving of macaroni and cheese would look like.

Two handfuls, was the answer.

 


Amy Haessly, Vista Unified nutrition education and training supervisor, going over food labels with a third grade class.

 

Haessly has been training Bobier’s teachers on how to introduce lessons on nutrition into their regular class schedule in what Principal Jenifer Golden said was change in outlook “where it’s cool to eat healthy.”

 

“We’re already a school that’s passionate about this,” Golden said. “It’s a culture shift. We’re not there yet, but we’re making improvements every year.”

 


A Bobier Elementary third-grader samples red grapes

 

Getting picked for the UCSD program will help the school move faster and with a clear plan of action, Golden said.

 

The other schools picked for the UCSD program are Valencia Park and Ocean Beach elementary schools in the San Diego Unified School District, Sunset Elementary School in the San Ysidro Elementary School District, Julian Elementary School in the Julian Unified School District, and San Miguel Elementary School in the Lemon Grove School District.

 

To qualify, at least half of the students in a school must be receiving free or reduced lunches based on their family’s income. This year that accounts for about 77 percent of Bobier’s students, Golden said.

 

Each school in the program will get a variety of wellness-related services through UCSD, starting with an assessment of what they already have and their needs, said Kate Edra, UCSD program coordinator.

 

UCSD also will help the schools set up campus wellness councils, draft and adopt a school wellness policy, develop classroom nutrition lessons, and increase and track the students’ physical activity. The services UCSD will provide are valued at about $10,000 annually.

 

“After three years, we hope we can create a sustainable wellness program in this school,” Edra said of Bobier.

Bobier was chosen in part because the school has already made efforts at improving the wellness of its students and because of the enthusiasm of everyone at the school, from Golden on down, for expanding the school’s wellness efforts, Edra said.

 


Red grapes are a popular snack choice and healthy alternative to candy

 

That includes stepping up physical activity for students and teachers and replacing candy with nutritious snacks or other prizes at school events, Golden said.

 

The school also has structured soccer lessons at lunch led by Coast 2 Coast coaches. The lessons incorporate STEM (Science, Technology and Math) topics for students who learn best through hands-on or physical activities, Golden said.

They might learn to count while jumping rope, or improve their spelling by writing with the hands in sand, or learn about angles by playing golf, Golden said.

 

In addition to becoming part of the UCSD program, Bobier received a $500 “Spark Start Achievement Kit” of playground equipment like soccer balls and jumping ropes to encourage physical activities among students.

 

When the kids are busy playing sports or involved in other activities, they’re less likely to get into trouble, Golden said.

“The most discipline referrals at our school are during recess,” Golden said. When the kids are given an organized activity at recess, “We see fewer discipline referrals.”

 

Golden said her drive to partner with UCSD and push for a strong wellness program at Bobier was inspired by Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.

 

Vodicka has established a district group of “wellness ninjas” to promote good nutrition and physical fitness, among other things.

 

“Our superintendent challenges us to lead our sites and focus on wellness and balance to increase happiness, which increases attendance and achievement,” Golden said. “The wellness ninja group are district leaders who have made goals for this year, little things like challenging employees to eat fruit and vegetables in the lounge, take the stairs and park further away to walk more.”

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/12/16




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Published: 11/10/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Bobier Elementary School students were enthralled as San Diego Police Detective Mike Aiken led his drug sniffing dog through her paces.

 

“Dogs can smell hundreds of hundreds of times better than people,” Aiken explained, as his K-9 companion ran over to a pink suitcase and sat next to it.

 

“That’s her way of telling me, ‘It’s right here, Mike,’” Aiken said.

Aiken’s demonstration was part of the school’s celebration of Red Ribbon Week, a week-long drive to promote healthy living choices with an emphasis on avoiding illegal drugs.

 

“I learned that drugs are bad for you and if you do them, you might get sick, you might die, or you might go to jail,” said fourth-grader D.J. Burd. “My favorite part of the day was when we got to learn about the K-9 and how she finds the drugs.”

 

Aiken’s K-9 Labrador also was a big hit with fourth-graders Edgar Perez and Jaime Arevalo. “She’s so fluffy, I think she’s playful,” Jaime said. Edgar said he was surprised by the breed of the dog. “I thought she would be a German shepherd,” Edgar said.

 

Besides the drug sniffing dog, D.J. said he was impressed with an FBI display and presentation about cyber bullying and avoiding online predators.

 

“Sometimes, when I play my (online) games, people call each other stupid and they say the f-word to each other,” D.J. said. “I just say, ‘Don’t call them that because it’s inappropriate.”

FBI Community Outreach Specialist Cheryl Dorenbush said that by the time they reach eighth grade, most students have encountered online bullying.

 

“By the time they’re in high school, most have been exposed to online predators, been approached by online predators and they don’t even know it,” Dorenbush said. “The main thing is, they should never agree to go meet someone they met online. That’s the new stranger-danger.”

 

Dorenbush urged the students to check out an online video game the FBI has developed, FBI-SOS (https://sos.fbi.gov) for students in grades three through eight that promotes online citizenship and teaches them how to recognize and respond to online dangers.

 

“We think it’s so important that you be safe online that we designed an entire game around this,” Dorenbush told the Bobier students. “You’ll pretend like you’re a special agent going undercover.”

 

Along with sending an anti-drug message, Red Ribbon Week honors the memory of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Mexican-born Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who was kidnapped and killed by drug dealers in 1985.

 

DEA agents were among those presenting anti-drug messages at Bobier, including a photographic display of the physical ravages caused by methamphetamine abuse. The agents also gave students a tour of a mobile command center and let them try on bullet proof vests.

 

“It’s important to get them at this age,” said DEA Special Agent Amy Roderick. “If we can get them to make a decision to never try the stuff (drugs), that puts us way ahead. I figure if I get one or two kids at every school, I’m doing good.”

 

First grade teacher Jennifer Hovell, who organized Bobier’s Red Ribbon Week, said the lessons students learn go beyond the school.

 

“They’re going to take it home, they’re going to have conversations with their families, they’re going to have conversations with their siblings,” Hovell said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/8/16




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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Dave Palmer, Dunk Tank Marketing | (619) 800-3865 | dave@dunktankmarketing.com

 

Vista School District To Host Education Innovators

60 Leading educators to tour district schools as part of

Next Gen Learning Challenge Excursion

 

Vista, CA | November 7, 2016 – With another nod to its growing reputation as an educational innovator, the Vista Unified School District will host leading educators from across the US as part of the Next Gen Learning Challenge excursion to observe leading San Diego schools, held on November 14-15, 2016. Organized by Next Gen Learning Challenges, an initiative of Educause, this excursion will see participants visiting three VUSD schools to see the implementation of Vista’s Personal Learning efforts.

 

The education practitioners hail from across the United States and include teachers, school leaders, charter and district leaders, and others from organizations supporting next gen school models. These educators are in the midst of reimagining public education and at different stages of implementing a redesigned school model. Other schools visited during the two-day excursion include e3 Civic High School, Thrive Academy, and High Tech High School.

 

On Monday, November 14th, participants will visit three VUSD schools that have been implementing a Personal Learning Pathway for their students: Temple Heights Elementary School, an Apple Distinguished Program school; Rancho Minerva Middle School, whose video production team won the national Panasonic KWN competition; and Vista High School, recent recipient of a $10 million XQ Super School grant. Each of these schools is implementing a Personal Learning approach that helps students take control of their own learning pathway.

 

“This is another fantastic opportunity for Vista to welcome leading education minds from across the country and share the story of how we are implementing this transformative approach to learning,” says Dr. Matt Doyle, Vista’s Assistant Superintendent of Innovation. “We’ve said that Personal Learning is our ‘moon shot,’ and we’re on our way to scaling it across the entire district. Visits like these allow us to showcase our work as well as learn from some of the finest educators in the country.”

 

Speaking to Vista’s work in this area, Next Gen Learning Challenge’s Program Officer and Director of K-12 Operations, Stefanie Blouin, says, “Vista is a district engaging in transformation around personalized learning. We are especially interested in the district aspect as well as their approach to engaging teachers and stakeholders in the process. The size of the district and the boldness of their work is inspiring.”

Vista Unified is in the midst of a collaborative effort with San Diego’s e3 Civic High School, located at the new downtown library. Vista USD and e3 are using the excursion as a way to explore each other's models and work more intently, and to foster a strong connection to support each other in their work. The excursion allows participants to see this collaborative model up close.

 

The Next Gen Learning Challenge excursion is yet another in a streak of visits from leading edge educators for Vista USD. The spring saw the district host a Digital Promise conference in conjunction with the ASU-GSV Ed-Tech conference. This fall has already seen Vista host the AASA Superintendent’s cohort as well as the #GoOpen Summit, in conjunction with the California and US Departments of Education.

 

“Our goal is to be the model of educational excellence and innovation,” says Vista Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka. “Hosting events like this allow us to sharpen ourselves among the best thinkers and practitioners in the country, as well as showcase the fantastic work our schools are doing in our Personal Learning transformation.”

 

Doyle, Blouin and other participants are available for interviews, and media are invited to join visits to the school sites and speak with students and participants on the 14th between 9:30 – 11:30 AM.

 

About Next Generation Learning Challenges

Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) supports the educators who are reimagining public education—from helping them take what they know about learning and apply it to school design, to issuing challenge grants that enable practitioners to completely redesign their schools. NGLC recognizes that in order to make education more about learning and less about teaching, we need to support those educators with the vision to transform their schools and the passion and courage to pursue it.  Learn more about NGLC at http://nextgenlearning.org.

 

NGLC is an initiative of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. Funding for NGLC has been provided principally by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

 

For more information or to schedule an interview or site visit, contact Dave Palmer.

 

###

 

Media Contact:

Dave Palmer

For Vista Unified School District

619-800-3865

dave@dunktankmarketing.com

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/5/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Normally, Delores Loedel would be teaching accounting classes to college students, but on a recent morning, she took over a class of kindergarteners at Olive Elementary School.

 

“We start very, very simply,” said Loedel, whose usual environment is at the head of a classroom at Mira Costa College. “Right now, they’re identifying needs and wants.” You might want a shiny new car, but what you need is a place to live and food on the table, she explained.

 

Loedel was one of 14 volunteers who spent a morning at Olive in the Vista Unified School District as part of a financial literacy program put on by Junior Achievement of San Diego County – JA Day. “The earlier we start with the children, the better,” Loedel said. “As a state, California was rated F in financial literacy.”

 

In a 2015 study by Champlain Colleges Career for Financial Literacy, California was one of 12 states given an F rating. The low rating was based on the lack of financial literacy classes in high school.

 

Olive Principal Stephanie Vasquez said she thought it was important to introduce elementary school students to basic economics and what they might want do with their lives.

 

“Our motto is, ‘where kids think big.’ It gets kids thinking about real world problems,” Vasquez said. “My hope, by partnering with Junior Achievement, is to have an engaging opportunity where we work with career and community leaders in order to have our kids learn about potential careers, innovation and entrepreneurship skills that prepare them for a successful future.”

 

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Junior Achievement volunteer Cassidy Pacheco reviewing lessons with Olive Elementary students

 

For JA Day at Olive, each volunteer was assigned to a classroom, where they went over economic basics from how to make money by doing chores around the house to how to start a business and become an entrepreneur, depending on the grade level of the students.

 

“These are really, really important concepts that we feel all kids need to be prepared for,” aid Kerri Dejager, North County coastal education manager for Junior Achievement.

 

Fourth-grader Lillyanna Cervantes said she learned “that if you want a job, you need skills. You don’t want to go into a job and say, ‘I want a job, but don’t have the skills,'” said Lillyanna, who wants to be an engineer or a scientist.

 

Fifth-grader Veronica Quesada, who wants to be a singer or a lawyer said, “I learned how to choose what job I want.”

 

Volunteer Darcy Wolfe, a financial planner with Edward Jones, gave a combination class of fourth and fifth- graders a lesson in how the free market works using items that the students took from their backpacks, like rulers and pencils.

 

The students put price tags on what they chose, compared their prices with those of other students, then adjusted their prices to be competitive.

 

At the start of the day, “they couldn’t pronounce entrepreneur, but they’re learning,” said Wolfe, who served in the Navy for 25 years and was a management consultant before becoming a financial adviser.

 

Aside from the basics in economics, Wolfe said that her message to students is “to recognize the variety of opportunities that are out there.”

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/3/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Vista Unified School District threw itself a birthday party bash recently, celebrating a year of achievement and starting a scholarship fund. “Really, it is a great time to be here,” Superintendent Devin Vodicka said at a fundraising dinner at Shadowridge Golf Course on October 5th..

 

An estimated $3,000 was raised as part of the celebration to go into a scholarship fund for graduating high school seniors, which Vodicka said was particularly significant this school year.

The graduating class of 2017 will be the first to be eligible for automatic admission to California State University San Marcos under terms of a 2013 agreement Vista Unified signed with the university.

 

To qualify, high school students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or more and complete certain courses.

“Let’s keep our focus on kids and keep our focus on this particular class of seniors as they move forward,” Vodicka said. “Our purpose is to inspire.”

Setting the tone for the anniversary celebration, Board of Education President Rich Alderson said, “I don’t know that there’s too many places where we can get a celebration of 100 years of quality education.”

 

Vista Unified’s achievements have been recognized across the nation, with more than 2,000 educators visiting district schools in the 2015-2016 school year and more coming this year, Vodicka said.

 

“They’re reaching out to us, saying, ‘We’re hearing what’s happening (in Vista) and we want to see it,” Vodicka said. “It’s a great time to be here.”

 

Among the district’s more notable achievements cited by Vodicka were the September selection of Jenny Anderson as one of five San Diego County teachers of the year and a $10 million, five-year “high school of the future” grant won in September by Vista High School through XQ: The Super School Project.

 

Anderson, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher and coach at Vista Unified’s Casita Center for Technology, Science and Math, was one of five county educators named California teachers of the year.

It’s been 25 years since Vista Unified had had a teacher to receive such an honor, Vodicka said.

 

Another Vista Unified teacher cited by Vodicka, Anne Fennell, was one of 10 finalists in the nation for the 2016 Music Educator Award by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation. Fennell heads the performing arts department at Mission Vista High School.

 

The achievement of Anderson and Fennell is “just a great reflection of the quality of teachers we have in the district,” Vodicka said.

 

The $10 million grant to Vista High School, aside from its sheer size, is notable because Vista High was one of only 10 schools to receive a grant from among about 700 that competed.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Vodicka said.

 

Vista Unified students also are making their mark, Vodicka said, citing former high school students Blanca Hernandez and Cassandra “Cassie” Molano and Vista Magnet Middle School students Lexie Kondo, Victoria Arsenault and Karsyn Lee as examples.

 

Blanca, who graduated from Vista High School in June, received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for forming a school club that focused on helping English learners improve their language, social and academic skills.

 

Cassie, who graduated from Rancho Buena Vista High School, was named a Gates Millennium Scholar and awarded a full college scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

The middle school students designed and crafted an experiment that was performed on the International Space Station to see if a type of organic strawberry seeds would germinate in a microgravity environment. They did.

 

Vodicka said several district schools also received special recognition during the 2015-2016 school year.

 

Among them, Monte Vista and Temple Heights elementary schools were chosen from among hundreds in the country to receive grants to implement a program aimed at teaching children to become leaders. They each received grants of $45,000 from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me” program, which teaches leadership skills, such as being proactive, setting goals and listening before speaking.

 

Also, Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts was one of two schools in the state to win recognition from the California Department of Education for three separate achievements – the academic achievement of its students, having an outstanding arts program and for being an overall model of excellence. Vista Academy was one of 496 Gold Ribbon Schools in California for the 2015-2016 school year.

 

Accolades also went to Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA) as one of three schools in San Diego County chosen as sites for Qualcomm-sponsored labs. The labs are modeled after Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab at its Sorrento Valley base. Middle school students use the labs to work on projects and learn about careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

 

“More than anything, tonight is a celebration of 100 amazing years,” Vodicka said.

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/27/16




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GoOpenRecap.jpg
 

By Ray Huard

 

Change comes fast, and sometimes teachers can no longer rely on printed textbooks to give their students the most relevant and up-to-date information, but finding alternatives is a daunting challenge.

 

“We know that educators are already doing this, searching for resources,” said Kristina Peters, an open education fellow with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.

 

To help meet the challenge of finding the right resources, educators from around the nation met at a recent #GoOpen regional summit hosted by the Vista Unified School District with help from the U.S Department of Education and the California Department of Education.

 

#GoOpen is a national initiative aimed at helping teachers use material from the Internet in their lessons. California is one of 17 states to have a statewide #GoOpen initiative.

 

Known as Open Educational Resources (OERs), the online material at the heart of the #GoOpen initiative is available for teachers to use, edit, modify and distribute.

 

They can include everything from scientific studies and educational videos to lesson plans developed and shared by other teachers.

 

“It’s a boon to educators,” said Vista Unified Board of Education Trustee Elizabeth Jaka. “It captures kids and engages them. These kids don’t want to sit at a desk with a textbook in front of them.”

 

Increasingly, school districts that are using OERs are also using money that would have gone to buy textbooks to train teachers on how to best use what they get online, Peters said.

“We’re reinvesting in our teachers,” Peters said.

 

The push to use online material coincides with a move by many school districts, including Vista Unified, to move away from traditional teaching methods in which all students in a class learned the same material at the same time.

 

Instead, Vista Unified and other school districts are developing personal learning programs in which lessons are tailored to meet the needs and interests of each student individually.

The emphasis is on a student’s strengths and “providing students with an abundance of options,” said Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.

 

“Eventually, we want to see students moving at their own speed, tied to their goals and real- world problem solving,” Vodicka said.

 

Using open resource, online material is a critical part of that, said Erin English, who organized the #GoOpen summit and is Vista Unified’s director of blended learning and principal of Vista Visions Academy.

 

“We give students relevant material, we don’t rely on one source,” English said. “We want to find creative places for students to go” online.

 

English and Marcia Mardis, an associate professor at Florida State University, said school librarians will play an increasingly important role in the transition to online learning.

 

They’re the ones who will have to keep track of what resources are available and best match the needs of teachers and how teachers can find it. “We can’t just leave it to teachers, because that’s not fair,” Mardis said.

 

The Vista summit was the third such event in the nation as the U.S. Department of Education ramps up its #GoOpen initiative. “The fact that the U.S. Department of Education invited us to partner with them is a great credit to our team,” Vodicka said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/17/16




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Vista Unified Recognized with Top Statewide Honor

Golden Bell Award Highlights Effectiveness of “Personal Learning Challenge”;

District’s “Moonshot” Gaining Momentum

 

Vista, CA | October 13, 2016 – The Vista Unified School District has been chosen as a recipient of the state’s leading educational honor, the Golden Bell Award. The Golden Bell Award, now in its 37th year, is sponsored by the California School Boards Association. The award recognizes public school programs that are innovative and sustainable, make a demonstrated difference for students and focus on meeting the needs of all public school students. Vista’s is one of 56 awards granted this year.

 

Vista Unified will receive its award at a recognition ceremony to be held on Saturday, December 3 from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Francisco at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis located at 780 Mission Street.

 

The Personal Learning Challenge program was developed in Vista Unified to address the community need for a greater level of student engagement and ownership of the learning process. The goal of the Personal Learning Challenge project is to create a custom learning pathway that is personalized for each student. According to Dr. Matt Doyle, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation, the Personal Learning project is “our district moonshot that challenges the traditional model of one-size-fits-all education.”

 

Six VUSD schools were involved in the Personal Learning Challenge program: Casita Elementary, Rancho Minerva Middle, Temple Heights Elementary, VIDA Middle, Vista Visions Academy, and recent XQ Super School award winner, Vista High School.

 

“Following digital infusion, personal learning is the next great lever of education in our country. Students who experience it will be better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century talent economy,” said Vista Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka.

 

Visit www.vistausd.org/blueprint to learn more about the Personal Learning Challenge.

 

Experts from school districts and county offices of education made up the 16-member judging panel that reviewed the written entries and made the initial recommendations for the awards. On-site validators assessed the programs in action.

 

“California’s K-12 public schools continue to produce some of the nation’s best and brightest students, and our Golden Bell recipients are a reflection of that excellence as well as the spirit of innovation which is so characteristic of this state,” said CSBA CEO and Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “The Golden Bell Awards recognize the quality and the determination of school leaders from across California in meeting the needs of California's students through award-winning programs and services.”

 

CSBA is the non-profit education association representing the elected officials who govern public school districts and county offices of education. With a membership of nearly 1,000 educational agencies statewide, CSBA brings together school governing boards and district and county office administrators to advocate for effective policies that advance the education and well-being of the state’s more than 6 million school-age children. Learn more at http://www.csba.org.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/12/16




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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 10/11/16




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By Ray Huard

 

Awesome, amazing and prodigy are some of the terms people use to describe 17-year-old music composer Joseph Mumper.

Winning would be another.

 

Joseph, a senior at Mission Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District, won an award as the best digital music composition in the country in a national competition by The Technology for Music Education (TI:ME), a nonprofit organization that promotes music education.

 

Joseph won for a piece he titled “A Call to Arms.”

 

“I’m really excited that my music is getting recognition,” said Joseph, who dreams of one day writing movie scores. “I really feel motivated to keep going.”

 

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Mission Vista High School Senior Joseph Mumper

 

The recognition is well-deserved, said Anne Fennell, who teaches music composition at Mission Vista High School in Oceanside. Vista Unified includes some sections of Oceanside, where about a third of its students live.

 

“His music is very emotive, it’s very strong,” Fennell said of Joseph. “It’s created on computer. Everything is from scratch, everything is 100 percent new.”

 

“Stellar” is how Fennell described “A Call to Arms.”

 

“When I hear it, I see it as a movie score. It’s orchestral, it’s expressive, it’s emotive, it’s truly a piece that reflects his gifts,” Fennell said. “To me, there’s a patriotic aspect to it, there is an honor aspect to it.”

 

The piece is somber and moody at times, but also inspirational with a martial tone. It intersperses strings, horns and piano along with choral sounds here and there throughout the piece.

Joseph said he sees it as foreshadowing and setting the scene for some sort of battle, perhaps knights on horseback gathering as they prepare to fight.

 

“I was just trying to visualize the scene, kind of create what comes from that,” Joseph said.

 

He gets his inspiration from movies like “Lord of the Rings.”

“I’m a big ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan,” Joseph said. “I really enjoy the music from movies, just the soundtrack from them.”

Not surprisingly, Joseph’s favorite music group is Two Steps from Hell, which produces music for movies and television along with its own albums. “I enjoy almost any genre, and can listen to anything,” Joseph said.

 

Music is kind of a tradition in Joseph’s family. He said his mother plays a variety of instruments, mainly the piano and guitar. His younger brother, Christopher, plays saxophone at Vista High School, where he is a freshman. Joseph played the clarinet in middle school, and plays the keyboard and drums at Grace Chapel of the Coast in Oceanside.

 

He became interested in writing music after taking his first composition course with Fennell three years ago. “I see myself as a musician and a composer, but mostly a composer,” Joseph said.

 

After high school, he plans to study music composition at either Biola University in La Mirada or Azusa Pacific University in San Diego.

 

Wherever he goes, Fennell said she expects Joseph to excel.

“I think he’s realized what a gift he has,” Fennell said. “He can communicate many emotions in his music. It’s phenomenal.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/3/16




Audience: Homepage

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By Ray Huard

 

*** UPDATED OCTOBER 1, 2016 ***
 

Eleven-year-old Gavin Gamino wants to be a major league baseball player. Failing that, Gavin said that he wants to do something with science or math – his favorite subjects in school.

 

“What I like about science is you can do experiments and test new things and help the world grow,” Gavin said. “What I like about math is it helps you add up what you need at a grocery story.”

 

Gavin and his mom, Jamie Gamino, were among dozens of elementary school students and their parents who came to a career fair at Monte Vista Elementary School to learn about a variety of careers, from welding to law, and talk with representatives of several colleges and universities.

 

The career fair – the second Monte Vista has hosted - was open to all elementary school students in the Vista Unified School District and featured career choices ranging from dentistry, nursing and law enforcement to welding, engineering and firefighting.

 

Among those participating were dentist Douglas Hope, financial planner John Steccato, Solutions for Change Farm, JR Filanc Construction, Neza Financing, Green Team Real Estate, Garden of Eden Farms, Vista Community Clinic, Spark Mobile Welder, the Vista Library and the City of Vista.

 

Several colleges and universities also sent representatives, including California State University San Marcos, the University of San Diego, San Diego State University and Ashford University.

 

While elementary school might seem early to be talking about going to college or choosing a career, “I hope they’re seeing possibilities that they didn’t see before,” said Monte Vista Principal Charlene Smith.

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said, “Our perspective is that it is never too early for children to dream about their future. We want every student to have aspirations that encourage them to work hard, to persevere, and to do well in their studies so that they have abundant opportunities for success."

 

Several parents expressed similar sentiments. “It gives them the opportunity to see what options are out there,” said Resa Baker. “For them to start early is great. It’s planting the seed.”

 

Her 8-year-old son, Reese Early, said he wants a career “helping people,” and thought being a firefighter or in the military might be a suitable career for him.

 

Jamie Gamino was doing double duty – helping Gavin learn about careers that might interest him and talking to other students about her work as a beautician and hair stylist.

 

“I’m happy to give them information about a career, the earlier the better,” said Gamino, who also makes jewelry and water color paintings. “It’s a good way to start to have a plan.”

 

Nine-year-old Brayden Hubert said he wants to be a sports professional, but he wasn’t sure what sport. His mom, Ambermarie Stein, said that, “He’s toyed around with a few things – a pilot at one point, then the military or a firefighter.”

 

Financial planner John Steccato could relate. “I wanted to play left field for the New York Yankees,” Steccato said. “All I cared about at their age was going out and playing baseball.”

 

What do you tell elementary school students about being a financial planner? “I just say I handle their parents’ money, I help mom and dad save money,” Steccato said. He also urges even young students to get involved with community projects, which can help them earn scholarships later on if they do decide to go to college.

 

Posing for photos in a blue graduation cap-and-gown, 9-year old Kiea Moore said she wants to be a singer, just like her mom, Ruth Moore, who was a professional singer in Iceland before moving to the United States.

 

Because of her career, Moore said she never got beyond high school in her education but wants Kiea to get a college degree, no matter what career she follows. “We always talk about that, it’s so important,” Moore said. “Education is everything. If you don’t want to struggle, you have to have an education.”

 

Kiea’s dad, Joseph Moore, said he’d like Kiea to become a doctor or maybe an X-ray technician, like Kiea’s older sister.

“Whatever she wants to be, she needs that education,” Joseph Moore said.

 

School nurse Cynthia Boles said that she wants students to learn that they can have more than one career in their life. “I always wanted to be a mom, and I did that first, and I went to nursing school when I as 42-years-old,” said Boles, who has five children ranging in age from 16 to 30.  “You can do one thing with your life, then do something different.”

 

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School nurses Cynthia Boles and Anna Higge talk with attendees about careers in nursing.

 

Welder Jason Gorgol of Sparks Mobile Welding had a similar story. “I always wanted to be a truck driver, then I got tired of driving trucks,” Gorgol said, so he trained to become a welder.

His message is that trades, like welding, are rewarding careers for students who aren’t college bound. “I love to create things and build things,” Gorgol said.

 

ORIGINAL STORY

 

A dentist and a lawyer, a builder and a chef, a firefighter and a sheriff’s deputy – those are just some of the people who will talk about what they do for a living as part of a Monte Vista Elementary School College and Career Fair Sept. 29.

 

Scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. at the school, 1720 Monte Vista Road, Vista, the fair is open to students from all elementary schools in the Vista Unified School District.

 

“I hope that the kids see that their future is their choice, that there are so many options that are available to them, that whatever they can imagine for themselves, that they can realize their goals,” said Monte Vista Principal Charlene Smith.

“We are trying to create and make students aware of a pathway from elementary school through college and career,” Smith said.

 

More than 50 people from a wide-range of careers will be on hand, Smith said, along with representatives of every middle school and high school in Vista Unified School District.

 

Several colleges and universities also are sending representatives, including California State University San Marcos, San Diego State University, the University of California San Diego, the University of San Diego, Ashford University and the University of Redlands, Smith said.

 

Although elementary school may seem a bit early for children to be thinking about career and college prospects, Smith said it’s important to expose even children as young as kindergarten to a wide range of possibilities to inspire them and give them a sense that they can set their goals high.

 

“You think of a small child, and he sees a sheriff in uniform or a paramedic with his vehicle, or a construction guy with his tools, you’re creating an interest in a career they might not have even known existed,” Smith said.

 

Now in its second year, the career fair also meshes with Monte Vista’s place as No Excuses University network of schools, a nationwide organization that promotes the notion that higher education should be an option for everyone, Smith said. “Our brand at Monte Vista is ‘where leaders grow, college, career and life,” she said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/27/16




Audience: Homepage

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By Ray Huard

 

Slimy and smelly, was how three Vista Magnet Middle School students described the package that came back to them from the International Space Station.

 

“It was really gross,” said Karsyn Lee.

 

“To me, it smelled like rotten ranch dressing,” said Lexie Kondo.

Karsyn, Lexie and Victoria Arsenault designed and crafted an experiment to see if organic strawberry seeds could germinate in the microgravity of the space station.

 

Smelly or not, their experiment proved that seeds can germinate in microgravity.

 

“It made me feel really accomplished and that I could do anything,” Karsyn said after seeing the results of their experiment.

 

Three of the eight seeds the students sent to the space station aboard a Space X rocket earlier this year germinated in an experiment completed by station astronauts. Their experiment was chosen as part of the Student Spaceflights Experiment Program (SSEP), which was started by the National Center for Earth and Space Science in partnership with NanoRacks LLC to promote interest in space and education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

 

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Vista Magnet Middle School students Lexie Kondo, Victoria Arsenault and Karsyn Lee with their recently returned experiment from the International Space Station

 

To compare what happened on the space station to what would happen in a normal environment, the students conducted an identical experiment on the ground.

 

Two of eight seeds in the ground experiment germinated, although one got farther along than those in the space station. “The International Space Station seeds actually really surprised me,” Karsyn said. “I didn’t think there was a possibility to germinate in space.”

 

Adhering to protocols set by NASA, their experiment divided a 6 ½-inch plastic tube into three chambers with a valve connecting each chamber.

 

The seeds in rock wool soil were in one chamber, a mixture of willow water and honey was in the second chamber, and a clear solution of formalin to preserve the seeds once the experiment was completed was in the third. Astronauts released the clamps on the space station, first allowing the willow water and honey to mix with the seeds in the soil, then later releasing a clamp to mix-in the formalin.

 

Vista Magnet science teacher Stephanie Sanchez said that the experiment Karsyn, Lexie and Victoria made mimics the methods and research subjects of working scientists trying to determine if astronauts can grow their own food rather than bring it with them.

 

“It’s a question we are asking as we think about colonizing Mars,” Sanchez said.

 

The students will present their research results at California State University and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

 

Karsyn, Victoria and Lexie, now eighth-graders, came up with their seed experiment when they were in sixth grade, winning a competition among Vista Magnet’s 900 students.

 

“I didn’t think I’d be able to beat out eight graders because they have a lot more experience,” Karsyn said.

 

Lexie hopes hope the success of the experiment will encourage other students “to persevere through challenges.”

“I hope they’re inspired to keep on, even if they fail, because we failed,” Karsyn said. “We had to recreate our project many times.”

 

Working on the space station experiment has stimulated an increased interest in science in general and space in particular at Vista Magnet.

 

“Science is really cool,” said Victoria, who wants to become a U.S. Navy anesthesiologist or a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. “I’ve always liked medical things,” Victoria said.

 

Karsyn’s goal is to become a veterinarian, working with small animals. “I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian since I was little,” Karsyn said. Lexie is interested in meteorology and astronomy.

 

Accompanying the seed experiment to and from the space station were paper patches designed by Callie O’Connor, now a sophomore at Mission Vista High School, and Daisy Sanchez, a seventh-grader at Vista Magnet. Callie was in eighth grade at Vista Magnet when she drew her patch design and Daisy was in fifth grade at Grapevine Elementary School.

 

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Callie O'Connor (L) and Daisy Sanchez (R) showcase their winning patch designs for the project.

 

The patches were selected in a competition open to all Vista Unified students, with one winner from elementary school and one from upper levels.

 

Daisy said she was excited and shocked when her drawing was chosen, “because I wasn’t such a great artist in fifth grade.”

 

Her drawing was of Grapevine’s mascot, a bear, landing on the moon. The bear is wearing a blue space suit, holding a helmet against a blue background next to a black spaceship with the letters “USA” on its side. The phrase, “Education is the Future,” is printed in yellow lettering in the upper right corner of the square patch. “I really want to study more about science,” said Daisy, whose career goal is to become a nurse.

 

Callie, who plans to study veterinary science at the University of California Davis, said she was equally surprised to learn that her patch was going up to the space station.

 

Her round patch shows a gray rocket blasting off from a green and blue Earth against a black background to represent outer space. The patch has a maroon border, Vista Magnet’s school color. The letters SSEP and VMMS are printed on the side of the rocket, standing for Vista Magnet Middle School and the Student Spaceflights Experiment Program. “I like to draw,” Callie said, but, “when I submitted it, I didn’t think I would win.”

 

Vista Magnet students were so excited about the space station adventure that Principal Anne Green said plans are under way to repeat it, but expanding the competition to include students from Vista Innovation & Design Academy, a Vista Unified middle school, and High Tech High School in San Marcos.

 

The new project is being coordinated by Open Source Maker Labs in Vista, Green said. “It’s going to be fun and it will raise the bar a little bit,” Green said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/20/16




Audience: Homepage

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We couldn't be more thrilled for the team at Vista High School for being awarded a $10 million grant from the XQ Super School Project. Vista High was one of ten schools across the country to receive a grant, with XQ awarding over $100 million in grants to schools that applied with detailed plans for how they are re-thinking what high school can be.

 

A catalyst for Vista High's application was the Personal Learning Academy that started in the 2015-2016 school year. The grant will help to scale that personal learning process t the school and equip teachers, staff and students for new ways of teaching and learning.

 

There's more developing on this story, so we'll share some links to local media coverage of the project.

 

San Diego Union-Tribune

ABC 10 News

NBC 7 News

 

To learn more about Vista Challenge High School, the name adopted by the team submitting the XQ grant, click here.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/15/16




Audience: Homepage

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UPDATED OCTOBER 25, 2016

 

By Ray Huard

 

Jenny Chien Anderson was walking her dog when she got a message on her cell phone – she was one of five people named California teachers of the year.

 

“It’s all very surreal,” said Anderson, who teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Casita Center for Science and Math in the Vista Unified School District.

 

After getting in her car to check the message, Anderson said she checked and had to recheck it because she couldn’t believe it. “It was a super emotional thing to hear, and I was alone in the car on my way to school. I was so overwhelmed,” Anderson said.

 

At the end of the school day, after Principal Laura Smith announced that Anderson was a state teacher of the year, the entire school erupted into what Anderson described as “a group hurrah.”

 

“It was just amazing, it was so incredibly sweet,” Anderson said. “I felt so much warmth from everyone.”

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Click here to watch a KUSI report from October 24, 2016

 

Teaching was not the career Anderson, 30, thought she’d follow. She moved to the United States from Taiwan with her parents when she was 5-years-old and figured she’d have some sort of business career, like her father and mother. They ran an import/export business in Los Angeles with stores in San Diego and Chicago.

 

“My initial thought was, I’d probably go into business and take it internationally,” Anderson said.

 

Initially, she majored in economics at the University of California San Diego. After a year, on her mother’s advice, she changed majors and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies with an emphasis on sociology and East Asian studies and a minor in education.

 

Anderson said she wanted a career that would have an impact on people’s lives, and going into business wasn’t going to do that in the way that she wanted to make social change in the world. “I’m more of a creative person,” Anderson said.

 

While at UCSD, Anderson partnered with IBM to create a program, eMentoring@UCSD, to help connect kids at San Diego’s Logan Heights Elementary School with IBM employees and UCSD students.

 

She finished her undergraduate work in three years and earned a master’s degree in education and completed a teacher credential graduate program at UCSD through their Education Studies Department in 2007.

 

Her first teaching job was at Casita, “It was so weird because I had fifth graders who were nine, 10 or 11 and I was 21. I was only 10 years older than them,” Anderson said. “I was a kid, but it really helped me connect with kids and build a strong rapport.”

 

Anderson rarely sits still.

 

“My parents were always telling me to channel my energy,” Anderson said. “Even now, I’m constantly moving, so I empathize with students who have the same needs.”

 

At home, she’s constantly on her computer, looking for things that she can use with her students or communicating with friends on social media. “I’m constantly on Twitter, the Twitter-verse. I love looking at new ideas that everyone is trying and thinking about how I can adapt it to meet my students’ needs,” Anderson said. “I’m a little nerd.”

 

She also admits to being “a big foodie,” and one of her favorite pastimes is trying out new restaurants with friends. Her favorite television show is reruns of “Law & Order,” but she’s also big on science fiction and comedy. “I think it’s neat to imagine all the possibilities,” Anderson said.

 

Travel is also big on her list of activities. Her father moved back to Taiwan a few years back, and Anderson returns to visit him several times a year. Her mother passed away two years ago but Anderson said she carries her spirit around everywhere she goes.

 

In high school, Anderson played soccer and volleyball and pole vaulted in track and field. She rowed crew in college.

Longtime friend Katie King, who rowed with her, said Anderson was a fierce competitor.

 

She wanted to be the coxswain, who sits in the stern of the boat and is responsible for steering it and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers, but King said Anderson proved so adept that she became the lead rower.

 

“She seemed to have a mindset that she would do whatever she put her mind to,” King said. “I would say that she empowers you and brings you up with her energy. No matter what kind of day you’re having, she’ll just make you feel good.”

 

Anderson also can be persuasive, and talked King into becoming assistant coach of a youth soccer team. “I actually never played soccer in my life.” King said. “It was Jenny and her attitude, her enthusiasm. She said, ‘You can do this.’”

 

Cindy Lieu, who teaches fifth grade at Casita and often joins Anderson and others for a girls-night-out, said Anderson is shy but also “definitely a joker” when she’s with friends. “She’s very enthusiastic, easily excited and very eager to learn anything that she doesn’t understand,” Lieu said. “A lot of people look to her to see how they can change-up a lesson to be a little more engaging or have more engineering concepts.”

 

School Superintendent Devin Vodicka, in a letter recommending Anderson as a teacher of the year, said she “possesses a number of skills that will ensure her success in any role, including an unparalleled work ethic and the ability to make global connections and think in a strategic manner.”

 

Similarly, Casita Principal Laura Smith wrote that Anderson has an “innate ability to design lessons that bring out the best in students.”

 

Anderson’s advice to other teachers is “just focus on the kids’ strengths and allow them to discover their passions.” She also urges her colleagues to offer their students lessons in STEM and computer science.

 

Anderson hopes her students, especially the girls, will see her as a role model in following STEM careers. “Girls outnumber boys in college, and yet, there’s such a small percentage of girls that are pursuing engineering or science careers,” Anderson said. “It’s really disheartening.”

 

Looking ahead, Anderson said that she can’t imagine herself doing anything that’s not education-related. “I love my job. It made me a stronger person, more patient and reflective,” Anderson said. “As our world is changing, teaching is never stagnant. I’m constantly thinking about how to evolve with education and with the kids.”

 

Original Story, Posted September 11, 2016

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Click the image above to see the KUSI story about the teachers of the year.
 

Casita Center for Science, Technology and Math STEM teacher Jenny Anderson was named one of five Teachers Of The Year from San Diego County on Saturday night, September 10th. Anderson was chosen among some 26,000+ teachers in the county, and becomes one of just 161 teachers to receive the honor since it was introduced in 1974.

 

Anderson was interviewed on KUSI's "Good Morning San Diego program on Sunday morning along with the four other recipients of the award. 

 

“My role is to create opportunities for students to discover their strengths to make inquiries, collaborate, lead and take action,” Anderson said.

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said Anderson “represents the best in our profession.”

 

“She is relentless in her pursuit to connect with the strengths and interests of every student,” Vodicka said. “She inspires the students by challenging them with real-world problems. She is a leader with personal learning and computer science. Ms. Anderson embodies educational excellence and innovation and I am thrilled that she is part of our learning community in Vista.”

 

Anderson, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when she was 5-years-old, is a visionary and exemplar of the American Dream, said Casita Principal Laura Smith.

 

“Jenny is inspired by the future and what could be,” Smith said.

 

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Casita Center Principal Laura Smith (left) and Jenny Anderson (right) at the Cox Salute To Teachers event Saturday, September 10th.

 

Said Vodicka, “We have incredible educators in Vista Unified and throughout San Diego County. We are honored that one of our own has been selected as one of the top five in the region.

Anderson was honored earlier this year and one of six teachers and others given Golden Apple Awards in February by the Vista Unified Board of Education for exemplary work over the past year.

 

Anderson and the four others named county Teachers of the Year will represent San Diego County in the California Teacher of the Year program later this year.

 

Named with Anderson were:

- Brooke Crocker, who teaches Advance Placement U.S. History, U.S. History at Santana High School in the Grossmont Union High School District

 

- Stuart Douglas who teaches biology at Granger Junior High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District

 

- Megan Gross, whose classroom is the home base for students in the Autism Spectrum Disorders program at Del Norte High School in the Poway Unified School District

 

- Amy Schwenke who teaches kindergarten at Fallbrook Street School in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.

 

They were chosen from among 43 teachers who were nominated from the San Diego County region, which has about 26,000 public school teachers.

 

Anderson and her four other honorees will represent San Diego for California Teacher Of The Year. In the past, 19 San Diego teachers have been honored with the statewide award, and three of those were named National Teacher of The Year.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/11/16




Audience: Homepage

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By Ray Huard

 

A group of fifth graders at Foothill-Oak Elementary school saw a homeless couple near their school on a rare rainy day.

They talked about what it would be like to be stuck in the rain with no shelter, to be homeless.

 

They wanted to do something about it. With a little guidance from teachers and others, they set up tables outside the school and sold pencils, things they made themselves and things they brought from home.

 

They raised more than $180, which they gave to Operation Hope Vista. They picked Operation Hope after researching local charities that worked with the homeless and learning that some of their classmates had been helped by Operation Hope.

 

Recounting the experience of the Foothill-Oak students, Robert Crowell said that this was one of more than a dozen such projects Vista Unified School District students undertook in the 2015-2016 school year. Crowell is the district’s lead for service learning – a program that has students researching and finding solutions to real problems in their community.

 

It’s not unusual for students to get involved in community projects, like cleaning up beach trash. The difference in service learning is that the students make a connection to what they’re learning in class - researching the harm beach litter causes, analyzing water samples for pollution, documenting what they find and presenting their findings to a pollution control agency.

 

“The number one thing is just the student engagement, just the kids taking ownership of their learning,” said Crowell, a former elementary school teacher. “The real key to service learning is the students are the ones who really drive the project.”

 

Monte Vista Elementary School teacher Annick Gillot-Salmon said that her fifth grade students have gained a new sense of self-confidence from the service learning projects they’ve worked on. “It really made my classroom more dynamic and exciting,” Gillot-Salmon said.

 

Two years ago, she asked her class if they could figure out an environmentally friendly way to deal with sediment left over from an aquaponics farm that grows vegetables in water.

“At first, they were, ‘Why are you asking us, we’re just kids,’” Gillot-Salmon said. “By the end, they didn’t feel that way. They were really impressed with themselves.”

 

With considerable trial-and-error, her students found that the sediment could be dried and used as fertilizer in a flower garden, used to grow mushrooms, or as food for ghost shrimp.

 

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Monte Vista Elementary service learning students experiment with using sediment from an aquaponic planter as fertilizer for other plants.

 

In the 2015-2016 school year, Gillot-Salmon’s class made a “little free library” after researching early childhood literacy. The library is sort of a converted cabinet that the students decorated and stocked with books for a variety of reading levels.

 

Anyone can take a book and keep it and the students are responsible for restocking the library. They also prepared leaflets in English and Spanish outlining techniques to use when reading to children to increase literacy, Gillot-Salmon said.

 

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A "Little Free Library" installed by Monte Vista Elementary service learning students.

 

This school year, her students are tackling an even thornier problem – how to make the outdoor school lunch area quieter.

Covered by a metal roof, the lunch area is between two buildings which create an echo chamber of sorts. “That is a challenge,” Gillot-Salmon said. “I’ll see what they come up with.”

 

This year, Crowell hopes to have at least 1,200 students from throughout the district involved in service learning projects like those of Gillot-Salmon’s fifth graders.

 

“If we really get this in every elementary school, middle school and high school in Vista Unified, I can’t see why we can’t have 1,500 to 1,800 students involved,” Crowell said. “We really are looking to expand to every school. My goal is for every kid in Vista Unified to ultimately participate in service learning.”

 

Superintendent Devin Vodicka shares Crowell’s enthusiasm.

“I’m thrilled with the early success that we are seeing with our service learning projects,” Vodicka said. “Our teachers, staff, and community partners have done a magnificent job of identifying opportunities for our students to solve real-world problems.”

 

Vodicka said that the projects “reinforce the academic learning” students get in class. “They empower our students to know that they can improve our community and make the world a better place,” Vodicka said. “I am looking forward to the next steps on this journey and I’m proud of the contributions of our students.”

 

To make that journey, Crowell is looking for community partners who are “willing to donate a little of their time and expertise” in suggesting projects.

 

For example, Hunter Industries in the 2015-2016 school year helped Foothill-Oak students install an irrigation system in a garden at the center of the school.

 

The Vista Chamber of Commerce has worked with students on chamber projects, and helped the school district line up service learning projects with local businesses.

 

Chamber Chief Executive Officer Bret Schanzenbach is a big fan of the program. “Service learning is a great opportunity for kids in the classroom to get exposure to real world challenges,” Schanzenbach said. “I think it’s great that a lot of these projects are done at the elementary school age so kids can get an opportunity to experience things that are kind of beyond their typical horizon.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/6/16




Audience: Homepage

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By Ray Huard

 

Look for this to be a stellar year for the Vista Unified School District as the district celebrates its 100th anniversary, Superintendent Devin Vodicka said as students headed back to classes.

 

Speaking to more than 1,200 teachers, counselors and administrators who gathered at Mission Vista High School for a recent professional development day, Vodicka said, “it’s an exciting year.

 

Among other things, “This is the year where our graduating seniors will be the first ones affected by our guaranteed admissions agreement with Cal State San Marcos,” Vodicka said.

 

Under an agreement the district signed with California State University San Marcos in 2013, students who maintain a C average or higher and who complete prescribed courses are guaranteed a spot in the college. “This is a great thing for our kids,” Vodicka said.

 

Looking over the past year’s achievement, “I think we’re making great progress,” Vodicka said.  “Our students are more and more energized by their learning.”

 

That progress has drawn national attention, Vodicka said, with more than 2,000 educators from across the country visiting Vista Unified schools last year. “They’re coming because they’re hearing lots of things that make them curious about what’s happening in our school district,” Vodicka said. “Personal learning is one of those things that is drawing a lot of attention.”

 

As the district moves ever more strongly into personal learning, where lessons are tailored to the needs of each student individually, “What we’re trying to do is get away from the one-size fits-all model,” Vodicka said.

 

“The school system has pretty much been set up like a train station, where students arrive at a certain time, get on the train, the train takes them from one place to the other. The train goes to the same place at the same pace,” Vodicka said. “Your experience traveling in that train is pretty much the same, regardless of what you bring into that journey.”

 

With personal learning, Vista Unified is moving to a system that Vodicka said is more akin to driving a car, where students have more control over their learning and teachers help develop their strengths instead of looking at their shortcomings.

 

That shift is paying off not only with improved student achievement, but with higher approval ratings from parents and teachers, according by the University of California San Diego.

The survey showed “a very consistent trend” in parents’ satisfaction with their students’ teachers, trust in school principals, and trust in the quality of education their children are getting, Vodicka said.

 

“To see this is really quite affirming,” Vodicka said.

The 2016-2017 school year also is the first time classroom teachers from kindergarten through eighth grade will get to try out the Next Generation Science Standards which Vista Unified is piloting – one of eight school districts and two charter schools in California that are helping to develop and refine teaching methods that fit the new standards.

 

Instead of relying on rote memorization and teacher-directed lessons, the new standards stress critical thinking and require students to research, analyze, experiment and rework projects based on their findings just as scientists do on the job, said Sue Ritchie, project director for Vista Unified.

 

In the first year of the project, 12 district teachers underwent training. Last year, those 12 teachers trained 60 of their colleagues, and those 60 teachers led sessions for other elementary and middle school teachers during the Professional Development Day.

 

“We’re asking all the teachers to start trying it in their classrooms so they have a feel for it,” said Sue Ritchie, project director for Vista. In another year, the new standards will be the rule, Ritchie said.

 

During the professional development day, Vista teachers tried their hand performing experiments that show how the new standards can be applied in their classrooms.

 

“We just want you to fall in love with science again,” said Grapevine first grade teacher Kristi Gann, who was among the teacher/trainers leading the sample lessons.

 

In one, a group of third grade teachers were given a challenge – make an aluminum can move across a desk without touching it using a balloon and a wool cloth.

 

Next door, a first grade teacher picked out a Cutie mandarin orange and wrote a description of it. Then another teacher would have to find that orange based on the written description when it was mixed in with other Cutie oranges.

 

The can challenge was a way for students to learn about static electricity through their own exploration. The teachers figured out quickly how to create static electricity by rubbing the cloth against the balloons to push the cans.

 

Teachers were not quite so successful with the Cutie orange hunt. The idea was to demonstrate how scientists make and record their observations, in this case, a description detailed enough to find one Cutie among many. Most of the teachers hadn’t provided enough details, so they had to add more.

 

Along with trying out the new science standards during the professional development day, teachers got their first look at new computer software systems that will help better track student progress and find each student’s strengths in developing personal learning lessons.

 

Sessions covered everything from how to improve the writing skills of their students to prepare them for college and career to an update on special education.

 

“There’s a little something for everyone,” said Larry White, executive director for curriculum, instruction and educational technology.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/2/16




Audience: Homepage

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By Ray Huard

 

Stepped up programs in the arts, robotics and computer science are in the works at Rancho Buena Vista High School as the school year gets underway.

 

Principal Charles Schindler is particularly keen to work out a plan that would let students interested in the arts focus on what they love while meeting requirements to graduate with the course work and skills they need to qualify for admission to four-year colleges.

 

“I just believe in a well-rounded student,” Schindler said. “I’m a big advocate of having a flexible schedule for kids to take what they want and still go to college.”

 

The problem is that with six class periods a day, students are hard-pressed to cram in all the courses they need to graduate college-ready and have time to take elective art courses. “How do we design a pathway, if you will, for college-bound students? It’s an ongoing project, but I love it,” Schindler said.

 

Superintendent Devin Vodicka said Schindler’s goal for an arts path is a good fit for the school. “Rancho Buena Vista High School is an established leader in the region with respect to arts education,” Vodicka said.  “The school is well-known for a world-class theater program, an award-winning band, exceptional dance teams, and strong visual arts opportunities.  It makes sense to build on those strengths to better prepare students for a dynamic future where creativity and collaboration will be essential for success.”  

 

Schindler also is committed to forming a Rancho Buena Vista robotics team to compete with other schools, along with stepped up programs in computers. “I’d really like to see us get to that level of having team competition,” Schindler said.

 

Rancho Buena Vista’s robotics program “is an excellent illustration of the power of connecting students with real-world problems,” Vodicka said.

 

“Creating robots is an interdisciplinary challenge that requires coding skills, engineering, creativity, critical thinking, perseverance, and collaboration,” Vodicka said. “I am looking forward to seeing this innovative program continue to grow and provide additional opportunities for students to learn and showcase their talents. “

 

During the 2015-2016 school year, Rancho Buena Vista offered a computers principles course and in the coming year will expand on that by offering an Advancement Placement (AP) computer course and a computer science course as part of its CTE (Career Technical Education).

 

“CTE focuses on the programming and how do I use the programs to make games and aps,” Schindler said. The course will focus on showing students how to use various coding programs.

 

“AP will be looking at the social and global implications of computer science, how technology is used,” Schindler said. “The AP asks them to think more deeply about that. They’ll be asking kids to respond to the implications of computers.”

 

Like other AP courses, the AP computer course will be accepted for college credit at many colleges and universities.

This year, Rancho Buena Vista also is adding a science design course as part of its International Baccalaureate Program, Schindler said.

 

“I think it’s kind of neat. It asks kids to look at a problem and really apply scientific method and problem solving to real world problems –identify a problem, develop a hypothesis, research, and come up with a solution,” Schindler said. “It really pushes kids.

 

Dance also will be added to the IB program this year, Schindler said. “Ultimately what the kids will have to do is plan and perform their own dance,” Schindler said. “Our IB is really strong at Rancho Buena Vista.”

 

Rancho Buena Vista has had an International Baccalaureate program since the school opened in 1987 and about 200 of the school’s 2,300 students take IB courses, which are especially demanding.

 

The school is continuing a drive to get more students enrolled in IB and AP courses.

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/30/16




Audience: Homepage

VHS_Stadium.jpg
Vista High School opened its newly renovated Dick Haines Stadium on Thursday, August 25th, with a pep rally during the day, a reception for past players and coaches, a flyover by the Civil Air Patrol, and the season's opening football game against San Marcos. Local media including Fox 5, CW6, The Vista Press and Coast News were on hand to cover the unveiling of the $3.7 million project, which honored the school's rich history of athletics, and offered current and future students opportunities to compete in a first class environment.

 

“This day of celebration allows us to honor our past as well as celebrate our future, and to do that as a Vista High community that spans decades,” says Vista High Principal Anthony Barela. “We’re proud to have the opportunity for our current and future VHS community to honor and learn about many of the people who have created a fantastic athletic program at the school. We also see this new facility as a catalyst to inspire the future possibilities and accomplishments of our program.”

 

Click the image above to view the Fox 5 story on the stadium

 

The 2-year rebuild on the stadium made myriad upgrades, providing a state of the art facility that offers a new track surface for use by PE and athletic teams, a new ticket booth, snack bar, rest rooms and storage on both sides of the stadium for use by home and visiting teams. The facility has an open plaza on the visitor’s side as well as new lighting, and easy, open accessibility for all.

 

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Vista High Principal Anthony Barela with Martha Haines, wife of the late coach Dick Haines, School Board member Carol Weise Herrera, and Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Dr. Matt Doyle at the stadium dedication.

 

“Investing in our facilities is an important way to provide an environment that allows out students and student athletes to reach their full potential,” says VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka. “It also provides a fantastic common space for the broader community, as Vista High School athletics have been an important part of this community for decades. This new stadium is a significant event for the school and the community.”

 

Click the image above to watch the CW6 coverage of the stadium

 

The dedication of Dick Haines stadium comes almost exactly 20 years since the stadium had its last upgrade, in 1996. In that time Vista High School has won six Football CIF championships, three Field Hockey League championships, two Boys Soccer CIF championships, two Girls Track League championships, three Boys Track League championships, as well as seeing scores of outstanding individual achievements including four football players who have gone on to professional careers.

 

Athletic Director Pat Moramarco adds, “Vista High School has a strong & rich background in athletics affiliated with Dick Haines Stadium. We are very proud of the team and individual feats accomplished in the stadium. I feel Coach Haines would be very proud of our facility. The new upgrades to the stadium will allow us to compete at the highest levels in the Conference and the CIF countywide. I know our athletes will feel an even stronger source of pride in being a VHS Panther and performing in our new facility."

 

Click here to read the story in The Vista Press

 

“We’re thrilled to dedicate this new facility,” continues Principal Barela. “It will no doubt help to propel us into a future of great things for the school and the community, honoring and building on the legacy of a school that continues to pursue excellence in myriad ways.”

 

Click here to read the story in the San Diego Union-Tribune

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/26/16




Audience: Homepage

ProgressMeasured.jpg
By Ray Huard

 

Students in the Vista Unified School District have made significant improvement in just about every measurement of achievement.

 

More students are graduating, more are completing the courses they need to get into a four-year college or university, more are taking and passing rigorous advance placement and International Baccalaureate courses that can earn them college credits, and far more are working on projects to help their community.

 

Every indication is that the improvements will continue as the district focuses on what students need to move on to college or a successful career, with classes tailored to the students’ individual skills and interests, said Craig Wiblemo, district director of measurement and monitoring.

 

Especially gratifying is a 2.2 percent jump in the number of students graduating, from 82.6 percent of high school seniors in the 2013-2014 school year to 84.8 percent in the 2014-2015 school year, Wiblemo said.

 

Figures on the 2015-2016 school year are still being compiled and won’t be available until early 2017.

 

Although a 2.2 percent increase in the graduation rate may not seem dramatic, “The graduation rate is something that is pretty difficult to move,” said, Wiblemo, a former principal of Mission Vista High School in Oceanside.

 

The Vista Unified School District covers portions of Oceanside, where about a third of its students live.

 

“To jump 2.2 percent in one year is pretty remarkable,” Wiblemo said. “It’s the highest it’s been in the last five years. There’s definitely work to be done in the graduation rate, but it’s nice to see it moving in a positive direction.”

 

Wiblemo credited the improved graduation figures to the emphasis school Superintendent Devin Vodicka has put on college readiness, with teachers encouraging their students from elementary school through high school to think of higher education as a given with schools decked out in college regalia.

 

Also helping is an agreement that the district has with California State University San Marcos that guarantees admission to students who maintain a C average and meet other requirements, Wiblemo said.

 

Along with an improving graduation rate, the number of students taking and completing courses needed for admission to a University of California and California State College was up by 7.4 percent, from 29.9 percent in the 2013-2014 school year to 37.3 percent in the 2014-2015 school year. Figures for the past school year will not be available until early next year.

 

“Over 7 percent in one year is fantastic,” Wiblemo said.

So too is the increased number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, up from 2,028 in the 2014-2015 school year to 2,430 in the 2015-2016 school year.

 

“More kids are taking them and more kids are passing them,” Wiblemo said. “The students who take at least one AP or IB course in high school are more successful in college. They are less likely to drop out of college because the AP and IB courses are college level courses.”

 

Those courses give college-bound students a head start because many colleges and universities accept them for college credit.

 

“The top AP and IB students are entering college as sophomores,” Wiblemo said.

 

Enrollment in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) courses also is on the rise.

 

“More high school students are taking science courses than in the past, more high school students are taking engineering courses, more high school students are taking math courses, which is what we want to see,” Wiblemo said.

 

Although not an academic achievement, the number of students involved in service learning projects which benefit the community went from 250 in the 2014-2015 school year to 850 in the 2015-2016 school year.

 

The goal for the coming year is to get 1,200 students enrolled in a service learning project, said Robert Crowell, service learning lead.

 

Projects can included everything from visiting people in nursing homes to producing public service videos.

 

“In a nutshell, service learning is a way of approaching teaching that has students identify a problem in the community and work with local community members to find a solution to the problem,” Crowell said. “It’s really a way for students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and applying it to real world situations.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/12/16




Audience: Homepage

PersonalizedLearning.jpg
 

By Ray Huard

 

When students in Ramiro Santana’s third grade class at Temple Heights Elementary School were learning how to use fractions, percentages and decimals, they did it by coming up with salad recipes, preparing the salads at home, and making a video of themselves doing it.

 

“That was their idea,” Santana said.

 

The students had to measure the ingredients and portions, and they used computer coding to make the videos.

 

“They’re learning a lot of math, they’re learning science,” Santana said. His students also built model cars out of recyclable materials they found at home.

 

“This is very fun,” said 9-year-old Emily Macias, who created an animated character using an iPad to represent her in the video. “I love using the iPad.”

 

Santana’s class is among those leading a drive by Vista Unified School District to move from traditional teaching methods to personalized learning in which lessons are tailored to build on the strengths and interests of each student, guided by teachers who help them explore.

 

“We call that our moon shot,” said Matt Doyle, assistant superintendent for innovation. “A moon shot is something that we’re aspiring to.”

 

The allusion to a moonshot is particularly appropriate for Temple Heights, where the school motto is a quotation from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

 

The rocket Vista Unified teachers are riding with personalized learning is a change “from one-size-fits-all, where the teacher is the leader of the learning, to the students becoming stewards of their own learning,” Doyle said. “We’re not spoon-feeding them learning.”

 

Among other things, the switch includes a different way of evaluating students. 

 

Instead of thinking about deficits that need to be remedied, teachers look at a student’s strong points and work on those to help a student succeed.

 

If a student is hit with a barrage of criticism about his failings, “He isn’t super excited about coming to school,” Doyle said. “If we can tap into their strengths and interests, that will help them persevere through their challenges.”

 

Teachers answer questions the students raise, and help them find resources they can use in their research.

 

“We do mini-lessons and then we let them explore,” Santana said. “They’re still learning that background to get them started, then they experiment with it themselves.”

 

Doyle compared personalized lessons to an improvisational show, adding, “Traditional education is more like a scripted show.”

 

Temple Heights was one of five schools in Vista Unified that were piloting personalized learning in the 2015-16 school year.

Principal Kim Morton said that teachers and students were enthusiastic over the change.

 

“The teachers are saying the kids are calling them at home, asking for projects,” Morton said.

 

The same has been true at Casita Center for Technology, Science and Math (STEM), a Vista Unified elementary school which also is piloting personalized learning.

 

“It’s way different from the way I was taught,” said Jenny Anderson, a STEM and International Baccalaureate specialist at Casita. “Before, it was teacher directed. Now, it’s student directed. You really have to understand each child.”

 

Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that early indications are that the move to personalized learning is paying off with improved student achievement.

 

“I am pleased with our bold efforts to shift to personal learning as we strive to achieve our vision of becoming the model of educational excellence and innovation,” Vodicka said. “While much work remains ahead, I am proud of our dedicated staff members who are finding new ways to engage our learners.”

Not only are teaching methods changing, but so is the look of the schools and the classrooms.

 

Instead of sitting behind desks, arranged in rows, students roam about the classroom, gathering in small groups to work on projects with their iPads or sharing ideas on writing projects, or using the more traditional paper and pen while others work on individual projects.

 

“It’s fluid. There’s a lot more interaction among students,” Doyle said. “Learning is social. People learn when they’re engaged in something that’s meaningful to others.”

 

Rigid desks have been replaced by movable chairs and tables and beanbag chairs where students can stretch out. Some of the tables can be raised or lowered, so students can stand or sit while they work.

 

“The more comfortable students are, the better they learn,” Doyle said. “Students tend to move around and be fidgety. We bought different types of furniture where they can be fidgety.”

 

At Temple Heights, some students work outside on surfaces that resemble picnic tables or in shaded chairs. “They like an environment where they’re not just sitting at a desk,” Morton said.

 

The move to personalized education is in its early stages and Doyle said it will take several years to be fully implemented in all district schools. “It’s like, that old adage, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” Doyle said.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/8/16




Audience: Homepage

Please see the attached press release regarding the selection of Special Education Administrators.

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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 8/3/16




Audience: Homepage

Please see the attached Press Release regarding the selection of the Coordinator, Program Compliance and Accountability, Emyr Rich.

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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 7/29/16




Audience: Homepage

Please see the attached Press Release regarding the selection of Assistant Principals at Beaumont Elementary and Grapevine Elementary.

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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 7/29/16




Audience: Homepage

Please see the attached Press Release regarding the selection of the Principal, Alamosa Park Elementary, Cindy Anderson

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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 7/29/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

For five weeks this summer, parents and their children are gathering at Vista’s Maryland Elementary School to color tiles that will be assembled into a large mural, play board games and learn good nutrition habits.

 

Some of the parents break away for classes that offer tips on everything from how to read to their children to English language lessons.

 

While the parents are in those classes their children try their hand at playing the guitar, violin or keyboard, learn a little about drama, draw or get a little tutoring.

 

On Wednesdays, everyone heads to the playground for practice in soccer or some other sport.

 

It’s all part of a program at the Vista Unified School District campus for parents and children from preschool through fifth grade that Principal Carol LaBreche dubbed a “Healthy Habits for Healthy Living Summer Academy.”

 

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“The goal of the summer camp was to invite parents to just come and be part of the school, to get comfortable here,” LaBreche said. About 40 families, most from the surrounding neighborhoods, come to the camp.

 

Overseeing camp activities are a paid staff of six with more than 20 volunteers, LaBreche said. The Vista Community Clinic participates through nutrition classes it offers to parents at the school every Tuesday and Thursday, and Feeding America distributes free food to needy families at the camp.

 

The camp has been a big hit with parents and children alike.

“It’s fun for the kids and parents to interact with each other,” said Lilian Munoz as she joined her 5-year-old daughter, Kimberly, in coloring what will become part of the mural.

Munoz said is spending her vacation bringing her children to camp activities. “We don’t get to do much of this at home,” Munoz said.

 

Twelve-year-old Ana Tescahua, who plays in the school band at Roosevelt Middle School, said the camp gave her a chance to study a new instrument – the keyboard. “It’s really fun, you get to meet new people,” Ana said.

 

Her 10-year-old sister, Rosa, said “I like the keyboard and the drawing class.” “It’s just fun, learning how to pay the keyboard and seeing friends here,” Rosa said.

 

The camp was open to anyone, but targeted Maryland students who were having trouble in school and parents who might need help adjusting to a new culture or were English learners.

 

“Every day, our program includes reading and tutoring for the kids,” LaBreche said. “For the parents, we’re working on developing literacy so they can help their kids at home.”

 

Carmen Waszak, a resource teacher, said that the literacy lessons go far beyond teaching parents how to read and write, although that’s part of it. She teaches in both Spanish and English, to help those who are just learning English.

 

For parents relatively new to this country, “We’re also bridging the cultural difference between the educational system they know and the system in the United States,” Waszak said.

 

For some, that can be as simple as showing them how to read to their children, asking questions and making diagrams outlining a story to help with the children’s comprehension.

“I go over the developmental stages of reading, what to expect of your kids from kindergarten through 5th grade,” Waszak said.

 

One purpose of the camp is to develop a sense of community, centered around the school, LaBreche said.

 

Artist Vince Vargas, who is in charge of Maryland Elementary’s after school program during the school year, said he hopes to foster that sense of community through the mural the campers are creating with their parents. “It brings our school together, with the parents,” Vargas said.

 

The individual 4-inch by 5-inch tiles the parents and children are making will be joined to become a 6-foot by 5-foot mural that will be displayed in the school office. The tiles will form two hands reaching toward each other, with forefingers and thumbs touching to create a heart-shape in the center between them.

 

Most of the children who attend Maryland Elementary come from low-income families. About 97 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, LaBreche said, and they don’t have access to many of the things as their counterparts from more affluent homes.

 

“Kids don’t get the opportunity to pick up a guitar or have somebody hand them a violin,” LaBreche said. They get it at the summer camp.

 

“Our motto is, ‘Make an impact, connect, collaborate and create,’” LaBreche said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/19/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Vista Unified School District has won a national award for “breaking new ground in the use of digital content and curriculum” by helping students and their families acquire low-cost refurbished computers and get Internet access at reduced prices.

 

DigitalContentAward.jpg
 

 

“I am thrilled that we have been recognized for our continued efforts to transform student learning experiences and opportunities,” Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.

 

“The award validates the hard work of our teachers, librarians and library media technicians, content support resource teachers, and the leadership team,” Vodicka said. “In addition, special thanks should be extended to our information and technology experts who provide support behind the scenes.”

 

Vista Unified was one of five school districts across the country with more than 12,000 students to be given Digital Content and Curriculum Awards June 28 by the Center for Digital Education (CDE) in collaboration with the International Society for Technology in Education for having innovative programs to bring digital technology to their students.

 

The others were Rowan-Salisbury Schools in North Carolina, Coachella Valley Unified School District in eastern Riverside County, Katy Independent School District in Texas, and Wilson County School District in Tennessee.

 

Based in Folsom, CDE is a national research and advisory institute specializing in kindergarten through high school and higher education technology trends, policy and funding, according to its website (http://www.centerdigitaled.com/about/).

 

As part of its drive to ensure that all students have access to digital technology, Vista Unified formed a partnership with Computers 2SD Kids (C25DK) to enable families to buy refurbished computers and received reduced price Internet service from Cox Communications.

 

“That was a big deal to bring computers to our families because we knew that learning had to be expanded at home,” said Erin English, district director of online and blended learning and principal of Vista Visions Academy.

 

The ultimate goal is for every student to have Internet access at home, English said. She said that the district has already achieved its goal of having enough computer tablets so that every student has access to one in school, and some are assigned tablets to take home.

 

The CDE award is significant “because it’s honoring the work we’ve been doing over the past four years, converting from paper and pencil to digital,” English said. “It’s not just about all the accomplishments, but some of the struggles we’ve had, some of the challenges we’ve had in providing a 21st century learning environment for our kids. It’s validating that we’re on the right track.”

 

In announcing the awards, CDE Executive Director Kecia Ray said, “It’s exciting to see schools all over the country are moving from pilot projects to full-scale implementation of digital content and curriculum.”

 

“This year’s honorees are taking the practice of education to new heights that show great promise for other districts to follow,” Ray said.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/15/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

"Make learning more fun" was part of the message to about 150 teachers and administrators from across the country during a recent three-day “Rock Star” training camp recently at Rancho Minerva Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.

 

That can mean everything from using Twitter to communicate with students and each other to playing Internet games that connect their students to people and places around the world.

 

“It gets them to put the learning in the students’ hands,” said Tara Linney, an education technology coach at Singapore American School and one of 11 teachers who led a series of two-hour training sessions at the “Rock Star” camp, sponsored by CUE (Computer Using Educators).

 

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Teachers in Tara Linney's seminar celebrate the winning step of their  game

 

CUE, a nonprofit educational foundation formed in 1978, promotes the use of technology in schools and personalized learning in which lessons are tailored to meet the needs of each student, according to its website.

 

Linney had about a dozen teachers play a game where they were connected through the Internet to a class of middle school students. Each group tried to guess where the other was from just by talking to each other and asking each other questions.

 

The teachers determined that the students were in Canada, and the students figured out that the teachers were in California, but neither group got any further before time ran out.

 

“It was really fun,” said Teresa Ozoa, an English teacher at University High School in the Irvine Unified School District.

Along with having fun, the teachers in Vista and the students in Canada shared information about their culture and community – sort of a living geography and sociology lesson.

 

“Instead of reading something in a text book, which they forget, they get to interact with people,” Linney said.

 

Like Linney’s game playing, “All these sessions are designed to get these teachers hands-on, doing things that are useful in their classes,” said camp director Kevin Fairchild, a district coordinator for instructional technology at Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo.

 

“The people who come to this range from very tech savvy to not at all tech savvy,” Fairchild said.

 

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Teachers in Kevin Fairchild's seminar explore new technology together

 

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A seminar on science and math simulations taught by Kevin Fairchild included hands-on project work for attendees.

 

A common theme was getting students more involved in what they learn. “We’re looking at the teacher breaking out of the traditional education where the teacher is the center of attention,” said Reuben Hoffman, digital learning coach at Grossmont Union High School District in El Cajon and vice president of San Diego CUE. “The goal is to turn things around.”

 

Erin English, who arranged for Vista Unified to host the CUE Rock Star camp, said that the sessions give teachers a chance to learn from each other to “bring a little excitement into our lessons. The bottom line is, it has to be teachers who transform what’s happening in the classroom,” said English, principal of Vista Vision Academy and district director of on-line and blended learning.

 

Sarah Thomas, regional technology coordinator for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, led a session on “flipping” classroom instruction.

 

Rather than teach lessons in the classroom with follow-up homework, Thomas said she presents her lessons on video that students watch at home on computer tablets so that she can spend more time working in class with students who need help. “That would just free me up in so many ways,” Thomas said. “It worked wonderfully in my classroom.”

 

As an added benefit, parents could watch the video lessons with their children, to better understand what their children are learning and be able to help too, Thomas said.

 

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Sarah Thomas leads a class through  seminar on gamifying classrooms

 

Several of the educators said that the Rock Camp sessions were invaluable. “You learn new things and your eyes are opened to the possibilities,” said Colleen Hutchison, a fourth grade teacher at Mission Meadows Elementary School in Vista Unified.

 

Hutchison said that she liked a session that showed how to create digital notebooks for students to record what they’re learning using computer tablets. “I find, when you make the paper journals, kids don’t refer to it much,” Hutchison said. “The digital notebook just kind of draws them in.”

 

Christa Noetzel, a teacher in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, said she’s inspired by the work other teachers are doing. “We wouldn’t be getting this training, going and looking things up on our own,” Noetzel said.

 

She was particularly interested in a session on digital citizenship geared to teaching students to properly use social media and to beware of using copyrighted material. “In the upper grades, I think students need to know how to interact with each other online,” Noetzel said.

 

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Classrooms were packed with engaged learners for the 3-day conference

 

Kathy Driver, a science teacher with the Chaffee Joint Union High School District in Ontario, said that she plans to do “a digital citizenship academy” for her students based on what she learned. “I now have some resources I could use that I didn’t have before,” Driver said. “It’s kind of a wild west out there, they’ve got so much access.”

 

Mission Meadows Principal Bill Porter said that the Rock Star camp gave him a chance to catch up on the new technology teachers are using. “It’s important for us, as administrators, to know how to best support our teachers as they introduce it in the classroom,” Porter said. “As an individual, you can’t keep up with the pace of technological changes. You come to conferences like this, you get to tap into other people’s expertise.”

 

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Domingo Flores works with teachers to utilize the many helpful tools offered by Google Classroom
 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/12/16




Audience: Homepage

ADP_horiz_lockup_Blk_1ln_tagline_2x.jpgTemple Heights Elementary School has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished Program for 2016-2018 for providing iPad tablets to each of its students to support personalized learning.

 

“When you walk into a Temple Heights classroom, you feel the energy as young students research topics, create interactive projects, collaborate and share them with their classmates,” said Kim Morton, principal of the Vista Unified School District school.

 

“Activities like these give our students real-world, problem-solving experience and ownership of their learning, while building global competencies,” Morton said. “At Temple Heights, iPad inspires creativity and makes a real difference in student learning, thereby opening doors to the future.”

 

The Apple Distinguished Program designation is reserved for schools that meet certain criteria for innovation, leadership and educational excellence.

 

The schools also must demonstrate “a clear vision of exemplary learning environments,” according to Apple. Temple Heights does that in part by ensuring that each of its more than 660 student has access to iPads.

 

Students in grades three through five are assigned iPads which they can take home and use for homework and class projects, said Assistant Principal Kerry Perez.

 

The students check out the iPads from the school library, much like they would check out textbooks, Perez said.

 

“We’re looking at the iPads as their 21st century textbooks,” Perez said. “The iPad doesn’t replace paper and pencil, it just sort of supplements and enhances our program.”

 

Students in kindergarten through second grade are assigned iPads to use in class, although the take-home program has been so successful that the school may expand it to the lower grades, Perez said.

 

A survey of parents at the end of the 2015-2016 school year showed they liked the school’s use of the iPad tablets.

 

“People were very excited that their students had access to the iPads,” Perez said. “Overwhelmingly, they were positive.”

In applying to become an Apple Distinguished Program, Temple Heights prepared a digital book telling its story. The book is available for download in iBooks.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/8/16




Audience: Homepage

Dr. Devin Vodicka and Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell's TEDx talks form the Digital Promise®-sponsored conference in the spring have been posted and are ready to view.

 

 

Dr. Vodicka spoke about the ongoing efforts that VUSD is employing to develop a Personal Learning Path for each student. This innovative approach works to identify each students' unique strengths, interests and values and helps students take control of their own learning path. Dr. Vodicka draws on his own childhood memories of things that made him different, and how those uniquenesses helped to develop him into the person he is today.

 

Anne Fennell speaks of instilling creativity into all aspects of learning to, "crack the code" of learning. As students apply their own creativity to learning they discover their own unlimited potential and open up new possibilities and opportunities. Click on either of these links to view the talks in their entirety.

 

To learn more about the TEDxElCajon Salon event and the education leaders from across the country, click here for a wrap-up from VUSD's partner, Digital Promise. 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/5/16




Audience: Homepage

On behalf of Dr. Vodicka, we are pleased to announce Kelly McKinney as the district's new Career Technical Education Coordinator.  Please see the attached press release for additional information. Congratulations to Kelly!

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Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 7/5/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

The two stories couldn’t have more different – a high school gymnast recounting her quest for Olympic gold and a 91-year-old Navy veteran talking about the love of his life and his military career.

 

Both proved so compelling that they won national and San Diego County documentary film awards, along with a trip to New York City for eighth grade filmmakers at Rancho Minerva Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.

 

“All this hard work and effort, it paid off,” said Jose Roman, one of the student filmmakers. “It was all worth it.”

 

“Heart of a Champion,” the story of Vista High School gymnast Amanda Spitzer, was one of three student documentaries in the nation to win a Panasonic K-12 KWN (Kids Witness News) Award. KWN is a global hands-on video education program supported by Panasonic, according to its website.

 

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Rancho Minerva Middle School students filming an interview with Vista HS athlete Amanda Spitzer for their award-winning documentaries.

 

“Living History: Our Hometown Hero,” the story of retired Navy Commander Robert Noble, won the grand prize in the Innovative Video in Education (IVIE)  contest of the San Diego County Office of Education.

 

“They have moved people by their story-telling ability,” teacher Beth Duncan said of her student filmmakers. “They have found their passion in film and film production. They have found their confidence and their voice.”

 

To make the films, each of the students took on different tasks – from doing on-camera interviews and narration to editing the raw film to get the polished products.

 

In “Heart of a Champion, Amanda Spitzer is interviewed by the Rancho Minerva students as she tells how she became a gymnast when she was 6-years-old, worked tirelessly to make the U.S. Olympics team, but ultimately, wasn’t among those chosen for the team.

 

“I have learned so much about myself and so much about my ability to overcome,” Amanda says in the video. “All the joy and the lessons I’ve had are so worth it.”

 

“Heart of a Champion” has a strong lesson at its core that resonates with those who have watched it, Duncan said.

“It’s what she learned, not being on the team, that perseverance and acting with character that was very important to her,” Duncan said. “It’s a beautiful story.”

 

In “Living History: Our Home Town Hero,” Noble of Oceanside talks of growing up in San Diego, hearing the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, enlisting in the Navy and piloting amphibious planes, and the many changes in technology he’s seen over his lifetime.

 

Most striking are the moments when Noble talks of marrying the girl he met in junior high school. “Certainly, getting married has to be the happiest thing that ever happened to me,” Noble says in the film.

 

Those are the comments that brings tears to the eyes to many of those who watch it, Duncan said. “He taught the students that life is about overcoming obstacles, and probably, the biggest lesson was about love,” Duncan said. “The kids were mesmerized by his story.”

 

Tori Stauffer, who was one of the students who interviewed Noble for the film, said “It was very touching. His whole story, it was just heartwarming,” Tori said.

 

Guadalupe Blancas said winning the IVIE award for the Noble film “was a very special moment because we just put so much work into interviewing Bob.” “It was great to see we were recognized for that,” Guadalupe said.

 

As part of the K-12 KWN award for “Heart of a Champion,” the Rancho Minerva eighth-graders won a trip to New York City, a first for some who’d never been on a plane before.

 

“I’d always wanted to go there as a kid,” Gualupe said. “The best part of it was getting to go to Times Square with the lights and the city, just to see it for the first time, it was overwhelming.”

 

“It was amazing,” Jose said. “It was all I expected it to be – honking horns, a lot of sirens.”

 

Making the two films was a life-changer for some of the students. “Everything I look at, it changes my perspective,” Tori said. 

 

Guadalupe said she now wants a career in film. “Film has changed the way that I look at the world, it opened my eyes,” said Guadalupe Blancas, who now hopes to study filmmaking as a career.  “I was never, really, truly passionate about anything until now,” Guadalupe said. “All my life, I’ve been told, ‘Guadalupe, you’re smart,’ but I’d never been told, ‘You have talent.’”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/30/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Eighth-grader Kulpreet Chhokar and two of her classmates at Vista Magnet Middle School came up with a game where players have to add, subtract, multiply and divide number fractions to move around a game board. Whoever gets enough of the answers right to complete a circuit around the board wins.

 

“It’s similar to Monopoly, but difficult,” said Kulpreet, who was among about 130 students who went to a two-week gaming summer camp at the middle school that included field trips to California State University San Marcos.

 

“Get Your Game On,” was the name of the camp.

 

The idea behind it was in part to get kids using and honing their math skills by designing and making board games, said Jennifer Eckle, a math resource teacher at Vista Magnet and coordinator of the summer camp.

 

It also gave incoming sixth graders, who were among the campers, a chance to check out the school, make friends among their future classmates, and meet some of the students in the upper grades.

 

"It’s just building a sense of belonging with our campus,” Eckle said.

Kulpreet said that she met a new friend in teammate Laura Hurtado Flores, and had fun designing the game with Laura and Liliana Mendez Pozos. She said she knew Liliana from classes they shared but Laura was relatively new to the school and had different teachers. “As we’re working collaboratively, we’re noticing how we’re improving our work,” Kulpreet said.

 

Liliana, who made cards that displayed problems players had to solve as part of the game, said designing and making the game was fun, but, “It was kind of hard too. We had to struggle some days,” Liliana said. “It was very complicated.”

 

Challenging the students to solve complicated problems and deal with frustration as they made the board games helped them learn the so-called soft skills that are expected of workers in the 21st century, said Sinem Siyahhan, assistant professor of educational technology and learning sciences at CSU San Marcos.

 

Not only are the campers learning math, but they’re learning how to communicate and work together on projects as a team, said Siyahhan, who worked with the students in the camp and on their field trip to the college.

 

Employers expect the people that they hire to be able to collaborate and solve complex problems, Siyahhan said. “In this particular case, the problem is designing a fun, playable game,” Siyahhan said. “On top of that, they’re collaborating with the designs and they’re testing them. This reflects the current workforce.”

 

Sixth grader Jesus Aguirre Giron discovered an immediate problem with the game he made with fellow sixth graders Miguel Cabrera, Brian Cano and Ulises Colores – their game board was too small.

 

Their game involved moving three clay figures around a board to reach winning spaces, labeled school. To determine the number of spaces a player would move, the player would draw a card, then multiply, add, divide or subtract the numbers on the card. If a player drew cards with high numbers, his piece could make the circuit in one or two plays.

 

“We need a huge board,” Jesus said. “This is like a little demo. If we do this again, we can make an extra-large version of the little game.”

 

Despite that setback, Jesus said that he liked designing the game,

“You’re having fun, but you’re also learning,” Jesus said. “You’re doing two things at once. You’re learning addition and subtraction and all the math fractions, but you’re having fun at the same time.”

 

Miguel said he was happy that the game challenge involved board games instead of video games. “I like to play board games,” Miguel said. “You can play with your friends and family and you can see them.”

 

The games designed by the Vista Magnet students will be entered in a national game design competition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade sponsored by the Mind Research Institute.

 

The institute is an Irvine-based organization that developed a math computer program used in the Vista Unified District called ST (Spatial-Temporal) Math. ST Math uses graphically animated games that visually represent math concepts to help students develop problem-solving skills.

 

The top entries in the Mind Research competition will be awarded trophies and be displayed at a national math fair.

 

The games designed by Vista Magnet campers also were displayed at the North County Mini Maker Faire and will be available in the school library during the 2016-17 school year for students to play.

 

“I have kids in my class who want to play games every day,” Eckle said. “Kids love to have a way to interact with each other.”

The field trips to CSU San Marcos were a bonus for the gaming campers, Eckle said.

 

Not only did the students get to see what a college campus looks like, but they also worked with undergraduate students majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) fields.

“That’s huge,” Eckle said.

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/27/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

When second grade teacher Leslie White and her sister found monarch caterpillars in their home gardens, they thought what fun it would be to bring them to school where Johnson’s students could watch them become butterflies.

 

By the end of the school year, monarch butterflies where flittering everywhere across the Vista Unified School District’s Hannalei Elementary School campus in what Principal Tracy Zachry said has become an ever-growing butterfly garden that has spread far beyond the small plot of ground outside White’s classroom.

 

“This is a migration path for monarchs, so we decided to build a place for them to come and grow,” Zachry said.

 

And did they ever!

 

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Hannalei Elementary students observe caterpillars who will soon begin their transformations to butterflies

 

“The butterflies are around here like you wouldn’t believe,” said Jessica Pittman, who leads the AM/PM before and after school program at Hannalei.

 

The kids couldn’t be happier. “I like to watch the butterflies fly and the caterpillars eat leaves,” said 8-year-old Logan Fulton, who helps nurture the butterfly garden by watering the milkweed plants which are the source of food for monarch caterpillars.

 

“They’re beautiful and they’re amazing,” said Daniel Guillen, who waters the plants and weeds the garden. “I like when I see them come out of a chrysalis,” said 8-year-old Areanna Ortega, referring to the hard case caterpillars make to protect them as they transform into butterflies.

 

Second graders have long studied the life cycle of butterflies as part of their curriculum, but Zachry said that, “Instead of just learning about it in a book or a paper or a video, they’re actually living it day-to-day.”

 

White said second grade teachers often keep Painted Lady butterflies captive inside large glass jars in their classrooms. The teachers order the butterflies and jars from a mail-order science supply company, but White said this was the first time the students got to watch the metamorphosis of butterflies in their natural habitat.

 

“They’re so excited,” White said. The students have taken to their lessons like never before since the butterfly garden started.

 

Using computer tablets to do research on the butterflies, “Their language is better, they’re using academic words, like emerging,” White said. “It’s carried across the curriculum.”

 

The students carefully watch as some of the monarch caterpillars crawl across school sidewalks from one plot of ground to another to form their chrysalises on building walls, window sills and butterfly plants, which the monarchs munch on when they emerge. It turns out, caterpillars devour milkweed, but not the full-grown butterflies, Pittman said.

 

Pittman, whose twin daughters were Hannalei first-graders for the 2015-16 school year, has become a bit of a butterfly expert, and the AM/PM program is the source of most of the plants in the butterfly garden, contributing $4,000 toward the project.

 

Each year, Pittman asks students in the program what activities they’d like, and gardening topped their list. “A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to garden because they live in apartments,” Pittman said. “They just wanted to dig in the dirt, plant the plants, and watch them grow.”

 

Making it a butterfly garden just added something extra. “Just about everyone has had their hand in on some part of the garden,” Pittman said. “It’s school-wide.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/24/16




Audience: Homepage

At the June 23, 2016 Board Meeting, the Board of Trustees will hear survey results from a community survey regarding a potential school facilities bond.  This is part of an ongoing process to evaluate school facilities and to develop a plan for urgent facilities needs.

 

More information is available in the attached press release.

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Posted by: Brett Killeen
Published: 6/23/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Two elementary schools in the Vista Unified School District have been chosen from among hundreds across the country to receive grants to implement a program aimed at teaching children as young as kindergarteners how to become leaders.

 

“Every child will have a leadership role in the school, every child will have something they do to make the school a better place,” said Monte Vista Elementary School Principal Charlene Smith.

 

That can be anything from being school ambassadors who greet visitors and guide them around campus to raising money for a worthy cause, Smith said.

 

Monte Vista and Temple Heights Elementary School have each been awarded grants of $45,400 from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me” program which teaches leadership skills such as being proactive, setting goals and listening before speaking.

 

“The ‘Leader in Me’ program fits perfectly with Temple Heights’ focus on personalized learning and teaching to each student’s strengths,” said Temple Heights Principal Kim Morton. “We believe that each and every student is capable and should be built up as a leader,” Morton said.

 

“’The Leader in Me” program teaches students the skills they need for academic success in any setting, both in the classroom and beyond. The skills include critical thinking, goal setting, listening and speaking, self-directed learning, presentation-making and the ability to work in groups.”

 

According to its website, Leader.org is an independent grant-making charity dedicated to providing programs and services that build character and leadership in students in public elementary and middle schools.

 

Funding for the grants from Leader.org to pay for the “Leader in Me” program was provided by the Panda Charitable Foundation of the Panda Restaurant Group.

 

The “Leader in Me” program was developed by the Utah-based company of FranklinCovey, which sells education and self-improvement material.

 

“These students will have the opportunity to learn and apply leadership and life skills, such as responsibility, social etiquette, teamwork, communication, creative thinking, and problem solving, to name a few,” said Sean Covey, FranklinCovey education practice leader. “Learning these skills now will not only help them be successful in school, but in every area of their life.”

 

The “Leader in Me” program focuses on what it calls the seven habits of healthy kids – be proactive, begin with the end in mind, think win-win by seeking solutions that work for all sides, seek first to understand then be understood, value other people’s strength’s and learn from them, and “sharpen the saw” by eating right, exercising, spending time with family and finding meaningful ways to help others.

 

“It’s empowering kids at a very young age to make choices and think about their choices,” said Monte Vista kindergarten teacher Cindy Speakman. “They’ll have leadership notebooks where they’ll keep track of what they’re learning and make goals for themselves.

 

Lesson plans have students thinking early on “what kind of people they want to be and how they want to solve problems,” Speakman said.

 

Some of the seven habits are things students can quickly apply in school and at home, she said, like resolving playground conflicts or putting first things first by doing homework before playing with friends.

 

“I want to use them in my life right now: What do I want to do?” Speakman said, “what are my goals, and am I really taking the steps necessary to reach my goal?”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/21/16




Audience: Homepage

We are pleased to announce Brock Smith has been selected to serve as Executive Director, Facilities and Operations for the Vista Unified School District.  

 

Please see attached press release for details.

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Posted by: Brett Killeen
Published: 6/21/16




Audience: Homepage

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/19/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Capping the school year for Roosevelt Middle School eighth graders in the Vista Unified School District was an unusual challenge – build a model car that would go so slow that it would look like it was barely moving.

 

“It was hard,” said Veronica Portillo, who was captain of her team of four students. “Honestly, it was pretty frustrating, but it was fun.”

 

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A team at Roosevelt Middle School's STEM Design Challenge works together to build their slow-moving vehicle

 

Oscar Palacios said that making a model car that went fast was a snap. Making one that crawled along, now that was another matter. “We had to think up a lot of things to make it go slower,” Oscar said.

 

The winners of the challenge were the team of Annie Hansen, Santiago Garcia, Emile Davis and Jim Weckle, whose vehicle traveled a mere 3/8 inch in five minutes.

 

The idea of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) challenge was for the students to put to use the skills they learned in those fields during the school year, said Roosevelt Principal Elise Ochenduszko.

 

Divided into teams of up to four students, the eighth graders had to design their vehicles during their science classes, produce blueprints of what they came up with, write an essay about their work and make the vehicles using K’NEX construction and building toy kits provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific of Carlsbad. Thermo Fisher also provided judges for the competition.

 

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Students explain their project to a judge from Thermo Fisher Scientific

 

“We want to show them how fun science can be,” said Kathleen Buckner, Thermo Fisher brand program manager. “It’s been really neat to see their minds working, the ability to go beyond the classroom and put what they learned into practice. What we’re really doing is working to empower, not just their minds, but their teamwork, their collaboration.”

 

Science teacher Carlos Gomez said the challenge taught his students so-called soft-skills, like persistence and patience, along with some physics in designing their entries. “It’s a really hands-on, skill-building endeavor,” Gomez said.

 

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Science teacher Carlos Gomez with one of his teams of students

 

Student Anhai Munoz said the challenge gave him a taste of a possible career. “It gave me an idea of how making something could be so much fun,” said Anhai, who worked on the blueprints for his team’s vehicle. “I feel like I’d really be into computer design or engineering.”

 

Esmeralda Garcia she that liked collaborating with other students. “At first, I was kind of scared because I’m not good at building stuff,” said Esmeralda, who was the essay writer for her team. “When I came to my team, I felt kind of confident because they knew how to build it.”

 

On STEM Challenge Day, the student teams had 30 minutes to build their contraptions, then five minutes to see how slow they could go. The vehicles had to carry a golf ball as cargo, and it had to keep moving for the five minutes.

 

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Students showcase their design project to science teacher Allison Bowcock

 

“The challenge was a huge success,” Ochenduszko said. “Student engagement has increased and attendance in our science classes has improved. I see kids running to science class, they’re so excited. I don’t ever remember running to science classes as a student.”

 

The students were so excited, Ochenduszko said, that, “They’re asking me to build an engineering lab.” 

 

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An example of a student design project

 

Their request came at a perfect time. Ochenduszko said that plans call for a former computer lab at Roosevelt to be converted into a maker space/STEM lab complete with 3D printers and building materials where students are encouraged to tinker and build whatever they can dream up. Plans also are in the making for an even bigger STEM Challenge in the 2016-17 school year.

 

“Our biggest hope would be to expand the challenge so we have an opportunity to compete with other VUSD (Vista Unified School District) middle schools - maybe the top three teams from each school compete against each other,” Ochenduszko said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/15/16




Audience: Homepage

On behalf of Dr. Vodicka, we are pleased to announce Elaine Alexandres, Director, Human Relations, has been selected to be Assistant Superintendent, Human Relations.  She begins her new position effective July 1, 2016.  Please see the attached press release for additional information.  Congratulations to Elaine!

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Posted by: Brett Killeen
Published: 6/15/16




Audience: Homepage

#NationOfMakers Highlights Growing Education Movement

 

The White House has issued a proclamation designating June 17-23 as the “National Week of Making,” highlighting the important advances of the burgeoning “Maker” culture, and particularly what it brings to the world of education.

 

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A statement on the organization’s website says, “Makers are developing new solutions and products to pressing challenges, engaging students in hands on, interactive learning of STEM, arts and design and enabling individuals to learn new skills in design, fabrication and manufacturing.”

 

In a statement as the week’s proclamation was made, President Obama said, “Makers and builders and doers — of all ages and backgrounds — have pushed our country forward, developing creative solutions to important challenges and proving that ordinary Americans are capable of achieving the extraordinary when they have access to the resources they need.”

 

Building on last year’s National Week of Making, this year’s Week will highlight the diversity of Makers big and small, young and old, urban and rural. The Week of Making is an opportunity to for individuals in communities throughout the U.S. to participate in Making activities locally, celebrating the innovation, ingenuity and creativity of Makers.

 

Makers In Vista Unified

In advance of the National Week of Making week, several VUSD schools hosted events before the end of the school year to highlight their students’ work in Maker Labs and adapting Maker culture to the classroom. Both Roosevelt and VIDA middle schools hosted STEM Design Challenge events, while Casita Center Elementary had its own Maker-inspired Innovation Lab student showcase.

 

At Roosevelt and VIDA, students worked on specific tasks to design slow-moving vehicles utilizing kits provided by local biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific. Students were given the task to design their vehicles, produce blueprints, write an essay about their work and finally to make the vehicles using K’NEX construction and building toy kits provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific. Thermo Fisher employees served as judges alongside VIDA and Roosevelt teachers.

 

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A team of students at Roosevelt Middle School show of their creation in the STEM Design Challenge

 

At Casita Center, students who participated in the Innovation Lab class were tasked with designing and building structures that would serve as vehicles for marbles, transporting them through the constructions. Students had to design the structures keeping in mind the strength of the structure and building materials, momentum and velocity of the marbles, and other engineering and design principles.

 

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Casita Innovation Lab teachers Mireya Spacher (left) and Jenny Anderson (right) with students from the school's Innovation Lab

 

During the National Week of Making, Vista Unified is hosting the CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp training event for teachers. The event will bring more than 100 “computer using educators” from across the country for three days of training and hands-on work in making, allowing educators to participate in the maker culture that they guide students through during the year. The event is another example of Vista Unified working to provide innovative training not only to its own educators, but those across the country, modeling the value of collaboration in all areas of operation.

 

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The week has support from the Digital Harbor Foundation, NationOfMakers.org and the Ithaca Generator.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/13/16




Audience: Homepage

Congratulations to Nicole Adams-Walker, new assistant principal at Rancho Minerva Middle School, and to Jackie Wood, new assistant principal at Vista High School!

 

Nicole is currently Coordinator, Program Compliance and Accountability, and Jackie is currently Supervisor, Special Education. Both begin their new assignments effective July 1, 2016.

 

Press Release attached.

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Posted by: Brett Killeen
Published: 6/13/16




Audience: Homepage

On behalf of Dr. Vodicka, Superintendent, we are pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Matt Doyle to the position of Assistant Superintendent, Innovation.  Please see the attached press release for additional details.

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Posted by: Brett Killeen
Published: 6/9/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

If ever there was a doubt that kids are eager to read, it was dispelled with the recent opening of a special reading room for Maryland Elementary School parents and their children.

Even before the books were unpacked, students at the Vista Unified School District school were piling in to get a peek at the “Reading Oasis” room, provided through a partnership between the United Way of San Diego County and the children’s book publisher Scholastic, Inc.

 

“As we were putting the book shelves together, kids were coming in, trying to open the boxes to get the books,” said Katie Sawyer, United Way director of philanthropy.  “We’ve had students come by all week long, asking, ‘Can we come in and read?”

 

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Cutting the ribbon at Maryland Elementary are: Principal Carol LaBreche; Maryland Elementary students; Katie Sawyer of United Way; VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka; Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sherry Opacic; School Board Trustee Elizabeth Jaka; VUSD's Dr. Erin English

 

They can now, and they’ve got 1,500 new books, including about 200 in Spanish, thanks to a $10,000 grant the United Way received from the Red Nose Day Fund, a program of Comic Relief Inc.  Only ten of the Red Nose Day $10,000 grants were awarded in the nation, Sawyer said.

 

“For the United Way to come in and create this for us is huge,” said Board of Education Trustee Elizabeth Jaka. “Reading, for me, is a complete escape and I want all kids to appreciate that.”

Jaka said her mother was a teacher and a librarian, so she feels a personal connection to programs that encourage reading, a sentiment shared by Sawyer.

 

“My mom was a third grade teacher and I saw her out buying books for her class, so anytime we can get books in the classroom without the teacher paying for it, I’m over the moon,” Sawyer said.

 

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Dr. Vodicka addresses the Maryland Elementary community of students, teachers, families and staff.

 

Speaking to Maryland students before the Reading Oasis was officially opened, Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka urged them to “read as many books as you can. All of this is going to help you be smarter and successful in the future,” Vodicka said.

 

Along with the books came five bean bag chairs, a colorful new carpet, three bookshelves and a listening center to create a reading center where parents and students can congregate.

 

“We figure, if the parents come into the room and see the books, it will encourage them to read to their children,” said Carmen Waszak, an English development resource teacher.

The idea is that students can drop in to read during recess or lunch period, or stop by with their parents.

 

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Maryland Elementary students showing off the new Reading Oasis Library, bean bag chairs and decor.

 

“We’re trying to encourage our parents to come in, by part of their children’s education,” said Maryland Principal Carol LaBreche.

 

In addition to the reading room, the United Way also is providing online access to books for Maryland students and their families through its Club Connect Adopt-A-School Program. “That’s a really cool bonus,” LaBreche said.

 

Parents can gain access to the online books by registering their children to attend Maryland through the Parent Portal on the school website, http://me.vistausd.org/.

 

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Parents and children enjoy breaking in the new Reading Oasis

 

The Reading Oasis will be open during much of the summer as part a free school Healthy Habits for Healthy Living Summer Academy, LaBreche said.

 

The five-week academy will feature a variety of activities for parents and their children from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday from June 13 to July 15. A free lunch will be available each day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for children up to 18-years-old with free snacks for parents and caregivers.

Children’s activities will include math tutoring, small group reading, fitness warm-ups, soccer, orchestra camp, dance and a kindergarten readiness program.

 

Activities planned for adults include information on child development, family literacy, English as a second language, gardening and one-on-one consultations with community family support agencies.

 

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Dr. Devin Vodicka visits and reads with children and parents at Maryland Elementary's new Reading Oasis.

 

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A young reader relaxes in a bean bag chair at the Reading Oasis

 

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Parents and children explore the new Reading Oasis

 

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Maryland Principal Carol LaBreche, Dr. Vodicka, United Way's Katie Sawyer and VUSD Board Trustee Elizabeth Jaka in the Reading Oasis

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/6/16




Audience: Homepage

The drafts for the 2016-2017 school year LCAP and Blueprint For Educational Excellence and Innovation are available to view now. Spanish language versions will be posted ASAP. Click below to view each file.

 

LCAP Draft

 

Blueprint Draft

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/3/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Felix Mirando said he’ll be cruising California’s coast in his 2009 blue Corvette, going to car shows and taking his five-year-old grandson fishing. “I enjoy looking at old cars,” said Mirando, who was a custodian at Roosevelt Middle School for the past 10 years.

 

Patricia Stegman has started studying sign language at Palomar College and is planning her first-ever trip to New York City. “I want to go to a Broadway show, see the usual, visit museums, the Brooklyn Bridge, all that stuff, “said Stegman, who spent 17 years as an instructional aide at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math. “I want to do something else with my life before I’m too old and broken,” Stegman said with a smile.

 

Miriam Carr, who taught mostly second grade for 40 years – 25 in the Vista Unified School District – has taken up a new hobby.

“I want to start birdwatching,” said Carr, whose most recent teaching assignment was at Lake Elementary School. “I’m ready for a new phase.”

 

Mirando, Stegman and Carr were among dozens of retiring Vista Unified teachers and other school workers honored at a recent reception. 

 

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“You’ve all contributed so much to our students, our families and our entire community in Vista,” said Superintendent Devin Vodicka. “We know we’re seeing successes,” Vodicka said, citing improvements in the number of students graduating high school this year and a decline in the number of dropouts as examples.

 

“The only way this occurs is when a lot of people are working very hard for our students,” Vodicka said. “Your efforts, obviously, have had a big impact here in our community.”

 

Assistant Superintendent Brett Killeen told the retirees that “After years of sacrificing for others, it’s time to take a little time for yourselves.This is your time,” Killeen said. “I want you to think of this as a promotion.”

 

Dora Stabinski, a teaching assistant for 21 years at Vista Adult Transition Center, said she had mixed feelings about retiring, but looked forward to spending time with granddaughters Kadyn Cox, 3, and Makenzie Cox, 2. “I’m going to be a mom again,” Stabinski said.

 

Tammy Hollins and Terri Albritton decided to retire together after working together as adaptive physical education teachers, who modify physical education programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

 

“We’re retiring because we’re ready,” Hollins said. “I couldn’t imagine doing adaptive physical education without her, so we both made the decision.” Hollins said she plans to travel and help fix up her mother-in-law’s house.

 

Albritton said that her husband, a former teacher, retired last year so she figured it was time for her to join him in retirement, although she won’t be idle. “I’m going to help with my grandson, because my daughter is going back to teaching,” Albritton said. “Teachers run in my family. There’s five girls in my family and all of us have been teachers at one point.”

 

Annetta Mabrey, who works in the before-and-after school program at Hannalei Elementary school, said she’s sad about leaving the children, “but it’s time. I love working with the kids,” Mabrey said. “I’m going to miss it but I can go back and visit if I want, go back and help.”

 

That’s an outlook Vodicka encouraged all the retirees to adopt.

“I do hope you reconnect with us, stay connected,” Vodicka said.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/2/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Cassandra “Cassie” Molano is a young woman on a mission.

The Rancho Buena Vista High School senior has racked up a 4.6 grade point average – about as close to perfect as you can get.

 

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Cassie Molano of RBV High School is headed to Penn State this fall as a Gates Millennium Scholar

 

Among other things, she ran track and field, is a member of the Associated Student Body, volunteers to distribute food to the homeless, works in her church soup kitchen, had an internship at the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science at the University of San Diego, and, as a student ambassador for the Vista Unified School District, explains the ins-and-outs of high school to middle schoolers. 

 

She speaks three languages – English, Spanish and French – and hopes to study a fourth in college, probably Portuguese. She also has become an amateur photographer as a hobby after taking a course in the subject at Rancho Buena Vista.

“I get bored really easily,” Cassie explained. Her hard work and many interests have paid off. 

 

Cassie was recently named a Gates Millennium Scholar, which comes with a full college scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a program administered by the United Negro College Fund.

 

The program is open to students who are African-American, native-American, Alaska native, Asian-American/Pacific Islander and Hispanic-American.  In addition to the undergraduate scholarships, Millennium Scholars receive an annual stipend to continue their studies after earning an undergraduate degree.

 

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Cassie Molano

 

“Part of me hasn’t let it sink in yet,” Cassie said. “I’m still trying to focus on high school. The other part of me is, like, wow.”

Her teachers said it’s no surprise to them that Cassie was chosen for the scholarship program.

 

“I am very happy for Cassie, and I believe that the scholarship committee made an excellent choice,” said Rancho Buena Vista science teacher Janice Vanstrom.

 

“Cassie is a mature, sincere, and personable young lady who enjoys learning,” Vanstrom said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed having her as a student and feel confident that she is going to be very successful in life.”

 

Photography teacher Kelly Moncure said, “Cassie is such an outstanding student, with a huge amount of raw talent. I’m thrilled that with each project she’s done, she has put 110 percent effort into it, and she’s got a body of very impressive, professional work,” Moncure said.

 

Cassie said she likes taking photos of landscapes because, “It’s kind of my way of showing others how I see things.”

She’s posted some of her work on a website, http://molanophoto.weebly.com

 

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A photo by Cassie Molano showcasing her skills as a photographer

 

Despite the skill she’s developed as a photographer, “I don’t see myself as an artist at all,” Cassie said. “I figure I’m a science nerd.”

 

Science is Cassie’s passion, and chemistry is the side of science she likes most. But her favorite class this year is advanced calculus, a course she took just to challenge herself.

“It’s the hardest class I’ve ever taken,” Cassie said.

In school, she encourages other minority students to take honors classes, where she said minorities are under-represented.

 

“I remember the first AP (Advance Placement) class I joined. I think I was the only Mexican in the class. I felt kind of out of place,” Cassie said. “By junior year, I had a lot more people from my community in my classes. We’ve been strongly encouraging a group of our friends to take honor classes and AP classes.”

 

AP is a program which offers college-level courses to high school students, which can boost their grade point average.

With all her other activities, Cassie said she doesn’t have much time for television or movies.

 

Other than watching morning news reports, “I think the last time I watched TV was in the seventh grade.” As for movies, Cassie said she likes those featuring Captain America and saw “Creed,” a boxing movie that was a spin-off of the “Rocky” movies. “It wasn’t what I was expecting, it was really good,” Cassie said.

 

Her musical tastes run to compositions that are strong on instrumentation because she likes to make up her own lyrics to whatever is playing.

 

Cassie’s career goal is to become a forensic pathologist. She said she couldn’t decide between the law and medicine so she picked forensics because she figures it combines a little of both - determining how people died and testifying to it in court.

She’s also interested in working with Doctors Without Borders.

 

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More of Cassie Molano's photography

 

In the fall, Cassie will enter Pennsylvania State University, majoring in forensic science with a minor in toxicology.

She chose Pennsylvania because she wanted to explore a different part of the country and Penn State because of its rural setting.

 

“I’m really interested in experiencing a lot more than California,” Cassie said. “I was maybe thinking of going to a school out of this country, but it’s very expensive.”

 

Cassie’s advice to students just starting high school is, “Push yourself to do more than you think you can do” and “definitely, find something you’re passionate about. Use your passion to do whatever you want to do,” Cassie said. “I really like science and I’m passionate about it so I do it.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/31/16




Audience: Homepage

STUDENTS FIND THEIR PASSION THROUGH TEDx TALKS

 

By Ray Huard

 

English teacher Jennifer Waite thought that there had to be a better way. “I was just kind of bored with the traditional model,” Waite said.

 

It was near the end of the 2014-15 school year, time for Waite to assign the essays her Mission Vista High School students would write as a finale to their time in her class.

 

“The thought of grading 100 essays at the end of the year, I wanted to put toothpicks in my eyes,” Waite said. She and her students did come up with a better way – instead of just writing essays, why not write TED Talk-style speeches about something they really cared about?

 

According to its website, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading a wide range of ideas through short talks of 18 minutes or less. TED began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design (TED) converged and today covers topics from science to business to global issues in more than 100 languages.

 

“The kids were excited,” Waite said. “I got one girl who did an amazing one on why humans aren’t more like dolphins. It was this amazing research and it was her passion and it got everyone thinking and that’s the purpose.”

 

That was just the start.

 

The talks in her class went over so well, that Waite teamed up with Anne Fennell, head of the Mission Vista Visual and Performing Arts Department, along with a couple of Waite’s students to create a TEDx Youth club at the school.

 

TEDx is an offshoot of TED. TED events are put together by the TED organization. TEDx events can be organized by people in the community under license from TED and follow guidelines set by TED.

At the beginning of the school year, Mission Vista Spanish teacher Nina Amatore joined Waite and Fennell in working with the students.

 

“It was awesome, having three adults who get together and are so committed to the students,” Waite said. Amatore said had used TEDx-style talks in her classroom. “I love that students can become inspired in a short amount of time and become knowledgeable about a topic,” Amatore said. Not only do the students learn about the topic of their talk, but “They discover many things about themselves.” 

 

The result of the collaboration among the three teachers and their students was what Waite termed “a magnificent event.”

 

Eight Mission Vista students, under the guidance of Waite and Fennell, in April put on a Lux Aeterna: Ignite, a TEDx night in which the students spoke individually to an audience of about 100 people on everything from “Why We Go to School” to “Exploring the Cosmos.”

 

Lux Aeterna means eternal light in Latin and is the name of a choral piece used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

Sophomores Anthony Nguyen and Navarro Peck were the lead student organizers and masters of ceremony for the TEDx event, which Anthony said started as “just a random idea in class.”

 

“My classmates and I just thought, ‘What happens if we make this bigger, where can we take this?’” Anthony said. Caught up in their students’ enthusiasm and ready for something different, Fennell and Waite took special training to be able to put on the TEDx event with their students. With Amatore joining in, they started working with students in September.

 

“We coached them, we helped them refine their speech and their talk, and find their passion and find their call to action, as it were,” Fennell said. “They were amazing, what they accomplished.”

 

Matt Gilbert, who performed an original song entitled Thomas, Won’t You Marry Me, as his TEDx talk said he was “very nervous” at first, but looking back, felt gratified about being able to share his passion for music. “It was really nice,” said Matt, who hopes to become a professional musician.

 

“I’d always wanted to be a musician. I just was never really passionate about it. Then one day, two of my friends asked me to form a band and I said, ‘Sure, why not?,’ so I went out and bought a drum set,” Matt said. “I don’t know what I was thinking, but it paid off.”

Matt has since left the band, but his love of music remains and he plans to major in music at San Francisco State University.

 

Other Mission Vista students who gave TEDx talks at Lux Aeterna: Ignite were Aaroh Mankad, Keri Scholte, Nathan Mizell, Stephen Shoemaker, George Smith, and Isabella Alvarez De La Campa.

 

In preparing their presentations, the students learned skills that will translate well into the workplace when they’re out of school, Waite said. “They learned how to collaborate, how to give criticism, how to persuade people, how to present themselves, how to listen to other people, and how to consider other people’s opinions,” Waite said.

 

Anthony, who plans to major in engineering in college, said TEDx was “an amazing experience,” but one he hopes to top. “I want to push the boundaries and put Mission Vista on the global map, not just the national TED talk,” Anthony said. “I’m coming up with a new idea, starting a model United Nations.”

 

Fennell, Waite and Amatore are already planning a TEDx event for the 2016-17 school year, and, soon, videos of the April TEDx talks will be on the Internet.

 

“All 3 of us are totally in for the next school year because magic happened that night,” Waite said. 

Fennell said “I’m so excited about doing it again because I learned so much,” adding, “It made me realize that every human has a passion and wants their voice to be heard.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/26/16




Audience: Homepage

QUALCOMM’S DR. IRWIN JACOBS INSPIRES STUDENTS TO GO FULL STEAM AHEAD

 

By Ray Huard

 

Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the legendary co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm, was intrigued by a group of sixth graders who were using the computer coding skills they were learning to make toy dinosaurs move and small lights flash.

 

“I’m very excited to see this lab set up and being used,” said Jacobs, as he moved from table to table to chat with students in the newly opened VIDA Lab, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts and Math) lab sponsored by Qualcomm at Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA) in the Vista Unified School District.

 

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Dr. Irwin Jacobs inquires of VIDA 6th graders about their coding and robotics project.

 

Modeled after the Thinkabit Lab that Qualcomm opened in March 2014 at its Sorrento Valley headquarters, VIDA Lab meets what Jacobs said is one of the big challenges for business leaders and educators – getting students interested in STEAM at an early age.

 

The Thinkabit Lab was named for Linkabit Corporation, the company Jacobs co-founded in 1968 to develop satellite encryption devices long before there was a Qualcomm.

 

What especially interested him about VIDA Lab was, “there’s an equal mix of boys and girls and the girls are equally interested. A few years ago, that would not have been the case,” Jacobs said.

Traditionally, girls have shied away from STEAM careers. “We’re making progress in that,” Jacobs said.

 

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VIDA Lab is a catalyst for more girls exploring STEAM subjects.

 

Eleven-year-old Teya Schultz is an example.

 

Meeting Jacobs and explaining her project to him was “amazing,” Teya said, “because I have a real interest in science, coding and math.”

 

“I want to be an engineer or a scientist or both,” Teya said. “It’s really exciting that we have a Thinkabit lab here because we get to do all kinds of different things,”

 

The idea behind the Thinkabit lab and its offshoot at VIDA is to let students tinker, experiment and build whatever they can imagine.

 

Jacobs told the students that that’s how he got his start growing up, making things with wires and cigar boxes. “I always liked building things,” Jacobs said. “I was always excited about technology and taking math courses.”


 

VIDA student Malea VanBrocklin interviews Dr. Jacobs for the VIDA Lab class

 

The students were impressed. “I think it’s very cool that he comes here and talks to us,” said Sebastian Ferrer, 12.

 

Although Sebastian said he had spent some time at the Thinkabit lab at Qualcomm, the day of Jacobs’ visit was his first time to try out VIDA Lab. “It’s amazing because we’re one of the only schools associated with Qualcomm and Thinkabit Lab,” Sebastian said.

Eleven-year-old Jacob Bell said, “if we could, I’d come every day to learn about coding.”

 

VIDA is one of three San Diego County schools to have Qualcomm-sponsored labs on the Thinkabit model. The others are Harvey L. Lewis Jr. Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District and Fester Charter School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

 

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Three Doctors: VIDA Principal Dr. Eric Chagala, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka

 

In addition to sponsoring VIDA Lab, Qualcomm has donated classroom and office furniture to VIDA. Qualcomm engineers and other professionals also have met with VIDA students to talk about STEAM careers, said VIDA Principal Eric Chagala.

 

“We feel very blessed to have this relationship with Qualcomm and to be inspired and learn from Dr. Jacobs himself,” Chagala said.

 

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A VIDA 6th grader explains his project to Dr. Irwin Jacobs.

 

Tammy Solari, whose son is a student at VIDA, took time off from work to be at VIDA during Jacobs’ visit. “It’s amazing, he’s taking the time to talk with every kid here,” said Solari, who once worked at Qualcomm. “They’ll remember that forever.”

 

Solari did a little tinkering of her own in the lab. “You don’t see this in too many places,” Solari said, adding that VIDA and the lab gives students the chance to try things out and discover their interests early on.

 

“I felt like growing up, we didn’t have that. You went to college, you picked a major and hoped you enjoyed that,” Solari said. “I want to go back to middle school now. I feel I’ve been ripped off.”

 

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Students in VIDA Lab take a hands-on approach to STEAM subjects.

 

That sense of wonder is something Board of Education President Rich Alderson said Jacobs’ visit helped foster. “It’s pretty amazing that someone of his stature would take the opportunity to visit a local school like this,” Alderson said. “He’s certainly an important figure for all of us, especially the children.”

 

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VUSD School Board members Rich Alderson and Elizabeth Jaka with Dr. Jacobs.

 

In coming to VIDA, Alderson said that Jacobs saw an example of how Visa Unified is transforming education.

 

“One of the things I’m proud of in our district is that we’re trying to be innovative,” Alderson said. “I really hope the children continue to take away that sense of exploration and innovation. The kids have got to be able to problem-solve and look at new ways to approach things.”

 

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE VISIT

 

Dr. Jacobs Visits With Students

 

Dr. Irwin Jacobs spent time speaking with each student in VIDA Lab during his visit, inquiring about their class projects and what the lab means for VIDA students.

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Dr. Jacobs Meets VUSD Leaders

 

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VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka & Dr. Irwin Jacobs

 

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Dr. Jacobs laughing along with Dr. Vodicka and VIDA Principal Dr. Eric Chagala


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VUSD Executive Director of Innovation Dr. Matt Doyle & Dr. Jacobs


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Dr. Jacobs and Vista Visions Academy Principal & Director of Online/Blended Learning Dr. Erin English


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VIDA Provost Cindy Anderson meets Dr. Irwin Jacobs

 

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VIDA teacher Doug Kriedeman and his daughter, 6th grader Bella, with Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Vodicka

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/23/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

More students are graduating after four years of high school and fewer are dropping out in the Vista Unified School District, according to figures released this week by the California Department of Education.

 

Since 2013, the graduation rate in Vista Unified has gone from 81.1 percent for the class of 2013 to 84.8 percent for the class of 2015. During the same period, the dropout rate has decreased from 9 percent to 7.9 percent.

 

“We are thrilled to see improvements in our graduation rates and reductions in our dropout rate,” Superintendent Devin Vodicka said. “This has been a high priority established by our school board. These positive results are the direct result of concerted action from our dedicated students, staff, and community partners.”

 

Countywide, the graduation rate for the class of 2015 was 81.8 percent. Statewide, it was 82.3 percent, up from 74.7 percent in 2010.

 

“This is encouraging news any way you look at it, especially since the increase is occurring as we are introducing much more rigorous academic standards,” said state Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson.

 

“Statewide, our students are benefitting from the additional revenues flowing into our schools,” Torlakson said. “We are bringing back relevant and engaging classes in science, civics, arts and Career Technical Education that were slashed during the Great Recession.”

 

Along with the increased graduation rate statewide, the dropout rate declined from 11.5 percent in 2014 to 10.7 percent in 2015.

The figures for Vista show the district has made significant progress in a short period, said Craig Wiblemo, the district’s director of measuring and monitoring.

 

“These numbers are typically hard to move and these were significant bumps,” Wiblemo said. “It’s a pretty good increase and we’re definitely happy about it.”

 

Despite the improvement in graduation and dropout rates, Vodicka said “We still have room to improve and we are committed to continuing our efforts as we implement the Blueprint for Educational Excellence and Innovation.”

 

The blueprint outlines Vista Unified plans as the district moves to integrate digital technology in the classroom and changes in teaching methods which emphasize critical thinking, collaboration and innovation.

 

Wiblemo said he expects graduation rates to continue to rise as a result of those changes, along with the district’s growing emphasis on personalized learning in which lessons are tailored to meet the needs of individual students, who often work independently with guidance from teachers. “More and more schools are meeting students where they are,” Wiblemo said. “There’s more of a focus on that.”

 

The district’s WAVE Pact agreement with California State University San Marcos also is having an effect by guaranteeing slots at the university to students who maintain good grades and meet certain other requirements, Wiblemo said. “I think that’s huge.” 

 

The rate of students who didn’t complete high school in four years but are still enrolled for a fifth year of high school went from 9 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2015, according to the state statistics.

 

“A lot of those students tend to be English-learners who arrived (in Vista schools) later in their life, in the eighth or ninth grade,” Wiblemo said. Others were unable to complete all the courses required for graduation in four years for a variety of reasons, Wiblemo said. Most will stay in school to receive a diploma next year.

 

Vista Unified also has seen a slight increase in the number of special education students who are not receiving diplomas, but completed high school within four years, rising from 0.8 percent in 2013 to 1.3 percent in 2015.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/20/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Blanca Hernandez noticed that some of her fellow students at Vista High School kept to themselves and didn’t go to school events like dances and football games.

 

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Vista High Senior Blanca Hernandez

 

They were often new to this country, were just learning English and weren’t comfortable mixing with others. They were lost, “even when it comes to simple things,” Blanca said.

 

On school spirit day, which is sort of a day-long pep rally, they had no idea what was happening and why others were wearing crazy clothes.

 

“Coming to a new school is hard enough, let alone having to learn a new language,” Blanca said. “Although we are a very diverse high school, there isn’t diversity in that these students aren’t collaborating or talking to students who are from other backgrounds.”

 

Blanca and her friend, Maria Patino, set out to break down the barriers that kept those students from participating in what Blanca called the full “American high school experience.”

They formed the Panther’s International Club, which focuses on helping English-learners improve their language, social and academic skills.

 

As a result, those once-isolated students are now very much a part of the Vista High School scene, said Luis Landaverde, the club’s faculty advisor. “The kids just gravitate toward her,” Landaverde said of Blanca. “She just has this really energetic, welcoming demeanor. She wasn’t afraid to approach the students who were new here.”

 

For her part, Blanca was awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations and was among about 20 students from across the nation invited to attend a symposium on race relations at Princeton University.

 

The award “is given to high school students across the country who have advanced the cause of positive race relations in their schools or communities,” the Princeton Prize in Race Relations of San Diego said in awarding the prize to Blanca.

 

When she first approached the English-learning students at Vista High, “a lot of them were shocked that I speak Spanish,” said Blanca, who was classified as an English-learning student in elementary school. “I felt a connection with these students from my family,” Blanca said.

 

She said that her father came to this country as a child and, like those students at Vista High, never felt that he fit in with the English-speaking students in high school.

 

Even for those who are fluent in English and Spanish, as she is, Blanca said there have been times when people looked down on her “because I was different. I remember going to a (school) open house with my dad and we were the only minorities.” She said one of her goals has been to disprove stereotypes that are demeaning.

 

Among other things, she has served on the Associated Student Body as a class representative and co-lead for publicity, ran cross country and track for her first three years in high school, is a member of the California Scholarship Federation, an International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, and AVID Club president.

 

Even with all her activities, Blanca has earned a 4.45 grade point average. She plans to attend the University of San Diego in the fall with a major in political science and a minor in Spanish and English. Her goal is to become a civil rights lawyer.

 

Throughout high school, Blanca concentrated on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses but had an epiphany last summer when she was a counselor at the American Association of University Tech Trek, a summer camp aimed at developing a passion among young girls for STEM careers.

 

“I realized it wasn’t something I was enjoying,” Blanca said. “I decided I wanted to pull back away from STEM.” She said that doesn’t want to give up entirely on STEM, so minoring in economics will allow her to continue advancing her math skills.

Instead of the career in biology she had envisioned, Blanca decided she’d rather to something to help minorities, and becoming a lawyer seems like a good option.

 

The law is a career that would suit Blanca, Landaverde said. “She would be a perfect lawyer. She talks a lot. She will talk your ear off,” Landaverde said with a chuckle. “She’s going to be successful no matter what she does.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/17/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Vista Unified School District is one of a handful of school districts in the nation to become a Common Sense Digital Certified District for the 2015-16 school year for its drive to make all of its students and parents Internet savvy.

 

“We’re one of 19 school districts in the nation to achieve Common Sense certification,” said Marc Schroeder, a Vista Unified technology resource teacher.

 

What that means is that students in nearly every school in Vista Unified have  been given special training in how to properly use the Internet – everything from how to most efficiently search for information to the risks of giving out too much personal information.

 

Evening sessions also were scheduled for parents at many schools. “We’re not just reaching out to students, we had training for all of our teachers, for our students and for our families and community at large,” Schroeder said.

 

“It’s not just avoiding the negatives in the Internet. Part of this is students understanding that their digital profile is something that will follow them for the rest of their lives. They have the opportunity to create a very positive profile of who they are and their accomplishments.”

 

The certification is granted by Common Sense Media, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology,” according to its website.

Schroeder said the certification “shows that we’re making a commitment not only to using digital tools but using them safely and appropriately.”

 

As of May, other California districts receiving the certification were Atwater Elementary School District near Merced in central California, Cardiff School District and Manteca Unified School District in San Joaquin County.

 

“We applaud the faculty and staff of Vista Unified School District for embracing digital citizenship as an important part of their students’ education,” said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense. “Vista Unified deserves high praise for giving its students the foundational skills they need to compete and succeed in the 21st-century workplace and participate ethically in society at large.”

 

The issue of digital awareness is particularly significant in Vista Unified because the district is close to achieving its goal of providing computer tablets or other digital devices to every student and teacher, said Dan Brown, a technology resource teacher.

 

“We’re rapidly approaching a one-to-one” ratio of devices to students and teachers, Brown said. “We’re a device-rich district.”

 

Keeping pace with that, students at more than 80 percent of district schools have received digital citizenship training, Brown said. “When we were all in high school, if you messed up, you just messed up in front of a small group of people,” Brown said.

 

With the Internet and social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, “potentially, hundreds of thousands of people could see your mistake and it’s there forever,” Brown said.

 

The digital training as outlined by Common Sense Media is tailored to meet the needs and sophistication of students at different grade levels.

 

For example, at the kindergarten through second grade level, the focus is at going places safely, knowing what kind of information is private and shouldn’t be shared without an adult’s approval, and connecting with others through email.

 

In higher grades, students learn about cyber bullying, using copyrighted material and the consequences of putting too much information online, among other things.

 

Students and adults often don’t realize that once something is posted on the Internet, it’s there to stay, Schroeder said. “In the future, we’re all probably going to be judged and gauged by our digital profile,” Schroeder said.

 

Seemingly innocent posts on social media sites can cause problems. Brown explained that in one instance, a student who was in the hospital posted a photograph of his patient wrist band. Without realizing it, he had given away his Social Security number which was on the band.

 

In another case, a student was so excited about getting his driver’s license that he posted a photo of it, making his date of birth and address public knowledge.

 

Brown adding that, “making kids aware of things like that,” is a goal of the program, adding, “it’s not going to stop all the misuse, we realize that, but we sure need to be proactive.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/16/16




Audience: Homepage

Vista Unified School District's three comprehensive high schools will have their 2016 graduation ceremonies streamed live online this year. Mission Vista High School, Rancho Buena Vista High School and Vista High School will each have a dedicated stream for ceremonies on Thursday, June 2, 2016. The streams will begin approximately 30 minutes before the start of each ceremony. To watch the graduation ceremonies, click on the links below.

 

Click to watch each ceremony:

 

Mission Vista High School

 

Rancho Buena Vista High School

 

Vista High School

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/12/16




Audience: Homepage

Brett Killeen, Assistant Superintendent, Human Relations, has been selected to serve as Principal of Canyon Crest Academy in the San Dieguito Union High School District for the 2016/2017 school year. For more information, please see attached press release.

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Posted by: Brett Killeen
Published: 5/12/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Simon Hay of the London-based Firefly Learning said he was impressed by the way some Olive Elementary first graders worked independently on computer tablets while others were guided by teacher Teresa Dominguez. “We work with schools in 26 different countries and we don’t see this very often,” Hay said. “It’s really cool to see what’s going on.”

 

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Simon Hay from London-based Firefly Learning visits with an Olive Elementary student.

 

Hay was among more than 100 educators and entrepreneurs from around the world who recently toured several schools in the Vista Unified School District to see first-hand the innovative teaching practices they’d heard about.

 

“The big thing I’m noticing is just the independence of the students,” said Sarah Rahn, a teacher in Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota. “It’s eye-opening to see what the students can do when they have their own devices.”

 

Rahn said she was envious because each of the Olive Elementary students has a tablet to use, while she has to check out tablets from the school library when she wants her students to use them.

 

Olive Principal Stephanie Vasquez said technology is an important element in the school’s focus on critical thinking, collaboration, communication and clear writing. “That technology is meeting students at their level,” Vasquez told the tour group.

 

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A League of Innovative Schools visitor takes digital notes during a school site visit.

 

In Teresa Dominguez’s first grade, the students are using tablets as they learn how to write opinion pieces.

“It’s super exciting to hear first graders’ opinions,” Vazquez said.

 

The visitors also got a peek at Myrna Gonzalez’s fifth grade class, where the students are growing vegetables in the classroom, using aeroponic towers, which use no soil but spray a mist of nutrients onto plants hanging from the towers.

 

“I’ve never seen these before,” said Jason Bedford, senior vice president for client express and engagement at Dreambox Learning of Raleigh, N.C.

Bedford said he liked how Gonzalez was guiding her students as they worked on projects. “I really see the teacher as an activator,” Bedford said. “We talk about facilitator. She was an activator. She was giving them what they needed.”

 

The school tours were in conjunction with the recent semi-annual meeting of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools in San Diego and the annual ASU-GSV (Arizona State University-Global Silicon Valley) Summit, also in San Diego.

 

The summit brought together a wide range of companies and individuals to share the latest developments in educational technology.

 

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Digital Promise CEO Karen Cator and Business Development Director Atanas Bakalov engage with VIDA students.

 

The League of Innovative Schools sessions were co-hosted by Vista Unified and Cajon Valley school districts. Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit organization created by Congress to accelerate innovation in education. Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of school districts considered leaders in using technology in the classroom. Vista Unified and Cajon Valley are members.

 

“I hope that we’re able to share the great things that our teachers and students are doing every day,” Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.

Schools on the tour included Temple Heights Elementary School, Mission Vista High School, Vista High School, Rancho Minerva Middle School, Vista Magnet Middle School, Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts, Vista Magnet Middle School, Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math, Vista Innovation & Design Academy and Olive Elementary.

 

At VIDA, Darrin Sato of Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii said, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of students.”

VIDA recently opened a maker space lab sponsored by Qualcomm where students are encouraged to let their imaginations roam as they tinker by designing and building robots and other creations aimed at inspiring them to consider careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

 

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Olive Elementary School welcomes a group of visitors through the League Of Innovative Schools conference

 

Visiting the VIDA lab, Sato said “I definitely love the collaboration – students working in groups. It’s such a 21st Century skill, collaboration.” As program director of IT education technology services for his school district. Sato said “I definitely love the infusion of technology that I’m seeing.”

 

VIDA Principal Eric Chagala explained that VIDA is “a more project-based learning school” where students learn core skills by making things and puzzling through problems. “They can actually go out and solve real world problems in real world and innovative ways,” Chagala said. “We want kids to be what Google calls smart creators.”

 

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VIDA Principal Dr. Eric Chagala welcomes Digital Promise guests to the newly launched VIDA Lab.

 

For example, Chagala that said students learn high school level physics “by fooling around with rockets.”

The school also has a crime scene investigation course, where students investigate a murder.

In the process, “We’re teaching them biomedical science.”

 

David Alderslade, vice president of finance and administration at the educational development firm Edgenuity of Scottsdale, Ariz., said he hasn’t been in a school since he was a student and what he was seeing at Vista Unified was far different from what he remembered. “It’s not the old brick-and-mortar school,” Alderslade said. “I’m used to a teacher at the front with all the desks lined up and a black board and that was it.”

 

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Students in working groups move around classrooms to collaborate 

 

Alderslade said he liked the changes he saw being implemented at Vista Unified. “Clearly, kids are engaged and encouraged to be innovative,” Alderslade said. “I love that they can direct their own pace.”

 

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VIDA students collaborating on class work.

 

At Vista Academy, Valerie Truesdale, chief officer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, said she liked the way teachers were using what she called “inquiry-based learning.”

 

“Instead of the teachers saying, ‘This is the information,’ and teaching it, the teacher helps kids puzzle it out,” Truesdale said, adding, “That takes a lot of planning for teachers.”

 

Tina Bobrowski, a teacher and media specialist at Owsley County School District in Kentucky, said she liked the way Vista Academy infuses the arts throughout its curriculum. “It was consistent from room to room,” Bobrowski said. “They’re touching all sides of a student.”

 

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The Casita Center 4th grade news team explains their process to a Digital Promise visitor

 

Like many of her colleagues, Bobrowski said she was impressed with the way Vista Unified tailors curriculum to meet the needs of individual students. “I see the excitement of the children, because they see this is working for them,” Bobrowski said. “When you have people coming from all over the country to visit you, you know you’re doing something right.”

 

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VIDA Principal Eric Chagala and students welcome visitors 

 

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS FROM THE LEAGUE OF INNOVATIVE SCHOOLS CONFERENCE AND VISTS TO VUSD SCHOOLS

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/9/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Isolation and loneliness were the feelings Mission Vista High School senior Lauren Spears said she wanted to evoke in the black-and-white pencil drawing of a woman standing by herself on the peak of a roof.

The woman’s hair is ruffled, like it’s caught by the wind. Her arms hang limply by her side. Her facial expression is almost grim. “It’s kind of like an uncomfortable feeling,” Lauren said.

 

The drawing is so striking that it won the Best of Show award at the recent Carlsbad-Oceanside Art League Annual High School Art Show at the OPT Underground Gallery at Oceanside Photo and Telescopic in Oceanside.

 

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Lauren Spears' drawing won a Best in Show Award

 

Her teacher, Heidi Madden, said that Lauren “has an artistic talent you don’t often see in high school.”

“Many students can draw and paint beautifully, but Lauren can conjure images in her mind and have them just seemingly flow out her brush or pencil,” said Madden, a visual arts instructor at Mission Vista. “She is a very gifted young lady.”

 

Lauren said that her first love is photography, and the drawing was from a photo she took while visiting a friend in San Francisco. “Sometimes, I’ll go out with my friends and take pictures because that’s what I enjoy doing, Lauren said.

 

She plans to go to Mira Costa College, majoring in art.

Her career goal is to become a news photographer, focusing on bands. Some of her photos have been published in the online Lucid Magazine.  According to its website, the magazine is made by teenagers for teenagers with a goal of bringing attention to aspiring artists, musicians and models, among others.

 

Winning the Best of Show award “feels good and empowering,” Lauren said. “I just bring my camera everywhere with me.”

 

That’s a feeling shared by several other students from Vista Unified School District, who won awards at the OPT show.

 

Ryanna King, who was among them, said she had no idea she was snapping off a prize-winning photo one rainy afternoon at Rancho Buena Vista High School.

“I was actually quite bored that day, and I just saw how the school felt really clean after the rain and it looked really stunning,” said Ryanna, a junior who has taken up photography as a hobby. “I felt like the lighting was perfect, so this would look really cool,” Ryanna said.

 

Her photo is looking down a wet sidewalk at the rear of the high school, with classroom buildings on each side and two rows of tall trees sort of framing the shot.

A small light, like a setting sun, shines at the very end of the sidewalk.

 

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Ryanna King's First Prize photograph

 

The photo won first prize at the Art League show.

Ryanna’s photography teacher, Kelly Moncure, said that Ryanna’s photo “seemed to strike a key with almost everyone.I like the fact that it’s moody and unusual,” Moncure said. “It kind of has a real sense of melancholy.”

 

Ryanna said she wasn’t trying to evoke a particular feeling when she took the photo, but when she looks at the finished product, “It’s like school. We kind of always have a path and at the very end of the path is our future, and even though it may seem dark and dreary right now, it’s bright in the future,” she said.

 

Ryanna’s inspiration for photography is her stepmother, Cherish Eckert, a professional photographer who owns Cherished Moments Photography in Vista. “I’ve always kind of looked up to her and what’s she’s done,” Ryanna said.

 

For now, Ryanna’s career goals are fluid, but she said that she plans to go to Palomar College and is interested in photo journalism or journalism in general.

“I’ve always loved writing and taking pictures, seeing the stories,” Ryanna said. “Each picture has a story to tell.”

 

Classmate Gerardo Zuniga won a prize in the show with his shot of a classmate getting smacked in the face with a water balloon.

 

“I like this photo because it just makes me laugh so hard, and it gives me a sense of how fun the class is and how fun my students are,” Moncure said. “It was just ridiculous and everyone was super happy. It was just a really, nice fun day."

 


Gerardo Zuniga's prize-winning photo
 

Gerardo’s photo captures the very instant a water balloon explodes on a classmate’s face as he grimaces.

 

Moncure said that her students were experimenting with using fast shutter speeds when Gerardo snapped his photo. “It kind of shows how, in photography, you can show all kinds of emotion, from sadness to happiness,” Gerardo said.

 

In this case, laughter would be the appropriate response. “I want people to feel basically happy and bring them joy,” Gerardo said. “It’s a funny photograph.

A senior, Gerardo said he plans to major in computer science at California State University San Marcos, but will continue with photography as a hobby. “I have a passion for it now,” Gerardo said.

 

Another of Moncure’s students, Ignacio Castillo, won an award for a pencil drawing of a Native-American woman wearing a headdress. Ignacio is a photography student with Moncure but she said he drew the winning entry in a class he has with Rancho Buena Vista art teacher Doug Disney.

 

Explaining his drawing, Ignacio said, “She’s just looking at you. She wants to show what she stands for and who she is,” adding that he sought to “capture the spirit” of Native-Americans, “how they’re peaceful and serene and really balanced. I wanted to tell people how everyone in life goes through a lot of obstacles that can change them or influence them to become someone new,” said Ignacio, who is enlisting it the Army with a goal of becoming a medic.

 

In all, the art show included 275 entries in a variety of media by students from Mission Vista High School, Vista High School, Rancho Buena Vista High School, Army & Navy Academy, El Camino High School, Carlsbad High School and Oceanside High School.

 

Vista Unified students participating in the exhibit included Whitney Rice, Jeremy Bunda, Nicole Johnston, Bella Gardner, Joanna Medina, Ellie Kingston, Cheyanne Elton, Victor Hernandez, Dylann Jelden, Kim Tirado, Kamryn Dugan, Ella Nicholson, Joshua San Nicolas, Dickson Janda, Simon Ortega, Jeremiah Schmitt, Julian Sainz, Jasmine Campos, Aidan Dean, Conner Drinkward, Christian Enriquez, Zach Kleppe, Sierra Matthews, Yesenia Mora, Naomi Pazmino, Paulo Perez and Juan Rivera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/5/16




Audience: Homepage

A group of Olive Elementary School fifth graders is growing some of their own food, right in their classroom.

 

They’re doing it with aeroponics, a way of growing plants in which the roots hang suspended in air while a solution of nutrients is sprayed on them in the form of a fine mist.

 

“It’s a system that grows plants with 90 percent less water,” explained student Jacqueline Jacobo.

 

“It grows faster than a normal garden,” Jacqueline said.

 

Pointing to some plants that were about to be harvested for salads, Jacqueline said, “These were planted three weeks ago and they’re already ready.”

 

The fifth graders’ aeroponics project won the Bright Idea Award for an elementary school at the San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering in early March at Petco Park.

 

The Olive Elementary fifth graders also were recognized with a special proclamation in March by the San Diego City Council.

 

Jacqueline and her classmates have been growing butter lettuce, kale, basil and arugula in four towers, each of which is about 6-feet-tall.

 

They plan to expand their crop to include edible flowers, rainbow colored chard, and bok choy, a Chinese cabbage.

 

Water treated with nutrients is stored in a basin at the foot of each tower, and the solution is pumped through the tower and onto the plants.

 

Special lights that mimic sunlight are aligned along the edge of the towers to help the plants grow.

 

Twice a week, the students take turns adding nutrients to the water and testing the pH level, which in chemistry is a numeric scale ranging from one to 10 used to specify the acid or base level of water solutions. PH stands for power of hydrogen, a measurement of hydrogen ion concentration.

 

For the plants to thrive, the pH level in the towers should be between 5.5 and six, said student Clarissa Arcos.

 

The aeroponic project grew out of a class discussion of malnutrition and what they could do about it, said fifth grade teacher Myrna Gonzalez.

 

As part of that, the students talked about how they could grow more vegetables using less water because of the state-wide drought.

 

A teacher in a neighboring classroom had an aeroponic tower of her own, which she brought into her classroom to show her students, Gonzalez said.

 

When the fifth graders saw the tower, they decided to expand on it as their class project.

 

With the help of grants, the students wound up with four towers in their class.

 

Each tower with the lights cost about $1,000, said Lindsey Richardson, a field energy consultant for Solar City and classroom volunteer who helps the students with the aeroponics project.

 

If their project is successful, the fifth graders hope to serve their produce in the school cafeteria and eventually start a farmer’s market on campus.

 

“It helps us learn how to eat healthy and stay healthy,” said student Dominic Tejeda.

 

Principal Stephanie Vasquez said the aeroponics project has proven so successful that she’d like to expand it to other classrooms.

 

“It’s been fun, experimenting with the plants just to see how they thrive,” Vasquez said. “We’re all learning.”

 

Olive Elementary also has a traditional outdoor garden, but Vasquez said it takes up more room, uses far more water than the aeroponics.

 

“Growing vertically is proving to be a great option,” Vasquez said.

 

If the plan for a campus farmer’s marker works out, Clarissa said any money the students earn from it could go to buy more aeroponic towers for other classes at Olive and even for other schools in the Vista Unified School District.

 

“We could donate a tower garden to each school with the money we make,” Clarissa said.

 

Classmate Angel Mendoza is hoping other kids take to aeroponic farming as eagerly as his class did.

 

“If a lot of schools do this, it will really help the environment because it uses 90 percent less water,” Angel said.

 



Lindsey Richardson and student Alana Cruz harvesting lettuce.

 


Alana Cruz and Alejandro Ruiz harvesting lettuce.
 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/2/16




Audience: Homepage

Rancho Minerva eighth-grader Karen Valdevinos challenged all who passed to drop an egg in a specially designed, sponge container from above their heads and see how it wouldn’t break.

 

Except it did, break that is, well, cracked anyway.

 

“Right now was the first time it broke,” Karen explained. “All the other times, it didn’t. It was weird.”

 

Her team’s projects were among more than 350 on display at Vista Unified School District’s recent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Fest at Vista High School.

 

Karen’s eighth grade science teacher, Desiree Wilson, said that the cracked egg was fine with her.

 

“The most interesting part for me is to see them (students) make adjustments and improvements to their design so if it fails, they learn from it,” Wilson said. “Many times, when we do things, it doesn’t always work. We talk a lot in our school about growth mistakes, when you learn from our mistakes.”

 

Wilson figured her students went through about 50 eggs refining their design, until they came up with the final version, using cleaning sponges to surround the egg on four sides and cushion it inside a paper cup with still more sponge on the bottom.

 

When Karen tried again with a new egg – success! The egg emerged unbroken and uncracked.

 

Karen theorized that maybe the egg that broke wasn’t properly positioned in its protective container.

The whole idea behind STEM Fest is to get students thinking creatively about science, engineering and math and introduce them to the many ways STEM touches their lives and is integral to a wide range of careers, said Kellie Fleming, a content resource teacher who organized STEM Fest.

 

“It’s a good experience, it gives kids confidence,” Fleming said.

 

The projects were just about everything imaginable, from robots that picked up balls the size of grapefruit to bridges and catapults made out of Popsicle sticks.

 

With a little help from her mom, Breeze Hill fourth-grader Julissa Iribe and partner Cesar Cira showed how to make slime goo in a variety of colors, using a mixture of white glue, food coloring and a solution of borax and water.

 

“I thought it would be really fun for the kids. It’s really fun to play with,” Julissa said as she poured blue slime goo from hand to hand.

 

There was one drawback, Julissa said.

 

“Sometimes it stinks.”

 

Teacher Jennifer Peirson didn’t mind.

 

“I’m just so excited that the students got an opportunity to do some experiments and learn about science careers,” Peirson said.

 

Besides slime goo, her students demonstrated how wind power worked with small propellers attached to empty soft drink bottles and had models of solar-powered cars.

 

“They worked really hard on their projects,” Peirson said.

 

Hannalei Elementary School fifth-grader Malaina Stevens found magnetism so intriguing that she came up with a display that was three projects in one, including special magnets developed by NASA to keep rocket fuel flowing in zero gravity.

 

“I think magnets are very interesting and they’re used in lots of things,” Malaina said.

 

Her projects included a demonstration of how some common beach sand containing the mineral magnetite is highly magnetic.

 

 “We used to play with the sand,” said Malaina’s mother, Myrna Arnal. “I didn’t know anything about it.”

 

With her mother’s help, Malaina also learned how to build a homopolar motor, which uses magnets to operate as Malaina showed in another part of her project.

 

School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that the enthusiasm students have in developing projects for STEM Fest was infectious.

 

“Kids are coming up, saying, ‘Come look at my project, come look at my project,’” Vodicka said. “It’s a fantastic district celebration of the ingenuity and perseverance of our students.”

 

STEM Fest never would have happened were it not for the encouragement of Vodicka and Larry White, district executive director of curriculum and instruction and educational technology, Fleming said.

 

“They had faith in me that first year and said, ‘Have a go,’” Fleming said.

 

STEM Fest started three years ago with about 100 exhibits at Washington Middle School, which has since become Vista Innovation & Design Academy.

 

For 2016, STEM Fest even outgrew the Vista High School gymnasium, with many of the exhibits and demonstrations from robotics to bridge building moved outside to the high school quadrangle.

 

Senior Brendan Jackson was among a group of Rancho Buena Vista High School students showing off their robotic creations in the quadrangle.

 

Brendan was putting the finishing touches to a “rally bot” he designed for racing. He said it could reach a speed of 15 miles per hour.

 

“What’s hard about it is taking the image in your brain and making it work with basically an Erector Set – metal with holes drilled into it,” said Brendan, who is considering a career in automotive electronics.

 

Just a few steps away, Lake Elementary School fourth-grader Luke Maguire was letting other students use a catapult he built to take pot shots at him and some toy soldiers he’d arranged on a table.

 

Anyone who hit a soldier or Luke got a candy as a prize.

 

His project was to compare the performances of two catapults of different sizes.

 

“My hypothesis was that the smaller one would go father and it did,” Luke said.

 

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Rancho Minerva Middle School eighth-grader Karen Valdevinos demonstrating egg drop.

 

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Rancho Buena Vista High School senior Brendan Jackson working on his robot car.

 

Breeze Hill Elementary School fourth-grader Julissa Iribe and mom. Maria Iribe, making slime goo at STEM Fest.

 

Demo Table.jpgHannalei Elementary School fifth-grader Malaina Stevens and her mom, Myrna Arnal, setting up Malaina's project on magnetism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/29/16




Audience: Homepage

A Vista Unified School District elementary school that emphasizes arts education has been recognized by the California Department of Education as a model of excellence.

 

Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) is one of 772 elementary schools in the state and one of 20 in San Diego County to receive a Gold Ribbon Award.

 

“These schools shine as bright beacons for others, putting forth an exemplary effort to ensure that every student is ready for 21st century college and careers,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

 

In conjunction with the Gold Ribbon award, VAPA is up for an auxiliary Excellence in Arts.

 

“What makes Vista Academy (VA) stand out is its strong focus on the arts. Arts integration exits in stand alone classes and is woven throughout our thematic units of instruction,” said Principal Catina Hancock.

 

“I’ve been hard-pressed to find another elementary school in the country that is doing a program like we’re doing,” Hancock said.

 

Typically, schools may offer a single art class or have an after-school arts program, but VAPA has full-time, credentialed art, dance, drama and music teachers.

 

“All children, in every grade, get dance, drama, music and art instruction taught by a teacher who’s an expert as well as having art integrated in their grade (classrooms),” Hancock said.

 

Students also are exposed to the arts by outside groups that regularly perform at the school, such as the San Diego Ballet. Students also make frequent field trips, and a group of VA students earlier this year performed in concert with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra at the California Center for the Arts Escondido.

 

“Part of what we do well is look for opportunities to bring in activities or events or send kids out to activities or events that will enrich their learning,” Hancock said.

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said “I am proud of the students, families, and staff at VA who have worked hard to earn this remarkable recognition.”

 

“Over the past few years, VAPA has expanded opportunities in the arts and integrated a rigorous International Baccalaureate program into the instructional model,” Vodicka said. “Student learning has accelerated as a result of these efforts.”

 

VA is in the process of becoming authorized as an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, offering an especially rigorous curriculum in which students learn through inquiry and action. The IB program also stresses critical thinking, creativity and a global mindedness. Additionally, the school has adopted Spanish as its second language.

 

About 85 percent of VA’s students are of Hispanic descent, with about 55 percent of these classified as English Language Learners, Hancock said.

 

“With the addition of Spanish, our English speaking students will hopefully head to middle school having a good foundation in Spanish, while our native Spanish speakers will work towards literacy in their native tongue,” Hancock said. “We want them to be able speak, read and write in Spanish. A lot of our Spanish speaking students are losing their language. They come to school and they’re taught in English so they start to prefer English over Spanish. We want them, as adults, to be bilingual and biliterate.”

 

As a magnet school, VA is open to students from throughout the region, and about 5 percent of its students come from outside Vista Unified, Hancock said.

 

“My goal is to make this school similar to the Orange County School for the Arts, where people are driving an hour or more, from their residence school, because they believe in our mission and understand the value of our educational program,” Hancock said. “An additional highlight for parents is the intangible skills that instruction through the arts and IB generates in children – the creativity and confidence, the ability to speak in public, the ability to be resilient and take risks. Those are all things that kids learn by experiences they have with and through the arts.”

 

VAPA’s emphasis on the arts has been a big hit with students.

 

“We actually have a hard time sending them home when they’re sick because they want to stay in school,” Hancock said. “I think this community has worked extremely hard to get to the point where we can confidently say our kids are going to be creative, they’re going to be collaborative and ready to move on and be successful at any endeavor they undertake.”

 

Hancock said she wasn’t surprised that VAPA was named a Gold Ribbon school.

 

“The last 3 years, we have been living our mission, to inspire every student to be a confident, global citizen and critical thinker through a rigorous, arts-integrated and innovative academic community. This award provides the feedback that we are on the right track.”

 

Getting there took work.

 

“I don’t have an arts background, so for me, coming to Vista Academy 4 years ago was a steep learning curve,” Hancock said. “Ultimately, the success we’re experiencing is the direct result of a community that believes passionately in art education and a staff that is extremely flexible and dedicated to creating a program that meets the needs of all our learners.”

 

Nevertheless, Hancock said “We still have our work cut out for us. Never can we stop and say, ‘we’ve got it.’ We will evolve as the needs of our learners evolve.”

 

For more information, please visit the school website at https://vapa-vistausd-ca.schoolloop.com/ or schedule a tour, 760-941-0880.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/26/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Empressa Elementary School sent its Scrabble contestants off with a rousing rally and some strong words of encouragement from Principal Cheree McKean. “My team is going to do awesome,” McKean predicted. “They are so excited, they come up and say ‘we’re going to win.’ That’s the attitude to have.”

And win they did.

 

Cinching a title the school first claimed in the 2006 tournament, Empressa Elementary School’s team took home the trophy in Vista Unified School District’s version of March Madness, the annual elementary school Scrabble Tournament.

 

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The Casita Center Multi-Purpose room was filled to overflowing for this year's Scrabble tournament

 

Empressa actually fielded two teams of two students in the recent tournament, hosted this year by Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math.

 

Empressa Team Black led with 4,823 points, followed by teams from Monte Vista Elementary School at 3,350 points, Alamosa Park Elementary School Team Red at 3,348 points, Empressa Team Purple at 3,343 points, Alamosa Black Team at 3,219 points, Casita at 2,626 points and Bobier Elementary School at 2,133 points.

 

The school teams wore different colored T-shirts as their uniforms – Empressa students in black or purple, Casita, Bobier and Monte Vista in blue and Alamosa Park in red.

 

Practice, practice, practice was the winning formula for Empressa. Their teams practiced playing the word game for 10 weeks leading up to the tournament, an hour a week every Friday before school, at home and whenever they had a spare moment, McKean said.

 

“Instead of running around playing, they practice during lunch time and recess,” McKean said.

Empressa fifth-grader Emma Rivera said that she likes playing because “it helps me with my spelling.”

“It’s a game that helps you with learning,” Emma said.

 

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Students from across the district competed in the annual Scrabble tournament

 

“It’s challenging, but at the same time, if you don’t win, it’s still fun,” Casita fourth-grader Bailey Alexander said before the team scores were announced.

Her classmate, fourth-grader Louie Trevizon, agreed.

“I like when you go up against another team, then afterwards, they say, ‘good game,’” Louie said. “That’s the best part because it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose, you just want to have fun.”

 

Monte Vista fifth-grader Matthew Green said he likes the pressure of trying to form words with the game tiles and seeing if the words you put down on the board are allowed by the official Scrabble Dictionary.

Using a bonus square for a letter tile is an extra thrill, Matthew said, explaining, “It makes you feel you’re going to win.”

 

Alamosa Park third-grader Otis Haessly was already gearing up for a rematch. “I really liked that I learned how to spell new words. It taught me a lot,” Otis said. “I really enjoyed my first year doing it. I think next year would be even funner.”

 

In the tournament, the students are organized in teams of two, with each team having students from different grades.

 

The teams play three 20-minute rounds, with the teams switching off after each game to play a different opposing team. The scores are tallied at the end of each game, then added at the end of the tournament.

The letter tiles used in the game are worth a varying number of points, ranging from one to 10.

 

Bonus squares on the playing board can double or triple the score for a letter or word. The rules are pretty much the same as those for the regular Scrabble board game, and word coaches circulate throughout the room during the game, ready to check the Scrabble Dictionary when one team challenges a word formed by their opposing team.

 

Alamosa Park third grade teacher Alyssa Bennett said she was new to the game when she started coaching the school’s two teams. “At first, I didn’t know a lot about Scrabble, so I had to learn along with them,” Bennett said, adding that she’s become sort of an expert as the teams practiced for more than an hour after school every Thursday for the last 2 ½ months.

 

Alamosa Park won the tournaments in the first two years Vista Unified had them, 2004 and 2005.

Principal Kyle Ruggles said that the students “take it very seriously, but they’re also having a great time.”

“We don’t have athletics for elementary school students where they compete against each other, so this is the chance for them to show their competitiveness,” Ruggles said.

 

Empressa third grade teacher Kim Arvidson, who organized the tournament, said the game builds the confidence of those who play and the tournament helps raise school spirit.

 

Heading into the tournament, “The whole school was in an uproar because they wanted their team to go and win,” Arvidson said.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/31/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

Fifth graders who will be entering sixth grade in the fall in Vista Unified School District have a chance to go to very different summer camps where they can build robots and just tinker with technology.

 

Called Qcamp in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the summer sessions are run by Qualcomm with a goal of stimulating middle schoolers’ interest in STEM careers.

 

“They get the opportunity to be creative,” said Kellie Fleming, a content resource teacher who is working with Qualcomm in organizing the summer camp program. “This is done through hands-on projects, specifically, engineering projects,” Fleming said.

 

The students will work side-by-side with professional engineers, who will offer advice, but leave it to the students to decide what projects to work on.

 

“They provide the kids materials and instruction to basically, design and build and code their own robotic creations,” Fleming said. “They build it and then they get to code it so the robot could do something. It might be that it moves a couple of steps or its eyes blink when someone comes up to it.”

 

Qualcomm career coaches also will talk to the students about what careers STEM studies can lead to and what those careers require.

 

The camps will run in two separate sessions, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Qualcomm headquarters in Sorrento Valley.

 

Qcamp for Girls in STEM is slated for July 11-22. Qcamp for Kids, which is for a mixed group of boys and girls, is scheduled for Aug. 8-12.

 

Qualcomm started the summer camps two years ago with a group of 30 girls from San Diego Unified School District who would be entering sixth grade that fall, said Ed Hidalgo, Qualcomm senior director of staffing.

The camps targeted girls because, historically, far fewer girls have gone into STEM careers than boys, Hidalgo said.

 

“These are girls that came in thinking engineering wasn’t for them,” Hidalgo said. “They thought engineering and math was for boys. Now, they’re seeing this is pretty cool, (saying) ‘I’m good at this.’”

The initial group of girls returned to Qcamp last summer and will come back again this summer, Hidalgo said.

 

Their progress is being followed to determine if exposing girls in middle school to STEM careers through concentrated activities leads more of them to take STEM courses in high school and college, and go into STEM careers. “The early research is showing that it very much does have an effect,” Hidalgo said.

Researchers also will track how the program works with the Vista students, Hidalgo said.

 

This summer, Qualcomm is expanding the camp program to include boys in one of the camps to see what effect mixing girls and boys together has on the students’ interest in STEM.

 

The camps are free and bus transportation also will be provided at no cost, Fleming said.

 

The deadline to apply is March 27. Applications are available at Vista elementary schools and online at http:www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2582659/2016-Qcamp-Application.

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/16/16




Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard

 

New discoveries in science, technology, medicine – even history and art – are happening so fast that traditional school text books are out of date even before they come off the presses.

 

Vista Unified is one of 40 school districts and 14 states in the nation recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for taking up the challenge to find ways to keep current what students learn in the classroom as part of a national #GoOpen initiative to rely less on text books and more on information available on the Internet.

 

“If we need something coming out of the book, we’ll use that book, but it’s not exclusively a text book education,” said Erin English, Vista Unified’s director of online and blended learning and principal of Vista Visions Academy.

 

Other California school districts which are part of the #GoOpen campaign include San Diego Unified School District, Coronado Unified School District, Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, Grossmont Union High School District in El Cajon, and Mountain Empire Unified School District in Pine Valley.

 

The #GoOpen drive encourages school districts to use what the Department of Education calls openly licensed educational materials, which are programs and other resources that are available on line.

 

Some are free and others are available for school districts to purchase.

 

Switching to openly licensed educational materials allows school districts to use money they would otherwise spend on text books for other needs, according to the Department of Education.

 

“Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content,” said U.S. Education Secretary John King.

 

“The leadership, mentorship, and collaboration of these #GoOpen states and districts are critical, not just to grow and sustain this movement, but to transform our schools,” King said.

 

As part of their commitment to being part of #GoOpen, school districts had to agree to replace at least one text book in one school with openly licensed material from the Internet, English said.

 

In Vista, six schools will be moving to use openly licensed material, English said.

 

They are Temple Heights Elementary School, Vista High School, Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA), Rancho Minerva Middle School, Vista Visions Academy and Casita Center for Science, Technology and Math.

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka, Roosevelt Middle School Principal Elsie Ochenduszko, and Roosevelt science teacher Jessica Janes gathered in February with representatives of other #GoOpen districts at Skywalker Ranch in Northern California to review the initiative.

 

Janes and Roosevelt teacher Stephanie Daoust teamed up with their counterparts in Ohio and Wisconsin earlier in the school year on a model open resource program in which students from the three states collaborated long-distance on projects dealing with how people affect the land and visa-versa.

 

Dubbed COW for California, Ohio and Wisconsin, their program was cited by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development as an example of how schools can develop innovative projects using non-traditional sources.

 

Guided by their teachers, the more than 160 students in the COW program determined what projects they would create using the Internet to do their own research and communicate with each other.

 

In Vista, the COW students displayed their projects at a COW expo at Roosevelt Middle School in December.

 

The projects ranged from a comic book about over-hunting to a display of live cilantro plants showing how fertilizer affected their growth.

 

Teachers who worked on COW gathered in Vista in February to refine the program, reporting that their students were engaged and excited by the COW projects.

 

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Roosevelt Middle School student displaying his project at a December COW expo.

 

COW (California, Ohio and Wisconsin) was cited as an example of what students can do using online resources.​

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/14/16




Audience: Homepage

Vista elementary school teacher Jenny Anderson had this advice for her colleagues – “Put your heart with the kids and everything will follow.”

 

“The passion for the kids is going to take you everywhere,” said Anderson, who teaches at Casita Center for Technology, Science and Math.

 

Anderson was among six Vista Unified School District teachers and others given Golden Apple Awards by the Board of Education for exemplary work over the past school year.

 

“I’m just really blessed that I’m in a position to do what I love,” Anderson said.

 

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Jenny Anderson
 

Also receiving Golden Apple awards were Vista Visions Academy teacher Nicole Bechtold; Bobier Elementary School Assistant Principal Nicole Hendricks; Robin Hooper, a special education teacher at Hannalei Elementary School; Vista High School Athletic Director Pat Moramarco, and Mark Taylor, who oversees school  maintenance and building operations as plant lead at Vista High School.

 

School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said the six were “some of the best and brightest and hardest working employees in the district.”

 

Anderson, who is an International Baccalaureate and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) specialist at Casita, was praised by her colleague for being “inspired by the future and what could be.”

 

“This altruistic teacher inspires educators throughout the state of California, in Vista Unified, and especially at Casita Center,” Board of Education Trustee Elizabeth Jaka said in reading comments Anderson’s coworkers made in nominating her for the award.

 

“Her classroom is a DREAMS (Design, Research, Engineering, Art, Mathematics and Science) lab where design, research, engineering, arts, math and science are integrated in a flexible learning environment created to foster collaboration and creativity,” Jaka read. “Every kindergartener through fifth grader enters this lab to become ‘stemologists’ who persevere and critically think through (computer) coding, which teaches them to pay attention to detail, learn from mistakes, troubleshoot, be creative, and think logically.”

 

Hooper said she was shocked to be chosen for a Golden Apple.

 

“I just do my job,” Hooper said

 

That’s not the way those who nominated Hooper see it.

 

“This educator is a breath of fresh air,” they wrote. “She is always willing to help any person in need and finds a way to make all her students feel like it is the best day ever while making everyone she works with feel valued.”

 

A teacher in Vista since 2005, Hooper “is a great listener, team player, and educator who responds with positive, creative and productive strategies and feedback.”

 

Reading from the nomination that Hooper’s coworkers wrote, Board of Education Trustee Jim Gibbons said Hooper “is trusted by her colleagues, as they often seek her out for advice about students with special needs.”

 

“She works with three to four aides per year in a small setting instructing students with individual needs and her organization, knowledge and leadership make the flow of the day seamless.”

 

Bechtold said she was “humbled” to receive a Golden Apple.

 

“To be recognized for something you treasure and truly enjoy is exceptional,” Bechtold said. “To work with an administrator like (Vista Visions Principal) Erin English has really allowed me to blossom.”

 

Bechtold is part of a district team which is developing a program of personalized learning that tailors lessons to the strengths and needs of each student individually.

 

According to the nomination submitted by her colleagues, Bechtold “is the epitome of respect and collaboration.”

 

“She is unwavering in her belief that all children should be challenged and should be provided an education that inspires critical thinking, collaboration, and communication,” Board of Education President Rich Anderson said in reading Bechtold’s nomination.

 

Bechtold is “a gentle, kind presence” at Vista Visions and “has added a level of rigor and responsibility to our students learning that is impressive,” Anderson read.

 

Hendricks, who is in her second year as Bobier’s assistant principal and has worked in the district for nine years, said, “I’m going to stay in Vista. There’s nowhere else I’d rather work.”

 

Like Bechtold, Hendricks said she was humbled to be chosen for a Golden Apple.

 

“I really feel like I’m accepting it on behalf of all Vista administrators,” Hendricks said. “We just work with a really amazing team, both at the (school) site and the district.”

 

According to her colleagues, Hendricks stands out as “an empowering leader who knows when to step forward and guide our team, and when to step back to follow and support others’ ideas.”

 

Reading from Hendricks’ nomination, Board of Education Trustee Carol Herrera said Hendricks “is compassionate, fair and equitable with children and with all members of the school community.”

 

Hendricks was praised for greeting every student and family at the front gate of the school daily, “building trust with families and instilling a sense of security and community.”

 

“Many of us have had the opportunity to work with Nicole Hendricks over the years and have seen her amazing character in her decision making,” her coworkers wrote. “She is a visionary who constantly works to refine our current systems. She has an amazing ability to balance many projects. She also knows how to have fun with students.”

 

Vista High School’s Moramarco was so stunned to win a Golden Apple that he said “I really am at a loss for words,” after Board of Education Angela Chunka gave him the award.

 

Reading from what his colleagues said about Moramarco, Chunka said that Moramarco "is constantly fundraising” to support school programs.

 

“Oftentimes, he will spend his own money in order to ensure his students have what they need,” Chunka said.

 

Calling Moramarco “a living example” of what Vista High School and the district stands for, Chunka said Moramarco is not only respected at the high school, but “he is also seen as the wise sage of North County and other sites (schools) will look to him for solutions.”

 

“He is a great teacher/athletic director and coach, but an even better man,” Chunka said. “We are lucky to have people like him in our district. The most impressive piece is he never wants credit, nor the limelight.”

 

Vista High School plant manager Taylor was praised by his colleagues for hi deep loyalty to the school.

 

A 1982 Vista High School graduate and former drum major, “He constantly does what is asked and will go above and beyond in order to ensure the students and staff have a clean campus,” his colleagues wrote.

 

“He is constantly looking for ways to upgrade the facilities at VHS as well as maintain what we have,” they wrote. “He puts in a number of hours in order to ensure the activities go off without a hitch regardless of the situation. For a school that never sleeps, he is the person that keeps it up and running.”

 

nicolebechtold.jpgNicole Bechtold

 

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Nicole Hendricks

 

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Robin Hooper

 

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Pat Moramarco

 

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Mark Taylor
 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/10/16




Audience: Homepage

Timing was the biggest challenge for Vista High School culinary students in a recent cook-off competition among nine area high schools, said senior Tavo Updike.

 

“It was getting everything timed correctly and making sure everything came out cooked perfectly within the time limit,” Tavo said.

 

Tavo and his two fellow contestants had one hour to prepare, cook and present a mouth-watering dish of sautéed pork medallions with pan roasted potatoes and sautéed asparagus with carrots and red and yellow peppers, garnished with Granny Smith apples.

 

They did it to perfection, claiming the top prize for the second year in a row in the San Diego County CTE Master Chef competition at Orange Glen High School.

 

“It was wonderful,” said Chef Kim Plunkett, Vista High School’s culinary arts instructor.

 

“It was surprising because the competition gets more intense every year,” Plunkett said.  “Everybody improves every year.”

 

Not only did the Vista student chefs deliver a delicious dish, but they demonstrated mastery of delicate knife skills in slicing the potatoes and vegetables.

 

Their dish was preferred by a panel of professional chefs, who judged the competition. Second place went to Escondido High School and Santana High finished third.

 

Other schools competing were San Pasqual High School, Orange Glen High School, Mission Hills High School, Fallbrook High School, San Dieguito High School Academy and San Pasqual Academy.

 

When the competition ended, the contestants eschewed the fancy food they’d made to chow down on cheese and pepperoni pizza.

 

“That’s the life of a chef,” Tavo said. “You make all these elaborate, complex dishes for people. At the end of the day, you want the simple things. You don’t want to always eat fancy.”

 

Senior Mari Gebauer said that she thought all along that the Vista team had a good shot at winning again.

 

“It was a really great dish,” said Mari, 18, who hopes to one day open a Mexican restaurant of her own. “I’ve tasted it many times. It’s delicious.”

 

Tate Miller, also a Vista High School senior, said he was confident his team would do well, but winning was a surprise.

 

“Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to come in first place,” said Tate, who cooks at home but sees his future more in designing video games than in culinary.

 

“I plan to keep it (cooking) as a hobby,” Tate said. “I like experimenting with food, seeing what flavors I can create, how adding different spices changes the flavor.”

 

Tavo, 17, said he felt confident going into the competition.

 

“I felt like we did the best we could,” said Tavo, who also is hoping to become a video game designer.

 

“It’s (cooking) definitely something I’m very passionate about, although it’s not something I’m going to pursue as a career,” Tavo said. “I still want to be creative, just not in the culinary aspect.”

 

Susie Johnson, the Vista Unified School District CTE (Career Technical Education) coordinator, said much of the credit for the Vista team’s showing in the regional completion goes to Plunkett.

 

“It just goes to show you the quality of the program she has at the high school,” Johnson said. “She’s a stellar teacher.”

 

Next up, Plunkett will take her Vista High School students on the road to compete in a statewide culinary match in Sacramento, where students from about 35 schools are expected to participate.

 

In addition to the cooking team that won the regional competition, Plunkett will bring three students to take part in management competition – Seungyop Mok, Keyla Gurrola and Julia Romero.

 

The management team has to design a restaurant, from the outside appearance to the uniforms workers will wear and the menu they’ll offer.

 

They have 10 minutes to show their stuff in a PowerPoint presentation, Plunkett said.

 

The Vista students have named their imaginary restaurant Bare Naked Bites, a combination vegetarian and meat restaurant, Plunkett said.

 

Typically, restaurants that offer both tend to skimp on the vegetarian side of the menu.

 

In the students’ plan, there would be a full menu for carnivores and vegetarians with a divided kitchen, one half for preparing meat dishes, one half for making vegetarian plates “so you wouldn’t have cross contact or cross contamination of the food,” Plunkett said.

 

“This will be a quick, casual restaurant,” Plunkett said. “You go in and order at the counter and the food will be delivered to your table.”

 

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VHS culinary instructor Kim Plunkett with her student chefs and their winning entry.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/8/16




Audience: Homepage

Fifth grader Jocelyn Martinez said she was just “a little bit scared” when she took the stage with her classmates in concert with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra at the California Center for the Arts Escondido.

 

“I was nervous I would forget something or mess something up,” said Jocelyn, who was among 23 students from Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) invited by the New Zealand orchestra to perform with them.

 

Jocelyn and her classmates were rewarded with a standing ovation at the early February concert, said VAPA music teacher Cindy Jorstad.

 

Fourth-grader Sergio De Anda said the experience of playing the ukulele before an audience of more than 1,000 inspired him to consider a career in music.

 

“I like seeing that people enjoyed us, and, we all had a good time,” said Sergio, 9.

 

Sergio and Jocelyn were among nine VAPA music students who played Taylor Swift’s hit song, “Shake it Off,” on ukuleles while 14 of their classmates stood behind them on stage, singing the song and signing it using American Sign Language they learned for the performance.

 

“It was exciting,” said fourth-grade ukulele player Ricardo Cornejo, 9. “When we were on stage, I got kind of nervous, but I had a lot of fun.”

 

Fifth-grader Abigail Luna, 10, and fourth-grader Priscilla Navarrete, 9, said they felt right at home singing and signing on stage.

 

“I’m one of those outgoing people,” Priscilla said, adding that the sign language she learned for the performance is but one more communication skill she’s adding to her repertoire. She already speaks Spanish, English and some Russian, is studying French at school and hopes to learn Greek as well.

 

Abigail attributed her stage presence to her goal of becoming an actor.

 

“I like being the center of attention,” Abigail said. She likes using sign language “because you can talk to your friends without other people knowing what you’re saying.”

 

Coaching the VAPA students on sign language was Tessa Slattery, daughter of VAPA fifth grade teacher Craig Slattery.

 

Tessa Slattery is a freshman at California State University Fullerton, majoring in linguistics with a specialty in American Sign Language, her father said.

 

After working with the VAPA students, “She had such fun she’s thinking of having teaching as a backup,” Craig Slattery said.

 

Sharon Scott-Gonzalez, VAPA’s English language development resource teacher, helped in preparing the students for the performance.

 

More than half the students who performed started out at VAPA as English learners and five are still classified as English learners.

 

“Seeing this data makes me even more proud of our students, who had the courage to perform on stage, even though English is not their native language,” Scott-Gonzalez said.

 

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra performed in Escondido as part of a nationwide tour with 40 concerts, Jorstad said.

 

“Our students were an important part of their 12th concert on this tour, and I couldn’t be more proud of their behavior, attitude and courage in representing our school district in this adventure,” Jorstad said.

 

She said the orchestra had never before had a school group use sign language in a performance.

 

The orchestra routinely invites school groups from the areas they visit to join them on stage.

 

That fit in with one of the Art Center’s missions of reaching out to schools in the region.

 

As part of the deal, the orchestra donated 30 ukuleles to VAPA.

 

The ukulele is a perfect early instrument for kids because it’s easy to play and doesn’t take long to learn how to play, Jorstad said.

 

“Right away, you can get the sense, ‘I have some tools that I can make some music with,’” Jorstad said. “Once they’re prolific on the ukuleles, the next step would be to go to the guitars.”

 

Fourth-grader Angel Penaloza, 10, said he likes playing the ukulele because “it makes me feel good.”

 

“I like the music it makes,” Angel said. “I like playing instruments. The thing I want to do is play every instrument,” adding that he plans to take piano lessons and has asked his mother to get him a guitar.

 

Jocelyn said she plans to keep working with the ukulele, partly because “not a lot of people play the ukulele.”

 

“I also would be interested in playing other instruments,” Jocelyn said. “I got really interested in the violin or the drums.”

 

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Music teacher, Cindy Jorstad, leading her students in practice.

 

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Cindy Jorstad's students waiting to perform at the California Center for the Arts Escondido.

 

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Students on stage.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/26/16




Audience: Homepage

The way people talk on the job and in college uses a vocabulary that may seem commonplace but can be mystifying to students who are just learning English, who come from poverty or homes where no one has gone to college before.

 

Words like thesis, summarize and simulate, diminish and conclude.

 

They can keep smart students from participating in classroom discussions.

 

They can be the stumbling block that prevents students from taking advantage of opportunities and cause them to become apathetic toward school.

 

These words sound simple enough, but they’re not the kinds of words kids toss around the playground.

 

Want to be a car mechanic?

 

“It used to be good enough just to be skilled with your hands,” said Sandra Ceja, principal of Foothill-Oak Elementary School in the Vista Unified School District.

 

“Now, to become a car mechanic, someone must speak the language to work with computers that are in the cars, and they must be able to read technical manuals,” Ceja said.

 

Planning to go to college? There are those words again, in text books, lectures and study sessions with other students.

 

Academic language is what educators call the words students must know for college and careers. It’s a more formal way of speaking, the difference between talking to a buddy and giving a speech at a political rally.

 

“It’s a form of literacy,” said Sharmila Kraft, Vista Unified’s Executive Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction.

 

Foothill-Oak is one of six district elementary schools that are part of a pilot program to provide that literacy by providing teachers with research-based methods and support to incorporate academic language in lessons so that students use it with ease.

 

The others schools are Beaumont Elementary, Bobier Elementary, Breeze Hill Elementary,  Grapevine Elementary and Maryland Elementary. 

 

In the 2014-15 school year, about 24 percent of Vista Unified students were classified as English learners and five of those elementary schools were among district schools with the highest concentration of English learners in the district.

 

A majority of students at five of the schools also qualify for free or reduced price meals based on their family’s income.

 

At Maryland, nearly 66 percent of students were classified as English learners; at Bobier nearly 63 percent; at Foothill-Oak nearly 61 percent; at Grapevine 50 percent; and at Beaumont 46 percent.

 

With about 30 percent of its students classified as English learners, Breeze Hill was included in the program to compare how students’ proficiency in academic language improves in a more diverse student body, Kraft said.

 

The program initially had the tongue twisting title of Targeted Professional Development for Academic Language and Literacy for Academic English Learners, Kraft said.

 

It’s been shortened to Stanford 6 - six for the number of schools in the pilot program, and Stanford for Stanford University, where much of the research underlying the program was done, Kraft said.

 

Among other things, that research showed that children who were just learning the English language and those from low-income families started out with a word gap over their English-speaking peers from middle-class backgrounds. They tended not to have the same experiences to acquire academic language, Kraft said.

 

When no one in a family has been to college before, “You’ve never heard people speak with that vocabulary,” Ceja said.

 

“That’s a critical piece that’s missing in a lot of students,” Kraft said. “Students are very capable but they simply don’t have those experiences, and so we built the program to give them those opportunities too.”

 

As part of the Stanford 6 project, 10 Vista Unified veteran teachers were trained as demonstration coaches. Once every five weeks, the demonstration coaches take over the classes at each of the six schools.

 

Principal Ceja said a bonus of the Stanford 6 program is the use of seasoned local teachers as coaches, who are available to help the classroom teachers as needed.

 

 “You have people who are known and respected in the district, who are familiar,” Ceja said. “They’re going to be here to see it through. It’s not some outside person who’s coming in, telling us what we have to do.”

 

Kraft said the teachers “bring expertise with English learners and literacy, a perfect combination.”

 

The demonstration coaches use the teaching methods and lessons developed through the research to foster academic language.

 

They do this through innovative learning experiences using Minecraft video game, Ted Talks, Mathematical Reasoning text books, engineering and coding that give students chances to close the word gap.

 

 While they do that, the classroom teachers they replace spend the day in training to learn how to tailor what they do to promote academic language.

 

It’s much more than a matter of having students memorize vocabulary, Kraft said.

 

It’s getting students comfortable with the words by hearing them and using them in conversations with other students. It’s working in that formal vocabulary so using it becomes as normal as walking, Kraft said.

 

With the adoption of Common Core standards and their emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving over memorization, more is expected of students.

 

“The whole thrust of Common Core is that we have to prepare kids for the world they’re going to transition into,” Ceja said. “There are very few jobs out there that don’t use some academic language.”

 

The idea is to get students talking to each other and their teachers about everything from how to solve a math problem to details about a story they’ve read, using academic language.

 

“It’s kind of just infused into the way we’re teaching,” said Nicole Curley, a second grade teacher at Maryland Elementary. “The whole way we’re teaching is shifting now.”

 

Students might use the video game Minecraft to build a city that responds to invasive species or engage in a “pro/con” discussion in which two students work as a team, listing the pros and cons on a topic.

 

For instance, Curley said that her class was making a field trip to a fire station so she had them discuss the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a firefighter.

 

 “It has them thinking about both sides to a question,” Curley said.

 

In learning vocabulary, Curley said that students write down a word they might not know, predict what it might mean by the context in which it’s used, look up its definition, and use it in a sentence.

 

They also go into lessons in far more depth.

 

“The first time, we’ll go through a story, focusing on the main idea,” Curley said. “Then, we might read it again, and, now, we’re just going to focus on how the author uses illustration or captions. And the third time, we might compare and contrast this story with another.”

 

Kraft said, “Text, talk and write is our focus with everything with our students.”


“Teachers are shifting the cognitive load of learning on the students so that they can learn from text, discuss it with peers, and contribute their ideas by producing text from text,” Kraft said. “In doing this, we are not only closing the word gap, we are closing the opportunity gap.”

 

Engineering teacher, Keri Avila, working with students.

 

 


Breeze Hill Elementary School teacher, Samantha Hastings, working with a student on computer coding.

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/24/16




Audience: Homepage

As a student at the University of California San Diego, Dara Rosen was torn between becoming a pediatrician or a teacher.

 

She opted for teaching after working with sick kids as a volunteer at UCSD Medical Center.

 

 “It was too emotional for me because I became too attached,” Rosen said of her time at the medical center.  “I decided in those last two years to be a science teacher.”

 

Rosen has so excelled at her chosen career, organizing and overseeing a biomedical sciences program at Mission Vista High School, that she has been named California teacher of the year by Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit organization that provides engineering, biomedical and computer science course work in partnership with school districts.

 

“She’s one of the teachers that has a passion and is willing to do extra work for the kids,” said Ellie Vandiver, California director of school engagement for Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

 

The PLTW biomedical science program at Mission Vista has become Rosen’s passion.

 

“I love teaching this curriculum. It’s hands-on, it allows kids to use critical thinking and work as a team,” Rosen said. “They develop not only amazing lab skills, but they develop reading and writing and speaking skills, and they’re really well prepared for college.”

 

The PLTW program is far different from traditional science classes.

 

“The teachers are not there, standing and delivering,” Vandiver said. “It’s not talk, talk, talk and then workshops.”

 

Rather, Vandiver said that the courses focuses on a theme and students have to work through problems related to the theme.

 

For example, she said in ninth grade, students become forensic scientists working through a crime scene, determining how someone died.

 

In the 10th grade, students study anatomy and do DNA experiments.

 

In the 11th grade, they analyze the case of a college student who gets suddenly sick and the sickness rapidly spreads through her dormitory.

 

“That opens the door for students to learn about epidemiology,” Vandiver said. She said they study cancer, genetics and how proteins work on the molecular level.

 

As high school seniors, students are challenged to solve real-world problems, such as designing a more efficient emergency room.

 

“In one class, they created an app to show the difference between a walk-in clinic and an emergency room and why you go to an emergency room,” Vandiver said.

 

Rosen said she likes teaching the PLTW courses partly because it shows students the relevance of what they’re learning.

 

“I love feeling their excitement. I find it motivating,” Rosen said. “The courses are very rigorous, honors college level work.”

 

Rosen, 44, has always had an interest in biomedical science.

 

A 1988 honors graduate of Marina High School in Huntington Beach, Rosen said she became interested in medicine after working summers in her father’s oral surgery office.

 

“I would go to hospitals when he was making his rounds,” Rosen said. “I’ve always been exposed to medicine and doctors’ offices.”

 

In college, she majored in biology at the University of California San Diego and minored in psychology and education.

 

 She did her teaching internship in Vista Unified School District at Washington Middle School, which is now Vista Innovation and Design Academy, and taught seventh grade math and science at Washington for her first two years.

 

In 1994, she went to Rancho Buena Vista High School, where she taught a variety of science classes. In 2007, Rosen became a founding faculty member at Mission Vista High School, where she started the PLTW biomedical science program.

 

“We wanted a special program in science that would make Mission Vista unique,” Rosen said.

 

When Mission Vista opened in 2009, “I was working by myself to learn the curriculum,” Rosen said.

 

In addition to teaching the PLTW biosciences program, Rosen oversees the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) program at Mission Vista, which allows students to take a closer look at health-related careers.

 

“It gives them more opportunities to explore their interests outside of the classroom,” Rosen said.

 

Among other things, HOSA Mission Vista students under Rosen’s direction have run blood donation drives, made and donated blankets to Rady Children’s Hospital, and conducted a bone marrow donor registry drive.

 

During this school year, Rosen also took the students on a field trip to the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, where they tried out a DaVinci robotic surgery system.

 

“They practiced laparoscopic surgery on a bell pepper,” Rosen said. “It looked like you were pulling polyps off an organ.”

 

When she’s not prepping labs or doing other school-related work, Rosen is dashing about following her children’s extra-curricular activities.

 

Her 12-year-old daughter, a seventh-grader at Aviara Oaks Middle School in Carlsbad, is a competitive dancer. Her 15-year-old son is a freshman at Sage Creek High School, where he competes in cross country and track and in the PLTW engineering program.

 

“I like being busy,” Rosen said. “I actually get bored over the summer.”

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/19/16




Audience: Homepage

When students at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing arts were reading a book about Japan for history and literature, art teacher Kathy Olson had them make fish paintings using real fish.

 

 Students covered the fish with paint, then pressed the fish onto rice paper to create an image in a form of traditional Japanese art called gyotaku.

 

It was a way Japanese fisherman kept a record of their catch, Olson said.

 

For the Vista Academy (VAPA) students, it was the global connection that makes VAPA special as one of five schools in the Vista Unified School District that are either International Baccalaureate (IB) schools or  IB candidates which are in the process of becoming certified as IB schools.

 

Their work and that of students from the other Vista IB schools and IB candidate schools were on display in a recent IB expo at Vista Magnet Middle School.

 

The purpose of the exposition was to introduce IB to parents and students who may be unfamiliar with it, said Tess Kim, a content resource support teacher and organizer of the expo.

 

“There are some families that have a very clear sense, but I think the bulk of our families could use a bit more information about what exactly IB is about,” Kim said. “It is a rigorous curriculum that is meant to challenge students to become more internationally minded.”

 

Founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968, the IB organization works with about 4,200 schools in 147 countries and has more than 1.2 million students in the program.

 

Vista High School and Rancho Buena Vista High School offer the IB Diploma Programme for students aged 16 to 18; Vista Magnet offers the Middle Years Programme for all of its students; and Vista Academy (VAPA), and Casita Center for Science, Technology and Math are candidate schools in the process of being certified for the Primary Years Programme for children through fifth grade.

 

Although their certification is pending, VAPA and Casita already offer the IB curriculum, which emphasizes critical thinking, creativity and a global outlook.

 

“A lot of the teachers are beginning to teach according to the IB model in those schools, so they’re creating units of study that align to the way IB is taught,” Kim said.

 

Vista High School also is in the process of being certified to offer the last two years of the Middle Years Programme for freshmen and sophomores, which would make Vista Unified one of the few school districts in California to offer IB programs from kindergarten through high school, said Pat Prather, executive director of the California Association of IB World Schools.

 

 Prather, who started the IB program in Vista Unified, said, “It really give the kids an incomparable education, and not just in one area. They have to become proficient in all areas.”

 

 “The IB helps kids understand it’s a big world out there,” Prather said. “They look at different languages, different cultures.”

 

The IB curriculum is demanding. Students must learn a second language and they have more homework and writing, with subjects like math, science and literature blended together rather than being taught in separate blocks.

 

At VAPA, for example, students might learn math concepts through music and art, said Assistant Principal Benjie Walker.

 

“They might be learning their numbers and letters through dance,” Walker said.

 

Casita Center fourth-graders Francisco Garcia and Trevor Acheff proudly displayed bat boxes they made as part of a school project to dispel misconceptions people have about the furry creatures.

 

“Misconceptions can be changed with knowledge,” Trevor said, as he and Francisco explained that the bat boxes, which looked something like old-style apartment building mail boxes, showed the kind of places bats might like to live.

 

Along with the bat boxes, Francisco and Trevor posted sketches they made of bats and essays they wrote on bats, combining skills they learned in science, art and writing.

 

20160204_183229.jpg

Casita Center fourth grader Trevor Acheff and Francisco Garcia showing their project

 

“A lot of times, students have difficulty finding the relevance of what they’re learning in class,” Kim said. “IB shows students how what they’re doing in math relates to what they’re doing in history.”

 

IB students also must look beyond their schools to take action that benefits the greater community.

 

“These are students who aren’t just learning content, but they’re building empathy for communities outside their own,” Kim said.

 

At Rancho Buena Vista High School, for example, students organized a Special Olympics.

 

Although the IB approach is challenging, it’s meant for all students, not just those who excel, Kim said.

 

“Students develop certain habits of mind that allow them to be more persistent, that allow them to be more critical thinkers within the classroom,” Kim said. “It prepares students for the rigors of college. It helps them think critically. It teaches them to write. It teaches them to really articulate their views.”

 

Michael Pink, IB director at Vista High School, said students who complete the IB Diploma Programme are better prepared for college more likely to graduate college than those who don’t.

 

Kim said IB gives students skills that carry through to college and careers.

 

“It’s pretty clear that kids who go through and IB education are better at writing and communicating,” Kim said. “They’re students who are problem solvers.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/17/16




Audience: Homepage

Bobier Elementary School fifth-grader Christian Bacilio raided his piggy bank to help build a school for students on the other side of the planet in a Kenyan village.

 

 “I felt bad for them,” said Christian, 10. “It seems like they really want to learn, but they have no school.”

 

By chipping in coins and a dollar bill here and there, Christian and his fellow students recently raised $2,567, which they’re donating to the nonprofit Koins for Kenya.

 

20160202_141600.jpg
Bobier Elementary Principal Dr. Jennifer Golden unveils a check for $2,567.00 from Bobier students, families and staff.

 

“We were just blown away,” said Bobier first grade teacher Jennifer Hovell, who organized the fundraising drive in connection with a Kindness Challenge week at the school.

 

“I expected a couple of hundred dollars,” Hovell said.

 

To collect the money, each classroom had at least one glass jar which the students filled.

 

The money they raised will go to Koins for Kenya (koinsforkenya.org), a Utah-based nonprofit organization that raises money to build schools and for other projects in Kenya.

 

What makes the generosity of Bobier students especially notable is that most come from families that don’t have money to spare, said Principal Jennifer Golden.

 

“I’m so proud of the children,” Golden said. “It’ really neat because here we are, the low-income school, and the kids are donating. It’s about playing it ahead.”

 

About 97 percent of Bobier students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to California Department of Education figures.

 

A family of four can have an annual income of no more than $31,525 to qualify for a free lunch and not more than $44,863 to qualify for a reduced price lunch, according to the California Department of Education’s website.

 

Even so, Bobier students dug deep to fill glass jars with coins. Each classroom had at least one jar, where students could drop their donations.

 

Teacher Maggie Demirdjian’s fourth grade class raised the most, $184.77, Hovell said.

 

The most raised by any grade level was $587.58 raised by all third grade classes followed by  $452.35 raised by second grade classes, $410.79 by transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes; $360.89 by fourth grade classes, $356.98 by first grade classes, and $348.42 by fifth grade classes.

 

Golden also contributed $50.

 

One of Demirdjian’s students, Alexis Ramirez, 9, said she decided to contribute after watching a Koins for Kenya video in which a Kenyan student describes how she makes do in a class with broken chairs and no desks.

 

“We did have money and they didn’t so they should get some,” Alexis said. “They don’t have any money and they want to learn.”

 

Fifth-grader Genexis Sanchez, 10, said she was struck by the perseverance of the Kenyan students.

 

“They basically don’t have paper or desks,” Genexis said. “That makes me sad because we have desks and chairs that aren’t broken.”

 

Genexis figures Bobier’s fundraiser sets a good precedent.

 

 “If you share, another person might share back with you,” Genexis said.

 

Golden said that the Koins for Kenya drive helped Bobier students gain a “global perspective.”

 

“I think it makes us all appreciate what we have, to think deeper,” Golden said.

 

When the new school is built in Kenya, a photograph showing all the Bobier students will be posted on the wall, Hovell said.

 

Coins for Kenya_Bobier.jpg
 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/12/16




Audience: Homepage

Madison 8th grader, Gerardo Alvarenga, had never had an underwater experience seeing sea creatures before his marine biology class took a field trip to Sea Camp in Mission Bay, but his face lit up with excitement when he talked about his visit. David and 87 other Madison students spent a day learning to snorkel, observing and interacting with sea creatures. Marine biology teacher, Krissy Morrow, herself a former Sea Camp instructor, led her students through the underwater experience and tied what they’ve learned in the classroom to their experience as novice marine biologists.

 

When students arrived, Sea Camp instructors introduced students to some of the sea creatures they would see and trained the student to snorkel. Students then donned wetsuits and entered the ocean. Luis Pullido said he was initially nervous because “I don’t swim that well,” but once he was underwater, he said he loved the experience.

 

Ashley Lambert, who moved to Oceanside from Florida, described the impact of the field trip: “I have been on lots of field trips, but I’ve never had an underwater experience like this.” She described the highlight of the trip as snorkeling underwater, remarking on how clear the view was. She continued, “I’ve always been interested in the ocean, but I mainly thought about dolphins and sharks. This time I got to see a five foot bat ray, an octopus, and a giant black sea hare.”

 

This is the first year Madison has offered the popular marine biology elective. In addition to going to Sea Camp, students are building an aquaponics garden next to their science classroom. Through these activities, Morrow hopes her students learn how to make connections between classroom and real world experiences. She stated, “I hope students are inspired to appreciate the natural world and see their part in conserving and preserving our oceans.”

 

Student Leif Anderson summed up his experience by saying, “I want to go back, and I’m thinking of being a marine biologist. When we first got there, it didn’t seem that exciting. Then we went underwater, and it was awesome.”


 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/9/16




Audience: Homepage

Vista Magnet Middle School students have worked in collaboration with staff to produce a brand new video showcasing what makes this perennial high achieving school a special place for them. Looking inside the school's International Baccalaureate (IB) program and STEM emphasis, the clip guides viewers through the school. To view the video, click on either link below.

 

English Version 

En Español

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/4/16




Audience: Homepage

VISTA ACADEMY OF PERFORMING ARTS, THE COUNTY’S ONLY COMBINATION INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE AND ARTS MAGNET SCHOOL, PREPARES STUDENTS FOR BROAD, CREATIVE, COLLABORATIVE LEARNING

 

Applications for the 2016-2017 school year are being accepted now through February 26, 2016

 

Vista Academy (of Visual and Performing Arts) (VAPA), a K-5 grade magnet school in the Vista Unified School District, is a rising star among the county’s elementary school offerings. Until recently, VAPA drew the vast majority of its student body from the surrounding neighborhood, but word has gotten out. What was once an undiscovered gem, is now drawing students from all over north county for its unique curriculum which provides broad, integrated arts education with an international baccalaureate program. Applications for the 2015-2016 school year are being accepted now through February 26, 2016. Forms can be found here.

 

This 600 student strong campus is North County’s only elementary school offering weekly instruction in art, music, dance and drama. “Many schools are able to offer one of those four on a regular basis,” said Principal Catina Hancock, “but we implement all four every week during the instructional day.”

 

According to the Kennedy Center’s Arts in Education Research Study, an arts integration curriculum generated more original and creative ideas among students than those not immersed in arts education.  Hancock agrees and contends that education through the arts supports students’ growth intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically.

 

In addition to an expansive arts program, Vista Academy is also an International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme Candidate School and is the only school in the county to concurrently offer both arts and an IB curriculum.  VAPA joins a network of over 4,200 IB schools in over 100 countries.

 

Now in its third year, the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) at VAPA, ensures that students are equipped to be well-rounded, lifelong learners, prepared for the changing world of the 21st century. VAPA puts an emphasis on strong academic skills, character and artistic development, with a global and cultural awareness. Common Core and state standards are incorporated into cross-curricular units engaging students to explore, ask questions, think critically, and be creative in solving real world problems. IB students.

 

“Our combined arts and IB curriculum produce students who are more poised, creative, confident, collaborative risk takers and better able to communicate with one another and the world around them,” said Hancock.

 

Applications for Vista Academy (of Visual and Performing Arts) are now being accepted for the 2015-2016 school year. Application forms are available here.  For more information about Vista Academy (of Visual and Performing Arts), please visit: http://www.vapa.vistausd.org/

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/26/16




Audience: Homepage

January is School Board Recognition Month and the Vista Unified School District is proud to acknowledge the dedicated service and invaluable contributions made by the members of our School Board of Education; Rich Alderson, Angela Chunka, Jim Gibson, Carol Herrera and Elizabeth Jaka.

 

“We are extremely fortunate to have these exceptionally talented, incredibly dedicated individuals as advocates & leaders of our district,” said Superintendent Devin Vodicka. “Every decision they make is based on what is in the best interest of our 22,000 students. They provide leadership for academic programs and achievement, district funding, school facilities and many other critical issues. Their service ensures that the decisions they make for our schools are made to meet the diverse educational needs of our community.”  

 

The board members spend countless hours studying complex issues like student achievement and school finance, working with lawmakers and educational experts, meeting with district administrators, teachers, staff members, parents and students and attending school and district events.

 

Please join me during School Board Recognition Month in thanking our dedicated school trustees. We appreciate their generous sharing of their time and energy on behalf of our students and community.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/22/16




Audience: Homepage

Vista Innovation and Design Academy

When you hear words like “innovation” and “design,” you might think of tech startups, but not middle school students. However, at Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA), it’s all about middle school students. Started to provide students with a more creative option than traditional school programs, VIDA’s program intersects science and engineering with humanities and the creative arts.

 

Design Thinking process

At VIDA, Design Thinking is the framework for the design and problem solving process. The concept is attributed greatly to David Kelley, the Founder of IDEO—one of the world's leading design firms, located in northern California. The Design Thinking process provides students and teachers a common language for addressing problem solving, and gives students a consistent message and steps to take for engaging in problem solving. Through this process, VIDA students are first "problem-finders" and become "solution- designers."

 

While learning at VIDA, students are encouraged to “fail,” which is presented as the “first attempt in learning.” It’s through failing that students have the opportunity to really learn as they discover what does and doesn’t work, they learn to collaborate, and they learn from one another to find the solutions they’re looking for.

According to founding principal Eric Chagala, “We help our students develop a firm foundation for their work in all of their classrooms as they learn the fundamentals of Design Thinking. We engage their imaginations and creativity in our iStudio, a maker space where experimenting and building things gives students a tangible way to experience the Design Thinking process.”

 

With the help of VIDA’s partnership with Qualcomm, they’re planning to build a second iStudio called the “Thinkabit Lab” to accommodate even more time in this type of space, which is often the students’ favorite part of the day.

 

Students love learning

Middle school students are teetering between being concrete and abstract thinkers during this phase of adolescent development. School can sometimes feel irrelevant to young teens because it’s not easy to apply what they’re learning to real life. At VIDA, students are constantly looking at how things work, what problems exist, and how they can help find solutions. This makes learning an engaging experience for students, and makes every lesson more meaningful.

 

Students at VIDA are well prepared for high school and beyond. The Design Thinking process gives students excellent skills for gaining insights and empathy. VIDA students also become skilled at presentations since they all go through public speaking training and have opportunities to use these skills throughout their time at VIDA.

 

Teachers focus

on helping students grow in creativity and technology skills so that they can innovate— whether that’s in high school, college, or as adults.

 

Many students are engaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs at VIDA. Often times the solutions students discover in design thinking revolve around STEM, and the hands-on opportunities they have to innovate, design, and create with the technology available at VIDA sets these students apart from traditional middle school students.

 

People are talking

VIDA has garnered the attention of media because of the innovative approach to learning and its partnerships with technology giants like Verizon and Qualcomm. VIDA is a Digital Promise school, and was one of only eight schools in the country to receive a grant that provides every student with an iPad for the school year. You can find stories about VIDA in WIRED, NPR Marketplace, Fox 5 News, and the San Diego Union Tribune. In 2015 VIDA received the California School Boards’ Association Golden Bell Award and was also an honorable mention for Classroom of the Future’s “Inspire Award.”

 

VIDA has also caught the eye of educators across the country and around the world. In its first year, the school had 1,200 visitors from different aspects of the educational landscape, including a school in Santiago, Chile. Many are looking at VIDA to learn approaches that they can bring back to their own middle schools. 

 

To learn more about VIDA, click here.

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/12/16




Audience: Homepage

VISTA MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS GET DOWN TO BUSINESS

By Ray Huard

 

From green tea cookies and tree ornaments made of wine corks to duct tape wallets and candy apples, Vista Magnet Middle School students displayed their business acumen at the school’s recent Entrepreneurship Expo.

The expo was the culmination of months of work by about 150 students who created their own companies, developed a business plan and came up with products to sell at the expo, said math resource teacher Jennifer Eckle.

“They have to have an adult sponsor, then they put together a proposal where they’ve done a cost analysis of what they would sell, what materials they would use and think through their advertising,” Eckle said.

She and fellow math teacher Ashleigh McCracken oversee the expo as a math department project.

As a math teacher, Eckle said she likes seeing the students apply what they learned in the classroom as they prepare for the expo and see how math works in real life.

 The students can sell pretty much anything at the expo, as long as it’s something they created or modified in some way to make it their own, Eckle said.

Eighth-grader Cassidy Manuto, 13, was selling colorful knit beanies and scarfs she made herself.


 

“I just kind of made them while I watched TV,” Cassidy said. “ I’m a multi-tasker.”

Pointing to one beanie, Cassidy told a potential customer, “This is an episode of ‘The Walking Dead,” adding, “I’m a big ‘Walking Dead’ fan.”

Amelia Rees and Nina Shonley, both 13-year-old eighth- graders, collaborated to create their company, Santa’s Shack, to sell bejeweled sunglasses and magnetized picture frames.

“We thought they would be really cute for gifts,” Nina said.

Kayla Chen, 13, and Adriana Alfaro, 14, teamed up to form Chic Girls, selling chocolate chip cookies, confetti sprinkle cookies and green tea cookies.

They were among several student selling food items, but Kayla figured they had an edge.

“I didn’t think anybody else was making green tea cookies,” Kayla said.

Just like in the real-life world of business, some of the student companies make a profit, some break even and a few lose money.

Little stuffed animals called sock tsums sold out in the first five minutes, Eckle said.

“Apparently, they’re very cool,” Eckle said.

The duct tape wallets, reindeer brownies, donut holes and Minecraft keychains also were among the big sellers, she said.

“Some of them even take preorders so they know they’re going to have some sales the day of the expo,” Eckle said. “One of the takeaways would be, if you didn’t make a profit, maybe you priced your items too high or maybe you spent too much on materials.”

The excitement of the expo spills over into a follow-up review.

“We have kids, the day after the expo, reflecting on the experience and making their plans for the following year,” Eckle said.

Now in its eighth year, the expo has grown from an initial 25 booths to about 75 this year.

“We’ve been able to do this each year because as a school, the teachers and administration have been really supportive of the event,” Eckle said.

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/7/16




Audience: Homepage

VISTA PRESCHOOLERS JUMP START THEIR EDUCATION

By Ray Huard

 

Vista Board of Education Trustee R. Elizabeth Jaka and Carol Herrera got a kids-eye view recently of what it’s like to be a preschooler, from assembling puzzles to playing a sorting color game.

 

“I love watching the kids and what I saw was kids being engaged and enjoying themselves and learning,” Jaka said after helping one preschooler work on a project.

 

“They were happy to share and work with adults and each other,” Jaka said after touring some of the state-funded preschool sites operated for the Vista Unified School District by Educational Enrichment Systems, a nonprofit child enrichment agency.

 

The Educational Enrichment Systems has run half-day educational preschool programs for the school district since the 2008-09 school year, starting at six schools and gradually expanding to 11 elementary schools and two other full-day educational preschool sites – the David and Jillian Gilmour Early Education Campus adjacent to Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) and the Vista Child Development Center at the Vista Boys and Girls Club.

 

Preschool classes were added this year at Monte Vista Elementary School. “I’m just really excited about the opportunity of early years education for our students,” said Monte Vista Principal Charlene Smith.

Other Visa Unified elementary schools offering the preschool program are Beaumont, Bobier, Foothill Oak, Grapevine, Hannalei, Maryland, Mission Meadows, Temple Heights, Casita Center for Technology Science & Math and VAPA.

 

“We want to keep expanding it,” Jaka said. Preschool “is critical, especially in this day and age when there’s so much to learn.”

In all, about 600 children attend preschool through the Vista Unified School District, said Matt Doyle, district executive director and the driving force behind the district’s preschool program.

 

The program serves children who “typically would be at home with no structure, often times in front of the TV,” Doyle said, adding, “They wouldn’t have this opportunity.”

 

Although enrollment varies by school, Doyle said, “Some sessions are really full. What that tells me is there is a lot of need out there.”

The preschool program is open to children from low income families between the ages of 3 and 5.

 

“It’s absolutely the age at which you need to begin,” Herrera said.

By going to preschool, the children pick up skills that will prepare them to move on to elementary school, Herrera said, adding, “They learn they can work together, work with another child.”

 

VAPA Principal Catina Hancock said she’s seen the difference when children who’ve gone through preschool enter kindergarten.

“They’re heads and tails above some of the kids who walk in and don’t have these experiences,” Hancock said.

Under state Department of Education guidelines, the maximum annual income for a family of four to qualify for a subsidized preschool program is $46,896, said Sarina Lynn, Educational Enrichment Systems director of community engagement.

 

“District preschools are serving the neediest families and the neediest children,” Lynn said. Half-day three-hour preschool sessions offered at the elementary schools are free and run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and noon to 3 p.m. Full-day preschool, which runs from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., is offered only at the Gilmour campus and the Child Development Center.

Under the state guidelines, families qualify for full-day preschool based on need and income. There is a sliding fee scale that ranges from $42 to $373 a month. There is no fee for a family of four with an annual household income of less than $26,004.

 

School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said he’s looking for a way to help families who don’t meet the income qualifications. “There are a lot of families that have needs but don’t qualify for the program,” Vodicka said. “We know we want to find a way to get to that group in the middle that can’t afford the service and don’t qualify for this (preschool) program.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/16/15




Audience: Homepage

COMMUNITY LEADERS BECOME SCHOOL PRINCIPALS FOR A DAY

By Ray Huard

 

Ask someone what a school principal’s job is and they may say it’s mostly disciplining kids who step out of line.

“The last elementary school principal’s office I was in had a paddle hanging on a wall,” said Capt. Larry Nesbit, who heads the Vista Station of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office.

Nesbit was among 23 community leaders who spent a morning at Vista Unified schools in the district’s second Principal for a Day event coordinated by the Vista Chamber of Commerce.

“The last person you wanted to see was the principal when I was a kid,” Nesbit said. “That was not a good thing.”

 

After spending a morning recently with Grapevine Elementary School Principal Rafael Olavide, Nesbit said he’s got a very different idea on what it’s like to be a principal in Vista Unified School District.

“It was very impressive to me, all the many hats that a principal has to wear, all the different programs they have going on there,” Nesbit said. “We didn’t have any administrative issues to deal with, there were no disciplinary issues, which I was fine with.”

 

Olavide also demonstrated a rapport with Grapevine students which Nesbit said he never would have expected from principals in his day.

“Rafael knew every child that we encountered, he knew their name, knew the history of the kids, knew what their particular needs were and what he could do to help them,” Nesbit said.

 

Like Nesbit, most of those who participated were surprised by how different a principal’s job is from what they expected.

“They’re not just sitting in their offices. They’re really a part of the school,” said Michaele Herder, business services representative at First Citizens Bank.

 

Herder visited Vista Magnet Middle School, where Principal Anne Green took her on a tour where she met with student leaders and helped with a school food drive.

 

“Each time we visited one of the classrooms, they had an ambassador in the classroom who immediately came up to Mrs. Green and myself, introduced themselves, and told me what they were working on,” Herder said. “Just the interaction and how confident and prepared they were was very surprising.”

 

Winifred Meiser said she was impressed by how Principal Catina Hancock sets a welcoming tone from the very start of the school day at Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts by joining teachers and others in greeting students as they arrived.

“They were all just high-fiving the kids and the kids were coming up to them,” said Meiser, a professional photographer, writer and artist. “It was so nice to see that warm welcome the kids receive at the gates of the school.”

 

As they went from class to class, Hancock would also join teachers in working with students, something she didn’t expect.

“I just never saw that in my own experience as a student,” Meiser said.

She also was struck by the care teachers show with students who are disabled or have other special needs.

“They really make them part of their family and really take care of those kids,’ Meiser said.

 

The degree to which computer tablets and other digital technology were being used by students at all levels also was remarkable to several who participated in the program.

Looking around the classrooms at Vista Academy, “You have this little sea of iPad-types of computers,” Meiser said.

At Monte Vista Elementary School, “Every single kid had a device that they were working off,” said Wes Lavender, general manager of Hyatt Place Carlsbad Vista.

 “You go out into the workforce, that’s what we do,” Lavender said. “You’re going to be in front of a computer. You’ve got to know how to use that stuff, and not be afraid of technology.”

Lavender, who has two school-aged children, said it was a treat for him to see things from the other side as an administrator instead of as a parent.

 

Of special interest to him was how Principal Charlene Smith and Monte Vista teachers stress higher education.

With banners and other paraphernalia from colleges and universities on display everywhere, “This school is assuming that everyone is going to college,” Lavender said. “They’ve already got these kids inculcated in, ‘Hey, we’re going to college.’”

 

Like Nesbit and Meiser, Lavender said he was struck by the rapport the school students have with their principal.

As they walked around campus, “a lot of kids came up to her and gave her a hug,” Lavender said.

Without exception, those who took part in Principal for a Day said they’d encourage others to do the same.

“I would definitely do it again,” Herder said.

Nesbit said it was “a great experience.”

“It really was an eye opener for me, to see everything the schools do for the kids,” Nesbit said.

 

Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Bret Schanzenbach said the chamber got involved with Principal For a Day “as a way to connect our business leaders, community leaders, and civic leaders with our local schools that are doing such a great job.”

“This event always brings a great awareness about the phenominal work our teachers and schools are doing on a day-to-day basis,” Schanzenbach said.

 

Lavender said he was so impressed by what he saw at Monte Vista that he plans to sign up some of his staffers for next year’s event.

Running a school is not unlike running a business, Lavender said.

“It’s something they would benefit from, watching this business run,” Lavender said. “It’s never a dull moment when you’re dealing with the public, kids included.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/10/15




Audience: Homepage

VISTA SCHOOL GAINS QUALCOMM ‘THINKABIT’ LAB

By Ray Huard

 

Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA) is one of three San Diego County schools joining in a partnership with Qualcomm in creating special labs where students explore science and engineering careers through hands-on projects.

 

“This ability for kids to tinker is something I think we need to foster for all of our children,” said Devin Vodicka, superintendent of the Vista Unified School District. VIDA is a Vista Unified School District magnet middle school which is open to students from throughout the region.

 

“The ability to play and to explore, to try new things, to test out ideas – this is part of the creative process,” Vodicka said. “This is part of the innovative process and if we want students to be leaders in the future, they have to have the ability to work through those messy, thorny challenges and find successes. That’s where we get creativity, that’s where we get inspiration, that’s where we get innovation.”

 VIDA was picked to host the Thinkabit Lab in Vista Unified because “it fits with the identity of Vida – innovative design,” Vodicka said.

Joining VIDA’s partnership with Qualcomm in opening what Qualcomm dubbed Thinkabit Labs on their campuses are Harvey L. Lewis Jr. Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District and Feaster Charter School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

 

San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Martin said the Thinkabit Labs are “a place for our students to wonder, to dream, to see their imaginations come to life.” Martin said creation of the labs “is a very important step for the future of our schools.”

 

Qualcomm opened a Thinkabit Lab at its Sorrento Valley headquarters in March 2014. Since then, about 3,000 students in grades six through eight from throughout San Diego County have spent a day in the lab and about 5,000 are expected this year, said William Bold, senior vice president of government affairs.

 

The brainchild of Qualcomm senior director of staffing, Ed Hidalgo, the Thinkabit Lab is a combination lab, makerspace and classroom that combines mini-lectures with team projects.

Engineers team up with career coaches to work with students on a variety of projects and to introduce students to different types of careers in engineering.

 

They also learn about other careers that are needed to support technology companies, such as finance, marketing and human resources. Vanessa Myers, an engineering instructor, said she shows students the basics about computer coding, then it’s up to the students to use their imaginations. “We just tell the kids, go to town, create whatever they want,” Myers said. “The students always work in pairs. They get to decide what they want to make and how to make it.”

 

The new Thinkabit labs in Vista, San Diego and Chula Vista are meant to replicate the experience students have in the lab at Qualcomm offices.

One big advantage the new labs have is that students won’t be limited to a one-day experience, said VIDA Principal Eric Chagala.

 

“It’s an ongoing opportunity for kids,” Chagala said. Before now, Chagala said only VIDA sixth graders got to go to Qualcomm’s Sorrento Valley Thinkabit Lab. With a lab right on VIDA’s campus, he said the lab will be open to all VIDA students.

 

Teachers from other schools in Vista Unified and other North County school districts also can book time at the VIDA Thinkabit Lab, Vodicka said.

 

“You’ll have kids from Oceanside, Fallbrook, San Marcos, Escondido – all the surrounding districts will come to the lab,” Vodicka said.

Chagala said the lab also could be used for students and parents to come for after-school events to learn about careers in engineering and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.

“We want to become an opportunity for the local community to come and experience engineering – parents and students,” Chagala said.

 

Local media was there to cover the story. Below are the links:

 

 
 
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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/7/15




Audience: Homepage

RANCHO MINERVA PICKED AS NATIONAL EXEMPLAR SCHOOL

By Ray Huard

 

Rancho Minerva Middle School has been designated an “exemplar school” by a national organization that promotes teaching methods and practices which best prepare students for college and career in a fast-changing environment.

 

The school, which is in Vista Unified School District,  is among 16 schools and three school districts chosen as 2016 models of achievement for others to emulate, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), a national education organization based in Washington, D.C.

 

“It’s validation of the hard work that my team is doing, my teachers and staff,” Rancho Minerva Principal Benjamin Gaines said of the school’s exemplar status.

 

“I’m asking them to take risks and try new things and they’re stepping up to the plate and it’s getting noticed,” Gaines said. “We know traditional education does not fit our students so we have to be innovative.”

 

Now in its fourth year, the partnership’s 21st Century Learning Exemplar Program (www.P21.org) shares case studies of schools and districts which it says have transformed student learning.

Among other things, exemplar schools and districts emphasize collaboration among teachers and students, a climate of achievement, community partnerships and giving students a say in their education.

Rancho Minerva was selected for its “visionary and dedicated leadership” in transforming a school with a poor reputation “into one with a student centered culture,” said Tatyana Warrick, the partnership’s communications manager.

 

“It’s a school that has engaged both parents and teachers and where previously at-risk students became engaged active learners,” Warrick said. “The school is addressing the cycle of poverty and low expectations to provide its mostly minority population with a more hands-on, problem solving learning experience to prepare them for college and beyond.”

 

Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka Rancho said that Rancho Minerva’s selection as an exemplar school “is an incredible honor for Rancho Minerva and for the Vista Unified School District.”

“I am very proud of the efforts of the students, families and staff at Rancho Minerva Middle School,” Vodicka said. “This recognition marks the second national award for the school this year, which illustrates that Rancho Minerva is making rapid progress to becoming the model of educational excellence and innovation.”

 

Earlier this year, Rancho Minerva was one of 16 schools to win a National Digital Innovation in Learning Award. Presented by EdSurge and Digital Promise, the Digital Innovation in Learning Award honors teachers, administrators and organizations that demonstrate exemplary practices in using technology to support learning.

 

EdSurge (www.edsurge.com) is an online site that provides education news and educational resources, focusing on the use of new technology. Digital Promise (www.digitalpromise.org) is a national independent nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to accelerate innovation in education.

 

At Rancho Minerva, the transformation has been dramatic. The school has gone from one parents eschewed to one they choose to have their children attend.

 

“Two years ago, it was the school with the highest number of suspensions. If you said Rancho Minerva, most parents would laugh and say, ‘Heck no, I’m going to send our kids to another school,’” Gaines said. “We had to change that. Now we have a very, very low discipline problem. We have a very 21st Century environment for them.”

Among other things, Rancho Minerva and Vista Innovative Design Academy are among eight schools in the nation that are part of a Verizon Innovative Schools program to increase the use of mobile technology in education.

 

Through a partnership with Digital Promise, every student at Rancho Minerva and VIDA got an iPad computer tablet under the Verizon program to use at school and at home. Rancho Minerva also has a partnership with Qualcomm.

 

The school also has initiated several programs which encourage students to use their own creativity, such as a digital discovery class open to all students. “They are learning digital skills, anything from digital citizenship to digital photography and video,” Gaines said.

 

Earlier this year, Rancho Minerva had a school-wide project in which every student took photographs, demonstrating elements of photography which they had studied, such as composition. “All students had to make a presentation of up to 10 photographs,” Gaines said. “They chose what they wanted to do. They went out and took pictures with their iPads.”

 

Each student then chose one photo to be included in a school exhibit and those that were voted the best by the students were included in the school district’s Festival of the Arts in October.

“The projects that these kids did was beyond whatever I imagined,” Gaines said.

 

Teachers at Rancho Minerva also have changed the way they teach so that students learn more at their own pace and take responsibility for their learning.

 

The students collaborate with each other, working in small groups, with teachers guiding them rather than lecturing them from the front the class.

Because students are working in a way that uses their curiosity, “they’re able to have a deeper learning far beyond memorizing facts,” Gaines said. “This model works.”

 

It is that kind of innovation that led P21 to pick Rancho Minerva as an exemplar school. “Every student deserves to experience authentic 21st century learning,” said Helen Soule, P21 executive director.

“P21 is proud to highlight the hard work exhibited by all P21 Exemplars as they redefine what teaching and learning means for students and educators in a world where learning doesn’t stop,” Soule said.

Case studies on each of the 2016 exemplar schools, including Rancho Minerva, will be posted on P21’s website, www.p21.org.

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/1/15




Audience: Homepage

VISTA UNIFIED WINS NATIONAL HONORS

By Ray Huard

 

Vista Unified School District has been cited by a national publication as a “District of Distinction.”

 

Vista was cited for providing teachers with advanced training, moving quickly to adopt new technology and making significant strides in student achievement.

 

The Districts of Distinction is a national recognition program created by District Administration magazine to honor school districts that lead the way with new ideas that work, according to the publication’s website.

Based in Connecticut, the magazine is a publication for school administrators at the kindergarten through high school level. http://www.districtadministration.com/dod/awards/shoulder-shoulder-training-models

 

In honoring Vista Unified, the magazine said the district has embraced new technology, “leading to major changes in teaching and learning.”

“It’s pretty spectacular that we got it,” said Erin English, Vista Unified’s director of online and blended learning and principal of Vista Visions Academy.

 

Vista Unified covers Vista and parts of Oceanside.

“It just validates the good work that we’re doing and it means that we’re going in the right direction,” English said of the award, adding that much of the credit goes to “the dedicated and highly trained teaching staff.”

The district went from having only eight Chromebooks in 2011 to have 14,500 Chromebooks and 5,400 iPads this year, the magazine said.

Vista schools also were honored for starting a teacher coaching program with special training sessions during spring and summer breaks.

“Teachers are taking responsibility to learn what they need to know by taking advantage of some of the training that’s offered to them,” English said. “We’re looking more at trying to bring out the best in our teachers”

Those who have taken special training in turn pass on what they know to their colleagues through workshops.

 

 “We’ve invited teachers from across the district to share what they know to be best (teaching) practices for our students,” English said. “We started doing this about four years ago. It’s been very successful.”

The changes Vista Unified has made over the past few years has paid off with more students taking AP (advanced placement) exams, going from 1,645 in 2013 to nearly 2,000 in 2014, the magazine noted.

Similarly, there have been fewer disciplinary problems, with suspensions dropping from 10 percent in 2008 to 3 percent in 2013, the magazine said. 

 

Enrollment, also has improved. In 2011, the district lost 41 students.  In 2014, it gained 300. “It hasn’t come easy,” English said of the improvements. “The transformation of Vista has been challenging at times. However, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.” English said more improvements are in the works as Vista Unified moves to more personalized education where course work is tailored to meet the needs of individual students.

 

“If you walked in the shoes of Vista, you’d know the hard work everyone’s been doing to get to this point,” English said. “Teachers have been raising the bar in their classrooms and expecting their students to become more engaged in the learning process.”

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/30/15




Audience: Homepage

LIAISONS CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY

By Ray Huard

 

Jessica Gutierrez has helped parents understand the online computer programs their children use to do homework at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math.

 

She’s helped some fill out job applications and apply for food stamps.

She helped one mother learn how to use Microsoft Word, a word processing computer program the mother needed for her job and to help her child with homework.

 

Sometimes, she helps get food for families in need.

And every morning and afternoon, she’s in the school parking lot, greeting parents and students as they arrive and leave – a friendly face they know they can trust.

 

“It’s little things, but they make such a huge impact at the end of the day,” said Gutierrez, one of 17 community liaisons Vista Unified School District has added over the past two years.

 

More will be added next year so that nearly every school in the district will have its own liaison, said Jacqueline “Kiki” Bispo, Vista Unified’s Family Engagement Lead.  In the group photo below, Jacqueline “Kiki” Bispo is in front in the red Stanford shirt.

liaisonphoto.jpg
 

 A few of the smaller schools, like Major General Raymond Murray High School and Alta Vista High School, will share a liaison, Bispo said.

The idea of adding school liaisons came from a series of community forums in which parents said they wanted to be more engaged with the schools and school officials were looking for ways to better connect with the community, Bispo said.

 

“There are so many parents that want to be involved, that want to help and they just don’t know where to start,” said Patricia Landeros, liaison at Temple Heights Elementary School. “Our parents want to be there. It’s just making that first connection, building that trust.”

That’s where the community liaisons come in.

 

“Essentially, they serve as the intermediary between schools, community and family, bridging any divides that may have existed,” Bispo said.

There’s no real job description for the liaisons, and the work varies from school to school, but a constant is to be the first and last person students and parents see during the school day.

“Every morning at drop off, every afternoon at pickup, the liaisons are present in the parking lot to say, ‘Hi, I’m the liaison. I’m here to meet your needs,’” Bispo said.

 

The liaisons often work evenings and make home visits to meet with parents.

 

The hope is that the liaisons will develop an environment “where parents feel comfortable and safe and even excited to come to a school and talk with somebody,” Bispo said.

 

At Grapevine Elementary School, Bispo said that liaison Susy Aguirre is helping one mother learn how to read and write.

“I saw the parent working on her alphabet – capital A, lower case a – she was just practicing the writing and her goal is by the time her child leaves Grapevine in the fifth grade, the parent will have advanced beyond her child,” Bispo said. “That’s just a beautiful goal and a perfect example of how much parents care, how much they want to learn, what they want for their children.”

 

To become a liaison, someone must have a high school diploma and be able to read, speak and write Spanish well enough to translate documents from English to Spanish and act as an interpreter. They also must pass a rigorous Spanish language test.

 

“Not a lot of our teachers speak Spanish, so that was a way a lot of parents gravitated toward me. They’d say, ‘Wow, I have someone who can speak my language and be the interpreter or whatever,” said Susana Torrico, community liaison at Maryland Elementary School.

By talking with several parents, Torrico learned that they wanted homework help for their children before school on Mondays when classes don’t start until 10 a.m. at Maryland.

 

As a result, the school hired a teacher’s aide to work with the children before school starts on Mondays.

 

“Now, the parents feel heard, the parents feel confident and the students get the help they need,” Torrico said.

 

At Olive Elementary School, liaison Jorge Garcia said one of the biggest challenges for parents was learning how to use computers to understand what their children were doing in school and to communicate with teachers.

 

“There was one parent who didn’t even know how to turn a computer on, which is fine. That’s what we’re there for,” Garcia said. “Every week, I hold a tech workshop where parents are welcome to come and I work with them to teach them how to use a computer. I start with the basics and move on to email.”

 

Garcia also worked with Vista Community Clinic to organize workshops at the school on child development.

 

Madison Middle School liaison Vivian Boring said she’s often called upon to help students and their parents make the transition from elementary school, where students have several teachers instead of one, and where they track their grades and homework assignments through online computer programs.

 

“Some parents don’t know, when their kids are on computers, if they’re playing games or actually doing their homework and we want to be able to help the parents distinguish so they can absolutely support their kids,” Boring said.

 

Boring also organized study skills workshops so parents can help their children develop study habits that will carry them through high school.

A middle school student “needs to learn how to study differently, study smarter, get a new routine after he goes home,” Boring said. “He can’t just go home and play.”

 

In addition to the work they do in the schools, the liaisons often work with a number of social service agencies and other organizations on a variety of projects and in getting help for families in need.

 

“At the end of the day, the liaisons end up dealing with every aspect of life in education, good, bad and difficult,” Bispo said. “We’re trying to become experts in everything, or at least a little bit of everything so that we know how to refer and support our parents and families.”

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/16/15




Audience: Homepage

BOBIER ELEMENTARY LEADS VISTA IN DECLARING ‘RED RIBBON WEEK’

By Ray Huard

Vista first grade teacher Jennifer Hovell wanted to do something special to drive home the drug free message area schools are promoting as part of a national Red Ribbon Week leading up to Halloween.

“Our students need to feel the support of not only our school, but the community at large in taking the pledge to be drug free,” said Hovell, who teaches at Bobier Elementary School.

With help from kindergarten teacher Stephanie Picco, Hovell organized a drive at Bobier to get the Vista City Council to approve a proclamation declaring Oct. 23-31 Red Ribbon Week in Vista.

Vista Mayor Judy Ritter presented the proclamation to the students Monday, as they sat outside on the school playground.

 Nearly all the students, teachers and administrators wore red shirts or other red clothing to mark the start of Red Ribbon Week

Standing in front of banners welcoming her and proclaiming Bobier Broncos to be drug free, Ritter urged the students to promise to stay away from drugs and tobacco.

 “I want all of you to sign the pledge for Red Ribbon Week and not use drugs and not smoke,” Ritter said.

In an interview, Ritter said she hoped that message would carry a little extra weight coming from a city official.

“If the mayor can come out and ask them not to do drugs and not to smoke, maybe they will listen to the mayor,” Ritter said. “These kids are our future. One of them will be mayor some day or on the City Council.”

Although elementary school might seem a little early for an anti-drug campaign, Hovel and Bobier Principal Jennifer Golden said it’s another part of the culture the school is developing to get students college and career ready.

“I believe that students as young as ours are exposed to messages that promote some sort of drug use as being OK – drinking and other types – even if just in the media, whether it be a TV commercial, a billboard or possibly being exposed to it in their household.” Hovell said.

“We want them to know they have the ability and responsibility to take charge of their lives, even at this young age” she said.

Golden was the first to sign a paper banner the stretches the length of a classroom building wall, pledging to be drug free.

The goal is to get all 729 students at the school as well as the teaching and administrative staff to sign the banner by the end of the week, Golden said.

Leading up to Red Ribbon Week, the students decorated the doors to their classrooms with anti-drug messages, drawings and photographs.

“Don’t be haunted by drugs,” read the lettering on one door that had a Halloween ghost theme.

“Drugs are creepy,” read the lettering on another door with a theme of creepers from the “World of Minecraft” videogame.

As part of the opening day of Red Ribbon Week at Bobier, the students also paid tribute to Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Mexican-born Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was kidnapped and killed by drug dealers in 1985. Red Ribbon Day was established by Congress in 1988 as a national event in his honor.

“Our message to the kids this morning is one person can really make a difference,” Hovell said, and Camarena was proof of that.

The school also has scheduled a series of fun events to coincide with Red Ribbon Week, including a pajama day in which students can wear their pajamas to school, a crazy socks day, a twin day in which each student pairs up with another to dress alike, and a Halloween costume day.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/29/15




Audience: Homepage

VISTA TEACHER NAMED CALIFORNIA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ART EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR

By Ray Huard

As Vista art teacher Kathy Olson sees it, art should be infused into everything students learn, from science and math to history and literature.

At Vista Academy of Visual & Performing arts where she teaches, students study French as the their foreign language of choice, so Olson has them learning about the Eiffel tower and famous French artists, like Edgar Degas.

As they learn about Native Americans, Olson is showing VAPA fifth-graders a Native American weaving technique as she joins them in making baskets.

“Right now, the third-graders are collaborating on inventing machines that could do anything they want, so they’re using their science skills and their art skills together,” Olson said. “They’re drawing, adding color and movement, using elements of art to bring this idea to life.”

That creativity was one of the characteristics that led the California Art Education Association to name Olson the 2015 Outstanding Elementary Art Teacher of the Year for California.

“It kind of makes you feel appreciated,” said Olson, who has been teaching art for more than 30 years since receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in art education at Biola College in La Mirada, Calif.

“I always liked teaching,” Olson said. “Then, when I was working on a teaching credential, I thought, ‘I just want to teach art all day.’”

Olson has been an art teacher in Vista Unified since 1987 and at VAPA since 1992.

“I’ve been at it so long, I must be doing something right,” Olson said.

In addition to being honored by the California Arts Education Association, Olson has received several awards and was named Artissimo Choice Art Teacher of the Year for 2015 and 2012 by the San Diego County Art Education Association.

Her colleagues said Olson was a fitting choice to be art education teacher of the year.

“This is a distinction that is well earned,” said VAPA Principal Catina Hancock.

“Henri Matisse once said, ‘Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.’ I think this beautifully sums up who Kathy is and the role she plays on our campus,” Hancock said. “Kathy has done an exceptional job of planning and delivering thematic arts instruction to six grade levels and over 600 students.”

Assistant Principal Benjie Walker said Olson is “very passionate about arts education.”

“She develops that passion within her students, whether it is through circle art, painting, or walking around Vista Village capturing photographs with our arts conservatory students,” Walker said. “Kathy has definitely left her mark on arts education district-wide, county-wide, and state-wide.”

Carolyn Thom, a content resource teacher who works with Olson, said Olson has “an enthusiastic love of the arts.”

“Her students love her,” Thom said.

It’s a feeling Olson returns by displaying student art work wherever she can.

“She’s done shows all over the place – at the library, the Civic Center – whenever there’s a request for art work, she pulls it together and takes the art work down and shows the work, Thom said.

In addition to teaching at VAPA, Olson teaches an independent study art course for high school students at Vista Visions Academy and helps other teachers integrate art instruction in their classroom through the California Arts Project and the San Diego County Office of Education.

“We’re giving regular classroom teachers professional development so they can feel more confident in bringing art into their classrooms,” Olson said.

Over the past few years, Olson said she’s seen a resurging interest in art education.

“Educators and creative thinkers are realizing that the arts, all of the arts, not just visual arts, are part of being a whole person,” Olson said. “There’s a lot of schools that are coming around to realizing that students need the arts as a way of approaching learning.”

Art was always a big part of Olson’s life.

“I’ve always had art supplies around the house,” Olson said. “My mom is a painter. My dad is very creative in the shop in the garage.”

Olson’s ties to Vista Unified School District run deep. Her mother worked for the district as a secretary, her father was a school district purchasing agent, and she is a product of Vista schools.

Her daughter, Stephanie Jarin, teaches a combination second/third grade in Anaheim. Her husband, Jim Olson, also is a teacher and is designing a computer software program to use photographs as a way to teach writing, Olson said.

Olson went to Beaumont Elementary School, Lincoln Middle school - which is now Vista Magnet Middle School – and was in the first graduating class of Vista High School.

When she’s not working on art projects, Olson does volunteer work through her church, New Community Church.

“Our family has been on a couple of trips to the Amazon to work with churches and community groups down there,” Olson said. She said her daughter spent six months working with church groups in South America.

In what spare time she has, Olson said she’s fond of painting with watercolors, calligraphy, mixed media art, interior decorating, photography, collecting Early American antiques and gardening.

When she does paint, “Landscapes and florals are my favorites,” Olson said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/26/15




Audience: Homepage

VISTA STUDENTS HAIL FIREFIGHTERS ON 9/11 ANNIVERSARY

By Ray Huard

When Vista High School junior Lucy Jimenez wrote about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the message was personal.

Her grandmother was rescued by New York firefighters that day in 2001 when two hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington and a fourth hijacked plane went down in a Pennsylvania field.

Lucy’s grandmother was in the World Trade Center.

The attacks killed 2,753 people at the World Trade Center, including 343 New York firefighters; 184 at the Pentagon and 40 passengers and crew of a United Airlines flight that crashed in a field near Shanksville.

Lucy is among a group of Vista High School students studying to be firefighters, paramedics and medical technicians. The group marked the 9/11 anniversary by paying tribute to the region’s firefighters.

They did this by making posters to commemorate the 2001 attacks and by writing thank you letters to the firefighters.

 “Thank you so much for helping her because if you guys wouldn’t have helped her, she no doubt would not be here with us,” wrote Lucy, who is in the medical terminology class of Career Technical Education teacher Martie Napier.

Although it was New York City firefighters who rescued her grandmother, Lucy wrote “I just want to thank firefighters everywhere in the world because they help us whenever we are in danger.”

Senior David Oregon, who is in Napier’s first responder class, wrote that he was thankful to the firefighters “for everything you do on a daily basis.”

“And I respect you guys for being so brave and risking your own life in order to help others,” David wrote. “All of you put everyone else first in order to help them and for everything you guys do, I admire and respect each and every one of you.”

The letters from Lucy and David, along with those of their classmates, were compiled into books by Napier. She delivered the books on the 9/11 anniversary, along with the posters, to the Valley Center Fire Department. Her husband, Josef Napier, is the department’s chief.


 

The covers of the books read “VHS Will Never Forget.”

That message resonated with the firefighters, said Josef Napier, who was a battalion chief with the Vista Fire Department before becoming Valley Center Fire Department chief in December 2014.

“The words ‘We Will Never Forget’ resounded as the Valley Center firefighters read the posters and letters of appreciation and encouragement from the Vista High School students,” Josef Napier said. “As a Vista High School alum, my Panther Pride was at the highest level possible knowing that some of these students were only one or two-years-old when this senseless attack occurred.”

The posters carried messages similar to those the students delivered in their letters.

“I have a saying in my classroom, ‘Real heroes don’t wear capes,” Martie Napier said. “A lot of the students put that in their letters, so that was really nice.”

She said the books of student letters will be kept permanently at the Valley Center Department for firefighters and members of the public to read.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/24/15




Audience: Homepage

‘NO EXCUSES’ PROMOTES HIGH EXPECTATIONS AT MONTE VISTA ELEMENTARY

By Ray Huard

 

Flags from colleges and universities across the country hang outside the doorway of every classroom at Monte Vista Elementary School, a different flag for each classroom.

Inside, students from transitional kindergarten through fifth-grade talk about what it’s like to go to college and what a college looks like. They refer to themselves not by their grade level, but by the year they would graduate from college.

First-graders are the class of 2031 and those in transitional kindergarten are the class of 2033.

When they walk as a group around the school campus, the students shout out the school chants of the college their classroom has adopted.

It’s all part of a drive to instill a sense in every student that going to college is very much a part of their future, even if no one else in their family has ever been to college, said Principal Charlene Smith.

“If you expose children to universities, to colleges, to higher education, it’s just part of their life,” Smith said. “It’s part of the expectations they set for themselves.”

This year, Monte Vista earned membership in the No Excuses University Network of Schools, a nationwide organization that promotes the notion that higher education should be an option for everyone.

According to the group’s website, member schools train their teachers and administrators to follow six core principles: that every student will be proficient or advanced in reading, writing and math; that the academic accomplishment of every student is an obsession; that schools can neutralize many challenges that students bring to the classroom; that student achievement is the top topic of conversation; that a maverick spirit must lead the way; and that there are no excuses for poor effort.

“What appealed to me is that the schools that followed this process, that modeled themselves after this formula, completely transformed student achievement, student performance and student discipline,” Smith said.

The No Excuses program is already paying dividends.

Discipline problems “almost became nonexistent because kids feel excited to come to school, they feel valued,” Smith said.

“All of our students set learning goals or behavior goals,” Smith said. “Parents are made aware of the goals and we celebrate when students meet those goals. We celebrate even if they don’t meet the goals, but if they’ve made progress.”

Teachers and staff also have set what they call a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG, for the school. Posters with the BHAG on it hang in the school office and in every classroom.

“It just says every Monte Vista student will achieve academic proficiency in language arts and mathematics as well as develop exceptional character skills which prepare them for college and career,” Smith said.

The BHAG also sets a code of conduct for teachers and administrators.

“We will never give up on a student, we will be where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there, we will treat each other and students with kindness and respect,” Smith said.

Third grade teacher Annjanette Ziegler, whose class adopted the University of California Santa Barbara, said “being a No Excuses school has literally changed the climate here at Monte Vista.”

“Kids are walking around with their heads held high and (with) a confidence I have not seen in a long time,” Ziegler said. “They are turning in their homework, walking down the halls respectfully, and completely engaged in making our UCSB Gauchos class the best they can be.”

The Gauchos are the name of UCSB sports teams. Ziegler attended the college on a softball scholarship and she uses her own story to inspire her students.

“I try to emphasize that any student can go, no matter what their financial situation is, as long as they put their mind to it,” Ziegler said.

Third grade teacher Gina Bentz said having each class adopt a college helps students set high expectations for themselves. She chose Texas A&M University because she has family in Texas.

“We do our cheers every morning. We rally around our college and it gives everyone a sense of belonging,” Bentz said. “That’s what I find most inspiring.”

Although Texas A&M is her class’s official school, Bentz said she also talks about other colleges and universities to let her students know there are many options, depending on what they want to study.

Fourth grade teacher Carrie Svien said she’s noticed a change in the overall atmosphere at Monte Vista since it became a No Excuses University School.

“This year’s first week of school was very different than in years past,” said Svien, whose class adopted California State University Long Beach.

“The school has systems and procedures in place. We always had them, but our teachers and staff often did not follow through or we would often make excuses,” Svien said. “Since we worked on the systems as a team, we have buy in. Our school is now a place of learning and respect. The students know the values of the school and know they are part of the team.”

Adopting CSU Long Beach also had a bonus for her class, Svien said.

“They are known as the ‘49ers. The mascot is Prospector Pete,” Svien said. “This makes it a great university for a fourth grade class since we learn about the ‘49ers and the Gold Rush.”

School Counselor Heidi Mejia said many Monte Vista students come from families in which no one before has gone to college and no one really talks about it as part of their future.

“We’re planting the seeds, so if they’re not hearing that message at home, they’re getting the message here and we’re setting that expectation high,” Mejia said. “They’re hearing what college is like so they can make it their dream.”

 “We’re promoting that culture,” Smith said. “Every child deserves to know about university.”

 

 


 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/21/15




Audience: Homepage

NASA EXPERIMENT DRAWS KUDOS FOR VISTA MAGNET STUDENTS

By Ray Huard

Three Vista Magnet Middle School students were soaring high on Tuesday, September 14th, after their space-bound experiment prompted the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to proclaim a day in their honor.

“It’s exciting,” said Lexie Kondo, who joined seventh-grade classmates Victoria Arseneault and Karsyn Lee in receiving a proclamation from Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Horn.

“Really cool,” was how Victoria described the event.

The proclamation declared Sept. 15 to be Victoria Arseneault, Karsyn Lee and Lexie Kondo Day throughout San Diego County.

The experiment designed by the three Vista Magnet students was one of 15 chosen from among 708 proposals submitted to NASA by students from throughout the United States and Canada.

It will be sent up to the International Space Station, where astronauts will complete the experiment to see how organic strawberry seeds germinate in a microgravity environment.

That’s not all.

Next July, the three students will go to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to discuss their experiment, said their teacher, Christina Bartee.

“It’s an opportunity to present their findings,” Bartee said.

Reading from the Board of Supervisors proclamation, Horn said the three girls “are exemplary role models inspiring other students to be innovative, creative, (and) analytical and to reach for the stars.”

Bartee said that Lexie, Victoria and Karsyn earned the proclamation.

“This was a student driven project,” Bartee said. “I take no credit for their work.”

Not to take anything away from the students, Principal Anne Green said Bartee is too humble.

“I’m very, very grateful to Mrs. Bartee for all her work because she’s really the driving force behind this,” Green said, adding that she was “deeply, deeply proud and impressed” with the three students.

“They’re setting a great example for kids to come,” Green said.

The parents of the three girls said they were stunned when their daughters first told them of their work.

“I thought, ‘No, you’re kidding me,’” said Steven Kondo. “The space station? We’re talking about the space station?”

Jenifer Arseneault said she had a similar reaction when Victoria first told her.

“She said she was going to do an experiment. I said, ‘OK, that’s good honey,’ Arseneault said. “Then she came back and said ‘Our experiment might go up in space.’ I’m, ‘What!’”

Similarly surprised, Joe Arseneault, Victoria’s father, said “I had no idea it would turn into this.”

“We’re really proud of our girls and what they’ve done,” Joe Arseneault said.

 A launch date is scheduled for Jan. 3, which has Karsyn particularly excited.

“It’s really close to my birthday,” said Karsyn, whose birthday is Jan. 12.

In the meantime, the students are putting the final touches on a version of the experiment they’ll complete on the ground to coincide with what the astronauts are doing in space.

Karsyn is betting that the strawberry seeds will germinate normally in their part of the project, with the roots growing downward.

“On the space station, I think they’ll germinate all over the place because they don’t have gravitational pull,” Karsyn said.

The seeds are from a particular variety of strawberry, arbutus unedo.

NASA required that the seeds be organic, and the students, with Bartee’s help, turned to the Internet to find a supplier in Portugal who could certify the seeds as organic.

Ultimately, the students hope that their experiment will help determine how people will feed themselves on long space missions.

The student missions to the space station are part of the Student Spaceflights Experimental Program.

The program was started five years ago by the National Center for Earth and Space Science. The goal is to promote interest in space and STEM (science, technology, engineer and math) education.

Betty Kondo, Lexie’s mom, said that seeing the experiment progress and the enthusiasm of her daughter was great fun.

“They worked really hard on this,” Kondo said.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/17/15




Audience: Homepage

DONATIONS HONOR HIGH SCHOOL’S NAMESAKE

By Ray Huard

For many people, the Korean War of the early 1950’s is but a brief notation in a history lesson,  but the widow of a Marine veteran who fought in it wants to help change that for students of Major General Raymond Murray High School.

‘It’s called the forgotten war,” said Stephanie Shaffer.

 The Vista Unified School District high school is named for a hero of the Korean War, Major General Raymond Murray, one of the most highly decorated Marine officers.

Murray’s biography is included on the high school’s website but Shaffer wanted the students to have more of a connection.

Shaffer said her husband, the late Robert Shaffer, served under Murray and fought with him during one of the fiercest battles of the war, the November to December 1950 battle of Chosin Reservoir.

More than 800 Marines were killed in the battle and 12,000 wounded, with most of the injuries caused by frostbite in extreme winter weather conditions.

Robert Shaffer was a Marine master sergeant, serving in the Marines from 1947 to 1968, his wife said.

Although her husband was not officially diagnosed with the condition, Stephanie Shaffer is convinced that her husband had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because he had nightmares and “talked about it like it was yesterday.”

“I don’t think he ever got over that,” Shaffer said.

After the war, Robert Shaffer collected many books detailing the Chosin Reservoir battle and other campaigns in which the Marines played a significant role, and Stephanie Shaffer recently donated his library to the high school.

She also gave the school computer equipment and manuals her husband used as a professional computer programmer.

“Raymond Murray was his hero,” Shaffer said of her husband. “He would definitely be pleased if he knew I was giving them to Major General Raymond Murray High School.”

School Principal Chuck Hoover said Shaffer’s contributions were important because they further cemented the school’s connection to the man for whom it’s named and he hopes will encourage others to help the school.

Major General Raymond Murray is a continuation school for students who fall behind in their school work and need to catch up to earn a high school diploma.

“Historically, continuation schools are not recipients of community donations so when we do receive support, we are extremely grateful,” Hoover said.

Enrollment fluctuates, but the school typically has a little more than 200 students.

Some catch up at Raymond Murray then return to Vista High School or Rancho Buena Vista High School to graduate, while others receive their diplomas from Raymond Murray, Hoover said.

The school also has some “super seniors” who have not accumulated enough credits in four years to graduate, but take additional classes at Raymond Murray to graduate.

Hoover said the books Shaffer donated will be used in history and English classes “as supplemental materials for students or teachers to access.”

“The books will be good resources for our students and our teachers to use,” Hoover said.

The computer equipment and manuals will be used in the school’s classes on video game design and computer fundamentals classes, he said.

“We’re definitely honored to be remembered,” Hoover said.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/10/15




Audience: Homepage

As the 2015-2016 school year started, there was a new group of students spread across VUSD’s middle and high schools: Student Nutrition Advocates. Sporting custom WaveCrest Cafe t-shirts and outfitted with free meal cards, posters, and an impressive amount of information about how Vista Unified’s pioneering nutrition program runs, this group of students is kicking off a program that CNS Director Brock Smith hopes will be a long term, sustainable model for peer nutrition education.

“As we’ve seen our department improve and grow the past few years, we saw that a vital component was to develop things that are sustainable over the long term,” said Smith. "Our goal with this program is to establish a program where every year we’ll have a new group of Advocates learning about what we do, helping us to improve what we do, developing skills for themselves, and learning how to identify and bring up a new group of leaders behind them.” 

Advocates are assigned monthly themes to communicate to their peers, and outfitted with both physical and digital resources to share with their schools and communities. As the year kicked off, they were tasked with getting the new WaveCrest Cafe music video played in their schools, though video announcements, at events, and through social media. They were also charged with getting to know their school’s cafeteria lead. 

Says Rancho Minerva Middle School Assistant Principal Anna Lozano, “the Advocate program has allowed our students to have a voice. It has allowed our students to create opportunities for our communities and staff to learn about nutrition and this is helping us strengthen our relationships.” RMMS Advocates have worked with the WaveCrest staff to provide snacks and food samples for events ranging from a community fair the weekend before the start of school to a successful Back To School night event at the school. RMMS Assistant Principal Juan Ayala says of the practical implications of the program, “the Advocate program is a great opportunity for students to develop leadership skills and be a part of the change in school culture. As Advocates our students get to experience real life work situations, as well as expand their knowledge of 21st century skills " 

Advocates are equipped with free meal cards allowing themselves and one guest per day to have a free meal in exchange for filling out a short survey about their experience. “Gathering feedback about the food and the experience is key for us,” continues Smith. “By having Advocates at each of these schools, we’ll be able to gather far more information that we could on our own, and it’s done in a peer to peer fashion that allows students to speak freely with their classmates. We’ll gather the information and review it regularly.”

The Advocates met in early August, ahead of the start of school, for training and education about the program, and a chance to develop their own ideas for the school year ahead. The day included a tour of the district’s Central Kitchen, the hub of creation for the more than 19,000 meals served daily across the district. District Dietitian Amy Haessly led the tour, and guided the students in understanding the rigorous process of selecting, fine tuning and serving so many meals each day. Haessly was able to teach the group about the nutritional content of the meals and the relentless work to find the highest quality, best-tasting options for the district.

"By providing a glimpse of the bigger picture of our operation, our customers get a deeper appreciation and understanding about how the food on their tray actually got there,” says Haesly. "They know they are getting quality ingredients that were selected with care."

She also guided them through the busy kitchen, observing staff making fresh ingredients and dishes for the start of the year, and concluding in the facility’s giant drive-in freezer (with temperatures reaching 20-below). Says Haesly about the program, “our Advocates serve as a dynamic connection with our customers. Their feedback helps us plan our menus and create new recipes that meet their taste preferences while meeting our quality and nutritional standards. They are helping us share our story to our customers but they also are helping us listen to the needs of our customers. It's a win-win collaboration!"

In the months to come, Advocates will communicate with their schools about the amount of local and fresh made food that is served every day, work to arrange for taste tests with their classes so that students can weigh in on potential new menu items, and develop on-campus activities and visits from partners like Solutions Farms and the California Dairy Commission.

“Our Advocates are a vital extension of our work,” continues Smith. “We're looking forward to learning as much from them as they do from us. It’s a real collaboration with student leaders in our schools, and we’re excited to see what they’ll bring to this effort."


 

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Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/9/15




Audience: Homepage

Rancho Minerva Middle School Ushers in a New Day

 

When Ben Gaines started as Principal of Rancho Minerva Middle School two years ago, he knew that he’d have to make significant changes. “I knew that there were challenges to address, and I also knew that we had tremendous students with so much to offer, and I wanted to set out to equip and empower those students.”

 

RMMS has implemented a massive emphasis on technology and students’ readiness for a 21st century culture. The number of devices available to students has increased by 500% in the past two years. Now, every student and teacher has a Chromebook or an iPad, thanks in part to Rancho Minerva’s selection (along with sister middle school VIDA) for a Digital Promise Grant, one of 9 awarded nationally.

 

To accompany the increase in devices available, RMMS has allocated strategic dollars towards effective professional development and collaboration, so that they haven’t merely placed devices in classes, but transformed classes through effective use of technology. The school has invested in its teachers and staff through a commitment to ongoing professional development.

 

This focus has shown many positive results. Teachers are transforming their lessons, finding new ways to utilize technology in the classroom to engage students, and feeling empowered themselves throughout the transition. As a result, Rancho Minerva Middle School has been featured in the National Digital Learning Day Video in Washington D.C. The school has also been interviewed for the California School Board Association Publication; local San Diego news has highlighte