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The News Gallery

November 2003

Circle J-Norris Ranch: County Students Enjoy Field Trips to Study Plants and Wildlife

News Gallery - November 2003 Editor: Pamela Kunze
Public Information Officer
(559) 733-6606

Contributors to this issue:
John Forenti, Marsha Ingrao, Nancy Bruce, Hope De Leon, Sheli Silva-Cunningham, Elizabeth Rivas, Darlynn Billingsley, Christine Chapman, and Lorena White.

The News Gallery is published monthly with the exception of double issues printed for July/August and December/January. If you would like to receive the News Gallery, please contact Christine Chapman at chrisc@tcoe.org or (559) 733-6172 and provide your name and address.


Cover Photo:
~ Circle J program coordinator Nancy Bruce shows students a model of a bobcat's skull.



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Circle J Offers Unique Educational Opportunities for All

"Do we have to sit on the ground?" asks a young girl as she explains her made-up allergy to dirt to Nancy Bruce, education coordinator for the Circle J - Norris Ranch. Another young student hesitantly takes his place on the hillside and asks Bruce if they'll be watching a movie. Nonplussed, Nancy waves her arm in a sweeping motion across the landscape of rolling hills and valleys dotted with oak trees and graced with a five-acre pond and says, "Here's your movie. Take one!"

Circle J And so begins the first-graders' field trip to Circle J.

Circle J - Norris Ranch, a beautiful 620-acre field-trip site in the Sierra foothills, offers a wide variety of field studies programs. Operated by the Tulare County Office of Education as part of the SCICON program, the ranch provides an opportunity to extend outdoor education to all ages. Primary, middle, high school, community college and university students participate in authentic, vital field study experiences that enrich and extend their classroom learning.

While Circle J is operated by SCICON, there are some key differences between SCICON and Circle J in educational philosophy, learning structure and age of students served, as well as services offered to those students. One of the most notable differences is that Circle J is a 620-acre active cattle ranch with a five-acre pond and a year-round creek while SCICON is reserved solely for education and associated activities. Another difference that becomes especially obvious as students stream off buses, is that Circle J has no restrooms, overnight facilities or dining halls.

Circle J Although Bruce is available to educators for consultation prior to field trips and offers instructional support during the class excursions, she explains that teachers are the driving force behind the educational programs at Circle J - Norris Ranch. "They choose the course of study that will meet their classroom goals. Educators visiting the Circle J - Norris Ranch may create their own, unique programs or tailor existing programs to meet the needs of their class," says Bruce.

Bruce believes that all students can benefit from a trip to the ranch. Circle J allows young students to become familiar with and comfortable in the natural world. When students have firsthand experiences viewing wildlife such as squirrels, birds, wriggling stream insects, it fosters a greater understanding of what they read in books or see in movies and videos. For older students, a Circle J experience challenges them to apply what they have learned.

"I think of Jim Vidak and Elli Norris, who worked together to make Circle J become reality, as local heroes," says Bruce. "Their responsibility to the land and dedication to the children of Tulare County gave birth to the Circle J - Norris Ranch program," Bruce finishes.

Photos above:
~ First graders from Belleview Elementary place acorns in woodpecker holes.
~ Students listen intently as Nancy Bruce explains the joy of sitting directly on the earth outdoors instead of in a chair inside.



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TCOE's Migrant Education Program Invites Regional Representatives to "Saddle Up"

This year's regional Migrant Education conference was attended by nearly 230 instructional aides, supportive services aides, program coordinators, teachers, principals and administrators representing 53 districts from throughout Tulare and Kings County. Participants dressed in Western attire were encouraged to "Saddle Up for Literacy."

One of the goals of Migrant Education is to encourage and support staff development activities that change the knowledge, understanding, behaviors, skills, and values of staff members who work with migrant students. The annual Regional Conference provides an opportunity for dissemination of "cutting edge" information and strategies that will benefit migrant children and their families.

Migrant Education saddles up All conference topics were carefully selected to help migrant staff be more effective and productive in their work with migrant students and their families. Breakout sessions and workshops covered issues ranging from a "Framework for Understanding Poverty" to "Implications for Brain Compatibility for Instruction" to "Literacy and Standards."

The final workshop, "Step up to Writing," presented by Charlene Stringham, resource specialist for Tulare City Schools was scheduled so that all the participants were able to attend this workshop. Charlene provided the instructional tools that will help students organize ideas and information, writing topics and thesis statements, connecting key ideas with supporting details, and writing conclusions. This workshop was timely in that writing has been neglected in schools causing students to have poor writing skills, according to a 2003 report of The National Commission on Writing, "Step Up to Writing," is viewed as one solution for improving writing with our migrant students.

According to Sheli Silva-Cunningham, administrator of TCOE's Migrant Education program, one highlight of the conference was the keynote address by Stan Carrizosa, who spoke on the impact of the No Child Left Behind initiative on school districts and our migrant students. Carrizosa also spoke on the importance of rigorous content standards and holding high expectations for migrant students to achieve "on grade level." Carrizosa also highlighted the process by which new laws governing migrant education are founded.

While the conference was planned to maximize the learning of the participants, some activities, such as an "ice-breaker" of country music line dancing, are fun and motivational. Additionally, the conference theme was designed to excite and motivate people to attend and participate.

"The Staff development Regional Conference is our opportunity to provide training for classified staff members who work very closely with the most at-risk students in the districts," says Silva-Cunningham. "Employees know we value their involvement with students when we take the time to help them develop valuable skills. Of course, we enjoy each year's theme for dressing up to have fun while we learn!" she adds.

Photo above:
~ Conference attendees (l-r): Hope De Leon (office manager), Dr. Pansy Ceballos (assistant superintendent), Clark Hawley (event emcee), Julio Vazquez (program manager), and Anna Leon (program manager and event coordinator).



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Holocaust Survivor Brings Message of Tolerance to Tulare County Students and Educators

"I live for the students' questions," Elane Norych Geller remarked passionately before she addressed the students at La Sierra High School on October 15. "I want them to know that I'm not telling ghost stories. They make decisions each day that determine the kind of life they will live in this world."

Marsha Ingrao and Elane Geller Geller survived life in a Nazi concentration camp as a young child, lived to tell about it, and now shares her message of human dignity, compassion, and remembrance for those who lost their lives during World War II. "You would do well to ask yourself why a sane person would relive this story about such great pain," she tells her audience of high school listeners. "It's about prevention of racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism. If you're not safe, I'm not safe." She emphasizes this message and makes it all the more relevant by connecting it to our current modern dilemmas such as gang violence, and ethnic, cultural, and international conflicts.

Her personal story serves as an inspiration, as well as a solemn cautionary tale about what happens when human beings dehumanize one another and eventually come to view any group different from themselves as "the other."

Elane was born in a Polish town with a population of nearly 4000. Elane was the youngest of four children in an extended family that included her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. When rumors started that the Nazis were coming to Poland, her father began to prepare her and her family to live with a Christian family until the crisis had past. Unfortunately, that plan was never realized.

Instead, after a horrible day of killing of Jews by the Nazis, four-year-old Elane, her father, aunt, and two brothers were left alive to make the journey to the Warsaw Ghetto. From there she suffered uncountable horrors in the death camp at Bergen-Belsen, the same camp in which Anne Frank died three weeks before the British soldiers liberated the camp.

Geller's experiences have become a platform from which she addresses audiences of students from throughout the United States and around the world. She shares her story in order to inspire and encourage young people to face modern dilemmas in ethically responsible manners.

For several years, the Tulare County Office of Education has proudly hosted Elane to speak before thousands of Tulare County students. This year Marsha Ingrao, instructional consultant for History Social-Science, joined forces with John Kelly, prevention coordinator for the CHOICES program, and Adam Valencia, coordinator for Reconnecting Youth, to offer a high-quality professional development workshop that featured Elane Geller. The end result of that collaboration was an unforgettable lesson for students and educators alike in self-esteem, decision-making, personal control, and interpersonal communication.

Photo above:
~ TCOE instructional consultant, Marsha Ingrao, (left) and Holocaust survivor, Elane Geller, take a break from a facilitators' session to pose for this photo. In addition to conducting student presentations, Geller addressed educators.



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Excellence in Education Awards Breakfast Salutes "Best of the Best"

Earlier this year, a selection committee of 18 Tulare County business, community and educational leaders met to choose the Tulare County Administrator/Manager of the Year, Teacher of the Year and School Employee of the Year for 2003. On October 15, at an awards breakfast attended by more than 350 of their educational peers, community members, legislators and business leaders, all 33 of the Tulare County Excellence in Education Award nominees, finalists and winners were recognized.

Ultimately, the show "belonged" to the three winners: Senaida Garcia, Administrator/Manager of the Year; Martha Karjala, Teacher of the Year; and Martha Flores, School Employee of the Year.

Excellence in Education Winners Senaida Garcia has served more than 35 years as project director of the Tulare County Office of Education Child Care Educational Program. Considered by many as a "pioneer" in the field of early childhood education programs, Senaida Garcia worked to create the first program that utilized a variety of funding sources to meet the needs of parents beginning in 1969.

"Senaida Garcia is a role model to us all. Her belief - in the importance of each person attaining their educational goals to create change in the community - is apparent in the way she lives her life and encourages others to do the same," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak.

Garcia's philosophy has always been to recognize that parents are the first teachers and that early childhood education is vital in creating life-long learners. One of her career goals, of providing early childhood educational services in every community of Tulare County, has become a reality. The program now has a center-based, home-based or licensed family child care program in all the communities with 42 Head Start child development centers in the county, including the recently opened center on the Tule River Indian Reservation.

Overseeing more than 650 staff members and providing services to approximately 6,000 children and their parents, Garcia says one of the greatest honors she has ever received came in September 1998 when Child Care opened its model center and training site and the vote was unanimous to name the center the "Senaida Garcia Child Development and Training Center."

The Teacher of the Year, Martha or "Marty" Karjala is currently a fifth-grade teacher at Rocky Hill Elementary School in Exeter. Karjala began her career in education more than 30 years ago. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree, teaching credential and Master of Arts degree from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, before taking her first teaching assignment at Flagstaff Elementary School. Martha taught there for two years before accepting a teaching position at Conyer Elementary School in Visalia. For the past 20 years, Karjala has been employed by the Exeter Union Elementary School District and because of her teaching philosophy and outpouring of creative teaching practices, students are well versed in the standards. She believes it's a good day one of her students says: 'Oh no! It's recess already?'

Martha Flores, School Employee of the Year for 2003, has been employed by the Porterville Unified School District for 22 years, with 19 at her present position as Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services. Ms. Flores has a true passion for helping within the community and is particularly interested in helping those less fortunate than herself. She is a board member and vice chairperson of Family HealthCare Network and has served on the Tulare County Domestic Violence Task Force Committee and as a board member of the Porterville Mission Project. She is also sole proprietor of Frugal Fashion and has spoken to numerous organizations on "Domestic Violence Awareness" and "Self-Esteem and Motivation."

Martha says, "I have been able to guide many students on the values of education and self-esteem and shared my belief that no one person should be discarded - perhaps, they just need to be restored and revived."

Once all of the nominees, finalists and winners had been recognized, Superintendent Vidak thanked the Educational Employees' Credit Union for their unfailing support of the annual recognition breakfast.

Photo above:
~ The "Best of the Best" of Tulare County's educational community (from left to right): Martha Flores, Employee of the Year: Marty Karjala, Teacher of the Year; and TCOE's Senaida Garcia, Administrator/Manager of the Year; at the annual awards breakfast.



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CHARACTER COUNTS! Week 2003 an Enormous Success
A Guest Editorial by John Forenti


CHARACTER COUNTS! Week 2003, was once again an enormous success. Thanks to the efforts of parents, teachers and community members, over 2400 youth were recognized as "Kids of Character" in Tulare County. This number broke our previous record by over 500! The Tulare County Office of Education also wishes to thank the Visalia Times-Delta, the City of Visalia and our good friends at the California Water Service Company for providing business and civic support that has become the model for communities across the country.

From the beginning, it has been our intent to make CHARACTER COUNTS! an integral part of the moral and ethical fabric of our community. Our strategy has been intentional, purposeful and based on a four-pronged effort. First, we sought to teach our youth about character and the Six Pillars that define it. John Donne said, "Knowledge cannot save you, but you cannot be saved without it." Second, we endeavored to reenforce it by recognizing and honoring youth through our annual "Kids of Character Awards." Third, we advocated to our youth how much their good character means to us by featuring a "Kid of Character" on page 2A of the Visalia Times-Delta every day since December 1, 1999.

Most importantly, however, we asked everyone to model the traits of good character for our youth to let them know we're not just "talkin' the talk," but we're "walkin' the talk." And, perhaps that's toughest of all, because being a good role model is not always the easiest of tasks. For one thing, we have to realize that being a role model is not a voluntary position. It is, in fact, a relentless, undeniable, day-to-day reality. The truth of the matter is that everything we say and do sends a message to our youth about what we believe and value. That's far more important than we might at first glance believe.

When youth are asked who is most influential in the formation of their values, they do not name athletes, entertainers or elected officials. They name their parents. Secondly, they name their teachers and coaches. Far more of us fall into one of those three categories than we do athletes, entertainers or elected officials. Simply put, building character isn't someone else's job. It's ours.

What can we do? We can do plenty. For one thing, we can get rid of those radar detectors on our dashboard, so that every kid who gets in the car doesn't think it's okay to cheat as long as you don't get caught.

Then when we have more items than the number allowed, we can start being a little more careful about getting into that express checkout line at the supermarket with a handful of coupons, so that our kids won't get the idea that the rules don't mean anything.

And, while we're at it, we can also start returning those shopping carts to the proper area so that they don't think making extra work for other people is acceptable.

We can also start spending a little more time being involved with the community by volunteering our time on weekends and after work, or perhaps sacrificing a round of golf to help someone in need.

Finally, let's always remember that kids don't expect us to be perfect, but they will take the measure of resolve when we're not. So, when we make a mistake, let's own up to it and tell them we'll be better next time.

We have to be willing to struggle for all to see, because it is not the magnitude of our accomplishments by which our children will judge us, but rather by the quality of our efforts; quite specifically, our efforts to improve and define our character. It may be difficult, because at times it will exact a price that may be more than we want to pay. But, that price will be small compared to the value of our message. It is a challenging task, but one that the people of Tulare County will meet.

We always do.


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Gallery Notes

Paul Slocumb At County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak's invitation, Paul Slocumb, an educator since 1966 and co-author of "Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty," recently presented a lunchtime seminar for county administrators entitled, "A Framework for Understanding Poverty."

Slocumb discussed topics such as how economic class affects behaviors and mindsets, why students from generational poverty often fear being educated, discipline interventions that improve behavior, and the eight resources that make a difference in success.

Slocumb, who has been actively involved in gifted/talented education for more than 25 years, encouraged educators to learn about and use the "hidden rules" inherent to economic classes in order to become more effective teachers.


Graduation services were recently held for the first class of the Collaborative Leadership Institute or CLI. Founded in 2000, and funded by First Five of Tulare County, CLI is a joint project of the Tulare County Office of Education and First Five of Tulare County.

The Institute's mission is to ensure the continuing vitality of the community of children's service providers in Tulare County by identifying and developing emerging leaders, and motivating them to work together. CLI's primary goals are to improve coordination and collaboration, provide succession planning, and to advance programs that impact young children in Tulare County.

"I'm proud of all of the graduates," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "The collaborative skills and networking capability the graduates have developed, over the course of their two years with CLI, will help each of them to be more effective in providing necessary services to the children and families of Tulare County," Continues Vidak.

The 18 CLI graduates, representing 14 youth-serving agencies, included the following TCOE staff members: Ralph Alvarez, Child Care Division; Melissa Bachtelle, Child Care Division; and Irene Barba, Migrant Education.


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Jim Vidak, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
All mail to: P.O. Box 5091, Visalia, CA 93278-5091
Physical address: 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277
phone: (559) 733-6300 • fax: (559) 627-5219

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