The News Gallery
March 2005FROM SOMEONE WHO KNOWS - Gang Intervention Program at Work in Community Schools
Editor: Robert Herman
Public Information Officer
Contributors to this issue:
Darlynn Billingsley, Christine Chapman, Garyalynn Wilhelm, Jeanne Croson, Angel Vazquez, Mel Borbolla, Pansy Ceballos, Priscilla Gomez, John Kelly, Christina Jimenez and Jan Mekeel.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 733-6172 and provide your name and address.
~ Mike Salazar shares his prison experiences with Success School students.
Gang Intervention Program
Veterans Discuss Harsh Realities
Do you know how South American hunters catch monkeys?" asks Mike Salazar. A group of ten teenage boys in Porterville's Success Community school stare back at him. "With a coconut filled with marbles," Salazar says. "You see, the monkey sees the pretty marbles inside, sticks his hand in and makes a lot of noise trying to get them out of the coconut. Have you figured out how they get caught?" he asks. "The monkey won't let go of the marbles." Salazar explains that the marbles are like the things young people think a gang is supposed to represent: security, respect, status and opportunities. "If you can let go of these lies, you have a better chance of staying away from the hunter," he says.
Exercises like this begin a typical session with the gang intervention program now operating in the Tulare County Office of Education's three community schools ó a program Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak is passionate about. "For students in public school, the issue of gangs must be addressed in two ways," says Mr. Vidak. "For young students, we have a prevention program coordinated by Officer Rob Zieg of the Visalia Police Department (profiled in the December 2004 issue of The News Gallery). But for those students who may already have exposure to gangs, we have developed an intervention program operated by retired Probation Officer Mel Borbolla. Mel is our greatest resource on gang activity. He has been a help to students, parents and community groups for decades."
When Mr. Borbolla retired from the County Probation Department in 2003, Mr. Vidak hired him on a part-time consulting basis to implement the gang intervention program. "Itís a program that we first took into some of the high schools," says Mr. Vidak. "This past fall, I had Mel and his team begin conducting weekly sessions at our community schools." Borbollaís team includes Court/Community School Liaison Steve Newsome and volunteers Dan Martinez and Pastor Mike Salazar, who runs a menís home in Bakersfield.
Salazar is the real deal. Students relate to him because there is little he hasn't seen or experienced for himself. Growing up in the Bakersfield area, he says: "I was always involved with a gang." At age 14, he was arrested for drugs. "Then, I went to a facility run by the California Youth Authority (CYA) for robbery." Salazar was in and out of CYA facilities for repeat offenses until he entered the state prison system in San Quentin at the age of 17.
Mike Salazar has been out of prison and free from drugs for 18 years, but many of his old friends are not as lucky. Mike still corresponds and encourages some of the men in state prisons. "Reuben has been there 23 years, Bobby G. for 18 years and my cousin Luis is doing life without parole," says Salazar. Statistics like this seem to register with the students. Salazar also has stories about the realities of prison life ó stories students are eager to hear. He talks about the violence in prisons, about the gangs that operate behind the walls and about snitches and stabbings. "We're so lucky that Mr. Salazar is willing to share his anti-gang message with the community school students," says Mel Borbolla. "In addition to weekly talks at our schools, he visits with the students at the Youth Authority facility in Tehachapi, and runs his menís home for drug and alcohol addictions." Mr. Vidak adds: "The great thing about having Mike Salazar is that we are able to dispel some of the glorified prison stories young people are getting from uncles, brothers or cousins who return home. They are probably not hearing the stories of abuse and violence. For the future of our communities, we must teach students on this path the realities of their choices."
Despite its recent introduction, the program is working. La Sierra High School senior Joel Nunez credits Borbolla for showing him the consequences of continuing in a gang. He cites some of the typical reasons for joining a gang: power, support, girls and money. Nunez, who spent several months at the Success Community School in Porterville, says: "We saw a movie about prisons and it really scared me. It made me think for the first time that I have to stop what I'm doing." Nunez adds: "It was good to have someone like Pastor Mike talking to us ó not yelling, but telling the real experiences he had."
The collaboration between Jim Vidak and Mel Borbolla goes back for many years. Their first project was a 1991 presentation on gangs newly elected Superintendent Vidak asked Borbolla to make at a meeting of the Tulare County School Boards Association. Out of that presentation, Borbolla developed the booklet "Street Gangs of Tulare County," which is available through the Tulare County Office of Education. The booklet has expanded many times, and is available in both English and Spanish.
At the end of the session, Salazar brings the students back to the story of the monkey and coconut. He talks to them about who they think the "hunters" are in his story. By this time, the students are more eager to share. "Cops," says one. "Other gangs," say another. "I'll tell you the most dangerous hunter," says Salazar. "I have a buddy who's in prison now for murder. He says to me: "Mike, I just can't get them out of my head." I ask him what he's talking about," says Salazar. "My friend tells me: "The faces, man, of the people I killed." Salazar concludes: "Long after you're out of prison or off the drugs, you'll have to live with the memory of your crimes. And that's the most dangerous hunter of them all."
For more information on the program, or for a copy of "Street Gangs of Tulare County," call 733-6172.
~ Court/Community School Liaison Steve Newsome facilitates the discussion between adult volunteers and students.
~ Success School students listen as Mike Salazar (shown on cover) shares his prison experiences.
~ Mr. Martinez details the consequences of a 30-year addiction.
~ Mr. Borbolla's latest edition of "Street Gangs of Tulare County" is available in English and Spanish.
A Community Message: Service for Others
Coach Joe Ehrmann to Speak at April 9 Event
The Tulare County Office of Education is one of several community organizations supporting an event organized by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Tulare County. The breakfast will feature retired Baltimore Colts lineman, pastor and volunteer high school football coach Joe Ehrmann as the keynote speaker. It will be held Saturday, April 9, 2005, at the First Assembly auditorium in Visalia.
Joe Ehrmann will be joined by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Marx, who chronicled the coach's rich experiences in his book Season of Life. Ehrmann has a simple but powerful program directed at men about serving others. He calls it: "Building Men for Others." So impressed by Ehrmannís unique approach, PARADE magazine placed him on its cover (August 29, 2004) with the title: "The Most Important Coach In America."
After retiring from his career in the NFL, Ehrmann attended Dallas Theological Seminary. He then returned to Baltimore and opened an inner-city community center known as The Door. He also co-founded a Ronald McDonald House for sick children and launched a racial-reconciliation project called Mission Baltimore. Now he's a pastor at 4000-member Grace Fellowship Church in the suburb of Timonium. The Baltimore Business Journal selected Ehrmann as its Renaissance Person of the 1990s.
Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak was impressed by a quote from Coach Ehrmannís book, Season of Life. The coach says: "Where children are neglected or abandoned or abused, we as a human community must step up to help them reach their fullest potential and to participate in this world." "I hope that Tulare County teachers, coaches and youth leaders will make it a priority to attend the CASA breakfast," says Mr. Vidak. "Ehrmannís message can transform the way that we teach, encourage and care for the children we see everyday."
The author of Season of Life, Jeffrey Marx, became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1986. He has written four books and contributed to newspapers and magazines throughout the world. More than anything else, though, Marx says that he enjoys taking the most powerful messages of his work and sharing them with live audiences. "In the beginning, I was a writer because that's what I enjoyed and that's how I earned a living," Marx says. "Now I write because I want to make a difference in this world." A freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., Marx has written for numerous publications including Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Baltimore Sun.
Tickets for the CASA breakfast event are available in advance for $25 per person at the CASA office. For more information, call 625-4007.
~ Coach Joe Ehrmann, pictured on an August 2004 PARADE Magazine cover, has a valuable message for Tulare County adults working as teachers, counselors and coaches.
Deans Invite Discussion & Collaboration
Upcoming Lecture Series Features U.C. Merced Researchers
Tulare County teachers and administrators are invited to special forum discussions with the deans and researchers from U.C. Merced's three major schools ó engineering, science and social sciences, humanities and arts. "These researchers are excited about talking to Tulare County K-12 educators about the academic programs and services the university now offers," says Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Pansy Ceballos, "and we are excited to highlight some of the leading research now in development at the new university."
The forums will be held in the Multi-Media Theater, located in the Educational Enrichment Center in Visalia. "These forums are designed to lead to further discussions and possible collaborations," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "Tulare County teachers should seize the opportunity to meet the faculty from U.C. Merced and share some of our unique teaching challenges and our model programs. Their interest in our work may ultimately lead to partnerships that enrich the educational experience of Tulare County students," adds Mr. Vidak.
The forum series will begin with Dr. Maria Pallavicini, Dean of the School of Science, speaking on March 8. Her research interest is in stem cell biology, genomic and proteomic abnormalities in cancer, particularly leukemia and breast cancer, relationships between genetic damage induced by chemical exposure and cancer development. Dr. Pallavicini notes that possible collaborations with colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in instrumentation technology development and at UC Merced in computational biology may provide exciting opportunities to link molecular analyses, state-of-the-art instrumentation and mathematical analysis to understand cell-fate decisions in health and disease.
Dr. Kenji Hakuta is a psycholinguist by training and is best known for his work in the psychology of bilingualism and second language learning, child development, education policy and equal educational access for minority students. Dr. Hakuta, who will speak on March 10, is the author and editor of several books, including "Mirror of Language: the Debate on Bilingualism" and "In Other Words: The Science and Psychology of Second Language Acquisition." Prior to his appointment as Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, Dr. Hakuta was the Vida Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University.
Dean of the School of Engineering, Dr. Jeff Wright will speak on March 29. He is interested in the use of advanced modeling and information technologies to improve water resources and environmental management, design and implementation of computer-based spatial decision support systems for civil infrastructure, transportation, water resources and land resources engineering management.
Admission to the forums is free, but seating is limited. Forums begin at 4:00 p.m. with refreshments served. For more information, contact Dr. Pansy Ceballos at (559) 733-6328.
~ (top to bottom) U.C. Merced research deans Dr. Maria Pallavacini, Dr. Kenji Hakuta and Dr. Jeff Wright.
Anti-Tobacco Challenge Bowl Now in Fifth Year
Student Event Raises Awareness of Smoking Dangers
Tulare County hosted its fifth annual Anti-Tobacco Challenge Bowl in February. The event, co-hosted by the Tulare County Office of Education, American Cancer Society and Health & Human Services Agency Tobacco Control Project, takes the lead in preventing tobacco use in adolescence by implementing prevention as an educational challenge.
Fourteen teams of sixth graders from large and small Tulare County school districts participated in a game show style format of quick recall and response. Prior to the competition, schools had several weeks to prepare students and infuse their curriculum with tobacco education. "Student teams compete against each other by answering questions about everything from the tobacco industry to the health effects of smoking," says CHOICES Youth-Community Development Coordinator John Kelly. "It's a fun and educational competition loaded with valuable information for students at a critical point in their lives ó before entering middle school where some will be presented with the temptation to smoke." Prizes were given to the top three teams, which included third-place winners from Royal Oaks Elementary in Visalia and second place winners from Sundale Union Elementary in Tulare. The Challenge Bowl championship was won by Mountain View Elementary in Visalia.
The highlight of the event for many was luncheon speaker Debi Austin, an international anti-smoking activist. Ms. Austin was featured in anti-smoking TV ads filmed several years ago in which she smoked through a hole in her throat. The room was silent as Austin spoke with the use of an implant, installed after her voice box was removed due to cancer. She told students of her first experience with cigarettes at age 13 and of the three-pack-per-day habit that lasted 33 years. She talked of her many, many health problems, which continue despite the fact that she quit smoking in 1996. Most poignant was her story of the event that led to the commercial she did that same year. "My first reaction was to say "no." I had no intention of telling the world I could not control my habits," says Austin. A few days later, her niece, who was then four years old, took a marking pen and drew a "hole" on her throat to be like her Aunt Debi. "I immediately retrieved the phone number of the man who wanted to use me in the commercial and told him I was available. Because of my niece, I found the courage to do the public service announcement and the strength to finally quit smoking," adds Austin. "We couldn't have found a more powerful spokesperson for young people to understand the dangers of tobacco," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "I don't think there was anyone in the room who didn't understand its devastating effects."
~ International anti-smoking activist Debi Austin tells students of her 30-year battle with tobacco ó a battle that resulted in numerous surgeries including the removal of her voice box.
~ Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak congratulates the top winners, including the third-place team from Royal Oaks in Visalia.
Tulare County Mock Trial finals held February 8, at El Diamante High School in Visalia, included two outstanding teams ó Tulare Western and Redwood. Congratulations to the Redwood High School Mock Trial Team and its coach, Mike Tinnin, for capturing top honors. The team travels to Riverside for the state competition, March 18-20.
On February 5, the overall winner of the Tulare County Academic Decathlon held at Porterville College was Granite Hills High School; the team also won in the large school category. The Lindsay High School team captured small school honors. Nearly 100 students participated that day. Granite Hills competes March 11-13 in Los Angeles at the annual California Academic Decathlon.
Jim Vidak, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, recently coordinated a contract with Connect-ED of Notification Technologies, Inc. The program allows districts to send and track personalized phone communication on issues such as emergency situations, attendance, testing, and even special events to thousands of staff and parents in a matter of minutes. Fifteen Tulare County districts are currently participating in the program along with several Tulare County Office of Education Child Care Centers, charter schools and court/community school sites. "I am pleased that so many of the schools now have this powerful and efficient communication tool," says Mr. Vidak.
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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