Los Altos Library Reading Buddies

Posted on January 31, 2017 by  
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Carter’s preferred snack is freeze-dried liver, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is his favorite book and eating is featured prominently on his list of daily activities. Torrey likes bananas, “Henry and Mudge” stories and dressing up. Desi’s jam is bacon, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog” and napping in the sunshine.

As profiled on their respective promotional bookmarks, each four-legged Reading Buddies participant boasts a distinct personality. But it’s the canines’ ability to listen without interrupting that consistently attracts the program’s two-legged participants – struggling readers who gain confidence by reading aloud to therapy animals. Saturday marked the post-holiday return of the free monthly drop-in sessions at the Los Altos main library.

“It is a wonderful program because all the volunteers, they bring their dogs,” said Jean Nei, acting children’s library supervisor at the main branch. “The children, especially the young readers, love to come to the library to read to the dogs.”

Here’s how it works: Children are paired with a volunteer and read aloud to that volunteer’s trained therapy pet. No one corrects pronunciation or becomes impatient awaiting the completion of a sentence. Some pets even cock their heads as if following the storyline.

The program is a popular Los Altos Library offering, drawing approximately 10-15 readers each month, Nei said. Some of the young participants don’t own pets, and the opportunity to read to a friendly furry ear is a novelty.

Certified Animal Behaviorist Julie Bond co-founded Reading Buddies in 2009 with Patty Guthrie, past vice president of Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services. The San Jose-based organization dispatches volunteers and their pets to libraries, retirement homes and hospitals, as well as to high school and college campuses during exam times.

Furry Friends pays monthly visits to more than 60 facilities throughout Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, including Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, The Forum Senior Living Retirement Home and De Anza College. While dogs and cats are the most common therapy animals, rabbits, guinea pigs, miniature horses and even llamas have put in appearances as well. All human and animal volunteers are evaluated and trained.

Three of Bond’s own dogs – all collies – have participated in Reading Buddies; Desi, a 6-year-old male Rough Collie, is her latest program companion. His claim to fame is actually his roommate Ozzie, a direct descendant of Lassie from the classic television series, according to his bookmark.

The effects of Reading Buddies’ low-stress environment are evident during follow-up sessions and through reports from students’ schools, Bond said. “This increases their fluency, and it increases their confidence,” she said. “It helps them speak up in class.”

Volunteer Reading Buddies publicist Maddie Elkin, 14, learned about the program a few years ago when she assisted with ushering participants from the library lobby to their assigned dog or cat within the Orchard Room. Afterward, she listened as the children read.

Reading Buddies meets 2:30 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month at the Los Altos main library, 13 S. San Antonio Road. For more information, visit furryfriends.org


California Indian Feast Exhibition

Posted on January 11, 2017 by  
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Acorn Mush Basket“Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider: A California Indian Feast,” a statewide traveling exhibition from the Grace Hudson Museum and Exhibit Envoy, is scheduled to open Saturday and run through April 16 at the Los Altos History Museum, 51 S. San Antonio Road.

The exhibition will feature historical and contemporary photographs, artifacts, food specimens, memoirs and recipes. Based on a compendium of Native American cuisine by Margaret Dubin and Sara-Larus Tolley, the display showcases foods important in the lives of Native Californians.

Sherrie Smith-Ferri, director of the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah, curated the exhibition in consultation with her aunt, Kathleen Rose Smith, a California Indian artist and a member of the Coast Miwok and Dry Creek Pomo tribes.

Smith-Ferri noted how much fun it was to put the exhibition together. “It brought back lots of good memories of getting together with the family to spend time at the coast harvesting abalone, mussels and seaweed, or going to pick berries,” she said. “And of course, it brings back recollections of some great meals eaten together.”

The exhibition contains harvesting instructions and recipes for foods such as huckleberry bread, pine nut soup, rose hip syrup and roasted barnacles. Related programs for children are scheduled 10 a.m. to noon Saturday (“Animals and Fish as Food”) and Feb. 11 (“Native Plants as Food”).

Museum hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free. For more information visit: losaltoshistory.org


LAHS Hosts 11th Science & Tech Week

Posted on November 3, 2016 by  
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water-rocketFrom learning the mechanics behind vacuum technology to discovering the mysteries of bioluminescence in the deep seas, Los Altos High School students were exposed to varied science and technology careers last week.

The school hosted its 11th annual Science & Technology Week, inviting speakers from more than 30 industries and academia to discuss their career paths with students. Speakers covered such topics as public health research, oceanography, plant reproduction, machine intelligence, computer science and socially minded innovation.

The objectives of the week included demonstrating the value of math and science education to encourage students to take more associated classes during high school, raising awareness of the variety of related career opportunities, highlighting the diverse backgrounds of professionals and prompting students to think creatively and join the ranks of innovative thinkers for the next generation.

The week kicked off Oct. 19 with keynote speaker Robert Baertsch, vice president of software engineering at skyTran.

In a presentation open to the entire community, Baertsch addressed how today’s traffic congestion and climate change challenges can be resolved with innovative and green technology like Personal Rapid Transit systems. Baertsch is responsible for skyTran’s software control systems and helped develop the company’s magnetic levitation wing and motor controls.

Students last week could select from among more than 25 presentations covering topics such as medicine, psychology, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, environmental science, ecology, oceanography, engineering, art, math and space.

The Eagle Theater was packed during the Oct. 25 presentations, with students eager to hear the address by Jill Tarter, the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute.

Her presentation – “Life Beyond Earth?” – examined the possibilities of living beings beyond what is known on Earth. Her presentation ended with thoughtful questions from students, such as, “Are there other universes?” “Do we all exist in a computer simulation?” “What will extraterrestrials look like?” and “Should we be trying transmit into space to discover?”

For more information on Science & Technology Week, visit: lahsstemweek.com


Los Altos HS Librarian & Author

Posted on October 28, 2016 by  
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los-altos-high-librarianLos Altos High School librarian Gordon Jack is debuting his first young adult novel to the community Nov. 9 with an author event that promises to be fresh and fun, like the book itself.

Jack’s novel, “The Boomerang Effect” (2016, HarperCollins), chronicles the story of high school junior Lawrence, who finds himself in a spot of trouble and connects with a freshman mentor, Spencer, who helps Lawrence find his authentic self.

“It takes place during homecoming week, when someone is destroying the class floats,” Jack said of his book. “Everyone thinks Lawrence is responsible; he and Spencer work together to clear his name.”

As a librarian, Jack said students constantly ask him to recommend young adult novels that are funny.

“There are not a lot of young adult books for guys that are funny out there,” he said. “YA is a lot of paranormal fantasy, which are really popular with readers. You just don’t see as many funny books.”

Jack found that odd, because his son, now 14, became a reader thanks to comical series such as “Captain Underpants.” Jack said he wanted to create something with “that immature sensibility to it.”

“The Boomerang Effect” was three years in the making – including rewrites with an agent and subsequent rewrites after HarperCollins purchased the book.

“I have been writing for a long time,” Jack said. “When I was an English teacher, it was hard to write because you were always grading. When I made the transition to librarian, I had the weekends.”

Once ensconced in the library, Jack had time to read more young adult novels, which helped him understand the genre.  While Jack is surrounded by teens every day, he said his novel is not a depiction of Los Altos High. The Viking mascot is a nod to Palo Alto High, his alma mater.

“It’s meant to be entertaining and silly and funny,” he said.  Jack plans to continue the fun with an author event, scheduled 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at Kepler’s Books, 1010 El Camino Real in Menlo Park.

“I want the event to be a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of these author events, and I want to avoid the typical thing where the author does a reading.”

Jack invited a few Los Altos High seniors to help him make the event different. He will challenge the teens in a contest that tests their knowledge of pop culture, young adults and young adult literature. The event will include prizes and giveaways for the audience as well.

Because his intended audience is young adults, Jack hopes a crowd of young people attend – he really wants to make his book’s premiere a community event.

Ahead of its official Nov. 8 release, the novel is already receiving praise on Goodreads.com, a book review website. The School Library Journal, a publication for school librarians, commended “The Boomerang Effect” as “highly recommended for YA readers looking for a novel with large doses of humor and a narrative rooted in personal growth and self-awareness.”

For more information on the Kepler’s event, visit: keplers.com/event/gordon-jack


Exceeding Standards On Assessment tests

Posted on September 1, 2016 by  
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California Department of EducationLocal schools continued to score above the state and county averages on the California Department of Education’s assessment test.

The test – California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress – was administered in the spring to gauge students’ progress in learning new, more rigorous academic Common Core standards designed to prepare them for college and careers in the 21st century.

Students in grades 3-8 and high school juniors took the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments in Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy. Smarter Balanced tests comprise two parts.

First, students take a computer adaptive assessment, which bases follow-up questions on a student’s answers in real time and gives a more accurate picture of a student’s progress than a paper-and-pencil test. If a student answers a question correctly, he or she will then get a more difficult question. If the student answers it incorrectly, he or she will get an easier question.

Second, students complete a performance task that challenges their ability to apply their knowledge and skills to problems in a real-world setting.

Combined, the two parts measure depth of understanding, writing, research and problem-solving skills more thoroughly than the multiple-choice, paper-based tests they replaced.

Scores on the assessments fall into one of four achievement levels: Standard Exceeded, Standard Met, Standard Nearly Met or Standard Not Met.

All local schools had higher percentages of students meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts than the county (62 percent) and state (49 percent) averages. They also scored higher in Mathematics than state (55 percent) and county (37 percent) students.


MVLA Superintendent Jeff Harding said he is proud of the fact that students still continue to outscore the county and state levels. “We will keep an eye on it and determine the cause (of the lower averages),” he said. “One test in one year does not determine a trend.”

At the elementary and junior high school level, Bullis Charter School continues to earn the highest marks – with 96 percent of students meeting or exceeding English Language Arts standards and 97 percent meeting or exceeding in Mathematics assessments.

Students in the Los Altos School District also earned high scores. “I think our scores continue to be strong, but we are really focused on getting all students at the met and/or exceeded level,” said Superintendent Jeff Baier.

Officials from both districts said they plan to further analyze the test results and will tweak instruction where needed.

“This is only one indicator – more important is the work going on at the school sites,” Baier said. “Each of our schools is really digging into and looking into the success of each student.”

Throughout the county and state, an achievement gap continues to exist between Hispanic/Latino students and white/Asian students – which local school district data also reflect.

In MVLA, there was a 40 percentage-point difference between the number of Latino and white/Asian students who met or exceeded English Language Arts standards. In Mathematics, there was a 55 percentage-point gap.

In the Los Altos School District, there was a 26 percentage-point difference between the performance of Latinos and white/Asian students in English Language Arts and a 38 percentage-point difference in Mathematics.

County averages revealed a 47 percentage-point difference in English Language Arts between Latino and white/Asian students. Math results showed a 57 percentage-point gap.

“The achievement gap is pernicious and persistent, and we all need to work together to find solutions that help all groups rise, while narrowing the gap,” said Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction.


LAEF Announces $3.7 Million Goal

Posted on August 26, 2016 by  
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LAEFThe Los Altos Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization led by a board of parent volunteers, is targeting a fundraising goal of $3.7 million for the 2016-2017 school year.

For more than 30 years, LAEF has raised funds from parents and the community to provide enrichment programs and smaller class sizes for all nine schools in the Los Altos School District. Its annual grant for the new school year will support students from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade by maintaining its funding of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; physical education; libraries; art; music; computer science; and a wider choice of junior-high electives. The foundation is also funding the district’s first instructional support teacher, dedicated to improving instruction, collaboration and learning across disciplines.

The annual grant allocation is based on input from LAEF’s annual parent survey and strategic discussions with the school district. In 2016, parents encouraged LAEF to continue funding current programs but noted their desire to better support teachers in implementing the new curriculum, leveraging best practices and staying at the forefront of education.

“LAEF is proud to continue funding engaging programs for our kids while also expanding our support of teachers, with an initial focus on sixth- through eighth-grade math,” said David Watson, chairman of LAEF’s Grantmaking Committee.

The foundation met its fundraising goal of $3.5 million for 2015-2016.

“I would like to thank all the parents, grandparents, community members and local businesses for giving to LAEF and investing in our local children’s education,” said Katherine Stephens, LAEF’s incoming board president. “We believe strong schools are the foundation of a thriving community.”

LAEF is now accepting donations for the 2016-2017 school year.  For more information, visit: laefonline.org


Cal Water Eases Water Restrictions

Posted on August 10, 2016 by  
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Brown is the new greenCalifornia Water Service customers in the Los Altos District now have a water conservation target of 20 percent in the wake of an interim water-use reduction requirement implemented last month.

The Los Altos District aligned with its wholesale water supplier and other regional suppliers to set the target. The district previously had a 32 percent reduction requirement established by the state Water Resources Control Board.

The changes are expected to remain in place until the board issues its framework for permanent conservation standards in early 2017. The move follows a recent decision by the board to allow water suppliers to set their own short-term reduction requirements based on local water supply conditions.

Customers’ conservation targets continue to be based on 2013 use and will appear on their bills. Cal Water will suspend surcharges for all customers, at least temporarily.

“Although we received more rain this year, many parts of the state continue to experience severe drought conditions,” said Ron Richardson, Los Altos District manager for Cal Water. “And while we have adequate short-term water supplies, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have enough water to meet long-term needs and permanent conservation standards expected in the future.”

Prohibited uses of water, water-waste violations and irrigation schedules will remain in effect.

For more information, visit: calwater.com/drought


LAEF Fulfills $3.5 Million Grant

Posted on June 16, 2016 by  
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Covington School STEM teacherThe Los Altos Educational Foundation recently met its fundraising goal of $3.5 million for the 2015-2016 school year.

For more than 30 years, the nonprofit foundation has solicited donations from parents and local residents to provide funding for enrichment programs and smaller class sizes for all nine schools in the Los Altos School District.

The foundation’s annual contribution benefits every transitional kindergarten through eighth-grade student through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; physical education; libraries; art; music; and computer science. The foundation also pays for class-size reduction in grades K-3 and 7-8, and a wider choice of junior-high electives. The foundation accepted donations throughout the school year to fulfill the grant, which was factored into the district’s budgeted 2015-2016 revenue to fund programs, teachers and staff.

The foundation increased this year’s grant to fund an additional certified PE teacher so that every elementary school has a dedicated instructor and a computer science teacher, which enabled the district to expand coding into junior high.

“We are proud to have met our higher goal in response to both our parents and LASD’s desire to offer more PE and develop a computer science program for TK-8,” said Susan Longyear, foundation board president. “I would like to thank all of our donors, from parents and grandparents to our community members and realtors. Giving to LAEF is our way of investing in what we value most: providing the well-rounded educational experience we want for our children.”

The foundation is finalizing its grant for the next school year, guided by input from its annual parent survey and strategic discussions with district leadership. It will announce its educational priorities and fundraising goal in early August.

“We anticipate another successful year, supported by a community that believes strong public schools are the foundation of a thriving community,” said Amy Peabody, the foundation’s executive director.

For more information, visit: laefonline.org


Local Caps Career With National Title

Posted on June 12, 2016 by  
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Los Altos native Evelyna WangIf this does prove to be Evelyna Wang’s last season as a synchronized swimmer, at least she’s going out on top.

The Los Altos native recently helped Stanford University capture the U.S. National Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Championship. The senior and her squad edged Ohio State for the title in Florida earlier this spring. It may be the last time Wang competes in the sport; she now considers herself retired.

“It was something that I kind of decided from early on that I would see through the four years of college,” Wang said. Not that it’s easy for her to call it a career.

“I was pretty emotional, because it was really the end of my career and it just pulled together into this perfect ending, and I never imagined it would be so thrilling,” Wang said. Winning the three-day competition required plenty of determination and discipline, according to Wang.

“It took definitely the entire year of hard work,” she said, “From the beginning, we did a lot of conditioning, built our strength and everyone just gave 100 percent every day.”

Wang has spent many of her days in the water – she took up synchronized swimming in sixth grade. Her journey into the aquatic sport began with a “summer camp right before going into middle school,” Wang recalled.

Before that, she focused much of her energy on tennis. But that summer camp experience made Wang realize that synchronized swimming was more to her liking. “(I enjoyed) being in the water and performing,” she said.

A graduate of Homestead High, Wang said participating in the sport during the school year helped shape who she is as an athlete – and as a person.

“Going to practice every day was really time-demanding, and I think that played a big role in helping me learn how to manage my time properly,” Wang said. The same lessons apply to studying.

“You just really need to know when you need to focus on schoolwork and when to leave everything at the pool – just focusing on practice while you’re there,” Wang said.

She described her growth in the sport as an inspirational journey. “I enjoy being able to experience the same things as my teammates,” Wang said.

The ability to communicate and work well with those teammates is vital to experiencing success in a sport that’s all about synchronicity. She described it as “one of the most team sports you could be on.”

Of course, there are other factors necessary to shine in synchronized swimming. Dedication, commitment, discipline and spunk are just as important, Wang noted.

“You also need to have some sort of spirit to make you really perform and enjoy that performance,” she said.

While Wang enjoys many aspects of the sport, she said “being able to know that after a hard day or a hard meet that everyone fought through it just the same” is her favorite part.

Although Wang is done with synchronized swimming, she’s far from idle. Along with completing courses toward her degree in materials science, Wang has enrolled in a co-terminal program to complete her master’s by next year.


Tech Challenge Competitors Design Gliders

Posted on May 20, 2016 by  
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Blach Intermediate’s “Time Flies” teamFlying supplies to a remote location presented the problem – and opportunity – at this year’s Tech Challenge competition at San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation, held April 23-24.

The annual team design competition engages students in hands-on engineering projects. For the 2016 “Taking Flight” challenge, they worked on building and launching gliders that could carry supplies with pinpoint precision. The engineering process is intended to include real-world meanings – each team had to explain where the glider was going, and why.

A team of three Gardner Bullis School sixth-graders placed first in their age group. Kiefer Tierling, Gage Garcia and Mihir Mishra dubbed themselves “Blackbird Designers Team” in recognition of the world’s fastest aircraft. After prototyping a wide range of designs and materials for their glider, they came up with a functioning model only days before the competition, but their foam device launched smoothly and nabbed the prize.

Gage was working on a balsa-wood model when Kiefer started cutting foam and discovered that a model using that material landed pretty near the target. They refined a foam glider that could carry pingpong ball supplies.

“A breakthrough that we had was that we were able to keep adding things, because the center of lift is below the center of weight,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer noted that this year’s challenge proved more difficult overall than last year’s because it required more advanced construction to meet the minimum requirements of a launcher and glider. “It took a lot of teamwork to get it done,” Mihir said.

A team of five eighth-grade girls from Blach Intermediate School, “Time Flies,” won second place overall in their age group after working for half a year on their gliders. Kayla Blalack, Olivia Byun, Mika Nijhawan, Vikki Xu and Noelle Crawford had to launch over a set of obstacles and deliver their payload to a target beyond (figurative) mountains and storms.

They met weekly starting in October to research relevant concepts such as airfoils and then began to experiment with basic materials. “We knew the science, but the hardest part was making the design,” Mika said. Other Los Altos School District award winners included “Aerial Taiga Team” and “KYD Tech Team” from Almond, “EPIC Team” from Springer and “Sky Force Team” from Santa Rita.

More than 2,600 students from around the Bay Area participated in this year’s challenge. The late Bob Grimm of Los Altos, among other early supporters, founded the event 29 years ago.

For more information on the Tech Challenge, visit thetech.org


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