MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Create Now provides eight programs for at-risk youth

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Create Now provides eight programs for at-risk youth


By the time Tasha was 14, she had been in and out of nine detention centers. She started running away from her abusive home in South Los Angeles two years before and it was clear she didn’t want to go back.

Inside a detention center one day, Tasha was matched with a writer who bonded with her and taught her how to write a “Moesha” television script. Tasha loved it so much that she decided she wanted to pursue a career in the film and television industry.

With the help of mentors years later, including the writer who first taught her how to write a script, Tasha received a scholarship from Warner Brothers. With that money, she went on to attend the University of Southern California’s Film School Program and later completed a year of law school in Chicago .

From her early years as a troubled kid, Tasha has gone from being a runaway teenager to a college graduate, an author of three books, a licensed real-estate agent, a paid script writer, a traveling standup comedian and a documentary filmmaker.

Create Now CEO, Jill Gurr

Create Now CEO, Jill Gurr

And it’s all thanks to Create Now, the nonprofit that helped Tasha find positive outlets through writing and the arts during a dark time in her life.

And since 1994, Create Now has transformed the lives of other at-risk youth like Tasha through arts education.

“We offer eight programs to at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles and Orange County,” said Jill Gurr, the nonprofit’s founder and chief executive director.

The organization offers programs in music, fashion design and digital media, and the visual, performing, culinary and literary arts.

Its most unique program, called Cultural Journeys, organizes outings for youth to concerts, plays, museums, sporting events and much more. Often, those cultural expeditions are the first time a child has attended a live performance or event, Gurr said, which is really exciting for them.

The art programs are offered to thousands of children all over the city who face life challenges, be it poverty, abuse or homelessness. And Create Now reaches children in need in several ways.

The first matches one of its 110 volunteers to a child in need.

“We have networks with 165 youth agencies like shelters, schools, rehab and detention centers, where we set up different types of arts programs and life skills programs,” Gurr said.

The second is inside the classroom. Nonprofit volunteers go into schools with a high percentage of low-income families, where they offer anything from one-hour workshops to more long-term ones that last from 12 to 16 weeks. These Title 1 schools, as they are called, often don’t have the financial resources to offer students arts education, Gurr said.

The third is inside communities. “We organize arts festivals and community events in disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Gurr said.

In August, the organization will host an arts festival at Venice Hope Park in downtown L.A. that will feature “an open mic and prizes, arts and crafts and face painting.”

And in the historically underserved South L.A., Create Now is working on instituting a writing program in the fall at John Muir Middle School.

It is also in that neighborhood where Gurr envisions the future of the organization. She said that she and everyone at Create Now dreams of opening an art center in South L.A., where they hope to continue transforming the lives of more at-risk children like Tasha once was.


CEO: Jill Gurr

Years in operation: 22

Number of employees: 4 full-time, 1 part-time

Annual budget: about $400,000

Location: 1611 S. Hope St., Los Angeles, 90015

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Tim White Rehired to Lead Facilities Dept.  at Oakland Unified School District

Tim White Rehired to Lead Facilities Dept. at Oakland Unified School District

The Oakland Unified School District has rehired widely respected administrator Tim White as Deputy Chief of Facilities to oversee construction and renovation projects on numerous major facilities projects that are underway.

“I am excited to come back to the place where I spent 14 years, supporting young people with outstanding educational facilities,” said White.

White worked for OUSD from 2001 to 2015 as Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and later as Deputy Chief of Facilities before being forced out his position in 2015 during the administration of former Supt. Antwan Wilson.

After leaving Oakland, White served as Executive Director of Facilities for Berkeley schools, working closely with the superintendent, Construction Bond Oversight Committee, and school board to determine long-term planning for the expenditure of facility construction bonds approved by voters.

He was also responsible for the expenditure of the district’s school maintenance tax ($5 million annually) used to keep schools safe and well-maintained. White previously worked in the Compton Unified School District.

“Tim brings extensive experience, an accomplished track record and a deep commitment to Oakland and communities. We are excited about Tim’s leadership and the new team that will be assembled in our Business and Operations division,” said OUSD Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

“My previous time in OUSD will help me transition into this new role, enabling me to hit the ground running. There are many exciting projects well underway, including the rebuilding of Glenview Elementary and the new school building at Madison Park Academy, plus many in the early stages such as the new Central Kitchen,” said White. “I look forward to completing all of them as soon as possible, while ensuring that we are effective stewards of taxpayer dollars for the voters of Oakland.”

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: City Year L.A. helps students realize their potential

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: City Year L.A. helps students realize their potential

City Year believes in the potential of all students, especially those from low-income communities that attend under-resourced schools.

In an effort to bring out the best in those students, City Year Los Angeles was founded in 2007 as part of an education-focused national organization whose roots date back to 1988 in Boston.

“For the last 11 years in L.A., we have been partnering with local schools to keep kids on track to graduate from high school,” said Jonathan Lopez, the nonprofit’s managing director of impact.

Specifically, City Year L.A. partners with elementary, middle and high schools that serve children from impoverished neighborhoods who are more likely to experience trauma and are less likely to finish high school.

“In our program, we leverage AmeriCorps members to work in schools with students to help with their academic, social and emotional character strength, and we provide mentorship,” Lopez said.

The AmeriCorps is a federal civil society program that engages adult volunteers in public service work all over the United States.

With more than 250 AmeriCorps volunteers in classrooms in 31 schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District, the organization is making efforts to close the education gap with its Whole School Whole Child service model.

Through this model, AmeriCorps members between 17 and 25 years of age are placed in schools where they serve as additional resources for teachers and principals to improve all-around outcomes on campus.

“By deploying young people who are idealistic, who want do service for communities and are close in age to students, they can really help leverage positive growth,” Lopez said.

Many of the volunteers are at their assigned school sites all day, greeting students as they walk through the gates every morning, running after-school programs, helping them with their homework and providing free tutoring.

That added instructional time at the end of school is one of numerous ways the nonprofit seeks to address the needs on campus, Lopez said, which many schools can’t meet because of under resourcing.

And during school hours, these young volunteers run activities during lunch and recess “to encourage team building.”

But while the academic successes of City Year L.A. are apparent in its results, including a 2015 finding that showed an improvement in math and English assessment scores from schools partnering with the nonprofit, it recognizes that it is more than just about better test scores.

“It’s about social and emotional strength as well,” Lopez said. “[City Year L.A.] does work with students who struggle with attendance. When necessary, we refer students to school administrators to help students with those challenges.”

Besides providing behavior coaching, the organization also “runs a curriculum that helps with character strength like perseverance and optimism,” which supports students’ academic careers.

Though City Year’s influence is vast, reaching more than 320 schools across the country and serving close to a quarter of a million students, there is still a local need for more support in under resourced and underserved schools.

While the nonprofit hopes to expand its programs with more funding, it is also seeking to increase the diversity of its AmeriCorps volunteers. Because boys of color experience unique challenges in school and often live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, the organization is actively recruiting more men of color to serve as role models to them.

In this way, Lopez said, City Year L.A. hopes to serve “the communities we’re in more deeply around L.A.”


Local Executive Director: Mary Jane Stevenson

Years in operation: 11

Annual budget: $13.5 million

Number of employees: 63 full-time, 270 AmeriCorps members

Location: 606 S. Olive St., 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, 90014

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Early childhood educators learn new ways to spot trauma triggers, build resiliency in preschoolers

Early childhood educators learn new ways to spot trauma triggers, build resiliency in preschoolers

That’s an example used by Julie Kurtz, co-director of trauma-informed practices in early childhood education at the WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies (CCFS), as she begins a trauma training session. Her audience, preschool teachers and staff of the San Francisco, CA-based Wu Yee Children’s Services at San Francisco’s Women’s Building, listen attentively.

Kurtz leads them into a description of how a child’s young brain functions, how young children – regardless of whether they have experienced trauma or not — live in their reptile brain.

“What’s the job of the reptile brain?” she asks.

“Survival” comes a response. “Yes, it’s fight, flight or freeze,” she says.

With guidance from adults, she explains, children’s immature brains develop neurons that build bridges to the rational part of the brain. The rational, executive part of the brain, she continues, is a place of calm, where we can plan, solve problems, and imagine how someone else interacting with us is feeling.

But if a child is in a state of terror, explains Kurtz, all bets are off. In that state, a child can’t hear what you’re saying or express herself in words, Kurtz says…

Read the full article here.

COMMENTARY: When It Comes to ‘Dreamers,’ Schools Have a Trump Problem – Education Week

COMMENTARY: When It Comes to ‘Dreamers,’ Schools Have a Trump Problem – Education Week

Education Week logoBruce Fuller, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, works on how schools and civic activists push to advance pluralistic communities. He is a regular opinion contributor to where he trades views with Lance Izumi, on the other side of the political aisle.

America’s high schools rarely offer a warm cocoon for our youths, secluded from pressing social ills. Neighborhood disparities deepen wide gaps in learning. The cowardice of pro-gun politicians leads to bloodshed inside classrooms.

President Donald Trump chose Easter Sunday to again vilify the children of immigrants, falsely claiming that dangerous “caravans” of immigrants are crossing the border to take advantage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This follows the president’s implications earlier this year that young immigrants were fording the Rio Grande River simply to join the cross-border gang MS-13 and infiltrate our schools.

The future of DACA, which covers less than a quarter of the 3.6 million undocumented residents who arrived before their 18th birthday, remains uncertain. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on the Trump administration’s attempt to unilaterally end the program, leaving DACA recipients in limbo as the legal battle works its way through the lower appeals courts. That didn’t stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from traveling to California to warn city officials they cannot provide safe sanctuary for these youths…

But students are pushing back against Trump’s efforts to inject fear and prejudice into the nation’s high schools. Hundreds walked out of Stephen F. Austin High School in Houston last month, after Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento, a senior, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Event to Explore American Education 35 Years After ‘A Nation at Risk’ – Politics K-12 – Education Week

Event to Explore American Education 35 Years After ‘A Nation at Risk’ – Politics K-12 – Education Week

Education Week logoCurious to explore where American education stands 35 years after the “A Nation at Risk” report that warned of dire consequences for the workforce if schools didn’t shape up? The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute has an event on April 12 in Washington, D.C., that will explore that question.

The Reagan Institute Summit on Education will feature seven former secretaries of education, including Bill Bennett, who served under President Ronald Reagan; Lamar Alexander, who served under President George H.W. Bush; Richard Riley, who served under President Bill Clinton; Margaret Spellings, and Rod Paige, who served under President George W. Bush; Arne Duncan and John King, who served under President Barack Obama.

Condoleezza Rice, who served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, and Janet Napolitano, who served as President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary, will also be speaking.

State chiefs will be there, too, including John White of Louisiana and Carey Wright of Mississippi. In addition, Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark, N.J., will attend…

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Kamala Harris helps get millions for HBCUs

Kamala Harris helps get millions for HBCUs

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California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris knows that higher learning at the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities requires higher funding. Harris has been a longtime advocate for HBCUs, helping to push through a funding increase that would put millions into these schools.

A 14 percent increase in federal funding was included in the Senate’s omnibus spending bill, elevating the amount for HBCUs from $244.7 million in fiscal year 2017 to $279.6 million in fiscal year 2018, the LA Sentinel reported Wednesday.

“HBCUs are critical to the foundation of our higher education system, and provide opportunities for some of the nation’s most promising and deserving students”, Harris, an HBCU alumnus of Howard University, said. “I am pleased funds in this bipartisan budget agreement will be invested in the future of these young people. Ensuring HBCUs have the federal support and resources they need to thrive for generations to come is one of my top priorities as a proud HBCU graduate.”

As part of the Senate bill, historically Black graduate institutions will also receive a 14-percent funding increase, from $63.3 million to $72.3 million. Also, other majority-Black institutions will receive a raise from $9.9 million to $11.4 million. Bag secured!

Harris, along with Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones, requested the HBCU funding increase in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. Twelve of their Senate colleagues supported their letter, according to the Sentinel.

HBCU presidents and other officials have been fighting for more funding to keep the doors open to their campuses. Several historically Black colleges and universities have had to operate under the threats of low funding, decrease enrollment, lacking academic programs and even closure. Therefore, the funding increase spurred by Harris and other senators is a great step forward for helping HBCUs.

These schools also contribute billions to states through their economic impact and by helping to generate jobs, two more reasons for the government to keep HBCUs strong.

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: 826LA helps local student writers become published

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: 826LA helps local student writers become published

LOS ANGELES — Not many 6 to 18 year olds can can say they’ve been published.

But there are more than 300 in Los Angeles that can can claim the title of published writer thanks to 826LA.

Since 2005, the nonprofit has supported students throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District and around the country, helping them build confidence as creative and expository writers.

“At the heart of what we do is bring volunteers to work with students one-on-one,” said Marisa Urrutia Gedney, director of in-schools programs and college access. In many under-resourced and overpopulated classrooms, she said, it’s difficult for teachers to give their students personal attention, especially when it comes to their writing.

“Writing is difficult for anyone of any age, and we tell the students that. It takes a certain level of confidence to take what’s in your heart and in your head and write it down,” she said.

Executive Director
Joel Arquillos

The intimate support “really helps students share their ideas so they have more confidence after they finish a writing assignment.”

Through its numerous free programs, more than 9,000 economically disadvantaged students in L.A. are taught how to write everything from poems, chapbooks and short films to stories, magazines and comic books during its weekend workshops.

During the week, students can take advantage of after-school and evening tutoring at two of 826LA’s writing locations in Echo Park and Mar Vista. There, volunteers help students with writing, reading and homework in all subjects.

“Our volunteers also go to schools where they work with teachers directly in the classrooms,” Gedney said. Because it’s not always possible for students to take a field trip to one of 826LA’s sites, volunteers drop into classrooms to support teachers with projects and provide students more one-on-one attention for writing assignments.

As for the many high school students working on their college applications, volunteers offer them help with their personal statements. This college-readiness work, Gedney said, is critical to what the nonprofit does.

“Personal statements help students write about their triumphs and trials,” she said. While students’ college applications show their academic successes, they don’t offer a glimpse into the realities of their lives.

By guiding them through their essays, they’re making “college writing more equitable.”

In 2013, the organization decided to extend this idea of equitability to South L.A., where they opened the Writers Room at Manual Arts High School.

There, students have a creative space where they can explore their writing voices and get college access support. It now serves more than 700 students every year and, as a result of this added support, more seniors are getting accepted into four-year schools.

As the nonprofit steadily grows, so has students’ enthusiasm for writing.

“So many times, once we publish a book of student writing, kids often say they want to be a writer. They say they want to be keep writing and get published,” Gedney said.

Kids frequently carry their published writing in their backpacks all year and show their teachers and classmates the work they’re so proud of, she added.

And this zest for writing that 826LA sees in its students is an energy it hopes to expand to more kids.

“Our hope is to increase capacity and bring in more volunteers into all our programs and centers to support more than 9,000 students a year,” Gedney said.

“We are always excited when people take interest in the work we do because it’s rewarding, exciting and fun.”


Executive Director: Joel Arquillos

Years in operation: 13

Number of employees: about 24

Annual budget: $1,744,809

Location: 1714 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90026

Torlakson Speaks at 2018 CABE Conference

Torlakson Speaks at 2018 CABE Conference

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Wednesday (March 28, 2018) will speak with California bilingual teachers and meet with Mexican education officials to discuss ways to work together to help “the students we share.”

These discussions, which will take place at the state’s largest bilingual education conference, continue Torlakson’s efforts to forge closer ties with Mexican educators and to promote multilingual education.

Torlakson will address the California Association for Bilingual Education, which organizes the gathering of about 2,000 educators. The conference this year is titled “Embracing Multilingualism: From Policy to Powerful Practices.”

“Embracing multilingualism is what we do, and do well in California,” Torlakson said. “We embrace different languages, we welcome different cultures. We build bridges, not walls with our fellow educators in Mexico. People in California, parents, educators, business leaders, and community leaders understand that diversity is our strength.”

For example, over 173,000 Seals of Biliteracy have been awarded to high school graduates who demonstrate proficiency in more than one language. Information is available at the California Department of Education (CDE) State Seal of Biliteracy Web page.

Torlakson will speak at an awards ceremony and open the general session where he will unveil the release of the California English Learner Roadmap Guidance document which will support districts in strengthening comprehensive policies, programs, and practices for English learners.  He will also join a roundtable with Mexico officials including state of Baja California Education Secretary Miguel Ángel Mendoza.

Torlakson has visited Mexico City and Tijuana to promote cross-border education cooperation, promote teacher exchange programs between California and Mexico, and support migrant and immigrant families.

He has also worked with Mexico to better serve “the students we share,” the estimated 50,000 U.S. born students attending schools in Baja California and may eventually return, and the Mexican born students attending school in California.

California voters in 2016 overwhelmingly passed Proposition 58, which removed outdated barriers to bilingual and multilingual instruction and is increasing the demand for credentialed teachers in those specialties.

Torlakson will also discuss his Safe Havens initiative, which includes schools that reassure students, parents, and educators that everyone is welcome on school sites, regardless of immigration status. To date, 130 school districts representing 2.7 million total students have adopted Safe Haven resolutions. Information is available on the CDE’s Safe Havens Web page.

The roundtable will be at 10:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel Camelia Room. The award presentation and opening of the general session will be at 4:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center, Ballroom A, 1400 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Details about the conference are on the CABE 2018 Conference External link opens in new window or tab. Web site.