Category Archives: Kids

At the Write Home Project, the young homeless are heard

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By Victor Casillas Valle

Nestled behind St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on Bancroft Way in Berkeley, is one huge set of steel steps covered in rust and foliage. Walking up them, there’s a feeling of urban beauty, something that is calming with a rush of city excitement. Reaching the top, you enter a high-ceilinged auditorium with huge windows and an airy sense of natural light. Every Monday, the room is filled with conversation rising from the writing workshop, or occasional open mic, provided by the Write Home Project.

Conceived and run by two UC Berkeley alumni and working poets, Gabriel Cortez and Natasha Huey, The Write Home Project facilitates creative arts work by homeless youth (under 25). Write Home provides an outlet for its participants to be heard while they tell stories about, and create a dialogue around, the state of homelessness. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley 8th graders raise $80K to build their own library

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A Berkeley middle school’s successful campaign to crowd-fund the creation of its first library is one for the books.

Still in its infancy, REALM charter school was lacking a library, so its eighth grade class launched a Kickstarter campaign in March. In one month they raised the nearly $79,000 that will allow them to realize their innovative design for a room full of books and multimedia tools. Quest Foundation, a grant-making organization in Danville, contributed $30,000 in matching funds to the campaign.

The ultramodern library, called “X-Space,” is the product of months of brainstorming and building in teacher Hallie Chen’s design class, Studio H.

“Because we’re a new school, the instinct for students is to look around and say, ‘These are the things we don’t have yet,’” said REALM’s creativity director Emily Pilloton. “My response is always, ‘Okay, well, let’s go build it.’” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley 14-year-old photographer goes to White House

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Andrei Crandall, a 14-year-old student at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley, got the opportunity of a lifetime recently when he was invited to the White House by the President’s personal photographer, Pete Souza, and ended up snapping his own shots of Barack Obama.

Andrei and his two mothers, Kathleen Crandall and Lori Gitter, were invited to meet Souza on Sunday March 30 for a private tour of the photographer’s offices in the executive building, as well as the West Wing and the Oval Office.

The middle schooler was then invited back the following day to the White House to take photographs of the President at the ceremony on the South Lawn honoring World Series winners the Boston Red Sox.

Crandall took pictures alongside photographer Chuck Kennedy in a special area set aside for the White House photographers.

It all started over a year ago when the then 13-year-old emailed Souza asking him for advice, and Souza not only responded, but became something of a mentor for the aspiring snapper.

But the path to the White House started even further back than that, as Crandall showed promise from an early age. … Continue reading »

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Free events celebrate Berkeley’s revamped libraries

Kids browse the bookshelves at the December 2014 opening of the South Branch. Photo: Richard Friedman
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Call it a “library warming.”

As a way to celebrate the completion of its branch renovation campaign – and highlight the dozens of community programs it presents each month – the Berkeley Public Library is hosting a month-long party.

The Branch Out! celebration will bring concerts, art exhibits, pop-up libraries at food truck gatherings, a sleepover party for stuffed animals, mindfulness meditation, and that beloved event – author readings – and much more to a branch near you in April. … Continue reading »

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Illegal enrollment is boon and burden to Berkeley schools

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When Sarah James went to the first meeting for her daughter’s freshman crew team at Berkeley High School, she wanted to form a carpool for the 6 a.m. practices.

But James (not her real name) lived in Oakland and had enrolled her daughter using a false address. James did not think she would find any other crew members living near her Rockridge bungalow, but she needn’t have worried. That fall, there were four other girls on the team who lived in Oakland, James said.

The official freshman crew roster, however, showed that everyone had a Berkeley address.

That was nearly 10 years ago, but people haven’t stopped enrolling their kids illegally in Berkeley schools. Everyone seems to know a case: people using relatives’ addresses, friends’ addresses, or even rental property owned by the family who lives out of town. One recent gossip item on a local internet site: a man with a boat at the Berkeley marina, using that address to enroll his child, who lives in another city. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley school board set to vote on slashed budget for cooking and gardening program

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UPDATE, 03.27.14: As expected, the Berkeley Unified School Board last night voted to commit $485,000 for the coming year to its gardening program, under the terms outlined it the proposal that called for gardening classes for pre-kindergarten through grade 7. [See the full proposal on the BUSD Board meeting agenda packet, starting on page 54.] Commenting on the move, Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center, said Berkeley was showing leadership in finding money from its budget for the pioneering program after losing nearly $2m in federal funding. “Who else is stepping up like that on their own dime?,” he said. “Berkeley is leading the way.”

ORIGINAL STORY: For the past few months the Berkeley school district has been struggling along with funding for its beloved cooking and gardening program. After some back-and-forth on proposals this winter, the board is now expected to vote March 26 to approve very reduced funding for gardening classes only in the 2014-15 school year.

Supporters – teachers, students and parents – pleaded with the school board at its March 12 meeting not to make further cuts to the cooking and gardening classes, which lost an annual $1.9 million in federal funding last fall. The program is already operating on less than half its former budget this year – about $850,000 — with bridge funds. Next year’s budget would be under $500,000.

“This has been a very difficult process for all of us,” Superintendent Donald Evans said. “This is a nationally recognized program. But that was when we had $2 million. We can no longer retain that type of program.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley tackles kid-tempting tobacco products

A new study shows that of the Berkeley stores that sell the most popular brand of cigarillos, 90% sell them for under $1. Photo: Pierre Bernard
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The Berkeley City Council has taken steps to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of schools, including menthol cigarettes, popular as a sweet-smoke with a slight tingle; flavored roll-your-own tobacco, which comes in such tastes as mint, black cherry and vanilla; and cigars.

Berkeley’s menthol move came the week before the launch of major statewide public health campaign on the marketing and availability of tobacco products and junk food.

“The tobacco industry continues to find cheap, new ways to entice our youth. Flavored products that appeal to youth are often marketed just a few blocks from schools,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, director of Berkeley’s public health division.  … Continue reading »

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After 21 years, Tilden merry-go-round to get new operator

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Tilden Park’s cherished antique merry-go-round will continue spinning — but possibly in a different direction.

For the first time in 21 years, the East Bay Regional Parks District could, at its March 18 board meeting, approve new management and operation of the Tilden merry-go-round. This could spell the end of the merry-go-round’s Christmas Fantasy tradition, a month-long holiday extravaganza the current operators began 16 years ago.

Terri Oyarzùn and her family have managed and operated the 103-year-old carousel and its crew of colorful wooden animals since the previous operators retired in 1993. When her second 10-year contract expired last year, and EBRPD put the merry-go-round out to bid, Oyarzùn was among three potential operators who submitted proposals, but hers was not ultimately selected. … Continue reading »

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40 years after death, school installs life-saving AEDs

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This time of year is always hard for the Berkeley High class of 1974 boys basketball team.

“A Valentine’s day doesn’t go by without me thinking about those 15 guys I played with,” said Kenny Walter, former guard.

Forty years ago in February, 17-year-old Greg Brown, the leading scorer on the team, died from sudden cardiac arrest in the middle of a game.

It was in honor of Brown — and the installation of seven automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at Berkeley High that might have been able to save the athlete’s life — that members of the ’74 team gathered together on the court once again, during the varsity boys victorious Feb. 7 game against San Leandro High. … Continue reading »

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Holocaust survivor Dora Sorell visits Berkeley High School

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Dora Sorell, a Holocaust survivor, spoke to more than 400 students at Berkeley High School on Thursday.

Berkeley High teacher/librarian Ellie Goldstein-Erickson facilitated two assemblies with the 90+-year-old Sorell, who has visited the school before. She said she comes back because, “It is important that young people know what happened so long ago, and those who already know should not forget. I worry about that.” … Continue reading »

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2020 Vision: Skills improve, absences down, gap remains

Berkeley City Council and School Board special session, Jan. 28, 2014. Photo: Lars Skjerping
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A citywide initiative proponents hope will close the achievement gap in Berkeley public schools appears to be working, though significant disparities remain, according to data presented Tuesday night in a special session before the Berkeley City Council and School Board.

The 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth — called “2020 Vision” for short — is a broad collaboration dating back, in its earliest form, to 2008, and is designed to chip away at the achievement gap among racial groups in Berkeley schools by the year 2020.

According to organizers, African-American and Hispanic students consistently perform “significantly below their peers on state and district standardized tests and other measures that predict academic success, such as chronic absence, truancy, suspension, and dropout rates. By some measures, the disparity in the academic performance of Berkeley students along race lines, commonly known as the ‘achievement gap,’ is one of the widest reported in California.” … Continue reading »

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Cooking cuts loom at schools’ edible program

Washing off freshly picked asparagus at the Willard Middle School garden. Parents at the school are protesting suggested cuts to the cooking and gardening program. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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The cooking component of Berkeley schools’ highly regarded cooking and gardening program may soon be eliminated for financial reasons, and the future of the entire program in middle and high schools is also at risk.

The Berkeley Unified School District board was scheduled to hear details of the proposal in a presentation titled ‘Re-envisioning the Cooking and Gardening Program’ at its regular meeting this evening. However the item has been postponed to a future, as yet undefined date, according to director of the cooking and program, Jezra Thompson.

Under the proposal, cooking classes would be eliminated for the 2014-15 academic year. The focus of the program would then center on gardening for pre-kindergarten through third grades. Gardening programs for middle school and high school students would be eliminated.

A major reduction in funds has prompted the need to re-evaluate the program and jobs will also be lost as a result. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley family camp will this year be at Echo Lake

Echo courtesy city of Berkeley
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Berkeley Family Camp this summer will be offered at the city’s Echo Lake Camp, near Lake Tahoe, for five weeks. The city’s Tuolumne Family camp near Yosemite burned down in the August 2013 Rim Fire.

Camp sessions will run June 21-July 7, July 11-20 and July 25-Aug. 4.  The length of stay will be flexible, just like it has been at Tuolumne Camp. Registration begins Feb. 12 for residents and Feb. 19 for non-residents. Rates and more information are expected to be available this week at the city’s recreation department website or by phone, 510-981-5150.

Echo Lake Camp is located just off Highway 50, a few miles south of Lake Tahoe, and about a three-hour drive from Berkeley.  The camp’s elevation is 7,400 feet, nearly 4,000 feet higher than Tuolumne Camp (and colder at night). It sits alongside the Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail near the El Dorado National Forest.  The camp “boasts incredible views,” according to a city press release. … Continue reading »

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