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Changes to Amazon.com, the SAT, school donations, teens, education documentaries, becoming a vet, photo contest, volunteers needed, Snipz

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Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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There were two big announcements last week concerning SAT testing for college. First, there will be sweeping changes to the SAT, taking effect in two years (2016). Scoring will go back to 1600 from 2400, the writing section will no longer be required and the content of the questions will be different, and more aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. Also, the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced a major partnership with Khan Academy to offer completely free SAT prep to all students to level the playing field for low-income students who can’t afford prep classes. http://tinyurl.com/mwkr7hv

Did you know that Amazon.com will give a percentage (.05 percent) of every purchase you make to the nonprofit of your choice? I signed on the moment I heard about it. The program is called Amazon Smiles, most purchases qualify, and you can sign up quickly and easily at smile.amazon.com. After you sign up, the donations are automatic.

California is one of five states deciding right now whether computer science classes should count toward high school graduation. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Am I missing something? Only nine states currently count these courses as a science or math, which has slowed CS course enrollment. Visit code.org/action/make-cs-count to sign a petition showing your support.  Not convinced? There are 77,309 open computing jobs in California right now (growing at 4.3 times the state average). There are only 4,324 computer science graduates (from college) and only 311 high schools teach computer science. Hooray to SVHS for being one of them.

I played a crazy new video game on my phone recently that teens might just enjoy. The free app, developed by an ex-con who went on to graduate from the University of Texas, is called SaulPaul’s Dream in 3D. A young guy runs through the halls of his high school dodging babies (who symbolize teen pregnancy), liquor bottles and pill bottles. The babies cling to your legs and slow down your progress (my favorite part) and the liquor makes you weave so you can’t move as accurately and the pills kill you if you don’t avoid them. There isn’t a lot more to it than that but that didn’t stop Flappy Bird from being a hit. http://wedreamin3d.com/

I am a big fan of high school students taking online courses or community college courses as a means of enrichment and/or exploring areas of interest.  It is very complicated for a high school, however, to accept credit for these courses, and that is a topic that the Sonoma Valley school board and the school district will tackle in tonight’s meeting. If this is a hot button topic for you, there will be public comment sometime after 6:30 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room at the police station.

A portion of proceeds from Restaurant Week, March 10 to 16, will benefit our Boys & Girls Club. Participating restaurants include Café Citti, Carneros Bistro, Olive and Vine, Plaza Bistro, Red Grape, Rancho Viejo, Saddles Steakhouse and The Palms Grill.

Life Skills classes start this week. From 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays in the No Name Café, Sonoma Valley Teens Services will offer classes covering all the skills teens need to get a summer job. Contact Jodi at jodchris@gmail.com or 720-5965 or Luciana at youthlinksonomavalley@gmail.com or 996-7991 for more information.

In other big education news this week, President Obama announced the first federal budget allocation for education technology in nearly 12 years. The 2015 budget includes $69 billion in Department of Education funding and an additional $200 million “to support professional learning for educators who are transforming their practice through technology.” Read more at http://tinyurl.com/lr88mcq.

We have taken a lot of fun competition out of our schools so I think it is great that more than a dozen St. Francis Solano students choose Academic Decathalon as their elective each year. Teacher Michelle Momsen leads the group of seventh- and eighth-graders, and 10 of them recently competed in the Santa Rosa Diocesan Academic Decathlon. The team came in third place overall and third place in the Logic Quiz category. Competing were Reagan Cordero, Julia Sangiacomo, Cian Martin, Anthony Costanzo, Connor Havlek, Audrey Castillo, Nick Biaggi, Toby Hilliard, Amy Stanfield and Alec Nogara. Their alternates were Olivia Boles, Jack Brown, Jack Craig, Marco DellaSantina, Arturo Fernandez, Gigi Girish, Emily Hengehold, Ali Perkins, Taylor Stiffler and Lauren Worona.

Operation Bicycle at Sonoma Teen Center and the No Name Café at Sonoma Valley High (another initiative of Sonoma Valley Teen Services) both seek donations and volunteers from the community. Operation Bicycle seeks financial support to hire more teens to fix up the bikes, and the No Name Café is looking for adults to volunteer there on Mondays and Fridays from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.  Volunteers would oversee teen employees as they prepare the café for the next day’s business, assist with the cash register if needed, socialize with the students in the café. Please call Pat Coleman, volunteer coordinator at 939-9757 if you can help out.

I saw two documentaries at SXSWEdu that I highly recommend (available On Demand or online). Both could be watched by all ages. “American Promise” follows two African American boys from age 5 to 18, navigating life at an elite private school in New York City. The other, “Ivory Tower,” is a fascinating look at the insanely high cost of college, and whether today’s students are really getting anything out of college (spoiler – some really are, some are totally wasting their parents’ money). I also saw the documentary, “Girl Rising,” but I didn’t love it. I am all for improving girls’ access to education worldwide but the hyper-stylization of the film really bugged me. If you loved it, let me know.

While our high school seniors are eagerly waiting to hear from colleges … and the news from the UC schools will be out any day now, the College & Career Center is turning its attention to juniors. There are a series of workshops being offered (I did one last week on ways that students can make their application stand out). Today (March 11) at 11:35 a.m., there is a broad overview of the college process being offered, titled, “The ABS of College Applications.” These workshops are publicized in the daily announcements at the high school. If you have a child at SVHS, make sure you are getting that daily email. It is full of very important information.

There is a fun local photography contest that celebrates parents reading to and with their children. First 5 Sonoma County is celebrating Read Across America Day by accepting photos of parents reading to their young children. Family and friends will then vote on their favorites. The deadline is Monday, March 31. Prizes include bilingual books and an iPad. You can learn more on First 5’s facebook page.

It is talent show season. I attended Prestwood Elementary School’s show last weekend and it was fantastic. Sonoma Charter School will hold its show at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, in the Altimira Middle School Multipurpose Room. Tickets are $15 in advance of $20 at the door, and the price includes dinner from the Pasta King.

It is also book fair season. Prestwood Elementary School’s Scholastic Book Fair, which is open to the public, runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today through Thursday. Scholastic has catapulted itself into the 21st century with a new Book Fairs app that is designed to help parents find appropriate books for their children.

The high school’s music department is having a Dine and Donate fundraiser at Black Bear Diner from 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, and the evening will feature student and alumni performances.

Lots of teens think they would love to be a vet, but few realize the demands of a career in veterinary medicine. UC Davis is offering a terrific opportunity to learn more. Save the date of Saturday, April 19, and stop by the high school’s College & Career Center for more information.

For the 13th consecutive year, the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Association will offer merit scholarships to 2014 graduates to cover part of freshman year expenses. Students must have a parent who is an active member of the SVVGA. Visit sonomavalleywine.com for details.

Congratulations to Snipz children’s hair salon on recently celebrating its first anniversary. Snipz graciously donates a portion of its proceeds to the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation in support of Sonoma schools. Stop by the salon at 75 Andrieux St. with your little one if you haven’t already.

There is free family fun planned at the Sonoma Valley Library at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 15, when musician Adam Traum uses music to familiarize children with rhythm and melodies. This program strives to give kids a strong foundation in the building blocks of music that can be incorporated into every day lives.

On Friday, March 14, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the Petaluma Wildlife Museum hosts Petaluma artist and entomologist Kevin Clarke, who will shed light on the world of insects. The museum is on the Petaluma High School campus (201 Fair St.). petalumawildlifemuseum.org. Admission to the Natural History Series is $5 and free for high school students.