The Village

It’s Tuesday, we’re cruising to meet Ryan Pedrotti at the Russian River Aquifer and I’m wondering how to thank the village. People like Bill Hammett, who never says no whenever I ask to borrow his Boy Scout bus for student fieldtrips (the one we’re currently riding in).

If I have more than 10 students, I ask to borrow the Sonoma Valley Teen Services bus. More than that and I call Sam Honey of Honey tours. No money is ever exchanged – just put some gas in it is all they ever ask.

The unsung heroes in education are everywhere; the laptop I’m writing this story on is from a prioritization of technology in the district, and from the contributions of Les and Judy Vadasz and many others. The fact that we are going on a fieldtrip as the conclusive project of a four-week block on fracking is because I teach in a district that appreciates project-based learning and supports teacher innovation (thanks Robert Curtis, head of curriculum, thanks Louann Carlomagno, superintendent).

The fact that we have so many options for student success is directly related to a progressive school board that actually communicates and supports teachers and parents, but also keeps the needs of students at the forefront of decisions.

I wave to Robert Wilson, at Sonoma Old School Skate Shop, who along with Karen Stern and Kristine Marcus are developing an after-school student enrichment program (dance, drama, music, video and art) for teens, called SMAART. Robert takes care of our local skate park and gives discounts for good grades while maintaining a local business and always being there for teens.

Margie Maynard and Kate Eilertsen are standing outside the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, where I take students whenever we have a free afternoon and I can incorporate the exhibit into my art curriculum. Working antique kitchen tools into an art project was surprisingly easy – thanks Kathleen Hill.

We drive by the Plaza horseshoe where my students will be erecting the 50-foot SONOMAWOOD sign for the Sonoma International Film Festival (thanks Kevin McNeely and MC Cutcliffe). I mention that Sonoma Plein Air funds our Creekside art program.

We look over at the Sebastini Theatre where Roger and Diana Rhoten are always there for students, providing movie screenings and free ropes courses.  We pass by the Lisa Kristine gallery, where students learned about modern slavery.  And we drive by the Sonoma Index-Tribune, where Lorna Sheridan and David Bolling promote and support education with each edition of this very publication.

We go by Mary’s Pizza and Safeway and Lucky’s and all the other businesses that donate their time and money to educational programs.

We pass by The Republic of Thrift, whose donations to Creekside enable students to take the GED and CHSPE examinations for free.  Past Artescape, where local art treasure Gayle Manfre offers students free classes and fills the walls of our educational facilities with the most amazing, bright, positive, inspiring murals.

Passing the Teen Center I think about executive director Cristin Lawrence and program coordinator Jaime Cardenas, who provide a plethora of daily support as well as outreach programs like Cuidate, where teen girls learn to take care of themselves. Sonoma Valley Teen Services also runs the No Name Cafe on the SVHS campus, Teen Safe Ride (free rides for teens who need them), The Lovin’ Oven (teen-run microbusiness), outdoors to excellence and vocational and recreational programs.

Adrian Palenchar, coordinator of Operation Bicycle located in the basement of the teen center, has set up a bike program whereby students earn a free bike if they complete a resume, vocational interest profiler, complete five hours learning how to repair a bike and apply for three jobs. Transportation and a job all in one program.

We drive up Highway 12, and I think of all the wineries that have donated for various fundraisers over the years, from Bruce and the crew at the B.R. Cohn Music Festival, to Steve Ledson and his student mentoring.  Then there are the field trips to the Benziger biodynamic farm, Jack London State Historic Park and the Sugarloaf observatory. I tell the students about my dream to set up a teen boxing program high up in the Kunde hills where a boxing ring stands unused since it was created for the film “Bottle Shock.”

We reach the Russian River and are met by Ryan. He shows the students around the facility, teaches about where their water comes from and what the dry year means to our area. We see Coho salmon swimming in the river unable to enter the tributaries where they will lay their eggs because of limited water.  Students are engaged, learning is happening, the village has come through again.

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Walt Williams teaches algebra, general math, social responsibility, biology and art at Creekside High School (on the campus of Sonoma Valley High). But his real subject is engagement.