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Ninth grade, puppets, bi-lingual jobs, Stanford, crafts, engaging boys

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Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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A recent article in the Atlantic Magazine posits that ninth grade is the most important year in high school. Educators are finding that how freshman year goes determines whether a young person will move on or drop out of school. I was surprised to learn that nationwide, ninth-graders have the lowest GPA, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades and get in more trouble than any other high-school grade level. Researchers have found that repeating ninth grade can have terrible results in terms of a child’s motivation and self-esteem and a disproportionate number of ninth-graders who are held back drop out. (tinyurl.com/kxf54wo)

New data out suggests that the teaching profession is attracting “a more academically successful group of people compared to previous years,” according to researchers at the University of Washington. They found that more teachers have their master’s degrees (26 percent in 2008 versus 17 percent in 1993) and the average SAT score for a first year teacher climbed slightly from just below the national average (45th percentile) to the national average 50th percentile. http://educationnext.org/gains-in-teacher-quality/

The children’s Victorian Christmas Craft Workshop is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, at Gen. Vallejo’s Home, rain or shine. Free admission for children 12 and under, $3 for adults. This is a fun event for children to do age-old hands-on crafts.

What is the hottest job skill today? Translators and interpreters are expected to be one of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the nation (Department of Labor). There are projected to be 25,000 new jobs for interpreters (who focus on spoken language) and translators (who focus on written language), between 2010 and 2020. According to CNN, in the last week alone, roughly 12,000 jobs posted on Indeed.com included the word “bilingual.” In government jobs, being bilingual in Middle Eastern languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Pashto (Afghani) pays the best. In the private sector, employees bilingual in Scandinavian and Asian languages are the highest paid. (http://tinyurl.com/o8ktqfa)

Stanford Alumni Magazine recently devoted a few thousand words to “what it takes to get into Stanford” and after reading it, I feel slightly nauseous and still can’t tell you the answer. But it is an interesting and detailed look at the process at what is now the most selective university in America. You can read the entire article here: http://tinyurl.com/n9q82jd

Time Magazine’s Idea section recently suggested three things that schools can do to better help boys succeed. Quoted is psychologist Michael Thompson, who I think hits the nail on the head when he said, “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” The three suggestions are:

• Bring back recess. They cite research that since the 1970s, schoolchildren have lost almost half of their unstructured outdoor play time, and that boys seem to react worse to “recess deprivation” than girls.

• Turn boys into readers. Find books that appeal to boys, have a male reading model and help parents support boys’ literacy.

• Encourage the young male imagination. Boys read, write and draw differently. Consider assignments from the point of view of boys. http://tinyurl.com/mn78vds

I have lived in five different school districts since our youngest child was born and our children have attended public school, private school, boarding school, parochial school and Montessori. Having peeked under the covers of very different schools across the country, I am fascinated by case studies of successful initiatives at the district and school level. Earlier this fall, the nation’s 2013 Blue Ribbon schools were announced. These 286 elementary, middle and high schools offer promising ideas in very different settings. You can read one-page profiles of each school (including student demographics and exactly why the school was honored) at http://tinyurl.com/kl2geha.

On the topic of best practices, I have just returned from a seminar in Washington, D.C., on Common Core State Standards implementation and it was interesting to hear reporters from across the country compare notes on how prepared their school districts are for this big change in how our children will be instructed and assessed. Thanks to an “all in” enthusiasm and determination by Sonoma School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno, her staff and our teachers, Sonoma seems to be ahead of the curve.

During the Sonoma Valley Library book sale Nov. 13 to 16, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, your entire family can enjoy Celtic music by Greenhouse in the main room of the library. Greenhouse entertains audiences of all ages with its blend of lively jigs and reels, tender ballads, and rousing pub songs. Free and open to everyone.

Sonoma Academy’s theater department is staging a unique adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The production is set on a war base on the island of Sicily during World War II and features wartime and USO songs of the era made popular by Benny Goodman, the Andrew Sisters and Glen Miller. There are matinees and evening performances. Sonoma sophomores Cristian Isbrandsten and Devin Salmonsen are involved in the production. Tickets can be purchased online at: sonomaacademy.org/activities/box-office.

U.C. Berkeley’s football program ranked dead last in graduation rates among all 72 major programs in the country and men’s basketball wasn’t much better. The NCAA report found that Cal football graduated just 44 percent of its athletes who entered school from 2003 through 2006 and men’s basketball graduated just 38 percent. UCLA did quite a bit better at 92 percent. Over the same period, Stanford football’s graduation rate was 93 percent and its men’s basketball graduation rate was 83 percent. Cal’s academic reputation is fantastic, so reporters are suggesting the school re-examine its admission policies.

SimCity has launched a new educational game for middle-school students called SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge. The game, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, is designed to engage students while developing real-world skills. Students play the role of mayor in a “real” city, where they must address issues such as reducing pollution while not ignoring other societal impacts such as maintaining employment levels and citizen happiness. Teacher dashboards provide data on student performance and feedback on results so teachers can assess performance in real time.

A company has invented facial recognition software called  Engage-Sense that applies algorithms to what the cameras have recorded during a lecture or discussion to interpret how engaged the students are. The camera captures if students were confused, bored, smiling, focused or looking around. Teachers can then be provided with a report, based on the facial analysis, to learn what aspects of the class were most and least engaging. They expect that in five years, teachers all over the country will be using it. (http://tinyurl.com/mlewltp)

If your pre-schooler/kindergartner loves puppets, save the date of Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m. for a Puppets and PJ family night at the Sonoma Valley Regional Library, hosted by Woodland Star Charter School. There will be a puppet show and a craft activity. Children are encouraged to come in their PJs. For more information, email Sheila@woodlandstarschool.org.

The fourth annual Global Education Conference is a free week-long online event bringing together educators and innovators from around the world Nov. 18 to Nov. 22. This worldwide community initiative is designed to build education-related connections around the globe while supporting cultural awareness and recognition of diversity. Last year’s conference featured 400 general sessions and 20 keynote addresses from all over the world with more than 13,000 participants logging in. (globaleducationconference.com)

The 40th anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” will be celebrated at the Charles M. Schulz Museum from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16. There will be Snoopy-inspired snacks, viewings of the animated special, crafts and other family activities. You can receive a free child’s admission in exchange for two cans of food to donate to The Redwood Empire Food Bank. schulzmuseum.org

Gloria Ferrer Vineyard has donated $15,000 to the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation thanks to the success of the winery’s 21st annual Catalan Festival last July. The winery also donates a portion of the sales of every bottle of its gold-medal winning extra virgin olive oil to the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.