Category Archives: Public Education

Inglish iz uh Stoopid Langwij

stupidenglish02On Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:00, a handful of moms at our local elementary school volunteer to help some of the 1st graders who are struggling with sight words. For those of you who have been reading English for a while (probably most of you unless Siri’s dictating all your messages) and who are unfamiliar with the term sight words, it means those words that you can’t really sound out but have to memorize. Most readers don’t often stop to think that of should sound like off instead of uv, that is ends with a z sound instead of a snake hiss, and said is pronounced sed instead of some strange double-syllabled word that takes hapless non-readers a good 30 seconds to try and sound out.

English is a stupid language.Tomb Comb Bomb

Three of the 1st grade sight words are though, thought and through. I still have no idea how to explain to these frustrated 6-year olds that ough from each of these words makes the long O, short O and double O sounds respectively. And while I’m trying, it would certainly not be the time to go off on a tangent and explain to them that respectively does not mean polite.

My 16-year old Emily (she calls herself Djaq and pronounces is Jack I’ll explain more in a future blog) just performed in her high school’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee.” She played Olive, an elementary school student whose only friend is her dictionary, which she reads voraciously while on the toilet. Olive muses that if you take the W from answer, the H from ghost, the second A from aardvark, and the T from listen, you get…

spellingbee… Emily/Djaq/Olive silently mouths the word:

“What.”

English is a stupid language.

Emily/Djaq recently recounted an example that she learned from her eclectic 3rd grade teacher Mr. Schultz (quoting from George Bernard Shaw). If you take the GH from laugh, the O from women, and the TI from initiate, you get the word ghoti. However, it is pronounced fish. No kidding.ghoti

English is a stupid language.

If a word starts with a C, it is pronounced K or S. Why? Why did the English connoisseurs even invent a C if it doesn’t have its own sound? Why does G make either the G or J sound when there already is a J? Why is there an X when it actually blends KS, yet it is pronounced Z in nearly every English word with the exception of x-ray?  Why did they invent a Q when it really is just a K blended with a long U? And to make it even more inconvenient, there’s almost always a U piggybacking on Q like a lazy parasite.

stupidenglish04We teach these baffled children that an E at the end of a word is silent and it makes the previous vowel long (as in my son Jake’s name). Like all the other rules of English, this one sounds stupid too, but at least it seems like a somewhat consistent rule. That is, until they get to middle school and based on the silent E rule, they try to pronounce their new vocabulary words epitome and calliope. Oops. Not just an E at the end, but a really long E.

English is a stupid language.

images-1I took two years of Spanish in high school and all the English pronunciation rules I learned during my previous 10 years of education were thrown out the window. Yet once I learned that J makes the H sound and the vowels A, E, I, O and U are pronounced short O, long A, long E, long O, and double O, I found that Spanish doesn’t often break its own pronunciation rules. Jose will not and never will be pronounced Joe’s (unless you meet him in art school). Instead, it’s hose-ay, which written as a pronunciation looks as gringo as Doris Day.

english-diacriticsI think the easiest and smartest solution to the English language dilemma would be to throw out the spelling of all traditional English words and instead spell them with the same pronunciation key used in the dictionary. Of course adding all these long and short vowel sounds, CH, SH and the hard and soft TH, not to mention the accents and the syllable breaks, would make the English alphabet a little bit bigger. Everyone will have to grow their fingernails and file them to a sharp point in order to use the teeny tiny keys on their Smartphones to type:

ˈIŋ-glish iz uh ˈstü-pəd ˈlaŋ-gwij.

Then there’s the schwa (ə), which would probably be the most popular letter in the English language. It sounds like uh, and it is also the most widely used sound these 1st graders make when they’re trying to sound out a word:

“Uhhhhhhhh…”

UhhhDictionary.com calls ə “the mid-central, neutral vowel sound… of a in alone and sofa, e in system, i in easily, o in gallop, u in circus.”

Speaking of circus, you have your full meal of English language funkiness with C sounding like K, C sounding like S, an actual S, a schwa (ə), and even one of those funky colon on its side things whenever an R takes a vowel hostage. Here’s how Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Oxford, Collins, and MacMillan each show their pronunciations of circus:

Dictionary.com

Merriam-Webster

American HeritageOxford

Collins

Macmillan

Yes, English is a very very stupid language.

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Filed under Anxiety, Humor, Kids, Public Education, Volunteering

Volunteerism – It’s Not Just a Job; It’s a Job Without a Paycheck.

At about 3:45 pm on Tuesday, I dropped by the dubbing stage on the Disney lot, where Erik the recordist downloaded my conformed dialogue tracks. By 4:00 pm I was waving goodbye to my supervisor, my boss, the mixers and the producer of “Once Upon a Time.” I probably won’t see any of them again until season 2 begins next September.

I love my job as the dialogue editor on the show, but with only 22 episodes a year, it leaves a very long hiatus.

So on Wednesday morning I woke up and started my new job. I love this job too – probably even more than I love working on a hit show. And my new job pays nothing.

When I say “nothing,” I don’t mean that it’s something close to nothing like minimum wage at McDonald’s. My new job pays nothing because for the next month I’ll be working as a volunteer.

Since 2001 I have been a parent at Colfax Charter Elementary School in Valley Village. Back then, most families in the neighborhood sent their kids to private schools. They didn’t really know much about our little public school. So in 1998 when my daughter turned 2, I started volunteering at Colfax in an effort to infiltrate the school and see first hand what it was like.

They placed me in a 1st grade class with a teacher named Paige Gage, and I fell in love. Besides having a name that rhymed (something every 1st grade teacher should have) she was engaging, fun, and she genuinely seemed to enjoy being there everyday with the kids. It turns out she was a parent there years ago and became a teacher later. Her children are now grown and she’s still at Colfax and teaching 2nd grade now. And I’m still in love with her.

There are countless parents and members of the community who consistently devote a truckload of time to help this little gem of a school. Throughout the work season I participate in little ways as a room parent and in PTA, but when I’m on hiatus, I have the opportunity to really dive in. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to work with other volunteers to make our wonderful school even better and be able to interact with the kids. Here are some of the really fun things I can look forward to doing for the next 6 weeks of the school year:

Kindergarten violins

On Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30 I get to help my son Jake and his classmates place their feet correctly on the Arthur Murray-like foot positions on the floor and keep the boys from having sword fights with the bows. The kindergarten recital is May 24. For that day I’ll probably work as a kid wrangler and try to keep them from messing up their white button-down shirts. Good thing the recital is first thing in the morning or after recess I’d be racing home and washing a large load of white button-down shirts.

Helping in the classroom

Today I helped the kids paint sunflowers. I let a girl named Emma make a second one after I totally screwed hers up by suggesting she fix a part of it. She was doing way better without my help.

Beautification

This Saturday, May 12th we’re all bringing our gardening gloves, rakes and creaking backs to the campus to sweep, clean and plant. It’s scheduled right between Jake’s baseball game and my niece’s baby shower in Yucaipa, so I can just spare an hour. That’s how long it should take to clean up 10 square yards of an area covered in juice box straw wrappers. Damn Juicy Juice.

PTA/PACE Elections

May 17th I get to see who’s going to be Co-VP of Communications with me. The term will be up for my current partner Joanne, which is really scary since she’s the one who takes the great photos and sends out the Constant Contact email messages to the whole school. I’m crossing my fingers that the new Co-VP is artistic and tech-savvy. Otherwise I’ll need to learn how to take photos where people actually have their eyes open.

Restaurant Fundraisers

Lisa and Abbe are a couple of energetic go-getters, and I work with them on Restaurant Fundraisers where Colfax gets 20% back. I have the task of counting out the exact number of flyers for each classroom and placing them in the teachers’ boxes so they’ll go home in the students’ backpacks. We have fundraisers at Menchie’s on May 18th and a combo Cold Stone Creamery / Green Apple China Bistro on June 5th. The teachers scoop the ice cream at Cold Stone, and there’s always a line out the door of students who ask, “Mrs. Tepper…  can I have another sample?”

Teacher Appreciation Lunch

I’ve signed up to bring lasagna. I used to make an amazing lasagna before I had kids.  Now every year I sign up to bring a lasagna to the Teacher Appreciation Lunch with the intention of making a homemade one, and every year I realize that an amazing lasagna takes about half a day to prepare. I’m thinking of just cooking a Stouffer’s in one of my Corningware trays so it looks like I actually spent more time on it than merely turning an oven dial.

Vaudeville

Every year, that same teacher I volunteered for back in 1998 puts on a Vaudeville Show. Starting in January, Paige Gage has rehearsals every Wednesday afternoon not only for her 2nd grade class, but she also offers it to every 2nd grader in the school and any older student who wants to help with the show. I’m the gal who gets to press “play” on the iPod. The kids sing songs like Jimmy Durante’s Inka Dinka Doo, perform magic tricks, and tell really corny jokes. I’ll hear the words “knock knock… who’s there?” more than any sane person should hear in a lifetime.

School Site Council

There’s a governance meeting once a month where we get to discuss the school charter, curriculum, budgets, and other topics that would make a kindergartner’s eyes glaze over. This is the time I get to act like a grownup and try to act like I really understand all that “I second it” and “I’d like to make a motion” stuff. Because it’s elementary school, I’d love to call it “Me too” and “Whatcha think if…?”

Career Day

I have the opportunity to make three 20-30 minute presentations on what a sound editor does for a living. After I explain that I work from home and wear headphones all day, the kids who will decide to pursue this career when they grow up will either be sound aficionados or anti-social shut-ins.

Tribute Songs

During the very last PTA/PACE meeting of the year we have a presentation to say goodbye to all the 5th grade parents who have gone above and beyond in volunteering for the school. I have the dream-of-a-lifetime job of writing a bunch of parodies and having some of the 5th graders perform it that night. My goal is to make the parents simultaneously roar with laughter and weep like babies. (Have some fun and check out last year’s karaoke version at Colfax 5th Grade Tribute 2011 on Youtube).

Colfax World Fair Marketing

This is the Big Kahuna of my volunteer activities, which is fitting since one of the things I get to hype is the Big Kahuna – a huge water slide at the Colfax World Fair on June 2nd. Last year about 7,000 guests attended this event which made $140,000 in a single day. My job is to get the news out about the fair by any means possible and to make enough money to keep all of Colfax’s extracurricular (and curricular) programs alive. I have a great team of volunteers working with me this year who will be spreading the word with Facebook, Twitter, Patch, emails, banners, posters, car magnets, flyers, postcards, lawn signs, newspapers, magazines, radio, online or just good old fashioned word of mouth. By June 2nd, if you haven’t heard of the Colfax World Fair, it means you’ve been in a coma under a rock on a desert island.

Finally…

Tuesday, June 19th is the last day of the 2011-2012 year for this little LAUSD school. So at 1:30 pm I’ll be clocking out.

By then I’ll need a nap.

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Filed under Family, Humor, Kids, Multitasking, Music, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Volunteering

($ ÷ Gallon) x (Miles ÷ Gallon) = LA Gasoline Anxiety

Here's the gas prices at the station closest to my home. Aaaahhhh!!!

With the astronomical price of gas these days, I start to have an anxiety attack each moment my odometer clicks another tenth of a digit. I quickly do the math in my head: if my 15-year old minivan gets 16 miles per gallon of gas and I pay $4.50 for each gallon, I am coughing up over 28 cents for every tenth of a mile. It now costs twice as much in gas to deliver my daughter’s forgotten brown bag lunch than to just make her buy lunch at the school cafeteria. What a dilemma!

When I got my driver’s license in 1978, I remember paying just 64 cents for a gallon of gas. I say this and I feel like the old geezers who complain how when they were kids they used to walk to school uphill both ways. Suddenly I’m older than dirt.

Today, as I near a hundred bucks a pop, each time I fill up my tank I feel like I just lost the kids’ college fund – that is if I was wealthy enough to actually have a decent kids’ college fund. My head pounds, I feel emotionally sick, and I am suddenly terrified of the future of both my family and America as a whole.

With such an adverse reaction, you would think that my work commute must be an enormous trek and I am suddenly spending a fortune in gas.

Wrong.

Actually, my commute distance is exactly 13-1/2 inches and takes about a nanosecond, so it costs exactly no dollars and zero cents in gas to drive to work.

Jealous? I don’t blame you.

My editing system sits on a desk near the foot of my bed and I am able to upload and download my session via the Internet. I work a 48.6 hour week (blame my union for this obscure number) and I can do it all in my pajamas.

I can’t image how I’d afford gas if I still commuted from the home in Chino I sold in 1992. It’s a 90 mile round trip to Burbank, so at 16 miles per gallon I’d be spending over $550 in gas each month. Plus I’d be wasting about 15-20 hours each week staring at lame bumper stickers and the rear ends of all those SUVs that have stick figure drawings with family member names underneath, all the while sucking up thousands of Verizon minutes yacking with people who’d certainly be tired of talking to me after the first ten minutes.

Thank you God for telecommuting.

I do have to drive a mile and a half each way every week (84¢) to drop off and pick up my external hard drive from my assistant/right hand man Eddie. I also travel four miles ($2.25 round trip) to the Disney lot and swing by the dub stage, mostly to keep my chops primed in having three-minute conversations with actual adults who work in post-production sound. In real life, the majority of my conversations consist of telling my 5-year old to stop squirming and keep his finger out of his nose, so the last thing I want to do is instinctively bark these orders at the dedicated mixers of Once Upon a Time.

So if I’m not paying up the wazoo in my work commute, where does all the gas money go?

Jake’s school is three blocks away, and since he’s a pokey walker, we drive. I figure the trip there and back costs a little less than 20 cents a day. In a week I spend less than the price the ice cream man charges for a SpongeBob on a stick. Such a bargain!

I’m the afternoon carpool mom for Mary’s school which is three miles away, and I drive about six miles on the way home dropping off the other middle school kids. That gas bill adds up to about $2.53 each day. In a week, I spend more in gas than I would in buying a half dozen Red Bulls – which I recently cut out of my budget because they’re now a luxury I can’t afford. Please don’t tell my insurance agent this if I happen to fall asleep at the wheel.

Emily attends Cleveland Humanities Magnet which is a 28-mile round trip and would cost nearly $40 a week in gas. I have all you Los Angeles property owners to thank for generously donating your tax dollars. So far LAUSD has not completely cut funding for Magnet School buses, so for me, Emily is a freebie.

I don’t have the luxury of time on my hands, yet I will still drive six miles and wait for 20 minutes in line to fill up at the Costco gas station to save a few cents.  Actually, it’s more than a few cents. Yesterday Costco gas was $4.21 a gallon, but the closest gas station to my home was $4.75. They have the audacity to charge $4.99 for premium, and at that price “premium” should mean “with complimentary foot rub.” Don’t even get me started on the three-millimeter sized “9/10” at the end of every gas price. Is there any other product that charges an extra nine-tenths of a cent?

Even with my Costco membership, it now costs more time and money to buy a gallon of gasoline than it does to get a Starbucks Venti Frappuccino. It’s too bad my minivan doesn’t run on iced coffee. Especially since I make my own cup a Joe. After all the money we spend on gas these days, who can afford to buy anything from Starbucks?

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Filed under Anxiety, Career, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Teenagers

Why Can’t the Real World Be Like Our Little Restaurant Fundraisers?

Mrs. Walker with kindergartners

Like other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, our local elementary school has been hit hard by budget cuts. Just last month Colfax Charter Elementary’s School Site Council voted to allocate an additional $68,000 to pay for five classroom aides, office staff, and our librarian – funds that in the past were paid for by the district, but are now paid for by the parents.

Besides an impressive 2011 API score of 910, Colfax is attractive to the families of Valley Village for its commitment to the arts, green program, and technology – all which are principally paid for by parent-run fundraisers.

Today it takes a lot more than bake sales to raise that kind of cash. Our annual giving campaign is in full swing, aiming to raise at least the $600 per child it takes to keep the school’s programs afloat. An outdoor movie night, holiday boutique and the upcoming Turkey Trot fundraiser will also hopefully make a dent in our stretched budget.

Last Tuesday we had a double-header, or what I called The Freeway Series minus the freeway. Green Apple China Bistro and Cold Stone Creamery are located in the same Studio City strip mall across from each other, and they both agreed to donate a percentage of their sales back to Colfax.

Teachers and our principal scooping ice cream

On our end, we did a little bit of advertising. We put flyers in all the kids’ backpacks, posted signs around the school entrances, advertised the day on our marquee, added the event to our weekly email blast to all the Colfax families, and made the announcement at our Monday morning assembly.

Green Apple and Cold Stone gave us a percentage of all sales for the day, and as an added incentive, the teachers were invited to scoop ice cream in 15-minute shifts.

Cold Stone line out the door 1

A good bake sale can bring in a hundred dollars, maybe even two. It takes a lot of manpower to make and sell the baked goods, a lot of dough in eggs and flour, and a lot of waste from unsold merchandise. Still, a hundred or two is a boost that can pay for some art supplies or repair a computer.

Yet in one day, these combined restaurant fundraisers brought our school nearly $1000! There was a steady line of customers streaming out the door for two solid hours at Cold Stone, and because the teachers volunteered, they didn’t need to pay for extra bodies during the busy hours.

Teachers scooping ice cream

It’s quite the win-win for all of us. Colfax gains a big wad of money, and the only expense was about $20 in copies for the flyers. The restaurants get a nice tax write-off, and a little bit of free advertising. They also get increased business for the day, and hopefully new loyal customers who will return again and again to thank the businesses that support their local school. The parents get a delicious meal and dessert, and didn’t have to pay a penny more than they normally would if they were going out to dinner. The kids have a great time seeing their teachers outside of school and giving them their order for a change. There’s a strong sense of community as the families have an opportunity to socialize.

Cold Stone line out the door 2

Don’t you think this could be a lesson for the rest of our ailing nation? Why don’t the big businesses give back to their community? Not just a tax write off, but something like 20 – 25%. Like the teachers, the community leaders should volunteer some of their time to mingle with their constituents and get their hands a little dirty (with ice cream, not with whatever muck dirty politicians swim in). The citizens will love those big businesses even more for helping them out and they will in turn become more loyal customers. The real winners will be the kids who get to reap the benefits of better school and a stronger community. And everyone has a good time in the process.

In a perfect world…

But until then, I’ll be buying my ice cream from Cold Stone and my Chinese food from Green Apple. And so will my kids. And then maybe even their kids.

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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Volunteering

♫♪ Don’t Know Much About Geography ♫♪

Barry Ritholtz

The World According to Americans

My friend Heidi posted this map to her Facebook page, and I realized that it’s unfortunately so true – particularly with American kids today. I am a huge supporter of public schools, but I believe that they are seriously lacking in teaching our kids about geography and the rest of our world.

I vowed that when I had kids I would never start a conversation with, “When I was your age…” and yet I do remember being taught geography in elementary school. We memorized the 50 states and their capitals, the Canadian provinces and their capitals, European countries and capitals, the rivers of Africa, the islands of Japan, and mountain ranges in South America. I can still remember most of them today, because I recite them in my head whenever I’m bored out of my mind at a long meeting.

Throughout California public elementary schools, the principal geography lesson is taught in the 4th grade on the missions and Native American tribes of the region. It has taken me decades just to remember the politically correct term “Native American” rather than the standard “Indian,” even though my nephew and two nieces are part of the Luiseño tribe from the Pechanga Indian Reservation (notice that people don’t call it “Pechanga Native American Reservation.” Go figure). I also have learned to not clarify “Indian” with “feather, not dot” while in the company of people I don’t know well and might interpret that I’m a racist, which I am not.

The 9-year olds at our local elementary school know all about the Luiseños and the San Gabriel Mission, but very few probably know that our state capital is Sacramento. If you ask them to point out California on a map of the United States, they probably can do it, but if they are offered to find it on a globe, I suspect that many of them would just be spinning it on its axis, looking for a dot that identifies the Luiseños.

The only reason our kids know the names of the states is from singing “50 Fifty United States” in chorus and “Boogie Woogie Bugle March” from Vaudeville. Thank God our parents raise funds for the arts, or the kids would be at a standstill after naming California and Florida. After all, Disney is the capital of those states, isn’t it?

There are states they might have heard of from other walks of life: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Jersey Shore, Hawaii Five-0, Texas hold ‘em, AriZona Tea, and of course California Pizza Kitchen. They probably don’t realize that Rhode Island is not actually an island, that West Virginia is actually northwest of Virginia, or that Washington State and Washington, D.C are not only not the same thing, but are on opposite ends of the country. If they had to pick out Hawaii from a map, they would likely choose the Channel Islands.

And that’s just the U.S. I’m absolutely certain that they have no idea that North and South Korea have a very different kind of boundary than the ones between the Dakotas and the Carolinas. They think anyone who’s first language is Spanish must be from Mexico and that Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese are just dialects of the same language. They wouldn’t know that the North Pole is smack in the middle of an ocean, and that the Middle East and Midwest probably have absolutely nothing in common.

These days, children not only have no clear idea where American landmarks like Mount Rushmore or the Washington Monument are located, they probably have never heard of these landmarks in the first place. However, they can immediately tell you were to find Forever 21 in the mall, or the nearest Starbucks or McDonalds. They are also quite deft at navigating their Facebook page.

Now that my daughters are in middle and high school, they are thankfully learning more about world geography. My own geographical cockiness bit me in the butt recently when Mary Belle came home talking about the five oceans of the world. I corrected her.

“There are four oceans.”

“No, mom. There are five.”

I immediately spewed off the oceans: “Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic.”

I asked her about the fifth, but she couldn’t remember what it was and said it was near Antarctica. I figured she was just thinking of some fictional body of water from Atlantis.

My husband called me over to the computer. He had Wikipedia open to Ocean, and wouldn’t you know – there’s a fifth ocean called the Southern Ocean, which is “sometimes considered an extension of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans which encircles Antarctica.”

Touché. I’d better start studying the globe a little better. And not the one that still shows USSR.

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Filed under Humor, Public Education, Public Schools