What a Tuesday!

Dragons on Chromebooks

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Tuesday was such a fun day at school! For most of the day it was a regular schedule, with kids working on their Chromebooks on Imagine Math and Imagine Learning. These are individualized learning programs that help kids who are behind catch up, and encourage kids who can to move ahead of the class.

At lunch, I walked with my friends Leslie and Heather, and we enjoyed the warm weather and fun conversation. It’s nice to get out of the classroom and just walk.

After lunch we had quiet reading time, which today was more like chatty reading time, which is okay every now and then. Then we got a call from the office! The Kids Eat Right folks were here!

Kids Eat Right is a program is a group of young people who go around to schools and teach kids about nutrition and food preparation. They bring all their own equipment and recipes that kids really like. Today the kids, in groups of 5 or 6, were assigned jobs: chopper, recipe reader, adder, stirrer, and server. During the directions there was a lot of noise and laughing, but once the food came around, the kids were all business. “What do we do next?” I heard from a group. “Hey, Mr. Recipe Reader, what do we do next?”

Angel enjoying the snack

At the end of the 45 minutes each group had made and eaten their fruit and yogurt parfait, cleaned up their mess, and was on the way to the next exciting thing.

US National Mountain Biking Champion Jeff Lenosky and his partner Christine had returned to University Park School to show us some stunts, give life and biking advice, and invite us to the Sea Otter Classic, the biggest mountain biking festival in the world, which is held just outside town at the Laguna Sec Race Track.

Jeff did some wonderful stunts, jumping his bike up onto steps and doing wheelies in circles. Coming off his truck, he slipped and almost fell, but caught himself. “That’s why we call them accidents, no one expects them to happen,” he said.

Jeff Lenosky, Mountain bike Champ

During the fall the chain of his bike broke and he couldn’t pedal anymore. This disappointed me, because I know he usually finishes his show by jumping over a teacher or two, and for the last few years, I have been one of the teachers! I love the applause and the excitement of watching the bike fly RIGHT over me!

But Jeff didn’t let a broken chain get in his way, and neither did I. He asked for two volunteers and my old friend Mr. Burgess joined me. Jeff scooted his bike, like a pre-schooler, and jumped over both of us. It was so fun, and since this is the last year I will be able to do it, I’m glad I got to.

oWouldn’t you?

And you know what I did after school, right? I came home and took a nap! That was a lot of excitement for this Grandma Judy. Now I am resting up for the next adventure.


Grandma Judy

John Steinbeck in Town

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

As you may know, Salinas is the town where John Steinbeck, the famous author, was born and raised. His family home still stands on Central Avenue, open for luncheons, along with its gift shop, The Best Cellar.

I was thinking the other day that if you could be a school kid in Salinas at different periods of time (and not get any older as the time passed), you would have been taught very different things about John Steinbeck.

In the decade of the 1910s, you wouldn’t have been taught about John, you would have been in school with him. He attended the West End School (where Roosevelt Elementary now stands) and Salinas High, when it was still on West Alisal Street. John was a fine football player and wrote for the school paper.

In the 1920s you might have heard gossip that John wasn’t attending classes regularly at Stanford, after his parents were so happy that he got in. After 6 years of irregular attendance interrupted by travel and odd jobs (like being an apprentice scientist at the Spreckels Sugar Factory near town), he left without graduating and moved to New York.

In the 1930s John’s name became a hated thing in Salinas. You would have been taught he was a Socialist and un-American for his views about labor and unions. His book In Dubious Battle told of the striking farm workers and the horrible living conditions and injustices they faced. The growers, who were (and are) the power and money in town, resented his point of view and many copies of his books were burned. This happened again when The Grapes of Wrath was published. Though wildly popular, the book was criticized for vulgar language and showing the growers as greedy men.

In the 1940s you would have heard about John’s travels with the Army in World War II and his part in directing documentaries about the war. And maybe questioned his being labeled a Socialist.

East of eden and car.jpg
The Infamous Book now celebrated in the National Steinbeck Center

In the 1950s you would have been warned not to read East of Eden because of its scandalous story, but amazed by the street by street accuracy with which John described Salinas.

By the 1960s, John’s local reputation was mended somewhat by his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize  in Sweden and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968 you would have been taught about  the death of John Steinbeck, great writer and local hero, who had written so many American classics and put our little town on the map.

Sign to Steinbeckgarave.jpg
Sign to help tourists find his grave

And, if you were paying attention, you would have noticed how a city’s opinion of a person is closely tied with that city’s own self-interests. And often, still is.


Grandma Judy






Sunday Fun

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Liza and I had a fun day together. We both woke up early and spent some time playing with the Bananagrams game. We play it by making words by themselves instead of crosswords, because Liza is still learning how to read. She is getting good at sounding out words and finding letters!

When Auntie Olga and Uncle David woke up, David make pancakes for breakfast. They were delicious, and the last one, which he poured very, very slowly, had this beautiful spiral pattern on the back. Beautiful and delicious!

Then, off for a small adventure. Since Liza was feeling a bit sniffly, we wouldn’t be walking all the way to the library. But we did walk to Hartnell Park, just up the street. We played hide and seek and then she found some new friends to play with. They made sand castles and had a good time being silly together.

Auntie Olga came and drove us to the library, where we met a school friend of Liza’s and a former student of mine who is now in 7th grade! We got some lovely new books.

By this time, the pancakes were wearing off and we were HUNGRY. We headed to Yangtse’s Taste of Thai on Main Street where we met Uncle David for lunch. A whole bunch of yummy food later, it was time for home and naps, for Granddaughter AND Grandma.

After we woke up, before the sun went down, we had time for one more adventure…the bike! Liza is still needing help balancing, so I do a lot of running and balancing, which is exhausting but fun. While we were resting on the sidewalk, an old friend came by and we visited. He is the stepfather of one of my favorite former students, and it was fun catching up on news.

Finally, dinner of yummy leftover Thai food and new library books for story time! Another successful Sunday on the books.


Grandma Judy


Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This is not a fun post. It is sad and scary. You may want to skip it. Fair warning.

Today I went to a teacher training, but we were not learning how to teach. Our wonderful trainer, Kelly Hendrix, vice principal at Mission Park School, was teaching us how to keep ourselves and our students alive in the event of an active shooter on campus. Let that sink in for a minute. We have fire and earthquake drills. In Portland there are even volcano drills.

Chart showing increasing body counts of shooting. Columbine is near the center of the chart, the Las Vegas shooting is on the far right.

But this….this idea that we must try to outsmart and outrun someone who has come specifically to kill us and our children…this is a whole new level of scary. Also scary is the fact that since most shootings last a total of 5 minutes, law enforcement folks will probably arrive after the shooter is done. We will be on our own for those terrifying moments, needing to think fast and be smart.

ALICE stands for alert, lock down, inform, counter, and evacuate, which are the steps (not necessarily in that order) that are encouraged in this training. Before, our directions have been limited to “lock the door, turn off the lights, get under the desks”. Then people noticed that in many mass shootings, there were a lot of dead people under desks. So, then what?

ALICE acknowledges that there are no easy answers and that every single situation, even room to room within a school, will be different. Hiding, if necessary,  is best done behind a well-barricaded door, and children should be spread out in different parts of the room, not a dog pile, so they will be able to get up and move if it becomes possible to evacuate or necessary to fight.

Yes, fight. If you cannot get out of your room and the shooter is in there with you and your students, ALICE encourages you to know your resources and act fast. Things to throw, to distract a shooter and keep him from aiming. The kids can help by screaming like banshees or, my favorite technique, “swarming”, where everyone grabs a piece of the shooter and hangs on for dear life.  Scary, yes, but better than sitting still and waiting to be shot. Besides, the image of 26 kinder-babies bringing down a psycho is very satisfying to my imagination.

The OODA Loop shows the mental processes a shooter (or anyone) goes through to make a decision. Disrupt this, and you can slow a shooter down for a few critical seconds.

The last part of our training was acting out scenarios in which Kelly and her head custodian Gumaro, played the part of the shooters, armed with Nerf guns. We teachers played teachers and students and had beanbags and squishy balls with which to retaliate. Depending on where our class was when we became aware of the incident, some of us ran, confronted the shooter, or barricaded the door. One group was so well hidden we didn’t realize they were still in there! But even in our state of readiness, we had a few “casualties”.

Kelly Hendrix, our trainer

By the end of the morning we were all exhausted, hyper-adrenalized (if that’s even a word) and a bit sadder and wiser. I feel it was the most important training I have received in 30 years of teaching, because all our work goes nowhere if our students are dead.

And that’s the reality of it. Sorry for the sad story.


Grandma Judy

Inspiring Students, Part 2

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Yesterday I told you about my student, who I called B, and his troubled life and how Tucci Learning Solutions helped him. Today I will tell you about R, another boy in my class.

When I met R in January, I barely noticed him. In a class with quite a few rowdy boys, R sat at his seat in the back row and didn’t do much…he didn’t make trouble, but didn’t write or read much, either. From the front of the room I saw mostly a boy with his head down.

Now, I know I should have noticed sooner, but 26 kids, new curriculum and new rules made for a slow dawning in my brain that R was doing something at his desk. Whenever I got close, he would shove papers into his junk heap of a desk and try to look like he had been working.

So one day after school I pulled out the crumpled mass of papers. Crayons, markers, pencils and shavings, as well as bits of paper and old snacks, came out as well. My first impulse was to wad the mess up and throw it all out. But I flattened them out and looked at the drawings. There were dozens of them, and some very detailed and well done. I put them in a pile and talked to R about them the next day.

“Your drawings get all mashed in your desk,” I said. “Would you like a folder to keep them safe?” He stared at me for a moment, then smiled in relief and chose a few drawings to keep at school in the folder and took the rest home. The next day during my read aloud time, R worked happily on his drawings, not worrying about hiding them.


The next week in art, R made paper cut-outs. This week he has drawn a desert, to help illustrate our spelling word. I suppose he numbered it because he plans on doing more deserts.

When I collected the spelling lists prior to giving the test, I was pleased to see that he was still drawing….he had illustrated his spelling list to help him remember the difference between desert and dessert…

God bless the artists!



Grandma Judy

Inspiring Students, Part 1

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

One of the many reasons I have loved teaching all these years is meeting such fantastic young people, my students, who are just at the beginning of their life’s journey. They are 8, 9, and 10 years old. They are just figuring out who they are, what they love, what they are good at, and what is important.

This year, I have many students who have surprised me in different ways. I will tell about one of them now, and one tomorrow. They are both boys, who I will call B and R so I don’t embarrass them. A few people reading this will know who I mean, and that’s okay.

B has not had an easy life. Lack of parental attention gave B the feeling that he didn’t matter, that nothing he did or said made any difference. When schoolwork got hard or boring, he simply left the classroom. He walked around the school grounds. He “eloped”, as the behavioral psychologists call it. Trying to keep him in class lead to even worse behavior. Without his parents’ stepping up, the problem just got worse.

And the longer he spent out of the classroom, the further behind he got, and the more impossible the classwork became. The whole thing seemed like a problem with no solution. He eventually put himself and a few friends at risk by jumping the fence and wandering off from school. The police were called.

Then the school called Tucci Learning Solutions. This is a private company that specializes in helping students who behave badly to behave better. They provide one to one aides who stay with a student all day. The aides help with school work, but mostly they encourage the student to do it. They provide comfort, structure, conversation, and caring. They are well trained and professional. In my class, anyway, the aide has become the caring, firm parent figure that B never had and that I, a teacher with 25 other students, could not be.

In the 3 months I have been in class, I have seen B go from an angry, belligerent boy who didn’t care about anything to a student who will follow directions (mostly) and asks for replacement papers when he loses his, who will write a paragraph about his Spring Break or do a page of addition problems. He wants to do well. He cares about himself and others. He wants to learn and believes he can.

Because of his years of “elopement”, of course, he is behind academically. He is getting extra tutoring in math and reading, and is improving. But the biggest change is in his taking responsibility for himself, his actions, and his progress. Seeing this and projecting forward, I can see success down the road for B, where before I saw only disaster.

Gives me faith in humanity.


Grandma Judy

Moving Day

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Well, today was the day! The movers went to our old house in Portland at 8:00 this morning, picked up all the furniture, boxes, and books, books, books, and put them in their truck. They drove the eight blocks to the new house and up all those stairs, and by 4:00 this afternoon, it was done.

Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett called me this afternoon, so tired they could hardly talk, but so very happy that all our things were together. They are planning on taking some nice hot baths in the giant bathtub, then getting a well deserved night’s sleep on the beds, which they still need to make.

Of course, there were some issues that caused difficulty. Auntie Bridgett dropped something big and heavy on her next-to-the-pinkie toe and it is all purple and sore. Our dresser is half an inch too big for the spot we need it to go, and we will dodge a corner for a while.

Mouse the cat spent all day in the downstairs bathroom at the old house, wondering what was going on, and, probably, sleeping. But when the last box was off the truck and the movers had driven away to get their dinner, Auntie Bridgett brought our kitten over to the new place and let her out of the carrier. Mouse nosed around, sniffing all the boxes and chairs, looking in all the corners and trying to jump on all the counters. But Auntie Bridgett let her know that was STILL not allowed.

After a while, sure that she had most of her things and most of her people, Mousekin settled down for a nap.

When she woke up, she found the window to the balcony!

Oh, look! Outside!!
Mousekin napping






I am so happy that my people are settled in our new home! They settled in enough to relax, putting the dining room table, piano, and wine rack in place. I wish them a quiet, restful evening.

And then, when school is out, I get to go see it, be there, and live there. Amazing.


Grandma Judy