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 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 school 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


Pink Shirt Day Irony

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This past week we had Pink Shirt Day at school. Pink Shirt Day is a day where we wear pink shirts and have programs and lessons about not bullying other kids. It was started years ago when a boy wore a pink soccer shirt to school and some other boys bullied him about it. Some of his friends went out about bought a bunch of pink tee shirts and they all wore them. The bullies had to give up because they were out numbered and bullies only like to pick on one person at a time.

Me and Olga’s very pink shirt

So, on Pink Shirt Day, I borrowed a pink shirt from Auntie Olga and wore it to school. The Student Leadership group brought small paper shirts to the classes and showed us a video about working against bullying. It was good to see my students come up with so many ways to stop bullying! “Stand with kids who are being bullied.” “Ask new kids to play with you.” “Tell a grown-up.” Kids who defend those being bullied are called “upstanders”, because they stand up for the kids. It is good to be an upstander!

The irony is that in the middle of all this focus on not bullying, two of my boys were teased very cruelly by their friends…. and their friends were in Student Leadership. Apparently, knowing how to stop someone else from bullying doesn’t keep you from being a bully.

It started when a friend thought of something clever, but mean, to say to my student. He said it, and his friends laughed. My student didn’t like it, but these were his friends, so he laughed, too. Then everyone was saying it, because it made them laugh, and all of a sudden my student had half a dozen kids saying the mean thing over and over, and laughing. It felt awful. He came back to class crying.

Fortunately, we have good grownups at our school who saw what was happening. They called the kids aside and talked to them, and had the kids talk to each other. The kids who had been mean saw that they hadn’t been playing, but bullying. Playing is when everyone is having fun. Bullying isn’t. Apologies were made and friends, mostly, were forgiven.

By the next day, it seemed that everyone was friends again, but it was a real lesson about human nature. We need to practice kindness everyday until it becomes our natural response. We need to practice on our children, teachers, parents, pets and house plants. We need to nurture and care for each other, not say things that will hurt others, and hold on to the connections between us.

It’s always been true, but more than ever, that teaching is less about curriculum and more about growing good people. It’s hard work.


Grandma Judy

Downtown Book and Sound

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),

Saturday was another walk to Old Town Salinas for brunch with a friend at First Awakenings. This time I met Terry Soria, who I started working with about 15 years ago. We understood each other and made each other laugh on difficult days. We worked together for a few years, then lost touch. Then, four years ago, I got to teach her grandson! I was so happy to get to talk about the joys and frustrations of teaching with her.

Terry Soria, who understands

While I was downtown, I stopped in at Downtown Book and Sound, run by our old friends Trish Triumpho Sullivan and her husband, Dan Beck. Dan, who  is a musician and artist,  was working on a new tune on his guitar when I arrived. Trish is an artist and community activist and out of the shop at the time.

Downtown Book and Sound

Downtown Book and Sound is part music shop, part bookstore, part art gallery, and part visitor’s center. There is always good art on the walls, good music playing, and someone interesting to talk to. The chartreuse window frames make it easy to spot at 222 South Main.

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Marilyn, by Trish Sullivan

Dan and I talked about life and family, then I scooted out.

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Dan Beck

In the past few years, the city of Salinas has started investing in more Steinbeck-themed art and activities. I found this giant boulder at the corner of Central and Homestead. It says, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that dogs think humans are nuts.” John Steinbeck.

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Steinbeck rock at Central and Homestead

I also visited the beautiful new Tony Teresa Baseball Diamond at Hartnell College! There was an exciting game going on between the Hartnell Panthers and the College of the Siskiyous Eagles. It was tied 1 to 1 when I left. Hooray for baseball season!


Grandma Judy

College Baseball!

Old Friends

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Liza and my hat

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),


The very best thing about being in Salinas is seeing my old dear friends. I sometimes find them randomly. The other day a former student, Jesus, was buying cookies at Blue Aces Bakery where another old friend, Katrina, is working. Out for a walk, I ran into Mr. Rossi and his wife.

Neighborhood Squirrel

But today it was planned. I had a lunch date  with Pat Van Noy, a teacher who had retired by the time I met her 15 years ago. It was cloudy as I walked down Acacia Street and Main Streets to Ellie’s All American Restaurant on South Main Street, not quite two miles away, but sunny and pretty warm by the time I got there.

Pat and I talked about her life, taking care of her son’s two chihuahuas,  playing bridge, and singing in her choir. We talked about mine, getting used to teaching again and how I am adjusting to living in Salinas. We have teaching in common, so we talked about students and classroom troubles and administrators.

Pat at a Christmas Party a while back…Photo credit: Bridgett Spicer

But it always came back to “You seem to be having such fun.” And I am. My dad always said that the world was pretty wonderful, and if you weren’t having a good time it was your own darn fault, and I feel very much the same way. I work hard…we all do. But that means we are being useful. Doing a hard job that I love keeps me mentally active and walking all over town keeps me strong.

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to live in Salinas, then leave it, and then come back for a short stay. It gives me perspective and lets me visit the people I love.

Off for more adventures today!


Grandma Judy





Dear Liza, (and Jasper and Kestrel),

I have been a teacher for almost 30 years, and I love it because every day is different. Some days are more awful, some less. Today was one of the rare almost perfect days.

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How we fit it all in….

In my fourth grade class, we are starting to learn about geology and the changes that happen to the earth over long periods of time. While looking in a book at the library, I found an activity that I knew the kids would like and would help them understand how sedimentary rocks form. If only I could pull it off!

Supplies (we didn’t use the oil…)

First, I needed to get supplies. Because of the closing of Beverly’s Fabrics in Old Town Salinas, we needed to go to several different stores to find plaster of Paris. That and styrofoam cups where the purchased supplies. Jo-Ann’s crafts and fabric saved the day! For the objects to be fossilized in the sedimentary rocks, Liza and I made a hasty search in her backyard for small sticks, leaves, and flower petals. This morning, a nice fifth grader fetched sand from the play yard for me, and I found some beans in a math game I don’t use anymore.

Getting 25 kids to handle goopy plaster of Paris in a classroom without getting it all over is tricky…we had to take turns and stay out of the way of the folks working. There was an assembly, library time, and Fun Friday to work around, but we did it.

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Hands at work

By the end of the day every student had poured three separate layers of plaster of Paris into their cup, with something different fossilized between each layer. The cups will rest on the back table until Monday, when we will cut the cups and reveal the rocks! I have a feeling I should take some small hammers, for those who want to see the inside.

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Rocks resting for the weekend

This is my last few months teaching, and I am getting a little misty about leaving. I know there are other adventures to be had, but nothing that gets out there and changes lives as much as teaching.

I will miss it.


Grandma Judy