Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to make a difference for Newtown families

There are no words or deeds to bring the loved ones back from last week's tragedy. We might find solace and give some to others by making a difference in small or large ways by sending letters and cards to families, or by making a cash donation to the United Way in their honor. Here are two simple ways to help:

  • Send Cards and Letters to:  
Messages of Condolence for Newtown
PO Box 3700, Newtown, CT 06470
  • Make a cash donation to:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Service by a Simple Gesture

Have you ever had a day, a week, month, or year that could only described with a word such as: Intensity? That may end up being my life's theme, but last week was particularly definitive. So much that I was physically dragging by mid-week. I felt like a zombie shuffling through Costco on Wednesday night. I ran into a former neighbor, then proceeding to check off the grocery list, I bumped into the parent of one of my community service scholar students at Paly. 

Much later, and my cart full, the mom came back into the store to find me and I thought, "Uh, oh, she needs something from me and I have no energy to help." My personal supply had been depleted by my family's emotional needs. Yi walked alongside my shopping cart, and I just came out and asked her, "So, what's up?" She replied, "Oh, I just need to talk to you. I'll wait for you outside." At this point, I started the deep breathing exercises and looked for alternate exits from Costco--none to be found. She had no idea what I was dealing with at the time, and that I would not be able to help her. I might have even lost composure one way or another if she had so much as asked. 

As I proceeded to the parking lot from the receipt-check I could see Yi waving to me, and in her arms was a fresh winter-time bouquet of flowers! She smiled and told me, "You do so much, I just want to thank you!" I gasped and hugged her, twice. "You have no idea what kind of week I've had, so this is really perfect timing, thank you." This kind gesture, combined with another one--a sweet poinsettia and a plate of brownies left by my friend Julie from church, were enough to get me through a week of extreme Intensity. As the adrenaline stops pumping from my own trials, I'll be inspired by the goodness of Yi and Julie to show my own appreciation toward others in my midst.  


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Five Videos Celebrating Palo Alto High School Students' Volunteer Work

Many heartfelt thanks to Paly parent Carolina Moraes-Liu at and to Paly student filmmaker Sophia Pino for their work with me over the past year to make these five incredible videos celebrating the good work of students at Palo Alto High School. Click and Enjoy!

Palo Alto Online : VIDEO: VolunTEENS, Part 1

Palo Alto Online : VIDEO: VolunTEENS, Part 2

Palo Alto Online : VIDEO: VolunTEENS, Part 3

Palo Alto Online : VIDEO: VolunTEENS, Part 4

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nearly 200 Palo Alto High School Students Qualify for National Service Award

A Few of Paly's Fall 2012 President's Award Recipients
Congratulations to 194 students, 189 from Palo Alto High School and five from Gunn High School for their dedication to improving the community. This semester we have the biggest group of award recipients ever! On Friday, December 7th our school will honor these passionate students at a special lunchtime ceremony to bestow the President's Award for Volunteer Service, a nationally recognized award with commendation from President Barack Obama. Students who have documented 100 or more hours of community service will receive a certificate, pin, and letter signed by the President of the United States. They will also be listed on the national database of recipients. Palo Alto High School students can also receive transcript recognition for their service hours when they turn in proper documentation by the beginning of their Senior year. See our information pages, with database and student reflections on service at Check out the program and list of recipients for the President's Award at Palo Alto High School this semester. A huge thank you to the many, many parent and student volunteers who keep our service-learning and community engagement program growing!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Working 'Round the Clock


Palo Alto High School is one of only a handful of public secondary schools in California to take on the daunting task of the private school tradition of service-learning. The only problem is that private schools generally have paid staff to process the forms. We have me, scrambling around juggling three jobs, and a team of skilled and trained volunteers. On Friday afternoon I left part-time job number three at Paly to attend my stepson's football game at Leigh High School. On my way home I got a voicemail from our registrar that she would be working all weekend to document our Seniors' community service hours and would they be ready for her by Saturday morning? I made a quick phone call to our volunteer Linda who updates the database and she said she would do her best to finish. 

Saturday night rolled around, and our registrar Suzie was in need of more data. Another call to volunteer database technician Linda and she was almost through. Again today, Sunday, both Suzie and Linda are hard at work adding this important notation to our Senior transcripts. This semester approximately one-third of Paly's Class of 2013 will receive transcript recognition of community service in their areas of interest from media arts, sports, medicine, math, and more. We are forecasting about 30,000 more hours completed from this group alone!

Many years ago, Palo Alto Unified District signed a memorandum that community service hours would be recognized on our students' transcripts but there was no consideration of the time involved to process and verify the hours our students would document to earn this accolade. I am incredibly grateful to our team of 5 volunteers and our registrar who put in more time than we could ever compensate them for, this weekend and in the coming weeks. Someday, I hope we can be so streamlined and tech savvy that nobody has to work 'round the clock!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Empowering Youth to Make a Difference

I've been studying the topic of "Diversity and Social Justice" in my first class at the University of San Francisco teacher credential program, and learning of more ways to empower youth to follow their interests and passions to create REAL social change. Monica (see link) did just that upon graduation from high school by working with the Red Cross to bridge cultural gaps in disaster preparedness. Some of our Paly students like Jake and Nadav started their American Disaster Relief club to empower their classmates to get involved!

At our school's club day last week, I was so happy to see that even after Jake and Nadav graduated the club continues to thrive with inspiration from a new wave of passionate students. Read Monica's story here, think about what issues of diversity and/or social justice you truly care about, get your creative juices flowing and work to make a change!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Spirit of Community in School

I wrote this reflection recently as part of a "Diversity and Social Justice" class at University of San Francisco, describing what makes me feel a sense of community as an educator. 

What makes you feel a sense of community?
“How long run you?” the elderly East Indian gentleman asked, pointing to me and looking back at his wife, as if to confirm his choice of words to approach a stranger. In my simplest, beginning English I told him I would run about five miles tonight, and a total of forty to fifty miles this week to train for a marathon. “You run for event?” He tried to understand why I had circled the park so many times as they took their evening stroll.
“Yes, I paid money to run 26.2 miles in honor of my 50th birthday in October. My family will be watching.”
Then his wife clarified the word, “maraton,” with a sharp “t” sound.
“Ah,” said the gentleman through his three front jagged teeth. “Mara-ton. Best wishes you success.” And I ran my remaining three laps knowing that today, I matter in this hectic and complicated world.

This is spirit of community that I wish to instill in my students as an educator, that we ALL matter, and there are many different perspectives on success. The elderly Indian grandfather practiced his English on me at the park, and the word “success” had more meaning because I knew he had to consciously think of what he was saying to me. It was beautiful, and life-confirming to me that we are all part of at least one community; I am part of three. As an educator, I embrace the Palo Alto High School (Paly) community and all of the rich culture I find there. Along with an already diverse community, it is sprinkled with a mix of Stanford University alumni, as well as East Palo Alto families who opted to send their students to Palo Alto schools from age five or six. This is where my heart is.
 A good educator finds ways to make connections with her students, both in and out of the classroom. I find much satisfaction from the service-learning program I have created at Paly, and I spend much of my time finding ways to help students find their connection to community. This requires some level of trust with the students, and effort on my part to attend some of the activities that are going on so students of various ethnic backgrounds will want to get involved. In her research, Gloria Ladson-Billings (The Dreamkeepers, 1994) articulates this connection when working with racially diverse student populations:
 “Because many African American students live in and attend schools in communities that their teachers neither live in nor choose to frequent after school hours means that few have the opportunity to interact with their teachers outside the classroom. Teachers who practice culturally relevant methods work to find ways to facilitate this out-of-school (or at least out-of-the-classroom) interaction” (p. 63). 
She further describes a teacher who invites her students to Sunday School. Though I wouldn’t quite go that far, I do feel that community service is a spiritually rewarding experience. My own involvement in these activities, including in our underserved Peninsula neighborhoods such as East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, I am building relationships and connections with our students to create valuable service-learning experiences that carry over into the classroom. 

Underrepresented minority students who are involved in service-learning gain many intangible educational advantages such as:  leadership qualities, communication techniques, and organizational awareness. These community service experiences with an educational component are a great equalizer to students of color, as the learning is more process-driven and based on their individual interests and talents. In her scholarly essay, Lisa Delpit (Other People's Children, 1995) supports the value of providing many tools that help students develop their own voices:
those who are most skillful at educating black and poor children do not allow themselves to be placed in "skills" or "process" boxes. They understand the need for both approaches, the need to help students establish their own voices, and to coach those voices to produce notes that will be heard clearly in the larger society. (p. 46)
It is this view of holistic learning that I wish to promote as an educator, continually growing my service-learning program to benefit ALL Paly students and to expand their definition of success. Whether a student has family resources to hire private tutors and college advisors, or a student emigrates to this country with very little financial assistance and has to learn English in the ninth grade, all deserve a chance to find their special talents and interests that will help each to express a unique voice. They should feel that as their teacher I am involved in the community service activities that I promote for them to make connections in and around Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, and they can trust me and know that they truly matter in this world of ours.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Three Cheers for Volunteer Coaches

I surveyed the students in my Living Skills class at Paly this week to help them find their passions by asking them each to answer the writing prompt: "What kind of work would you love to do for one week, without getting paid?" About a third of the class, ten students, all wrote they would love to coach a sport! Did you know this is an area where more volunteers are always needed? Think of every swim team and its operations, a wrestling team, golf team, soccer or baseball club. All need volunteer coaches and helpers. You can follow your passion and make a difference through volunteer coaching in any age group. 

The girls practicing in this photo could have been me, my daughters, or any girl age four to nineteen, from the year 1962 to this summer. Bobby Sox softball leagues have been around for decades. Since we recently moved to a new neighborhood, I'm trying to get my bearings by jogging in the evenings after work. I was recently overcome as I ran past Alta Vista Elementary School, where I attended in sixth grade. That was the year I started school suddenly fatherless. My dad had a horrible crash trying to get up on one ski with his buddies at Shasta. With severely torn ligaments in his leg, blood clots developed and eventually went to his lung. This 6-foot-four, athletic dynamo was admitted to the hospital around Father's Day. A pulmonary embolism took his life just over a month later. 

The man who coached me in my first and only year of Bobby Sox softball might have known about my dad, maybe he saw the word "deceased" on my player application, they way my mom tended explain on any kind of paperwork. I doubt he knew the story of my dad. How he really wanted me to be athletic, but he didn't know where to start. Team sports were highly discouraged for girls in the 1960s. My dad gave me lots of opportunities to ride my bike, and to snow-ski--those were acceptable--but team sports were a place for me and the other "pre-Title Nine" girls  to stay on the sidelines and watch our brothers and their friends.

Thank goodness, another dad from the sixties, Ernest Severtsen, began to recruit his friends as volunteer coaches to give girls a chance at sports with Bobby Sox Softball Leagues. These days, thousands of girls learn the from their volunteer coaches in five Western states. My coach, whose name I have forgotten but I shall call "Roy", gave me countless chances to shed my shell as a depressed and grief-stricken  eleven-year-old girl. He put me on both first base and catcher, positions where I thought I had no business playing. He kept encouraging, and I kept trying to please. I don't remember the score of a single game in my one and only year of Bobby Sox Softball League at Alta Vista Elementary, but I do remember my volunteer coach and his giving me an MVP award who knows why. I wasn't the best on the team, and I was definitely the least experienced. All I had ever done to play a game like that was to watch my brother play t-ball. 

With the assistance of thousands of volunteer coaches, Bobby Sox softball has grown to operate in five western states, inspiring countless young girls to practice the five "ships" taught by Mr. Severtsen: Friendship, Sportsmanship, Citizenship,  Leadership and Scholarship.

"The softball field is a platform upon which children can perform for their parents, relatives and friends in healthy and productive ways."
~ Ernest Severtsen 

L.A. Times article about the beginnings of Bobby Sox

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paly Service Day: High School Students Get Involved

Many thanks to ALL the students who participated in Paly Service Day 2012! There were 196 students on field trips serving 17 local agencies, and another 300+ students serving 13 additional agencies on campus during lunch and the tutorial period. Our students have documented more than 125,000 hours of community engagement since we started tracking data 4 years ago. Get Involved, Paly!

Students Sign Up to Volunteer for Light the Night!
Paly's Free the Children Club Raises Awareness for Children's Rights
Celebrating Service with Rick's Ice Cream, Sponsored by Club MAC
16 Simple Ways to Serve on Campus
Palo Alto Online: Palo Alto residences get new curb appeal, disaster relief project.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Students Volunteer and Promote the Arts

Another great Volunteens video produced by Carolina Moraes-Liu and her daughter Juliana, this time promoting Palo Alto's Teen Arts Council. Local teenagers do good by sharing their passion for the Arts!

Yes, this IS community engagement. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

National Letter Carriers Food Drive, What Happened?

Maybe your neighborhood was different, we had one lone blue bag sitting near our mailbox with a food bank donation of tuna, beans, and peanut butter. In the past, I remember the postal service distributing bags about a week before to remind us. And the plea seemed to come straight from the letter carriers, whom I love to support. Did they run out of funding to distribute the bags this year for "Stamp Out Hunger"?

I stopped at CVS about 10:00pm on Thursday night to restock our pantry with paper goods, and the friendly cashier offered me a special blue plastic bag to fill with non-perishables and leave for the mailman to pick up on Saturday morning. "They just sent us these bags yesterday," she said, "we'll never be able to use them up by tomorrow!" I told her I promote community service at a high school and she hefted a stack over the counter, "Then, can you help to spread these around?" I said I would, but was swamped with my Friday-only Attendance Secretary job and failed to get the bags distributed. 

The only way to be a food bank evangelist this weekend was to participate and hope my neighbors would see our blue bag hanging on the mailbox and follow suit. The problem was that unless they happened to visit CVS on Thursday or Friday--and what are the chances of that--they would not receive the specially designated donation bag. I did not see a single sack anywhere on Saturday, other than at our house. Maybe it's time to go back to the former means of distributing "Stamp Out Hunger" bags via the post office. Our local food banks need all the donations they can get, even if the postal carriers have to spend a little more time on the job distributing the bags. Isn't "Stamp Out Hunger" their signature event?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fashion Show Fundriaser for Unicef

"Fashion for Unicef", produced by Grace Owen with Meredith Owen, stylist.
May 5, 2012
Kitsch Couture, Palo Alto, Ca 

How much fun can a group of high school girls have putting outfits together and modeling in a fashion show for a cause? Grace Owen had a fabulous vision of her community service project for the Living Skills class at Palo Alto High School. After months of planning and organizing and consulting with the owner of the store where she works, she pulled her group together and recruited her newly graduated sister, Meredith, to help with styling for the day. We added platters with snacks and drinks to make it scrumptiously rewarding for the guests.
  • Money raised for Unicef: $117 
  • Awareness for Children's Causes: Beyond Measure 
  • Good clean fun for high school students doing good works: All day long!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Santa Clara County Community Service and Internship Opportunities

This is a good listing from the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which supports my work this year to build the community engagement program at Palo Alto High School ( Students find purpose in making post-high school plans by pursuing meaningful service-learning and community engagement opportunities!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Volunteer Guide for Students and Parents

Thank you to Mary Lynn Perry, from the Volunteer Center of Sacramento, for this comprehensive guide 
to GOOD WORKS for students and their parents!

Donate Via to Help Publish More Good Works!

Want to help publish more good works?

to provide the following community service resources to students!
  • Database of Opportunities by Interest Category
  • Reflections on Service by Category
  • Calendar of Opportunities
  • Videos of Students Doing Good Works in their Areas of Interest

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Palo Alto Online : VIDEO: VolunTEENS, Part 2

Thank you, Carolina, for sharing your talent as a short film producer to highlight more Palo Alto High School teens' good works. There are so many stories out there! I enjoy sharing what I see our students do to make a difference in the world, while pursuing their interests. This is one more way to prove our students aren't doing service-learning and volunteering for "credit." They are doing it because they have passion and they care. 

For more good works ideas, stories, and database of opportunities check out "Get Involved," volume 3!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Dream Come True: Palo Alto Parent Makes Video of Our Teens Giving Back

Thank you, Carolina Moraes, for your tireless work to document the good works of so many amazing Palo Alto teenagers! May this project continue to blossom, inspiring more young people to "Get Involved."

Palo Alto Online : VIDEO: VolunTEENS, Part 1

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Students Get Funds to Give Back to the Community

Thanks to Gunn @ Your Service, more students in our district have a chance to make a difference with their creative energy and ideas! Read the inspiring article here:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Good Works Medicine for My Injured Hand

Have you ever regretted not stopping the car when you saw an accident? I have, but a sweet woman named Christine made made all the difference when she turned her car around on the way home from work December 27th in Salt Lake City. I am fairly athletic and coordinated, but I do trip sometimes while running. I'm writing this blog with one hand to say a big "Thanks!" to all the Christine's out there who slow down enough to perceive human need. She could see that I was not alone, but that fact did not deter her questioning, "Are you okay?" The self-sufficient side of me insisted, "Yeah, I'm okay thanks," until I pulled my hand from a deep crevice next to the sidewalk. "Wait, no, I think we need a ride."

Back at home in the Bay Area, Doctor Schneider, the hand specialist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, described this as a "severe injury" that will take four months to heal. When I told our department at Paly that I would need some time off, an extremely generous co-worker offered to make a Costco run.  I asked for three items (embarrassed to need help), she showed up with a station-wagon full--we've been feasting for days. She would not accept reimbursement and even offered to go again. I wouldn't dream of sending her back into the traffic jam she dealt with to get here, but the gesture means everything.

In my broken, lopsided state I don't know who feels better from these acts of service and going out of one's way, these and others who have helped or myself having been a reluctant receiver of their goodness!

For the first hour, as we drove in circles looking for an urgent care clinic that didn't seem to exist on Google Maps, I had no feeling in my finger. I was sure it was severed under the thick cotton running gloves, but was elated when my husband asked if it was bleeding. "No," I said, "just dangling and I can't feel it."