Friday, November 19, 2010

CCCOE and Los Medanos College Come Together to Serve Their Community

Within the past few years, the CCCOE and Los Medanos College (LMC) have come together in a special partnership to provide crucial services to East County infants, toddlers, and young adults, as well as their families, with both the College Connection Transition Program and Early Start Program. Both of these much-needed CCCOE programs are housed on the LMC campus.

The College Connection Transition Program is for students, ages 18-22, which are identified with special needs and have not yet received a high school diploma. The program offers numerous services to the students, including vocational interest assessments, life skills instruction, social and leisure skills development, speech therapy, ongoing evaluation of high school transcripts, and many more.

Instructor, Allan Saviskas said, "The CCCOE Transition class began here at LMC just a little more than a year ago. Currently, there are 14 students enrolled, with a total of 27 students who have attended since we've opened our doors." Giving an example of one of the services that the class provides, Allan said that this year the Transition Programs from DVC and LMC placed a dozen of their Summer Job Academy students in paying positions with Marshall's and CVS Drug Store.

Recently, LMC Interim President Richard Livingston visited the Transition Program. "He was quite impressed by the college classes our students were taking, and the fact that they were also working on vocational training, credit recovery toward their high school diploma, and independent living skills," reports Principal Barbara Berman.

Playgroup provides parents and siblings the opportunity participate with the student in learning signing and building communication skills. Pictured here playing in the LMC Child Care facility yard are (left to right): Marco Roman, sibling; Liliana Roman, mom; Mireya Salamasidis, instructional assistant; Gabriel Hidalgo, student; Fernando Roman, student; Alexa Ortega, student and Giants fan.

The CCCOE and LMC's partnership with Early Start began about five years ago. The Contra Costa County Office of Education also has Early Start programs at the CCCOE sites at Marchus School and O'Hara Park.

Early Start's teacher of deaf and hard of hearing infants and toddlers Sarah Buhre said, "We get our referrals from the California Newborn Hearing Screening Program, which helps to diagnose children at birth and gets the kids into Early Start by age six months. They will begin the program from anywhere between two weeks old to nine months old, or older. The children will then stay with us until they are three years old." The program works with east county kids who have exceptional needs, such as vision, hearing, orthopedic, or other developmental delays. At this time, the program has 26 kids enrolled, with a few new referrals waiting for assessments in the wings.

Then, longtime LMC president, Peter Garcia (currently DVC's interim president), visited Early Start, during this past summer, and was quite enthused with what he saw taking place on his campus. Sarah said, "President Garcia was quite impressed with the programs and enjoyed watching the children's circle time. He asked plenty of great questions about the program, such as how many students we served, what kinds of things we did on home visits, etc. He also said how happy he was that we were on the campus, and that Early Start was a great collaboration with the LMC's Child Study Center."

Our teachers, Allan and Sarah, have witnessed so many wonderful success stories, when it comes to the students attending these two programs. These stories would never materialize without their patience and hard work, as well as their fellow teachers and support staff - and the partnership of the CCCOE and LMC.

Two CCCOE Locations Serve the Visually Impaired in Contra Costa County

For years, teachers of the visually impaired would access services for their students through the Resource Center for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) located at Mauzy School in Alamo. The Visually Impaired Program provides resource services to students with visual impairments and provides materials in Braille and large print to a wide variety of students throughout Contra Costa County who are either blind or partially sighted.

Above, VI teacher Heather Walsh (left) drops by the East County VI Resource Center to pick up materials from Braillist, Carolyn Brannan (right).

Last school year (2009-2010) Braillist Carolyn Brannan moved her services to East County (located in an office at the Joseph A. Ovick School) in order to better serve teachers in the east county, while central county continues to be served by Carol Drohan RCVI at Mauzy.

Carolyn started with the COE in 2005 working in Alamo with former lead braillist, Monica Kreiger. “Monica encouraged me to learn braille,” said Carolyn. Before coming to the COE, Carolyn worked for Brentwood USD starting in 2002, working one-on-one with, Victor Silva, the first Braille reader in the Brentwood Union School District at Krey Elementary and eventually Edna Hill School. “I knew the best way to help Victor was to learn braille,” Carolyn concluded, “but it was a long arduous task.”

Braille is a system of raised dots that represent letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols, some of which may stand for groups of frequently occurring letters. Braille may be embossed on paper, or read by means of computer-connected refreshable braille output devices, which present the raised dots on a keyboard-like apparatus. There are several levels of braille: in grade one braille, words are spelled out letter by letter; in grade two, a system of contractions streamlines the presentation significantly. Grade three is more highly contracted still and, like shorthand, often used for note taking by the older, more experienced students. Other braille codes are specialized for particular areas of interest, such as music, mathematics, and scientific notation. In order to become a Certified Braillist, Carolyn had to study and complete the Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing produced by the Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Additionally she had to submit a manuscript of at least 35 full braille pages of high school level literary braille to the Library of Congress, which was then proofread by blind proofreaders.

"One of the challenges in my position is to know each student's grade level of braille, making sure that each student gets his/her daily worksheets, quizzes and tests, as well as textbooks and consumables (if they are not available from the state) in braille at their current skill level." That can mean switching between large print and the two grades of braille each day in order to best meet the students needs, and of course, keep them challenged and moving forward in their braille skills. Even though current technology has helped tremendously, Braillists must stay up-to-date on revised codes and rules.

The braillists, and Michael Parsons, braille assistant at the Mauzy site, also use a special piece of equipment called a Zychem Tactile Enhancer. It uses capsule paper which is coated with millions of “thermally-foamed” microcapsules that respond to light and cause the black image on the paper to swell, producing a tactile image (graphs, maps, tables, timelines, figures, etc.).
The county currently offers services to ten braille readers, ranging from pre-school to high school levels. From June 2009 to the present, the Braille Center has received over 153 textbooks, consumables, and novels. This figure does not include the worksheets, quizzes, and tests which the Braille center produces throughout the year. When added up, the Braille Centers have produced of more than 50,500 pages of braille and 4,800 tactiles for the school year thus far.

“I am very proud of the work Carolyn has done to create a complete Braille Center in East County,” said Diane Misasi, Student Programs principal at the East County location. “We invite our local districts and COE staff to schedule a visit, as the output from this office is truly incredible.”

Some e-circuit readers may remember former VI students, Caitlin Hernandez and Derek Czajka. They have both graduated high school and are juniors in college this year. Caitlin is a Literature major at UC Santa Cruz, and Derek is at Stanford majoring in Computer Science. 2007 graduate Jennifer Drohan is currently at DVC and plans to transfer to Saint Mary’s College and major in Psychology. She wants to be a social worker for the disabled population. Each of these students would credit their success in the mainstream classroom to their braille teachers and the Resource Center for providing their materials in braille during their K-12 years.

CTAG Projects Celebrated

Teachers and principals throughout the county gathered to celebrate the final round of County Technology Academy Grants (CTAG). The CTAG program was made possible through the generous partnership between CCCOE and The Lesher Foundation. This opportunity joined teachers, schools, and the local community in supporting education for the past 13 years.

Left, Amy Geotina (former COE employee, now working at Las Lomas High) and Mac Carey, chief technology officer for the COE, strike a pose with Frank Marrero who proudly displays the Certificate of Achievement he received for the Professional Development Grant project: Communication, Collaboration, and the Writing Process: Using Wikis and Blogs to Enliven the Teaching of Writing. Mr. Marrero teaches at Ellerhorst Elementary in West Contra Costa USD. This year's CTAG Celebration was held October 28, in the COE board room.

The CTAG grant became a recognized grant program to support teacher and school projects that brought technology and training to staff to support student learning. Over the past 13 years, almost two million dollars in 246 grants have been awarded to more than 500 teachers in Contra Costa County.

Judy Lauper and Dennis Beck from Clayton Valley High School share steps in making a video lesson.

Angela Guidi and Monique Della-Santina from Rheem Elementary exhibit the advantages of having a Promethean ActivBoard in the classroom.

The goals of CTAG have remained consistent over the life of the programs:
  • To increase technology capabilities in classrooms in order to enhance curriculum and increase student learning.
  • To provide technical support to teachers to use new technology in ways that infuse technology into classrooms and curriculum.
  • To promote long-term community support of the local schools by requiring matching funds from each recipient's school/community.
Teachers have embraced the use of technology in their classrooms to impact over 10,000 students in Contra Costa County. A few examples of the type of technology that teachers have used funds to purchase and receive professional development on are: interactive whiteboards, document cameras, student response systems, LCD projectors, computers, and voice amplification systems.

"Acquiring the CTAG Grant and implementing our goal has not only enriched the learning environment for our students, but also has taken our teaching practices to a higher level." 
Morello Park Elementary, Martinez Unified School District

This grant has had a significant effect on thousands of students in Contra Costa County and will continue to do so for several years to come. Contra Costa County Office of Education, along with the students and teachers we represent, appreciate the generous support of The Lesher Foundation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Academic Events Showcase Our County's Youth

2010 Model United Nations Gavel Winners

"I declare this session now open," and with a thud of the gavel the 20th Annual Contra Costa County Model UN began. The "delegates," representing countries from Afghanistan to Zambia, debated topics ranging from Post-Conflict Reconstruction to Energy for Sustainable Development. In all, nearly 300 students from 14 area high schools (Acalanes, Antioch, Athenian, California, Campolindo, Carondelet, Concord, De La Salle, Gunn, Las Lomas, Marin Academy, Monte Vista, Northgate, and San Ramon Valley) took part in this year's two-day event, held at Diablo Valley College (DVC) in Pleasant Hill. To help the whole event flow smoothly, members of the UC Davis Model UN Club acted as Committee Chairs -- guiding delegates through resolution proposals, caucuses, and voting sessions -- while volunteers from our Communications and Business departments assisted with registration and set-up. Read more about the event in the Contra Costa Times and see lots of action shots of day one at the Best Delegate Blog and day two here.

Along with our NEW Mock Trial Invitational on December 4, these fall events serve as a warm-up for the Academic Events staff as they get ready for the overlapping January and February competitions of Academic Decathlon and Mock Trial. The County Office serves as the regional host of these two events, determining the team that will go on to represent Contra Costa at the state competition. Hundreds of students acquire important real-world skills in negotiating, public speaking, research, and problem solving.

As the proud sponsor of these events, CCCOE is privileged to showcase our youth's academic achievements. We are even more fortunate so many of our staff feel the same way and volunteer each year as judges, proctors, and set-up artists to ensure that these events maintain CCCOE's reputation for quality. If you would like to be part of this program, please contact Karen Rice at or (925) 942-3400. Volunteers for Academic Decathlon can find sign-up forms here; volunteers for Mock Trial (evening courtroom coordinators are needed) please contact Karen Rice.