Back to the Nationals

Story and photos by Jacqueline Fox  |  2018-04-20

Winston Churchill Middle School seventh-grader, Samhita Kumar, celebrating her second California Central Valley Spelling Bee win. Kumar will advance to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second time in Washington, D.C. in May.

Churchill 7th Grader Returning to Scripps National Spelling Bee

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - She said she’d be back, and she meant it.

Samhita Kumar, a seventh-grader at Winston Churchill Middle School in Carmichael, took home first place in the California Central Valley Spelling Bee for the second year in a row and is headed back to D.C. in May to compete once more for the winning title in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Kumar took the regional title last year as a sixth-grader and, although she took 18th place in the national competition, she saw her dream of going to Washington, D.C. come true.  This time around, Kumar said she wasn’t familiar at all with the word she managed to get right that cinched her second regional title.  But, she says, she just used her intellect, grammar and vocabulary skills to get it right:  O.S.P.H.R.E.S.I.S, a love of odors or smells. 

“I knew the word was Greek in origin, so even though I didn’t know it, I knew it had a “PH” and not a “CC,” which is Italian,” said Kumar, proudly showing off her trophy, which will be permanently displayed in the administration office at her school.  “The words were definitely much, much harder this year than they were last year, but I just took my mind to the zone where I go and I concentrated and I got it.”

Kumar out-spelled seventh-grader Rayhan Kabir from Toby Johnson Middle School in Elk Grove in the final round.  A total of 61 students from Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, Placer, Plumas and Shasta counties competed for the regional title.

Kumar will be accompanied by her parents and brother to D.C. for the Scripps competition, which kicks off May 29.  She said she has no plans to do anything differently this year to prepare, but most assuredly, she will be clocking a lot hours building up her vocabulary and practicing with her parents who have coached her in previous competitions.

“I will be doing a lot of studying and practicing with both of my parents, but other than that, I’m going to just do what I always do to prepare,” Kumar said.

Winston Churchill Principal Mike Dolan said the school’s staff and Kumar’s fellow students could not be more proud of her.

“We are all just over the moon about her second regional win and her second trip to the national competition,” said Dolan.  “She did an amazing job last year and we are extremely excited for her that she’s getting another chance to go and compete.  We’ll see how she does, but either way, she’s made us all very proud.”

Kumar will compete against 11 million spellers from across the country this year for the national title.  As a finalist she’ll have to tackle 56 words just to make it into the championship round.  From there, 12 spellers will move on to the final rounds, with a total of seven making the cut for the winning categories, including the first-place slot.

The Scripps National competition is a 91-year old tradition launched in 1925 as a literacy push.  Ananya Vinay, then a 12-year old from Fresno, took the 2017 national title after correctly spelling the word marocain, which is a dress fabric made with silk and rayon.  She sealed the championship after a grueling 20 rounds, breaking a streak of co-champions and taking home the entire $40,000 prize.  

A Real Leap of Faith

Story by Jacqueline Fox  |  2018-04-20

Dr. Rajshree Gaitonde’s leap of faith ultimately landed her the distinction of being the first female physician to work inside one of the country’s most notorious maximum security institutions: Folsom Prison. Photo courtesy Dr. Gaitonde

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Music, medicine and faith, says Carmichael resident Dr. Rajshree Gaitonde, have fed the elements of a spectacular life and career that began forming nearly 9,000 miles away on a hot summer day over buttermilk and prison labor.

“When I was a child living in Madras, South India, our neighbor’s house happened to be owned by the Inspector General of Prisons,” says Gaitonde, recounting the first of many vignettes that launched a journey that ultimately landed her the distinction of being the first female physician to work inside one of the country’s most notorious maximum security institutions: Folsom Prison.

In her self-published book released in 2017, Dr. Gaitonde asks a question many find themselves confronting at some point or another: How did I get from there to here?  And she answers those questions in humorously impassioned detail in her memoir, 8,596 Miles, My Leap of Faith, My Journey, a 109-page whirlwind of a story rooted in spiritual interventions, synchronicity, music, medicine, matchmaking, faith, love and unexpected opportunities.

“This is my story. This is how I, a privileged young girl from India, managed to come all the way to Northern California to wind up serving as a the first female physician in one of the most dangerous prisons in America,” says Gaitonde. 

That hot summer day back in Madras, now Chennai, when she was about three years old, Gaitonde explains, a group of men bound to one another by rope or chains, she isn’t sure, were working in the Inspector General’s garden under a blistering sun.  She watched the men she learned were prisoners on work duty and could not understand why they were tied up in the heat.  So she did what every young girl would do in a situation like that and took them glasses of cool buttermilk.

“I could not believe men were tied up like that and it really touched me,” says Gaitonde, adding that she would not remember that event until years later when the offer to work at Folsom Prison was on the table and she was hesitant to take it.  “My mother, who encouraged me to follow my passions and take risks, reminded me of that day.  She and my parents both said I was destined for it and if I didn’t like it I could quit.  It turned out to be one of the most critical turning points in my life, so important to me that I had to tell my story.”

Her memoir traverses Gaitonde’s upbringing, her fast-track to medical school at The Stanley Medical College at the University of Madras where she was the youngest woman to attend at the time, her arranged marriage to a stranger who would take her to America’s east coast and ultimately on to Sacramento, where she was offered a job that would test every bone in her body, but ultimately deliver every reward she could have hoped for.

“Most of my patients at Folsom called me ‘Dr. G,” says Gaitonde.  “Although my first few months on the job at Folsom were difficult and filled with many moments of sheer terror, ultimately I was able to win their confidence and respect.”

Gaitonde leaves out names and specifics of her time at Folsom, which stretched from the 1980s to 2002.  “I have to protect myself and the individuals I treated there,” Gaitonde says.

Gaitonde specialized in endocrinology and India’s ancient form of medicine: Ayurveda, which incorporates the healing power of herbs, a healthy diet, yoga and even music into a system of whole-body care.  She also studied music and classical Indian vocals as a young girl and, in addition to her MD, Gaitonde holds a Master’s in Public Health and, perhaps not all that surprising: a law degree.

“I wanted to learn the language of the law because it was important to me to understand what was being talked about when I would have to go to court for my job in Folsom and speak on behalf of a patient,” said Gaitonde. 

Today, Gaitonde is on a book tour of sorts, recounting her story for newspapers, radio and at speaking engagements across the Sacramento region.  Carmichael, she says, is indeed, a long way from Madras—8,596 miles, to be exact. And her story is just as long and winding, but it isn’t complete.  This chapter, says Gaitonde, is partially unwritten, but certainly set aside for her to share her story with the intention of both inspiring and helping others.

“In many ways I know that I must have been destined to do everything I have done in my life so far,” said Gaitonde, who is now in her late 60s and sports dark sunglasses due to a degenerative eye disease.  “My father, an airline executive, was my hero, and my mother, a brilliant psychologist, was my guru.  They taught me to follow my passions and to remember to always be of service to others, because to be of service is to love.”

Proceeds from Dr. Gaitonde’s book are being used to support underprivileged girls in rural India.  Find it on Amazon at: www.amazon.com/596-Miles-Leap-Faith-Journey/dp/0692975578.

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A Clean Sweep for Creeks

Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner  |  2018-04-20

Sacramento County youth organizations rallied to clean up waterways during Creek Week. Girl Scout Troops 333 (Antelope) and 890 (Foothill Farms) celebrated a job well done during festivities at Carmichael park.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - A party celebrating Creek Week caused a big splash – and vital lessons in water conservation – last weekend at Carmichael Park.

Many sponsoring agencies sent an unfiltered message: everyone must do their bit to save and protect water. Early that morning, 2,000 volunteers from youth and neighborhood groups formed an army to scour 85 locations.  Creeks from the Delta to Folsom and from Elk Grove to Antelope benefited from the clean-up.

Four work areas within the Rancho Cordova community yielded 1,420 pounds of trash. City biologists also conducted a nature walk along the recently-restored banks of Cordova Creek.  The tour celebrated revitalization of a formerly barren channel; Cordova Creek Naturalization Project replaced decades-old concrete creek lining with tons of river rock. Achieved in partnership between city, Sacramento County and the non-profit Water Forum, the three-mile effort has recreated 10 acres of vegetated habitat.

Now 28 years old, Sacramento County’s Creek Week program aims to refresh dozens of waterways by removing garbage and invasive plants. The annual volunteer work force is swelled by the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps, whose members recycle dumped rubber tires.

Beyond tires, mattresses and shopping carts, the 2018 junk-hunt gleaned many tons of smaller stuff alien to healthy arteries.  Sacramento Area Creeks Council President Alta Tura noted that high waters from recent rains washed much trash downstream into river flows.  “At the same time, more garbage entered our creeks and was trapped by vegetation,” she said. “Cigarette butts, plastic straws and fast food packaging are more damaging to wildlife than big stuff. Animals ingest plastic and can end up starving to death. Waterfowl can become entangled in discarded fishing lines. There’s no place in our waterways for plastic in any form, yet thousands of plastic items were among the tons of junk we bagged. The volunteers did a stellar job.”

At Carmichael Park, rewards for the weary army included clean tee shirts and hot dogs dished up by Carmichael Chamber of Commerce and Mission Oaks Park District volunteers.  “The party celebrates everyone’s hard work,” said Tura.  “It also teaches people about nature; how to save water and be better stewards of our environment.”

Learn more about the annual creek cleanup at www.creekweek.net

To report illegally dumped tires to the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps, call (916) 792-0429.

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SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Sunday, April 22nd is Earth Day, an annual event created to raise awareness and inspire people everywhere to be better stewards of the environment and our natural resources. 

At Sacramento Suburban Water District we can help make it easy to protect the Earth’s fresh water, one of our most precious resources.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

  • Keep your sprinklers tuned up

Walk your yard, checking sprinklers one zone at a time. Look for broken and clogged sprinklers, or ones that have been misdirected and are watering your car instead of your yard.

  • Check before you water

Use a moisture meter to determine how dry, wet or moist the soil is.You can get a free one from bewatersmart.info (while supplies last).

You can also a screwdriver to check. Stick an eight-inch screwdriver into the soil. If you can push it in more than three inches below the surface, you don’t need to water.

  • Add plenty of mulch around your plants and trees

Mulch helps to regulate the temperature of the soil and reduce water loss to evaporation. Be sure to add two to three inches around plants and four to six inches around trees (taking care to keep mulch away from the base of trees).

  • Set up a Water-Wise House Call

During this one-hour complementary service, SSWD’s water-efficiency experts will check for leaks inside and outside of your home, check the flow rates on your faucets and showerheads and make recommendations on ways you can use water wisely. http://www.sswd.org/customers/water-wise-house-call

  • Apply for rebates.

SSWD has rebates available for its customers for irrigation system upgrades, WaterSense-labeled weather-based sprinkler controllers, pool covers, and even high-efficiency toilets. Complete details are available at http://www.sswd.org/departments/conservation/rebates

And remember, caring for the environment shouldn’t be limited to just one day. It’s important to make every day, Earth Day.

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2018-19 Watershed Stewardship and Education Grant

Sac County News  |  2018-04-19

Photo courtesy Sac County News

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - ​The Sacramento County Stormwater Quality Program is accepting applications for the 2018-19 Watershed Stewardship and Education Grant.  Each year,​ the Stormwater Quality Program offers schools, non-profit, and community organizations up to $2,500 for projects to help students understand the importance of keeping local creeks and rivers clean and healthy.

This is the 13th year the County is offering grants to help raise awareness about the need for protecting creeks and rivers.  By collaborating with schools over the years, the County has seen positive results from students who participate in the program and show a better understanding of stormwater pollution.  Expanding this program to non-profits and community groups offers another avenue to increase education.
Thirty-five schools have participated in the program.  Will Rogers Middle School is one of the original participants and has taken part in the program every year since it launched in 2005. 

Over the years, grant winners have completed 85 projects like creek clean ups; hands on education about Sacramento’s watershed, creeks, or rivers; eco-friendly gardens; water quality experiments to assess the health of a creek/river; and school-wide campaigns to increase awareness about stormwater pollution.  Each year, grant winners submit a report to the County on their projects shows many of the students in the program gaining a better understanding of stormwater pollution and the environment.
Eligible projects must in some way protect or enhance local creeks, rivers, or watersheds.  Projects will generally fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Educational Projects - Projects that inform or instruct about the aquatic ecosystem, watersheds, or stormwater pollution prevention
  • School/Club Projects - Projects that can be organized by teachers, classrooms, or clubs
  • Community Outreach Projects - Projects that involve and inspire the community
  • Monitoring Project - Projects that measure water quality, species, or habitat
  • Restoration Projects - Projects that restore or enhance riparian habitats, wetlands, creeks, or rivers

Eligible projects must be implemented within the Stormwater Utility boundaries of Sacramento County or directly affect the residents of these areas.  The application for the 2018-19 Watershed Stewardship and Education Grant is available on the Stormwater Quality Program webpage.


The application deadline is July 1, and the grants are awarded in August.

For more information, contact Jeanette Huddleston at 916-​874‐4711 or huddlestonj@saccounty.net.

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Qualifying Veterans and Japanese American Citizens May Receive Belated High School Diplomas

By Operation Recognition  |  2018-04-18

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - The Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) wants to honor the many contributions of those whose education was interrupted due to wartime circumstances. Current and former Sacramento County residents who left high school to serve in the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War, and received an honorable discharge, may contact SCOE to receive their high school diplomas. SCOE also presents diplomas to Japanese American citizens forced to leave high school due to WW II internment. Individuals may request diplomas on behalf of themselves or qualifying family members, including persons now deceased. Those who earned a G.E.D., or graduated from high school while in an internment camp, are still eligible for diplomas. To be considered for the spring 2017 awards ceremony, submit applications by April 26, 2017. Applications are available from the Sacramento County Office of Education by calling (916) 228-2416 or visiting scoe.net/or.

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Trump, Brown Tangle Over California State Border Control

By Rich Peters, MPG Editor  |  2018-04-18

Governor Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - California Governor Jerry Brown spoke at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, defending his sanctuary cities and claiming that the country’s immigration debate has become “an inflammatory football that very low-life politicians like to exploit.” He continued, “And I think it’s shocking, it’s despicable and it’s harmful to California, mostly to the people.”

Brown let it be known that he has no plans of changing his stance on the state’s immigration and sanctuary cities.

“We’re not backing off,” Brown said. “And I believe we have the legal horsepower to block the immediate legal moves by the Trump administration.”

The 80-year-old Brown, who is in the final months of his second term as California governor, proclaimed, “I’m not riding off into the sunset. You can be sure that you’ll hear from me.”

Just before Brown spoke on Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Looks like Jerry Brown and California are not looking for safety and security along their very porous Border. He cannot come to terms for the National Guard to patrol and protect the Border. The high crime rate will only get higher. Much wanted Wall in San Diego already started!”

Trump took to Twitter once again on Wednesday morning, saying that many parts of sanctuary cities throughout California want out of Jerry Brown’s control.

“There is a Revolution going on in California,” Trump tweeted. “Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept. Jerry Brown is trying to back out of the National Guard at the Border, but the people of the State are not happy. Want Security & Safety NOW!”

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Coach Guy Anderson Honored by the ABCA

By Rich Peters, MPG Editor  |  2018-04-13

Recipients of the 2018 ABCA Dave Keilitz Ethics in Coaching Award: Longtime Stanford Cardinal head coach Mark Marquess (left) and Guy Anderson (right) with award committee chair Tom O’Connell. Photo courtesy American Baseball Coaches Association

Discusses Storied Career and the Current State of Baseball

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - “I’ve been accused of being old school; which I am,” professed legendary baseball coach Guy Anderson.

I sat down with the winner of 927 high school ballgames for a cup of coffee in Gold River on what was a perfect day for baseball. I showed up early, but Anderson was already there, sitting outside. Meeting with him for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had only heard stories.

Despite the crowded patio, I knew exactly who Anderson was. You can always tell with baseball guys. We quickly jumped into conversation, as if we’d picked right back up from our last one. The spry, 85-year-old had freshly returned from a Spring Break tournament in Anaheim. Now the assistant coach for Capital Christian High School, Anderson led the Cordova Lancers program for 45 years, winning 17 league titles, five section titles and coaching 24 players who would eventually be drafted by Major League organizations.

Earlier this year he received the American Baseball Coaches Association Dave Keilitz Ethics in Coaching Award. He attended the awards ceremony at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis to accept the award last January. Anderson told me what an honor the award was and how much it meant to him, but also how fortunate he is to have been able to coach such great players throughout the years.

“I compare coaching a little bit to being a jockey,” he explained. “You don’t win on a donkey; you’ve got to have a stallion to win the big ones. I’ve had some pretty good guys that could play the game very well.”

For a man who has dedicated much of his life to coaching and teaching others, he has enjoyed the fact that this award is not just about him, but a recognition of who he is and what he so proudly stands for. “This award was outstanding for me, I’ve been fortunate to be put in a few Hall of Fames. Like I said, you’ve got to have the stallions - it’s important to have the players - but this one here was more, to me, about who I am.”

I asked the self-proclaimed “old school” coach how the game has evolved over the many decades of ballgames that he has taken part of. “If you start at the Major League level, it’s the money. The money is a big difference now and it’s an entertainment rather than a sport.”

Anderson then addressed the collegiate level, summarizing a recent game that he and his Capital Christian team attended when they were in Southern California for their tournament. “The college level is still good baseball and I’ll give you an example. The leadoff batter gets a base hit and the next guy lays down a sacrifice bunt. Early in the game, go get that first run.”

What Anderson stressed throughout our conversation about today’s game was that sacrifice bunting, or any sort of personal sacrifice at all, is a dying art – especially at the pro level. In last year’s 2017 MLB season, a record 6,105 home runs were hit, topping the 5,963 belted in 2000 at the height of the Steroid Era. Strikeouts set a record for the 10th straight season at 40,104 and sacrifice bunts fell to their lowest level since the year 1900 at 925. To put that last number into perspective, there were only eight teams in 1900 and they played anywhere between 140 and 146 games compared to the 30 teams and 162 game schedule in today’s game.

But individual numbers can mean a lot more than team wins and the kind of contributions that won’t show up in the box score to today’s young players. The pressures to perform at a high level have trickled down to a lower age group, making the game a more individualistic sport. Whereas only seniors used to worry about playing at the college level, now underclassmen are receiving recruitment letters and are forced to think about the future rather than living in the moment.

“Play now, play the best you can and good things will happen,” said Anderson. “Don’t worry about next year or you may not get there.” From early recruitment to travel ball to personal coaches and trainers, there are new politics in the game of baseball.

But Anderson also understands that when you’re in the game as long as he has been, things are bound to take on a different shape over time. That’s part of life. “We lost one thing in basketball a few years ago, and we’re losing it in baseball now, and that’s the same color shoes,” Anderson joked. “You go back to the military. You’re a team when you all look alike. And that’s why I’ve always liked the Yankees; they never put the name on the back.”

Coach Guy Anderson is the very embodiment of America’s pastime - a true throwback in every sense of the word; rich in history and accolades, but willing to accept the evolution of the game, whether he fully agrees with it or not. And that’s what great coaches do. They lay down a stern foundation of the history and fundamentals of the game, and the rest, the improvisation, is up to you. And when it comes right down to it, Anderson and the game of baseball may have evolved, but they’ll never truly change.

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Carmichael’s “Dancing Postman” Bows Out

Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner  |  2018-04-13

Kilted Post Office staffer Ricardo Douglas shares his last day at work with fellow workers Bruce Vang (left), David Garrity and Shay Campbell.

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - One of the most recognized men in Carmichael, Ricardo Douglas, has been part of the community for 30 years. When a band strikes up in Carmichael Park, the public sees him out dancing. At his Post Office window, he estimates he has helped around two million customers. This month, the 6ft 2in clerk hung up his XL uniform and retired from bureaucratic life.

He and 90 postal colleagues celebrated with a 7 am potluck. “Anything social has to happen before our delivery guys start their rounds,” he explains. “I’d made my farewell speech before most Carmichael people were even out of bed.” The retiree had many to thank: “I was a Marine corporal when my Staff Sergeant, Fred Cooks, suggested I’d be good at postal work.  I had a photographic memory and I understood data. It was one of the best suggestions in my life. Two postal workers, Mark and Ken Goto, coached me for my job interview. Personnel manager Helen Schuck hired me.  Her daughter, Frances Jones, was my first supervisor.

Douglas, then 22, signed on as a distribution clerk in 1988. The Post Office was then on Palm Drive; it moved to front Carmichael Park four years later.  The clerk enjoyed short commutes. “I rode my bicycle to work from my Marconi Avenue apartment at 3:45 am,” he recalls. “We broke down big cages of mail every morning; we sorted packages, magazines and letters. Then we distributed everything to carriers before 8:30 am. I had to memorize 1150 street segments of 57 postal routes.  These days, much of this is done by machine.”

Soon Douglas joined window clerks at the front counter. “They’re called sales and service associates these days,” he says. “I had a lot to learn; the public was more challenging than I’d thought. You got used to grumpy old men, but from your window, you also encountered a huge range of human emotion. Someone might have just lost a spouse; a battered wife might be starting a new life; an immigrant might be fearful of officialdom and struggling with a new language.”

A modern phenomenon, he observes, is young people who don’t know how to mail – or even write – a letter. “All transactions in their lives have been electronic,” he explains. “The process of getting a document in the mail is a mystery to them.  Much like a bartender, you listen and try to make helpful suggestions. I could often glance at people in line and know what they wanted before they even spoke. I learned to be ready for anything that came at me.” Committed to service, Douglas learned Spanish. “I also memorized phrases like, ‘Do you want to buy stamps?’ in Arabic, Croatian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese,” he says. “It’s gratifying to see eyes light up when someone hears ‘thank you’ in their own language.”  

The clerk also put thousands of hours into mastering sign language. “Because several local agencies cater for the deaf, Carmichael has a higher than normal population with hearing impairments,” he explains.  “Many of these people heard about me. They came to my window and automatically began signing. I was proud to help.”

Aged 54, Douglas opted early retirement. “I wanted to enjoy my new home and a new life with my new wife,” he explains (he will this month wed sweetheart Marianne DeSilva, a realtor with Security Pacific in Fair Oaks).  The couple plans to travel the nation by RV and revel in outdoor living that decades of office work prevented. “Working long hours in the Post Office, I also missed out on many social and family events,” says the future bridegroom. “It will feel great to have a normal life, with Saturdays off.”

On Carmichael turf, fiancée DeSilva often feels like a celebrity’s date. “Everywhere we go, people know him,” she says. “We ran into nine of his customers recently in the Safeway store. They recognize Rich whether he’s in uniform or not. To everyone, he’s Ricardo from the Post Office.”

Douglas (christened Richard) is nevertheless as Celtic in origin as the kilt he sports for special occasions.  “My name changed when I worked part-time for a tobacco dealer in Citrus Heights,” he explains. “His Cuban patriarch translated everyone’s names to Spanish. I got so used to it, that eventually I put ‘Ricardo’ on my uniform name tag. Everyone who came to my window called me that for years.

A 20-year ballroom enthusiast, the clerk is also a strapping and familiar figure on the tiles. “When I’m out dancing, some people know me as Ricardo from the Post Office,” he says. “At the Post Office, some people knew me as Ricardo who dances in the park. So, I’m the dancing postman. I figure that’s all the fame one man could ever need.”

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CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Beginning with 2018-19 school year, students enrolled in The San Juan Unified School District will begin studying history and social sciences through a new lens, one that will push them to engage more deeply, think and write more critically and leave high school with a deeper understanding of state and local civics processes.

Also, a new law requires the inclusion of the study of historical contributions by individuals who have heretofore been omitted from the curriculum: members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, as well as those living with disabilities.

The changes, says Nicole Kukral, program specialist with The District’s Division of Teaching and Learning, stem from the 2012 adoption of Common Core standards, as well as mandates under The FAIR Act, established with the 2012 passage of SB 48.  Parents and members of the community will have a chance to preview the pending curriculum changes at an information night at the district’s offices on Tuesday, April 17 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the San Juan Unified board room at 3738 Walnut Ave., Carmichael.

So what’s changing exactly?  According to Kukral, new standards and texts (secondary materials) will require students to go beyond rote memorization of events, dates and facts.  They will need also to demonstrate an ability to analyze events critically, draw their own conclusions and express their views verbally and in writing.

Students also will be spending more time studying “primary” materials, such as copies of historical documents, journals, letters and maps created by historical and cultural figures of import.  For example, the study of Colonialism and Christianity in California has historically involved a somewhat one-dimensional lesson on the Franciscan Priest, Junipero Serra and perhaps an assignment to build a replica of one of the 21 California missions, with scant focus on the plight of the indigenous people who were converted in the process.

Under the new standards, students may study journals, not just by Father Serra himself, but also the writings, art work, letters and other documentation produced by the Mission Indians themselves to gain a broader understanding.

“Instead of being told what to think, students will be grappling with bigger questions, attempting to understand history and the social sciences through a multi-perspective lens,” said Kukral.  “The idea is that we are really shifting into understanding that history is more than just a collection of facts.”

The FAIR Act, says Kukral, widens the study of individuals who have helped shape historical change or events. Kukral said some of the changes may ruffle feathers, but she wants to reiterate that the new curriculum will focus on individuals’ contributions to society, not their personal lives.

“We know some of the changes, especially those following the law, will give some pause,” said Kukral.  “But The FAIR Act requires the study of the contributions from certain people and that we have students talk about their struggles for civil rights.  Where it applies, we will call out the fact that there are people in history who are or were lesbian and or gay.  But by no means do we intend to study the personal lives of these individuals.”

In May parents will have a chance to see the new text books, Kukral said.  Full implementation of the new materials and frameworks will take place during the 2019-2020 school year.

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