Archive for Education

‘Bordertown’ coming to our town

New TV series fetes skills by Alcaraz, MacFarlane

By VMA Communications

WHITTIER – Celebrated syndicated cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz will present a talk and advance screening of his new animated TV series, “Bordertown,” at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 as Rio Hondo College continues its first-ever Fall Lecture Series.

Alcaraz, author of the nationally syndicated “La Cucaracha” comic strip and a well-known satirist on immigration issues, is a consulting producer and writer for the series, which is executive produced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. The series follows the lives of two neighbors – an immigrant and a border patrol agent – living along the U.S.-Mexico border in the fictitious state of Mexifornia.

It will air on Fox starting in January 2016. In addition to the screening, Alcaraz will provide commentary about the program before what is expected to be a full house at the College’s Wray Theater, 3600 Workman Hill Road, Whittier. The presentation is the second of three in the College’s first Fall Lecture Series, a multi-disciplinary effort that features writers, artists and activists known nationally for their talent and focus on human rights.

The series launched Sept. 23 with renowned sculptor Mario Chiodo, whose works have been praised for their focus on social issues and display of deep human character and emotion. It concludes Thursday, Nov. 5 with LGBT rights scholar and activist Dr. Ronnie Sanlo.

“We wanted to provide authentic learning opportunities for our students that would inspire their social consciousness while providing a real-world perspective to the topics they are studying in their courses,” said Dr. Robert Holcomb, Ph.D., Rio Hondo’s Dean of Communications & Languages.

The lecture series was Holcomb’s inspiration, tying together programs from his division with thematically similar events planned by colleagues at the Division of Arts and Cultural Programs and the Office of Student Life and Leadership. Each speaker is known not only for possessing a unique voice, but for using his or her talents to promote social justice – a concept integrally linked with Rio Hondo College’s dedication to providing access to higher-education opportunities for all members of its community, especially those that are under-represented.

Sanlo, for example, will screen the 2014 documentary, “Letter to Anita,” which relates the impact of her decision to come out as a lesbian during Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in the 1970s. Sanlo will comment on the documentary and join a post-screening discussion. Director Andrea Meyerson will also attend.

“Talks by figures such as Mr. Chiodo, Mr. Alcaraz and Dr. Sanlo enrich our learning environment and generate a meaningful dialogue among our campus community,” said Rio Hondo College Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “Their focus on social justice will help deepen and underscore the learning that goes on our Rio Hondo College classrooms.”

Board of Trustees President Madeline Shapiro said the speakers selected represent more than a cross-section of the Southern California arts community.

“These individuals are all highly relevant to our student body – their work has a well-observed impact in our communities. Speakers of this stature send a message of high expectations and cultural relevance to our students,” Shapiro said.

Rio Hondo earns $2.6 million grant for Hispanic, low-income students

From staff reports
WHITTIER – Rio Hondo College will receive $2.62 million in federal funds to help Hispanic and low-income students prepare for the rigor of college courses, identify education goals and map achievable programs of study in order to shorten their time to completion, the college announced on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.

The award is one of about 87 five-year Title V grants of up to $2.63 million each for individual institutions and up to $3.25 million each for cooperative arrangements awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to colleges and universities at which enrollment is at least 25 percent Hispanic.

At Rio Hondo, 70 percent of students are Hispanic.

“This generous grant will allow us to develop important new resources to significantly improve Rio Hondo College’s already highly successful model for ensuring student success,” said Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “I’m excited to see the difference we will make in the lives of these students thanks to the innovative ideas our team has developed.”

Rio Hondo has received several of the five-year grants for Title V, Hispanic-serving institutions. The most recent grant, which spanned 2010 to 2015, helped the college create its popular Summer Bridge program, which eases the student transition from high school to college. The new grant will fund The Avance Project, aimed at expanding Rio Hondo College’s capacity for fostering student success by establishing a yearlong integrated and connected success pathway for first-year students to persist into their second year.

Avance is Spanish for advance.

“Our goal is to create a continuum of integrated academic and student service supports for our first-year students,” said Barbara Salazar, Interim Assistant Dean and Title V Grant Project Director for Rio Hondo College’s Office of Student Success & Retention. “We have learned that strong guidance during the students’ first year is critical to ensuring they get the most out of their college experience.”

Avance’s components include a summer math academy, a guaranteed first-year schedule, a seminar course so students can explore discipline-based career paths and focus on a continued program of study, and regular tutoring, counseling and coaching.

In addition, Rio Hondo College will celebrate and support Avance students through a first-year seminar conference, where they can learn more about different college disciplines, hear both student and professional presentations, and present their own field-related research inspired by the first-year seminar course.

The grant will fund training for faculty and staff for the first-year seminar course and ensure they are attuned to the California Standards instructional approaches being used at local high schools.

“Our new array of expanded student services underscores our commitment to pursuing every avenue to ensure our students will be successful when they leave Rio Hondo College, whether they choose to attend a four-year university or tackle a career in today’s highly competitive job market,” Board of Trustees President Madeline Shapiro said.

Avance will run from Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2020, serving 200 students in its initial year and adding 100 students annually until participation peaks at 600 students in its final year.

Parents’ rights pivotal in Common Core lawsuit

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute

By Brad Dacus


Pacific Justice Institute

LOS ANGELES – A new lawsuit is alleging that school district officials in Southern California broke the law by not telling parents about their rights to decline involvement in the controversial Common Core testing.

Pacific Justice Institute filed suit Monday, Sept. 14, 2015 in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Concerned Parents of California. The defendant in this case is Walnut Valley Unified School District, though a ruling in the case could affect many other districts as well. The lawsuit states that WVUSD did not comply with state law and regulations requiring them to inform parents of the right to decline participation by their children in statewide assessments.

“Just like everyone else, school districts must follow the law,” noted PJI attorney Michael Peffer, who is the lead attorney in this case. “They may not agree with it, but they cannot ignore it. The statutes and regulations in this area are clear and unambiguous. The district doesn’t get to pick and choose which rules it will follow.”

The troubled rollout of the recently-adopted Common Core State Standards continued last week with the disclosure that just 44 percent of California students met the standards in English, and only 33 percent in math. The statistics were even worse in Los Angeles County, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said, “As we’ve just been reminded, the implementation of Common Core continues to be a disaster, and many parents want no part of it. Parents have the right and responsibility to do what is in their children’s best interests, and California school districts have the legal obligation to make sure parents know their options.”

PJI previously confronted Calabasas High School after the principal threatened retaliation against students whose parents opted them out of the common core testing. The principal reversed course after receiving a demand letter from PJI which prompted inquiries from FoxNews.


Council gives solace in student death

WHITTIER – Mayor Fernando Dutra and the Whittier City Council expressed their deep sorrow on Tuesday following the death of 19-year-old Whittier student Hun Joon “Paul” Lee. Lee, a special-needs student, was found unresponsive on a school bus contracted by the Whittier Union High School District about 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.

Dutra said, “The City Council and I extend our heartfelt condolences to the Lee family upon the loss of their son. Please know that the Whittier community has been greatly touched by this terrible tragedy and is supporting you in our thoughts and prayers as you navigate the days to come.”

The city confirmed the Whittier Police Department is investigating the incident and will continue to work with the Whittier Union High School District, transportation company, and other entities as appropriate during the course of the case.


Rio Hondo, El Rancho join to build Pico Rivera Education Center

By William Diepenbrock
VMA Communications
WHITTIER – Rio Hondo College is partnering with El Rancho Unified School District to open a Rio Hondo College Educational Center in Pico Rivera, bringing the promise of higher education closer to home for thousands of residents.
When completed in fall 2016, the $1.3 million center will be the third satellite site established by Rio Hondo since 2010. Other sites serve South Whittier and El Monte.

“Our mission at Rio Hondo is to support our community by providing access to college education opportunities,” said Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “These centers are bringing that mission closer to home across our service area.”

The satellite sites circle Rio Hondo College’s hilltop campus, with Pico Rivera to the southwest, El Monte to the north and South Whittier to the east. The Pico Rivera center will sit on 2.4 acres at El Rancho Unified’s former adult school at 9426 Marjorie St., across the street from El Rancho High School.

The college will upgrade seven buildings spanning 6,720 square feet to create a collegiate identity and integrate 21st century learning tools into six classrooms and an office. The site will include a shaded campus quad and 1.3 acres of parking. Rio Hondo College’s Board of Trustees and El Rancho Unified’s Board of Education both unanimously approved the center in meetings this summer.

“Through our partnership with Rio Hondo College, we will continue to expand post-secondary opportunities for our students and school community, which will lead to more students being college- and career-ready,” El Rancho Unified Superintendent Martin Galindo said.

“Our partnership with Rio Hondo College is another step toward the transformation of El Rancho Unified School District into one that is second to none,” said Dr. Aurora Villon, president of the El Rancho Unified Board of Education.

“The satellite campus will increase the accessibility our students and the community have to a higher education and professional development. We look forward to a robust course offering that will complement our curriculum and give students the opportunity to earn college credit. This is another step toward preparing our students for a 21st century global society,” Villon said.

The satellite campuses help Rio Hondo reach students who otherwise might not be able to attend college.

“It’s highly rewarding to know that by creating campuses of convenience, we’re also delivering the promise of a higher education to a larger share of our community,” said Board of Trustees President Madeline Shapiro. “I’m also excited to be deepening our partnership with El Rancho Unified School District. Like us, I know they are dedicated to providing their students with every opportunity for success.”

The College began planning its satellite expansion in 2004, when voters passed Measure A, a facilities bond for upgrading college facilities. The South Whittier Education Center opened in August 2010. The El Monte Education Center opened in spring 2013.

“Pico Rivera residents will be well served by having our own satellite campus,” said Board of Trustees Vice President Vicky Santana, whose district includes the community. “We will transform a closed facility into a thriving educational facility. Satellite campuses make it convenient for students who are juggling multiple responsibilities to maintain their educational goals despite challenges with time or transportation, and at Rio Hondo, we put our students’ needs front and center.”

Know your legal rights in the new school year

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute

By Brad Dacus

President, Pacific Justice Institute

With a new school year already under way for many of us, and just about to start for others, I wanted to make sure you were aware of the resources and help that are available from PJI. (This would also be a great e-mail to forward to your youth pastor, friends who are educators, friends with kids, and just about anyone else!)

Students have always been one of our top priorities at PJI, so it’s hard to fit all of our resources and recent successes into one e-mail. Here’s a quick list of what you need to know going into the school year:

• This past school year, PJI won two significant federal lawsuits on behalf of student evangelists. This means students should feel more confident than ever to share their faith on campus and invite their friends to church! Click here for more details and video about these cases.

• Our two major resources for students, parents and teachers are now fully online! You can visit our website and download my book, “Reclaim Your School,” and our shorter booklet on students’ rights, completely free of charge. I’m humbled to say that these two resources have helped countless families and even led to the creation of new student ministries. Make sure you’re as informed as you can be!

• Check out our opt-out forms and privacy notices to protect your children as much as possible in the public school environment.

• We now have developed school opt-out forms for 11 states, covering all of the West Coast, as well as some states in the Midwest and South.

• We have advised a number of principals, teachers and school board members this past year on handling difficult issues involving transgender students.

• We continue to fight in court for the referendum against AB 1266, the notorious school bathroom bill.

• Our attorneys drafted the new privacy initiative now in circulation, and we are a proud part of the Privacy for All coalition.

• We continue to help a number of teachers assert their rights to steer union dues away from their unions and toward causes they believe in.

• Our attorneys worked with parents to fight shocking sex ed curriculum being presented in schools by Planned Parenthood.

• We stopped two different principals in Southern California from retaliating against families who exercised their rights to decline common core testing.

• We are currently defending a school district in federal court against a lawsuit by atheist groups.

• Over the last few weeks we’ve been advising a number of families and Christian schools about their options in light of the new vaccine mandate, SB 277.

• We will be launching a major new offensive to enforce state laws protecting common core objectors in the coming weeks. (Stay tuned!)

Friends, I hope that you know we are here for you and your family in the coming school year. Each year we respond to hundreds of questions—many of them school-related — from parents, teachers, and community leaders seeking to understand their legal rights. Most of these will never make it into the headlines, but everyone is important to us.

We expect more intense battles — and incredible opportunities — in our schools this year. Please help us spread the word so students, families, and educators know where they can get help and resources this year.

Cardinal tech mentor named Teacher of the Year

Whittier High School teacher and leader of the Cardinal Computer Academy Kathleen Bailey has been named the Whittier Union High School Teacher of the year for 2015-16.

By Juliette Funes

VMA Communications

WHITTIER – Whittier High School teacher Kathleen Bailey is constantly surrounded by computers, cameras, video monitors and love from her students.
Excelling as the lead teacher of the school’s esteemed Cardinal Computer Academy since 2007, Bailey has breathed new life into the program, exposing her students to technology careers, workplace skills and community connections that have helped them develop into 21st century pros.
“I see the Cardinal Computer Academy as the best of both worlds: students who struggle and students who thrive mixing together in an atmosphere of innovation and intervention,” Bailey said. “Through the Academy, students truly develop confidence in their futures.”
Always fascinated by technology and willing to share her knowledge with others, Bailey, who has been teaching at Whittier High since 2001, is recognized for successfully bolstering the college- and career-readiness program.
As such, she has been named the Whittier Union High School District Teacher of the Year for 2015-16.
“For over a decade, Kathleen has done everything possible for her students, caring for their well-being, working with them every day and developing personal relationships to ensure their success,” said Whittier Union High School District Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson. “She also has a wonderful rapport with colleagues and is always there to support them. I want to commend this wonderful teacher for her commitment and congratulate her on this well-deserved honor.”
The announcement was made during Whittier Union’s Day One event on Aug. 10, 2015, an annual tradition in which district staff members gather to hear an inspirational message from the superintendent, see firsthand how their teamwork and collaboration has contributed to students’ success and kick off the beginning of the new school year.
“Kathleen is truly committed to her students every day, always making sure they have a good work ethic and foundation in order to be marketable,” Whittier High School Principal Lori Eshilian said. “She unequivocally changes children’s lives and they leave Whittier High ready to thrive in the field of technology.”
The Cardinal Computer Academy is a California Partnership Academy that provides students in grades 10 to 12 with rigorous academics and career technical education, a committed team of teachers and active business and post-secondary partnerships. Students develop marketable workplace skills in the technological field and have the opportunity to earn Microsoft Office certification as they explore careers.
The Academy itself has been at Whittier High for 25 years and under Bailey’s tutelage, has flourished.
“I think the most rewarding part of teaching at Whittier High is when students return and share their success stories of going on to wonderful universities and accomplishing their goals,” said Bailey, who added that the program has become popular among families of former students. “When families trust the program enough to enroll siblings and relatives in it, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”


Rio Hondo ‘Roadrunners’ battle Southland blazes

Members of Rio Hondo Fire Crew 77 – known as the Roadrunners – hike along the 14 freeway as they help combat a brushfire in the Saugus Ranger District in Santa Clarita on July 12. The team heads to anchor a fire line as smoke billows up from the blaze.

By William Diepenbrock

VMA Communications

WHITTIER – Rio Hondo College’s Fire Crew 77 was deployed at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, for the second time this summer to help the U.S. Forest Service combat a slew of brushfires across the state.

The Roadrunners crew, composed of graduates from Rio Hondo College’s Wildland Fire Academy as well as a few recent graduates from its regular Fire Academy, will activate for a two-week period, helping provide relief to professional crews.

“These deployments are a terrific way for our academy graduates to gain experience, training and earn some money while they are seeking their first jobs,” said Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “We also are proud to have them represent us on the front lines of our state’s annual battle against destructive fires.” When summer started, the crew was short of its usual 16-person complement – because other fire agencies have been aggressively scooping up Rio Hondo graduates.
“I can’t keep up with the demand,” said Rio Hondo College Wildland and Fire Coordinator Tracy Rickman, who also serves as chief of Crew 77. The academy has a 100 percent placement record, which prompted Rickman to offer a second training class in 2014-15 to see if he could provide additional graduates to meet the high demand. The effort – difficult to do since the fall fire season can sap the academy’s training staff – generated a record 65 firefighters. Forty-one were quickly snagged by wildland fire agencies.

“Nineteen graduates were hired in one fell swoop to serve in the Plumas National Forest,” Rickman said. “And veterans who take the training are typically hired incredibly fast.”

That left 14 graduates available for the crew, prompting Rickman to supplement his team with two members of Fuego Tech’s Rangers Crew 76 when it was activated July 3 for a two-week mission fighting brushfires in the Saugus River Ranger District in Santa Clarita.

While not on fires, the crew performed project work, hazard reduction, and general station maintenance, as well as participated in a rigorous daily physical training program.

For the second deployment, Rickman is supplementing his crew with graduates of Rio Hondo’s regular Fire Academy. Graduates from the academy typically seek posts with urban departments, but their training meets the certification standards for wildland service.

The college may consider a cross-training effort between the two academies in 2015-16 to help boost opportunities for wildland training.

“Rio Hondo College is known far and wide for the strength of its Fire Academy,” said Board of Education President Madeline Shapiro. “The demand for our graduates is a shining example of the recognition of that strength.”


Whittier Union busy over summer break

At La Serna High School, four classroom portable buildings have been added to the upper campus and five temporary classrooms are being replaced.

The Whittier Union High School District over the summer continued numerous renovation and improvement projects throughout the District, including the renovation of the school library’s entrance. The library also features new furniture funded by a donation from alumnus Willie Gordon.

By Juliette Funes

VMA Communications

WHITTIER – Renovation and improvement projects – including the construction of a new 7,000-seat stadium at California High School – are in full swing this summer at the Whittier Union High School District.

Workers are busy upgrading facilities across the district to increase school safety and provide 21st century learning environments for students, who will head back to school Aug. 12.
“We have been watching numerous projects take shape throughout our campuses, and we couldn’t be more excited to share the new renovations with our students when they come back for the new school year,” said Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson. “We are dedicated to having facilities that meet the needs of our students and allow us to operate more efficiently.”
Construction and modernization for Whittier Union’s five comprehensive high schools began in 1998, when voters passed the $98 million Measure C Bond. The bond was augmented by the $75 million Measure W bond that voters approved in 2008. The proceeds from the bonds, as well as state and federal matching grants, have greatly enhanced classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, gymnasiums and athletic fields, infrastructure and facilities districtwide.
Over the summer, student athletes at Pioneer High School have been testing out the newly completed 7,000-seat athletic complex, which boasts an artificial turf playing field, all-weather track, renovated soccer fields, outdoor tennis courts, junior varsity and varsity baseball and softball fields, and concession areas.

Dedicated as the Dick Torres Memorial Stadium and shared with Santa Fe High School, the stadium features an elevator and press box, as well as locker and weight rooms, an equipment storage room and coach’s office with restrooms in a separate structure below. Other projects planned for Pioneer include refurbishments to the gym and cafeteria.
California High School’s athletic facilities are also undergoing extensive renovation as construction crews have begun building a similar 7,000-seat football stadium. Crews broke ground on the 22-acre site soon after graduation, tore down the existing bleachers and are constructing the new athletic complex, which will include separate baseball and softball fields, as well soccer practice areas. Plans include refurbishing the outdoor basketball and volleyball courts. The stadium will also be the home field of the La Serna and Whittier high school football teams.
At Whittier High School, air conditioning and a pipe organ are being installed in the Vic Lopez Auditorium. The organ is the kind the auditorium was designed to house and is a gift from the Whittier High Alumni Association. It was manufactured in 1927 for the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle. Opened in 1940, the historic Art Deco venue seats 2,500 and was named after former Whittier High School CIF Football Coach and Whittier City Councilman Vic Lopez in 2001. The project is scheduled to be completed by the start of the school year.

Additionally, the front entrance to the library, which features new furniture, has been improved. Other plans include improvements to the large gym.
At Santa Fe High School, new and returning students will be served lunch in a newly remodeled cafeteria that is expected to be completed at the end of August. As part of the plan, the patio area near building B, which houses English and Special Education classrooms, was enlarged and new shade structures were constructed. Future improvement plans include renovations to the administration and music building, large gym and library.
La Serna High School’s gymnasium is currently under construction, with the addition of a new roof, bleachers and hardwood floor, drinking fountain and public announcement system, and the upgrade of the fire alarm system, as well as the installation of an air conditioning system. Additionally, four classroom portable buildings have been added to the upper campus and five temporary classrooms are being replaced. Future plans for La Serna’s athletic facilities include improved baseball and softball fields, natural turf football field with all-weather track, and upgraded soccer fields, tennis courts and pathways.

Rio Hondo gives a one-stop leg up to veterans

WHITTIER – Rio Hondo College’s Veterans Service Office launched a one-stop service center this summer that will allow veterans of the U.S. armed forces to conveniently obtain a host of critical services that range from counseling and tutoring to financial aid and loan assistance.

Veterans make up a small, but growing percentage of Rio Hondo’s student population. “Our veterans are returning to college after making significant sacrifices on our behalf,” said Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “As such, they have special needs that go beyond those of the typical student – and we want to be sure we meet all of them to ensure their success at Rio Hondo College and beyond.”

Yvonne Gutierrez-Sandoval, Director of Financial Aid, Scholarships and Veterans Services, said the center was inspired by a desire to provide veterans with a place where they would feel most comfortable getting the services needed for their education.

“Our veterans share unique experiences – many of them traumatic – and it creates a level of comfort for them to be around other veterans who understand that,” Gutierrez-Sandoval said.

Services for veterans include: • Counseling services • A Veterans Administration education benefits certifying official • A financial aid adviser • Emergency student loans • Tutoring services • Computer lab • Information on community programs and services for veterans • Graduation cap and gown loan program.

“The transition to civilian life can be a difficult one,” added Arely Castaneda, Rio Hondo College’s newly appointed Veterans Service Center coordinator/counselor. “Providing a convenient location that meets all of a veteran’s needs helps eliminate unneeded stress. It also promotes their efforts to complete their courses and make the transition to a four-year college or new career.”

Board of Trustees President Madeline Shapiro said the new center is part of a larger campaign launched by the college to ensure all students receive services sculpted to meet their unique needs.

“Veterans are a growing and significant element of our student population,” Shapiro said. “It is a privilege to play a role in helping them transition to their next role in our society, and any service we can offer to make the process work more smoothly benefits us all.”

Open registration for Rio Hondo College’s fall 2015 semester begins Aug. 6. The fall semester runs from Aug. 22 to Dec. 12.

For information on the college or its programs, call
562-692-0921 or visit