January 2012

posted Jan 5, 2012, 10:38 AM by Anna Saunders   [ updated Jan 5, 2012, 10:38 AM by PFC Webmaster ]

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

We welcome students back to school with enthusiasm and renewed energy after our holiday! The upcoming cold months are crucial focused learning times and we will make the most of them.  We will use formative data to inform instruction and embrace our growth in 21st Century Learning. To that end, our writer's workshop training and classroom work, as well as our technology exploration, continues. We have purchased 15 new laptops to replace nonfunctioning laptops in the lab and work toward our goal of providing 5 laptops in each 4th and 5th grade classroom.  We will shift the 4th grade desktop computers to replace nonfunctioning desktops in the resource room/learning center and lower grade classrooms . Most exciting to me, is our purchase of 10 Ipads to explore the value of this new technology to support  student learning.  Our exploration efforts will be enhanced by training opportunities that include an all-day training on use of Ipads in special education and time with an Apple representative to help our staff to play with the tools during a professional development afternoon.  Our generous PFC is the benefactor for the majority of our purchases through the allocation of Strategic Planning monies.  These same funds are also being used to contract with our counselor, Alma Spring, to continue with us 2 afternoons a week through the end of the school year. On behalf of our staff, I thank parents for their investment in the growth of our teaching/learning community.

One of the goals of a 21st Century Learning community is to create opportunities for students to practice student-owned, creative learning opportunities. Our student newsletter team, with the guidance of Mrs. Villers, is modeling this activity through the development of our school newsmagazine.  You can review their efforts on our website.  Further novel creative learning is occurring in our 5th grade design lab (our Walnut Acres Design Lab - WADL Room).  Our 5th graders are using homeroom time to develop and implement projects that solve a problem or create something new under the direction of their teachers.  Students are working individually or in teams to complete self-appointed tasks, including the design of the perfect golf course, development of a TV show, and the creation a new video game. One of our 5th graders, Jessica Biddle, is designing an electronics and small appliance recycling program for schools.  She is giving our community the opportunity to recycle end-of-life electronics. Check out her letter explaining her plan on our website and please support her if you have an appliance to recycle.  

Enthusiasm for the new year is tarnished by the distressing news of the arrest of our substitute custodian, John Astor.  Allegations of inappropriate contact with a minor are extremely disturbing.  According to the Walnut Creek police there has been no indication that any of Mr. Astor's alleged illegal behavior took place at our school or any school in this district; however, if you have any information that will aid the police in their case, you are asked to contact the police at 943-5844. Mt. Diablo Unified School District officials are taking all appropriate personnel actions under the direction of Greg Rolen, district legal counsel.  If you have questions relative to our district's work with the police in supporting the investigation, Mr. Rolen requests that you contact him at 682-8000 extension 4001.

I am convening our safety committee to review our current procedures in order to insure that we are doing everything we can at school to keep students safe.  All of our employees and volunteers are fingerprinted, but the committee will consider ongoing routines that will support continued student safety.  If you have ideas for the committee to consider or if you would like to join us on Thursday, January 12, at 3:00 p.m. in A-1, you are welcome.   Please RSVP to the office so that we know how many guests to expect at our meeting.

Meanwhile, in order to keep your children safe, maintain an open door of communication with them, listen well, and talk to them about difficult topics at a relaxed time and in a comfortable place.  Let your children know that you want them to come to you if someone is making them uncomfortable.  Speak to them directly and simply.  If you are concerned about your child's safety,  ask if anyone is talking to them or touching them in a way that makes them uncomfortable.  Let them know that they are not in trouble with whatever they tell you. Tell your children that it's OK to say "no" to touches that make them uncomfortable and let them know that some body parts are private. They should also know that they need to tell an adult immediately if someone wants to touch or show private body parts. Your children are safest when they know they can tell you anything.

I realize these conversations can be difficult, so if you would like support with this process, please join Alma Spring, our counselor,  on Tuesday, January 10th at 10:00 a.m. in A-1.  This is an opportunity to process through your feelings about this incident and gather ideas from Mrs. Spring about how to discuss child abuse prevention with your children.  

As a community we will continue to work collaboratively to do all we can to keep our children safe. Remember that if you would like to get input on talking to your children about safety, join Alma on 1/10 at 10:00 a.m. and if you have suggestions as we pursue the safest possible environment, please pass them to me or join us on 1/12/12 at 3:00 p.m. to discuss safety challenges. Here's to a safe and rich learning environment in 2012!


Colleen Dowd