Monday, December 31, 2012

Teaching On A Remote Island 1

Unlike those who mistakenly think you can "drive across a bridge" to get to Santa Catalina Island, the only way to travel to this remote community named "Avalon" is to take a one hour fifteen minute boat ride on the Catalina Express. Sometimes you are fortunate and the ride is smooth, but most of the time during the "school year", the swells are high and if you are not accustomed to boating, you are the perfect candidate for sea sickness. 

Now, this does not include the days when the wind is blowing so hard the Catalina Express doesn't run and you aren't able to travel to and from the Island. On such days, if a teacher is absent, the staff at Avalon Schools have to pull from their small list of Island substitute teachers or disperse their students into other classrooms. With only two teachers per classroom, this usually means an Avalon teacher is bound to have extra students from another grade level in his/her classroom for the day.

Winter Means 75-Minute Bumpy Rides In Rough Seas

Transportation is one of the reasons why most Catalina Island teachers choose to live on the Island rather than the Mainland, but in doing so they are making a sacrifice. Those who live there understand there are no malls or shopping centers on the Island; no theme parks or bowling alleys for entertainment; no doctors or hospitals to treat emergencies; and you are not allowed to have a "real vehicle" on the Island unless you have been on the "waiting list" for one literally since the day you were born.

Avalon Traffic Jam On The Way To School

Nevertheless, the students and parents who live on this remote Island are thankful for their one very small Vons Market; a U.S. Post Office with tiny turn-of-the-century brass P.O. Boxes; a Casino Movie Theater where "outdated movies" are shown only on the weekends; and the ability to travel around the 3/4 square mile community in golf carts, if they can afford to purchase them.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Teaching On A Remote Island 2

Perhaps you are wondering how our household and teaching supplies arrive on the Island? Well, they do not come on the Catalina Express, unless we lug them over in suitcases as we travel to and fro the Island. It takes careful planning on our part to get our much needed supplies as they are transported either by a tugboat and barge or flown across the ocean via the US Postal Service, United Parcel Service, and FedEx in a World War II era DC-3 cargo plane (owned by Catalina Flying Boats) that flies into our Island's "Airport In The Sky" on top of a hill.

Mail & UPS Packages Are Delivered Only In Nice Weather

The most common way to bring our "goods" across from the Mainland ("Overtown" for Islanders) is by barge. However, the barge can cost a "pretty penny" as all items are weighed and we are charged by the pound as well as an additional fuel surcharge (with Island gas currently up to $8.00 per gallon.) Either way, it is very expensive to purchase what most people take for granted.

Leaving For Overtown Shopping

This doesn't even take into account the "drama" we have to go through to get our supplies in the first place. It will cost us a $50.00 round trip ticket on the Catalina Express and after reaching the Mainland, we either walk to the parking garage where we keep our "real car" (averaging from $70.00-$85.00 per month for rent) or rent a car for the day at the Catalina Express Terminal.

Thus begins our quest for those necessary supplies. While driving all over looking for them, we are always mindful of our Catalina Express schedule, as we know it takes time to drive them to the barge in Wilmington before our return trip to the Island. Only by careful planning is it possible to arrive in Long Beach at 9:30 A.M. and have everything done by the time the last boat leaves for the Island at 5:45 P.M. Alas, if we don't make it back on time, we are destined to booking a room at a local hotel or pleading with a friend for a place to sleep for the night.

October 2012 Highest Gas Prices in The Nation!
Concerning our basic needs... as mentioned earlier, there is a very tiny Vons Market (with aisles so small you can't pass each other while pushing a shopping cart) on the Island with sales and limited supplies of products similar to the "real" Vons Markets on the Mainland. However, their supplies are very dependent on the weather because if there is a high wind advisory and the barge doesn't run, their supplies will run out. It is  quite common to find Vons has run out of their "bare essentials" such as milk, eggs, and bread. So, the Island residents will have to patiently wait until the weather gets better.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Teaching On A Remote Island 3

Besides our transportation obstacles that make us unique to other remote communities, Catalina Island Teachers have similar pros and cons to those of other remote communities. Whenever we walk through the 3/4 square mile city of Avalon, we are always prepared for "instant" parent-teacher conferences and/or student tutoring sessions, which we graciously accept as a part of our job.

The Seagulls Welcoming You To Avalon

We have learned we are sure to run into someone we know when we go into our local post office to pick up the mail or during a trip to Vons to buy a gallon of milk and we always have to be on our best behavior in public as we live in this "Island Bubble." But, that just goes along with our teaching assignment.

We especially have to be careful with what we say or "look like" we are doing as it can always be incorrectly perceived by others. The "Catalina Island Wave" cannot be forgotten and we don't dare look unhappy with someone or the whole town is soon to know about it, even before we have figured it out ourselves.

Finally, there is the unspeakable joy we receive while training our parents how to help teach their children and watching our students grow up through the years as we live together on this Island. We realize our lives are not our own as we live together with our parents and students in this small remote town. But, that is what we chose when we accepted a teaching assignment with Long Beach Unified School District on Santa Catalina Island.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The "New" Catalina Island Teachers

Prior to Long Beach Unified School District's Layoffs, Catalina Island Teachers taught in Avalon because they chose to do so and accepted these Island hardships as a way of life. It was understood they may be asked to teach additional students on inclement weather days when the Catalina Express doesn't run and Mainland Substitute Teachers are unable to reach the Island. But, there was a sense of comradeship in this tiny school, where teachers worked and lived together on a common Island, serving the needs of the community.

Little did they know that LBUSD's teacher layoffs would take a devastating blow to their tiny school and especially the elementary school staff of 12, when 3 teachers were laid off and 3 retired, leaving open positions for half their staff to be filled with Mainland Teachers in "order of seniority" during the first two years!

Avalon, California Population 5000 w/ A Hispanic/Latino Majority

The "Cause and Effect" of LBUSD's disregard for Avalon's remote community can best be summarized by a recent Facebook post by a former Catalina Island resident, "During my two year stay in Avalon, I thought they had hired new teachers? Anyways, they truly depend upon good teachers. It's too bad Linda couldn't stay." This observer is correct, they did hire "new teachers" and have been replacing me and others every year with teachers who are higher on LBUSD's Seniority List because the "new teachers" generally stay only one year before declining their positions the following year. Their Island positions are accepted out of financial necessity, rather than personal choice, and often with the decision to take this remote Island position or have no job at all!

The saddest part is the effect this has on the Island youth, when these teachers do not share the same bond and joy of "raising the Island children" together through the years. When I was hired, I was told by the Principal of Avalon Schools, "It takes an Island to raise a child" and I found this to be true. This cannot be met by teachers who commute to and from the Island everyday because they are not willing to live and invest in this remote Island community. As a result, the "new commuting teachers" are not able to "walk and talk with the children" after school hours as mandated in our Federal Government's No Child Left Behind Act.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The "No Child Left Behind" Act For Immigrant Children


In our nationally-adopted No Child Left Behind Act, Title I- Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged cites its Statement of Purpose in Section 1001 as follows: "The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. This purpose can be accomplished by meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation's highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, or young children of reading assistance."

Part A of Section 3102 is devoted to English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act with stated purposes:
(1)  To help ensure that children who are limited English proficient, including immigrant children and youth, attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same challenging State academic content and student academic achievement standards as all children are expected to meet.

Avalon is the perfect example of a community needing assistance from No Child Left Behind funds, with 75% of the city's population consisting of Hispanics/Latinos, most of which are second language learners. When I was laid off from my Kindergarten teaching position in 2009, statistics were exactly that... 75% of our Kindergartners in our two Kindergarten classrooms were limited English proficient and, adding to our challenges, was the fact there is NO Head Start Program on Catalina Island! Consequently, most Kindergarten students came to us with "blank slates!"

Corporate Headquarters Of "No Child Left Behind"

(6)  To promote parental and community participation in language instruction educational programs for the parents and communities of limited English proficient children.

Community participation by teachers commuting to and from this remote Island are limited by their boat schedules. Commuting teachers board the 6:15 A.M. boat in Long Beach, arriving on the Island just in time for the school day to begin at 8:00 A.M. They remain on the school grounds until their day ends around 2:30 P.M. for the elementary grade levels and 3:00 P.M. for the upper grade teachers. Then, they hurry to catch the next boat off the Island at 3:45 P.M. or they will have to wait until 7:30 P.M., which makes a very long work day as it takes over an hour to get home. In fact, if have to take the last boat, they would literally get home in time to go to bed so they can get up at 5:00 A.M. to return to work on the Island!

That being said, teachers unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices of living on the Island during the school year have limited opportunities in working with parents to help their students and have been known to not be around to participate in the activities of this remote Island community after school hours, which is quite a contrast to those like me who counseled and encouraged parents and students around every corner, as I walked the streets of Avalon!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Upcoming Topics To Be Posted

During the coming weeks, I'll be posting some of my thoughts on the effects of the massive California Teacher Layoffs which has occurred over the past four years, displacing over 37,000 teachers who make up over 11% of the total teaching work force in our state!

These topics will include:
  • Teaching In A Remote Island Community
  • No Child Left Behind as Applied to a Remote Community
  • The Role of The Long Beach Unified School District in these Layoffs
  • The Devastating Effect on Students in Remote Locales, Such As Catalina Island
  • The Unbalanced Structure of Teachers Unions In General
  • The Psychological Effect on Teachers Who Love To Teach
  • Unemployment Payments Vs. Substitute Teaching
  • What Happens When Unemployment Runs Out?
  • What Does The Future Hold For New Teachers?

So, please check my blog from time-to-time and feel free to list your comments.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say!