So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

LAUSD iPad purchases subject of federal criminal probe

iPADS 003

Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

File: Tablet devices for dozens of schools across Los Angeles Unified School District will be delayed following the FBI's seizure of documents related to the district's iPad program.

A federal grand jury will meet Friday to review evidence regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District's handling of its $1.3 billion iPad program, documents show.

In a sweeping subpoena issued Nov. 21, the U.S. Attorney's public corruption office sought dozens of records from the school district, naming documents specifically tied to computer giant Apple and Pearson, the publisher of the software loaded onto each device.

The investigation came as a surprise to district officials and will delay the rollout of iPads to more students in the district. 

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he first learned about the investigation when 20 boxes of documents were seized by FBI agents Monday afternoon.

"I’m doing everything to put things in order in this district," Cortines said Tuesday. "And because there is an investigation doesn’t mean something is necessarily wrong."


Mexico violence cuts number of immigrant kids traveling south for the holidays

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Five years ago, popular El Monte educator Bobby Salcedo was shot and killed while vacationing in Mexico. School officials say travel to Mexico by students with family ties to the country is now almost non-existent.

Recent news reports of violence are discouraging travel to Mexico, and one school district that's seeing a decline in students leaving classes for trips to that country is El Monte.

At one time roughly eight years ago, about 3 percent of students in the El Monte City Schools District - where Latino students are the majority - would stop attending school during the winter holidays to travel to Mexico.

“We tended to see families leave right after Thanksgiving holiday and typically they would be back for the most part right after the Christmas break, right after New Year's,” said Oscar Marquez, El Monte City Schools director of student support services.

Mexico vacations for students are almost non-existent now, he said, in part due to the tough economy but also because of the drug-related violence that has erupted in many parts of Mexico.


House of Blues foundation to give away musical instruments so students can practice at home

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

File: Advanced violin students play their instruments at San Fernando Elementary.

House of Blues has a holiday treat for budding musicians: its nonprofit foundation is handing out free instruments to students.

The campaign, known as "Give Music," is in its second year. Organizers expect this year to distribute about 350 instruments to aspiring musicians age 10 to 22.

"This program in particular is meeting the need to provide the opportunity for young musicians to practice or play music when they're not in school," said Nazanin Fatemian, program manager with the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation.   

RELATED: Outside funding brings 600 new instruments to LA schools

The musical instrument giveaway got its start when staffers noticed students in the foundation's school day programs didn't have enough time with instruments to practice what they learned. Organizers hope that if students practice at home with their own instruments, they will make real progress in their music and fully develop as performers.


How to keep your student from losing ground during the holiday break

Photo by Tom Woodward via Flickr Creative Commons

File: Winter and fall vacations can mean a significant loss in schooling for students, but educators say there are ways parents can keep their kids learning.

Between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s holidays, some students can lose as much as a month of schooling and forget what they've just learned in the fall.

What's a parent to do?

One approach teachers have taken is to create vacation packages that include reading logs, math worksheets and book report forms, said Marco Nava, a longtime Los Angeles Unified School District teacher and principal. 

But in those packages, he said, teachers might also include ideas that students and families can work on together — "different projects, different suggestions that they could do while at home that don’t necessarily involve worksheets or traditional homework.”

For some teachers, vacation packages smack too much of the routine that is de rigueur these days in public schools, where the focus is often on standardized testing and structured class time.


Kindergarteners offer their take on the first Thanksgiving, and Mexicans have a role

Kindergarten Thanksgiving

Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

Kindergarten students at Weemes Elementary in Exposition Park study the first Thanksgiving story, adding culture and flavor of their own.

Kindergarten Thanksgiving

Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

Kindergarten teacher Maria Ramirez Waight created a book with the first Thanksgiving story and students then worked on their own versions.

Kindergarten Thanksgiving

Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

A kindergarten student colors a picture for her Thanksgiving book cover at Weemes Elementary School in Exposition Park.

Kids bring their own life experience to every lesson, at least that's what Weemes Elementary kndergarten teacher Maria Ramirez Waight has learned.

Ramirez Waight's week-long Thanksgiving lesson proved no different.

"I wanted them to understand the actual story [of Thanksgiving] because many of the kids don't know," Ramirez Waight said. "Many are coming from another country and they don't know why we celebrate it."

Drawing from her 14 years of teaching elementary school, Waight designed a lesson where the children would make their own storybooks with their own Thanksgiving story. 

On the last day, before the children headed off to the holiday, the students recited their creations. Ramirez Waight smiled as she listened. The students got the concept and the sequence of the story — and they added extra details relevant for today's kids, she said.