go to Tulare County Office of Education HomePage go to Tulare County Office of Education HomePage

The News Gallery

February 2014

View and print a pdf version of this News Gallery.
Editor: Robert Herman
Public Information Officer
(559) 733-6606

Contributors to this issue:
Marlene Moreno, Jennifer Fisher, Lorena White, Shelly DiCenzo, Kelley Petty, Joy Soares, Steve Woods, Ron Pekarek, Cathy Gomez, Megan Cole and Megan Hatherley.

The News Gallery is published monthly with the exception of double issues printed for July/August and December/January. To receive the News Gallery, visit www.tcoe.org/GetTheGallery, or contact Jennifer Fisher at jenniferf@tcoe.org or (559) 733-6172.

Project Based Learning
Project Based Learning transforms classrooms
Districts incorporating PBL seeing increased student engagement, problem solving

Robin Ryburn, a biology teacher at Tulare Union High School, describes a project she has done for years with her sophomore students. In the past, she says that students have been assigned to make a report on specific biologic processes related to cell biology or human physiology. This year, with training she received through the Tulare County Office of Education on Project Based Learning (PBL), Ms. Ryburn turned the assignment into a project with surprising results. Students were required to develop a children's storybook about the same material. They could choose from topics such as cellular transport, photosynthesis and cellular respiration, or they could focus on the body's nervous, digestion or respiration systems.

This exercise didn't just stay in her classroom. Ms. Ryburn arranged for her students to present their storybooks to a live audience - third-graders from neighboring Wilson Elementary. Initially, the Tulare Union students were apprehensive about writing and illustrating a science-based story that would appeal to a third-grade audience. Ms. Ryburn reports that they rose to the challenge. "The projects were 100 times better than in years past," she says. "Because my students had an authentic audience with the third-graders, it allowed them to move beyond regurgitating facts to me to really understanding their topic and creating a story that a child would understand."

Across the county, teachers are using PBL to transform the way that students learn. Teachers who have implemented the instructional method mention over and over that through PBL lessons their students are engaged, excited, thinking critically, solving problems and collaborating with their classmates. "Students who usually 'fly under the radar' are engaged and learning at deeper levels through teamwork in PBL settings," says Visalia Technical Early College High School (VTEC) Principal Vicki Porter.

Over the past year, the Tulare County Office of Education has extensively supported PBL instruction through professional development trainings and the dedicated coaching work of Joy Soares, the Project Based Learning curriculum specialist with Educational Resource Services (ERS). "We have made a significant commitment to furthering the use of Project Based Learning," says County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "In this age of Common Core Standards, we believe PBL is the tool to bring students the 21st century learning skills they need to be successful in college and in their careers."
Project Based Learning
Joy Soares joined Educational Resource Services in January 2013. She is a national certified trainer through the Buck Institute for Education, a non-profit organization that creates, gathers, and shares high-quality PBL instructional practices. Mrs. Soares is also a trainer with Linked Learning, a statewide initiative that TCOE and mentor district Porterville Unified co-lead in Tulare and Kings counties. The initiative seeks to implement career-themed partnerships to provide students with real-world career experiences while they are still in high school.

"The structured process of Project Based Learning is providing Tulare County teachers with an approach that will ensure students are learning rigorous academic standards, and developing the important career and college skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking," says Mrs. Soares. "At its core, PBL is designed to make learning experiences extremely relevant to students. Seeing the students throughout our county taking charge of their own learning has been an exciting outcome."

Mrs. Soares reports that a PBL resource page will be added to the popular TCOE Common Core Connect website (
commoncore.tcoe.org) in April, along with the launch of TCOE's pblCORE, a series of trainings to support 21st century learning. On May 14, ERS will hold its first annual PBL-focused event entitled "A Night at the 21st Century Museum" (see sidebar below).

The PBL projects teachers are using in all subject matters vary widely. At Liberty School District in Tulare, students have launched a debate on the merits of instituting a school uniform. Teacher Amy Scofield says, "I was blown away by the discussions happening in the student groups and seeing the life skills that were being developed right here in the classroom - healthy debate, presentation and genuine assessment. It is more work to develop the PBL lessons at first, and it is a little hard to let go and let the students take charge of their learning, but the rewards of seeing them do so are incredible!"

Robin Ryburn's biology storybook project wasn't an isolated PBL incident at Tulare Union High School. The entire Science Department is in the process of integrating PBL throughout its courses. Daniel Dutto reports that his Integrated Science students have been participating in the design of a pedestrian bridge with the involvement of City of Tulare engineers and an architect from Visalia.

Sycamore Valley Academy, an independent charter of Visalia Unified, is also using PBL extensively. Fourth-grade students Cadence, Holden and Alissa described their work on a PBL-based assignment on local Native Americans in terms of teamwork and collaboration. The teamwork was so successful, it inspired Alissa to do further research, while Cadence enjoyed the way that the group figured out their strengths in contributing to the project. Principal/Superintendent Ruth Dutton says, "The PBL process is so respectful of student curiosity. It also affords a high level of tolerance for risk-taking, while helping students to develop socially and emotionally."

Project Based Learning
At VTEC, a charter high school of Visalia Unified, Principal Vicki Porter says that, "PBL provides the structure we were looking for. Teachers see how it addresses the standards, that it adds vigor to their lessons and increases student knowledge and critical thinking."

Last fall, the school, which is located on the former site of the COS Farm, invited horticulturalists from Monrovia Nursery Company to help students develop a plant cataloguing project. Students have been working through their plant science and marketing classes to identify all the plants in the school's existing arboretum. Over the course of several months, the class hopes to catalog the plants and create identity markers with a scan-able code linking visitors to a website with information on the plant and its care. "Meeting the horticulturalists from Monrovia changed everything," says student Jose Servin, who is a member of the school's agriculture cohort. "It became real for me - a career that I would like to pursue." Jose says that he enjoys VTEC's PBL focus because he feels it gives him a sense of accomplishment and progress. "I've learned so much and at the end of the day, I don't want to go home," he laughs.

For more information on Project Based Learning and future trainings, call Joy Soares at (559) 651-0501, or email jsoares@ers.tcoe.org.

A Night at the 21st Century Museum
May 14, 2014, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Heritage Complex and Farm Equipment Museum, 4500 S. Laspina, Tulare

This event is an opportunity for schools to showcase students' exemplary Project Based Learning (PBL) experiences by providing a forum for students to present their work and receive feedback from an appreciative public audience!

Teachers and students are encouraged to submit high-caliber projects from all content areas. Presentation modes may include live performances, displays, digital media and any other creative and unique way to demonstrate 21st Century Learning and/or communicate an innovation or solution to a problem.

Museum patrons will experience how Common Core State Standards implementation is transforming learning and teaching in a rigorous and relevant way.

For registration information, call Joy Soares at (559) 651-0501, or email jsoares@ers.tcoe.org.

Photos above:
~ Garrett Churich, a student at Visalia Technical Early College High School (VTEC) is involved in a Project Based Learning (PBL) assignment to document the plants within the schools gardens and arboretum.
~ Students from Sycamore Valley Academy share their PBL experiences with Educational Resource Services’ Joy Soares (far right). Sycamore Valley teachers Jennifer Denham and Kevin Breakstone led the development of the students’ PBL lessons.
~ Monrovia Nursery’s Orlando Bejar leads students on a tour of VTEC’s arboretum, which was developed over many years by the College of the Sequoias agricultural programs. VTEC is one of the county’s leading proponents of Project Based Learning. The VTEC students are documenting the plants in the garden and developing a website describing the characteristics and care of each.

to Top of Page

Bright Future builds on early intervention model
Children gain behavioral management and communication skills for success in school

Bright Future Andy Fonseca is a bright first-grader at Golden Valley Elementary in Orosi. In his pull-out reading group, Andy breezes through his sight words to the delight of Educational Specialist Shirley Teesy. "I'm going to have to find some harder words for you, Andy," she says. Like most six-year-old boys, Andy says that he enjoys playing with his little brother and reading - particularly adventure books.

For the past two years, Andy was a student of the Tulare County Office of Education's Bright Future Program, which serves children diagnosed with autism. This year, he has successfully transitioned to a general education classroom thanks to the early behavioral intervention services the program provided in his home. Tulare County Office of Education Behavioral Intervention Specialist Megan Cole is proud of his progress. She has worked with him for 18 months, noting, "When we began seeing Andy, he was non-verbal and had behavior problems. Today, his behavior is under control and he's communicating very well. He also has a phenomenal mother who has worked side-by-side with us to support his progress," she adds.

Andy's success mirrors the data that Bright Future Program Director Ron Pekarek gathered recently. He and his staff decided to look at the progress of the last 50 students to exit the program. Of that 50, Mr. Pekarek could track 35 of those students through the state's Special Education Information System (SEIS). Over 50% of the 35 students are currently enrolled in general education classrooms, with only 8% requiring some kind of behavioral intervention services. The data also showed that half of the students now in general education classrooms came from Special Day Classes. "We're delighted to confirm that early intensive behavior intervention services are helping Tulare County students gain the social and communication skills necessary to transition into programs where they can reach their fullest potential," says Mr. Pekarek. "We are also pleased to see that our data closely matches the outcomes of behavioral treatment studies conducted years ago."

Bright Future Bright Future began serving students with autism six years ago. Today, Bright Future's Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) services remain the core of the program. EIBI services are available for children ages 3-8 who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Bright Future Program works with the Central Valley Regional Center (CVRC) - the state agency that refers children to service providers like Bright Future - and often as an extension of TCOE's Bright Start program which serves infants and children under three years of age.

Bright Future students receive 20-30 hours of weekly home instruction from Behavior Intervention Assistants (BIA). This amount may be reduced if the child is concurrently enrolled in a school-based program. BIAs provide their instruction utilizing a program called ABLLS (Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills) - a detailed and systematic curriculum for teaching social, life and communication skills. ABLLS's tasks range from feeding and personal hygiene to appropriate play and advanced language skills.

Since 2008, Bright Future has expanded into three other service areas: General Behavioral Services for students not diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but who need in-home behavioral support services; Therapeutic Behavioral Services for students who have a broad range of mental health diagnoses; and Bright Start FACES (Facing Autism's Challenges by Expanding Skills) for children younger than three years of age who are exhibiting autism-like behaviors.

Junior Espinoza is a busy and affectionate three-year-old who attends the Maple Child Care Center operated by TCOE's Early Childhood Education Program in Tulare. He was served by the Bright Start FACES program. Junior's Behavior Intervention Specialist, Megan Hatherley, reports that through FACES, he gained sufficient skills and showed improvement in behavior to the point that he did not qualify for a formal diagnosis of autism from CVRC.

Junior's mother, Alicia Espinoza reports that he continues to work on his language skills through a preschool program operated at Kohn Elementary by the Tulare City School District. Junior was also considered a non-verbal child when he entered the FACES program. Today, with the combination of the social skills training he receives at the child care center and the language intervention he receives through the Tulare District, he is growing in a positive direction. "He's learning and beginning to use so many words now," says Ms. Espinoza. "And I've noticed that he's making decisions and communicating them without having a tantrum. Both of these programs have worked miracles for us."

"Both Andy and Junior are great examples of how preventative early behavioral intervention services can better prepare students for success in school and save Tulare County districts on additional supportive services," says Mr. Pekarek. For more information about the Bright Future Program, contact Ron Pekarek at (559) 747-3984.

Photos above:
~ Behavioral Intervention Specialist Megan Cole and the staff at the Bright Future program helped first-grader Andy Fonseca develop socially and emotionally to successfully transition into a general education classroom this year.
~ Junior Espinoza is building positive social skills at the Maple Child Care Center and receiving language support services at the Kohn Preschool Program operated by Tulare City School District.

to Top of Page

Seminar provides training in ethics, application
National CHARACTER COUNTS! Character Development Seminar comes to Tulare County

Character Development Seminar
California educators and administrators interested in receiving training in the highly effective CHARACTER COUNTS! (CC!) program should plan to attend the national Character Development Seminar (CDS) being held in Visalia February 24-26. In addition to learning the foundations of the CC! program, attendees will learn firsthand the implementation strategies of the Tulare County CHARACTER COUNTS! program - the nation's longest ongoing CC! effort. The Tulare County CC! team will chronicle its 20-year journey in building community partnerships, integrating the CC! curriculum and measuring its effectiveness on students in schools and the community. Tulare County continually promotes the program's value in enhancing school climate and safety, and student motivation and interaction. Participants will gain key implementation strategies to create safe and positive school climates of their own.

"This seminar is a rare opportunity for educators to be trained in the CHARACTER COUNTS! program by some of the nation's best practitioners," says Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "The training is a fantastic mix of ethics education instruction and practical application."

Seminar Details
February 24-26, 2014
Visalia, CA

Register online at www.tcoe.org/CDStraining.
Webpage contains details on location and lodging.

View a flyer about the CDS Training.

For more information, contact Kelley Petty, Tulare County CHARACTER COUNTS! Coordinator, at (559) 740-4303 or by e-mail at

to Top of Page


Spotlight Shelley Chappell has joined the staff of Educational Resource Services (ERS) as the Library Media Supervisor. She has been a teacher librarian for elementary, middle and high school students and has administrated and provided library services for a six-county K-12 charter school in Northern California. Ms. Chappell’s experience includes infusing technology into curriculum, instruction of information literacy skills, collection development and reading intervention programs. As library media supervisor, she will supervise the Battle of the Books, El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros and College Night student events.

Spotlight Nicole Rocha was recently selected as administator for the Educational Options Program, which oversees TCOE’s La Sierra Military Academy, University Preparatory High School, Court/Community Schools and Services for Education & Employment (SEE). Ms. Rocha comes to TCOE from Alpaugh Unified where she was a learning director and principal. Ms. Rocha holds a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and has served as an elementary school teacher and high school girls’ basketball coach with Dinuba Unified.

Spotlight Dan Clark will be the keynote speaker at the 22nd Annual Support Staff Conference on March 28 at the Visalia Convention Center. This year, the conference features an “all-sports” theme with the message that support staff are “MVPs” at their school sites. A former football player, Mr. Clark recovered from a paralyzing sports injury to start a multi-million dollar corporation and became one of the most in-demand speakers in North America. A member of the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame, Mr. Clark is the primary contributing author to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of 20 of his own books, including the highly acclaimed Forgotten Fundamentals and the inspirational Puppies for Sale which was made into a film by Paramount Studios and starred Jack Lemmon. For registration information, visit

Spotlight Last month, Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center (ERCLC), the charter school which serves parents of home-schooled students, held a Makers Fair. The fair featured students and teachers demonstrating activites that they enjoy — activities ranging from model airplane design and computer programming to honey making (left photo) and robotics. (right photo) ERCLC Superintendent Daniel Huecker tries his hand at the “Blue Bammer” a musical instrument that uses a movable plunger to produce different notes. The fair was designed to connect students to one another through activities for personal and academic growth.

Spotlight On December 20, Chief Joe Andrade (c) became Commandant of Cadets at La Sierra Military Academy, replacing Drill Sergeant Dennis Sirkin (l), who retired after ten years of service to the school. Chief Andrade is a Gulf War Navy veteran who was stationed aboard the USS Independence. He is also a retired State of California Peace Officer who enjoys coaching youth football and track.

to Top of Page

Gallery Notes

Again this year, Feed The Children, the nonprofit relief organization based in Oklahoma City that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to individuals, children and families who lack these essentials due to poverty, donated over six tons of backpacks and school supplies to Tulare County’s homeless children. Students in 15 local school districts benefitted from their donation.

Applications for the annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Entrepreneur Scholarships are being accepted until 4:00 p.m. on Friday, March 14. Seniors, who are interested in STEM careers and who have demonstrated entrepreneurial initiative, such as starting his or her own business or participating in organizations such as Future Business Leaders of America or Junior Achievement, should apply. This year, sponsor TUCOEMAS Federal Credit Union will provide two $1,000 scholarships. Visit
www.tcoe.org/STEMScholarship for an application. The scholarship will be awarded at the annual Southern California Gas Company Challenge for Student Entrepreneurs on March 25 at the Visalia Convention Center.

The Human Resources Division has been working with districts in both Kings and Tulare counties to host an inclusive Teacher Recruitment Fair on Saturday, March 29 at the Visalia Convention Center. Approximately 25 school districts are expected to participate with the intent of recruiting teachers for the 2014-2015 school year. Interested teacher candidates will need to apply online where applications will be pre-screened by Teacher Induction Program staff to determine eligibility. To begin the process, visit www.tcoe.org/HR/TeacherRecruitmentFair.

On February 11, the Visalia Times-Delta will host nationally-syndicated cartoonist Leigh Rubin at its free 210 Connect community event. Mr. Rubin, creator of the cartoon feature “Rubes,” will speak to students and community members from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at 210 W. Center St. in Visalia. For information, visit: www.rubescartoons.com.

to Top of Page

Tim A. Hire, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
All mail to: P.O. Box 5091, Visalia, CA 93278-5091
Physical address: 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277
phone: (559) 733-6300 • fax: (559) 627-5219

| Home Page | Site Index |

Please direct web site problems or comments to tcoeweb@tcoe.org.

Copyright © 2019, Tulare County Office of Education