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Saturday, February 27, 2010

From Gate to Honors - Where the Controversy Lies

By Silvia Uribe

Despite an internal battle to stop my urge to write about the proposed label change from GATE to Honors, as soon as I sat in front of my computer, I started pouring, like sand in a jar, my many thoughts on the issue.

This topic hits home in more than one way: a) Because one of my daughters was in GATE throughout her student life; b) Because it is obvious that this controversy is fueled by assumptions and stereotypes, and; c) Because it saddens me to hear so much anger in the remarks of those who oppose the restructure.

Such angry reactions are generally caused by fear. In this case, the fear of lower standards being set for intelligent, dedicated, responsible students. Of course, no one would want that. Now, please notice that I didn't say, "gifted". It was not an omission. Actually, that's the first point in my attempt to put things in perspective.

I don't think that those who participate in GATE courses are any more gifted than many who don't. As much as I was, and am, proud of my children, I know none of them are geniuses, the same way that none of their classmates were during all those years.

However, as much as I don't want anyone to lower the standards for our intelligent, dedicated, responsible students - and this is my second point - I also realize this kind of student comes in every color, size and shape. Actually, I never understood why, in my daughter's GATE classrooms, there were only 2-3 students of color, including her (sadly, Latinos/as make up about half of the district's population, but just 18% of GATE students).

The only answer to this is the great disparity in opportunities for students of color. We all know in our community and elsewhere, Latinos and other people of color who are successful in many fields; entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, astronauts, writers, actors, singers, media personalities, politicians - you get the point. We also know that all groups have their share of obnoxious, stupid, irresponsible people. It is silly to generalize, and think that individuals of a particular group cannot achieve greatness, at the level others do.

Notwithstanding this, an overwhelming majority of students of color are not recommended for GATE, and for one reason or another, many are sent to special education. Interestingly enough, the percentage of the general population who test into "Gifted and Talented Education" (GATE) is 4-5%, but in most SBSD secondary schools, the percentage of white students in GATE classes is 4-8 times higher than that.

We assume that these children passed a GATE test to get into GATE classes, but in reality, 30% of students in the GATE classes never passed the test; they are there because of parental advocacy. Once students are either sent to GATE or to Special Education classes, they are rarely moved out, regardless of their achievement.

It is clear that with this restructure, the School District's administrators and Board members are not thinking about lowering bars, simply because there's no need to do such a thing. They are trying to provide access across the board for those who can, and will, take advantage of a more rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college.

They will accomplish this by creating consistent criteria to get into advanced classes, including grades, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, as well as the GATE test. With this restructure, teachers would receive more training to become even more skilled in teaching an advanced curriculum, including becoming certified to teach GATE students - this is a benefit to current GATE students. Frankly, it seems to me like a win-win situation.

My third point is this: As a country, state, or city, do we really think that it is in our best interest not to give our students of color the same opportunities other students have? We‘d be talking about millions of people falling behind. Can we afford to have that many poorly educated people? That's what happens in third world countries, and that's part of why they are third world countries. The more highly academically educated people of all colors we have, the better off we will be.

And here's my final point: Colleges and universities do not recognize GATE as more advanced courses than Honors, and do not count the weighted grades received by GATE students, which shockingly, when applying to those institutions, makes the students' official GPA drop, because the weighting from GATE classes is removed.

Really, there's no point in keeping the GATE designation alive, and there are many practical reasons for changing it to Honors, and for establishing general criteria.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Enfermedades Raras - ¿Conoce a Alguien que Padece Alguna?

Por Silvia Uribe

El 28 de Febrero se ha designado El Día de las Enfermedades Raras para crear conciencia entre el público. ¿Por qué? Porque éste es un tema del que normalmente no se habla mucho. Sin embargo, muchos de nosotros tenemos algún amigo o pariente que tiene una enfermedad rara, de la que no se sabe mucho y de la que nadie quiere hablar.

Al diagnosticar estas enfermedades, los doctores nos dicen que se presenta un caso en un millón y la pregunta siempre es la misma: ¿Cómo no se sacó la lotería, pero si le dió esta enfermedad?
La verdad es que no existe ninguna respuesta pero las preguntas nos vienen una tras otra. María José, mi amiga, por ejemplo, tuvo su bebito hace unos meses y al poco tiempo le dijeron que éste tenía una enfermedad rarísima llamada Xanthogranuloma (de la cual ni siquiera intentaré explicar los síntomas). Por fortuna es una enfermedad que no duele, no incomoda a los bebés y casi siempre se les quita con el paso tiempo. Sin embargo, mi amiga desearía ver a su bebito libre de tal enfermedad e igual que cualquier otro niño.

El punto es que existen muchísimas enfermedades sobre las que no hay todavía muchos estudios y quizá tampoco muchos pacientes; son casos contados y por lo tanto no se les dedica la cantidad de recursos necesarios para su continua investigación y para la búsqueda de una posible cura.

Todo comienza cuando una persona presenta ciertos síntomas y va o lo llevan al doctor y el doctor no tiene ni idea de lo que es. Sin embargo, en vez de investigar, dicho medico le da un diagnóstico equivocado y por supuesto, el problema persiste. Al cabo del tiempo y después de ir de doctor en doctor en búsqueda de una cura, la persona llega con un doctor responsable que se pone a investigar hasta que encuentra la respuesta y da el diagnóstico correcto. Para cuando eso sucede, casi siempre la familia ya ha sufrido mucho.

Este tipo de enfermedades raras afectan a las personas no solo médicamente, sino también socialmente. En ocasiones y dependiendo de cuáles sean los síntomas que se presentan, los pacientes o sus familiares, no quieren que nadie los vea, los esconden y los van aislando poco a poco del contacto con el resto del mundo y piensan “Si tan solo hubiera alguien más que esté pasando por esto mismo y que me pudiera comprender.”

Gracias al internet, hoy existen diferentes maneras de entrar en contacto con personas que estén pasando por lo mismo o por algo similar. Con simplemente poner el nombre de la enfermedad y oprimir la tecla “enter”, aparecerán una serie de recursos a su alcance (si están en inglés y lo necesita, usted puede encontrar a alguien que se las traduzca) de los que usted podrá tomar ventaja, tales como páginas en que las personas escriben sus experiencias personales, estudios médicos, historia de la enfermedad, etc.

Si alguien entre sus amistades o en su familia tiene alguna enfermedad rara, aproveche el Día de las Enfermedades Raras el 28 de Febrero, 2010. Entre a y verá que usted no está solo/a. Ahí encontrará información sobre muchísimas enfermedades raras que quizá no encuentre en ningún otro sitio. Buena suerte!

Para preguntas puede llamar a Silvia Uribe al (805)699-6013

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Somewhere Over the Freeway

Q&A with Rosemary Gaglione

By Silvia Uribe

This open house was different. It was organized by the City of Goleta, at Brandon School, and its intent was not to sell luxurious homes at exorbitant prices. Its goal was to inform Goleta residents that the long-awaited overpass between the Glen Annie and the Winchester Canyon freeway exits is finally in the works.

Not too long ago, just in September 2008, 14-year-old Christina Veloz-Payne died trying to cross the freeway. When that happened, the clamor to build a bike and pedestrian overpass got louder, but even before her premature death, many concerned citizens had pushed for it. “With residential areas and multiple destinations on both sides of 101 in western Goleta, traversing 101 is a challenge for dedicated cyclists and an absolute obstacle for others,” said Ralph Fertig, president of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition. “A new way of crossing without the conflicts of freeway on and off ramps will be a major improvement.”

Eva Inbar, president of COAST (Coalition for Sustainable Transportation) agrees. “COAST supports providing an additional place to cross the freeway in Goleta,” she said, adding that an additional overpass with just two lanes and no ramps will make it much easier for pedestrians and cyclists to get around in western Goleta, "providing a connection between neighborhoods, schools, UCSB, and the shopping and recreational activities at Camino Real and Girsh Park.”

With all of this in mind, I met with Rosemarie Gaglione, Capital Improvement Program Manager for the City of Goleta, and she explained that this project is included in Goleta’s general plan, and gave me the reasons why. “Storke Ave at Hollister Avenue is the busiest cross section in the whole county,” she explained. “Trafficshed studies show that if we can provide an alternate way for people to go from north to south, to the Marketplace, Albertsons, or anywhere else, without having to cross that super-busy cross-section, the congestion at that interchange will be alleviated, and car flow will greatly improve.”

The rest of our interview follows.

Q: Wasn’t this meant to be a bike and pedestrian path only?

A: “That’s what some people wanted, but we don’t have the money to build more than one, plus who wants to see so many overcrossings, anyways. It is important to consider that there will not be on and off ramps, and that it will be a two lane only (one lane each way), with very clear demarcations for bikes, and a 6 ft sidewalk for pedestrians.”

Q: Now that you mention the money, where will the funds come from?

A: “We have 7 million from measure A (a sales tax that passed in 2008.) We will also use funds from Developer Impact Fees, and we will also use STIP money (State Transportation Improvement Program.) When the project is more advanced, we will also apply for several grants.”

Q: The open house was very well attended by the community. What’s the feedback that you’ve received so far?

A: “When people give us feedback, we pay attention. They appreciate that we’re coming out this early with information about the project. At the open house we expected around 30-40 people, and we got over 200. People have told me about the alignments they prefer (where the overpass should be located), and why. Some of them had questions about funds as well, and about the impact to the area they live at. The response has been very positive.

Q: Where are the alignment options located?

A: “After a series of studies on 13 different alignments, we have come up with the best three options: A4 – Hollister Ave. and Entrance Rd. on the south side, connecting to Brandon Dr. on the north side, with an approximate cost of $31 million. A-6 – Hollister and Entrance again, to San Rossano Dr. for about $22 million, and C-5 – Hollister and Entrance, to about 200 ft west of Baker Ln. for an estimated cost of $42 million. Before we start the design portion of the project, we will know which one is the best.”

Q: Regarding transportation, will there be a shuttle going between both sides of the community?

A: “I don’t know the answer to that because we don’t do transportation, we only do the roads. That would be a question for MTD, but it sounds like a good, popular route.”

It was getting late and the time for the executive planner to get her carpool to Ventura was close. I only had time for a couple of more questions:

Q: What’s the timeline for this project?

A: “The study part will be done by September or October. We will take the plan to the city council and then we’ll have another open house where we will use a computer program to show the traffic flow, among other things. The second part is the environmental document (EIR), which could take up to 4 years. After that, we will try to get as much money as we can get for the project through the grants I mentioned before. Like I said, we will apply for a good number of them. At that point, we will make the decision on which option is the most viable. Actually, building the overpass is the fast part of the project since it will take around 18 months. Altogether, I would say at least 7 years, if not a little more.”

Q: Out in the community people are concerned about the trees. Will many trees be lost due to this project?

A: Yes, that’s a question I’ve gotten, too. We don’t know yet on this project how many trees should be affected, but I can tell you that for each tree that we take out there are many more that we need to plant; ten to one at times, depending on the kinds of trees. Of course, we have another pocket of money just for landscaping. We will not only take care of the trees, but also of the birds. We will try not to disturb them during their nesting time.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

R: Goleta City Council has given us clear direction on two things: they want us to communicate with the public as best as possible, and they want us to cause the least possible negative impact to people’s quality of life, and that’s what we’ll do.

I also want people to know that we want to do this well and hopefully we’ll have a project that everyone likes. We want to answer everyone’s concerns. If people have doubts, they can call me directly at 805-961-7500 or email me at

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fearless Pedestrians

By Silvia Uribe

I love pedestrians. I love them because they are fun to watch, but not so fun to watch out for, if you know what I mean. It is true that most of us go from being drivers to being pedestrians, much as we go from suffering the latter when we're driving, to inflicting suffering onto drivers, when we're walking. The question here is, are we aware of our behavior as pedestrians?

As someone who comes from one of the most populated cities in the world, Mexico City, when I'm walking, I'm used to being extra alert. Whether it is in Mexico City, New York, or any other big city in the world, pedestrians are very vulnerable. They not only have to take care of themselves, but they also have to calculate, and predict, what each driver, in the ocean of cars, is going to do.

In Santa Barbara, the story is different. Pedestrians own the streets, or at least, they think they do. They are some of the most fearless, and maybe even careless, human beings that I have ever crossed paths with- literally. I understand that they have the right-of-way according to our traffic laws, but that doesn't mean their safety is guaranteed.

People walk into a fast-moving river of motorized vehicles without looking around to consider whether they can cross safely. I'm not sure if these people are too trusting of drivers and cars, or too oblivious to the fact that they're risking their lives, or both.

These are the most common types of pedestrians found in Santa Barbara. Maybe you've seen them too:

The ambivalent walker: is the one who seems almost ready to cross the street, but not quite yet - even though he/she's been standing at the corner for a while. Once you're close enough to the crosswalk, they start walking in front of you, pretending they never saw you coming.

The snail pacer: you cannot believe how slow they walk. You would think this is their normal pace, but inexplicably, once they get to the other curb, they start walking faster. I must confess that this kind of pedestrian is particularly irritating to me.

The efficient commuter: they are always distracted, wearing a headset in their ear, and handling their phone, as if what they're doing could not wait a minute longer, at least until they have crossed the street.

The confused tourist: the ones who always look unsure as to where they want to go. They frequently stop in the middle of the street to look around with a startled expression on their face, just to walk their steps back to the curb they were at; they do all this while looking at you with a friendly smile on their face.

The balancing defiant: Oooooh…Scary! This character is commonly portrayed by a juvenile. This is the kind that stares at you with a provocative demeanor as he/she slowly crosses the street balancing the body rhythmically, from side to side.

Sound familiar?

Why pedestrians so trustfully put their lives at the mercy of a stranger behind a wheel is beyond my comprehension. No one ever told them to look both ways before stepping down from the curb, or to spend the least amount of time in the middle of the street, to reduce the chance for an accident to happen? Or, perhaps their attitude is the result of a gross miscalculation - that all drivers are paying attention to the road at all times, and all cars have good brakes.

Whatever the reason, pedestrians in Santa Barbara appear to cross the streets under the spell of this mantra: "Cars should stop, and they will."

And cars will stop…most of the time… until one doesn't. When that happens, it usually ends with a headline on the news and an obituary in the paper.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at