One July afternoon.
People walking together.
All as one.

A group of people with different backgrounds.
People with ties to three continents.
Europe. Africa. North America.
All walking together.
All as one.

A group of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Some have their kids taking piano lessons. Others tennis lessons.
And some work hard just to make ends meet.
All walking together.
All as one.

A group of people of different demographics.
Young, and young at heart, all walking together.
All as one.

What does it take to get people together?
People from different backgrounds?
Different socioeconomic classes?
Different demographics?

A call for help.

Just a few words:

Need Help!!!
Sunny flew away.
If you see him, please call me

And within minutes (literally) a group was formed.
And start searching for a lost, and scared, little Sunny.
My feathered-kid.

This happened two years ago this month.
And for me it’s still a lesson that keeps on giving.
A lesson in kindness.
A lesson of what it means to live in a strong, closely-knit community.

“… my husband and I will be there in 10 min.”
Janet and Steve – husband and wife team
You both, and Jill, (the ‘first responders”) provided much needed support from the beginning.

“When you get him home, his feathery little butt is grounded, really!!
Robin, using ‘when” not ‘if’ – words are important.
And can make a big difference. It gave me much needed hope

“Come inside. You need to eat something!”
Kay Lynn, insisting to feed me breakfast..
(I didn’t. But before I turned to leave there was a coffee in my hand.
Strong, much needed coffee.)

You and Dave helped so much.
Especially that evening when Sunny was hovering above.
And you stopped the cars from entering the street.

And many other acts of kindness.
But I’ll stop here.

What was NOT said was just as important.
NO ONE pointed out the obvious mistake I’ve made:
Not keeping Sunny’s wings trimmed.
They knew I was thinking – and berating myself about it – EVERY second.
Sometime being kind is just NOT adding more to the burden someone is already carrying.

 *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I’m forever grateful for all your help
And your kindness
(You can read here about Sunny’s adventure)

Where we are today
I believe our community is as strong as ever.
Yes, we do have some challenges ahead of us.
But what makes it even more challenging is the media.

The media – and its ‘fear porn’ reporting – is influencing our daily lives.

Yes, we need to take safety measures.
For us and our loved ones.
For our community.

But we can NOT, and should NOT, stop living our lives
We can’t allow media (with its sensationalized, attention-grabbing reporting) to turn us into shadows of our former selves.

Be safe
Be strong


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How important is to have a good teacher for your child?

Good teachers.
A Stanford study show how students learn and perform three times better when they have a good teacher.

Three times better!

“No other attribute of schools comes close to having this much influence on student achievement,” says Stanford economist, Eric Hanushek.

Similar findings in a study at the University of Melbourne (65,000 research papers).
After taking in account other factors (class size, etc.) the results show how important is to have good teachers.
If we want children to have a top-notch education then we need top-notch teachers.

Some say teachers are under-trained.
And teaching methods currently used are obsolete.
Others say that technology and innovation will make bad teachers good and good teachers better.

What do you think?

Knowledge, high tech — and, voila, there is a good teacher?!

What makes a good teacher?
Yes, we need well-trained, knowledgeable teachers.
And technology/innovation does play a central role.
But if that’s all there is, that’s the makings of a mediocre teacher.

What makes a good teacher?
Ask children.
They KNOW.
Children are smart that way.

The good teachers CARE.
Even when they don’t say so.
Their actions speak volumes.

Growing up, I was lucky.
I’ve had some really good teachers.
As I wrote in here, some of them weren’t exactly the “cuddling” type.

Notwithstanding, I knew how much they wanted me to succeed.

Like the time when my French teacher adamantly told me,

“No! The school you chose is not good enough.

You need to go to the one in the capital.

That school it’s better for you.

If necessary my husband will tutor you.

Free of charge.”

It was difficult to get into the school my teacher wanted me to go to.
I needed to be at the top of my game.
And even then, because of so many applicants, my chances of getting in were slim, at best.

*    *    *    *    *

Outside of family, teachers play the most important role in a child’s life.

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Favorite education quotes

Over the weekend a friend came over to visit.

Talked about education.

And shared a few fun quotes.

Here are some of my favorites:


“Education: the path from cocky ignorance

to miserable uncertainty.”
Mark Twain


“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything

without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
Robert Frost


“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Mark Twain

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Are schools doing a good job of preparing students for the future?

We are at crossroads.
The economic landscape is rapidly changing.
And the skills required to enter the workforce of the future are vastly different than before.
Are teachers skillful enough?
Are parents involved enough?

These and other questions are often asked.
Skilled teachers are essential to a good education
If you have any doubts about how important this is just look up American educator, Jaime Escalante.
He taught calculus in East Los Angeles.
Some of his students went on to Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.

Why is this unusual?

Over seventy percent of his students came from a poor socioeconomic background.
And some lived in gang-infested areas.
Yet, one dedicated teacher inspired them to learn.
Inspired them to take a different path and succeed.
Proof, once again, education is a great equalizer.

Skilled teachers are essential to a good education

My teachers — not exactly the cuddling type
I’ve had some great professors.
Even though some of their words of encouragement were quite unusual.

Growing up, I was sent to represent my school at Olympiads.
Math and literature.
Apparently both hemispheres of my brain are working.
(At least several times a year.)

My teachers (not exactly the cuddling type) didn’t want me to have a big head.
Their “words of encouragement” to me:
“Remember, where there is a lot of intelligence there is also a full truck-load of stupidity.”
They were wrong — sometimes there are two.
(One for each hemisphere?)

Whatever methods they use — great educators inspire you to do better.
And be better.
I’m forever grateful to my teachers.

Teachers, parents, friends, and internet
In upcoming posts on this blog we’ll take a closer look at education.
We’ll look at some of the recent studies.
Discuss the results.
Analyze what worked. And why.

We’ll also talk about teachers, parents, friends, and internet.
All have a major role in our students’ education.

  *    *    *    *    *

Until we meet again,
Wishing you success in all you do.

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I can take care of myself

My friends say I’m outspoken.
This trait, when it doesn’t get me in trouble, it gets me comments like this:
“I admire your confidence!”

How does one build confidence?
Like with everything else it’s best to start early. And practice often.
In my case, the foundation of my confidence was built by one man — my dad.
He did that all throughout my growing up years.
I’ll tell about a day that stands out from the rest.

I was in seventh grade.
One day after school I happened to be home alone (my dad had just stepped out).
I heard a knock at the door. It was the repairman (we were waiting for him).
Few minutes later my dad came back.

The repair job didn’t take long. Once done, he gathered his tools and left.
As soon as the door closed, my dad turned to me, and with a raised tone of voice said,
“You shouldn’t have let the repairman in when you were here by yourself.”
Stretching my seventh grader frame, as tall as I could, I answered in a respectful yet confident tone,
“I can take care of myself!”

My dad turned around without saying anything.
But he didn’t turn fast enough.
I saw the smile flooding his face.
I didn’t understand it at the time.
Years later I did.

I understood both: the choice not to reply. And the smile.
Dad postponed the lecture on safety for a later date.
He allowed me to enjoy the moment — and strut around my confidence.
That smile is one my most treasured memories.

Kudos to all the great dads out there.

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Why students from rich families do better in school?

Research shows why students with wealthy parents do better in school:

  • The obvious one: they have more financial resources. The family can hire tutors if necessary.
  • Higher human capital: the parents are better educated.
  • Family is wealthy in social capital
    (socially connected to similar people (rich in financial, human and social capital).

Compare that to a student from a poor family.
The family has limited resources.
The situation is further exacerbated by the stress factor.
(Poverty, living in high-crime neighborhoods, and more — all leading to chronic stress.)

There is no surprise the gap between rich and poor gets wider.
How do we close the gap?

Good teachers
Thomas Kane of Harvard University says that if students from low-income families would be taught by the top 25% of teachers the gap would close within eight years.

It’s essential to repeat: he referred to teachers in the top 25%

David Steiner of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, describes some of our teacher-training institutions as “sclerotic”.
Sometime, in the future, will further elaborate on Mr. Steiner’s point.

For now let’s remember this:
Regardless of one’s economic class IT IS POSSIBLE to get a good education.
Good teachers make it possible.

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Looking Up

Millions of people looking up at the sky.
The news, at the beginning of this week, was dominated by the solar eclipse.
And the many visitors it attracted.
By some accounts, eclipse “chasers” from more than 30 nations were here in the U.S.
(I worked and couldn’t join the “movement.”)

But it was amazing to see, and hear, the reaction of the people who experienced it.
They were using words like:
Primeval feeling. Awesome. Spectacular.  Feeling a sense of community.

Looking up

Maybe we all should do this more often.
Even without a solar eclipse.
In a world that’s going faster and faster — make time to pause and reflect.
Appreciate the beauty of nature.
It will lower your stress level.
And help focus your mind.

Looking up at the beautiful blue sky it’s enough to fill anyone with wonder.

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Places we’ve been and people we’ve met — how it all influence who we are

The places we’ve been and the people we’ve met.
How much that’s influencing who we are.

My social media friends are from different parts of the country.
Some from different parts of the world.
New York, San Diego, and Portland — Facebook posts from these three cities caught my attention this past week.
And brought back memories.

New York
A city where you can be surrounded by an ocean of people and still remain anonymous.
The Big Apple is well known for its vitality and cultural diversity.
New Yorkers are also known for being in a hurry; and rude.
On one of my visits there I was trying to explore the city on my own.

I was in Brooklyn trying to get to Manhattan.
And had no idea how to get to the subway.

I stopped a passer-by to ask for directions.
He told me to go down the block, make a left, etc.
But then, to my surprise, he walked a block with me and pointed toward the station (now within our sight); then he turned around and went on his way.

Rude and in a hurry?! Turned that stereotype right on its head!

San Diego, California
I remember one evening, being at an Italian restaurant with a friend; and ordering something with veal; more specifically, “milk-veal. “
Once the waiter left my friend proceeded to describe the conditions the veal is raised in order to get on my plate with the designation “milk-veal.”
That evening I learned about ethical treatment of animals.
(Oddly, the lesson came from a logistics engineer.)
From then on I learned to be more informed about the food choices I make.
Plus I learned not to label people based on what they do.

Portland, Oregon
Shortly after I moved into the area I became a member of one of the bird clubs — good way to meet people.
I became close friends with the president of the club. With her generous and easy-going nature she made it easy to be her friend.
It wasn’t long before she invited me to her home — to meet her husband and the rest of the family.

Naturally, when I went to visit my family in Europe, my new friend and her husband became the “babysitters” for my little guys.
When I asked her to take care of Sunny and Flipper she responded with what is one of the highest compliments I’ve received: “Mariana it’s a privilege to take care of your feathered-kids.”
(Actually, my friend, it’s the other way around. It’s a privilege for me to have met someone like you. And your family.)

*    *    *    *    *

Think back at the places you’ve been.
And the people you’ve met.

Remember the ones who made a positive impact on you.
Like an Olympian carrying the torch,
you can carry forward their words.
Their actions.
Become a messenger of kindness.

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Lonesome Dove

I’m looking at her. She is no longer eating. Just stays there looking up at us.
Few minutes later I go and look again — to see if she’s gone.

No. She’s still there. Looking at Flipper and Sunny.
It’s getting dark outside. And it’s cold.

Hoping she’s not hurt, I start to open the door.

Thankfully she flies away.

Next evening she’s back with all the others.
(I feed the outside birds and squirrels during the winter months.)
The dove stays there long after everyone else is gone.

Obviously her mate has been killed; and she is in no hurry to go to an empty nest.
She thinks of Flipper and Sunny as her friends now.

Maybe they help her feel less lonely.


“Here’s an alarming but little-known figure—stray cats and pet cats allowed outdoors kill 3.6 million birds every day on average in the United States, for a total of at least 1.3 billion birds per year.
A 2011 study found that domestic cats have directly contributed to extinctions of 22 bird species on islands around the world.
Researchers in the United Kingdom estimated that 55 million birds fall prey to domestic cats there each year; in Australia, threats to endangered species led government officials to announce plans for euthanizing 2 million feral cats.
In the U.S., there are about 84 million pet cats, and around 46 million of them are allowed to roam outside. An estimated 30-80 million more live as strays.”

The above excerpts are from an article in The Atlantic Daily. The article describes how two cat owners, Susan Willson and Nancy Brennan, worked together to find a solution to this problem.

Brennan’s cat, George, kept dragging birds in the house. She tied bells on his collar but it didn’t help: “the cat moved too stealthily for the bells to have any sort of warning effect on his prey.”
Birds have excellent color vision
When Brennan read about birds’ excellent color vision  she came up with an idea: make a new collar for the cat using a brightly-colored, multi-patterned fabric.
It worked from the first day — George came back home without any birds.
It worked so well that she decided to make a business out of it. Brennan started selling collars (Birdbesafe).

Willson had similar problems with her cat, Gorilla. A bird biologist, Willson wanted to do an experiment. She contacted Brennan to enlist her help for a study with two controlled groups: one with collars, the other without.
The results: the cats from the group without a collar killed 19 times as many birds as the other group.  The study was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.  Australian researchers published a similar study in Applied Animal Behavior journal.

Kindness is a choice
Two loving cat owners who made the choice to be kind to birds and other wildlife. And together found a simple and effective solution — one that prevents so many needless killings!
If your cats go outdoors please have them wear bright-colored collars.
And please share this with your pet owner friends.

Your kindness will be appreciated by your feathered friends.
They will greet you with songs of happiness. Every day.

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Education trends: doing away with homework?

At one of our weekly group meetings we had some special guests: educators from several elementary schools.
While they were there to thank us for supporting their respective schools, it didn’t take them long to “turn” on us.

Giving great examples, and using us as the “students” one of the educators talked about the new scoring system.
Then the discussion turned to the pros and cons of homework.

Supporters say homework is great for children because it teaches them responsibility. And discipline.

The opposing camp says that it turns kids into, “couch potatoes.”
And that just studying in class shows outstanding results.

Talking about the elementary schools:

Strong evidence shows that homework does NOT improve academic performance.

Statements like these come from well-known researchers from Duke University.

A growing number of educators believe that younger students can better use their after school hours playing.
And reading.

Instilling a love of reading in your children is going to ignite a thirst for knowledge.
And that love for learning will serve them much better in their adult life.

(Personally I couldn’t help but think,
“Why weren’t these studies available when I was in school?!”

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