Become a Mentor

Become a mentor and mean something to somebody who needs you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Evaluation of The Literacy Project

Although The Literacy Project as I understood it was designed to be a program in which mentors would work with teens to help improve their reading skills, I found out early on that with my student whom we will name G. (15)  it was going to be different.  I discovered that G.'s reading and writing skills in English AND Spanish were more than competent.  The first couple times we met we talked candidly about her interests and heavy school and extracurricular activities.  Knowing that she was an advocate of chicano rights and hearing about the organization she founded at her school, I decided to introduce her to the book,  Revolt of the Cockroach People by Oscar Zeta Acosta.  Although G. knew much about current LA based organization groups she had not heard of the chicano rights lawyer.  I re-read the book along with her and received more context than before as G. would recognize certain landmark historical events and surnames she had heard about but not really been able to find in literature.  The breezy stream of consciousness style of Zeta's book makes it seem like you are there alongside him marching and protesting and riding in East LA.   To read this just as G. was mobilizing her school group for May Day, provided such a deep profundity in looking at this specific history.  I asked her to write down what she saw that day just as Zeta had in 68 and it proved a great exercise.  After finishing the book we took some time to figure out what would make the most sense for the next cycle of the Project. Sometimes our hour a week would be casually talking about our personal lives but nearly always the subject would be about the role of social activism and the importance of educating young people at a very early age.  I let her borrow a number of documentaries about politics, civil rights and ecology.  She would watch them at home with her mom and sister and we would talk about their reactions at our next visit.  Once G. started to study for her SAT's we did go back to the reading comprehension text to find tips and strategies that would help her with the standardized test.  But overall, our meetings became more about sharing ideas we would both read in literature, journalism and film.

To conclude, the opportunity of taking part in the Literacy Project yielded many strong positives, the most relevant being that reading skills is a life long process and one in which academically driven students need to nurture continuously by digging deep into the lesser known archives to find out about under-represented historical figures, and for as long as standardized testing continues to be the main marker of passing students through highschool, college and beyond, reading comprehension skills and strategies need to be covered as early as possible.

I believe the Literacy Project as we tailored it kept the basic concept of dedicating one hour to one student which enabled a foundation for a unique trust and friendship to build.  I was neither her teacher nor her counselor but a friend and that peer relationship developed into the supportive friendship we have today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1001 Journals

We are about to embark on a literary adventure called 1001 Journals.  We'll start two brand new journals.  One will be made for traveling and the other will be made to stay at El Centro.  Last week the filmmaker Andrea Kreuzhage came with the documentary 1000 Journals and explained how it works.  Two mentees were there, both artistic, and so each one will start and create the first entries into the journal.  Very exciting!!!
In November of 2009, UCSF Children's Hospital began a program using the 1001 Journals project to provide opportunities for personal expression and facilitate sharing amongst patients, their families, and the hospital staff who care for them. The program, which continues today, has enabled the kids to share and communicate their stories in a safe, comfortable medium.
"The pages are filled with a hope, an inspiration, and a joy that can only be described as amazing" states Kimberly Scurr, RN, Director of The Pediatric Heart Center and Perinatal Services at UCSF

How It Works

You can participate by adding a journal, by contributing to one (or both). There are three types of journals:


This is a journal that is sent by mail to a list of people who sign up. You control how many people can sign up, if it’s open to everyone, or only by invitation, and if there’s a theme.


A journal that stays at one public location, such as a cafe, shop, or bookstore. It should be open to everyone, but they’ll have to visit the location. These should be controlled (not left somewhere), and before placing one at a place of business, make sure to have permission from the owner.


Your own personal journal that you post to the site to share (you must scan the journal). If you just started one, or have kept them for 35 years, this is your opportunity to share them with the world.

How to Start a Journal

First, get a journal. We recommend a high quality, hard bound journal like those made by Cachet, but it’s all up to you.
Then register on this site, and create a profile. You’ll be able to start journals, or sign up for them as well.
From your profile page, you can launch and edit journals. You can also sign up for other people’s journals. It’s a quick, 3-step process that only takes a few minutes.

How to Sign up for a Journal

You must be a registered user on this site to sign up for, and create your own journals. Once you’re registered, you can sign up for any available journal from your profile page, or by browsing through the journals themselves. Please note that sign up spots are not always available, as it depends on the people who launch the journals themselves.
More Questions? Check out the FAQ’s

Oscar Watch: Even the Rain (From Spain)

If The Literacy Project begins to show Friday Night Movies, this is one we must see.

Even the Rain‘s director Iciar Bollain ♀ and its producer Juan Gordon, its U.S. distributor Vitagraph‘s David Schultz,  and one of its most important theatrical exhibitors Landmark Theater’s buyer David McAllister, Maya’s Tonantzin Esparza and I spent an hour in discussion about how the film could and should be released in the U.S..  Luckily for Vitagraph, a small and very well connected distributor whose output is some 15 films a year, the film was completely overlooked in Toronto by larger distributors, perhaps because its star Gael Garcia Bernall was not there to promote it (and he is slated to come to L.A. for its opening premiere) , or perhaps because of the time it was scheduled. 
The film is on its way to the Palm Springs Film Festival and is next traveling Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama.  Those of us who have seen it were thrilled by the depth of the story.  We debated which of the the actors, Gael Garcia Bernal, definitely a star, or Luis Tosar was more appealing.  My preference is for Tosar,  whose film Te doy mis ojos was another overlooked gem and, coincidentally, was also directed by Ms. Bollain. 
The U.S. release is February 11. The five nominations for Best Foreign Language Oscar will be announced January 25, and the Academy Awards ceremony is February 27, 2011.  Fans of the film have good reason to hope.
Even the Rain (Tambian la lluvia) is a political drama, a film within a film, an historical document about contemporary events with actors and characters and action which are often mesmerizing.
Our conversation generated so many ideas and possibilities about the building of effective word of mouth, the release pattern and the possibilities of creating audiences beyond the usual older art house audience (which coincidently is written about in yesterday’s L.A. Times), expanding into the Latino community, connecting with schools and universities (which is what the Spanish distributors did to bring in younger audiences), the church, and water rights groups such as that founded by Matt Damon ( that we all became a little tipsy…or was it the great Spanish rojo we were drinking?
Gael Garcia Bernal plays Sebastian, an obsessed director who travels to Bolivia to shoot a film about the Spanish conquest of America (Columbus in Cuba). He and his crew arrive during the tense time of the Cochabamba water crisis in 2000 when protests broke out daily in response to the government’s decision to privatize the water company. The cost of water went up by up by 300%.  Sebastian’s producer Costa (Luis Tosar) has chosen Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, because it makes sense economically. Extras are willing to work long hours for just two dollars a day. Sebastian casts local man Daniel in the role of Hatuey, the Taino chief who led a rebellion against the Spanish conquistadors.  Daniel is also one of the leaders in the demonstrations against the water hikes. Intercutting footage of Sebastien’s film with recordings of the actual protests, the lines between fiction and reality, past and present, are increasingly blurred.
This film is liked by many and disliked by many for the same reason; its complex construction is sometimes difficult to follow; even Bernal at one point says he feels like he’s in a dream, and it is intensely political, but without any polemics.  To me, it plays like a fictionalized account of the renowned writer Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, the book Hugo Chavez gave to President Obama when he was elected President.
Production company Moreno Films also has just announced its next film, 7 Days in Havana, a compilation in the tradition of Paris, Je t’aime and New York, I Love You.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Free Tickets to See Anne Rice

Live Talks Los Angeles is offering tickets to a select number of LA Observed readers wishing to see author Anne Rice in conversation with her son, the author Christoper Rice, on January 6 in Zipper Hall at the Colburn School. Drop me a note if interested (and say something about tix or Anne Rice in the subject line, please.) Here's a short video clip LTLA did with Rice talking about the role of libraries and bookstores in her life.  Publish Post

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Idioms in English

One of the hardest things I have found while traveling with my limited knowledge of French and Spanish has been encountering unfamiliar idioms.  They can be a big stumbling block to comprehension and conversation, even as vocabulary grows.

Here is a website with quite a few English Idioms.

It might be worth having the Project tackle a list of 25 or so each week, that the students can write in their journals or keep a handout, etc., and practice for periodic quizzes.  (I suggest this because it would be yet another metric we can use to justify grants.)

Doug Witkins

HERE IS A SAMPLE of what the website has:

177 Idioms Beginning With 'A'

~ A ~

A bit much
If something is excessive or annoying, it is a bit much.
A bridge too far
A bridge too far is an act of overreaching- going too far and getting into trouble or failing.
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link
This means that processes, organisations, etc, are vulnerable because the weakest person or part can always damage or break them.
A day late and a dollar short
(USA) If something is a day late and a dollar short, it is too little, too late.
A fool and his money are soon parted
This idiom means that people who aren't careful with their money spend it quickly. 'A fool and his money are easily parted' is an alternative form of the idiom.
A fool at 40 is a fool forever
If someone hasn't matured by the time they reach forty, they never will.
A fresh pair of eyes
A person who is brought in to examine something carefully is a fresh pair of eyes.
A hitch in your giddy-up
If you have a hitch in your giddy-up, you're not feeling well. ('A hitch in your gittie-up' is also used.)
A lick and a promise
If you give something a lick and a promise, you do it hurriedly, most often incompletely, intending to return to it later.
A List
Prominent and influential people who comprise the most desirable guests at a social function or gathering.
A little bird told me
If someone doesn't want to say where they got some information from, they can say that a little bird told them.
A little learning is a dangerous thing
A small amount of knowledge can cause people to think they are more expert than they really he said he'd done a course on home electrics, but when he tried to mend my table lamp, he fused all the lights! I think a little learning is a dangerous thing
A long row to hoe
Something that is a long row to hoe is a difficult task that takes a long time.
A lost ball in the high weeds
A lost ball in the high weeds is someone who does not know what they are doing, where they are or how to do something.
A month of Sundays
A month of Sundays is a long period of time: I haven't seen her in a month of Sundays.
If things are A OK, they are absolutely fine.
A penny for your thoughts
This idiom is used as a way of asking someone what they are thinking about.
A penny saved is a penny earned
This means that we shouldn't spend or waste money, but try to save it.
A picture is worth a thousand words
A picture can often get a message across much better than the best verbal description.
A poor man's something
Something or someone that can be compared to something or someone else, but is not as good is a poor man's version; a writer who uses lots of puns but isn't very funny would be a poor man's Oscar Wilde.
A pretty penny
If something costs a pretty penny, it is very expensive.
A problem shared is a problem halved
If you talk about your problems, it will make you feel better.