Sunday, July 29, 2007


By Diana L. Chapman

This is an odd story. If you don't like the fact that people sometimes derive their values from cartoons and comic books, quit reading now.

I'm often asked: Why did you call your blog The Underdog for Kids? It's one of the most frequently asked questions in my peculiar journalism career, which has taken twists from writing for daily newspapers to writing for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series to blogging (where I least suspected I'd end up).

I have one person -- no, actually two -- to blame for the Underdog name.

The first would be my admirable neighbor, Judi Pierry, who routinely puts up with my 13-year-old son practically moving into her house with her two sons, Joey, 18, and Jimmy, 16, who embraced him from the moment he moved into the neighborhood. Their older sister, Jessica, just grinned and beared it, to have one more boy in the family. She was probably quite relieved to take off to San Francisco State University. Because the Pierry household is much cooler than my own -- a pool table, a widescreen TV, rooms equipped with computers and games -- and a mom who realizes the beauty of enticing her kids to stay home rather than go elsewhere so she knows where they are: The kids like it there.

With Ryan's frequent visits, she teased us as "the childless couple." About a year ago, just before the weekly More San Pedro newspaper changed hands, Judi asked me over for lunch with her girlfriend, Chris. She plopped a glass in front of me and said: "Diana, this is perfect for you. You're always protecting the underdog and acting just like the Underdog cartoon."

On the glass was the cartoon of the blue-caped, red-shirted, skinny armed, slightly muscled Underdog, and that was when lightning struck. I had watched this cartoon religiously as a child -- and any show such as Little Opal -- where a dog was always helping others get out of horrific plights when no one else would bother -- a theme as a child, I just couldn't understand. I was like: "Where are the heroes?" -- the same question a famous charter principal talked about later while he was practically starved as a child in New York ghettos. Where are the adults? Where are the heroes, he asked himself.

It hit me, at that moment, that Judi had unearthed an inner secret I didn't know about myself. What shocked me even more was that not even my husband or other friends had figured it out, either. I don't think I'd even thought of it before. I love to protect the underdog. It was my calling, my inner being -- and children were my first and foremost ones to care for -- especially children no one else cared about.

When I came home and told my husband that night, he gaped at me with the same reaction I had: disbelief. How could we have not figured this out much sooner? It hit us both hard. How can awoman who has only known me a few years figure this out before we did? We've been married 19 years. It was because she read my column religiously and noted a major theme in all my writing: Who protects kids when their parents don't care? Who protects kids when their parents don't know what's going on? And who protects kids whose parents might be interested some of the time but not often enough to help them grow into an amazing adult? The answer? No one.

Worse, why do adults firmly believe that kids who grow up in a ghetto, or just -- heck -- bad parts of San Pedro, Wilmington or anywhere else, should do A-OK and learn important values like politeness, honesty and respect when their lives are enveloped with troubles we could never understand -- gang members forcing them to do things they don't want to do, drugs permeating their neighborhoods, parents on drugs or alcohol, family member who are molesters, families who believe moving ahead is working at a Taco Bell for the rest of your life or babysitting your kid sister's baby, or having parents who believe in cons or forgers as a way of life. And we say: "You have the choice. You know what to do. You know the right thing."

Do they? I can't imagine how. Soon after my shock of learning something about myself when a friend placed the Underdog glass in front of me, I found myself with another friend, Marie Montgomery. Marie, a former Daily Breeze reporter like me, is now a public relations specialist for the Auto Club. We've both been living through the heartache of watching newspapers becoming dinosaurs with all the instant technology that floats about in a matter of seconds. DVDs here today, gone tomorrow. As for CDs, records are out to lunch. CDs? What are those? Now it's I-Pods. What are record albums, my 13-year-old asks about boxes stored away in the garage? Sometimes I wonder if he's ever seen that black, smooth pizza plate with perfect grooves. Newspapers? I want to cry because they're still one of the best educators of all time -- for very little money -- but they're almost as ancient, dead, salty and musty as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Marie, quite the hip gal even as we are showing our age these days, asked me: With all these changes -- and a newspaper job is likely to be here today and gone tomorrow -- have you considered blogging? She too was somewhat amazed that -- despite having known me for more than a decade -- it was my neighbor who saw my true core: a fighter for the underdog.

Marie promptly announced: "Start a blog. You can name it 'the Underdog!'" Crazy. I looked at her. But the Underdog for what? I demanded. "Kids!" she exclaimed. "You love kids. You fight for kids!" How right she is.

I started the with some pretty sage advice from my friends, who seem to know me better than I know myself. Shortly after, the Breeze was sold, my job was cut in half and, since it paid next to nothing anyway, I figured why not work for myself? If you're not getting paid much, you might as well enjoy it -- and write what you truly want to write -- how to rescue kids that need rescuing. I call it advocacy journalism -- and despite layers of bureaucractic journalism ethics that don't recognize advocacy -- I can't help myself. It's just the way I am and will always be.

Shortly afterward, I saw a movie preview of the upcoming "Underdog" movie that was being resurrected and would be released Aug. 3. I'll be the first underdog there -- and somehow, I don't believe it will hurt a doggone bit if you take your kids, too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dear Readers: This is a great story actually written by a teacher! That's what this blog is for. We want teachers, parents, administrators and just your average citizen to write stories in regards to important opinions, beliefs and issues regarding children. But this is for children too. Kids can write their own stories. This is the first teacher to post on my blog and I am extremely appreciative of her effort. And, I also agree with her. Need I say more? -- Diana


By Cathy Scott Skubik
Summer time is good for laying around and reading a good book, or two or three. In June, I sent my second grade students off with a list of some good books to look for in the library and I crossed my fingers that they will follow through. I also hope their parents will help them in this endeavor. For it is parental behavior that makes the biggest impact upon a growing reader. If you want to raise a reader, you have to be one. You have to value books, visit the library and bookstores, and you have to READ everyday, in front of your kids, even being a little selfish with your reading time.
I matched the list to what I knew each child needed as a reader. I kept it simple, but underneath the simplicity was a great deal of purpose; my belief in my critical role as a reading teacher/coach/cheerleader. This summer list follows a year of intense instruction that was personalized for them, that taught them what readers do, and gave them time to read whole chapter books and beautiful picture books. We engaged in amazing discussions of what we read, what we learned, what we believed in. We wrote our stories together, we learned about words together, we wrote informational text together. We had a great year of literacy.
Because, of course, raising a reader is also the work of our schools. Good teachers everywhere know that to be an effective teacher of reading, you too must be a reader. A reader who eats books for lunch- talks about books with friends and colleagues- studies reading behaviors and strategies. Teaching reading (and writing) is an art form. It is not brain surgery. But it is a complex process that involves skill and pedagogy, some gut-level understanding and instinct, and lots and lots of practice and study. Unfortunately, because it is such a complex practice, a few years ago our leaders decided to mandate a scripted, uniform program. It is known as Open Court. It has many good components, but it is a textbook program, a one-size fits all approach, and it is not enough. My friends who teach in Open Court schools know that in order to raise readers, they need to supplement the program with literature and actual books and magazines. In some schools, this is discouraged, and strict adherence to the program is monitored by what some of my friends call the Open Court Police. Yikes.
I rejected the textbook approach to reading almost immediately upon starting my career. I knew in my gut that in order for children to become a reader, they needed to hold a book in their hand and curl up with it. They needed to experience the entire book- not just an excerpt printed in an anthology. They needed to read multiple titles by the same author, and follow a character through a series. And, they needed to read (gasp) nonfiction! Open up an OC book, you won’t find much nonfiction, and what you will find is not what represents the large body of informational texts that we read and study in our everyday life.
So why are we told as parents that all is well in our literacy program? You know the answer; test scores! Just last week, Mike Lansing shared the general opinion of most (but not all!) administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District, “...Since 1999, our instructional efforts prioritized elementary schools and specifically the Open Court reading program. We have been most successful in this endeavor, and the data speaks for itself - we have far outpaced the rest of the state over this time in elementary school student achievement.”
Do we leave it at that? Is that the best we can do? Are the results of a few days of testing- a multiple choice test- enough to tell us the whole story? What about a child's love of a specific book that they read and reread- a book they love with all of their heart? What about asking to be taken to the library-or the bookstore? What about a child's ability to quote their favorite passage? Talk about their favorite author? A child's choice to pick up a book instead of plop in front of a TV?
What about the way they write, and tell their own stories with words that flow and sing? Why don't we talk about that? (Don’t get me started on the so-called writing component of the OC program- that is another discussion entirely.)
I think there is a lot more we need to be asking about (and demanding of) our literacy programs. A test score will give you some basic information about basic literacy. And that is a success story in many of our schools. But it is so limiting, and reading and writing are not. They open us up to different worlds, they allow us to discover and confirm who we are and what we believe in. Good instruction in these areas must match the limitlessness of being a literate person.
Enjoy your summer reading, and let your children see you doing it!
Cathy Scott Skubik teaches at Park Western/ Harbor Magnet in San Pedro.
She has taught for 22 years, and she still loves it.
Her school is NOT an Open Court school.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dear Underdog Readers:

I wanted to share this story written by Tim Marquez, the father of Paige, a 4-year-old who died of a brain tumor two years ago. He sent me this to share the journey of grief that has taken him and his family to the next level – helping other children and other families who've found themselves locked in a similar nightmare. As I’ve written about Paige over the last couple of years, first as a columnist for More San Pedro, then on my blog, I couldn’t help but feel that impish, elfin girl was with me – dancing around in my head with a perky spirit. After listening to her parents describe her as the family peacemaker, the child who begged her parents not to cry while she was dying and who wanted them to help others, I asked Tim if he would share their efforts with the readers. He gave me permission to post this story below and give you the following information about their upcoming fundraiser – and even more importantly – sharing his struggle with the loss of his child. If you can find it in your heart to attend their second fundraiser, Saturday July 28, at the San Pedro Elks Lodge, you too will be helping to prevent the deaths of sparkling children like Paige.-- Diana
(In the photo above, Paige's sister, Blake (left) holds candle at the Cancer Relay honoring Paige)
By Tim Marquez

Dear Diana:

The following paragraph contains information that I have not shared with anyone outside of my immediate family. I am sharing it with you because I am hoping to give you a feel for what we have gone through and continue to go through. I am hoping that you will take that feeling and express it in your next blog. I want your readers to feel motivated to do something about pediatric brain tumors now because you never know who will be next.

Since Paigey died in July 2005, I have known of three other kids in San Pedro who have died from brain and spinal cord tumors. I imagine there are more that I am not aware of. I cannot sit by the wayside in my sadness and accept that Paigey's death was in vain. One day while I was holding Paigey's hand in the hospital I started to cry. She couldn't talk because of the ventilator tube that went into her lungs, so she shook my hand to get my attention. When I looked up at her she gave me a stern look and shook her head left-to-right, "NO". She did not want me or Cheryl to cry. She was a courageous little girl through it all. She was a bright, funny, independent spirit. I believe she was telling us to be strong and courageous like she was. Despite all the pokes, surgeries, treatments, doctors, nurses, and discomfort that she went through, she did not cry. On July 27, 2005, Paige was baptized and responded to all of the priests requests. About two hours later Paige was no longer willing to cooperate with the doctors and nurses. She began kicking both legs high in the air and hitting her hospital bed. She pulled at all of her IV's, blood-gas tubes, ventilator tube, and brain shunt. Even though her body was weak from lying in the hospital bed for nearly 1-1/2 months, she was strong enough to kick and pull. It was then that Cheryl and I knew Paige had had enough. She was done fighting the killer in her head and spine.

The doctors gave us a choice of continuing treatment or removing her from the ventilator; it was the 42nd consecutive worst day of my life. We decided to stop our baby's suffering and let her go. All the tubes and equipment were removed from her except for the IV that was providing sedatives to her dying body. We laid next to her on her bed over the next 60 hours or so talking to her and telling her how good she is and that we love her. She died in her sleep at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday, July 30, 2005. After she died we bathed her and we were able to hold her in our arms again. I hadn't been able to hold her since June 16, 2005, when she went into the hospital. I was warned in a dream that this day would be coming. At the end of February, 2005 before we knew Paige was sick, I had a dream that woke me up at 4:30 am. In my dream I was holding one of my three kids in my arms at the hospital and they had died. I could not see their face so I did not know which one it was. I rushed downstairs to check on them and all three were sound asleep in their bed. I was happy that it was only a dream. But now, five months later, it was reality. Cheryl and I took turns holding her for about 45 minutes to an hour. The nurse came in and told us it was time for the hospital staff to take her to the hospital morgue. We asked how they would transport her from the Pediatric ICU to the morgue and she said they would put her in a body bag, then a plastic case. We had the nurse wrap her in her blankey so that her body would not be touching the plastic bag or case. We stayed at the hospital until the mortuary had arrived to take her back to San Pedro and we went home with her.
Approximately 3,000 children are diagnosed each year with brain tumors and there is very little funding available for research and most of the children die before they reach adulthood. There also is not very much public awareness of brain tumors. Scientists and doctors do not know what causes brain tumors nor do they know exactly how to treat them. The surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that is applied is used mostly because there is nothing else available. The treatment also has long term effects on the children's body. While its true that radiation and chemotherapy kills cancer cells, it also kills the healthy cells that surround the cancer. Bones and tissue that are within the treatment area stop growing which means while the rest of the child's body is growing, their spine, skull, and other bones are not growing. For these children and families who survive their initial bout with cancer, funding is needed to provide them with long term care and quality of life. The bottom-line is that more funding is needed for research for a cure and to aid families and children who are afflicted with brain and spinal cord tumors.

If I could give my life so that no other children would have to suffer and die like this I would, but I know that is not possible. For this reason I will spend as much of my time as possible raising money to find a cure, which is why we created Paigey's foundation. She would want her foundation to succeed and I know that in order to do so we need everyone's support.

Thanks for listening to my story and request for help. I appreciate what you have done for us.

Tim Marquez Paigey's Dad Paige L. Marquez Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation P (310) 892-3503 F (310) 774-3956

What? The 2nd Annual Paige L. Marquez Foundation for the Paige L. Marquez Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
When? Saturday, July 28, 2007/ Cocktails and Silent Auction begin at 5:30 p.m.
Where? San Pedro Elks Lodge, 1748 Cumbre Drive, San Pedro, California
Costs? $70 per person
Included: Live band, dinner, live and silent auction
How you can help?

Here is how you can help besides attending the dinner: Forward the invitation to your friends and family who might be interested; Ask business owners requesting that they donate an item for our silent or live auction. If you know of any business owners who would be interested in donating something for our auction let me know at the above number and I'll contact them.

We are also in need of corporate/business sponsors who would be willing to donate money to offset as much of the cost of the dinner and band as possible. If we sell the maximum capacity of the Lodge the dinner would cost about $11,000.00 ($35.00 per person X 315 people), plus another $1,500.00 to cover the band, d-jay flowers, and supplies. Are you aware of any business owners who are philanthropic and willing to donate to a great cause? In return we would announce their business name during the dinner as being one of our sponsors and they would be listed in our program that will be given out the night of the dinner. If they donate $1,000.00 or more we will give them 2 tickets to the dinner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

San Pedro Chamber Awards Given out to Those Who Truly Deserve It When It Comes To Helping Kids and Their Communities

Leslie Jones and Mona Sutton,owners of the Omelette & Waffle Shop, hold their recognitions recently awarded from the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. Steve Kleinjan, right, who founded Clean San Pedro sits outside during a break.
Good News and Kudos Came in the Month of June to Those Who Help Their Community and Kids

By Diana L. Chapman
One local eatery and the non-profit group, Clean San Pedro, received awards from the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce this past month for their diligence, dedication and devotion to help their communities. They get kudos from me for their efforts to help kids!Owners of the Omelette & Waffle Shop, Leslie Jones and Mona Sutton, won the restaurant of the year award and Clean San Pedro founder, Steve Kleinjan, received the leadership award. Anthony Santich, the chair of the chamber’s board of directors, said he was proud to present the award for the year for the restaurant owner’s endless efforts to clean up the homelessness and graffiti along the Gaffey Corridor. (Mona is the block captain for the Gaffey Street Watch,) The owners have provided a safe haven for students as they leave school and head home and have even broken up fights.“They see the Omelette and Waffle Shop as a vehicle to spread all of the positive that’s going on and they see themselves as a conduit to connect people with information and introductions over a cup of coffee,” the chairman told dozens of folks who attended the event.From my point of view, they fight for the underdog – kids who are often prey to other students. Threatened students can use the restaurant as a place to escape and seek help.Steve, who began Clean San Pedro with a group of hard core volunteers who religiously donate their time to the clean up efforts, started the organization five years ago when he “got tired of the declining conditions and the lack of maintenance of many parts of San Pedro,” the chairman said.Under his organization, Steve has pulled together monthly clean-ups across San Pedro, bought tools, vehicles and other items necessary to make San Pedro an even cleaner and safer town.For children, Steve’s team has cleaned up several schools, but next year he plans to do some schools where he will help students will become the primary clean up leaders on their own campuses – under the auspices of Clean San Pedro.You go Steve!All I can say: thanks to both groups for providing a safer and clear environment for the kids of San Pedro.
Labels: Chamber Awards to those who help the community and kids
LAUSD Must “Still” Focus on the Children

By Mike Lansing, former LAUnified School Board Member

As I leave the LAUSD School Board after serving the last eight years representing Board District 7, I have been asked by the Daily Breeze to submit a column reflecting on my thoughts and hopes for the future. I am proud of the efforts of my staff and office over the past two terms and the simple credo we worked by: “Children First”. But rather than talk about what we accomplished, I submit the following three recommendations for the Board and District for the coming years.

Focus our instructional efforts almost exclusively on secondary schools. Since 1999 our instructional efforts prioritized elementary schools and specifically the Open Court reading program. We have been most successful in this endeavor and the data speaks for itself – we have FAR outpaced the rest of the State over this time in terms of elementary school student achievement.

Now however the same focus must be on secondary schools and the needs of those students. The work has already begun with a district-wide implementation process for Small Learning Communities. But while the concept in its essence is good – full implementation of the program will be necessary if we are to truly reach the thousands of disconnected teens who drop out of school every year. This means we have to implement a staffing strategy that will provide each student with a caring adult who will truly mentor and monitor the progress of each secondary student. If you want a “model” to consider – come down and check out the “College Bound” program my Boys & Girls Clubs have been sponsoring for the past five years in support of San Pedro, Banning and Narbonne high school students. It works and so can our secondary Small Learning Communities if the same resources and support of ALL secondary students is initiated.

Collaboration based on the needs of children – not “politics”. The impending plan for the Mayor’s office to take over one cluster of schools (out of nearly 70 district wide), is a waste of effort and resources because it will NEVER be duplicated nor sustained district wide. Pouring millions of dollars of resources and effort into a few schools and then walking away when the money runs out or after the next political agenda gets set is not the answer.

The City can truly assist our public education efforts if it becomes a committed partner to collaboration on neighborhood safety so all children can freely go to and from school and working together with the School district to enhance/expand after school and weekend child development programming. We already have all of the components necessary for the “extended learning day” that the Mayor and others talk about – we just need to bring the resources of the City and School District together to improve and expand those opportunities. True collaboration focusing on children is what we need – not another political press event.

Continue to build new schools especially in the Harbor area. The progress made by the School District over the last eight years in terms of the long overdue construction program is truly a Herculean effort and success story in so many ways. NOW is the time to build the schools planned for communities such as San Pedro, Wilmington and Gardena that correctly were made a “second” priority after I took office and are now scheduled to be built. We allowed the projects in all of the other communities (East & South L.A., the Valley, Watts) to be constructed first due to greatest need – the need and time is NOW to build the planned schools to relieve San Pedro and Narbonne High Schools (both with enrollments of 3600 while built for 2500) and Wilmington and Peary Middle Schools.

Amazingly, some elected officials are advocating for down sizing or eliminating these much needed new schools while at the same time promoting “thousands” of additional housing units throughout the South Bay. Either we spend the $300 million committed to these projects here and NOW or the funding will transfer to the other communities previously mentioned. In addition, schools like San Pedro and Narbonne will go to “year round” schedules unless ALL 2100 planned seats are built! This is a fact.

Let’s build upon the successes of the recent past and concentrate our instructional efforts on our teens/secondary students. Let’s truly form a worthwhile collaboration between the City and School District and build the schools in the Harbor area that are needed and have been promised. It’s not brain surgery – but it will take focus and commitment. Children First.