Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An 11-year-old at the time, San Pedro student sets the pace for new and younger researchers to come aboard at Cabrillo Aquarium's Aquatic Nursery

By Diana L. Chapman

As the first and youngest researcher in the Aquatic Nursery, Christian Stehlik began to panic when he came back daily to check on his baby, purple-striped jelly fish.

The research the 11-year-old boy outlined was to determine what baby jelly fish ate and thrived on. Instead – even though they were only about the size of a pin head – he found through his observations that when he counted his babies, they were vanishing one by one – and sometimes by the dozens.

“I just freaked out,” said Christian of his early beginnings as the youngest researcher at the Cabrillo Aquarium’s Aquatic Nursery. “I thought maybe I was counting them wrong, feeding them wrong.”

Concerned that the research using – moon jellies, brine and rotifer (a small plankton organism) – might be causing the destruction of the jelly fish, Christian immediately contacted the staff with his concerns. The staff was so impressed – and listened to what he had to say – that they focused on the “why” and discovered the aeration pumps were too strong and the currents were actually destroying the babies.

While the aquarium has always had ongoing research with older teenagers, it wasn’t until the new director, Kirsten Darrow, of the recently opened Aquatic Nursery, embraced younger children as potential researchers. Children who volunteered from 11 up, learned the laboratory rules and showed a sense of understanding and maturity when it came to the animals in the nursery, became potential candidates for the job. All work included rules that the babies must be cared for well – and that there was no stress to the critters, the director said. No dissections or stress related experiments were accepted, she explained.

On top of that, in order to qualify, young researchers had to write up a proposal which included the hypothesis, the time line, the methods and the materials that were necessary to undergo any experiments.

“This room is really intended for young growing baby animals and young scientist,” Kirsten explained to me as she carried her own baby, Forest, around with her in a pack throughout the nursery where all types of marine babies can be discovered from jelly fish to star fish. “That was what this room was made for.”

And Christian was the first to navigate the system, first with his study into purple striped jelly fish, and second into his study of “flat fish” – where he proposed the aquarium explore whether flat-fish, such as the horny-head turbot, California Halibut and English Soul – could cope with anything other than their natural environment when it came to their camouflage systems.

He outlined a study that would put the fish in tanks with brilliant pink sands in the bottom, or black pebbles – and contrast that with how they behaved compared to a tank filled with natural, colored sands from the beach. The fish often act like chameleons, changing colors so they can match their environment and protect themselves.

Christian said not only did the fish react poorly toward the variety of colors in their tanks, it appeared that some of them became outright hostile toward the unknown entities – striking out at the pink and the black bottoms or what biologists call “sub straights,” –the materials that make up the bottom of the tank.

“Whenever I tried to put them in the hot pink, I guess they saw it was white and they would change to a grayish color,” Christian said. “They just couldn’t adapt. They didn’t do to well with the black pebbles. They’d try to squirm in, but they couldn’t really use it to protect themselves.”

Since Christian paved the way for many other young researchers – having to take a hiatus once he was diagnosed with a rare illness, neuroblastoma, a cancer that typically starts in the stomach and often attaches itself to the spinal cord – a cadre of about 20 young researchers have joined the exploratory ranks of the nursery, the director said.

About three have had the exceptional abilities to be "natural observers" and shown the keen enough interest and dedication to perhaps make it in the future as marine biologist. Christian was one of those and opened the doors for others with his research.

"I've been interested in the ocean since I was five," Christian explained to me as he donned once again his white laboratory coat and began to explore the tanks with his sister, Rhea, 11. The research "just built up my confidence."

He believes more youngsters should be involved in the exploration of experimentation, "because it just makes people more responsible," for the fish, for wildlife in general and an understanding how precious life is.

Museum officials said you couldn't miss Christian's abilities toward research.

“One of the things we noticed about Christian was his observation skills,” said Andres Carillo, a laboratory assistant for the nursery. “He’s a natural observer and his thought process is much more scientific. It was just easier for him to link what was going on in all his projects.

“Before, we were always hesitant to take young researchers. We looked for kids 16-years or older. He’s just a natural.”

All this is good news for Christian, who has been going under long bouts of chemotherapy, living in and out of hospitals and doctors telling him he can’t go to the movies, be in large crowds of any type or be indoors with scores of other people. At his junior high graduation, he had to sit in a room virtually alone and watch the ceremonies via television.

So it was a breath of fresh air that the doctors allowed him to go visit his aquarium family where not only does he feel right at home, but the air circulation is of such good quality he can actually visit. He’s too tired to do research at this stage, but it thrills him, his father, Pete, his sister, and the rest of his family that he is able to return to the lab where he spent hours examining tiny critters.

When he returned, he comfortably slipped on his white lab coat just like the old days and got back to work doing what he’s so natural at – observing and paving the way for future scientists.
Help this San Pedro Kid help this San Pedro Mutt become a STAR

Dear Everyone in San Pedro,
My son Jon, 13, has asked me to ask you to vote online so his favorite dog, "AARP" will win this contest. AARP lives about 7 doors away from us and is one of Jon's new best friends. The contest deadline is August 18. You can vote once a day from the same computer.
1. Go to
2. Click on Petco Stars The Search for America's Most Talented Pet, Learn More>
3. Vote for: "AARP" He is the first one listed (in the top hat and black tie).
You'll be asked for your first and last name and e-mail address for your vote to be registered. If you have the time and inclination, you can even watch AARP's talents there or at
Vote early; vote often.
Many thanks, Kathy Popoff

Monday, August 13, 2007

(Our Unconcerned Underdog, Boo, above)

The Underdog Movie: Was it brilliant, resiliant, heartrending, inspirational? Honestly no...but
By Diana L. Chapman

I liked it anyway.
Underdog was fun-loving, family-oriented, even enjoyable at times movie and for those enamored with canines -- particularly beagles -- it will give you a good chuckle or two.
In particular, it's deliciously snappy for parents looking for a fairly clean-shaven movie in a world dominated by U.S. culture where everything has to be snazzy --from commercials on down--and sprinkled with sexual innuendos, rough language and endless shootouts, an innocent world getting erased quickly day-by-day, moment-by-moment by just by turning on the good 'ol tube.
So despite the critics wham-bams that the movie is literally for the dogs, I'd ask you to think again, hang up the leash for abit and relax. Admittedly, it's roughly the same plot as the same old very bad, simple cartoon. Featuring the voice of comedian Jason Lee in the title role, the Underdog opens with a mad scientist, Simon Bar Sinister (played by Peter Dinklage) wanting to rule the world who accidentally energizes a test lab beagle with super powers such as talking in English (with a bit of Chihuahua-speak splashed in among other doggie languages), and the extraordinary abilities of Superman, including the ability to fly like a rocket and talk in ryhme.
Created as a Superman cartoon spoof in 1964 -- followed by a nine-year-run -- the "Look in the sky. It's a plane! It's a bird. No, it's a frog," would blast into televisions across America as an animated crowd of onlookers stared up at the flying Underdog, a far-from-perfect super hero, who often crash-landed in prat
For whatever reason, no matter how silly, I loved this show as a kid and obviously so did thousands of other American youngsters. It didn't seem to matter much that the punchy little beagle -- who had a reporter girlfriend, a spaniel named Polly Purebred, had the flattest, worst animation of nearly all time.
The truth was, thousands of youths loved this simple, bark-bark concept of a pet dog fighting the big, bad -- real bad -- criminal. 'Twas the saintly, but silly good canine verses the very, beastly human villain.
So sometimes, you have to dismiss what the critics say, because it's not the critics who would be interested (unless they are ages 12 on down) and some parents are just thrilled to get a lot of giggles out of the movie -- no matter how stupid -- which we did.
Anyone who has a canine friend, can really understand when the Underdog (known in his non-super-hero life as just a little imp of a creature named Shoeshine) believes he could perhaps now with super powers hypnotize his new owner, Cad(Patrick Warburton ) a kid whose mother has died and whose father, Dan Unger, (Jim Belushi) a former cop, is now raising his son alone.
Naturally, a great divide exists between the father and son, which is why the symbolic rift needs the nursing from "little 'ol me, Underdog." Now that he believes he has hypnotic powers, Underdog mouths to Cad: "Give the dog your food. Give the dog your food. Give your dog your food."
That's the way most dogs look at you when you're eating. Unfortunately for Shoeshine, aka Underdog, it's the one thing apparently Shoeshine/Underdog cannot accomplish -- a hypnotic stance that gets absolutely no chomps from Cad.
The Underdog speaks in rhyme and in his flying sequences across the sky -- the cartoon ditty, used in the movie as well, soared through American livingrooms.
"When criminals in this world appear,
And break the laws that they should fear,
And frighten all who see or hear,
The cry goes up both far and near for
Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! Underdog!
Speed of lightning! Roar of Thunder!
Fighting all who rob and plunder!
Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! "
Don't take it too barking seriously. It's meant to be fun -- and your young children will think so too.
Yap. Yap. The Underdog is a movie with a lot of bark, but not a lot of bite. But my snap back to that would be: So, what's so wrong with that?
Rated PG, and hopefully still playing at a theater, somewhere near you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

(Left to right: Carlos, Cole, Ryan, the ever-endearing, Woody Woodpecker, Alfonso dude and Jake)

Here's the question:

I often wonder during the summer months, where my son and his friends are off too. They're at that pre-teen stages -- 12 and 13 -- where you want to give them a bit of freedom, but how far do you take it?

I told my son that he could head off to his good buddy's, Alfonso's house, where all the kids seem to love go. But I gave him the list of could "nots" -- especially the one about not hanging at the old fort wedged in a hillside around the corner from our house. I've heard some disconcerting rumors about kids doing nasty things there like stuffing couches into sewer lines, bringing in crews to fix that peculiar problem for more than a week. But one day in my travels, I spotted Ryan and Alfonso there and I told Ryan he'd be grounded for an eternity if he ever went again. Why? Because I had such a fort to hang out when I was a kid -- and the doings there were simply -- scary -- to say it as briefly as possible. I won't get into particulars, but as much as you want too, you cannot always trust your kid.

Freedom, as they say, is not free. You have to earn it. That's what I told Ryan when I let him go over to the cool-dude Alfonso 's house -- again -- to be with the other "cool dudes." So I have to say, it did make my day this summer when I rounded the bend near the Corner Store and found Ryan and friends walking around the neighborhood. There was a nice gaggle of them -- being boys not knowing what to do with themselves -- they were headed off to the Corner Store for a few treats, a place where it's most safe for kids to hang out.

The best part wasn't just that they weren't at that the fort, it was a very cocky and fun, Alfonso, who with complete-and-utter confidence daringly flashed brightly in this burnt-Woody Woodpecker hat.

It was so peculiar and eye-catching that even, Peggy, the new Corner Store owner, stopped her car to look and couldn't quit laughing.

As the classic-red-feathered-bird-friendly cartoon imp would say: "Hah-hah-ha-hah ha! Hah-hah-ha-hah-ha!" And hopefully, the joke is not on us!

BACK AT IT AGAIN! Tasty Treats and Tasty Times with those Aussie Gals! As Always, Kids Are Welcome...

Susan McKenna (left) and Marisa Guiffre (right) have started all over again downtown San Pedro after owning the popular, community-oriented Corner Store for seven years. Susan decided to open Nosh Cafe (which opened in July -- sort of officially -- and sort of having hours Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. 'ish). Susan is the owner and Marisa has agreed to help at this fun-loving, healthy place where quiches, fruit and veggies abound with such sweet deliciousness you don't even know the food is good for you (always a good thing when it comes to kids). Located at 617 S. Centre Street, take the chance to stop by and taste a luscious latte, eat a piece of banana bread or take a bite out of scrumptious bread pudding. And that's just the beginning....Call (310)514-1121 for more information.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007



Mr. Clean San Pedro continues to wipe down San Pedro to make it sparkle -- and now his entire team need our support.

This can be done by simply attending his second annual "Hot Pedro Nites" over a three day period which will host a Doo-Wop Concert, a classic car cruise and a reunion bash running from Aug. 16 to Aug. 18.

All proceeds will go to supporting Steve Kleinjan's efforts through the non-profit group he began -- Clean San Pedro --where a team of volunteers and himself clean up parts of the town every month one piece at a time. He also hired an employee to routinely clean the streets of San Pedro who putters around town in a little yellow-and-white Clean San Pedro golf cart.

Tickets can be purchased at or calling (323)780-0232.
One of my favorite gals in town, Dorothy Matich, is at it again to restore the vandalized canine cemetery at Ft. MacArthur where guard dogs who served during the Cold War are buried. A tea will be held to earn proceeds for the project.
Vandals ripped up cemetery markers, trashed the grave sites and knocked down parts of fencing. Over the years, the cemetery has taken so many hits, visitors can no longer tell its a graveyard and picnic in the area.
Attempting to save this "historic treasure," as Dorothy calls it, a tea will be held Thursday, Aug. 23, at 12:30 p.m. at MaGriffe, 3624 S. Gaffey at a cost of $25. For more information, please call (310) 831-2803.
All proceeds will be used to rebuild the cemetery through the Ft. MacArthur Museum where dogs like Baron, Cheetah and Pancho are buried. The refurbishment is expected to cost around $25,000.

Meet Buddy-Love, a 3-year-old Pug who can be seen dining about San Pedro when his owner takes him out for breakfast. He puts his napkin on. He doesn't bark. He doesn't eat until he's told too. He's never rude. In fact, he's polite and mannerly.
Buddy- Love's owner, Shaune Ann Feuz, took this photo as scores of people walked by and stared at this canine's remarkable self-control -- to wait until he's told: "You can now have your bacon."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

(photo: Steve Ybarra to the left, College Bound Director Yesenia Aguilar and tutor/writing teacher Joseph Elizondo)

By Diana L Chapman

It was a warm day at Bogdanovich Park. My son’s team – the Pirates – were playing against a Wilmington team. The game was tight and went into extra innings. The weather was hot – but not too hot – and that’s when I struck up a conversation with the young man sitting next to me.

Sometimes, you just know things happen for a reason. And that day, at that particular moment, in that particular second, I knew I met this young boy -- lip piercing and all -- for a reason. And I think, so did he.

As his story unfolded, I knew it even more so. Steven Ybarra, 18, was moments away from graduating from San Pedro High School and talked about going to Harbor College. He had come ot the game to watch several of his close buddies from his neighborhood play. Having known each other practically all their lives, they had built a strong web of friendship, fashioning themselves like strong threads in a tapestry into a tightly woven support structure.

That's why Steve had come -- to show support for his friends

But now Steve needed a job. He had won two scholarships in poetry, one for $2,500, but wasn’t sure what to do with his life. Harbor College was a possibility, he mused, but he had decided that next week he'd go to the local recruiting office and join the military.

I blanched. My face didn't hide my emotional concern for a second. My forehead wrinkled up (all I could think of was Iraq and all the beautiful soldiers who had gone and were killed and injured there to protect us). Witnessing my expressions, Steve immediately leaped into a defensive diatribe as to why he should join; The military offers recruits 330 different careers to train in and he could select from anyone of them; the chances of going to Iraq were slim, he added.

He did not, however, say the magic words I was looking for: "I want to join."

In the past, I've been always telling kids I meet, "Go to college. Go to college. Go to college." It didn't dawn on me what a burden I was placing on them if they didn't have parents or some advocate to help guide them. To a kid, the lack of understanding --the how-to- get-there-holes -yawn before them like large crevices they don't know how to jump.

Until now, I hadn't realized how much I was blowing off wasted breath -- because I had no idea where to tell youths who needed help to go -- how to pick schools, apply for applications and the myriad of other requirements -- except for their already overwhelmed high school counselors working withhundreds of other students.

But now, I knew exactly where to send a kid like Steve before he made a momentous decision to join the military and discovered that wasn't the place for him. Explore your options, I said, and get down to the College Bound Program at the Boys and Girls Club. For me, it was a moment of realization -- what an incredible gift this program was to this community– one that didn’t exist until about five years ago.

Having steadily increased its numbers of students going off to university from a handful its first year – to now over "40" this year, college bound prepares students on taking SATs, filling out applications, writing essays and how to seek scholarships and financial aide. I used this myself when I was ready to tear my hair out helping my girlfriend's son apply through the college application process. What was taking me hours to do, took the program director a few seconds.

Currently, two hundred and fifty students are enrolled and are studying their realm of possibilities in higher education. They can begin as early as 7th grade.

A loud crack bolted through the air. The baseball suddenly snapped way past leftfield; players on the other team scrambled in vain to snatch it as the Pirate's pitcher, the other Steven who my friend had come to watch, scored another homerun. How many had he hit now? He had to be the best ballplayer I'd ever seen in any of the leagues -- as a pitcher easily sweeping out three players in a row time and time again. Not only was this youth a great pitcher, he was smooth and resilient under pressure, bringing us nearly as many outs with his fast pitch.

What about him, I pointed at the ballplayer friend. Will he go to college? Steve, the poet, didn’t know whether his friend, Steve, the ballplayer, had much of future either, because his grades were less than hot. The poet was bemoaning the fact that it was unlikely the tenth grader could even make his high school team with his grades -- and so was I, his coach and my husband.

Once I was sure the poet Steve wasn't exactly sold on the military, I called Yesenia Aguilar, the college bound director then and there and asked her if I could send the two Steve's down on Monday after school. Send them down, she responded, but I could tell over the phone she was calculating the possibilities of finding a school for the poet in such a short period of time. She'll be waiting for you, I explained to Steve when I got off the phone, and she'll do anything to help a kid. Take your friend, Steve with you. He nodded and the game was over.

We lost 6-5. And I wondered as we left if the poet Steve would lose too. I took a deep breath. The question was, would he do it? I'd have to wait and see and the soonest I'd know anything was Monday.

Steve showed up on the dot that Monday; his friend didn't.
By Tuesday, he’d placed everything Yesenia asked him for – transcripts and other paper work – on her desk. He had fulfilled all the requirements he needed, Yesenia said, but one class – chemistry! I could tell she was running around now looking not only for a college for Steve, but a summer chemistry class. Didn’t anybody tell him he needed it, she fumed to herself.

That same week, on Wednesday, I went to the College Bound Graduation Banquet to watch the graduating seniors get recognized and the Boys and Girls Club give out $1,000 scholarships to those students who had received acceptances and were headed off to achieving a higher education in the fall. One student, Justin Johnson, had received four acceptances (three to UC schools)and received a special $4,000 scholarship from the Palos Verdes Penisnsula Rotary Club.

At the banquet, Mike Lansing, the executive director of the Los Angeles Harbor clubs, urged all students to be accountable for themselves – and to do what was right for them – not their teachers, their parents or friends who may be telling them they didn’t need college.

Break the mold, he said.

And that’s when I spotted Steve – sitting in the crowd -- looking so happy. Yesenia called him up to the podium and said he qualified for the club’s scholarship: “We are still looking for a college for Steve. But he is going to one.”

Later she told me: "He's been great. He's followed through on everything. He was just confused, and now he knows he wants to be an architect. He's awesome."

On occasion, when I go to the club to teach writing, I see Steve -- and it makes me happy. It makes me happy because I know had it not been for my parents, I would never have made it to or through college, which allowed me to have a great journalism career.

Bravo. Steve. Bravo for breaking the mold. Bravo because you went for help and explored your options as my Dad would say. I pray Steve gets his baseball friend to go to the Boys and Girls Club too where they understand that -- sometimes -- there are many , many valuable kids like Steve out there -- just sitting and waiting for a bit of guidance.


We have so many heroes in this world. But some of the more important heroes, the people that are the glue that make the walls stick together, the people who work consistently day-to-day on a volunteer basis, the people who actually in reality make things work -- are the most ignored heroes in our lives. They are the ones who are there -- always -- in your classrooms, in the police department, at the hospital, at the museum...They are there always -- not just when the fire storms hit.

Here's my first group of heroes -- a set of Barton Hill Elementary School teachers --who retired from their teaching positions at the school, but agreed to return to bring art to the kids in their classrooms under the auspices of the non-profit group, Art To Grow On. ATGO teaches thousands of children art throughout the Los Angeles Harbor using volunteers like the women above. Most of the volunteers for this program are mothers with children in school where they teach.

But the five women above (except for the one to the right corner above are all retired teachers who returned to their former school so the program wouldn't end. Not enough parents volunteered to continue the art classes.

These former teachers, who-would-not-be-named, are the first set of heroes I selected to post -- because they deserve it (even if they hate the photo!)

Do you know a local hero that works with kids? Email me at
ART CORNER FOR KIDS -------------
YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Diana,

Hello I am Maja Pavic. I am a thirteen year old girl who attends Richard Henry Dana Middle School. Dana Middle School is a nice school and the teachers I have had for the past two years were wonderful and the teachers I have had in seventh grade are great. My English teacher for sixth grade was very nice and she is always willing to help people that need help. Her name is Mrs. Evano and Mrs. Evano would always help me with my work and she would help me in things that I did not understand. My English teacher for seventh grade is Mrs. Bradford. Mrs. Bradford is a very helpful teacher and she is a wonderful person. She also takes the time to explain homework and class work as well. Mrs. Evano influenced me to always be organized and always be ready for school and to be prepared for tests and quiz's. Mrs. Bradford influenced me to do well in life and to have all of your homework ready, have your school supplies and to follow school rules and to be a good student. And then there is my seventh grade History teacher, Mrs. Crow. Mrs. Crow is a wonderful teacher as well; she is a understanding teacher and she can help you in many ways. If you tell her something she will understand. She is a caring and kind teacher. She always cares about the students and how we do in school, and she cares about our grades. She influenced me by showing me that you can have fun and learn at the same time. She showed me that you can do your best; you just have to try you hardest to get to the goal you want. And the rest of my teachers were also helpful to me.
My goal in life is to finish High School and move onto college. In college , I will take classes to be a veterinarian when I grow up, and I will work as a veterinarian on work days and on weekends I will work as an artist, which means I will have two jobs. I will have two jobs because I cannot choose between the two jobs. And after college I will stay with my parents for a couple of days until I find a house and then I will buy furniture and I will buy a ferret, which is a weasel. I will try to be as successful in life as possible. I will buy my parents a house near to my house so we will be closer to each other. I will help my parents as much as I can with anything they need help with. And I will always be there to help my family members and that is what my goal is in life.