TIME BMX

BMX Pioneer Scot Breithaupt Found Dead

Russ Okawa Archives—USA BMX via AP Scot Breithaupt leads the pack in a BMX bicycle race in Las Vegas in 1976

Breithaupt's death was unexpected, and the circumstances are murky

(LOS ANGELES) — Scot Alexander Breithaupt, who helped turn BMX bike racing from a backyard backwater into an international action sport, has died, authorities said.

Breithaupt was among the first to organize bicycle races on dirt motorcycle courses in the early 1970s, becoming first a founder of BMX — or bicycle motocross — then a champion, then one of its first famous faces.

“Scot was one of the key figures in making BMX become what it is today. He would say he was the key figure, because that was the kind of guy he was,” said Craig Barrette, spokesman for USA BMX, which runs the sport’s Hall of Fame, where Breithaupt is enshrined. “He was involved in every aspect of BMX.”

The sport, which later took on some of the same high-flying freestyle features as skateboarding, now draws crowds of thousands, fueled by energy-drink company sponsors and featured on ESPN’s X Games.

Among its biggest current stars is Jamie Bestwick, a 13-time X Games BMX gold medalist, who was part of a social media outpouring in the action sports world for Breithaupt.

“Sad to read about the passing of one of the all-time greats,” Bestwick said on his Twitter and Facebook pages. “Scot Breithaupt thank you for your amazing contributions and dedication to BMX.”

Another BMX Hall-of-Famer, Mike King, tweeted that it’s a “very sad day in the BMX world.”

Breithaupt’s death was unexpected, and the circumstances are murky.

Police responding to reports of a body near a shopping center in the desert city of Indio found him dead in a tent at a vacant lot, Sgt. Dan Marshall said Monday. Breithaupt, who was 57 and lived in neighboring La Quinta, had been dead for an unknown time, and there were no obvious signs of foul play, Marshall said. A cause of death had not been determined Monday.

Breithaupt was a teenager and a competitive motocross rider when one day he saw a group of kids riding their bicycles in a dirt lot near his home in Long Beach, Calif. He was inspired to organize bicycle races on a dirt track similar to those used by motocross riders.

“Those were some of the first BMX races ever,” Barrette said.

Breithaupt became a BMX rider, winning several championships.

He also became an early voice for the sport, introducing it to the nation as a color commentator in the early 1980s when it was televised on ESPN at a time when the network itself was new and specialized in novelties.

Later, he started manufacturing bikes, founding the company SE Racing and creating several innovative frame designs, Barrette said.

After retiring from active racing, he sold SE and started LM Productions, producing BMX and extreme-sport shows for ESPN and Fox.

TIME California

This California Town Conserved So Much Water It Had to Dump 550,000 Gallons Of It

"Hopefully, this will be a learning experience," one resident said

California is going through one of the worst droughts in its history, with residents around the state being asked to conserve as much water as possible. But the town of Poway did such a good job, officials had to dump more than half a million gallons.

According to Poway’s Mayor, Steve Vaus, the water sat in the overheated Blue Crystal Reservoir for so long, that a chemical imbalance of chloramine developed, rendering it unsafe to drink, ABC10 News reports.

“It was a perfect storm of conservation and heat,” Vaus told ABC10 News.

The amount that was dumped could have supplied four households for a year, the station says.

Vaus said that the water couldn’t be released back into the town’s lake, as it would’ve been too expensive to transport it there from the reservoir. Instead, it was released into a nearby canyon.

“Hopefully, this will be a learning experience,” Poway resident Susan Killen told ABC10 News.

The city is trying to come up with a plan to prevent this kind of situation from happening again, but is facing monetary restrictions — a standalone recycling system would cost over $1 million.

[ABC10 News]

TIME portfolio

Photographing California’s Wildfires

Freelance photographer Stuart Palley has been chasing blazes for the past three years, documenting one of the most dramatic consequences of California’s extended drought.

Over the past week, TIME LightBox shared on the @timelightbox Instagram feed, a series of photographs Palley shot this past month as Lake Fire has devastated thousands of square miles of forests near San Bernardino. He explains his work.

Olivier Laurent: Why are you doing this work?

Stuart Palley: My earliest memories of wild land fire are watching the 1993 Laguna Beach Fire on TV as a five-year old. The Santa Ana Wind-fueled inferno burned hundreds of homes just miles from where I grew up. In high school, ash floated down from the sky onto the dance floor at the freshman Halloween dance during the 2003 California Fire Siege. I then had to leave school for a week and go out to the desert because the ash was causing my asthma to flare up. As I write the Homeowner Association is pulling out all the bushes where I live and replacing it with a drought-resistant grass.

Wildland fire is part of my life. As I returned from college and grad school in the Midwest, I came back to a California in severe drought, with brown hills, water restrictions, and wildfires worse than ever. The lake where I went to summer camp as a kid dried out, and the forest where my girlfriend and I drove on our first date burned over and is now closed.

Drought can be difficult to visualize but frequent wildfire is its most acute effect, so the images are about creating a visual record of wildfire. I want to show the public how the drought is causing these fires to burn intensely. Maybe the images pique their interest in wild land fire, and they go learn more on their own. If a homeowner clears defensible space or conserves water after looking at my work, then the project is a success.

The Lake Fire burns in San Bernardino County Wednesday night and Thursday morning after coming back to life and burning thousands more acres. The fire was over 20,000 acres and 27% contained, down from 38% containment and smaller acreage the day before. Rim Rock was under a mandatory evacuation and Pioneertown was under a voluntary evacuation
Stuart PalleyThe Lake Fire burns in San Bernardino County.

The project originally started as a reaction against tired and cliché coverage of wildfire. News stations simply zoom in on the biggest flame and focus on the aircraft dropping flame retardant, and that’s what everyone sees. There’s an eerie beauty to the fires burning, and at the end of the day, it’s a natural process that I want to show. Perhaps I can create some order out of chaos.

Finally, I wanted to do things right, educate myself and receive training, and go onto the fire line with the men and women who risk their lives to save peoples homes and lives.

Olivier Laurent: This is dangerous work. What steps are you taking to make sure you’re not running into potential risks?

Stuart Palley: I take multiple precautions to ensure I mitigate risk as much as possible and stay safe. My first priority is to stay out of the way of fire crews actually fighting the fire.

It would be naïve to say that you can precaution away all risk, because at the end of the day we’re dealing with nature: Fire does what fire wants. It is important to sometimes take a step back since no picture is worth your life or an injury. Firefighters do a dangerous job and I’m just there as an observer. I can leave anytime I want, but they’re working on orders, so I have a tremendous respect for them.

For the fire line, I have audited basic wild land fire training, and I own the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required, including a new generation fire shelter, NFPA approved boots. I’ve been to about 40 wildfires at this point, and have been fortunate to learn from firefighters at each one.

Also, I have radios programmed with the frequencies used at fires, so I can monitor traffic and retain situational awareness at a fire should there be an adverse weather change. I have a colleague who is a fire captain with an agency, who, when off duty accompanies me to some fires to act as a liaison and guide. Its invaluable to have an expert with 25 years of experience teach me about fire behavior as it’s happening right in front of us.

Olivier Laurent: Tell me more about this particular fire. What’s your take on it?

Stuart Palley: Given the extreme drought conditions, the Lake Fire unfortunately burned intensely and spread quickly. I don’t think many firefighters were surprised by how fast and intensely the fire burned. Until the drought ends, or we get a miracle El Nino this winter, some fires will continue to burn like the Lake Fire across the west. In the last few days, destructive fires burned in Washington, and more than one million acres in Alaska were on fire.

The Lake Fire burned from the woods of the San Bernardino National Forest not far from Big Bear at 6,000 feet to the high desert near Pioneertown over many miles. Basically, wildland firefighters have come to expect this extreme fire behavior earlier and earlier in the summer in each successive season.

We are seeing fuel moisture levels, which is a way of measuring the amount of water in given types of trees and shrubs, plummet to levels seen in late August. This is due to the drought. Sixty percent is considered the “critical” threshold for fuels in the wild land firefighting world, and parts of the San Bernardino National Forest are already very near that level. This critical threshold is what we normally see in September-November when Santa Ana Winds historically have caused the worst fires in Southern California.

Further, the Bark Beetle, which ravaged forests in the west in the last decade, is hitting trees again across California Forests. An aerial survey by the US Forest Service in 2015 estimated tree mortality at around 12 million trees throughout the forests here, many probably due to bark beetle kill. Trees normally use sap to fight off bark beetles boring into their trunks, and when the trees are drought stressed, they do not have or produce enough sap to fight off the beetles. The bark beetles signal to other beetles to attack the same tree, and the tree succumbs to the infestation. This happens over and over again in the forest, essentially putting large candlesticks of dead, dry, wood, amongst living forest, creating explosive fire conditions.

Add to that triple digit heat when the Lake Fire started, and single digit humidity, and an ignition source in a hard-to-reach area, and you have the conditions for a large fire. The Lake Fire is nature taking its course in the face of extended drought, and until the drought ends, we will continue to see these types of fires.

Stuart Palley is a Los Angeles based photographer documenting wildfires, backroads and night skies. Follow him on Instagram @stuartpalley.

Follow TIME LightBox on Instagram @timelightbox.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME

A Brain-Eating Parasite Has Killed a 21-Year-Old California Woman

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Mark Newman—AP 'Do Not Allow Water To Enter Your Nose' Amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) warning sign at thermal pool, Roger's Spring, Lake Mead, Nevada, U.S.A.

This is the second such fatality in the U.S. to occur in the last year

Public health officials have confirmed that a brain-eating amoeba caused the death of a 21-year-old woman in eastern California last month, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The woman contracted the parasite on private property in the town of Bishop, about 60 miles southeast of Yosemite National Park. She awoke from a nap last month with flu-like symptoms; physicians at Northern Inyo Hospital initially diagnosed her with meningitis. When her symptoms worsened, she was transported to a hospital in Reno, where she ultimately died of cardiac arrest.

Naegleria fowleri, as the amoeba is officially known, can thrive in warm freshwater and soil; infections result when contaminated water enters the nose, allowing the parasite to travel to the brain. It manifests itself first in flu-like symptoms — fever, vomiting, headaches — before inducing hallucinations, seizures, and, in more than 95 percent of instances, death.

This is the second naegleria fowleri-related fatality in the U.S. to occur in the last year. In July 2014, nine-year-old Hally Yust died from the infection after water skiing in a contaminated lake in Kansas. The majority of cases in the country have been in the southeast.

Health officials are eager to note, however, that the occurrences of the amoeba are rare and infections even rarer.

“I want to emphasize that there have been no evident cases of amoeba contamination in the U.S. in well-maintained, properly treated swimming pools or hot springs,” Richard Johnson, a public health officer in Inyo County, California, told the Times.

TIME Courts

Family Sues After Student Dies During Fraternity Hike

Joshua Castaneda, Martha Castaneda, Maria Castaneda
Damian Dovarganes—AP Family members of late Armando Villa. Left to right: Joshua Castaneda, his mother Martha Castaneda, and aunt, Maria Castaneda react as California State University, Northridge, CSUN president Dr. Dianne Harrison, not seen, reads a statement regarding Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity activities that lead to the death of CSUN student Armando Villa, during a news conference at the CSUN campus in Northridge, Calif., on Sept. 5, 2014.

Armando Villa's family filed a lawsuit against California State University

(LOS ANGELES) — The family of a California college student who died during a grueling fraternity hike sued the organization and the school on Wednesday, saying the young man’s death was senseless and easily preventable.

Armando Villa, who attended California State University, Northridge, died a year ago Wednesday after the 19-year-old collapsed during an 18-mile hike organized by Pi Kappa Phi. The group was hiking in hot temperatures with little water and inadequate shoes, a school investigation found.

The investigation concluded that hazing was to blame.

Villa’s mother and stepfather filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the university, school administrators and the fraternity, alleging negligence and hazing. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages.

“We’re just looking for a little closure and justice,” Villa’s mother, Betty Serrato, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They’ve ruined a life and broken a family.”

The lawsuit alleges that fraternity members forced pledges to go on the dangerous hike without adequate supplies as a last ritual before they could become full-fledged members. The lawsuit says the university had a duty to oversee fraternity activities and should have been aware of and stopped any hazing that was happening.

The national fraternity’s CEO, Mark Timmes, declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to reiterate that the organization closed its chapter at the school after Villa’s death.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with Armando’s family and all those affected by his passing,” Timmes said in a statement.

The university declined to comment on the litigation, but said in a statement that any claim that the school “was in any way responsible for the tragic death of Armando Villa is untrue.”

The school cited its investigation and said it banned the fraternity from ever operating on campus again.

“The death of Armando was a tragedy and our hearts continue to go out to his family and friends,” the statement said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department opened a criminal investigation after Villa’s death, though results haven’t been released, including a coroner’s report.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Biddle, who investigated the case, said he has turned it over to the district attorney’s office to consider whether charges should be filed. A district attorney’s spokesman said the case was under review.

“We want the truth. We still want to know what happened out there,” Serrato said. “We deserve that much at least.”

In September, university President Dianne Harrison condemned hazing while addressing Villa’s death.

“Hazing is stupid, senseless, dangerous and against the law in California,” Harrison said. “It is a vestige of a toxic way of thinking in which it was somehow OK to degrade, humiliate and potentially harm others.”

Harrison is among those named in the lawsuit. She didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

TIME society

Justice Scalia Is Right—California Isn’t the Real West

california-state-flag
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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

But with immigration flatlining and the climate drying up, it may soon be

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was on the wrong side of most Californians, and history, in his cranky dissent to last week’s landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation.

But, much as we might hate to admit it, Scalia was right when, in the same dissent, he argued that California isn’t part of the American West. And in so doing, he raised—almost certainly unwittingly—an important question about California’s future.

Scalia made his point via a swipe at his colleagues for being unrepresentative of the United States as a whole (and thus being foolish to impose their views on marriage equality on the entire country). After noting that all nine justices attended Harvard or Yale law schools and that only one grew up in the Midwest, he wrote: “Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner.” But what about Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is from Sacramento? Scalia’s answer came parenthetically in the next line: “California does not count.”

The words “California does not count” prompted an array of California pundits and leaders to fly off the handle, and challenge the justice. How dare he disrespect California? Of course we count! “Antonin Scalia Doesn’t Heart California—or Get Us, Either,” said an LA Times headline.

Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General and leading candidate for U.S. Senate, coolly countered Scalia—an old-school “originalist” who thinks the U.S. Constitution should be read as it was in 1789—with a line from old-school rapper Ice T: “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” You should know that Ice T’s line was inspired by one from Gandhi’s 1927 autobiography (“Hate the sin not the sinner”) and St. Augustine’s 424 A.D. letter (“with love for mankind and hatred of sins”), so Harris out-originalist-ed the originalist Supreme Court justice by more than 1,300 years. Snap.

Despite all the California retorts, Scalia’s fundamental point went unchallenged, perhaps because it is so clearly correct: California doesn’t fit in the American West. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Indeed, the best book ever written about California—Carey McWilliams’ California: The Great Exception, published in 1949 and never out of print—is about precisely this reality. California is singular, among Western U.S. states, in how it was settled so early and grew so quickly. Our Western neighbors have always been slower, more plodding, less populous places. And so California became a ragtag giant among much smaller states in the West, defined by our sudden and explosive changes in culture, economy, and demographics.

“One cannot, as yet, properly place California in the American scheme of things,” wrote McWilliams, adding: “To understand this tiger all rules must be laid to one side. All the copybook maxims must be forgotten. California is no ordinary state; it is an anomaly, a freak, the great exception among the American states.”

Sixty-six years after those words were published, California is still an exception in many ways—we’re the only state to break ground on high-speed rail, we’re responsible for half of the country’s venture capital, and no one is as crazy about direct democracy as we are. Some, like the economist Bill Watkins at California Lutheran University, predict that coastal California will become even more exceptional, an ever-more-glittery playground for the global super rich, with the rest of California being populated by the working-class people who serve them.

But there is another possibility—that our state (or at least everything except the other-worldly Bay Area)—continues to change in ways that make us more closely resemble other Western states.

The crucial shift in this direction has been that California is no longer a state of arrival, a destination for the world. Immigration is flat. Over the last generation, more people have been leaving California for other states than have been moving here from the rest of the country. The high cost of living has been the prime force for driving out mostly lower-income folks.

Those outflows have given us more in common with neighboring states like Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon—in two ways.

First, those states, having received so many Californians seeking more affordable housing, have effectively been colonized by us, and are beginning to vote and eat more like California. All four now have In-N-Out Burger outlets, as does Texas, another big destination for exiting Californians. And as we made huge hikes in tuition and limited enrollment in our public universities, more California high school graduates are heading to public universities in neighboring states. (I’ve seen see this phenomenon firsthand since I teach at Arizona State University).

Second, those of us left behind in California are also more Western—because we are more likely to have grown up here. In previous generations, California was populated by people from Asia, Latin America, and the American Midwest and South. But in today’s California, the majority is homegrown—born and raised in California—and the newer arrivals are more likely to be from Las Vegas than Little Rock.

This more-homegrown California is also becoming much older—and less dynamic. We remain more ethnically and racially diverse than other Western states, but there are signs that our diversity lead is narrowing. While out-migration from California slowed somewhat during the recession, it’s likely to pick up as our economy comes back and California becomes even more expensive.

It’s not just demography making us more Western; drought has a role too. We’re becoming a drier place, with dustier landscaping that resembles Arizona and Nevada. Last year, we finally regulated groundwater, as other Western states have been doing for years.

Of course, these trends could all change. But if they persist, and California continues to Westernize, it will pose questions for our state and our country. The fact that California was so exceptional often accelerated change nationwide. As the historian H.W. Brands has noted, the American dream was of slow, tedious Poor Richard’s Almanac-style growth until California became a state—and gave us a new, faster dream of rapidly accumulated wealth. Will it be good for us, and for America (Happy Birthday, by the way), if we become just another Western state?

For now, you are right, Justice Scalia. California doesn’t really count as Western. But time has a way of changing the meaning of many things, including marriage and our messy state.

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME California

Cheerleaders Would Get Minimum Wage Under California Legislation

Some say cheerleaders are effectively paid less than minimum wage

New legislation in California would protect cheerleaders for professional sports teams from receiving low pay that some in the industry say amounts to less than minimum wage. The bill, the first of its kind in the nation, passed the California State Senate Monday and awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown.

Cheerleaders are often not considered team employees and are paid only for the time they perform on game days, not the hours spent rehearsing and appearing in promotional materials, proponents of the bill said. The legislation would require that California teams pay cheerleaders at least minimum wage for all the hours they work and offer them overtime pay and sick leave.

Read More: Pay Cheerleaders What They’re Worth

“Everyone who works hard to provide a great game day experience deserves the same basic level of dignity and respect on the job, starting with simply being paid for their work,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored California’s legislation, said in a statement.

Sharon Vinick, a lawyer who helped former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders sue their onetime employer, praised the bill in an interview with the Associated Press, but said that not paying professional cheerleaders was already illegal under existing state law.

TIME California

California Woman Who Gave Birth in Wilderness Rescued After 3 Days

The mother and baby are expected to be reunited soon

A California woman who became lost in the wilderness while she was in labor was rescued on Saturday after a harrowing three-day ordeal.

Amber Pangborn, 30, was forced to give birth to her daughter alone in the Plumas County National Forest after her car ran out of gas, with no cell signal to dial for help, the Oroville, Calif., resident told NBC-affiliate KCRA-TV in Sacramento. Pangborn had been rushing to her parent’s home after she went into labor, and decided to take an unfamiliar shortcut through the woods when she became lost, the new mother recalled.

After defending her baby from bees and mosquitoes — and surviving off of just a few apples — Pangborn managed to start a fire that caught the attention of a U.S. Forest Service worker. “I was just crying, and I was just so happy. I thought we were going to die,” the woman told KCRA-TV.

The mother and daughter are expected to be reunited in the coming days.

[KCRA]

TIME Education

My Immigrant Students Don’t Test Well—But They’re Learning

close-up-student-writing
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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

In this high school classroom, resilience is as important as textbooks

My mother immigrated to the United States when she was 16, in May of 1943. Though she didn’t know English when she arrived, she claims that by the fall she was able to read Silas Marner. I am sure that this is not true, but she graduated and went on to get a doctorate in psychology. Despite narrowly escaping annihilation in the Holocaust, she arrived in this country with a suitcase of virtual advantages: her parents were Viennese doctors; she had already learned a second language, having lived the war years in Bolivia; and she had read hundreds of books.

I have spent the past 20 years teaching immigrant high schoolers, many of those years in California, where 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners. Though there are some young immigrants, like my mother, who arrive in this country with a strong academic foundation, the vast majority of them do not. They come mostly from rural communities in Mexico and Central America and their schooling is rudimentary at best; few have read one book, never mind many.

When we talk about educating immigrant students, we focus almost entirely on teaching them English, but for many students the needs run deeper. In 2012, I taught at the Fremont High School Newcomers Program in the Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland. My students there were Mayans from Guatemala, who had had so little formal schooling we needed to teach some of them the alphabet. But they were not empty-handed. They also brought with them hope, resilience, and an ability to rely on their community that was rare in their adopted neighborhoods.

The idea for newcomer high schools and programs within regular high schools took off in the 1970s because this focused instruction proved so effective at helping students integrate linguistically and culturally. Since 2000, though, their numbers have fallen by at least half because of postrecession budget cuts and difficulty conforming to the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Fremont High School had a 15-foot-high, barbed-wire fence, a security guard, and seven full-time security officers patrolling the grounds. The fence and guards were not there to keep people out, but rather to keep the students in. The buildings were dilapidated and covered with graffiti. The windows were barred, as were the doors, the lockers banged up and dented. There was rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms, and if there was, it was strewn all over the floor. After lunch, the halls and patios were covered with paper plates and half-eaten pizzas, apple cores, and purposefully squished oranges; the air was filled with cursing and the ubiquitous odor of marijuana. When it was windy, napkins flew about, keeping low like the ghosts of birds who had died a violent death.

The Newcomers Program, in contrast, is a sheltered environment, where immigrant teens study the basic subjects in English and take intensive English classes. Here students form a community, sharing curse words and traditional dances, as well as their problems. When one student was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized just a few weeks after he arrived in Oakland, the students supported him. I was struck by his maturity and lack of anger: “They thought that if they hurt me, they would be strong, but they are not strong,” he said.

My students had strong emotional survival skills, but they didn’t know that there were planets or that the Earth revolved around the sun. They did not know that the world was divided into continents or that it was round. They did not think it was flat, either. They had simply never thought about what the Earth was beyond where they were from. They did not know the difference between a city and a state and a country. They knew they were in California, but they didn’t quite understand the difference between California and Oakland and the United States.

So in the Newcomers Program, we all started from the beginning. I began my class with the Big Bang and continued on to the creation of the solar system and Earth, to Pangaea and tectonic plates and the seven continents and dinosaurs and the evolution of Homo sapiens. That took months. There were so many gaps in their knowledge that I kept finding I had to go back farther. Once when I said, “Save a tree. Don’t waste paper,” they asked me, “What do trees have to do with paper?” So I went all the way back to the beginning to show them how paper was made and to teach them about deforestation in the Amazon. They had never heard of the Amazon, so I had to backtrack again.

I felt as though I was always backtracking, though I understood that what we were really doing was moving slowly forward, building not only on what I taught them but also on the strength of what they had brought with them. Like my mother, they had survived violence and carried unique advantages. They know that they are strong—like the young man who was beaten so badly—for they have traveled through Mexico on the top of the train called La Bestia; they have been robbed by coyotes and crossed the desert on foot; they have brought with them their looms to weave huipiles so that they will never forget the past even as they are making their future.

My students made tremendous progress, but this progress looked like failure on the standardized tests: Their academic abilities were still far below grade-level and all tests are in English, which they have not yet mastered. By the time they are seniors, they most certainly will not be able to read Silas Marner. My most gifted Mam-speaking student is now in 11th grade, and is taking Algebra II in a regular high school class. The young man who was beaten up in his early days in Oakland is also on track to graduate, but many students have dropped out to have babies and work. Yet, this is not necessarily a failure. They have learned to speak English and how to read and write. They know that the universe began with a Big Bang and that paper comes from trees.

Over the past 20 years there has been a constant debate about how to educate immigrants, and most of this debate has focused on the acquisition of English: what proficiency in English is, how long it should take a student to reach it, and whether total immersion, bilingual education, or sheltered classes taught in English works best. Recently there has been an emphasis on cultural awareness and how to integrate this into the curriculum. All of these things are certainly part of the equation, but I have learned that there is no algorithm, no one ideal way to address all the needs of all English learners.

Because newcomers bring with them a great variety of skills and come from such diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, programs must be flexible. We cannot serve these students if we let ourselves be controlled by state and federal edicts or by the data accumulated by standardized tests and scientific studies. We must meet students where they are, keeping in mind what they have brought with them. There should be more vocational programs for students who are not on a college track and partnerships so that students can take hands-on courses in such fields as health technology, mechanics, and carpentry. When schools provide newcomers with the extra support they need and a safe, nurturing, and rigorous academic community, they will make progress. This progress will not necessarily be evident in the data, but it will be evident to them. This progress will be the foundation for a new generation of Americans.

Anne Raeff teaches English learners at East Palo Alto Academy. Her novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia came out in 2001 and she has just completed a memoir. She wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME public health

California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Mandatory Vaccine Law

Law abolishes exemptions for personal beliefs

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a mandatory school vaccination bill into law Tuesday, abolishing the “personal belief” exemption that many parents use as a loophole to avoid vaccinating their children.

Now, under California law, which is among the strictest in the country, children would not be able to enroll in public school unless they have been vaccinated against diseases like measles and whooping cough. The law includes an exemption for children who have a medical reason to remain unvaccinated (like an immune system disorder) and can prove it with a doctor’s note. Parents who decline to vaccinate their children for personal or religious reasons will have to home-school them or send them to a public independent study program off school grounds.

Students who are unvaccinated because of “personal belief” who are already in public elementary school can stay until they’re in 7th grade, and then the parents will either have to vaccinate them or home-school them. Daycare students can stay until kindergarten, when they have to be either vaccinated or home-schooled. In the fall of 2014, almost 3% of California kindergartners were unvaccinated because of personal belief. Preschools in the most affluent areas are also the least likely to vaccinate, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The bill was proposed after a measles outbreak at Disneyland infected more 150 people, and many needed to be hospitalized. Supporters of the law argue that it is based on medical consensus that vaccinations improve public health. Opponents—who have been picketing outside the California legislature—argue that it’s an attack on personal freedom.

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