TIME natural disaster

See the Biggest California Wildfire This Year

The 11,000-acre 'Lake Fire' continues to ravage the San Bernardino National Forest

A wildfire that sparked Wednesday afternoon near Big Bear Lake, Calif. had grown to 11,000 acres as of Friday morning, according to a government website.

The fire is the worst of the year, the Los Angeles Times reported. Wind and the dry undergrowth due to drought conditions in the area have contributed to the blaze’s rapid spread through sections of the San Bernardino National Forest. The fire is currently 10% contained, with fire engines, helicopters, air tankers and more than 500 respondents combating the spreading flames.

Hundreds in the area have been evacuated, but government website InciWeb stated that no structures had been destroyed as of Friday. The fire is currently spreading further inland to the south and east.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation.

TIME Education

Why We Need to Keep iPads Out of the Classroom

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

People think tech will magically solve education's problems—they're wrong

It’s still mystifying that in this time of limited educational funding, the people running the Los Angeles Unified School District were such an easy sell when it came to technology.

After LAUSD made an enormous investment in iPads and Pearson educational products developed for those iPads, teachers quickly discovered the iPad program didn’t work as guaranteed and the Pearson applications were useless. Superintendent John Deasy resigned in disgrace, elections changed the school board, and the FBI began an investigation into allegations of bid-rigging.

I’m inclined to believe that those in charge saw the iPad as a magic talisman that could just about transplant knowledge into students’ brains directly, bypassing teachers. LAUSD technophiles saw teachers as low-tech and low-value conduits between students and cutting-edge software and hardware; teachers weren’t consulted on the purchase or given a chance to give the machines a trial. I suspect the LAUSD powers hoped to construct a system that would be efficient as technology can make other aspects of life, like Ubering up an education.

But teaching isn’t always efficient. Often it’s messy, and because it’s messy, the process can produce epiphanies, and sparks of creative thinking.

I taught English for five years at Locke High School in South Los Angeles. One of the highlights of my career was when a student, a kid who dressed like a Crip, asked where I had gotten a short story that I photocopied for the class, Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants.”

He said, “It ain’t a real story.”

“Why isn’t it a real story?” I asked.

“’Cause it’s interesting,“ he replied.

I was confused but flattered, and later, as I mulled over exchange, it became clear to me that a kid who was unaccustomed to reading had been engaged at a high level because I had found the appropriate material for him, something that wasn’t complex in language, but sophisticated in action, character, and meaning. I suspect my student had responded to Issues that are raised from the point of view of a woman desperately appealing for her lover not to compel her to have an abortion. This isn’t common in a world where teenagers often get their cues of sexual conduct from sources in hip-hop who don’t share the powers of empathy of a Kendrick Lamar that he demonstrates in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”

An iPad is an amazing device for transmitting information, but what makes a difference in a student’s life is the information, not its mode of transmission. Appropriate content, provided at the right time in the student’s life, and in the right pedagogical context, is everything. Technology doesn’t guarantee any part of that. An iPad loaded with inane apps is just another boring textbook.

The technology that made this connection with my student possible was the photocopy machine, technology that — when I taught — was rationed, only accessible to administrators, not to teachers, who were condemned to use that ancient but cheap technology of the mimeograph machine. So I paid out of pocket to make sure my students had the material that I thought would engage them. An iPad would have made this process only marginally better than what was available 20 years ago. Tech wasn’t going to magically transform this student, or students like him onto devoted readers.

My magic talisman, in conveying Hemingway to this student, was another teacher, Professor Alan Stephens at UC Santa Barbara. I was lucky enough to have taken a great Hemingway course that he taught that made it possible for me to understand how to teach Hemingway and stress what was valuable — the clarity, the powers of observation, the brilliant dialogue, and also the flaws of racism and anti-Semitism. I learned it well enough to develop curriculum for it, to sell it to these students who often treated their textbooks as if they were written in another language.

Tech isn’t a panacea. On an orderly campus with sufficient funding for workable restrooms and other niceties that enable students to be comfortable enough to flourish academically, it can be a useful tool for well-trained teachers. What tech can’t do is change the culture of campuses where academic achievement is rare.

Locke High School is in an area of Los Angeles suffering from high unemployment and high crime, just as it did 24 years ago when I was there, though. Some students did well and achieved academically, but the majority of these students graduated in the lower percentiles in reading and math. The majority of students did want to graduate and some wanted to go to college, but many of them were rudderless, hoping at best to blunder into a community college or the military. Their choices were informed by brutal reality and existential struggle, then as today. Doing well in school mattered but personal safety and money mattered more.

Under these difficult circumstances, schools that create a sense of order but also respect these young men and women can accomplish miracles. It is not an easy thing to do, and when it is done these schools and programs deserve great praise. USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative headed by Kim Barrios is such a program. It’s a seven-year pre-college enrichment program designed for low-income neighborhood students. If they complete the program and meet USC’s admission requirements and decide to attend USC, they are rewarded with a full financial package.

It also supports the USC Family Schools, such as Foshay Learning Center. The students are lively but prepared, and instruction is the highest priority. Students understand that attending Foshay is a privilege that can be revoked. They are expected to buy into the code of conduct of the school and if they don’t consequences follow.

When I attended Foshay in the ’70s, it was one of my worst experiences of growing up. I feared for my life and saw riots, beatings, girls sexually assaulted, and teachers slugged. Now, it’s an entirely different world: kids and their families have bought into the culture of achievement to such a degree that many of their students attend the Saturday Academy at USC and are there by 7:50 a.m. Groggy, but ready to attend S.A.T. preparation classes. As a consequence of all this hard work and support, the black and Latino Students in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative all graduate from high school, and more than 98 percent attend four-year colleges and universities.

Verbum Dei in Los Angeles is another school that that overwhelmingly serves low-income black and Latino students in a community that suffers from high unemployment and high crime. Students at Verbum Dei all graduate and are admitted to multiple colleges and universities. Here, too, students buy into the demanding culture of the school, with tons of homework and school-required work (yes, they work, at law firms and other high-income businesses).

The commonalty of these very different success stories is not the emphasis on tech gadgetry but making the investment in creating a culture for achievement and getting the kids and their families to buy into it.

Seemingly, Deasy and the technophiles didn’t see what should have been obvious: an iPad is an amazing device but it isn’t so amazing without content or the right pedagogical context. School reform isn’t expensive tech and high-stakes testing; it’s the incredibly difficult task of creating highly functioning, transformative educational communities. Tech isn’t a shortcut. We are asking teachers and schools to fight the war on poverty when we won’t even admit that we are doing exactly that.

The hundreds of millions already spent and wasted by LAUSD on this misadventure serve as a very expensive cautionary tale.

Jervey Tervalon founded and directs the Literature for Life/Locovore-Lit Los Angeles project. This article was written for Zocalo Public Square and is supported by a grant from the California Wellness Foundation.

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

Ellen Pao Will Likely Need to Cover $275,000 in Legal Expenses

Ellen Pao speaks to the media after losing her high profile gender discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers in San Francisco, California in this March 27, 2015, file photo. Pao faces an uphill battle should she choose to appeal her defeat last week in a gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/Files
Beck Diefenbach—Reuters Ellen Pao speaking to the media after losing her high profile gender discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers in San Francisco, on March 27, 2015.

The judge has ordered the former venture capitalist to reimburse her adversary in a high-profile Silicon Valley gender discrimination case.

Nearly three months after losing a discrimination case against investment firm Kleiner Perkins, and a back-and-forth on who will foot the trial bill, Ellen Pao will likely have to pay more than $275,000 to cover her adversary’s legal expenses.

On Wednesday afternoon, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn issued a tentative ruling that ordered Pao to reimburse the high-profile venture capital firm nearly $275,967 for some of the costs it incurred while successfully defending itself against her lawsuit. Pao, a former venture capitalist at the firm, had accused Kleiner Perkins gender bias and retaliating against her for speaking out.

She ultimately lost the case, but she succeeded in sparking a wide-ranging discussion about gender bias and the lack of women at many Silicon Valley companies.

Kahn wrote that while Pao, who is currently interim CEO for the online forum Reddit, does have significant financial resources, she doesn’t have enough money to cover the full $864,680 Kleiner Perkins had sought. The firm had originally asked for $973,000, including the expert fees, before reducing the amount.

The judge has scheduled a hearing Thursday to finalize the matter.

Following the tentative ruling, Kleiner spokeswoman Christina Lee issued the following statement referencing her firm’s efforts to settle the lawsuit for $1 million before the trial:

We’re pleased the court has reached a fair result. This tentative ruling recognizes that our settlement offer was reasonable and made in good faith. It also recognizes the cost rules still apply when a plaintiff refuses a reasonable settlement offer and forces the parties to go through an expensive trial.

Earlier this month, Pao filed paperwork to appeal the decision in her case. But she has said that she will drop it if Kleiner agrees to pay her $2.7 million.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Labor

Why the California Ruling on Uber Should Frighten the Sharing Economy

The question at the center of several similar cases is likely worth billions

This week a ruling from the California Labor Commission was made public because popular ride-sourcing company Uber appealed it. A San Francisco-based driver named Barbara Ann Berwick brought a case alleging that she is an employee, not an independent contractor as Uber claims. It emerged that the commission ruled in her favor, saying the company owed her $4,152 in expenses. But this could lead to rulings worth much more.

Filed in March, the ruling is non-binding, has no legal bearing on any other drivers, and won’t force any money to change hands. But Uber’s decision to appeal will now move the fight to California’s court system where — along with several similar lawsuits pending in the state—it could set a binding precedent for a multi-billion-dollar question plaguing the booming on-demand economy: Do such companies have employer-employee relationships with tens of thousands of American workers?

That might sound like a mundane bureaucratic distinction, but it’s a concrete reality for the drivers, personal shoppers and lunch deliverers who enjoy the flexibility of setting their own hours but do not get standard employee benefits like overtime pay and worker’s compensation. In California, unlike most other states, employers are explicitly on the hook for reimbursing employees for all expenses necessary to do the job. And if the workers like Berwick win their cases, there are more than 15,000 other drivers in San Francisco alone who might want to be reimbursed too.

“Uber has essentially shifted to its workers all the costs of running a business, the costs of owning a car, maintaining a car, paying for gas,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston-based attorney who has a class-action case pending against Uber in California federal court. “Uber has saved massive amounts …. It’s important that the labor laws be enforced so that the companies can’t take advantage of workers that way. Uber’s a $50-billion company and I think it can afford to bear the responsibilities of an employer.” She expects her trial will be underway by next year and will make arguments for class certification later this summer, saying this ruling “could be a lot of help.”

In a statement to TIME, an Uber spokeswoman said that its drivers embrace their status as independent contractors. “It’s important to remember that the number one reason drivers choose to use Uber is because they have complete flexibility and control,” she says. “The majority of them can and do choose to earn their living from multiple sources, including other ride sharing companies. We have appealed this ruling.”

Liss-Riordan has also filed a class-action case on behalf of workers for house-cleaning company Homejoy, as well as delivery service companies Postmates and Try Caviar, arguing that they have been misclassified as independent contractors when they should be treated like employees. Other cases are pending against ride-sourcing platform Lyft and grocery-delivery company Instacart. “Instacart does all it can to distance itself from the employer-employee relationship,” lawyer Bob Arns told TIME when that case was filed. “Why does a company want to do that? It’s to keep the bottom line lower, to unfairly compete against other companies. That’s the crux of our case.” Instacart did not respond to a request for comment for that story.

The growing independent-contractor workforce is a key reason that companies like Instacart and Uber have been able to grow so quickly, because the cost of organizing independent contractors is much less than hiring employees. There’s no requirement to pay unemployment tax or ensure that workers are making at least minimum wage. In many cases, the companies don’t have to pay for the smartphones or data plans workers use on the job. They don’t have to deal with the costly spools of red tape that come with federal and state withholdings and healthcare and anti-discrimination laws.

David Rosenfeld, a labor law expert and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, says a California superior court will likely set a trial date in a few months. If the judge agrees with driver Berwick, the rulings could be appealed back and forth all the way up to the California Supreme Court. That process could take years. But the California courts have been sympathetic to workers and Rosenfeld says its unlikely the state’s highest authority would overturn a ruling made in their favor. In the meantime, he says, lawyers like Liss-Riordan can “show the ruling around” as evidence that helps build their cases, if not a precedent to use in court.

“This is big, high stakes problem for them,” Rosenfeld says. While Uber emphasizes that the labor commission ruling is only about the status of a single driver, he notes that if Uber beats Berwick in court that doesn’t bar other drivers from bringing similar claims. Liss-Riordan says she has been contacted by more than 1,000 Uber drivers who believe they’ve been wronged. And her doors have been open to other “1099 economy” workers who want to file their own claims.

“A lot of companies are watching Uber and seeing whether it’s going to be allowed to get away with this,” she says. “These companies want to have it all. They want to have control over their workforce so they can provide this consistent quality service they sell to the public but at the same time deny it has any obligations to these workers that it is treating as their employees.”

How much control companies like Uber have over these workers will be central to the cases. Does their ability to kick drivers off the platform, their ability to set rates, their mandates to follow certain protocols amount to an employer-employee relationship? Uber has repeatedly argued that they are not a transportation company but merely a technology platform that helps willing drivers connect with passengers willing to pay for a ride.

But in denying a summary judgment in the class-action case earlier this year, District Judge Edward Chen wrote that Uber’s claim that it is not a “transportation company” is “fatally flawed.” In the March ruling, the labor commissioner wrote that Uber is “involved in every aspect of the operation.” A 2012 ruling from the labor commission, however, found that another Uber driver was, in fact, an independent contractor and describes Uber as a “technology company.” In the statement, Uber says similar commissions in five other states have come to the same conclusion.

These cases apply only to workers in California. So the endgame could look a few different ways if these on-demand companies lose their cases, all of which would require a change in business models. Operations could be shut down or take a different approach in California. Companies could start shouldering the costs of treating their armies of workers as legal employees. Or they could change the way they operate—giving up control over their workers and therefore control over the quality of their services—in order to keep treating them as independent contractors.

The latter, Rosenfeld says, is what FedEx recently decided to do after paying $228 million to settle claims from 2,000 pickup and delivery drivers in California who alleged that they were mislabeled as independent contractors. That high ticket price was directly related to California’s law requiring expense reimbursement. But making the decision to give up oversight is not an easy one. “You lose control of your brand,” he says. “And you lose control of your model.”

Uber v. Berwick California Labor Commission Ruling

TIME cities

Airbnb Uses Data in San Francisco to Fight Back Against Critics

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Chris Weeks—Getty Images/Airbnb A general view of atmosphere is seen at Airbnb's Hello LA event at The Grove on September 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calif.

The company is releasing its own assessment of how Airbnb affects the city, which paints a rosier view than previous reports

Lawmakers in San Francisco are set to vote on two proposals Tuesday that could restrict locals’ ability to use home-sharing company Airbnb. But before they do, the firm is releasing its own report assessing its impact on the city.

Airbnb’s report, obtained by TIME (and viewable through the link above), is adding to a pile of reports that have already attempted to assess the company’s economic benefits and costs to the city. The company’s data team used proprietary information about Airbnb users that government agencies do not have access to; although that means no one can double-check Airbnb’s figures, the company says it is the most realistic picture of how the service is affecting the City by the Bay. Their take: assertions that Airbnb is cannibalizing much-needed housing stock are overblown.

A central question in months of heated hearings over Airbnb has been whether it creates an economic incentive for landlords to take units off the market in order to rent them out full-time to tourists on home-sharing platforms. With housing in short supply, rents have skyrocketed and lower-income residents have been forced to leave the city. That has made some residents aggressively wary of anything that might be squeezing out the middle class. Meanwhile, other San Franciscans have testified that income earned from using Airbnb has helped keep them in their homes.

Perhaps the most important number in these reports is the estimate of how many nights per year a host would have to rent a unit out before they’d be making more money doing the Airbnb thing than if they housed a traditional, long-term tenant. There is no way to know how many landlords are, in fact, hoarding their units from locals to rent them out to tourists, but this number provides a picture of when it would make economic sense to do so.

The San Francisco Planning Department estimated this breaking point is 257 nights; a report from the city’s independent budget and legislative analyst’s office estimated 59 nights. Airbnb arrived in between the two, at 211. The company’s data researchers calculated the figure by comparing the average nightly earnings of Airbnb hosts in San Francisco to market-rate rental prices.

The share of Airbnb listings in San Francisco that are rented out more than 211 nights per year, according to the company’s report, is 6.1%, representing less than 1% of total housing units in the city and just over 1% of vacant housing. The most damaging estimate from previous reports, which was calculated using assumptions Airbnb disagrees with, suggested that Airbnb could be responsible for nearly one fourth of vacant housing units being taken off the market.

While those numbers, based on different approaches to the U.S. Census Bureau’s statistics on vacant housing, will continue to be debated, there are some general points about home-sharing’s benefits that are generally agreed upon. All stays at Airbnbs are being taxed like hotels, so the city gets a 14% cut of that revenue. These additional housing options, which may offer a more immersed-in-the-city experience than traditional hotels, likely attract more tourists to the city. Those tourists then spend money that helps fuel the local economy.

Hosting via Airbnb was technically illegal until 2014. All rentals for 30 days or fewer were prohibited by law. The board of supervisors, the city’s lawmaking body, legalized short-term rentals with a landmark piece of legislation, which compromised by setting certain caps. Under that law, residents can list their homes 90 days per year when they’re not present and an unlimited amount of days when they are. One proposal being considered Tuesday, penned by progressive Supervisor David Campos, would restrict all users to just 60 nights per year. Another proposal from Supervisor Mark Farrell and Mayor Ed Lee would set caps on both at 120 days.

The average number of nights a user is renting out a listing is 90 per year, according to Airbnb, and 80% of San Francisco hosts actually live in the place they’re listing; more than 70% use the income to help pay their rent or mortgage. “This report makes clear that the vast majority of Airbnb hosts are regular San Franciscans sharing the home in which they live and using the money they earn to pay the bills and make ends meet,” says Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty.

What remains murky is exactly what’s happening with the remaining 20% — and how many of those 1,000 or more listings are second homes or apartments that could be easing the housing strain.

MONEY home improvement

Why 2 Iconic Household Status Symbols Are Disappearing

aerial view of homes with green lawns and pools
Colin Matthieu—Getty Images

The pool and lawn industrial complexes aren't happy.

As you may have heard, California is suffering from an epic drought. Strict new regulations have been put in place just this week to severely limit the water use of households and businesses. Even before these rules were adopted, city crews had begun patrolling neighborhoods to issue warnings—and, when appropriate, fines—to property owners caught wasting water. Starbucks was recently pressured into pulling the plug on its California bottled water operation, while one city (Cupertino) canceled its fireworks show for the Fourth of July because the field where it normally takes place would need 100,000 gallons of water to cope with the crowds.

Two incredibly common household features have been targeted as wasteful as well. One is the front lawn, which has been demonized for decades as especially unnatural, unnecessary, and costly in dry climates such as California’s. As the San Jose Mercury News reported in a story about the anti-lawn trend, “About half of California’s residential water use goes to landscaping, and much of that to watering lawns.” In wealthy communities where large lawns are common, landscaping can account for 70% or more of the household water use.

Throughout the state, rebates are available to help homeowners cover the cost of replacing lawns with more eco-friendly, low-maintenance landscaping. According to the Associated Press, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has experienced a 20-fold increase in rebate applications from homeowners interested in replacing their thirsty turf. In parts of northern California, rebates issued in the first four months of 2015 surpassed the total from all of 2014.

One Los Angeles homeowner explained how he didn’t need all of the $5,000 rebate he received to convert his lawn to drought-friendly lavender, sage, and pampas-style grasses, so he used the leftover funds to go on a cruise. He’ll be saving money each and every month now that he doesn’t have to water the lawn too.

The other common water waster that has been drawing heat is the private household pool, considered much more of an extravagance than a boring, basic lawn. It would seem to be more of an overt water waster too, what with tens of thousands of gallons needed in one shot just to fill the thing up.

It comes as no surprise, then, that many homeowners are giving up on their pools. In San Jose, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, pool removal permits have outnumbered installations by a factor of four. Restrictions in many municipalities that ban homeowners from filling new pools certainly play a role in owners deciding not to install pools in the first place.

Yet the pool industry lobby is arguing that pools aren’t nearly as wasteful as many people think. A new campaign called Let’s Pool Together notes that lawns require far more water than pools. Therefore, as screwy as it might sound, by installing a pool instead of an expanse of grass, a homeowner is actually supposedly saving water.

Environmental experts question the pool lobbyists’ math, noting that neither pools nor lawns help the water conservation effort. As for which wastes more water, Peter Gleick, president of the environment and sustainability research nonprofit Pacific Institute in Oakland, says that it’s basically a wash.

More importantly, the pool-vs-lawn debate misses the point. “These are luxuries, and we’re in a really bad drought,” Gleick explained to the AP. “Everybody needs to step up instead of pointing the finger at the other guy.”

TIME Environment

California Drought Leads City to Cancel Fireworks

The football field where Cupertino residents typically gather to watch the display requires 100,000 gallons of water to prevent damage

California’s drought is putting a damper on one town’s Fourth of July festivities. The city of Cupertino in central California announced this week that its annual fireworks display had been canceled because the field where it’s held requires too much water.

According to the city, it takes 100,000 gallons of water to keep the Cupertino High School football field in good condition after the fireworks display.

In an effort to conserve water, the school’s district denied the city’s request to use the field for the 2015 festivities. Because the city couldn’t find an alternate site, officials had to cancel the fireworks.

The city’s spokesman told NBC News Bay Area that though people are upset about the cancellation, they generally understand.

“People are very disappointed,” Rick Kitson told NBC. “Who doesn’t love fireworks? But overall, I think they get it.”

The state of California is currently experiencing one of its most severe droughts. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of an emergency in January and in April he issued an executive order calling for a 25% reduction in urban water usage.

TIME legal

Jawbone: Fitbit Employees Stole Company Secrets

Day Two Of Mobile World Congress 2014
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Fitbit Flex wearable electronic fitness devices sit on display at the Fitbit Inc. pavilion on day two of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014.

New lawsuit comes as Fitbit readies IPO

Fitbit is prepping for its upcoming market debut, but its road to going public just got a lot bumpier.

Jawbone, Fitbit’s biggest competitor in the wearable health-tracking industry, alleges in a new lawsuit that Fitbit has “systematically” plundered confidential information by luring employees who brought along sensitive materials. Jawbone says Fitbit put into place “clandestine efforts” in order “to steal talent, trade secrets and intellectual property,” according to the complaint, filed Wednesday in California State Court.

Fitbit is the leader in health tracking devices. According to its initial public offering prospectus filed this month, Fitbit’s market share is nearly 85%. Jawbone, Apple and Nike are all competing for the No. 2 spot.

Jawbone’s complaint says that a number of former employees downloaded company information, like business plans and strategy documents, and took that data with them to a new position within Fitbit using thumb drives. It quotes an unnamed executive search consultant saying, “Fitbit’s objective is to decimate Jawbone.”

Jawbone is asking for both financial damages and the court’s intervention to prevent former employees from using any more information they may take.

TIME Education

How to Turn Elementary School Teachers into Emotional Detectives

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

Strengthening the bond between educators and pupils can get to the root of behavior problems and bullying

About four years ago, I found myself asking a question many teachers ask their students: “Why would you do something like that?”

I was sitting down with a fourth grade student I had just been asked to counsel. I had success at getting to the bottom of students’ issues and I had earned a reputation as a teacher version of “Columbo.”

The student had been sent to the principal’s office for hurting another kid during recess. The reports were that he had also kicked another student for taking his place in line. I had worked with this student in the past for similar behavior toward peers. Now the behaviors were getting worse, and the parents were not responding. The boy answered my question about his motivations by saying, ¨Students were cutting in front of me,” and, “Two days ago they were calling me names.”

I had this realization that I was expecting the student to somehow psychoanalyze himself and come up with a grand justification for his behavior and actions. -Asking the “why did you do it” question did not help me to solve the issue — and I realized it never would. It was simply a fall-back question for adults when they were not sure what to do.

This was the beginning of my attempts to engineer ways for myself and other teachers to take care of the emotional lives and mental health of our students.

I first knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school in Michigan. I got paid a $25 stipend for running a basketball clinic with little kids and discovered I was good at motivating students. As I pursued teaching, I moved to California, and became an assistant in a classroom with students that had developmental disabilities, emotional disturbances, and aggressive behaviors. This environment, along with excellent training, challenged me to figure out how to support students with multiple challenges and give them a better quality of life. I currently teach two special needs classrooms at Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria.

Every good teacher I’ve talked to wants to build better relationships with their students. But lack of time is a major barrier. A typical classroom has 25 to 30 students and if a teacher devoted just 2 minutes to each student, that would add up to an hour every day, which would have to come out of valuable instructional time in this academic-focused (and test-crazy) era. And even if they had time, teachers rarely have the resources to handle social, emotional, and mental health challenges. Improving professional development in this area would help. So would clear, practical, and efficient protocols that are used school wide.

What teachers most need is the ability to teach students strategies and techniques to meet the expectations of a challenging school day. To this end I developed the “Think Time” protocol — a process for identifying student’s needs by connecting their feelings and actions. My brother, a fellow teacher and a mentor to me, and UC Santa Barbara student psychologists worked with me to create a paper-and-pencil form that took teachers through the steps of asking students questions such as “What were you feeling before the problem occurred?” It gave them suggestions to pass on to students—for example, conveying that, “a better choice next time, rather than acting out, would be to ask to speak to the teacher privately.”

Here is a typical example: A student was sent to me after getting multiple warnings for disrupting the math lesson. The teacher reported that the student struggled to sit still and focus, blurting out answers without raising his hand, and was disrupting the students at his table by fidgeting and tapping his pencil. When we began, he was asked to identify his feelings from a chart. He chose energetic, excited, and anxious, which helped me understand his impulsive behaviors. The student then listed the actions that were connected to his feelings— in this case, (blurting out and fidgeting). Once I better understood the feelings that motivated his actions, I realized he just needed to choose a more socially appropriate way to cope with his feelings. We settled on having him discreetly step outside the classroom, take a 3 minute break to move around, and return to the lesson ready to try again.

Of course, not everything was smooth when I began to roll this program out at my school. Teachers struggled to find the time to sit down with students and go through the process. They had trouble finding the right replacement behaviors, and struggled to understand the true purpose of the process.

So we improved the protocol by providing training to teachers that explained the rationale, created and implemented lessons for students, revamped the questions teachers should ask students, hired mentors to assist the teachers, and made the process digital.

After these tweaks, teachers reported that students were using replacement behaviors which increased instructional minutes and improved communication with parents. But we also realized that we were only reaching the students with chronic disruptive behaviors (typically 2-5 kids per class). What about the needs of the other students?

Students with difficult behavior are not the only ones who struggle emotionally. Students often internalize feelings and lack the ability to express there needs appropriately, which makes it nearly impossible for teachers to recognize what is motivating their actions. We tested a “positive version of Think Time,” where all students could record things they were proud of, or simple acts of kindness that showed good citizenship.

From there, we developed the “check-in system.” This system teaches students how to reflect on their feelings routinely and to express them appropriately to get their needs met.

Our helloyello.net web app allows students to let teachers know what’s going on in their lives good or bad, wrong or sad, daily. And the app gives teachers the opportunity to “close the loop” quickly — within seconds— to strengthen their relationships with students.

The results have been stunning. For instance, a teacher recently shared with me that her student checked in that she was struggling to stay awake at school because her baby brother’s crying was keeping her up at night. The teacher closed the loop by letting the student know she had read her check in and asked if she could email her parents. The teacher sent a friendly email to the parents, who in turn were grateful and quickly solved the problem at home.

“Check-ins” are particularly good at addressing bullying. Students feel safe reporting problems on the playground or in the bathroom since they can confidentially reach their teachers without having to tell them face to face, in view of the bully. In one example, a student wrote about feeling bad because he participated in teasing someone; teachers, armed with additional information, are able to step in before the conflicts escalate.

Our HelloYello team is confident our procedures can help other schools in California. My school, Canalino Elementary is a Title I school, meaning at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Many of our students are also English language learners, requiring us to take extra care to find ways to make sure the kids understand the questions and the behaviors expected of them. Of course, schools better off than ours also struggle with the emotional well being of their students.

Taking care of our students’ social and emotional health isn’t an end just in itself. Research studies have shown that social and emotional well-being has a significant impact on student achievement. Teaching students to express themselves appropriately, with reasoning and evidence, is a recurrent theme in the Common Core Standards. Teachers cannot help students achieve their academic potential or demonstrate how much they’ve learned if they do not know how the students are feeling, what they are thinking, and what’s going on in their daily lives.

Brandon Sportel has been selected as the Carpinteria district teacher of the year, and Santa Barbara County teacher of the year. He was the California winner of this year’s Milken Educator Award.. He wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zocalo 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.

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What Educators Can Learn About a Southeast L.A. Turnaround

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The addition of a bold college readiness program transformed a struggling high school into an example of high academic achievement

Bell Gardens High School in east Los Angeles County was a sorry mess when science teacher Liz Lowe arrived in 1989. More than 3,000 students crowded into school buildings surrounding a concrete quadrangle with patches of grass and some trees. Expectations were low. Not much learning was done.

“It hurt my soul that here were these wonderful students who were very, very capable, but they were expected to be the working poor,” Lowe recalled.

Today, that community is still poor and ethnically isolated. Bell Gardens High has a student body that is 99 percent Latino. According to the 2010 census, the education level of its students’ parents was the lowest of any community of similar size in the state. The median household annual income was slightly more than $30,000.

Yet something unexpected has happened to the level of learning at the school. Bell Gardens High’s Academic Performance Index score, the 1,000-point scale that was used by California to measure test score success, has gone from 469 in 1999 to 704 in 2013 (the latest reported year). The school was ranked in the top 7 percent of all U.S. schools on the 2015 America’s Most Challenging High Schools list, a measure of college-level test participation I put out each year for The Washington Post.

Bell Gardens educators and parents agree that a program called AVID, short for Advancement Via Individual Determination, has much to do with the transformation.

Non-profit AVID (pronounced like the word that means “eager”) is the largest college readiness program in the country. Its success has much to do with unusually effective teacher training and a tutoring system that goes deeper than any I have ever seen.

AVID began in 1980 when Mary Catherine Swanson, the head of the English department at Clairemont High School in northern San Diego, decided to experiment with 32 low-income students coming to her suburban school as part of a busing program. Many teachers at her school said those Latino and black children should be put in remedial classes, but Swanson felt that if they were placed in a daily class that taught study skills and time management and provided tutoring, they could eventually handle even college-level Advanced Placement classes.

As Bell Gardens learned, the program was not easy. AVID classes demanded that students keep their work in order and, even more shocking to American teenagers, required that they learn how to take notes properly and do so in all of their courses. The tutoring was even more of a challenge.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, tutors, usually college students, would arrive to help students with homework questions that stumped them. The tutors did not follow the usual practice of telling tutees where they went wrong. Instead they trained the students to ask questions of whomever was discussing a particular difficulty, to help think through the problem. It took weeks, sometimes months, to get the hang of it.

Lowe, now the AVID coordinator at Bell Gardens, in 1994 was the first teacher at the school to get the one-week AVID training course. But it took three years for Bell Gardens to start its program. Juan Herrera, now the school’s principal, was then the school’s state and federal project director. He was very taken with the AVID emphasis on recruiting average low-income students. His father had been a janitor, his mother a seamstress. Kids like him tended to be left out, he thought, even though they would have benefited from an extra push.

State and district backing for the program has been helpful. Bell Gardens has about $115,000 for tutors this year. Its AVID program grew from 29 ninth graders in 1997 to 566 students, about 16 percent of the total school enrollment this year. It became so successful maintaining standards that it achieved National Demonstration School status, a designation given to only two percent of AVID schools.

Mario Martin del Campo, a former Bell Garden AVID student who became an AVID tutor, said he noticed at California State University, Northridge, where he was an English major, that students without AVID experience often gave up. They’d just say, “I don’t get it.” By contrast, del Campo said, his reaction to a difficult college assignment would be “I don’t know how to do it but I’m going to try it and see how far I get.”

The AVID classes make Bell Gardens High School a very different place from what it was in 1989. Educators like Lowe and Herrera think more schools stuck in poverty could make the same transition, if they are willing to fight for the money and make it extremely difficult for their kids to give up on themselves.

Jay Mathews, a Washington Post columnist, is the author of Question Everything: The Rise of AVID as America’s Largest College Readiness Program. He 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.

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