No Crickets: Palo Alto Teen Art Council’s open mic night returns live

STORY BY DANA HUCH, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

The Palo Alto Teen Arts Council (TAC) last week hosted its first in-person open mic night for teens since the start of the pandemic. Fresh enthusiasm fueled the event’s welcoming environment, and while some former loyalists were elated to again attend after more than a year, many were there for the first time to experience the crowd’s artistic talent and appreciation.

The active audience frequently broke out in supportive guffaws and awed murmurs. On stage, performers rolled with all of the natural hiccups that come with the casual form, including, in one case, lyric amnesia affecting all verses but the chorus. The solo guitarist and vocalist in question proceeded with the entire song in “da-dums.” Off stage, fans cheered him on with unwavering commitment.

Palo Alto High School senior and TAC co-president Phoebe Berghout has been delivering refreshingly candid stand-up comedy since her freshman year. At the open mic, her set explored a childhood pioneer obsession and a run-in with a neon-clad pack of middle school boys while touching more subtly on themes of societal conditioning and identity.

For years following her first set about her younger brother getting a sex talk, Berghout has been refining her craft: phone call practice with friends, workshopping heaps of transitions for cohesion and developing a connection with her audience.

Berghout said she prefers doing stand-up for people she doesn’t know because of the honest reactions they give.

“It’s a lot of fun to make people laugh and know that these strangers find me funny,” she said. “It’s very validating.”

A supportive audience is essential for Berghout’s performance to “get rollin,’” establishing that comfortability makes it feel safer to explore the vulnerable topics her sets explore, she said.

“I end up making a fair amount of personal jokes and I might not necessarily [discuss] these themes with someone who I’m just randomly meeting, [yet] I’m telling a bunch of strangers,” Berghout said. “That’s definitely scary, but as soon as you get that first laugh, it is so much fun.”

A cover band, Sunbear, incited a dance party in the back of the venue, all seats abandoned. This was after a casual invitation to “get up and dance if you want” extended by Paly senior Tara He, a guitarist, keyboard player and singer for the band.

The band had previously played smaller backyard shows for friends, family and classmates. Not knowing what to expect from the open mic scene, they decided to finish their three-song set with the high-energy “Last Nite” by The Strokes in case the audience was getting bored, according to He. The band wasn’t expecting such an enthusiastic response to their performance.

“We invited some of our friends so we thought, ‘Maybe they’ll stand up and dance,’ but then I guess everyone [did],” He said. “I was really nervous so it was nice when everyone was participating.”

The crowd showed their appreciation for the music in their positive energy and supportive engagement, frequently calling out heartening cheers and woohoo’s.

“It’s definitely a big adrenaline rush for me, and it makes me feel like music is valued,” He said.

Palo Alto High School Improv gave their first performance of the school year at the event, playing various on-the-spot scene games like “What are you doing?” and “Four Square.” The group’s mind-reading chemistry shined through in their intuitive collective storytelling. All together, they committed to the most unexpected direction offered.

One scene invented on the open mic stage involved a teacher eating a student’s glass marbles. In another, Mary Poppins instructed a grilled cheese rookie on crafting the perfect sandwich.

“Going with the weird choice is always the better option in improv because it’s just something bizarre and it will get a bigger reaction from the audience,” Paly senior and director of ComedySportz Anneke Salvadori said.

Past Paly Improv teams have competed in ComedySportz competitions with other schools, scored by means of a referee’s “laughometer.” The open mic was the current team’s first time improvising in front of people they didn’t know.

“It’s more freeing, I guess,” said Renée Vetter, a senior in Paly Improv. “You can do crazier stuff without being self-conscious that these people are going to see you later.”

A live anonymous audience’s reaction is a message for the improviser’s improvement. Along with a license to take risks without worrying about the judgement of their family and friends, Vetter said that laughs provide feedback and encouragement for improv artists.

“[It’s] a positive environment and [we have] a lot of laughs,” loyal Sunbear fan Henry Miller said. “It’s nice to have something like that every once in a while.”

Miller was excited not only to see his friends perform, but also to experience the return of open mic night after a long time missing that community.

TAC also offers opportunities to connect and have fun through their flea markets, short film festivals, mural-painting and are looking forward to their upcoming Halloween carnival.

“Open mics are what many call our bread and butter,” TAC co-president Nila-Ann Nag said.

You can keep up with Palo Alto Teen Art Council events and news on their Instagram @pa_teenartscouncil or on their website.

Code:ART festival brings interactive installations by local artists to Downtown Palo Alto

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY EMILY YAO

Interactive displays scattered the streets of Downtown Palo Alto with ambient music and colorful lighting in Code:ART, an “interactive new media festival.”

The festival, which ran from Oct. 7–9 and consisted of seven displays, was hosted by the City of Palo Alto Public Art Program in an ongoing effort to reimagine public spaces through art and technology. 

PALEOALTO (MARPI STUDIO AND COLOUR FEEDERS)

“Paleoalto” was the the anchor of the festival. The piece, displayed in Lytton Plaza, is a collaboration between Marpi Studio (led by creative technologist and artist Marpi) and system designers and installers at Colour Feeders. The interactive installation transports visitors to the Paleolithic Era, filled with unconventional creatures which they can interact with and mesmerizing music.

“From a design perspective, it was kind of like a portal through a digital ruin back to Paleolithic times, which is why this is [named] ‘Paleoalto,’” said Kevin Colorado, architect and co-founder of Colour Feeders.“It’s an imagining of creatures that may have been here at the time.”

Colorado said the final product makes countless hours of planning and setup worthwhile. 

“The best part about it is that when I’m doing it for myself, it’s fun, not work … [and] seeing people’s reactions to it and knowing that the concept is actually understood by other people makes it all worth it,” Colorado said.

Especially with digital art being less mainstream than traditional mediums, Colorado praised the festival for allowing increased visibility for the emerging art medium. 

“I think that digital art is still a pretty nascent industry, and because of that public exposure is very limited,” Colorado said. “So I’m really thankful and impressed that Palo Alto invited us here. And it gives [an] opportunity for people to finally begin to take the medium seriously.”

COLOR CURRENTS (CORY BARR)

A projection of colorful ripples in Cory Barr’s  “COLOR CURRENTS” plays with the ideas of motion and color space. 

“Every dot that you see moves that way because someone has moved that way,” Barr said. “It remembers how people have come up and viewed it and moved around in front of it.”

The installation has two modes which alternate every seven minutes: one fluid and one static, although both share the same general idea.

Barr’s piece ties movement to the color wheel: when participants move to the right, it creates red, and when they move left, the complementary color of cyan is created. Up and down movements create yellow and green, respectively.

“It’s interesting seeing people use it in ways that they didn’t really think of. Some people will really like [the static] mode because they’ll try and be very conscientious about sculpting,” Barr said. “After a while they’ll be like ‘Oh, it’s remembering.’ … And [it’s interesting] when people understand they’re leaving behind their motion.”

This piece in particular only took Barr around a week to create, though it’s based on other similar projects which use the same camera-based interaction that he has been working on for several years. 

“Code offers a lot of possibilities,” Barr said. “Versus some traditional medium, it’s really good if you’re an artist who likes to use repetition and rhythm and things like that; it’ll set you up to explore some patterns and visual languages that you couldn’t with your hand.”

COSMIC CANNON (JEFFREY YIP)

Inspired by the natural world of geometry and spirituality, the pyramidal “COSMIC CANNON” by Jeffrey Yip allows visitors to collaborate through art and sound.

“I wanted to do a public intervention and essentially create a sense of play,” Yip said. “In public places, we often just get from point A to point B and there isn’t [much] play emphasized in our everyday lives.”

Creating a piece for visitors — ranging from friends to family to strangers — to interact with each other through sound was also a priority to Yip. 

“Each of the buttons do a different kind of fixed thing, so one does a bass, one does a sound effect and one does a melody,” Yip said. “If people are putting it together, it can create music.” 

“It was definitely a lot of trial and error; [I] learned a lot, made some mistakes [and] corrected them,” Yip said. “I still don’t have it at 100%. There are still things I want to tweak with it now that I have it up and see that it’s going.”

Still, displaying his installation at Code:ART has been a rewarding experience for Yip.

“[I love] just seeing people’s smiles and seeing the reactions on people’s faces and the kids — it’s been really nice to see them interact with it now,” Yip said.

CODED ARCHITECTURES (AMOR MUNOZ)

Tiles of black and white run down the side of an alleyway forming “CODED ARCHITECTURES,” an interactive mural by Amor Munoz, who aimed to create a connection between technology, architecture and society through her piece.

The combination of black and white is inspired by binary code from computers.

Visitors of the interactive mural were provided with a binary alphabet postcard, which they must use to decipher the encoded message. The displayed message changes daily. 

Editor’s note: We unfortunately weren’t able to get an interview with Munoz.

HYDRALA (DANIEL TRAN AND NICK SOWERS)

“HYDRALA,” a sculpture which emits audio based on visitors’ movements, is suspended between four magnolia trees in front of City Hall. The installation deviates from the typically solely visual experience of a sculpture in favor of an “immersive, ambient experience.”

The collaborative project between Daniel Tran, a sculptor, and Nick Sowers, an architect and sound artist, who have known each other since architecture school was the result of months of planning.

“[Tran] came to my sound studio and we tried plugging in a transducer, which is part of a speaker that creates the vibrations,” Sowers said. “And when we put that transducer on the sculpture, it turns the whole sculpture into a speaker. ”

The final installation contains four transducers, which play sounds reacting to people underneath the sculpture. 

“I chose some instruments which are specifically designed for his sculpture that are using the frequencies which are naturally resonant in the material,” Sowers said. “That was quite a process — quite a wonderful process really [of] just trying to hone it down [and determine] what sounds good inside of the sculpture.”

“I’ve seen like two-year olds playing this thing — they’re playing with these little dishes and then [see] the joy when they hear that something that they just did has created a sound,” Sowers said. “Kids and old people, a lot of people have gotten delight out of this, but I get the most joy by seeing their joy.”

I/O (BEN FLATAU AND OTHERS)

The installation titled “I/O” (input/output) by architect Ben Flatau (and various architects, designers and technologists) provided visitors with a challenge: to find the correct pattern of symbols and reveal a hidden message. The puzzle consisted of spinning boxes, which visitors moved to create the correct pattern, and input and output sides.

“It’s a piece of technology that’s meant to highlight the good and the bad of technology — that technology can be a powerful force, but it can also be a force that divides us,” said Scott Bezeck, a software engineer who worked on the project.

The planning process for the installation began in late 2019, but picked up in the recent months leading up to Code:ART. 

“Ben reached out to me kind of randomly since I tinker with display technology like this in my free time, with the idea for this piece and then we were working together remotely during COVID to plan it,” Bezeck said. “And then finally in the last few months we were able to put our different pieces together and come together to build the final thing.”

The entirety of the display was made up of 4,320 individual flaps, the result of a myriad of contributors.

“It’s just been cool seeing people’s excitement and interest and in playing and working together on finding the solutions to the puzzles,” Bezeck said.

LUMINOUS GROWTH (LIZ HICKOK, PHIL SPITLER AND JAMIE BANES)

A large scale projection and sculptural installation, “LUMINOUS GROWTH” by artists Liz Hickok, Phil Spitler and Jamie Banes, allows visitors to explore the uncharted territory of a model city slowly being covered with crystals.

Hickok served as the crystal and photography expert, Spitler produced the 360 degree video and coding and Banes built the cityscape.

“We built a model and then we loaded it with crystals and the crystals grew all over it,” creative technologist Spitler said. “We put a camera in the middle [and] filmed it over two weeks… [which is] what is being projected.”

Using an iPad, visitors can navigate the installation and control where they are looking.

“The inspiration was partly with climate change and just this city being taken over — the crystals grow over this city and take over and we don’t have any control over that,” Spitler said.

A unique aspect of the project that Spitler found joy in was the unknown. 

“With this [project], it was a chemical reaction, so we didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Spitler said. “We filmed it over a two week period but we didn’t really know what we were going to get until we looked at the footage. It’s that kind of surprise moment that’s really gratifying.”

After nearly two years of conceptualizing the installation and three attempts to perfect the crystal growth, it was finally displayed.

“The kids are just like ‘wow’ because they’re so used to seeing things that are made digitally … but then to actually see the sculpture here … the surprise and delight in that has been really rewarding,” Spitler said.

Chronic absenteeism in PAUSD secondary schools increases by 1.6 percentage points from 2020 levels

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY YAO

Newly released Palo Alto Unified School District attendance data shows that chronic absenteeism among the district’s high schooler student body has increased by 1.6 percentage points this year.

7.1% of PAUSD high schoolers were recorded to be chronically absent between Aug. 12 and Sept. 17, which is an increase from 2019 and 2020 levels in which 5.3% and 5.5% of the student body were chronically absent, respectively. The district attributed the increase to COVID-19 related factors such as mandated quarantines and health concerns.

District documents define a “chronic absentee” as a student absent for 10% of school days on which they are enrolled and school takes place; both unexcused and excused absences are included in this number.

Chronic absenteeism is notably higher in groups like Black students (18.1%), socioeconomically disadvantaged students (16.9%) and special education students (16.3%) — all of which have increased from 2019, though attendance has long been an “area of concern” within the district. 

Palo Alto High School Student Board Representative Michaiah Acosta suggested that the reason for elevated chronic absenteeism in specific groups may be caused by on-campus dynamics.

“When students don’t have someone at school who they feel like they can relate to on a deeper level … they are less inclined to actually go to school and perform well,” Acosta said.

Board member Jennifer Dibrienza echoed Acosta’s sentiment.

“I think we have long looked at attendance as the problem, and sometimes it’s the symptom of another problem,” Dibrienza said.

PAUSD’s tiered attendance system aims to be “relationship based,” according to Guillermo Lopez, the district’s director of student services and supports.

Tier 1 support starts at any unexcused absence or unexcused tardy over 30 minutes. The district might call home, take attendance in a “caring manner” and provide personalized outreach from teachers to families. 

The goal of Tier 2 — eight unexcused class periods, the equivalent of two instructional days — is to draft plans for attendance success. 

“Continue to let the student know they are missed when not on campus,” district documents instruct. “If a student does not have a trusted adult on campus, create a connection.”

Tier 3 arrives at 12 unexcused class periods, the equivalent of six days of instruction The district sends truancy letters, and an administrator, counselor or social worker may pay a home visit. At 24 unexcused class periods, the student is required to meet with the School Attendance Review Team (SART).

Past Tier 3, home visits continue and students are required to attend a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) meeting.

Healthy attendance was listed among the district’s top five priorities for the 2021–2022 school year, as outlined in its PAUSD Promise

The PAUSD Attendance Improvement Initiative (AII), aims to work toward all identifiable student groups’ drop below 5% in chronic absenteeism.

“Some of the areas that require deeper exploration system wide are school climate and bullying, health-related issues such as stress and anxiety, academic conditions that result in school avoidance, schome situations, and individual student characteristics,” district documents said.

According to those documents, bimonthly District Office Attendance Team meetings are working to discuss attendance efforts. Student success coaches will specifically focus on attendance with groups identified through the data as needing support.

“We’re trying to get additional feedback from the site administration [on] how to better adjust the protocols in the systems that we have in place to be more mindful as to what our students are experiencing,” Lopez said. “We’re calibrating as we go.”

Local artists showcase glass-blown pumpkins at 26th annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY EMILY YAO

Local artists and art studios showcased thousands of glass pumpkins at the Palo Alto Art Center’s 26th annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch this weekend.

Community members browsed through and purchased the glass pumpkins, which were hand-blown in a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes, in recent months by some 25 artists. The event was hosted by the Palo Alto Art Center and Bay Area Glass Institute.

Peter Stucky (Bay Blown Glass)

A number of Peter Stucky’s glass pumpkins have two signature details, and it’s hard to say if an untrained eye could recognize them upon first glance; extra ridges in between the pumpkins’ curves and gradients that add a unique sense of dimension to the already magnificent pieces.

Beyond pumpkins, Stucky also displayed glass-blown stalks of lavender and colorful acorns. 

Stucky fell in love with glass blowing through Palo Alto High School’s glass blowing elective — the school being one of very few that offer glass blowing courses — and it quickly became his calling. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I was not in the right place,” Stucky said. “And then I found glass blowing, fell in love with it and it changed my life.”

In a full-circle moment, Stucky returned to the Paly Fiery Arts, this time to help run the program. He then co-founded Bay Blown Glass with partner Dana Rottler, turning it into a full-time gig one year ago.

Tate Bezdek (2BGlass)

Tate Bezdek enjoyed glass-blowing so much that he convinced his first teacher to employ him — free of charge. Now, one half of the 2BGlass brotherly glass blowing duo, Bezdek has found his unique specialty when it comes to creating pumpkins.

2BGlass pumpkins stood out amongst the patch’s hay bales, sporting circular openings at their base as well as being accompanied in purchase by small lights.

“We do pumpkins that light up,” Bezdek said. “Our pumpkins have holes in the bottom and they come with tea lights or rope lights. We mainly do a transparent color — we like the translucency of glass.”

For Bezdek, the annual event is not only a simultaneous fulfillment of his artistic passion and business sense, but also an opportunity for community building.

“A bunch of my friends do the show too, so you get to sell your work, meet with customers that enjoy your work and you get to hang out with your friends,” Bezdek said. 

Richard Small (A Small Production)

“I was a little goth kid … so [my pumpkins] have more of a gothic, industrial feel that’s pretty unique in this venue,” Richard Small said.

By the end of what was his 20th festival, most of Small’s gothic and Halloween collection of pumpkins had been swept up in customers’ baskets.

Small said the Great Glass Pumpkin Festival — especially following its first ever cancelation last year due to the pandemic — is extremely meaningful to him as an artist. While his part time online business, A Small Production, keeps him busily fulfilled, the festival’s human touch holds a space in his heart.

“At this event, you’ve got all this art just laying on the ground,” Small said. “You can walk around and see it and touch it, and you can meet the artists … We actually get to meet each other.”

New Los Altos community center opens in grand ceremony

STORY BY SIDDHANT KANWAR, PHOTOS BY MIA BASSETT

The Los Altos Community Center held its grand opening on Saturday, complete with several speeches, a ribbon cutting ceremony (with a comically large pair of scissors) and a tour of the facility.

The ceremony began with Daisy Scout troop 61086 and Brownie Troop 60615 reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and later a member of the Los Altos Youth Theater Group singing the national anthem. Speeches thanking the community center task force and other contributors were given in the sweltering heat, notably from architects Jenna Tam and James Gweiss, Gary Hedden, former Assistant City Manager Jay Logan and community center Task Force Chair Claudia Coleman.

The new community center boasts rooms — uniquely labeled using tree species names — dedicated to all ages, ranging from teenagers to seniors.

The center’s architects gave insight into the process of building the center and its environmental impact.

Most of the 24,500 square feet of the community center are electrically powered through solar panels, leading the community center to become Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) equivalent. Gweiss described it as a “building in a park,” as the center places an emphasis on using natural lighting and wooden features.

Los Altos history museum board chair Gary Hedden spoke about the history of the community center. The center was originally a school until it was converted into a community center in 1975. In 2015, the first proposal for the center to be redone and modernized was shot down in part due to its excessive budget, but after later deliberation, the city began construction on the project in 2019.

“Every aspect of the new community center, from the architecture, landscaping, building materials and art strongly ties into Los Altos’s rich history and culture,” said Donna Legge, Director of Recreation and Community Services.

Mayor Fligor ended the ceremony by noting her predecessor’s role in the planning of the building ​​using an analogy to relay races.

“All the different councils before us and city staff and community members are part of team Los Altos community center and each had a leg in the race,” Fligor said. “There were a few different councils that ran the first legs, and although they weren’t able to lead us to the finish line, they kept going.”

In a press release, Mayor Fligor expressed her optimism for the project.

“I hope residents will utilize the beautiful space and participate in the programs offered at the community center,” Fligor said.

For more information and updates on the Los Altos Community Center, visit losaltosca.gov/communitycenter.

Bomb threat prompts Los Altos High evacuation

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

UPDATE: This morning’s bomb threat was determined to be false, said Justin Stockman, public information officer for the Santa Clara County Fire Department. 

Further investigation of the threat — which prompted an hours-long evacuation that involved multiple law enforcement agencies and first responders — will actively continue off campus. Students are now permitted to retrieve their bikes and cars, but backpacks and belongings will remain on campus until Monday morning with the exception of emergency items, such as house keys and medications. 

The weekend has been deemed homework-free, and Mon. Oct. 4 will follow the even block schedule.

A bomb threat at Los Altos High this morning prompted an evacuation of the campus and surrounding residences. 

Principal Wynne Satterwhite said the school received an anonymous call at 8:55 a.m. claiming an explosive device was placed on campus.

Law enforcement is currently in the process of searching the campus for explosives using explosive detection, according to Justin Stockman, public information officer for the Santa Clara County Fire Department.

“[The time-frame is] unsure. It will depend whether or not an explosive is found … and then it would be very dependent on how long it takes them to search the campus,” Stockman said, “The campus is large [and] has a lot of complex buildings so we’re working through that.”

Students were instructed to contact their parents and choose between evacuating by foot or remaining at school, although the school is arranging reunification and pick up for students.

“Once this campus is cleared, which will probably take several hours, we will send out an email saying come back and get your bikes and your cars and your skateboards,” Satterwhite said in a school-wide announcement. “You will not be allowed back into classrooms until Monday.”

Students and staff initially evacuated to the football field then relocated to the baseball diamond — presumably to distance as much as possible from the main campus. 

Sonia Lee, public information officer for the City of Los Altos said that some residences in the immediate vicinity of the high school were also evacuated.

The Los Altos Police Department and Los Altos Fire Department were immediately dialed and shortly after arriving at the scene, set up a perimeter. Additional law enforcement jurisdictions, including the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Mountain View Police Department and Palo Alto Police department were also called to the site.

MVLA’s mental health resources, explained

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

You don’t need to know all the details of the Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District’s mental health infrastructure to ask for help. For some, though, knowing what’s there in the first place might make it easier.

Here’s a guide to all the district’s mental health resources, and how to access them.

Note: Any person feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a crisis counselor, or text “HELLO” to 741741.

ASKING FOR HELP

TL;DR: Fill out this form.

The first step to accessing MVLA’s mental health resources is the student support form, which is intentionally broad and about “student support” in general, said William Blair, the district’s wellness coordinator.

“Students don’t have to know what it is they need, we just want to connect them with help,” Blair said. “So part of the goal was to create a student support referral form which includes personal issues, emotional issues, social services issues [and] academic issues, so that way it’s broader for everybody.”

Reasons for referral on the form include but are not limited to depression and anxiety, college stress, body image, peer conflict, eating habits and substance abuse.

It’s a sort of one-stop shop; a streamlined way for students to ask for help.

After a student — or friend, parent or teacher, who can preserve anonymity — fills out the form, the referral is sent to the campus’s intake coordinator, who meets with the student to determine which of the district’s resources will best serve them.

Blair said that parent or guardian consent is necessary for ongoing mental health services, but that there are minor consent laws that “allow for some flexibility in narrowly defined circumstances.”

SHORT-TERM CARE

TL;DR: The district offers a wide range of support through itself and partners.

Most of the services that the district offers are through partnerships with outside organizations, with the exception of the district’s own therapists who primarily treat students in special education programs.

In the 2020–2021 school year, the organization the district referred the most students to was the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) — which offers short-term one-on-one and sometimes group therapy — followed by Uplift Family Services, which primarily treats students who are uninsured or on Medi-Cal, and also offers behavior management, family engagement and social services. The district’s own therapists took on a similar caseload to Uplift last year.

The district’s other partners include:

  • Stanford Children’s Health, which offers psychiatric fellows for students who don’t have outside psychiatrists, and the teen health van which offers general doctors’ appointments for teens who are uninsured or on Medi-Cal.
  • The Bill Wilson Center, which works with homeless and foster youth, offering temporary shelters and helping families complete the VI-SPDAT survey which helps determine eligibility for supportive housing opportunities.
  • The Community Services Agency, which offers social services support for low-income families that could include anything from legal services to food resourcing.
  • County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services, which offers a range of services that include support for substance abuse and domestic violence.
  • The Healthier Kids Foundation, which can help families qualify for Medi-Cal which opens access to other resources.

Blair said that general education students seeking short-term therapeutic support are most likely to be referred to CHAC, which offers short-term support during the school day. CHAC sessions typically last six to 12 weeks, although Blair said that the length can vary depending on the treatment goal.

The district also offers drop-in services during the school day, which an on-site MVLA therapist will handle if it’s an immediate crisis or safety concern, and the intake coordinator will handle otherwise.

LONG-TERM CARE

TL;DR: The district will work to support you even if your needs go beyond what it can offer through itself and its partners.

If a student needs something beyond what the district offers — whether because they need support during school breaks, would prefer to meet in the evenings or simply need longer-term care — the district will help connect the student with an outside clinician.

“Our goal will always be to support the student right here, right now,” Blair said. “We’re not going to let you fall … We’ll support them, [and] we’ll work with the family and the student to see what kind of long-term support we can find.”

Typically that means working with the family’s private insurance.

“But there may be a backlog,” Blair said. “So, right now, Kaiser is like, ‘It’s November, December, before you can get an appointment.’ So part of the idea of the short-term, six to 12 weeks, is we’re going to get you to that point, get you to the right handoff.”

If families don’t have private insurance but qualify for Medi-Cal, Uplift Family Services offers long-term support for up to a year.

At the end of the day, Blair said that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and that the district will meet any student with their unique needs.

“You don’t have to know what the problem is,” Blair said. “You just need to come and get support — and know that there is support.”

PREVENTATIVE CARE

TL;DR: Wellness initiatives — paired with intervention measures — are also a key part of ensuring student wellbeing.

Also key to supporting students are wellness initiatives, which Blair said are more about preventing or softening future issues than treating existing ones.

That could be anything from Spartans Pause and wellness weeks, which offer self-care activities like yoga, stress ball making and interacting with therapy animals during lunch; promoting mindfulness exercises in the classroom; and even school clubs and extracurriculars.

“We all need to feel a sense of belonging,” Blair said. “That social connection is super important in all the preventative work.”

The oft-eye-roll-inducing HAERT program the district used last year — which taught students preventative strategies like mindfulness exercises and gratitude journaling — was a preventative measure that Blair said was misunderstood.

“Folks were saying, ‘Giving us preventative strategies isn’t what we need; we need mental health intervention,’” Blair said. “But they’re two very different things … Part of this challenge is when we say ‘mental health,’ what do we mean? Are we talking about mental illness? Are we talking about our mental well-being, which is different?”

Ultimately, preventative and intervention services work in tandem to create the district’s student support net.

“We’re all going to face the rocky waters downstream,” Blair said. “Our goal is to go upstream and give you the preventative strategies and skills when the water’s calm … Because when the rocky waters hit … you then have the tools, and we’re still going to be on the shore screaming, ‘Hey, if you need help, here’s the life raft, grab this rope and we’ll bring you in.’”

Any person feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a crisis counselor, or text “HELLO” to 741741. The Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District’s student referral form can be found here.

How a local muralist’s work brings color to her community

STORY BY AVNI RAJAGOPAL, PHOTO COURTESY LOS ALTOS HISTORY MUSEUM

From chic, modern line art to blossoming flowers and vibrant colors, Morgan Bricca’s murals add flair, character and a sense of togetherness to the walls of her community. You may have glimpsed her work at schools like Egan Junior High School, Blach Middle School and Almond Elementary. 

A home renovation project was where the commision-based muralist got her start. She had never considered art as a career choice until painting a window in order to liven up a stairwell in her home awakened her to an unexpected love for painting walls. Soon enough, Bricca went from repainting windows in her home to creating larger-than-life murals throughout her community.

“I was blindsided, honestly, by it,” Bricca said. “It tickled a part of my brain that was just so interesting for me.”

From there, Bricca says her enthusiasm is what led her to successfully turn her newfound love into a business. Her knack for art helped word spread like wildfire, and after initially working on projects for family and friends, her customer base expanded to the larger community.

Eventually, thanks to her unwavering enthusiasm, Bricca began receiving commissions, growing her passion into the flourishing business it is today. Now, she paints in schools, companies and homes, creating paintings in a multitude of styles to fit the client and the space.

“Every client has such a different idea about what would be beautiful for themself,” Bricca said.

Bricca said her art provides her with many of the qualities she looks for in a job, including the ability to express herself, the opportunity to meet interesting people and sometimes even exercise. There are certain physical demands that come with working at such a large scale (ladder climbing, covering large surfaces, etc). But the most rewarding aspect for Bricca is the accompanying sense of purpose.

“[When I’m not painting], I don’t really feel like I get this deep grounding in myself, and painting gives that to me,” she said.

Using her art to benefit the community and make people happy keeps her motivated. Children celebrate the imaginative magic of her butterfly wings mural, which features a butterfly positioned intentionally for viewers to take pictures and pretend they have wings.

“I know that I’m using my artwork as a service, to bring joy to people … So it’s not really about me, per se, it’s about being of service,” Bricca said. “And that is so gratifying.”

According to Bricca, “the essence of mural art” is leaving a part of yourself on the painted wall, something for others to connect to. With her upcoming talk at the Los Altos History Museum, Bricca is taking a similar leap of openness, and she hopes that — just like her murals — her words will stir connection.

In Bricca’s presentation, she will entertain listeners with stories about her journey in painting, examples of her earlier works of art and anecdotes about her murals. Her message is how simply trying something new can open up a whole world of opportunities and happiness.

“‘Passion just scares people,” Bricca said. “It’s more like this quiet tug.”

That “quiet tug” that Bricca felt as she painted a window in her stairwell eventually brought her to where she is today: running a business of spreading paint and creativity.

“It’s only painting,” Bricca said. “It’s not like I’m changing the world, but … it just feels like the thing I’m supposed to be doing.”

Bricca will deliver her talk, “Adventures in Mural Painting” at the Los Altos History Museumon Sept. 23 from 7–8:30 p.m. Register here. Visit Bricca’s website here.

City of Los Altos adopts firearm safe storage ordinance

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

In a unanimous move, the Los Altos City Council last week adopted a firearms safe storage ordinance, requiring all firearms in Los Altos residences to be stored in locked containers or disabled with a trigger lock. 

Violations of this ordinance will be punished with a $500 fine upon the first infraction, and a $1000 fine for any additional infractions. The ordinance has been in the works since late April.

“What I hope the public realizes most is that this is a matter of public safety,” said Councilmember Jonathan Weinberg, who introduced the ordinance. “At the end of the day, by safely storing your gun, you’re protecting yourself, your family and your community.”

While the ordinance received unanimous support from the council, council members agreed that the ordinance would likely have little effect on the city.

“I do not have any delusions that this will have a profound influence in this community, where I believe most of our community is already being quite responsible about their weapons,” Vice Mayor Anita Enander said.

Weinberg similarly praised the responsibility of Los Altos citizenry, but contended that the ordinance is still integral, serving a preventative and educational purpose.

Weinberg also noted that two thirds of gun deaths in the United States are due to suicide according to Giffords, an organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence. He asserted that this number would reduce with proper firearm storage practices, making firearms less easily accessible to minors.

Although according to the city’s police department there have not been recent cases of suicide by firearm in Los Altos, Weinberg argued that it’s still important to address the issue.

“I can’t help but think that there are people, especially teenagers, who are going through very difficult times in life [where] things may seem [desperate],” Weinberg said. “Chances are, if you make that terrible decision with a gun, you’re not going to get a second chance to think about it.”

Despite possibly not having a “profound influence” in the community as Enander said, the council hopes its adoption will prevent any anomalous instances.

“If this ordinance goes so far as to inspire one more person to safely store their firearm, that’s one less firearm that could be used by a child, or could be stolen and used nefariously by a criminal,” Weinberg said. “Frankly, I think passing this ordinance is worth it.”