The Zone 3 Caltrain stations, ranked

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTOS BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND EMILY YAO

There comes a certain point in a driver’s-licenseless teenager’s life when they desperately don’t want to be chauffeured around by their parents to hang out with friends anymore, and in which they’ve had enough of everything within walking and biking distance. 

This summer, I chose the natural solution, as opposed to, say, taking my permit test or something. I started riding the Caltrain — a lot.

After a couple months of frequenting the nearby stations and what their surrounding downtowns had to offer us, my friends and I started discussing our favorite stations. There were so many factors to think about, and thus a fair share of disagreements.

Realizing that each Caltrain station is unique with different atmospheres and amenities, I formed the next logical thought of ranking them all on a scientifically standardized scale: my opinions. 

Not all of the stations from San Jose to San Francisco, of course — that would be a huge project — just six local ones, classified by Caltrain as Zone 3.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the actual utility of this is; it’s not as if you’re going to start avoiding getting off at your local station because it’s ranked low here. But maybe it can be thought provoking about our perspective on our communities’ public spaces.

Here are six local Caltrain stations, ranked.  

6. San Antonio

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
6486327

The San Antonio station really doesn’t have much immediately around it; it’s an eight minute walk to The Village (a local shopping center with not many stores that pique my interest) and a 10 minute walk to the nearest Target (a good place to roam around in and exit with a multitude of things you didn’t need). 

The station’s parking situation is the next most unideal thing for me to scrutinize. To be clear, I still can’t drive; I forced our editor-in-chief to shuttle us around on this four-hour expedition. Thus it was his attempt at parking that was an entire ordeal.

When we finally crossed the tracks to the only side offering parking, said parking was a block away from the station, which I can imagine being inconvenient for those traveling on a tight schedule.

As for San Antonio’s low intuitiveness score, those wishing to cross to the other platform need to walk all the way down and through a tackily designed, blue- and red-striped underpass on the very end of the station — not very intuitive.

5. Mountain View

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
6957835

Doubling as a transit station with VTA buses definitely knocked down this station’s intuitiveness points, as I can imagine someone attempting to use both transport systems getting off the train and feeling confused about where and how to board their bus. 

The cleanliness of the station was mediocre. As I sat down to feel out different benches, I noticed that some of them were sticky. As I walked up and down the platforms, I noticed stains and discoloration on the concrete pavement. 

On the flip side, my favorite thing about the Mountain View station was its main building. The almost old-timey style of architecture was easy on the eyes and cohesive with the station’s atmosphere. It also provided some nice, shaded seating with a type of bench that I really liked.

Unfortunately, Mountain View also had my absolute least favorite type of benches out of all the stations: there were a multitude of circular black benches with defeated-looking trees in the center. This seating simply didn’t make sense to me, as their circular shape, vertical gaps and inevitable absorption of burning heat during the daytime are probably not appealing to anyone.

To put it simply, I thought I liked the Mountain View station more than I actually do, which is not that much.

4. Palo Alto

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
88471037

Downtown Palo Alto is a thoroughly amazing and fun place, giving the Palo Alto station an automatic 10/10 on the fun factor scale. My most frequently visited stores there include Bell’s Books and Kung Fu Tea, but there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone from restaurants to retail stores to cafes.

However, the Palo Alto station definitely lacked cleanliness. Its main underpass is dark, damp and dingy with offensive smells every few steps you take. There were spills and stains on the platform grounds, as well as bottles and cans littered on the train tracks. We even noticed a pile of shattered glass beneath one bench that seemed to have come from the map poster above it being punched.

The style of the two main buildings had an almost retro theme that is somewhat fitting for a train station atmosphere. They weren’t the most visually appealing; somewhere in my messily scribbled notes, I stated that “at least the buildings have a design.”

3. California Ave.

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
78851038

The California Ave. station has absolutely nothing to its design element. The lengthy underpass is all gray, with concrete and metal handrails — I’d almost take the blue- and red-tiled San Antonio one over that. It almost seems like a hallway in some sort of cheap-budget dystopian film.

There’s absolutely no color at the station, and the only structure is short, almost colonial, offering the only bit of shade on the platform to visitors. 

The only 10 that California Ave. got out of me was its fun factor, being one of my favorite places in Palo Alto to frequent (my go-tos are Backyard Brew, Vitality Bowl, Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels, among others). The Sunday farmers’ market is even held there every week, meaning you could potentially take the Caltrain there from out of town in the morning.

Despite California Ave. being my home station, I realized as I was pacing around with a notebook and the intention of scrutinizing everything that overall, it’s not that great of a train station. The only reason why it’s standing in the top three of my ranking is the significantly bad parking, intuitiveness and cleanliness of other stations, not its own greatness.

It’s also worthy to note that it was at this station where Caltrain employees noticed us taking pictures of the arriving train and told us what “foamers” were — but that didn’t affect my ratings.

2. Sunnyvale

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
91079641

As the opposite of what happened with Mountain View, I thought I liked the Sunnyvale station less going into this than I actually ended up liking it, which was enough for the station to be our overall runner-up.

Parking was the station’s biggest strength, with an actual shaded, multi-level parking structure dedicated to Caltrain patrons right next to it, as well as a very spacious open lot right in front. There was even ample bike parking in the shade.

I appreciated the large arch that provided shade and public seating; there were rows of strong wooden benches, though they were weirdly tall and perpendicular — I made it clear on the car ride away from Sunnyvale that the ideal bench angle lies somewhere in the middle of 90 and 180 degrees (I didn’t have a protractor on hand).

Everything in this area was cohesive in design, coming down to the special payphone stands.

The station itself was very intuitive as well, placing the ticket booths in plain sight upon entrance and a simple crosswalk as opposed to an underpass to access each side.

1. Menlo Park

IntuitivenessParkingCleanlinessDesignFun factorTotal (–/50)
1087101045

Menlo Park is the best Zone 3 Caltrain station for its excellent intuitiveness, design and fun factor.

It features not only one, but two crosswalks on either side; the significance of this is ensuring that riders can easily and quickly access each side without having to sprint down the platform and through an underpass in their professional work outfits each morning.

The station is also lined up and down with tall, green trees. Its main building, which is accented with yellow and white, even has a beautiful clock tower — an amazing traditional style touch for a train station. Whoever sat down to design the station even went as far as to pick rusty red block pavement instead of gray slabs of concrete like most other stations.

Needless to say, from the smallest details to the station’s overall atmosphere, Menlo Park is the superior Zone 3 Caltrain station. 

Here are some ways teens can get involved in the recall election

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR

In just two weeks, California voters will decide whether Gov. Gavin Newsom keeps his job — and who replaces him, if not.

Here are some ways teens can get involved, as the Sept. 14 gubernatorial special election looms just around the corner.

RUNNING AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD

This one should satisfy even the introverts. Some campaigns have downloadable flyers on their websites, which you can print out and distribute to your neighbors — in theory, you can just drop these on door steps, with no need for any social interaction (gasp!).

Not all have flyer posted, though, so you might need to whip out some design skills and make your own flyers on user-friendly software like Canva.

Here are a couple campaign flyers:

  • Larry Elder
  • John Cox (enter your contact information)
  • Kevin Paffrath (scroll until you hit “Be Part Of The Campaign!” and select “distribute signs and flyers”)

Alternatively, if you want to support Newsom and don’t want to have to make your own flyers, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party runs a “neighborhood captain” program, which entails the following:

  • You register online.
  • You’ll get sent a list of 100 of the most likely voters in your neighborhood. James Kim, executive director of the party, says that the most likely voters are determined by past records, and in some cases, they’ll be people who just recently reached eligible voting age.
  • You go and put door hangers with voting information on those 100 of your neighbors’ doors.

Easy, right? The door hangers, provided by the county Democratic Party, include voting instructions and information to help voters through the deceptively tricky ballot.

“The problem with this election is it’s a special election,” Kim said. “Not everybody’s aware of it. So the idea’s to get people to come out to vote. That’s always the case in every election, but especially this one.”

In terms of dropping off those door hangers (this is where the introverts rejoice), Kim said that party policy actually dictates that neighborhood captains don’t knock on doors — it’s a COVID safety precaution.

Kim also recommends adding in a one-line handwritten note encouraging the neighbor to send in their ballot.

“It’s a note coming from one of your neighbors, telling another neighbor that there’s an election coming up,” he said. “What we ask is that you literally drop it in front of the door or hang it on the door. We don’t recommend that you knock on the door.”

You can register for the neighborhood captain program here.

PHONE BANKING

Phone banking: People either “love it or hate it,” Kim said.

“If you love it, normally those are the folks who love to talk over the phone and communicate really well,” Kim said. “But not everybody’s built for that.”

Logistically, phone banking for the county Democratic Party means logging onto Zoom and running an automated call system on your computer from the comfort of your own home.

Here are some links to sign up to phone bank for other campaigns:

  • Larry Elder
  • John Cox (again, just put in your contact information)
  • Kevin Paffrath (scroll until you hit “Be Part Of The Campaign!” and select “call and text our potential voters”)

At least for the county Democratic Party — although this is pretty standard protocol for all campaigns — you can phone bank for however long your schedule allows you to, and the calling usually occurs when people are home from work (after-school hours).

In terms of training, Kim said that volunteers are given instructions and a script, but ultimately, a lot of it comes down to “being yourself.”

“You have to be comfortable with yourself,” he said. “You don’t have to follow the script … but look at the script so you understand the meaning of what we’re calling about.” 

For this special election, the phone calls are more about convincing people to get out and vote in the first place, and less about persuading them to vote one way or another, Kim said.

You can register to phone bank for Newsom here.

A side note: Beyond getting involved in just this election, Kim said he’s always looking for high schoolers to volunteer at the county Democratic Party’s headquarters, especially during school vacations. It sounds like teen volunteers can actually get pretty involved on the backend of party operations — you can reach him at ed@sccdp.org.

GET OUT THERE

Ultimately, the goal of the neighborhood captain program, phone banking and any other structured program is the same — get people to vote.

In theory, standing at the corner of an intersection with a big sign reading something to the effect of “GO VOTE!” does that job, too.

But fine, maybe standing by your lonesome on the side of the street isn’t your thing. 

The Raging Grannies — a group of older woman activists who seek to promote various causes through humor and to “shock with unladylike antics” — are hosting a “No on the recall!” rally at noon on Sept. 4 on the corner of El Camino and Castro in Mountain View.

Contact Granny Ruth Robertson (rwsrobertson@yahoo.com), the leader of the “gaggle” of grannies for more information.

Sunday, Sept. 5: This article has been updated to include volunteer information for a wider range of campaigns.

Tiger parents, read: Meet the program combating Silicon Valley stress

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO COURTESY ANUSUYA RAO

After seeing her kids off to college, Anusuya Rao came to a startling realization. Many of her kids, their friends and similar-aged kids she knew were high academic achievers — but lacked what she felt was really important to navigate adult life beyond school.

“[Some of these] academically bright kids have absolutely no social skills,” Rao said. “Can’t even make eye contact. Don’t know some basic stuff like filling gas into their car. You know, just what really was important was lacking, and the focus was very linear, very blinded by just school and which college you’re going to.”

Now, Rao sits on the Steering Committee (essentially the board) of Launchpad for Life, a nonprofit seeking to widen that same linear focus that Rao observed in the world of high-pressure, Silicon Valley stress.

The organization — which was originally conceived by Priya Dharan, another local parent — will begin the first session of its program, FreeFlight, in September.

Broadly, FreeFlight bills itself as a multi-year program that will help families “discover pathways for the children to develop into multi-dimensional, engaged, happy adults.” The FreeFlight program requires that both the middle or high school–aged children and their parents attend its monthly sessions; it takes both to achieve the program’s goals.

A large part of the club is about finding balance, and recognizing that there are many paths to success in adult life.

“[As a parent, I] had to be coached to kind of chill, you know, relax,” Dharan said. “I thought ‘Oh, every kid has to have three activities,’ and it was a mad dash. … I mean, if I look back, I want to laugh. What did those 10 guitar lessons do for my son, or, you know, Mandarin lessons for this one? What? There was no rhyme or reason.”

That’s exactly the kind of thinking that FreeFlight wants to challenge, because it hurts both the (well-intentioned) parents and their kids.

Launchpad for Life is part of a broader nonprofit called A Future for Every Child, which seeks to equip orphans in India transitioning into adulthood with the life skills needed to succeed. 

When Dharan founded Launchpad for Life, she felt that it made sense for it to be tied to A Future for Every Child because of the similar themes and a previous connection she had to the nonprofit.

A typical 90 minute FreeFlight session includes a range of stress-management exercises, games, discussions and interactive activities related to that day’s topic, with the parents in one group and the students in a separate one. 

The adult group is led by a parent volunteer (at least for now, that’s usually a member of the Steering Committee), and the student group is led by a youth moderator (a role-model high school upperclassmen or college student).

“It’s not a lecture at all,” Rao said. “We get a lot out of each other, and trying to have a discussion about it is the best way to be aware of something. A lecture is not going to work, especially not for the kids and even parents.”

Over the 10-session program, topics covered include examining core values, communication skills, time management, wellness, financial literacy, personal safety, housing basics, budgeting, developing a civic sense and emergency preparedness.

The parent and child sessions feature the same activities, the hope being that both will be on the same page to have a discussion afterward. 

“I think the parents themselves are kind of stuck in some ways,” Dharan said. “For instance, we had a unit on communication skills. And it was, I think, eye opening for both the parents as well as the kids. If we only communicate it in this manner versus that manner, you know, would we get further? And so I think … that’s the beauty of this club, it’s bringing the parents along as well. That’s why it’s a parent-child club, and not just a children-only club.”

Rao and Dharan hope to attract seventh graders to FreeFlight’s September session and have them continue all the way through their senior year in high school — the program is meant to build on itself.

“You can’t learn everything … in a 90 minute session,” Rao said. “So the hope is that we build and deepen the learning on this topic, year after year.”

For example, middle schoolers would learn about the value of different scales of money (“What can you get for $10? $100? $1000”) and the concept of saving (“How should I use my allowance?”). High schoolers would move onto more complicated concepts like taxes, cost of living in the Bay Area, jobs and their incomes, wise credit card use and car insurance.

All of these concepts are things that aren’t necessarily taught in school, and things that can be easy for students and parents to ignore when singularity focused on academics.

“Most of us parents are rushing to get them into college, that’s kind of like the end goal,” Dharan said. “And students too are just working so hard busting their butts trying to get into all these elite programs. … Nobody pauses to think about what are the other skills that one might need to navigate life.”

FreeFlight’s curriculum is written by a handful of members on the Steering Committee — many of them parents like Dharan and Rao — which includes a psychiatrist, who often lends her professional perspective.

This summer, that curriculum was put to the test in a trial run of FreeFlight.

“The parent session I [found was] very engaging,” Dharan said. “It was 100% participation. … So I think it’s a very easy sell for the parents. Parents are looking for something like this. … It’s a safe space to try out different things — you’re not being judged.”

“The kids portion also was received really well,” Rao said. “They may not be as acutely aware as to the benefits that they’re getting, but they’re still getting it. So you know, they might be doing the breathing exercises with eye rolls and a whatever type of attitude … [but] we feel sure that at some point, if they’re anxious, or their heart’s racing, they might use that technique.”

The pilot saw around 10 kids from a variety of grade levels attend each session alongside about 12 parents. 

“We know that this worked with the kids because they came back,” Rao said. “The kids consistently came back — it was their choice. … They really have a good time, it’s just a question of getting to know other members.”

Rao and Dharan said they hope to have 20 or so kids attend the program when it starts in the fall, and that initially, all the grade levels will be mixed together during sessions — at a later point when there are more attendees they’ll start to divide sessions by age.

In one of the pilot sessions, Sophie Kim, a Los Altos High School student who acted in the Netflix show “The Healing Powers of Dude” attended as a guest speaker. 

“She was inspirational, because she has never acted before, and went right into this Netflix show,” Rao said. “So the takeaway from having her was if you don’t try something, you will never know. She was a great role model for that, and our kids loved her.” 

Her father also attended the session, and was able to answer questions from parents. 

“He could answer questions from parents who are more curious about, okay … ‘[How do you] even consider a Netflix gig when she’s in the middle of her freshman year?’” Dharan said. “‘How do you open your mind to something like that? … And how do you give it as much support as a kid that’s wanting to take on a big load of APs?’”

The two hope to bring in more role models in future sessions who have found success in places that might stray from the path that many parents want their kids to follow.

“There’s more than becoming a high tech exec. or founding a company,” Dharan said.

Ultimately, Rao acknowledged that it can sometimes be hard to articulate the goals of FreeFlight to families that lead busy lives.

“But what we’ve noticed is, for a parent who needs it, the sell has been, like, two minutes,” Rao said. “Even though the parent may be busy … when they hear the goals of this club and what we intend to do — when they connect to it — we’ve seen that it absolutely takes a priority. … They see the value in this.”

What might in part help Rao and Dharan in connecting with other parents is the fact that they founded the club based off of personal experience. 

“The need for something like this was simply based on all the mistakes I’ve made myself with my kids,” Rao said. “[It’s about] doing it with intention, not dragging them to various activities and various courses and this and that — there’s no intention, there’s no meaning there. … Forcing certain pathways is just not okay, and college should not be the end all because there’s life after that, which needs grit, which needs resilience, which needs team building spirit, which needs all those things that they don’t get exposed to or don’t learn.”

“There’s no playbook for parenting,” Dharan said. “Each child poses such different challenges. … They’re just unique beings, and so what works for one doesn’t work for the other. … And this, it’s a community of parents — it’s great to do it together.”

Register for the September Freeflight session here.

Monday, Aug. 16: Some of the language in this article has been updated to better-reflect the goals of FreeFlight.

MVLA: Respuestas para todas las preguntas que podrías tener sobre el retorno a la escuela durante COVID

ARTICULO DE TOMOKI CHIEN, FOTO DE ARYA NASIKKARTRADUCCIÓN DE RODRIGO SEPÚLVEDA SAGASETA

Esta historia fue escrita y reportada originalmente en inglés. Todas las citas son traducciones.

Click here to read the original article in English.

En una semana, los estudiantes del Distrito de Mountain View–Los Altos harán regresaran al campus por primera vez en 16 meses. Será un retorno completo: pero todo no sera necesariamente igual.

Estas son las respuestas a algunas preguntas del protocolo COVID-19 que podrías tener, lo cuales esperamos alivien un poco de su estrés sobre el regreso a la escuela. 

Nota: Todas las respuestas a estas preguntas se basan en información del 30 de julio. Las precauciones y decisiones relacionadas con el COVID-19, como siempre, están evolucionando constantemente.


Pregunta: Se tiene que usar mascarilla?

Respuesta: Sí, al menos hasta principios de noviembre. Pero no tendrás que distanciarte y podrás quitarte la mascarilla afuera. Aparte de las mascaras en los salones y zonas interiores, la escuela debería parecer bastante normal por ahora.

Pregunta: Tiendo a enfermarme mucho, especialmente durante el invierno y la temporada del influenza. ¿Tengo que quedarme en casa aunque solo sea catarro?

Respuesta: Desafortunadamente, sí. Si estás mostrando cualquier síntoma del COVID-19, muchos de los cuales son los mismos que las síntomas típicas de la gripa, tienes que quedarte en casa.

La asociada Superintendente Leyla Benson, que actúa como la persona designada para temas del COVID-19 en el distrito, dijo que el distrito reconoce que puede haber más ausencias como resultado de esto.

“Queremos tener mucho cuidado”, dijo Benson. “[Pero] si bastantes personas empiezan a tener problemas para obtener acceso a la escuela, entonces tendremos que revaluar.”

Pregunta: Aunque estoy vacunado, todavía tengo que quedarme en casa si estoy enfermo? 

Respuesta: Sí. Esta es una precaución necesaria, especialmente con la evolución de la variante delta, que —aunque se discute la idea de esto— se ha descubierto que todavía se pueden contagiar personas totalmente vacunadas. Sin embargo, se ha demostrado que las vacunas son muy eficientes para prevenir casos graves y detener la infección.

Pregunta: Cuándo podré regresar a la escuela después de quedarme en mi casa enfermo?

Respuesta: Bueno, depende. Si sales positivo para el COVID-19, entonces tendrás que esperar una cuarentena de 10 días, después de lo cual puedes volver a la escuela. 

Si no te da COIVID-19, es probable que podrás volver a la escuela, pero consulte la siguiente pregunta.

Parece que puede haber casos en los que, por ejemplo, si tienes un poco de catarro durante un día y tu médico te aprueba para volver a la escuela, no tendrás que hacer la prueba de COVID-19 para regresar. Pero en general, tendrás que tomar una prueba para el COVID si tienes alguna síntoma.

La escuela debe ponerse en contacto con usted sí toma un día enfermo y la ayudara en el proceso. Y, por supuesto, siempre puede contactar a Layla Benson por su correo: leyla.benson@mvla.net si tienes preguntas individuales. 

Pregunta: Que si tengo síntomas de gripa o influenza, pero salgo negativo para el COVID-19? 

Respuesta: Aquí es donde se vuelve un poco complicada la cosa. (Benson suspira cuando se le hace esta pregunta.) Todo depende del día en el que hiciste la prueba, si habías estado en contacto con alguien con COVID, si tu prueba fue de antígenos o de PCR y lo que diga tu medico.

Así que básicamente depende, y el distrito tomará cada situación caso por caso en consulta con el departamento de salud del condado. Pero lo más importante es que probablemente vas a recibir unas miradas desagradables de tus compañeros de clase si estás tosiendo durante toda tu clase. 

Pregunta: Si pruebo positivo para el COVID, tengo que presentar una prueba de COVID negativa para regresar? 

Respuesta: Hasta ahora, no. Solo tienes que esperar la cuarentena de 10 días. Al final de esos 10 días se supone que la carga viral que desprendes es lo suficientemente baja, que combinada con una máscara, no puede infectar a otras personas. Benson parecía pensar que la duración de la cuarentena podría cambiar porque la variante delta es más virulenta, aunque ella dijo que aún no ha oído ninguna palabra oficial al respecto.

Pregunta: El distrito ofrecerá pruebas de COVID? 

Respuesta: El distrito continuará colaborando con el Hospital El Camino para ofrecer pruebas a los estudiantes (Benson dijo que te pueden regresar el resultado de la prueba de una manera muy rápida), y también analizará otras opciones basado en necesidad. 

Si se necesitan pruebas con mayor frecuencia, el distrito tendrá clínicas de pruebas en colaboración con El Camino.

La prueba Cue COVID-19, una prueba para la casa aprobada por la Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos también es una opción que el distrito podría utilizar en cierta capacidad aunque lo único que es seguro hasta ahora es la colaboración con el El Camino Hospital.

Pregunta: Qué ocurriera si me aproximo a alguien que tiene COVID?

Respuesta: Si estás completamente vacunado y has entrado en contacto cercano con alguien infectado con COVID-19, no tendrás que ponerte en cuarentena — solo tendras que demostrar prueba de vacunación al distrito. Pero si no estás vacunado, o si declinas indicar tu estado de vacunación, tendrás que esperar una cuarentena de 10 días.

Benson dijo que puede haber algunos casos raros en los que un estudiante no vacunado en cuarentena debido a un contacto cercano podría salir temprano si producen una prueba negativa, aunque eso dependería de una serie de factores, incluyendo el día de la prueba, si las síntomas están presentes y lo que decida el condado; sería caso por caso.

Pregunta: Sera mas fácil completar las tareas y el trabajo que me perdería si falto por estar enfermo? 

Respuesta: Debería ser un poco más fácil, sobre todo porque los profesores van a entender. Benson dijo que los dirigentes del distrito discutieron esto, y al menos por ahora, está pidiendo que los profesores envíen cualquier trabajo que se pueda hacer virtualmente a los estudiantes que están enfermos en casa. 

Y, por supuesto, como en cualquier año normal, hay extensiones que los profesores están obligados a dar si tomas días enfermos. 

“Lo que hemos visto hasta ahora es que la gente es muy responsable en nuestra comunidad,” dijo Benson. “Este es el plan actual, [pero] era un plan basado en que el COVID mejorara enormemente y las tasas de vacunación fueran muy altas. Tengo que decir que en las últimas semanas ha habido muchos giros nuevos.”

Como con cualquier cosa, la política actual sobre las tareas y los días enfermos podría muy posiblemente cambiar una vez que comience el año escolar. 

Pregunta: Habra una option para aprender remotamente este año?  

Respuesta: Sí, en forma de la Opción B, el programa de estudio independiente remoto del distrito. Aunque dependerá de la circunstancia específica, Benson dijo que los estudiantes deberían poder cambiar a la opción B con menos problemas que el año pasado.

Pregunta: Qué porcentaje de maestros y estudiantes están vacunados? 

Respuesta: Benson dijo que en una encuesta a los profesores que aún no estaba terminada, el 96,6% dijo que estaban completamente vacunados, el 2,6% no quisieron aclarar, el 0,5% dijo que no estaban vacunados y el 0,3% dijo que estaban a mitad del proceso de vacunación. La encuesta de los profesores se finalizará más cerca al inicio de la escuela, y los estudiantes tomaran otra encuesta cuando regresen.

No tienes que dar tu estado de vacunación, pero si te declinas a declararlo, la escuela tiene que tratarte como una persona no vacunada.

Pregunta: Hay algo más que deberíamos saber?

Respuesta: Sólo hay que saber que todo podría cambiar muy rápidamente — incluso no esta garantizado poder tener una instrucción en persona para el resto del año.

Sin embargo, Benson subrayó que las vacunas siguen siendo la mejor manera de garantizar que la escuela pueda funcionar con la mayor fluidez posible.

“Realmente creemos como distrito escolar que la vacunación para cualquiera que pueda hacerlo médicamente … es nuestra primera línea de defensa,”dijo.

Es importante saber que si el reglamento cambia o la pandemia se empeora, el distrito está mucho mejor preparado que a principios del año pasado.

“Estamos muy entusiasmados con el prospecto de poder regresar,” dijo Benson. “Siempre hemos puesto la seguridad de todos primero. Así que si las señales muestran que [nuestro plan] no va a ser seguro para todos, tenemos muchas opciones que hemos probado y pueden funcionar.”

MVLA appoints special education administrator, assistant principals

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

The Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District board Monday appointed Neena Mand to the role of special education administrator, Fabian Morales Medina to the role of Los Altos assistant principal and Marti McGuirk to the role of Mountain View assistant principal.

All three were appointed unanimously by the board, and all three are expected to bring their extensive education experience to their new roles.

Mand, who assumes the role of special education administrator, will be responsible for overseeing the district’s special education program and serving students with disabilities.

Most recently, Mand worked as the special education coordinator for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and has an extensive 26-year career in the field.

“[Mand] will bring to MVLA her vast experience and knowledge,” Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer said at Monday’s board meeting. “She also comes with a great sense of humor and a family that I know is very supportive of her … We’re very excited to say that she’s already started and has hit the ground running.”

Mand holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Berhampur University; a Master of Arts in liberal studies; and a Master of Arts in education administration and supervision, the latter two from San Jose State University. 

“It’s been a pleasure being here, and like Dr. Meyer said, hit the ground running with all those meetings and [individualized education programs],” Mand said. “I’m so excited to be working with the students and families here, so thank you very much.”

Morales assumes the vacancy left by Perla Passalo, who was tapped last year to serve as the district’s director of student services and equity. As assistant principal at Los Altos High, Morales will provide leadership in managing the school’s curriculum, discipline, facilities and support services. 

Like the other appointees, Morales is a veteran educator with 15 years of experience as a teacher and academic counselor. He most recently worked for the San Mateo Union High School District as an academic counselor and dual enrollment coordinator. 

“Fabian went through a very rigorous interview process and brings wonderful skills including counseling skills that focus on students who are English learners, but also students across the board,” Meyer said. “We’re very pleased to have Fabian here as part of our team.”

Morales holds a Bachelor of Arts in social science from the University of the Pacific; a Master of Arts in counseling psychology from the University of San Francisco; and a Master of Arts in educational leadership from Santa Clara University.

“[I’m] really excited to be here joining a great team,” Morales said. “I think we had a great starting point with freshman orientation and 10th grade orientation … I’m really looking forward to working with our community and hopefully impacting more lives.”

Of the three new appointees, McGuirk is the only one to have previously worked in the district — in fact, she’s spent the entirety of her 22-year career at Mountain View High. 

Functionally, McGuirk’s role at Mountain View will look similar to Morales’s role at Los Altos, bringing leadership to the school’s administration. 

In her career at Mountain View, McGuirk has served as an English teacher, consulting teacher and from 2006 to the present, an academic counselor.

“There are certain people that [kind of embody] this phrase that they ‘bleed gold and black’; they are through and through, heart and soul, a spartan,” Meyer said. “I can tell you in my two years … I’ve been so impressed with [McGuirk’s] ability to work with families, to work with students, her knowledge of Mountain View High School, her passion for the work she does.”

McGuirk holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Science in education from Northwestern University.

“I am beyond thrilled to have this opportunity,” McGuirk said. “Dr. Meyer is right, Mountain View has been my professional home for the entirety of my career, and I do indeed — I feel — bleed black and gold. So I am so grateful to be joining an extraordinary administrative team, to be helping to support and build capacity in a staff full of magical human beings, and to hopefully continue to make a positive impact on our students and our families and community.”

Bay Area counties issue indoor mask mandate

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, GRAPHIC BY ALLISON HUANG

Santa Clara County residents will have to wear masks in indoor public settings effective tomorrow, August 3. The mandate applies to all residents, regardless of vaccination status, and was jointly issued by eight Bay Area health officers today.

The order, which builds off of the looser masking recommendation issued by the same counties in mid-July, aligns with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bay Area health officers will track hospitalization rates and case counts in determining when to end the mandate; the health officials offered no target date or metrics for ending the order.

“Vaccines remain the most powerful tool in the fight against COVID-19, including the Delta variant,” the order reads. “Nonetheless, the Delta variant is infecting a small percentage of the vaccinated in the Bay Area — who still remain strongly protected against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. In those instances of infection in a vaccinated person, a face covering prevents further spread.”

The health officers noted that the vast majority of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, and the few that are vaccinated have other comorbidities or are elderly.

Today’s mask mandate does not ban indoor dining, although the health officers recommended that unvaccinated residents avoid “high risk” indoor activities, such as indoor dining and visiting gyms and movie theaters.

Santa Clara County’s test positivity rate currently sits at 3.1%, a percentage not seen since Feb. 6. 

MVLA: Answers to all the COVID back-to-school questions you might have

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Haz click aqui para ver el articulo en Español.

In just over a week, students in the Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District will make a full return to campus for the first time in 16 months. It’ll be a full return: but not necessarily business as usual.

Here are the answers to some pretty specific COVID-19 protocol questions you might have, which will hopefully alleviate some of your back-to-school stress — whether because you’ll have a better sense of what school will look like, or just because it’ll give you something confusing to distract yourself with.

Or, if this kind of stuff just makes you more anxious, do yourself a favor and click out of the tab now.


Note: All the answers to these questions are based on guidance that stands as of July 30. COVID-19 guidance, as always, is constantly evolving.

Q: To get it out of the way — do I have to wear a mask?

A: Yes, until at least early November. You won’t have to socially distance, though, and you can take your mask off outside. Other than the indoor masking, school should look pretty normal for now.

Q: I tend to get sick a lot, especially during the flu season. Do I have to stay home even if it’s just a sniffle?

A: Unfortunately, yes. If you’re showing any symptoms of COVID-19, many of which are the same as typical cold and flu symptoms, you have to stay home.

Associate Superintendent Leyla Benson, who serves as the district’s COVID-19 designee, said that district leadership recognizes that there may be more absences as a result of that.

“We want to be on the more cautious … side,” Benson said. “[But] if it becomes that enough people are having a problem obtaining access to school, then we may have to reevaluate.”

Q: Wait, but I’m vaccinated. Do I still have to stay home if I’m sick?

A: Yes. It’s a necessary precaution, especially with the spread of the delta variant, which — although the prevalence of this is debated — has been found to break through some fully vaccinated people. Still, though, vaccines are proven to be highly effective at preventing serious illness and stopping infection in the first place.

Q: When can I come back to school after taking sick days?

A: Well, it kind of depends. If you test positive for COVID-19, then you have to wait out a 10-day quarantine, after which you can return to school. If you test negative, then you can probably return to school — but see the next question.

It sounds like there may be cases where, for example, you have a minor sniffle for a day and your doctor clears you to return to school, so you won’t need to test. But by and large, expect to have to take a COVID test if you have any symptoms.

Your school should contact you if you take a sick day and help you through the process. And of course, you can always reach Benson at leyla.benson@mvla.net if you have individual questions (she responds to her emails, like, really fast).

Q: What if I have cold and flu symptoms, but a negative COVID-19 test?

A: This is where it gets a little tricky. (Benson let out a big sigh when asked this question.) It all depends on the day you tested, whether you came in contact with somebody known to have been COVID-positive at the time, if your test was an antigen or PCR test and what your doctor says.

“Like, did you just get randomly sick, and then you went and got your test, it’s an absolute PCR test, and you’re fully ruled out from COVID? Then the answer is yes, last year you could return,” Benson said. “If you were actually exposed, you have these symptoms and you tested on day four when you’re really supposed to test on day five, then I want you to go back … and take the test again.”

So basically it depends, and the district will take each situation case by case in consultation with the county health department. But the bottom line is, you’re probably going to be getting some nasty looks from your classmates if you’re hacking and wheezing through seventh period chem.

Q: Wait, hang on. If I test positive for COVID, do I have to show a negative test before returning?

A: As of now, no. You just have to wait out the 10-day quarantine. At the end of those 10 days, the viral load that you shed is supposed to be low enough that, especially when combined with a mask, you can’t infect other people. Benson seemed to think that the quarantine length could be subject to change because the delta variant is more virulent, although she said she hasn’t heard any official word on that yet.

Q: Will the district offer COVID tests?

A: The district will continue to partner with El Camino Hospital to offer testing for students (Benson said they’ve gotten “really fast” at getting the results back to you), and will also look into other options as needed.

If testing is needed more prevalently, the district will host on-site testing clinics in partnership with El Camino.

The Cue COVID-19 test, a Food and Drug Administration–approved at-home and over-the-counter test is also an option Benson said the district might look into using in some capacity, although that would bring its own set of challenges; the only thing that’s certain as of now is the partnership with El Camino Hospital. 

Q: What happens if I come into close contact with somebody who has COVID-19?

A: If you’re fully vaccinated and you’ve come into close contact with somebody infected with COVID-19, you won’t have to quarantine — you just have to show proof of vaccination to the district. But if you’re not vaccinated, or decline to state your vaccination status, you’ll have to wait out a 10-day quarantine.

Benson said that there may be some limited cases where an unvaccinated student in quarantine because of a close contact could exit early if they produce a negative test, although that would depend on a number of factors, including the day of the test, whether symptoms are present and what the county decides; it would be case by case.

Q: Will it be easier for me to make up the work I miss on sick days?

A: It should be a little easier, mostly on merit of teachers being understanding given the circumstances. Benson said that district leadership discussed this, and at least for now, is asking that teachers send whatever work can be done virtually to students who are sick at home — essentially what staying home sick looks like under normal circumstances.

And of course, there are built-in extensions that teachers are required to give you if you take sick days, as in any normal year.

Benson acknowledged that district leadership has discussed the fact that having to make up work is a big disincentive to staying home sick. 

“What we have seen thus far is that people are very responsible in our community,” Benson said. “This is the current plan, [but] it was very much a plan based on COVID vastly improving and vaccination rates being very high. I have to say, in the past few weeks there have been a lot of new twists.”

So as with everything else, the current policy about making up work from sick days could very possibly change once the school year starts. But seriously, when it comes down to it, it’s going to be up to you to do the right thing and stay home when you’re sick. 

Q: Is there a remote learning option this year?

A: Yes, in the form of Option B, the district’s third-party remote independent study program. While it’ll most likely depend on the specific circumstance, Benson said that students should be able to switch to Option B more seamlessly than last year.

Q: What percentage of teachers and students are vaccinated?

A: Benson said that in a survey of teachers that’s still being completed, 96.6% said they’re fully vaccinated, 2.6% declined to report their status, 0.5% said they weren’t vaccinated and 0.3% said they were midway through the vaccination process. The teacher survey will be finalized closer to the start of school, and students will be surveyed upon return.

You don’t have to give your vaccination status, but if you decline to state it, the school has to treat you as an unvaccinated person.

Q: Anything else I should know?

A: Just know that all of this could conceivably change very quickly — even having full in-person instruction for the rest of the year isn’t necessarily a guarantee.

Regardless, Benson stressed that vaccines continue to be the best way to ensure that school can operate as smoothly as possible.

“We really do believe as a school district that vaccination for anyone who can medically do it … is our first line of defense,” she said.

And, know that even if guidance does change or the pandemic swings in an unexpected direction, the district is far better prepared than it was at the start of last year to deal with these issues.

“We are very excited at the prospects of a return,” Benson said. “We have always put the safety of everyone 100% first. So if these signs show that [our setup is] not going to be safe for everyone, we have now a lot of tried and true options.”

Any questions I missed? Email me at tomoki@gmail.com.

Sunday, Aug. 1: This article has been edited to include new and updated information.

Gunn grad finds piano in dumpster, turns it into public art project

STORY AND PHOTOS BY TOMOKI CHIEN

For months, Arunim Agarwal and a small band of friends went through the painstaking process of transporting, refurbishing and repainting a piano they found in a dumpster, installed last week as a public art project at Mitchell Park.

But get this: None of them — especially Agarwal — have any idea how to play the piano. (Just watch the attached video clip. Agarwal himself admits he’s got no business being around pianos, but also says the video should come with the disclaimer that a mix of “poor” microphone quality and an out-of-tune piano aren’t doing his musicianship any favors.)

Agarwal flaunts his musicianship.

Clearly, though, the Gunn ‘21 grad and his friends aren’t short of any talent: They were able to turn the dilapidated piano into a Palo Alto Public Art Commission–funded installation that can now be seen — and heard (the piano has a sign inviting passersby to play it) — at Mitchell Park.

Agarwal first stumbled upon the piano on a dumpster diving expedition in January with two fellow mentors at MakeX Palo Alto, a teen-founded and -run makerspace. Dumpster diving is apparently a fairly common practice for the teen makers.

The piano then had to be carted from the MakeX space down the road at 2 a.m. (to avoid traffic) to Agarwal’s house (because the city didn’t want it sitting outside of MakeX), on a dolly that broke down halfway through (which they had to fix in the middle of the night). 

“It was fun,” Agarwal said.

But once hauled to his house, the real work of the refurbishment began.

“A lot of it was just stripping down the old parts that we could, and kind of taking it apart at a basic level,” Agarwal said. “We didn’t mess around with any of the strings or anything, because we’re not professionals.”

He and a handful of friends sanded down the big pieces, cleaned up the gunk inside, then after applying base coats, handed the panels to different teenage artists they knew for painting; the piano now features a range of colorful artwork, a 180 degree flip from the faded black they found it in.

The $1,000 grant from the art commission covered all the materials needed for refurbishment, including the bench Agarwal got for $20 off Craigslist, presumably the hand sanitizer he thoughtfully left on top of the piano and it even allowed him to pay the artists.

The grant’s built-in deadline gave Agarwal a kick in the pants to finish the project after a “pretty chunky hiatus” he took from late January to March, to deal with academics and college applications.

“Originally, the date I proposed was spring break — I did not make the spring break date,” Agarwal said. “[But] they were pretty relaxed about it.”

Agarwal was in part inspired to take on the project because of similar ones like the Berkeley Public Piano and the Play Me, I’m Yours street pianos.

“A couple summers ago I was in Berkeley, and in their [main plaza] they have a public piano that’s just kind out for anyone to play,” Agarwal said. “I think they’ve gotten through a couple iterations of it because it’s gotten stolen or something. But it’s there, and I quite liked hearing it when I was walking by.”

He reached out to the person who started the Berkeley project, who encouraged him to forge on with his own project. 

Beyond being inspired by similar projects, Agarwal saw the restoration as a way to keep the piano from going to waste and to spend time with his friends.

“Part of it was just that it’s a reasonably good piano; it’s a Steinway, which is pretty fancy,” Agarwal said. “Granted, it had been outside for years just sitting at Cubberley, so it wasn’t in the best shape. But still, not to let it go to waste … Also just because it was something that was feasible and in front of me that I could do.”

In all, he estimated that some 15 to 20 people were involved in the project in some way, many of them friends that he invited over to help paint in any of the gaps on the panels.

And despite the size and time commitment of the project — not to mention the pressure of having the grant — Agarwal said it never became stressful for him.

“This was just a project I took up for fun, so I didn’t let it get anything beyond that,” he said.

As for next steps, the public art commission put an early September expiration on the project, which leaves Agarwal with the task of figuring out what the heck to do with the piano after that (his website says that anybody interested in purchasing the piano after its installation can reach out via email).

“I’ll be emailing the SFMOMA and seeing if they want it — I’m not entirely sure what the chances are of that,” Agarwal said.

But for now, Agarwal can sit back and admire his hard work.

“On the surface level, I hope people continue to play it,” Agarwal said. “I hope people will enjoy it, and possibly even maintain it to some extent. Maybe on a [deeper] level … I think it would be very nice if people were … I guess inspired to give back to the community in a similar way, or do something else just random for fun that the public can enjoy.”

At that point in the interview, two elementary schoolers were jamming on the piano: the perfect validation of Agarwal’s work.

“I like it, I like it quite a bit,” he said. “Because they’re probably playing better than I can — so it’s gotten into the right hands already.”

Visit Agarwal’s website here, or visit the piano at 600 E Meadow Dr., Palo Alto, CA 94303. You can also find the piano’s Instagram page here, where Agarwal said he’ll repost clips of you playing the public piano if you tag the account.

A step back: Santa Clara County recommends indoor masking

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN

Given a rise in local COVID-19 transmission, Santa Clara County health officials Friday recommended wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, in a step back from June’s significant ease in health restrictions. 

The recommendation falls short of a mandate, and instead asks that residents wear masks in public places “to ensure easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked,” and as an “extra precautionary measure.”

It also asks that businesses once again adopt universal masking requirements for customers.

The county’s recommendation — which was made jointly with seven other Bay Area counties — comes as the county’s test positivity rate has risen to 1.7%, a number last recorded in February. 

From late April to early this month, the county test positivity rate has dwindled around 0.5%, while the highest rate this year was in early January, at 9.2%. 

Health officials have largely blamed the highly transmissible Delta variant — which now accounts for 43% of cases in California, and 58% of cases nationally — for the spike in the test positivity rate.

The county will revisit the recommendation in the coming weeks as health officials monitor transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccination rates.

“Fully vaccinated people are well-protected from infections and serious illness due to known COVID-19 variants,” a county press release reads. “Vaccinating as many people as possible, as soon as possible, continues to be our best defense against severe COVID-19 infection.”

Newsom declares drought emergency in Santa Clara County, asks residents to reduce water use by 15%

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday urged Californians to cut water use by 15%, and further expanded the state’s emergency drought declaration to include Santa Clara County, along with eight others.

50 of the state’s 58 counties — home to 42% of the state’s population — now fall under the emergency declaration, which essentially allows state agencies to move more quickly and effectively to support drought response measures.

Newsom’s plea for residents to cut water use comes as part of a separate executive order, which the governor stressed is voluntary. 

“I’m not here as a nanny state,” Newsom said at a Thursday press conference. “We’re not trying to be oppressive — again, these are voluntary standards.”

The voluntary 15% reduction applies to residences as well as industrial and agricultural operations.

But while the state’s order may be voluntary, the Santa Clara Valley Water District early last month voted to impose a mandatory 15% reduction in water use compared to 2019 levels; the order leaves it up to local municipalities and private water companies to decide how they’ll impose the 15% cutback on customers.

“We can’t afford to wait to act as our water supplies are being threatened locally and across California,” said Valley Water Board Chair Tony Estremera after the vote to impose the restriction in June. “We are in an emergency and Valley Water must do everything we can to protect our groundwater resources and ensure we can provide safe, clean water to Santa Clara County residents and businesses.”

By voluntarily cutting water usage by 15% compared to 2020 levels, state officials estimate that residents could save enough water to supply more than 1.7 million households for a year.

Newsom urged residents to take “common sense” measures to reduce water usage, including cutting back on lawn irrigation, reducing time in the shower, checking for leaks on properties, installing efficient showerheads and only running full loads of laundry and dishes.

“By the way, [if] you do those things, you also save money,” Newsom said.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is offering residents up to $3,000 dollars in rebates to replace high-water using landscapes with drought-resilient ones.

Those measures have worked before: In part thanks to the same water conservation practices, per capita state residential water use during the 2013–2016 drought fell by 21%, and still, 2020 per capita residential water use was some 16% below 2013 levels.

State agencies will track California’s monthly progress toward the voluntary 15% reduction.

Locally, the state of the drought is dire.

The U.S. Drought Monitor labels Santa Clara County as being in “extreme drought,” the second-highest ranking on the six-tiered scale. 

Among other symptoms, regions experiencing extreme drought generally see intensified, year-round fire seasons; wildlife encroaching on developed areas in search of food and water; a hard-hit livestock industry; and extremely low reservoir levels.

The county’s largest surface reservoir has been drained and put out of commission for a decade to allow for the Anderson Dam project, which officials say is crucial to protecting against floods in the future.

Imported water supplies, which account for 55% of the county’s water, have also seen a “significant reduction” this year, spurred by the depleted Sierra Nevada snowpack.

“If the drought continues into next year, we could face the possibility there will not be enough water to meet basic demands without serious risk of subsidence in 2022,” Estremera said in a statement Thursday.

Subsidence occurs when large amounts of water are removed from ground, which causes it to sink because the soil was partially supported by the water.

“The proclamation by Gov. Newsom amplifies how important it is for all our communities to reduce their water use during this extreme drought,” Estremera said. “Many people reduced their water use significantly during the last drought. Valley Water thanks them for their conservation efforts and encourages everyone to keep up the good work.”