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Alhambra School Board Approves Energy Efficiency Projects

Photo by Alhambra Source.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

The Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a contract Tuesday night with Pacific West Energies to implement energy efficiency projects involving infrastructure at Alhambra High School and Mark Keppel High School.

All five school board members voted “aye” to approve the contract after a public hearing was conducted on the item. There were no public speakers at the hearing.

The projects involve retro-commissioning or improving the efficiency of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment at these two high schools, George Murray, the district’s assistant superintendent for facilities and planning development, explained at the meeting. Upon completion, the improvements are expected to save the school district around $54,000 a year in electricity costs.

The projects were identified by the Southern California Regional Energy Network, an L.A. County program that the school district enrolled in to get no-cost identification of energy efficiency projects at the district’s school sites and offices.

The contract approved on Tuesday involved eight of the identified projects, which include repairing certain non-functioning equipment components of HVAC systems and programming optimal start and run times for classroom and lab air conditioning equipment at both schools. These eight projects are estimated to cost $121,684 to implement, which would come out of the Measure HS bond passed by voters in 2016. If completed by October 2019, these projects would qualify for $51,370 in incentives available from Southern California Edison. The Alhambra Unified School District would try to implement as many projects as feasible, depending on time, cost, and other work being done, said district spokesperson Toby Gilbert.

The benefits of these projects include reducing maintenance costs as well as rising utility costs, according to the Southern California Regional Energy Network proposal. The learning and working environment for teachers and students would also improve. The Southern California Regional Energy Network would provide no-cost management and technical services while the projects are being completed.

“The benefit of performing these projects is that the equipment will perform better and use less electricity,” Gilbert wrote in an email. “Less electricity used is less money the district has to spend and the incentives offered by SCE for us to do the work is an added benefit.”

In other matters on the agenda, the school board also heard a presentation and update about the district’s Students at Risk program, known as STAR, which serves foster youth, students on probation, refugees and military students, and the Homeless and Parent Engagement program, known as HOPE.

STAR counselor Sally Yoo and HOPE counselor Jacqueline Valle first gave an overview on the challenges both of these school populations face, including high absenteeism; disruption of education due to constant moving around, change of school placement and missing records; low graduation rates; significant mental health challenges like high anxiety; and poor physical health, due to limited accessibility to medical services.

This school year, the Alhambra Unified School District started out with 280 HOPE students, but currently have 246 active students due to several challenges including changes in the students’ living situations and placements. The HOPE program was created five years ago by Dr. Laurel Bear, assistant superintendent of student and employee welfare until last year and the founder of the district’s Gateway to Success student mental health program. It was created to make sure that the district was complying with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which removes educational barriers for homeless students and youth.

Students qualify as homeless under broader criteria than the widely considered definition of homeless, which involves people living on the streets, according to McKinney-Vento. This includes students who are temporarily doubled up with other people in a dwelling or living in motels or shelters. HOPE provides uniforms, school supplies, transportation assistance and other services that ensure that students have adequate access to educational opportunities. Homeless high school students could also be eligible for the reduction in the number of credits required for graduation and could receive partial credits.

The district started out with 207 STAR students, and currently have 140 active STAR students, with the fluctuation also caused by the unique challenges these students face. Bear also started the STAR program five years ago to comply with AB 490, passed in 2003, which ensures educational rights for foster youth, and AB 216, which was passed in 2013 to remove barriers to high school graduation for students in the foster system. These rights also include services like immediate enrollment, partial credits and transportation. Both programs provide services that help students build interpersonal relationships, build confidence and provide a sense of control and safety that they may otherwise lack due to their experience.

Both programs provide additional workshops, including a financial literacy workshop for HOPE students and their families, a healthy eating workshop for homeless families, and a foster youth conference to educate participants about their rights and resources to help them transition out of high school. District programs like a monthly food bank with the Tzu Chi Foundation also provide support.

Both HOPE and STAR are funded by the California Department of Education, through a Local Control Accountability Plan that each school district develops. The LCAP encompasses three-year goals, actions, services and expenditures that address state and local priorities. The district also partners with nonprofits including the Tzu Chi Foundation, the YMCA of the West San Gabriel Valley and the Alhambra Police Department foundation for additional support.

HOPE faces the challenge of identifying students who could qualify for their programs, especially because of the stigma surrounding homelessness, Gilbert said. Every year, teachers are trained to recognize the signs of homelessness, and Valle, the district counselor, works with a coordinated at every school to assist homeless families. It can also be challenging to identify STAR students who are on probation, or are refugee or military, because they and their families might not be forthcoming due to stigma, Yoo said. District and school staff is essential in helping identify STAR students through the relationships they build. The district identifies foster youth through definitions set by AB 490 and the state education code.

Personnel can make a difference when it comes to the effectiveness of these programs. This year, the district hired a licensed social worker, named Alison Ly, who serves all of Alhambra’s schools, but is based at San Gabriel High School and focuses a lot of her time in working with the foster youth who are staying at Maryvale, a center for foster youth awaiting court decisions, Gilbert said. The center serves female foster youth who have been exposed to trauma and therefore need the added support. Behavioral incidents have decreased significantly since Ly started working with these students.

The school board also welcomed a special guest Tuesday, a humanoid robot named Kapono, who can support classroom learning in special education classrooms. The Dean of the Cal State LA Charter College of Education, Dr. Cheryl Ney, introduced Kapono, whose name means “the ethical one” in Hawaiian. The robot itself told the school board and assembled audience that its four microphones, built-in speakers, sensors and ability to connect to the internet can allow the robot to build relationships with children, respond to directions, and assist teachers in gathering, storing and organizing information.

Kapono can also play music and dance and perform Tai Chi, all of which were demonstrated at the meeting. Late last year, Ney brought Kapono to a first and a second grade classroom at Brightwood Elementary School, where the robot recited “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the students.

To close the presentation, Ney talked about Kapono’s experience helping autistic children learn math in other classrooms, and expressed interest in bringing Kapono to other Alhambra Unified School District classrooms.

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