The Power of Reading and Writing

By Elise Spleiss  |  2018-07-05

School teacher and grammar enthusiast Elaine Swanson has touched the lives of many of her students through her kind efforts to keep the English language alive. Photo by Sue Anne Foster

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - “You will be judged by the language you use and how well you use language.” This conviction has been the driving force for over 50 years behind the work of retired English teacher Elaine Swanson of Carmichael.

Swanson’s goal is to complete her book, “Color Coded Grammar,” to be used as a companion for English textbooks in order to bring the subject of English back to its rightful place of honor in the education system. Swanson turned 90 years young on June 30 and is still actively working on her notes for the book.    

Swanson has been developing this new system of teaching grammar to students since the 1970s when she and her friend, fellow teacher Juna Roy, developed the method while team teaching English to ninth graders at Albert Einstein Junior High in the Rosemont area.

The teachers had noticed at the beginning of the year that many of their ninth graders lacked the ability to read or write well and were at risk of failing or not attending college and missing out at successful lives simply because they had never learned the basic rules of grammar.

She had believed the eighth grade exit exam would weed out those not ready for high school and students would be forced to repeat classes, giving them time to get better prepared for college. Instead, when many students could not pass the test, standards were simply lowered. Those not ready for high school would continue to fall behind. According to Swanson, students were sold out, no longer expected to achieve excellence.

Swanson knew that previous teachers had been giving them writing assignments without teaching them to write, often resulting in cheating and low self-esteem.

Reading is power in every country and language – sometimes too much power. In an interview, Swanson pointed out the length many governments and church bodies in history have gone to in order to keep the ‘common’ people from learning to read, even today.

At the same time, other forward-thinking countries such as India and Japan, which recognize the place of English in world commerce, take teaching English in their own country much more seriously than we do.

For two years the teachers combined two full English classes of ninth graders - one person teaching and the other helping students who were confused about what was being taught but did not know how to ask for help. The system worked well and parents were pleased with the outcome, considering what tools the team had to work with. 

Understanding the importance of the English language, Swanson and Roy knew something had to be done in the future.  Their students needed to learn the rules in order to be understand how to write and speak correctly and to get the most out of what they read.               

Seeing their success with the combined classes, in 1974 the school asked the team to teach social studies and English to a class of students entering the seventh grade. Swanson and Roy needed to prove that lowering the standards so students would pass tests was not the answer.

“If kids are held at held to a higher standard, they will meet it,” said Swanson. “They will do more than they think they want to if it is expected of them.”  Swanson did not make it easy. If you earned an A you got an A. If you earned a C you got a C. If you cheated you got an F on that assignment. She believed that any student was capable of earning a C.

Students would remember much more than their grades in her class. Besides the basics of color coding each part of speech to help remember its function, such as nouns being red, and verbs being green, Swanson replaced the sentence diagram with eight sentence patterns to help students analyze their own writing.

Learning English and social studies together gave students the opportunity to be immersed in these subjects by writing and putting on plays and skits, and going on field trips. They were able to learn from real world examples in the news about the importance of English on the world stage.

Going into eighth grade as friends added to the trust and success of these 50 students in the 1970s.  Now in their fifties, many still stay in touch with Swanson.

On April 28, 2018, more than 20 of these students gathered at Swanson’s home in Carmichael to honor her and thank her personally for changing their lives. One student, Austin McAdam, arranged for the reunion party to show Swanson how her teaching and care for them had affected them on many levels. Three of the students who attended had become English teachers.

“Back then I felt like a nobody, but with the class interactions and her insistence on our doing our best, I came out feeling like a somebody,” said one former student.

“When I told my parents all the different ways we approached learning in class, they said, ‘If all children had this kind of educational experience, all children could be bright.’” Many remarks echoed the common theme of comfort and confidence. “Her class was the only place I felt safe at school,” said one former student in attendance. “She changed the direction in my life.”          

Swanson said of the gathering, “It was the most wonderful day for me.”

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SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - The video game industry is rarely labeled as “original,” and this year’s Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) illustrated exactly why. Video games’ largest publishers showcased Metro: Exodus, Dying Light 2, Days Gone, The Last of Us Part 2, Rage 2, Gears 5 and Fallout 76. Their common thread? Every one of these flagship, multi-million dollar titles is a post-apocalyptic action game, usually with some sort of zombie or zombie-like enemy. 2018’s store shelves will be utterly saturated with games in the vein of Mad Max and 28 Days Later, and yet despite the saturation, every one of them will likely sell exceptionally well.

Video games have an utter obsession with the post-apocalypse going back decades, to an extent not reflected in any other popular media. The two seem to be a match made in heaven; a primary allure of video games is the ability to escape one's own life and do anything they desire. When a developer is tasked with contextualizing utter freedom in terms of a logically coherent, immersive game world, where better to turn than an anarchic wasteland? Without the binding ties of society and rule of law, the player can believably do whatever they want without the logical necessity of some in-game police coming down on their heads. Even linear, cinematic experiences with little real player freedom benefit from the narrative shortcuts a post-apocalypse allows. Why are we killing thousands and thousands of zombies/people? Easy, this world is kill or be killed in a battle for survival, so further moral justification for Mass violence seems, from the writer's perspective, otherwise unnecessary.

Such justification feeds into why the trend is stronger now than it's ever been. Developers leveraged the computing power of the new generation of consoles not to create photorealism, but to create massive, living worlds in which players can roam free. Open worlds became “stylish” as franchises that were once linear began to expand with huge environments to explore. And as video games began to lean more and more into their most unique artistic asset, the ability to create a sense of player freedom, the need for justifications for such complete freedom spiked upwards. As a result, we have E3 2018, where game after game resorts to the post-apocalypse as its narrative shortcut.

This is hardly a criticism; because video games aren't primarily a narrative medium, narrative shortcuts are easily excused if they accommodate exciting gameplay and interesting worlds, both of which post-apocalypse games often excel at. And even then, video games have occasionally used post-apocalyptic settings not as writing crutches but as tools to explore the complex moral questions of survival and freedom; 2013’s The Last of Us did exactly that, and is widely considered the best-written game ever made (though its incredible-looking sequel may be looking to snatch that title from its predecessor). There's a reason why, despite the saturation, the industry is showing few signs of fatigue. The post-apocalypse both literally and figuratively, remains extensively unexplored, and video games are uniquely positioned to trek into the lawless wilderness.

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Korea and World War III - Almost

By Jerald Drobesh, US AIR FORCE  |  2018-07-05

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Recently there has been high tension and talks of a possible confrontation and even a nuclear war with North Korea.  But this is not the first time we have been in this position with them. 

In the early 1970s, as a Captain in the US Air Force, I was assigned to Kunsan Air Force Base on the west coast of South Korea. This was an old US Air Force Base from the Korean War days, in the 1950s. At that time, I was the Air Force Chief of Aircraft Maintenance at the base, and part of my job was to prepare our assigned F-4 Fighter/Bombers for emergency launch with nuclear weapons, if the situation required it.

The F-4 twin jet Fighter/ Bomber was, at the time, was one of the fastest and best aircraft ever built.  My job required that I have a Top Secret Security Clearance, because I was required to brief the Wing Commander on the status of all our assigned aircraft, and sit in on all Top Secret briefings about the status of the North Korean armed forces and their preparations for War.  I remember well, as if it was yesterday. It was one of the most important briefings I had ever attended.  It was the early 1970s, and by the time the briefing was over, I knew that we could be at war at any minute.  

The North Korean forces, according to the briefing, were moving their fighters, bombers, tanks, military equipment, and soldiers up close to the border between North and South Korea. This would put them just minutes flying time from our aircraft at Kunsan AFB. This had never happened before and I remember thinking, at the time, that our base may not exist after the next few days, or sooner. 

That night I walked down to the flight line where our F-4 Fighter/Bombers were stationed and ready for war. My job was to check with the airmen assigned to repair and prepare the aircraft, and to have them all ready for launch if the orders were given by Headquarters. We were an inch away from World War III and I could feel it in the air. 

That night, I talked to my maintenance airmen assigned to the aircraft. They didn’t know, at the time, how close we were to war and I couldn’t tell them.  There wasn’t a need at that time for them to know, but they were ready. All the F-4 aircraft that were flyable were loaded with bombs and ready for immediate takeoff to their assigned targets.  I remember thinking that night on the flightline that this could be it.   

I enjoyed my job and all the assigned men were great to work with.  Being that I once flew jets myself in the Air Force, I knew how the pilots must have felt - that they may never see their families again - if we went to war.  This was the real world and possibly the end of our beautiful planet as we knew it.  I had a difficult time sleeping that night.  It’s hard to tell someone who hasn’t been stationed on the front lines with nuclear weapons involved what it feels like.  But that’s what we were trained for - and we all knew what was at stake.  

Fortunately, we all survived or I wouldn’t be writing this article.  For some reason the North Koreans began to remove their jets, tanks, equipment, and troops back from the border, and I never heard why.  At that time, Chinese and Russian troops were supporting the North Korean communist troops and maybe their leaders realized that once a nuclear war started in Korea that it could speed to their countries and it wouldn’t stop until everything was gone.    

We may never know what happened, but events in today’s news are a reminder to me of that time when I was there, and I saw how close we came. I believe that cooler heads in China, Russia, and North Korea prevailed.  They knew we had a very large number of nuclear weapons and would use them if threatened, but China and Russia had them as well.  

I believe the fact that we did have nuclear weapons and advanced aircraft to deliver them was possibly the reason why we didn’t go to war.  What’s interesting to me is that at that time, and even now, the world didn’t know how close we came to World War III, but I was there!        

May GOD continue to bless this beautiful planet and let’s do everything we can to keep it special and alive!                         

Former Captain Jerald Drobesh US AIR FORCE stationed at Mather Air Force Base in the 1970s before retirement. Now living in Rancho Cordova, CA.

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Advanced Home Health and Hospice Announces Excelin Home Health Partnership

By Advanced Home Health and Hospice  |  2018-07-05

Angela Sehr

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Advanced Home Health and Hospice (“Advanced”) is excited to announce that it is joining with Excelin Home Health (“Excelin”), and its family of affiliated Texas home health agencies. By joining forces with Excelin, Advanced is expanding its footprint from Sacramento, San Diego and North Bay California to Houston and South-Central Texas.

The company will continue its patient-centric, outcome-focused approach to providing quality home health care. The company will continue to provide skilled nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medical social work, home health aides, and hospice services in the comfort of patients’ homes. Building on its strong reputation in home infusion, wound care, cardiovascular care, and home rehabilitation programs, the company will continue to expand its clinical capabilities and strive to remain the home health and hospice provider of choice. As a best-in-class post-acute care provider, the company is focused on leveraging technology and innovative approaches in its relentless pursuit of delivering exceptional patient care and outcomes.

Angela Sehr, RN and founder of Advanced, will remain a key shareholder and will continue as a leader within the organization, providing inspiration, innovation, strategic leadership, and guidance for the agencies.

“I am very pleased to partner with Excelin, Corinthian Capital, and Palomar Capital Management. They share our values and vision.  They have shown a genuine focus on and appreciation for the importance of quality patient care. They have also demonstrated a deep understanding of the rewards and challenges of caring for patients in their homes. I believe they will be outstanding, value-added partners. I cannot be happier than to be partnering with them going forward,” said Angela Sehr.  The closing is subject to regulatory approval.

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SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, in consultation with Sacramento County Public Health Officer, Dr. Olivia Kasirye, is advising residents to take precautions and minimize outdoor activities during the afternoon of Monday, July 2 and on Tuesday, July 3 due to smoke being transported into Sacramento County from the County Fire burning in Yolo County and Napa County.

If you smell or see smoke, take the following actions:

  • Everyone should minimize outdoor activities if you can see or smell smoke, even if you’re healthy
  • Children, the elderly and people with respiratory or heart conditions should be particularly careful to avoid exposure
  • Stay indoors with doors and windows closed as much as possible
  • Asthmatics should follow their asthma management plan
  • Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms you believe to be caused by smoke
  • Those with heart disease should especially limit their smoke exposure since PM can cause heart attacks

"The smoke from wildfires can pose a health risk for anyone, but is especially harmful for older adults, young children, and those with existing health conditions,” said Sacramento County Public Health Officer, Dr. Olivia Kasirye. “If you see or smell smoke limit outdoor activities,” she added.

Check current conditions for the Sacramento region at www.SpareTheAir.com/wildfire.cfm.

To know what you’re breathing, download the free Sacramento Region Air Quality app or sign up for Air Alert emails at www.SpareTheAir.com.

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Dave Dravecky Pays Visit to Raley Field

Story and photo by Rich Peters, MPG Editor  |  2018-06-29

A long line of fans waited to meet Dave Dravecky on a hot Friday night. Doyle and Rhonda Radford and their children Mason and Ellie were happy to get a few autographs from the former Giant.

Former Giant Throws Out First Pitch

WEST SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - Former San Francisco Giant Dave Dravecky was honored by the Sacramento River Cats last Friday night. Dravecky held a meet and greet with fans prior to the game before throwing out the first pitch and then taking the time to sign autographs for a long line of fans during the early innings.

Dravecky played in parts of eight seasons with the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants from 1982-1989. He made his Major League debut with the Padres on June 15, 1982 and was an all-star in 1983. The left-hander was acquired by San Francisco in 1987 and was 11-7 with a 3.22 ERA in 27 starts for the Giants.

A cancerous tumor was found in Dravecky’s throwing arm in 1988 and, after a brief comeback, unfortunately ended his career during the Giants 1989 World Series run.

After several surgeries, his left arm continued to deteriorate. On June 18, 1991, less than two years after his comeback with the Giants, Dravecky's left arm and shoulder were amputated. While his baseball career came to an end, Dravecky has since gone on to have a successful career as an author and motivational speaker.

“The challenges I’ve faced in the years following have taught me volumes and I now travel the country sharing the lessons I’ve learned—lessons on how to navigate loss and suffering, and how to experience encouragement and hope,” says Dravecky.

His story is an inspiration to Giants fans, baseball enthusiasts and beyond and that was clear to see through the admiration that he was shown at Raley Field. Visit davedravecky.com for more of his story.

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Born in the USA

Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner  |  2018-06-29

For two breeding seasons, bald eagle parents have raised families high above the American River.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Noted last year as the closest recorded bald eagle nest to Sacramento, the same eyrie was this summer blessed with more eaglet babies. These made debut flights earlier this month.

Orangevale kindergarten pupils named the 2017 hatchlings Poppy and Peekaboo.  Now 15 months old, these juveniles are established in new American River territory. The children retained naming rights and this year honored explorer Admiral Richard Byrd by choosing “Byrd” for the Alpha chick. They decided on “Rainbow” for the youngest.  The twins busted from baseball-size eggs a week before they were first photographed on March 23.

Nourished by non-stop room service, they achieved their parents’ great size in 12 weeks. At 13 weeks, they spread seven-foot wings and flew. Genders are yet uncertain; popular lore has the precocious Alpha as male; the timid Rainbow as female. Like Byrd’s heroic namesake, the Alpha explored air, land and water during his dramatic maiden flight.

Fledge days are stressful for parents and observers. Flapping boldly between trees on June 11, Byrd over-flew home base. His triumph rapidly turned to trial. The novice clipped a high fence to crash-land near a public trail. Without strength or experience for ground-level takeoff, his confusion was agonizing.  For 30 minutes, he beat a clumsy to-and-fro on the clay path. Observers formed a mobile shield against dogs and joggers until Byrd at last gathered speed and crested the fence to safety. Even after this trauma, the first-born refused to return to the nest. He ignored his sister’s anguished cries; he defied mama’s voluble instructions.  Explorer Byrd completed extraordinary traverses over the river at its widest. He drank from the waterside.

While on the lam, the eaglet was brought enough fish to prevent starvation but not so much as to reward rebellion. After three days, his parents coaxed him back to the family buffet.

Compared to Byrd’s surf-and-turf debut, his little sister managed a text book effort. Early on June 13, her papa delivered breakfast and evidently issued flying orders. Rainbow launched and, talons trailing untidily, flew 50-yards to an adjacent pine. Here she lurched before gaining confidence for the home flight. Papa soon encouraged an encore. This time, the debutant fell asleep on a foreign branch before heading home.

Having raised at least three previous broods, Mama Bald is a nursery pro. Her mate is younger – this is only his second adult season – but he is now a prolific hunter and confident dad. The parents’ combination of protection and tough-love comes with sacrifice. Exhausted four months of 24/7 hunting, mama and papa are now completing their parenting season. The nest is collapsing under the strain of many clumsy landings and sibling food-fights.

Repairs can wait. If this season follows the 2017 template – Byrd and Rainbow will be left in the care of sub-adult relatives while Mama and Papa wing off on distant vacation. By fall, they should return to rebuild and prep for a 2019 family. Hard lessons in self-sufficiency loom for the 2018 babies.

A testament to the regeneration of a species threated with extinction only 50 years ago, this American River family is well now established in Sacramento County suburbia. The raptors’ on-going residence is a joy to human neighborhoods in their flight-path.

Like the nation they represent, bald eagles are resilient. They’re also selfless providers, committed to family. They are single-minded in preparing children for independence.  They control vermin populations; they neither waste nor pollute. By instinct, they are fantastic stewards of the natural world.

Our national icon is well-chosen. From these fellow Americans, we might learn much.

Follow Susan Maxwell Skinner American River Nature Blog on Facebook.

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