Author Archives: danhfriedman

Russian pianist plays Scottsdale

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Sixth grade students in Nancy Carvone’s music history/piano class at BASIS Scottsdale were treated to a private concert by Russian-born pianist Katya Grineva, who is in town for a concert at the MIM on Saturday at 7pm.

Grineva played Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Chopin and De Falla on a brand new upright Steinway that still had the tags on it. The students listened intently as Grineva played, then asked how long she practiced. Grineva said she practiced eight hours a day when she was a teenager, but now “just” three to five hours each day, depending on how much she was traveling.

Katya Grineva signs autographs at the end of class.

They wanted to know how she played so fast. The answer was the same as the classic “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” where New York-based Grineva has played many times: practice.

Grineva told students how she started playing piano when she was 5 and decided when she was 13 to make it her life. Her family didn’t have much money but when they managed to get a piano her mother said if Katya didn’t practice she would gladly sell it.

Grineva and new fans.

On the way out of class, students asked Grineva to autograph their sheet music, and only as the students were waiting to be dismissed did they ask to have their picture taken with her.

Some students asked their friends to take their picture with Grineva.


An hour is not enough

Erahm Christopher at Trevor Browne High School Friday.

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Bullying is a big issue in the media and on school campuses. When I was a kid, a bully was someone who sought you out, harassed, harangued and beat you up for no other reason than because they could and took delight in it. Normally though, friends came to your aid and/or the bully would catch a fist to the nose or some other humiliation and the problem would go away.

The auditorium at Trevor Browne with the video screen to show the Teen Truth Live video. (photo is a composite of two images)

Charles Calhoun, an Arizona Special Olympics athlete spoke about how he had been excluded because of his disability.

I went to an assembly at Trevor G Browne High School Friday led by Erahm Christopher of Teen Truth Live. Though bullying was the buzzword upon which the assembly was advertised, the definition of bullying was enlarged to encompass many behaviors found in a school setting. Slides during the video included, “Spreading a Rumor is Bullying”, “Excluding someone is Bullying”, as well as the obvious, “A Physical Attack is Bullying.” Just the rumor aspect alone would label nearly everyone as a bully.

I talked to Erahm after the assembly and he said that bullying is the hot button so principals want to see bullying in the title of the presentation. That’s he says we ”get our foot in the door and deliver our message.”

His message was that kids feel alienated and disconnected from their peers and from their parents. They have no one to turn to except maybe other students who are equally disconnected and in the extreme case act out their aggression. The only way to make things better was to be a positive force in the community by doing something as simple as not calling someone a name, or making fun of them for their appearance, background or disability. And to say something, tell someone and do something if there is a problem. It sounded a lot like “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Browne spoke about being bullied because she was different. Chelsy is part of the Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify.

Christopher started his mission of building community after the Columbine shooting in 1999 when he found that kids just wanted someone who would listen to them.

In Michael Moore’s documentary on the Columbine shootings and the culture of guns and violence in America, “Bowling for Columbine”, the rock musician Marilyn Manson, whose violent stage persona has been blamed for violent behavior, is asked what he would have said to students at Columbine. His response is probably the most logical of anyone Moore interviewed in the documentary, says, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

That was Erahm’s message to the students at Trevor Browne, North High and North Canyon, the three schools he visited during his swing through the Valley: Tell someone how you are feeling before you do something you’ll regret. And to the community as a whole take the time to pay attention to the people in their community, as people are hurting and need to be included. Hence the notion that exclusion is bullying.

Christopher related his experience from high school how he had been physically threatened by another student and was on the verge of taking a shotgun to school but as luck would have it his brother noticed something was wrong, looked in his gym bag where he had stashed the gun, stopped him. His brother said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” His parents were told, they called the police and the boy who had threatened Erahm was arrested.

Teen Truth Live was there because Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify wants to include within prevention bullying, the idea that excluding special needs students or using the “r-word” is also part of positive community building. Special Athlete Charles Calhoun, and Project Unity partner Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Brown spoke about their experiences being bullied and excluded by family, friend and peers.

Students signify whether they have been bullied or bullied another student.

The assembly only lasted 50 minutes as that was all the school could allot to the presentation that normally runs 70 minutes. Christopher had to take out much of the interactive sections to save time. To be effective, Christopher admits the message needs to be heard for more than for 50 minutes. Schools that embrace the entire program do pre- and post-assembly activities as well as offer the presentation to the parents. Building a supportive community takes more than 50 or 70 minutes, during one afternoon in the school gymnasium.

During the presentation, Erahm Christopher asked kids to stand raise their hands if they had been bullied in any way. Then he had them sit down if they had ever bullied anyone whether by saying something, or excluding them or even by physically attacking them. This student and a few others on the other side of he room remained standing.

If kids feel disconnected and alienated as the video suggests, where are the parents? A child’s first connection is their own family and especially their parents. So it it that parents are working more than ever? During the recession of the early 1980s  two-career households started to become the norm, and households became busier. And with the recent recession, parents struggle to find and keep jobs, making live even busier and more hectic.

How to get a perfect ACT score

Tiffany Yang, (pictured) a junior at Ironwood High School in the Peoria District, says it’s important to believe you can do something, and then make it happen. Of course it’s also important to lay the groundwork.

Yang scored a perfect 36 on her composite ACT test. The ACT is a standardized achievement test for high school students consisting of English, math, reading and science tests.

I asked Yang how she earned a perfect score, because fewer than one percent of ACT test-takers earn a perfect score on the test. She said she took a few practice tests to get used to the way the multiple-choice questions were worded and check that she used her time efficiently to get to all the questions.

The ACT tests measure how much students have learned in specific subject areas. Yang is in the International Baccalaureate program at Ironwood and takes honors and AP courses so I suspect the practice tests played a minimal role in her perfect score.

I was hoping, when I went to talk to her Wednesday, she would tell me that her secret to a perfect score was drinking Red Bull and eating Fig Newtons. Yang doesn’t study all day every day. She’s too busy with the varsity track team and a variety of school clubs and organizations. So, how did she do it?

I asked her if she had always been a good student. “I guess,” she said. “I get straight As in school,” she added. She also got straight As through elementary and middle school.

Yang says , “I listen really well in class, stay focused on what the teacher is teaching and study the material afterwards at home so I don’t forget it or anything.”

Yang says her dad is an engineer, so there was always math help if she needed it. And her mother is a second grade teacher who worked with her a lot when she was in elementary school. But there’s more. Yang says her parents had high expectations for her to do well in school and she worked hard to meet those expectations.

To review, the secrets to a perfect score on the ACT are establishing good study habits early on, getting extra help when necessary, paying attention in class, studying the material at home and meeting high expectations.

Sadly, no real secrets, special formulas or tricks or even Fig Newtons.

Tech bus delivers training

Take a standard 40-foot, 84-passenger yellow school bus and make it into a rolling technology center.

Scottsdale Unified School District unveiled its eCoach yesterday at Mohave Middle School. They brought out the Saguaro High School Jazz Band, provided refreshments, put up a tent to shade attendees and conducted quick tours through the bus, which is equipped with a Smartboard, document camera, audio, Wi-Fi, extra air conditioners and enough room for 11 people and an instructor.

The eCoach was crowded with students, district staff and members of the media during yesterday's unveiling ceremony.

Tom Clark, the district’s chief technology officer, said it wasn’t too expensive to create because the district already had the bus, district employees made the furniture, partners donated various parts and services to make it a reality and they’ll have a district bus driver cruise around to where the teachers are. All in all, Clark said, it cost “a few thousand.”

The district also intends to use the bus for community outreach to teach parents about the technology their kids are using in school and to provide online access to kids who might not have a computer or an Internet connection at home.

The benefit for teachers is that they will be able to schedule the eCoach to come to their school when they need training rather than having to drive to another school or the district office.

One area of staff development Clark mentioned was the increasing use of iPads in the classroom and apps to enhance the teaching and learning process. The eCoach will make it easier for teachers to get up to speed on the newest apps.

Scan code on the side of the eCoach.

There are 31 schools in the Scottsdale district and about 1,700 teachers, so it looks like the eCoach driver will be on the road non-stop for much of the school year.

For more information, visit

The minutes add up

photo: Jacob Yarborough Photography/

Story by Daniel Friedman

I saw a newsletter from Paradise Valley School District today about how they are going to add time to the school day. Ten minutes to the high school day and 30 minutes to the elementary school day. Yes, you read that correctly, ten minutes to the high school day. Not sure what that ten minutes will add to the learning environment, aside from not stealing time from an academic period for announcements, or they could 1.67 minutes to every period. That’d be 100 seconds.

The thirty minutes added to an elementary school day is a chunk of time teachers can use. Maybe it’s for recess in the middle of the day. Maybe it’s more time to drill on the AIMS test content. I hope they use it for recess, young kids don’t benefit from more seat time. Recess calms the body and the mind.

I taught in the public schools for ten years. I always found that much of the school day was wasted on behavior management or logistics related to administering a large group. Passing stuff out, collecting things, explaining how to act in the hallways, reminding kids to be quiet, on time, faster, slower or more attentive. In truth, the school day could be half as long. Home schooled kids need far less time out of their day for school.

I sent an email to the Paradise Valley School District governing board asking what they are doing with the 10 extra minutes in the high schools. I know changing the work day is complicated. Teachers have contracts that specify how many hours they work and how much they get paid for those hours. A district can’t just add hours to a contract for the same pay. Changing the school day can get expensive.

When I taught in middle school, the most efficient days were days when the classes were shortened to 25 minutes for some special event. The students knew there wasn’t much time and they found the quick classes more endurable than the hour- long sessions. They were more attentive. More seat time, or school time is not necessarily better.

When I hear back from the PV district I’ll update this post.

Climbing the walls at school

Desert Sun Academy's Coach Keith Perrin finishes up attaching holds to the climbing wall while Maja Aganius (left) and Becka Korn "test" the installation.

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Once the hot weather moves in, there isn’t much to do at recess or in PE class at school except sit in the classroom and read, or broil on the playground. That was Becka Korn’s dilemma. At her previous school there was a climbing wall and she wanted one at Desert Sun Academy, where she is a third-grader.

She decided to raise money to get one for the school. She had a cookie and lemonade stand that raised a small amount. At the suggestion of a her brother’s friend, she wrote to Clif Barand they sent her 300 bars to sell in a fundraiser. Becka enlisted fellow third-grader Maja Agranius to do some marketing, carrying a sign to induce parents picking up and dropping off kids to buy a Clif Bar, and they quickly sold all 300 bars.

Becka Korn (left) and Maja Agranius

Becka sent Clif Bar a picture of her buried in the bars and they sent back a check for $1,000 to help fund the project. The Desert Sun PTO put up the rest of the $3,800.

Desert Sun Academy physical education teacher Keith Perrin will introduce the climbing wall to the students for the rest of this school year and then incorporate it into the PE curriculum for all grades next school year. One of the activities, Climb Across America by Everlast Climbing Industries, the manufacturer of the wall, integrates geography with climbing activities.

The five 4×8 ft. panels are outfitted with various hand and foot holds that can be traversed horizontally like an obstacle course, or vertically like a traditional climbing wall. With the limited height, there is little danger of injury from a fall onto the mats at the base of the wall.

Everyone on the same page

Here’s a cool idea. Everyone in the school; students, teachers, principal, cafeteria workers, librarian, custodian, bus drivers, and parents–everyone reads the same book. That way no one has to ask, “Did you read…” because they had.

Everyone could be part of the discussion and activities pertaining to the book. It would be what everyone is talking about. Much like the way popular movies and TV shows, and yes, cute kitten videos on YouTube, create a social currency so would a book everyone has read, except books create deeper and more meaningful connections as they are more complex and richer in detail and subtleties.

A group of authors are facilitating the community read, called Share Our Books. They and their publishers have made available 250-300 books for six weeks to for a school to read, and then the school sends them on to the next school, replacing any lost or damaged books.

So far, Sara Pennypacker, Fred Bowen, Kate DiCamillo, Barbara O’Connor, Jewell Parker Rhodes (an ASU professor) and Uma Krishnaswami have signed on to Share Our Books.