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Workshop offers an education for Los Alamos leaders

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By Katy Korkos

Challenges in education –  from the local to the global  – were the topic of Friday’s class for Leadership Los Alamos. The Leadership program, now in its fifth year locally, aims to engage local citizens and prepare them for all types of public involvement. There are 28 students in this year’s program, from many different sectors of the community.Eight speakers and several group activities were the highlights of the “Education” session at UNM-LA, which was sponsored by Los Alamos County and Los Alamos National Bank.“School Board Mysteries” were revealed by Steve Girrens, who led off the session by detailing the role and responsibilities of a school board member. Girrens described board duties and responsibilities, praised the quality of Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) students, teachers and administration, and reminded listeners that the primary reason for serving on the school board was “for the kids.”More of the local perspective was provided by Georgina Williams, prevention specialist for the Los Alamos Public Schools, who cited alarming statistics from the Search Institute’s 2003 survey of 200,000 U.S. students, in which it was found that only 22 percent of youth felt valued by their community. “Assets in Action” is the program LAPS is using to assess how capable local students are of dealing with adversity, and how much support they receive from family, friends, teachers and the community. Williams handed out flyers with “150 Ways to Show Kids You Care” and “40 Ways Anyone Can Build Assets.”Cedric Page, who took on the role of executive director of UNM-Los Alamos earlier this year, spoke of the global interactions today’s students will experience, and how the university can introduce students to a more local view.Los Alamos High School principal Grace Brown discussed the dedication and sense of mission teachers bring to their jobs. “The four ‘R’s of education now are Rigor, Relevance, Relationships and Responsibility,” Brown said.LANB president Steve Wells told the group of his experience in an educational system that essentially failed him for 14 years, before a college professor showed him how to learn. Wells serves on the board of the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation, which has as its mission to support local schools. “We have seven great schools,” Wells said. “We just don’t want a public school system that turns into a pumpkin at midnight.” The foundation has raised over $150,000 in seed money, and hopes to start funding projects in the schools before the end of the school year.“The older we get, the more serious we get about learning,” Jose Griego said. Griego is a New Mexico native and the president of Northern New Mexico College in Española.Community sustainability was Griego’s topic, and he described how programs at Northern are contributing to sustainability in energy, food and education. The college offers a baccalaureate degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on photovoltaics, and Griego is hoping to establish a solar research park in partnership with several collaborators. The college now offers six four-year baccalaureate programs, and plans to add more four-year degrees as well as master’s degrees in the future.The college, which had its origins in the Spanish Normal School and was established to prepare teachers for careers in education, will celebrate its centennial in 2009.Dean Obermeyer is the education technology coordinator for Los Alamos Public Schools, and his talk had to do with the way the Millennials get information in the digital age.“The Milennials” are the kids born after 1980, people who have never seen a black-and-white TV or a typewriter, yet who have no problem talking on their cell phones while playing online games and listening to their iPods.Obermeyer describes himself as a “digital immigrant,” someone who is assimilating himself in the digital world, as opposed to a “digital native,” a person who was born and raised in that world.“Our educational model is the Victorian model,” Obermeyer said, as he asked his listeners to understand that students today do most of their learning and communication using devices that were not yet invented when they were students, and that the jobs these young people will find have not been invented yet either.The final activity of the day for class members saw them divided into three groups, who were asked to define the greatest problems facing education today, and demonstrate how the day’s lectures helped to show the ways to get involved in solving those problems.Leadership Los Alamos Class of 2008 will gather again Dec. 14 at the White Rock Fire Station to learn about local government and regional issues. The monthly informative sessions will continue next year, with the themes of  “Youth” and “Economic Development.”