Just Another Moment in Time at Township Elementary


This year is a special year at Simi Valley’s Township Elementary School as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

And what better way to celebrate a milestone anniversary than with a time capsule?

Then tie this event into curriculum, and we’ve got a perfect Common Core lesson.

This year, student teacher Linsey Jassem has worked with Martha Nissen’s 4th and 5th graders to help them learn about timelines and how events develop over time.

As part of a Scholastic News article, Jassem decided to have the students bring items to create a time capsule for the campus. Students brought in menus, small toys, a 2015 penny and other small items commonly used. The PTA even donated a Township shirt and all the students wrote notes to whoever opens the capsule.


After wrapping everything carefully and sealing the box well, a district landscaper dug a hole just the right size near the front of the school. A class picture was taken and placed in the box. Then it was time for the students to wave good-bye to their treasures!

Back in the classroom, the students predicted what people will think when the box is opened in 50 years.

They will also work on creating a map to remind future employees that something special is buried on the campus.

“Everyone is invited to the opening of the time capsule at Township Elementary’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2064,” Nissen said. “Save the date!”

(Thank you Mrs. Nissen for providing the photos and information about what your class is working on!)


Getting Kids to Love Reading at Berylwood Elementary School

All-school assemblies were held each month to celebrate Berylwood's reading milestones. This last assembly was held on June 5.
All-school assemblies were held each month to celebrate Berylwood’s reading milestones. This last assembly was held on June 5.


It’s a number almost too high to really count.

But that’s what the teachers at Berylwood Elementary School did to determine how many words their students read in total for the school’s Accelerated Reader (AR) program.

During an all-school assembly on June 5, students in every grade of the K-6 school received awards and cheers for their reading efforts.

And not just for AR points. That’s just one part of the year-long campaign the staff launched to improve reading at this Title I school, said Principal Rob Hunter.

Next year, students meeting reading goals will get a T-shirt like this.
Next year, students meeting reading goals will get a T-shirt like this.

Two years ago, the kids, he said, hated reading. His students were more likely to play video games instead of picking up a book to read for pleasure.

Now, 10 months after the start of the reading effort, Berylwood’s students treasure their reading time.

“They take their books to lunch. I see them on the playground reading. I’m even bumping into kids who are too busy reading their books while they are walking,” he said.

It all started just before school began last August when Berylwood’s teachers agreed to participate in a 5-day program, Teaching Readers to Think, on their own time. The program taught teachers about the science of learning—how kids learn best—and how to apply this information in their classrooms.

“We know how kids learn. We needed to remodel how we teach,” Hunter said.

The teachers walked away with a simple philosophy: If we want kids to be good readers, then they have to read, a lot.

Teachers set aside the textbooks with excerpts of literature (because taking in pieces of stories is not the same as reading the entire story) and instead sent kids to read whole books on different topics. The students were allowed to select any books they wanted to read, at their reading level. Their teachers also read aloud to them. There were fun reading nights (one staff member brought in her comedian son and his friends and they read to the kids for an evening), and a lending library was created so every Tuesday students could borrow up to 10 books—in English and Spanish—to read during the week. The school library stayed open longer, and this summer it will be open on four separate days for kids to check out books. Each month the entire school came together to celebrate the reading milestones the students achieved. The students were invested in their reading, Hunter said. They were excited.

The school library will open on four separate days during the summer so students can check out books to read.
The school library will open on four separate days during the summer so students can check out books to read.

It’s also about writing. Teachers tucked away the workbooks normally used to measure reading comprehension. Hunter said that the fill-in-the-blank answers usually required of workbooks don’t encourage students to think about their answers. Instead the school purchased hundreds of blank notebooks and had their students write about the books they read. Students gave reports, wrote reviews and used their writing to support their reading, always showing that they understood the depth and context of what they were reading.

“If you want them to master language, they have to write,” Hunter said.

Berylwood’s success this year is measurable. Taking the average reading level for all 480 students from the start of the last school year to now, the school has increased its reading level by two years, in 10 months!

This summer, Berylwood’s teachers will once again give up some of their summer vacation to focus on math. Hunter’s passion for teaching is contagious, and the results are empowered teachers working with engaged students.

“I love working in a school like this,” he said. “It’s like working in the emergency room. But you have to have the best teachers. And we have the best teachers.”


Students Combat Drunk Driving at Every 15 Minutes

Kenny Dougherty knew better than to drink shots of vodka with his friend Nick Boomhower. After all, hadn’t he always been taught that you don’t drink and drive? But it was prom night and you only live once.

After getting their dates, Kenny took off speeding down Stow Street in Simi Valley and ended the run in a head-on collision with another car. Sarah Baxter, 18, was dead at the scene. Nick, 18, would later die at Simi Valley Hospital. And Kenny, when he sobered up enough to be aware, found himself in jail, facing criminal charges that could send him to prison for many years.

Kenny Dougherty is being taken to jail while first responders remove Sarah Baxter's body from the car's windshield.
Kenny Dougherty is being taken to jail while first responders wait for the funeral home to remove Sarah Baxter’s body from the scene.

No, this did not really happen. But it could have, because the students at Simi Valley High School worked hard to create the illusion of a drunk driving accident as part of the annual Every 15 Minutes program on April 8 and 9.

“It’s a really good program,” said Madisen Richards, 17. “It gives you a whole new outlook on the subject.”

Sponsored through grants and donations of time, money and materials from numerous local agencies, businesses and organizations, Every 15 Minutes seeks to teach teens real life consequences of driving under the influence without the real life trauma.

In Simi Valley, Royal High School and Simi Valley High School alternate the production of Every 15 Minutes each year. At each school, all juniors and seniors participate in the two-day program, ensuring that every student at the two schools is reached during their high school years.

Students are nominated to participate in the program, and their participation is kept secret until the event begins with an announcement over the school’s loudspeaker that every 15 minutes in the U.S. someone dies in a drunk driving related accident. Then, the “deaths” of the participating students are announced every 15 minutes. The effect on the entire campus is somber and chilling.

The students standing behind the crash scene represent the "Living Dead." Their names were called out on the school's loudspeaker throughout the morning.
The students standing behind the crash scene represent the “Living Dead.” Their names were called out on the school’s loudspeaker throughout the morning.

Sixteen Simi High students participated in this year’s program. But Every 15 Minutes is not just contained to the students and campus. Every participating student’s family is integrated into the program, creating a powerful circle of tragic experience through the recreation of the accident, arrest, hospital scene, court case and funeral.

For instance, while participating students were being made up for their roles by students from the Simi Valley Cosmetology School, police and police chaplains drove around the city notifying families of their child’s “death.”

Sarah Baxter’s fatal back injury is being created by students from the Simi Valley Cosmetology School.
The final result...
The final result…

Even though each family knew that the accident wasn’t real, the impact of opening their front doors on what should have been a normal morning only to be faced with their lives never being the same again, was emotional and sad.

The Hernandez family have just been notified that their oldest son, Alan, has just been "killed" in a drunk driving accident.
The Hernandez family have just been notified that their oldest son, Alan, has just been “killed” in a drunk driving accident.

Families also wrote good-bye letters to their children, which the students read on the night after the crash recreation during an overnight retreat. Students also wrote their own good-bye letters to their families and friends.

On Day Two, an assembly brought together the participants, families and Simi High’s juniors and seniors in the school’s gym. Students tearfully read their good-bye letters and listened to the guest speaker, Corey Reed, share about his own DUI accident in 2005.

Day two's assembly.
Day two’s assembly.

A Royal High School graduate in 2001, Reed played it straight while in school. But in the years following graduation, his partying—drinking, drugging and recklessness—became excessive.

Corey Reed shares his experience from a drunk driving accident that left him blind and without his right leg.
Corey Reed shares his experience from a drunk driving accident that left him blind and without his right leg.

On the night of his life-changing accident, his friend was driving into Simi from a club. Both young men were drunk and after reaching speeds up to 101 mph, the Chevy Tahoe they were in crashed into some trees on Sequoia Avenue. Corey lost his right leg and his eyesight in the accident. He was 23 years old. His friend landed in jail.

“We were both victims of our lifestyle choices we made that night,” Reed said.



  • Simi Valley High School PTSA
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Simi Valley Police Department
  • Ventura County Fire Department
  • American Medical Response
  • Simi Valley Hospital & Healthcare Services
  • Dave’s Towing
  • Reardon Simi Valley Funeral Home
  • Ventura County Superior Court
  • Best Western Posada Royale
  • Simi Valley Police Foundation
  • Simi Valley Education Foundation
  • Rotary Club of Simi Sunset
  • Rotary Club of Simi Valley
  • Kopy King
  • Rancho Simi Recreation & Parks District
  • O’Connor Brothers Photography
  • SVHS students, faculty and staff
  • Dave High Ink
  • Robert Arabian
  • Corey Reed
  • Susan Cohen


Video of crash and assembly:


Every 15 Minutes-National website:


As covered by the Ventura County Star:


On Facebook: