Fresno State Alumnus Creates User-Friendly Educational Website for 5-year-olds

Parents across the country are in a very unique situation — many juggling the stresses of keeping their families healthy in the current environment while also navigating how to homeschool their children because of school closures.

School districts continue to transition from on-ground education to distant learning as some districts have announced school closures for the remainder of the school year, and others, such as Clovis Unified, will be closed at least through May 1.

Meanwhile, Valley teachers are at home missing their students and working to find ways to connect.

There are many barriers for school districts and teachers trying to ensure a stable learning environment. Do students have access to technology? Is there an adult available to facilitate the learning? Are children motivated and able to maintain a daily schedule?

Fresno Unified School District, serving over 74,000 students across almost 100 square miles, has created a digital hub of resources for parents to access. Ranging from educational websites, daily learning schedules per grade level, special education learning resources and resources translated in Spanish and Hmong.

One Fresno Unified teacher decided to take distant learning a step further.

David Hunter, a transitional kindergarten (TK) teacher at Ericson Elementary School near Chestnut and Clinton avenues, wanted to increase the connectivity between teachers and students. He knew some parents were overwhelmed with the stay-at-home order and school closures, and he wanted to create a resource his 5-year-old students could navigate themselves.

With the help of his fellow TK teachers, he collected a variety of educational videos created by the teachers that aligned with the learning curricula for his students. Students can see their own teachers guiding them in a learning activity.

Hunter wanted to create a website where his students could access these videos and navigate their way through the site. As a father himself, he recruited his 13-year-old daughter, Amelie, to build the site. Together, they created the Fresno TK website.

Hunter, who earned his teaching credential in early childhood education from Fresno State, has been teaching in the Central Valley for over a decade.

“My Fresno State education certainly helped me be a creative thinker,” Hunter said. “The thing I appreciate the most from my early childhood program is the focus on the early learning and what children need. That is what has helped me the most in thinking about, when I’m providing this resource to the children, how do I make it in a way that is still engaging and interactive and meeting their needs?”

Hunter states that most TK children aren’t reading yet and are still learning how to identify letters and numbers, so the website doesn’t have a lot of text. It is built with shapes and colors, similar to how the children learn in the classroom.

“In TK we do a lot of visual schedules, so we have pictures of what we do at each time of the day,” Hunter said. “So I wanted the front page of the website designed in a way so the kids can see the visual pictures and think, ‘Oh yeah, I go to the triangle to get the read alouds,’ or, ‘I go to the oval to do this.’ It is visually based for them to navigate easily and it isn’t needing a lot of parent help.”

Amelie is an eighth-grader at Computech Middle School and last year learned how to build a website using Google Sites. With this skill, she built the entire Fresno TK website, including over 10 pages and embedded videos.

“My daughter has been a huge part of this, and she will continue the role of doing the site maintenance, uploads and design.”

With over 10 teachers providing video content, including read alouds with superintendent Bob Nelson, Hunter plans to update content each week. He is encouraging parents to have their young children do one activity and one read aloud a day. There is even a link to a Spanish version of the website created by Scott Merrill, a dual-immersion TK teacher at Ewing Elementary School in Fresno.

“The website is a good resource for parents to supplement any instructional materials they are receiving from their own schools,” Merrill said. “But I am also trying to provide content for Spanish learners, because our goal is for students to be bilingual and biliterate. So, they need to have resources where they can continue to develop both languages. I made the Spanish website separate so I can help our culturally and linguistically diverse students continue to become biliterate.”

Merrill is also a Fresno State alumnus, having earned his multiple subject teaching credential and bilingual authorization.

The websites have been live for less than three weeks and are already seeing great success, both domestically and globally. Hunter is currently in the works of partnering with TK teachers from Twin Rivers School District and Central Unified School District to clone the site for their students. He also received video content from teachers in Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District in northern California.

Mother Decides to Author Bilingual Children’s Book to Fill Void

(Written by: Phylisha Chaidez, media, communications and journalism student)

Many mothers read to their young children — Perla Solorio writes for hers as well.

Combining her job as a school counselor, her role as a mother and her admiration for the Spanish language, Solorio created her company, Libros For Small Hands. The company focuses on promoting early biliteracy, increasing parent engagement and fostering college readiness for young children.

“I loved reading books, but I never thought I’d be writing a book,” Solorio said.

libros-181x177She wanted to pay homage to Fresno State and showcase her love for the University in her first book, “Fresno State: First Words/Primeras Palabras,” which was released in October. This book is the first installment in a series of bilingual, college readiness children’s books Solorio plans to release. The book takes readers on a tour of the Fresno State campus using introductory words.

“I thought it would be very special for me to create something that is personalized with Fresno State, like taking a tour of different areas here on the campus,” Solorio said. “Sometimes we don’t start talking to our kids about the University or college until high school or junior high. It could be early as ages 0 to 3. We can get really creative about it.”

Growing up, Solorio always strived for her best and was academically driven. She recalled when she was younger she would grow impatient on the weekends or holidays wanting school to start again.

“I’d be that student that I’d come home and do my homework, you know, read in my spare time,” Solorio said. “I’ve always loved school.”

As the second oldest sibling in a family of nine and a first-generation college graduate, Solorio did not initially know the proper steps to access higher education. She didn’t know the first thing about applying for college or how her family was going to be able to afford it.

“It was a little scary because financially I was like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to pay for college. Maybe we’re going to get to this point, but how are we going to pay for it?’” Solorio said.

Solorio credits her counselor at Avenal High School for helping her navigate the college application process, as well as the scholarships she received at Fresno State. Her counselor inspired her so much that she wanted to go into the counseling profession.

Solorio earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in school counseling from Fresno State. She described the professors and her fellow colleagues in her cohort as her family. “It really just goes beyond going to school, getting your degree and leaving. It really was a place I can call home,” she said.

Solorio is now counseling at the same middle school she graduated from, helping students who are in the same shoes she once wore. “I went through the same classrooms or hallways and being able to be an advocate for them, as well, that’s very powerful and very meaningful to be there with our community,” Solorio said.

While reading stories to her 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, Solorio discovered the lack of availability in bilingual children’s books and decided to create her own.

After a two-year process of creating Libros For Small Hands, Solorio first book is beginning to impact the community. The book prompted some parents she knows of to take their families on a physical tour of the campus.

“Families have allowed us into their home,” Solorio said. “That’s really neat to be able to connect, not only with the reading but bringing them to the actual campus and getting a feel of being here at Fresno State that has been pretty awesome to see.”

Solorio’s daughter gets excited every time they visit the campus. “Hearing my daughter say, ‘Mom, can we read? Podemos leer, Fresno State?’ I never imagined my little 3-year old speaking higher ed.,” Solorio said.

Doctoral Graduate Wins National Award for Dissertation

Written by: Phylisha Chaidez, media, communications and journalism student.

Suzanne Rodriguez sat in the waiting area at her local salon when she read a text message: “OMG have you looked at your email?”

The text came from Dr. Jennifer Watson, Rodriguez’s Fresno State Ed.D. dissertation chair. Rodriguez quickly checked her email and was overcome with emotion. After over a year of researching, revising and refining, Rodriguez not only completed her dissertation — she received the 2019 Dissertation in Practice of the Year award from the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate.

The award, which was presented to Rodriguez on Oct. 22 at a forum at the University of South Carolina, is given to Ed.D. graduates whose dissertations show evidence of scholarly endeavors in impacting a complex problem.

When Rodriguez was a student in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Fresno State, she was going through the dissertation process just the same as her peers. Because Rodriguez had previous experience as a school principal in Dinuba Unified School District, she chose her topic, “The Urgency of Principal Professional Development and the Implications for Policy and Practice.”

Her dissertation examines the professional development that current California school principals are provided and the alignment of that professional development to the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders. She found that although principal support is being provided, it is not being provided via an intentional, systemic process designed to meet varying needs of principals as they begin and progress in their leadership careers.

“We need good principals at all school sites. And when we have good principals that districts are investing in, then you’re going to see equity across the board in terms of what students are getting and profitable outcomes, like student achievement,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez not only researched and presented her findings, but she took it a step further and stood out from her peers by creating a solution. She developed a three-tiered professional development model that would allow school district leadership to implement varying levels of professional development to their principals throughout their tenure and customize it to meet their district, school and individualized principal needs. It’s a model she said could be implemented in all school districts.

Watson decided to nominate Rodriguez for the 2019 Dissertation in Practice of the Year award because of the importance of the topic and her work ethic. “I had Suzanne in class her first year in the program. I knew immediately she had something that not all students have,” Watson said. “She has a work ethic that is second to none.”

Fresno State’s Ed.D. program has been a member of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate since 2007. The organization works to continuously improve Ed.D. programs worldwide, with 117 universities and colleges holding membership.

“Suzanne is a lifelong worker, and for this to be the first time, not only in Fresno State history but in CSU history, that anybody’s dissertation has gotten to this point, I was just overcome with emotion,” Watson said.

While in the doctoral program, Rodriguez was a full-time principal as well as a full-time student. She had to balance overseeing three schools, managing assignments, writing an almost 200-page dissertation and maintaining a family life.

Rodriguez graduated in May and has no plans of slowing down. Rodriguez, on top of being a lecturer at Fresno State, began a new job as a school supervision and social work expert with Robson Forensic, Inc. She is engaged to be married in November and plans to present and make her model public next year.

“As a woman and a Latina, this recognition allows other women and women of color to see and believe in what is possible,” Rodriguez said. “It also puts a Latina’s face and work on a national stage, illuminating the professional capacity and scholarly work that we bring to the table. I truly hope it inspires young Latinas to dream big, work hard and be bold.”

All Special Education Students Deserve Excellent Teachers

For Mr. Warren Bisel, being a special education teacher is challenging but also extremely rewarding. He has the opportunity to impact the lives of his students and their families, and he states that, “special education is a perfect chance to change the world one future at a time.”

Bisel is a Fresno State alumnus, graduating with his MS in Special Education and Education Specialist Teaching Credential in 2012. He didn’t always know that his future would be in special education. When Bisel started his undergraduate degree at Fresno State, he substituted as a paraeducator in a special education classroom. It was there that he discovered the uniqueness of special education instruction and how every experience with a child is different.

“Special education students need a teacher who can create natural opportunities for meaningful learning exchanges; too often our special needs students’ walk through the door labeled with ‘can nots’. Yet, from the first day of school, I look for opportunities to develop independence in academics and functional skills. I feel that we should always discover our students’ strengths and build a framework for success across subjects.”
– Warren Bisel, Special Education Teacher


Bisel has been working for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools (FCSS) since 2005. He started as a paraeducator, was promoted to moderate/severe special day class teacher and is now the instructor for FCSS’ CIRCLE autism program.

He believes that all students deserve excellent teachers and he must rise to the occasion to not only be an educator, but a mentor in the lives of his students.

“The daily impact I have on my students is only exceeded by the celebration of small victories,” stated Bisel. One of his victories was being able to get a student to try a new food. This student would only choose between three food items. Bisel stayed consistent and was able to slowly allow the student to smell a new food item and touch the new food on his lips. With determination, the student ate the new food (grilled cheese) and now chooses between four food items. It’s small victories like this which make a difference for students’ parents and for Bisel.

Dedication to his job and his students has made an impact on his coworkers at FCSS. They have nominated him for the Carolyn Dobbs Special Education Teacher of the Year Award.

“Mr. Bisel taught and mentored students with the most intensive learning, physical, and health needs. Together with para-educators and licensed vocational nurses, Mr. Bisel created a classroom environment that ensured students with mobility and health needs could adequately access their classroom. He created daily lesson plans that focused not only on personal care but necessary academic and life skills individualized for each student. Most importantly, Mr. Bisel developed positive relationships with parents and exhibited professional behavior in the most stressful situations.”
– Romy Chachere, FCSS Coordinator

On the night of Thursday, April 4, 2019, at the Carolyn Dobbs Awards Reception, Bisel was awarded with the Carolyn Dobbs Special Education Teacher of the Year Award. This award recognizes the importance of the work of special education professionals in the Central Valley.


Michael Giovannetti is Kremen School’s Top Dog

Dr. Michael Giovannetti is this year’s Kremen School’s Top Dog.

On Friday, Oct. 26 Fresno State held its annual Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala. The Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala recognizes the accomplishments of some of Fresno State’s most notable alumni.

“Fresno State did prepare me for life,” said Giovannetti. “I became connected to teaching the moment I saw that excellence and care for kids in that classroom.”

Giovannetti moved to Fresno from Italy in 1959. “So, my journey began in a small town of about 500 people to large Fresno” he says.

Giovannetti completed all of his education at Fresno State, starting with his bachelor’s degree in 1970 and attaining his doctorate in educational administration in 2001. During his time at Fresno State, Giovannetti also completed his teaching credential.

Giovannetti says “I know that the Save Mart Center is huge, but I could fill it with the people that I’m grateful to.”

Retired Math Teachers Establish Scholarships for Future Educators

Once Jim and Louise Dunaway retired from teaching math in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, the couple knew they wanted to help others get into the profession they love.

Four years ago, they began contacting their alma maters about establishing scholarships for students pursuing careers in math education. The first round of scholarships in the Dunaways’ name were awarded in 2017 to Fresno State (where Jim earned his undergraduate degree), San Jose State (where he earned his teaching credential) and the University of Mount Union (where Louise earned her undergraduate degree).

In the spring of this year, they again donated $4,000 to each college.

The Dunaways hope they can not only provide people with the kind of financial support they received while in school, but also encourage more teachers to specialize in the subject they love: math.

“We hope we will draw some very good people into math teaching and that they will enjoy what they do as much as the two of us have enjoyed our careers in teaching,”
– Jim Dunaway

The Dunaways retired nearly 20 years ago – Jim in 1999 and Louise in 2000. The Cupertino residents soon realized that they would have some money left over in their estate and wanted to use it to give back to their colleges by funding scholarships for students interested in teaching math.

Laura Whitehouse, director of development at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State, has worked with the Dunaways for two years to establish two Fresno State scholarships.

“They said that because they had been math teachers in their career, they would love to do something to help generate more enthusiasm for people who were interested in becoming teachers to become math teachers.”
– Laura Whitehouse

Whitehouse added that the scholarships “would have a long-lasting impact, and what it does is it also generates enthusiasm for other people to follow suit.”

“We feel very blessed, really, and I hope that some other young people will pursue a career in math instruction.”
– Louise Dunaway

If you would like to learn more about giving to Fresno State, visit our website.

If you would like to learn more about Fresno State scholarships, click here.

Written by: Noah Tesfaye, Los Altos Town Crier
Read the full article here.


Teacher Credential Grads Make Writing Exciting for Their Students

The San Joaquin Valley Writing Project’s New Teachers’ Writing Collaborative (NTWC) demonstrates how new teachers can better engage their students in writing. Ultimately helping them become effective writing teachers.

The NTWC is open to all new teachers in the Central Valley who are between pre-service and their fourth year of teaching. This year’s NTWC, held in June, was full of a variety of teachers, from different districts to teaching different subjects and grades. Our very own Fresno State Teaching Credential graduates attended and took advantage of this unique opportunity.

Support doesn’t end after graduation for these new teachers.

Judy Duran, Fresno State Single Subject Teaching Credential graduate, stated “I like (the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project’s) professional development, it is different from what my district offers. You get to meet teachers from all over the county and you get to learn from teachers who are successful in their classrooms. You can learn their strategies for helping students.”

Duran is an ELD middle school teacher in Sanger Unified School District and has been attending workshops hosted by the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project for the past two years. She has just finished her first year of teaching and knew writing was one of the areas she wanted to work on. “It has been helpful to get strategies to help reluctant writers.”

The NTWC provides participants with ways to explore the idea of writing as research-based inquiry and think about how the Common Core writing standards translate to engaging classroom practice. New teachers from all subjects benefit from the strategies and learn how to integrate writing instruction into unit design. Ciara Kurtis, Fresno State Multiple Subject Teaching Credential graduate, stated “There is so much writing in math, science and reading, and this workshop helps you apply it in all of those areas. One thing I also love about it is, it’s K-12. These writing strategies can be altered and tweaked just a little bit and can be used for any grade.”


For Kurtis, this is her second time attending the NTWC. “The first time I did it, it was a wonderful experience. It was before I was actually in the classroom, so I found a lot of the activities valuable. I knew I wanted to try them. Now that I am in the classroom, it’s even more effective for me because I can plan my curriculum. I know exactly how I want to use those (activities) with my students.” Kurtis is now in her third year of teaching second grade in Clovis Unified School District.

Even science teachers benefit from this collaborative. Brandon Rice, Fresno State Single Subject Teaching Credential graduate and science teacher at Edison High School in Fresno Unified School District, stated “I always try to incorporate writing in my class, I want to increase literacy in my students. A goal is to have students writing better lab reports.”

Whether you are a first-grade teacher or a science teacher at a high school. Writing is used in all avenues.

Teachers Teaching Teachers.

One of the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project’s core beliefs is ‘Teachers Teaching Teachers’. The NTWC is organized by mentors who are teaching in the classroom. They provide new teachers with lessons and activities that they have used in the classroom. This allows the mentors to provide firsthand guidance and advice. Our Fresno State graduates expressed excitement of implementing activities in the classroom, such as: mini lessons, poetry, writing sprints and photography.

“My main takeaways are building student voice and student choice in the classroom. Also building a community of educators with a similar mission for the classroom.”
– Judy Duran, ELD Teacher