Expert on music and brain function to speak at upcoming Creative Edge Lecture

Noted neuroscientist and musician Charles Limb, who has extensively researched how the brain creates and responds to music, will be the featured speaker at next month’s seventh annual Creative Edge Lecture, which will be held at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.39.58 AMThe 90-minute presentation, which starts at 10 a.m. on March 14, is also set to include musicians from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA. If your work involves education, business or the arts, this would be a good lecture to check out, and we’ve got the ticket information below. 

Dr. Limb, who has degrees from both Harvard and Yale, is a professor and chief of otology/neurotology and skull base surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He’s also an expert in music whose studies on how the brain works during musical improvisation led him to put jazz musicians and rappers through a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or fMRI.

By sharing his latest findings, Dr. Limb will offer invaluable insight on how humans generate new ideas, why creativity is a crucial part of who we are, and why creative pursuits are critical to the advancement of the human race. It’s pretty fascinating research, and as such Dr. Limb has been featured by a number of prominent outlets including the New York Times, CNN and TED.

Sponsors for this year’s Creative Edge Lecture include the Orange County Department of Education, Boeing, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Phil and Mary Lyons, Haskell & White LLP, UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Susan K. Hori, Carl Neisser, Judith Posnikoff, Janet and James “Walkie” Ray, Kay Mortenson and the Orange County Community Foundation.

The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. Tickets are $25 if purchased before the early-bird deadline of Feb. 29 and $35 if purchased in March. The cost for students to attend is just $10.

To order tickets, visit, or call 714-556-2787. For more information, contact Steve Venz, OCDE’s visual and performing arts coordinator, at 714-966-4128 or

Marina High students tackle ultimate woodworking project with handcrafted viking ship (video)

In October, we read an intriguing story about an ambitious project over at Marina High School, home of the Vikings.

Students at the Huntington Beach campus, led by their enterprising wood shop teacher Bob Meade, were building a full-scale Viking ship — and planning to launch it in Huntington Harbour.

Naturally we had to check the thing out for ourselves.

The video above was edited by our own Greg Lammers, who was joined on the shoot by fellow OCDE Media Services team member Richard Rodriguez. Lammers, a Marina High graduate, pitched the assignment and plans to return for the ship’s maiden voyage in May.

Will the vessel prove itself seaworthy? We’ll find out this spring.

Is your school working on a cool project that you’d like to see featured on the OCDE Newsroom? Drop us an email at

In the news: Culinary arts in Irvine, new immunization rules, a Tustin school to close and more

It’s Friday, Dec. 18, and we’ve got another batch of spoiler-free education stories you might have missed. Here goes:

  • The Newport-Mesa Unified School District is among those reminding parents of new immunization requirements that take effect on Jan. 1. Specifically, Senate Bill 277 says parents of students who attend public or private schools can no longer refuse to vaccinate their children based on personal belief exemptions.
  • A student from Irvine’s University High School has earned the unique honor of having a photograph she took displayed in Vice President Joe Biden’s home.
  • Estancia High School, also in Costa Mesa, held its annual Fire Day, offering sophomore students the unique opportunity to experience the demands and challenges of a firefighter’s job.

Disneyland Resort program offers grant funding to support arts initiatives in OC classrooms

Are you an Orange County teacher who inspires students to imagine, problem-solve, collaborate and express themselves through the creative arts?

logo-create-grants-rev23Well, the Disneyland Resort wants to help. The CREATE Grants program is accepting applications from now through Oct. 16 to provide Orange County teachers with classroom materials for visual and performing arts projects. From basic art supplies to field trips to a local theater, teachers are encouraged to submit their creative project ideas for experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.

Since 1994 the Disneyland Resort has contributed more than $1.8 million to support the arts in Orange County public schools. And this year, Disneyland Resorts is working with to engage other citizen philanthropists in funding the projects.

Here’s how it works:

Teachers post a project that meets the Disneyland Resort CREATE Grants criteria at Selected projects will automatically qualify for the “Double Your Impact” offer that provides a 50 percent match to projects that meet specific criteria. Projects will appear on the site as half-off, so if donors fund half, the Disneyland Resort will automatically fund the rest.

Keep in mind that Disneyland Resort funding is only applied to projects if citizens fund the other 50 percent before grant funds run out or before project deadlines.

You can get more information on eligibility criteria at the CREATE Grants website. Teachers are invited to submit their applications on the website here, but remember that the project funding deadline is Oct. 16.

OCDE’s Fischer School offers a path to graduation, redemption for students like Erik


“Being here finally made me understand that it takes being deprived of something to realize how significant it is to you. And you begin to realize how much of it you actually had. I was searching for freedom and meaning when it was right before my eyes all along. It had always been my art.”

A young man named Erik spoke these words at a high school graduation ceremony nearly a year ago. The backdrop was not a sprawling stadium or cavernous auditorium, but rather a modest meeting room within the confines of Orange County Juvenile Hall.

He and about a dozen classmates collected their certificates in front of 120 family members, friends and guests that day in June 2014. But while Erik had graduated high school, he was not allowed to walk just yet. His sentence extended another 14 months.

Still, Erik had a high school diploma, and he had something even more important — people who believed in him.

He earned both as a student at the Otto A. Fischer School, one of four detention and treatment facilities run by the Orange County Department of Education’s ACCESS program. That acronym stands for Alternative, Community and Correctional Schools and Services.

Students arrive at Fischer under less than ideal circumstances. Most are performing far below their grade levels and missing credits. Many come from low-income families that lack basic resources.

But the school’s staff works hard to ensure Fischer isn’t a dead-end for troubled youth. They believe it should be a path to academic engagement, redemption and, ultimately, a better life for the 265 young people enrolled. That’s why in addition to offering standards-based lessons that align with traditional schools, educators at Fischer work closely with the probation department to teach character, problem-solving and anger management.

“That is what really makes us unique to any other facility in the nation,” says Kirk Anderson, Fischer’s program administrator. “We really have that strong bond with probation for our character-based programming. When a student leaves us, we want them better off socially, academically and emotionally. That’s really how we look at it as a staff. If they’ve improved in those areas, then we can say we’ve done our job.”

Which brings us back to Erik.

“I turned away from my art, and my life became something that I never wanted it to be. It was fake and misguided and lacked what I desired the most, freedom without the guilt and shame. I lost my art. I lost my shelter.”

Now 18, Erik — we’re only using his first name in this story — grew up in a rough neighborhood in Garden Grove. Though he was able to sidestep drugs and gangs, he says feelings of isolation in high school eventually spiraled into a psychological breakdown that led to an assault. His arrest and subsequent sentence carried him even deeper into darkness.

“It took three months to realize where I was and what I was doing,” he says. “When you’re in your room, there’s only one thing that happens — you just think about your past. You just see all the regrets that you had. It took me to see how much I didn’t like myself to see how much I needed to improve.”

Eventually, he channeled some of those feelings into drawing, a love from his childhood. Deputy Juvenile Correctional Officer Clarence Taylor was impressed enough by Erik’s detailed sketches of anime characters — as well as his work ethic and attitude — that he bought him a box of crayons and colored pencils and encouraged him to join an art therapy program started by a fellow correctional officer, Eric Burnell.

“He loved art but didn’t give himself to it,” Taylor says.

“That little box, it made me feel so happy,” Erik says. “I was in Juvenile Hall with, like, a little playkit. I just drew.”

“One of the concepts that I love about art is that it has no boundaries. The only limits are the ones that an artist places upon himself. Although this is an inspiring concept, it is not quite true when it comes to life.”

Over the next few months, Erik continued to create, wowing anyone who got a glimpse. Marilyn Monroe was the subject of one portrait. Another work, commissioned by his art teacher, features Nelson Mandela and images related to his quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” That piece is currently displayed outside the office of Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares.

MandelaMeanwhile, Erik also poured himself into his schoolwork, landing a spot on Fischer’s honor roll more times than he can recall — or maybe more times than he’ll admit.

“He’s very modest,” Taylor says. “Sometimes it’s hard for him to have other people invest in him, but his achievements have really overwhelmed everyone.”

“I think the school system here is really awesome,” Erik says. “They help you, and since the student-teacher ratio is reduced, a lot of people get more help.”

With each success, his confidence seemed to swell. Taylor, Burnell, colleague Jeff Gallagher and the rest of the Unit Q team under the leadership of Supervising Correctional Officer Brian Cochran encouraged and rewarded Erik with special incentives, including a chaperoned furlough so he could attend his sister’s wedding. And when it came time to graduate, he was selected to speak. Dr. Jeff Hittenberger, OCDE’s chief academic officer, called it one of the best commencement speeches he’s ever heard.

Erik says he wasn’t nervous delivering his remarks, having once taken a drama course in school. Besides, he says, he was really speaking to just one person in the room.

“Mom, you are the reason I want to be someone in life. I owe my life to you, and I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything that you’ve done. You are the ground beneath my feet, and I know you will be there when I succeed.”

When the ceremony was over, Erik still had more than a year to serve. But his school and probation supporters encouraged him to continue his education. Thanks to a unique partnership with Coastline Community College, he was able to enroll in college courses from Juvenile Hall. He got a B in a political science class and is now tackling sociology and humanities.

“Looking back, I never even thought I would be in college,” he says now. “I never thought I would pass a class in college. It’s just, like, amazing.”

Erik will have the option of continuing higher education after he’s released in August, but he still hasn’t settled on a career path. He says he wants to be an animator, or maybe a tattoo artist, or possibly a fashion designer. Perhaps he’ll become a barber, or a chef, or even a makeup artist.

“I wasted all this time,” he says. “Even before I got locked up, I wasted all this time doing nothing. I don’t want to live the rest of my life like that.”

With the support of Fischer and the probation staff, Erik will have a chance to start a new chapter in a few months, and he’s intent to be the author this time.

Or maybe he prefers another metaphor, one from a graduation speech that still echoes through the corridors of Juvenile Hall.

“Life is like a ship that rocks against an ever-changing tide. And you, who are the commander of your ship, must endure and stay afloat. When you feel that you are stranded and you are sinking, remember that there is land waiting to be reached, and that true happiness can be found.”

VSA Festival packs Westfield MainPlace in celebration of creativity, inclusivity (video)

Back in March, the Newsroom previewed the 39th Annual VSA Festival, which represents a partnership between OCDE and the arts organization known as VSA California.

Well, the all-day festival took place this past Saturday, drawing waves of participants and spectators to Westfield MainPlace in Santa Ana.

Celebrating creativity and inclusivity, the April 18 event once again spotlighted the artistic talents of students and adults enrolled in various special education programs, showcasing their artwork as well as their talents in writing, dance, music and even theater.

If you weren’t able to make it, most of the artwork is expected to remain on display at the mall through May 10. And here’s a brief video of the opening ceremonies, courtesy of OCDE’s Media Services team.

April 21 lecture featuring Sarah Lewis expected to draw business and education leaders

CEL_2015_HeaderRenowned author, historian, curator and critic Sarah Lewis will be the featured speaker at the sixth annual Creative Edge Lecture Tuesday, April 21 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

“Breakthrough! What We All Can Learn From The World’s Greatest Innovators” starts at 9:30 a.m., and tickets are available to the public at $35 each. The lecture, which is expected to draw leaders from the business and education communities, is being presented by the Orange County Department of Education, Arts Orange County, Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Fourth District PTA with support from Boeing.

Lewis, who holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale, is an assistant professor of the history of art and architecture, as well as African and African American studies, at Harvard. She has served on President Obama’s Arts Policy Committee and as a trustee of Creative Time, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), the Brearley School and the Andy Warhol Foundation of the Visual Arts. She has also held curatorial positions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London.

According to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ website, Lewis “will offer a new understanding of what sparks creative endeavors and illuminate how embracing our so-called failures can lead to incredible transformation and true breakthroughs.” Her presentation will link the need for creative, innovative employees to the work that goes on in our schools through arts education.

For tickets, click here, visit or call 714-556-2787. And for more information, contact Steve Venz, OCDE’s visual and performing arts coordinator, at 714-966-4128 or

STEM and the Arts Career Showcase connects student talents to future jobs

Students looking through telescopeMore than 4,000 students and families from middle school through college will learn about careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts at the 2015 STEM and the Arts Career Showcase April 24-26.

Hosted by Vital Link of Orange County in partnership with OC Fair Imaginology, the showcase will take place at the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 24 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 25 and April 26.

Organizers say the goal is to help students see how their interests and passions align with real-world jobs – and to motivate them to pursue higher levels of education.

Two girls looking at sculptureStudents looking at demonstrationStudents standing and watching a computer demonstrationBudding artists and future scientists will have the opportunity to explore career opportunities and talk to experts in the STEM fields. In addition, a job recruitment area will be available with exhibits and information on internships and paid positions.

The STEM and the Arts Career Showcase will feature competitions, exhibits, workshops, demonstrations and a variety of industry speakers. Attendees will even get to check out an interactive robotics challenge with student-built robots, as well as alternative fuel vehicles designed by teams of Orange County high school and college students.

Admission for the event is free on Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26. Contact Vital Link for the cost to attend on Friday, April 24. Parking at the OC Fair and Event Center is $7.

‘Getting to Know You’ at the 39th Annual VSA Festival (video)

Celebrating creativity and inclusivity, OCDE and the statewide arts organization known as VSA California are once again partnering to deliver arts education and appreciation to people of all abilities at the 39th Annual VSA Festival.

Thousands of children, parents, teachers and professional artists are expected to take part in the event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 18 at the Westfield MainPlace shopping center in Santa Ana. There, students and adults associated with special education programs will have an opportunity to create and exhibit artwork and display their talents in writing, dance, music, theater and visual arts.

Students participate in VSA festival activitiesThe public is also invited to attend, and art from the festival will stay on display in the mall from April 16 through May 10.

Each year, a theme is selected and lesson plans are developed to help teachers in utilizing the arts in their classrooms. The theme for this year is “Getting to Know You.”

Phyllis Berenbeim, an OCDE consultant to the event, says the VSA Festival helps build self-esteem and pride, as it enables all participants to be recognized for their work. And there are other benefits.

“Through the festival, families are able to celebrate in the success of their children and adult artists,” she said. “For visitors, it increases public awareness of the value of the arts in the lives of people with disabilities.”

VSA Festival art displayOCDE has participated in this event since 1976, and each year it has continued to grow. According to Berenbeim, who came on board in 1977, the number of teachers involved has increased, as has the support of local organizations that serve people with disabilities.

The 39th Annual VSA Festival will feature free activities at stations throughout the mall, including an exhibit of 1,000 pieces of art, along with face-painting, performances, hands-on arts workshops and more. Student-teachers from the University of California, Irvine will also be on hand to serve as volunteers and workshop assistants, giving them an opportunity to work with students who have a variety of abilities.

Westfield MainPlace is located at 2800 Main St. in Santa Ana. You can find more information here.