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Jill Yoshikawa of Creative Marbles Consultancy on being an educational consultant as colleges go remote
Jill Yoshikawa is the cofounder of Creative Marbles Consultancy in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of Jill Yoshikawa)

Jill Yoshikawa and her business partner Art Baird were high school teachers before they quit their positions, took their love of helping students and founded Creative Marbles Consultancy in 2003. 

Creative Marbles currently provides educational consultancy services to 120 students in the Sacramento region to assist in navigating the complexities of the college admissions process. Yoshikawa and Baird basically act as school counselors, and approach the process by helping families identify each teenager’s unique talents to highlight in their application — and to ultimately pursue an education and career they’re passionate about.

The company’s busy season begins at the end of September, when high school seniors start to submit their college applications, which are due from November through January. Comstock’s spoke with Yoshikawa about being an educational consultant and how Creative Marbles has adapted to these unprecedented times.

How did being a high school teacher prepare you to be an educational consultant?

As a consultancy, we are educators. My business partner and I were teachers to begin with, so for us change was constant. You never knew which 35 bodies were going to show up in your room, but you didn’t know what they were going to bring with them, what mood, what emotion; and when we’re talking about teenagers — they’re a very interesting sector of humankind. So what would work in one lesson for first period wasn’t working by third period, or it was just a different set of kids. They had different questions. So for us, we were always really nimble.

As teachers, we really studied our practice and then we brought that value with us into Creative Marbles. So this idea of continuously improving, being nimble, staying flexible — that is a core tenet to how we consult. Because we are also providing information, we really exist to supplement what families aren’t being able to access as readily in their schools — although traditionally they may have been through counseling services or librarians or teachers, that has really shifted and we saw that on the inside of schools so we started Creative Marbles.

What services does Creative Marbles provide that go beyond what is provided by school counselors?

Not only do we have the information, we know how to apply it. Because we’re so small and boutique, we’ll take all of that information and utilize it and apply it for the specific family. We know students and we know parents. I joke with my students, like, I speak teenager and I speak parent — (I’m) very fluent in both, and I can translate between the two. I have a collaborative team here and we work together so that we can really point that information so families get what they need.

Has COVID-19 changed the way that Creative Marbles works with students?

We’re college admissions consultants, and with teenagers, they work at all hours of the day, and with college essays the creative writing process knows no bounds. It wasn’t unusual for us to be working with students at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. So we started using video conferencing about six or seven years ago for that reason. It was pretty seamless for us to do that with our parents as well, and we were very familiar with the technology. We just started expanding our tools to be able to do it (during the pandemic).

COVID-19 prompted all Ivy League schools to make SAT and ACT scores for admissions optional during the 2020-21 academic year. Will this make the admissions process easier?

Test optional means that they (students) do not have to submit scores, but if they do have a score, they can submit it for consideration. And then the admissions officer will use it at their discretion. But they won’t be disqualified from being considered for admissions if they don’t have a score. It’s precipitated because students don’t have access right now. All of the SATs and ACTs have been canceled since March and that’s ongoing. SATs were recently just canceled for a wide swath of students in August — it’s happening in pockets, but in California, at least our students aren’t taking the test. So in order to ensure the greatest access, it is being waived so that we can still give access to this fall 2020-21 class of seniors to college. 

There’s an added layer of challenge because what you have is a cohort of 17-year-olds who for their entire lifetime have been expecting admissions to look a particular way, which included SATs and ACTs. We’re talking about multi-generations who know this as an integral part of the admissions process. And now all of a sudden, because of the cancellations, people aren’t sure exactly how to think of the admissions process. (Test scores) are a metric for U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges. It’s on every admission statistic website. Now students are missing that, and parents are missing that too.

We forecast that the admissions process will have a greater degree of subjectivity in the evaluation because admissions officers are just going to do a greater degree of interpretation of a student’s experience. So we are talking about that, but as far as our advice, it remains core. For us, our advice centers on who the student is; who is that person? What are their qualities and characteristics? What are their aptitudes? We spend the majority of our advising time really reflecting on who the kid is. That is the core of our advising. And then we’re also adding on here’s how the admissions process we predict will shift — which it does every year, so we advise that. So it’s shifted a little bit of the information we’re giving, but not what we’re doing. For us, the key is a student-centered, family-centered process because we don’t know how to do it any other way. 

The Operation Varsity Blues bribery scandal in 2019 brought awareness to a “side door” entrance to the college admissions process. What should parents and students keep in mind when applying for colleges?

While the parents who are now serving, will or have served jail time all had means, and should pay the consequences of their actions, what I mostly recognize is the worry and anxiety amongst all parents to want a brand-name college acceptance, regardless if their children’s natural aptitude and academic needs are aligned with the particular culture and opportunities of the university. Parents with additional economic means crossed into the criminal realm and paid for what they thought was most desired, much to the detriment of their own selves as well as their relationships with their children. 

For all parents, I recommend being guided in college selection decisions by what’s best for their individual child. Parents are naturally experts in their children, having been the closest adult to watch them evolve since they literally entered this world. And teenagers, with the assistance of experienced guides who both understand the college admissions process, as well as the (ability of the) modern teenager to ask reflective questions, can, through a series of conversations, articulate their own qualities and characteristics. The self-reflection is both necessary to craft insightful college essays, but also because students can devise a “road map” which will guide them when they enroll in college. 

With more understanding of themselves, (the) student can then add to the consensus-building conversations with their parents about what college is right for them. The college admissions process is essentially one of selection. When students and parents start with who the student is, then they’re working to select a college, not waiting to be selected by a college. 

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Blood Banks Trying To Assure Donors It’s Safe To Give, Despite Coronavirus Fears

In this Aug. 20, 2013, photo, technician Greg Snyder, left, inserts a needle into a vein on Gina Hohenstaff’s arm as she donates blood in an Indiana Blood Center Bloodmobile in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy / AP Photo)

Nationwide, precautions are being taken against the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but blood banks throughout the nation are urging healthy individuals to donate blood to make sure supplies don’t get too low. 

Dr. Ralph Vassallo, chief medical and scientific officer at Vitalant, said since the outbreak of COVID-19 the blood supply in China has dipped below stable levels, which makes him concerned for United States blood supply levels.

“It’s not the intrinsic safety of the blood supply that’s at risk, it’s the availability of life saving blood,” said Vassallo. “We have patients who still need blood for trauma, surgeries, cancer therapy and chronic transfusions, so we’re urging our donors and drive sponsors to keep commitments to donate while following prudent measures to reduce the risk of infection.”

Vassallo said Vitalant, a nonprofit organization that collects blood from volunteer donors and provides blood products and services throughout the United States, collects in six of the 13 states that are currently affected by coronavirus. He said Vitalant is following strict procedures and guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety. 

“There’s firstly no inherent risk of getting coronavirus from the donation procedure itself and we’re minimizing the risk of contracting it from others at a drive or blood center by following rigorous safety and disinfection protocols,” Vassallo said. “We’re using gloves and personal protective equipment, we’re wiping down high touch areas after every collection, using single-use collection sets for every donation and a careful 30-second arm scrub.”

Vassallo said he has seen a number of concerned blood drive sponsors calling to ask about whether or not they should continue with their drive.

“We and other providers have seen cancellations where folks are concerned about the safety of their donors,” said Vassallo. “If there haven’t been human to human transmissions on a significant basis within your community it’s really safe to come out and donate blood as long as you’re prudent.”

Vassallo said people who have travelled to countries with sustained transmission in the last 28 days, are themselves recovering from coronavirus, are in close contact with known or suspected patients, or are feeling generally unwell are excluded from the donation process. 

“Frankly, donors who don’t feel well, they’re excluded early in the donation process as are people who have a temperature,” said Vassallo. “We let donors know if they have risk factors for coronavirus, don’t attempt to donate blood.”

There are many ways individuals can reduce the spread of coronavirus, an article published Feb. 28 by NPR’s Allison Aubrey states by avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching your face, staying home when you are sick, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe are all ways to keep yourself and others safe.

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Sacramento To Host City’s First Ironman Triathlon

Athletes run down Ali’i Drive during the Ironman World Championship Triathlon, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Athletes looking to challenge their endurance will have the opportunity to take part in the first Ironman competition to be hosted in Sacramento next year.

The race will be held Oct. 24, 2021, with general registration opening July 2020.

The Ironman races have made a handful of appearances throughout California but Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento and the Sacramento sports commission, said this is the first Ironman competition to be held in Sacramento. The full-distance race with a total distance of 140.62 miles is to be completed within 17 hours. 

“The goal is to make this the largest Ironman in the country,” said Testa. “Very exciting news for our city, certainly welcoming thousands of athletes to our community is a great thing economically.” 

The economic impact to the community as result of Ironman is estimated to be around $15 million on an annual basis according to Testa.

“If you are participating in an event like Ironman you will often times bring your spouse and your family and friends, so this becomes much more of a happening,” said Testa. “The longer duration of stay in Sacramento benefits those of us who live here just from the economics that it delivers.”

Testa said the Ironman race “is not for the faint of heart.”

“It starts with a swim that’s just over 2 miles followed by a bike ride which is 112 miles and it concludes with a full marathon of 26 miles,” said Testa. “The most fit people in the world participate in Ironman competitions, [it’s] a big deal for Sacramento to be able to host this.”

The official triathlon course has yet to be determined, but participants can expect a down-river swim, a scenic bike ride through the surrounding Sacramento area and a run along the river trail.

“With a lot of these events they want to get into the market and look at what the best challenge for the athletes will be,” said Testa. “Because we have a year and a half before this event convenes here we have some time to map that out.”        

Testa said the news of this event being hosted in Sacramento is a testament to the city’s “rising star” that Sacramento is attracting events of this size. 

“Ironman is an internationally recognized brand, it brings with it a cache to the cities it goes to,” said Testa. “The fact that Sacramento is now on that list I think says a lot about where we are as a city.”

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Lots To Like: Front Street Animal Shelter Turns To Social Media To Increase Adoption Rate

Front Street Animal Shelter says that 85% of the animals that come through the shelter aren’t euthanized, up from 20% six years ago. (Bob Moffit / CapRadio)

Eva, a 2-year-old chihuahua, was given to Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento after she had birthed several litters of puppies and started losing her teeth.

Delaina Nimmo saw Eva on the Front Street Animal Shelter Facebook page, and adopted her after coming into the shelter.

“I came to look at some puppies and they didn’t have the puppies and I saw her and fell in love,” said Nimmo.  

Over the past six years Front Street has tapped into the power of social media to help animals that are struggling to be adopted by posting creative videos and photos exhibiting the shelter’s available pets and their personalities on Facebook. Since focusing on the use of Facebook, the shelter has been able to increase the number of animals spared from euthanasia from 20% to 85%.

Eva is the type of dog with needs that kept her from being a top adoption candidate. She has recently been diagnosed with a heart murmur, but Nimmo plans to keep her.

“I’m still not giving her back,” said Nimmo. “We’re talking to the surgeon and see what he says and see if anything they can do.”

With over 190,000 Facebook followers, the shelter has had many of their videos go viral, reaching millions of views.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in our success since we began utilizing Facebook to reach out to our community,” Ryan Hinderman, public information coordinator at Front Street Animal Shelter said in a statement. “Through our staff’s hard work and by building our community through Facebook, our organization has completely transformed and we are now saving more animals than ever before.”

Ending euthanization of animals in California is an issue that has been picked up on a state level. Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed making Califorina a “no-kill” state, which would help to “achieve the state’s long standing goal that no adoptable or treatable dog or cat is euthanized,” according to the budget summary.

In his 2020-21 state budget proposal, Newsom allocated $50 million for the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program to develop a grant program for animal shelters. 

In 2019, there were 6,426 adoptions and 912 euthanizations of cats and dogs in Sacramento county, a decrease from 2018 when over 1,000 were euthanized and 6,756 were adopted, according to county statistics. The shelter attributes Facebook to their success in saving more animal lives.  

“Facebook is a vital life saving tool for our shelter. When we’re full, our adoption promotions are shared far and wide, resulting in lines of hundreds of adopters,” said Hinderman in a statement. “When we have an animal with special needs that isn’t getting adopted, Facebook helps show them to the world so they can find a loving home like all the other pets.” 

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You Can Get In Free To More Than 25 Sacramento-Area Museums This Saturday

(Robert Durell, California Museum Unity Center / Courtesy)

This Saturday more than 25 local museums will offer free admission as part of Free Museum Day, which will kick-off Sacramento Museum Week running Feb. 2-9. 

Guests will have the opportunity to get a glimpse into the region’s unique offerings, ranging from art to science to history. The 22nd edition of the annual event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last museum entry accepted at 4 p.m. See a full list of participating museums here.

Susan Voskuil, education manager at the Sacramento History Museum, said  her museum and others in the Sacramento area work together to make sure people know about local museums and the things they have access to.

“It’s really important for people in the area to know about all the different museums that they have access to,” said Voskuil. “It’s not just museums that are in the Sacramento area, the museums go up to Roseville and Folsom and down to Locke and in Woodland. ” 

Voskuil said that the Sacramento History Museum is hoping for around 3,000 visitors and will have a variety of special activities. 

“Outside we always do gold panning and we’ll also have a couple examples of old gambling games that people used to play, we’re going to have sarsaparilla for sale which is a lot like root beer,” said Voskuil.

When it comes to navigating  Free Museum Day, Voskuil said it’s about execution.

“Look at the list of the  museums, see where you want to go and just kind of plan it out. There’s a lot of really great things that go along with free museum day.”

There are 28 museums in Sacramento according to Visit Sacramento, some of which are off the beaten path. 

Dr. Bob LaPerriere, retired dermatologist and curator at the Museum of Medical History in East Sacramento, said the museum participates every year. His aim is to share the museum with as many people as possible and to give insight into how medicine has changed over the past 150 years.

LaPerriere said there will be unique things to see and explore this Saturday as part of the event.  Throughout the day, guests can watch demonstrations of an iron lung and a newer model respirator. Admission to the Museum of Medical history is always free, La Perriere said, but being open Saturday for Museum Day is a big draw and they do a lot of special things. 

“We [will] have about five retired physician docents that are available for questions, a display of old anatomy textbooks going back to the mid 1800s and a variety of things that normally would not be available  during the week,” said LaPerriere.

LaPerriere said they expect anywhere from 200-400 visitors to come through the museum on Free Museum Day. 

While most of the museums participating in Free Museum Day are within walking distance of each other, the Sacramento Regional Transit District has partnered with Sacramento Area Museums to offer free transportation on all buses and light rail trains for museum guests traveling with a printed SacRT Museum Day flyer or a screen-shot of the flyer on a smartphone.  For visitors from out of town who want to check out Free Museum Day, Sacramento Area Museums partnered with Amtrak to provide 45% off tickets to Sacramento on Feb. 1. 

Free admission and transportation isn’t the only perk of Free Museum Day. A variety of restaurants will offer discounts and specials to guests who show an “I Love Sac Museums” sticker, which are given out at participating museums. 

While admission is waived on Feb. 1, regular admission cost applies at all museums throughout Sacramento Museum Week. There will be special events and activities throughout museum week at many local museums. 

Click here for a list of participating museums, restaurants and the SacRT flyer. 

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