LAHS students make grocery runs for at-risk neighbors

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Courtesy of Greg Corn
Los Altos High School seniors Greg Corn and Kayleen Gowers have been picking up groceries for local residents who have been advised to stay home as much as possible because of a higher risk of complications if they contract the coronavirus

While some students sleep in during the school closures, Greg Corn and Kayleen Gowers are out of the house by 7 a.m. That’s when the two Los Altos High School seniors go shopping – but not for themselves.

Corn and Gowers pick up groceries for local residents who have been advised to stay home as much as possible because of a higher risk of complications if they contract the coronavirus. And unlike services like Amazon Fresh and Instacart, the two students don’t charge for delivery.

The rising demand for grocery delivery during the state’s shelter-in-place order led Corn and Gowers to provide the service.

“The idea came from empathizing with those who literally cannot leave their homes,” Gowers said. “I was putting myself in their shoes and imagining how scared and alone some of them may be feeling in a time like this. That’s when the idea of grocery runs came up.”

They first posted a message on the social networking service Nextdoor March 16 and said they received more than 50 responses that day. The next day, they started shopping and now make four to five deliveries per day.

They said ordering is simple: People just fill out a form online that asks for their name and phone number, what items they want and from what stores, and where they would like the groceries delivered. Corn and Gowers connect with them to confirm the orders and drop off the items the next day.

Satisfied customers

“An unexpected situation has resulted in my working with them three times, and I couldn’t be more pleased,” Los Altos resident Lucie Newcomb said. “They’re speedy, reliable and trustworthy; they go out of their way to make things easy with consistent, polite yet friendly communication.”

Count Los Altos resident Linda Gold, who read about the service on Nextdoor, as another satisfied customer.

“I made out a short shopping list and submitted it to them,” she said. “The very next morning, I think about 9 a.m., they texted and said all my groceries were sitting outside my front door. I couldn’t believe it. They delivered to a complete stranger and didn’t even get paid.”

People pay them for the groceries with cash or check, or digitally through services such as PayPal and Venmo. The students do accept tips, which they said will be donated to One Fair Wage, an emergency fund organization that provides cash assistance to workers whose jobs are compromised due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Corn and Gowers said they are aware of the potential health threat caused by deliveries. From their homes to stores, touching many things along the way and dropping off the groceries, there are many ways in which the virus could be transmitted.

“We’re not in the at-risk population, so we’re not so much worried about ourselves,” Corn said. “Our biggest worry is giving the virus accidentally to the senior citizens. In order to reduce that risk, we’re taking as many precautions as we can to sanitize and make sure we’re delivering them as clean as possible. But there’s always a risk.”

To minimize the risk, the teens said they are diligent in keeping clean and use hand sanitizer every time they enter and exit the store and drop off the groceries. All drop-offs are noncontact; the person receives a text when the groceries arrive.

“Sure, there’s a risk with us touching their groceries, but somebody is going to have to do it,” Corn said. “We want to make sure we’re helping them out as much as possible. It’s better than them leaving the house, so it’s all about minimizing risk.”

Gold appreciates their efforts.

“This is a vital service to some of us that are compromised,” Gold said. “My husband and I are seniors and I get bronchial asthma every year. So, right now, Greg and Kayleen are a lifeline to us. Even their upbeat, positive attitude while texting is like a ray of sunshine.”

Those are the kind of compliments that can’t help but make the students smile at a time when many people are on edge due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s more than just delivering groceries – robots could do that,” Gowers said of their service. “It’s about the human connection and letting people know that we do care about them. Our community is here for them. If we can touch someone’s heart, it makes it all the more worthwhile.”

To use the service, visit For more information, call 383-7251 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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LAHS club builds desks for students in need

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Marie Godderis/Town Crier
Juniors Emmatisse Sayar, top, and Emily Zhu build a desk during lunch. They are members of Los Altos High School’s Desks For Students Club, which provides desks for students in need.

While many Los Altos High School students spend their lunch period eating or socializing, junior Morgan Taylor-Cohen and a dozen others crowd around a pile of scattered nails, screwdrivers and wooden parts and begin to assemble a table.

Humane Society hosts youth writing contest

Carla Befera/Special to the Town Crier
Vandana Ravi won last year’s Palo Alto Humane Society writing contest with a story about a teen’s interaction with a donkey.

The Palo Alto Humane Society recently launched the Ambassadors of Compassion Story Writing Contest, now in its second year.

Seventh- and eighth-graders from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are invited to write an original fiction or nonfiction story – 800-1,000 words in length – about animals and people helping each other. Some examples include companionship, therapy and support for soldiers.

High schoolers aim to promote civil political discourse

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Mountain View High School junior Dayana Sheinin, right, discusses the 2020 presidential election with a group of fellow teenagers at an event hosted by the school’s Conversation Club.

In the current era of high political polarization, many people avoid discussing politics entirely with those who disagree with them. A group of local high schoolers think that’s the wrong path to go down and recently held an event aimed at getting those with divergent political beliefs to have a respectful discussion about the 2020 presidential election.

Simulations aim to build empathy for students with dyslexia

Learning to read is a rite of passage for elementary school students, but for children with dyslexia it can pose a unique challenge.

A pair of Los Altos School District parents are working to raise awareness about the learning disability and help teachers build empathy for dyslexic students. Wendy McDowell and Nikki Emens are leading simulations with local teachers aimed at illustrating what school can be like for a dyslexic student.

Over the past several months, the pair have been working with the Los Altos School District to provide the simulation for all of the teachers in the district. For both McDowell and Emens, dyslexia is personal. The learning disability runs in both of their families and each has dyslexic children.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

McDowell and Emens are co-leading a local Decoding Dyslexia California support group. Decoding Dyslexia is a grassroots organization of parents working to raise awareness about dyslexia and support parents with dyslexic children.

The simulation the two women are bringing to local schools runs participants through a series of exercises meant to simulate the experience of being dyslexic.

“When we each participated in this simulation ourselves, we realized what a great impact it could be for the staff to experience it, so that’s when we started reaching out to the schools, offering to bring it to the teachers,” Emens said.

One of the exercises deals with reading comprehension. Participants are given a passage with certain letters swapped with each other, forcing them to decode the text. They are given a time limit to read the text and then are quizzed on the content. In another scenario, participants try to transcribe dictated sentences while writing with their nondominant hand.

When Emens and McDowell led a simulation for teachers at Blach Intermediate School back in December, after going through the exercises, Pat Koren told her fellow teachers that her husband is dyslexic, as well as some of her children. Koren said school was always a struggle for them and they often felt unintelligent.

“Anything we can do to help them feel better about themselves and be successful is the biggest thing,” Koren said.

A broader conversation

In recent years, dyslexia has begun to be a bigger part of the conversation in the education community. The California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1369 in 2015, which required the state superintendent of public instruction to develop program guidelines for dyslexia. The guidelines are aimed at assisting educators and parents in identifying, assessing and supporting students with dyslexia.

According to Sandra McGonagle, the Los Altos School District’s assistant superintendent overseeing curriculum and instruction, the district has processes in place to support students in learning to read, including those who may be struggling with dyslexia.

Students are taught to read using explicit phonics instruction, McGonagle said. The district has multiple literacy “intervention” systems for students who aren’t making adequate progress in learning to read. The children work in small groups and use different techniques, including exercises that employ multiple senses, such as drawing letters in sand or shaving cream.

The district also uses a “universal screener” to test all students’ literacy progress in kindergarten and first grade. Next year second-graders will also be screened. The screener includes particular assessments aimed at students with dyslexia, such as being able to list words that rhyme.

McDowell and Emens are passionate about ensuring schools are serving students with dyslexia, and McGonagle said their simulations can help teachers understand how certain classroom exercises might add pressure for dyslexic students.

“It’s a combination of awareness, to understand how dyslexia might present itself in a variety of different ways, … along with some empathy for students who are struggling,” McGonagle said.

TheatreWorks takes ‘Oskar’ on tour of local elementary schools

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Alessandra Mello/Special to the Town Crier
Caitlyn Louchard, left, plays the brave knight and Davied Morales is the damsel in a previous production of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Oskar and the Countless Costume Changes.”

Members of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s education program are slated to take their “Oskar” tour to area elementary schools March 2 through April 10, performing plays that embrace acceptance and discourage bullying.

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