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Seven Easy Ways to Help Your Local School

by Todd Jones

Can you believe the summer break is over? Me neither! But it is, and with the end of summer there will be new challenges when heading back to school. Unfortunately, a rise in Foreclosures and a decline in property values means less tax dollars, and therefore, less money for the schools.

I like to meet challenges like this head on. It’s also an opportunity to build a stronger community in our schools. I have come up with seven ways that you can help out this year. If you don’t have kids in school, don’t stop reading. You can help too.

1) Teaching Supplies–Most teachers use much of their hard earned money to buy supplies for the classrooms. All those cute decorations, tools, visual aids, etc. all come out of their pocket. Find out where they like to shop for the supplies, and if you can afford it, get them a gift card for that store.

2) Join the PTA–Most Parent Teacher Associations have a membership drive at the beginning of the year. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, cousin, sibling or just a friendly neighbor, those PTA dues (usually very little) go a long way to help the kids. You can sign up relatives that live out of the area too.

3) Volunteer–There’s always something going on at the school that can use some free help. The great thing about this is that you can help as your personal situation allows. For example, if you have a very busy work schedule, just try to find one hour a month to do something at the school. If 30 people volunteered for just one hour, the school would have 30 hours of help.

I’m not talking about anything outside your skill set either. I helped open car doors in the morning at my kids’ elementary school. It’s certainly not brain surgery, but it helps keep the morning safe and only last about 20 minutes in the morning before I went to work.

Some other opportunities are: be a room parent, help to sell snacks after school, assist at the school carnival, be the person that runs the PTA web site, or if you love Facebook, then set up a Fan Page and help build the community online. The opportunities are endless and the more involvement, the better for the kids…even if it’s only an hour a month.

4) Buy a Candy Bar–or wrapping paper, or a candle, or greeting cards, or whatever the children are selling…even if you don’t really need it. Those fund raisers are great for the school and the kids love winning the silly little prizes they get for selling stuff.

5) A Kind Word–The school staff and teachers usually only hear from parents when there is some kind of issue. For every nice thing they hear, they must hear 10 more negative things. You’ll make such a difference by simply saying something nice. And don’t just do it the first day of school. Keep the kind words coming all year long.

6) Student Supplies–You know how there is a list of supplies for each child to buy at the beginning of the year? Well, during these tough times, there is probably a child in your class whose parents will have difficulty purchasing those items. If you have a little extra cash, consider buying double of what your child needs. Give the extra set to the teacher and let them know that it’s for anyone who can’t get their supplies. The teacher will know who needs help. And if there’s no one in need of help, the supplies won’t go to waste. The teacher can use them as backup supplies, or when a child forgets, loses or breaks their own stuff.

7) Know Your Child’s Teacher–Get to know you child’s teacher. You don’t have to be best friends, but it would be great for you to have open communication with him or her. Be sensitive to the busy times. The morning and pickup time probably isn’t the best time to have lengthy conversations. But a quick “hi” and attending the parent/teacher meetings will be invaluable. And if they have some helpful critiques about your child, don’t take it personally. School isn’t just for learning the ABC’s…it’s also a great place to learn social skills that will serve them the rest of their life. I know you’re child is a perfect angel…mine is too (wink wink), but just in case they have a devilish day, the teacher can really use your support to back them up when your child needs a little social adjustment.

Keep in mind, the more you participate, the more it helps your kids–and as a whole, our society. On the local level, a good school helps property values stay high (I’m a Realtor, I had to mention it). I can think of several communities that have been less affected by the decline in home values, partly due to the schools (think South Pasadena, Carpenter Avenue, Colfax Elementary, South Pasadena, Calabasas, etc.) Living in a nice, friendly, safe community is attractive on many levels and a good school reinforces this kind of neighborhood.

These are seven ways you can play your part in helping your school. Pick one or pick them all. And the great news is that some of them require absolutely no money at all. I would love your thoughts and your ideas, so please feel free to add any more you can think of as a comment to this post.  And feel free to repost!

Todd Jones, Proud Parent and local Realtor.

You Can Eat Healthy and Help Your Local Farmer

by Todd Jones

You’ve heard it all your life:  “eat your veggies.”  Well I’ve started to eat my veggies and help local farmers at the same time.  Whether you live somewhere near me (Studio City) or in another part of the country, chances are that there is a farmers’ co-op somewhere near you.

Every Tuesday at my kids’ elementary school (Rio Vista Elementary), a group called CSA California distributes fresh veggies and fruits from local farmers.  I get about 25 pounds of produce for $25 dollars–a real bargain when you price the same naturally grown veggies at the local grocery store.  In addition to feeding my family some healthy food, I am also saving a trip to the grocery store (and with two kids, that’s immensely helpful).  It’s fun to see what they have each week as the produce varies based on the harvest.  It’s also a good way to broaden your “veggie horizon” as you will undoubtedly get something in your bag you’re not accustomed to eating.

If this program piques your interest, you can see all of their Los Angeles locations at:

Where Exactly Are the Studio City Boundaries

by Todd Jones

When I first moved to Studio City, I was immediately confused when I started receiving mail.  About 70% of the time, the mail had North Hollywood listed as the city.  I knew this couldn’t be correct since I drove by the “Studio City” sign every time I came home.  Things got even more confusing when I would call a company to buy something (this was before Internet orders—not that long ago).  The order taker would inevitably ask me for my ZIP code and then proceed to ask me if I lived in North Hollywood, Studio City, or Toluca Lake.  What?!  Toluca Lake?  I was no where near Toluca Lake.

It wasn’t until I became a Realtor that I finally figured out what was going on.  I run into homeowners confused by this quite often, so I wanted to clear the air.  The City of Los Angeles has long been made up of many neighborhoods with names like Hancock Park, Whitley Heights, and the like.  But the boundaries were not always firm or even known by their own residents.  In the late 1990's the City of Los Angeles developed a system of Neighborhood Councils* to help the residents contribute to the development and success of their neighborhoods.  Thanks to this system, we now know the exact boundaries of each neighborhood.  It’s important to remember that Sherman Oaks isn’t really a city and neither are Studio City or Encino.  They are all part of the separate, and distinct Neighborhood Councils.  They have nothing to do with the ZIP Code either.  The ZIP Code is something that the post office has for mail delivery and just because your mail says Van Nuys, it doesn’t mean you live in Van Nuys.  That just happens to be the name of the post office that delivers your mail.

I’m a visual guy, so it helps me to see this kind of thing on a map.  Fortunately the City of LA has a way to look it up, but it’s a bit clunky and hard to find the button that will actually reveal the map.  If you want to see several of the local maps, I’ve put them all on one web page, so just go to to see exactly where you live.

By Todd Jones, Studio City Resident for 15 years and a local Realtor.
Todd can be reached at

*The LA Department of Neighborhood Empowerment web site states: “Neighborhood Councils are city-certified local groups made up of people who live, work, own property or have some other connection to a neighborhood. Neighborhood Council Board Members are elected or selected to their positions by the neighborhoods themselves.”


The Glee Project Gives a Local School a Year of Music

by Todd Jones

For anyone that will listen I like to sing the praises of what I call the “other elementary school in Studio City.”  Rio Vista Elementary is situated just on the boundary between Studio City and Toluca Lake, and this little school of about 400 students is a gem to the children who attend it.  A wonderful principal, excellent teachers, and involved parents mostly contribute to this wonderful school.  And like all schools in the LAUSD, Rio Vista has felt the wrath of budget cuts.  But these cuts can sometimes lead to an unexpected blessing.

In early April of 2011, three of Rio Vista Elementary’s fifth-graders were asked to participated in a new show for the Oxygen network called “The Glee Project.”  In the show, contestants competed for a grand prize—a seven-episode role on the hit TV show Glee.  From 40,000 applicants, the show aired with 12 finalists, ages 18 to 21 for the coveted prize.  In each episode, one of the contestants was eliminated and every one of the 10 episodes had a theme with a cast member from Glee.  The theme of the episode with the Rio Vista fifth-graders was called “Generosity.”  In the show the four final contestants were to mentor four fifth-graders.  (There was one other fifth grader from another school.)

One of the consequences of budget cuts is the elimination of programs like PE and music.  That’s where the non-profit organization called Education Through Music-Los Angeles (ETM-LA) steps in.  This organization’s mission is to bring music back into schools.  Rio Vista’s fourth and fifth graders—and a total of 4000 kids throughout Los Angeles—enjoy instruction in guitar, recorder, and the basics of music.

The producers of Glee have done a few things with ETM-LA in the past, and when The Glee Project was preparing their Generosity episode, the producers apparently thought it would be a good fit to have the final four contestants be generous with their talents and mentor the musically inclined fifth-graders.  The results were magical.  Even though the older contestants were supposed to be giving to the younger children, it seemed that the contestants themselves were the most touched.  The younger kids were even teaching their mentors a few things about music.

And the magic didn’t end with the August 14th airing of the Rio Vista Elementary will receive some generosity too.  A check of $15,000 was presented to the school on behalf of Oxygen Media to ensure that every child, pre-K through fifth grade, will receive music instruction from ETM-LA for the 2011-2012 school year.  A gesture that principal Mr. McClay graciously accepts.

In times of budget cuts and financial distress, it’s wonderful to see this kind of generosity expressed to our children.

If you missed the episode, you can catch it here.  And if you want to learn more about Eduction Through Music-Los Angeles, you can find them at  To see all the links in one place, just go HERE.

The Glee Project is produced by Ryan Murphy Television and Embassy Row with Ryan Murphy, Dante Di Loreto, Michael Davies and Shauna Minoprio serving as executive producers.

Written by Todd Jones
Proud parent of one of the fifth graders on the show.

Displaying blog entries 1-4 of 4