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Recovering With Art

Cover image for podcast episode

JOE HONG

A student at Joseph Casillas Elementary School in Chula Vista works on his art assignment. May 10, 2021

Experts say parents and teachers shouldn’t hyper-focus on concerns about learning losses for students during this pandemic period. Instead, educators should use arts and music to help students overcome anxieties about returning to in-person learning. Meanwhile, a North County non-profit brings mobile showers to people experiencing homelessness throughout San Diego County. Plus, the purchase of dozens of San Diego apartment complexes by a New York-based private equity company is raising concerns from some residents over whether or not the properties will remain affordable.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Friday, May 14th.

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Recovering from the pandemic...with art classes.

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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Scripps Health is still grappling with a cyber attack that took their systems offline almost two weeks ago. It’s facilities are still open, but some procedures are being delayed. Some patients including cancer patients were transferred to UC San Diego health earlier this week. Scripps now says it is partnering with private labs to outsource services as it works to restore systems. For now there is still no indication as to when Scripp’s systems will be restored.

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Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children 12 years and older, vaccine sites in the county are already taking walk-ins and appointments. The Family Health Centers of San Diego says they’ve seen a good response from parents looking to book appointments. The county estimates there are nearly 176-thousand more San Diegans now eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

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The San Diego Symphony has revealed the name for their new outdoor venue. It’ll be called The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. The big-money donors who made the Shell possible got a big thank you from the San Diego Symphony at an event on thursday. Here’s Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer.

"In the midst of the dark times of the past year, every time we would come to this place, we would feel joy.”

Gilmer says the first concert there will be held in August.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

The year of distance learning has been tough on all students. And though academic loss might be front-of-mind for parents and teachers, experts say test scores are only part of the picture.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke to teachers and experts about how art and music can help students recover from the pandemic school year.

For Barbara LeRoy, one silver lining of teaching at home through the pandemic was having the chance to play her ukelele to keep students engaged during distance learning. And last month when she went back to part-time in-person teaching at Joseph Casillas Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the ukelele came with her. Now it’s helping her students re-adapt to the classroom.
RL__9776.MOV08;56;04;00BARBARA LEROY /// CASILLAS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERIf a child has had a tough morning, the music can just help get them out of their head and out of that situation.
LeRoy said it’s not just the students who benefit from the sing-alongs.
RL__9776.MOV08;58;16;08BARBARA LEROY /// CASILLAS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERThere’s just been a lot of anxiety with being on the camera and then now in-person. When I play music, I just kinda get out of my own head and out of my own anxious feelings, and it just centers me. Helps me calm down.
And while educators have worried about learning loss and students falling behind, experts say that emphasizing academic recovery might just create more anxiety for students. Alix Gallagher is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for a think tank called Policy Analysis for California Education. She said emphasizing arts in the classroom can serve as an antidote to this anxiety as students return to campuses.
GALLAGHER.mp400:01:15:00ALIX GALLAGHER /// POLICY ANALYSIS FOR CA EDUCATIONWe have to understand that when kids come back to school, having been away, they’re not only bringing potentially more varied academic challenges, but they’ve also had a wide range of emotional experiences, and their socio-emotional wellness definitely needs to be addressed.
For both Gallagher and LeRoy, it’s about helping students re-discover a love of being at school.
GALLAGHER.mp400:02:42:07ALIX GALLAGHER /// POLICY ANALYSIS FOR CA EDUCATIONThings like the arts, band, visual arts, dance, sports, those activities that are more often off to the side, are actually places where students can bring their whole selves and find meaning and develop the relationships and connectivity to school that help them get through school and ultimately thrive as well-rounded human beings.
Bonnie Hunt, a first grade teacher at Casillas Elementary, said the social aspect of the arts also helps students as they emerge from a year in isolation.
RL__9764.MOV08;32;30;28BONNIE HUNT // CASILLAS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERI had a few students that were very isolated had a lot of anxiety coming back to the classroom. Being able to draw and do art, which is an independent thing, kind of brought them out of their shell.
But academics and the arts aren’t completely separate. Hunt’s students spent the last week learning about the bugs and insects that pollinate flowers or aerate the soil.
RL__9767.MOV08;35;56;22Pen shake
RL__9769.MOV08;37;28;03I’m drawing butterflies and things that are pollinators…
They used paint markers to decorate the school garden. Hunt says this helps students gain confidence while learning the material. RL__9764.MOV08;31;18;28BONNIE HUNT // CASILLAS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERThey take ownership of it. And it takes what they’re learning from a book and it makes it real. When they can transfer what they’ve seen in the book or learned in the book and create their own, then you can say they’ve learned it.
Hunt is retiring this year, but she hopes the new normal does not include the same hyper-focus on standardized tests. She’s rooting for beauty and self-expression to make a comeback.
RL__9764.MOV08;34;17;02BONNIE HUNT // CASILLAS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERWhether it’s creating something that makes them feel good about themselves or something they’ve created that they’re proud of, or something they’ve created that takes their sadness away. That’s the most important thing about the classroom. Not whether or not they can bubble in…. Bubbling in isn’t art.
Joe Hong KPBS News.

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A North County organization is bringing mobile showers to homeless people throughout San Diego County. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne has more.

A fresh shower, a new haircut, and new clothes can make anyone feel human again…
That was Jordan Verdin’s mission when he founded Humanity Showers- a mobile shower trailer bringing basic hygiene to the homeless community throughout San Diego.
JORDAN VERDIN/HUMANITY SHOWERS
“This was a place where they felt humanity was being instilled back into them, dignity was being installed back into them.”
Verdin started providing showers in 20-19 once a month with one mobile shower trailer in oceanside.
They now hold 6 shower events every week throughout San Diego County and offer an array of resources.
“We offer clothing, we offer barbers, we offer breakfast, we offer multiple resources that are connected to sober living, housing, we work with Vista Community Clinic , we offer tons of resources now.”
Verdin calls these events “mobile navigation centers” that help people experiencing homelessness get connected with support. ...
Humanity Closets is one of the newest additions to the shower events.
BIANCA LOPEZ/HUMANITY CLOSET
“They haven't had pants in a couple of months and this is a brand new pair, its little things. When it fits just perfectly or it matches their eye color or they're trying to get to an interview and they need some interview clothes.. Thats completely accessible to them here.
Organizer, Bianca Lopez, is fundraising to make the closet “mobile” to take to all of the shower locations.
Irvine is one of the volunteers at the shower events. He didn’t want to share his last name, but said he was one of the first people to use the showers when the program started.
IRVINE/HUMANITY SHOWER GUEST
“You just feel like a whole different person, you want to live, you want to go out there and start conquering your demons, you just feel better about yourself.”
All of the funding for the shower trailers has been privately donated. Verdin says he has hesitated to apply for grants because it is proof that all the funding is “from the people to the people.”
But he says community partnerships and collaborations ultimately will make the biggest difference.
“Its only going to be when we all come together as a collective as a community. Then we can start to see some more innovative things happening.”
Verdin plans on adding a 4th shower trailer through a donor and a mobile laundry trailer expected to debut later this month.
TT KPBS News.

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The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on long-standing neighborhood restaurants, causing some to close. But in City Heights, many persevered, through hard work and support from their community.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler is checking in with some of the neighborhood’s beloved longtime establishments, as part of a series we call City Heights Bites.

Walk around any hard-working neighborhood, and you’ll find a place that you can rely on for fast, cheap, and delicious comfort food.
For the past 17 years, that role has been filled by Phat Vuong and his wife Kim Dang, who own Minh Ky.
As an immigrant from Saigon, Vuong started as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant in Horton Plaza… working his way up to Executive Chef…. Before he decided he wanted to open a restaurant that would meet people at the price point they were at in his own neighborhood of City Heights….
So he bought Minh Ky, continuing to work with Chinese food, and focusing on dishes like hand-made Wonton noodles, served quickly, to a hungry community on-the-go.
His daughter Sandy saw where her father was coming from, while growing up in the restaurant.
SANDY VUONG / RESTAURATEUR
1:39
We didn’t grow up with a lot of money. And when he was struggling, he was a single dad for a while, he had three jobs, and trying to feed me and my sister, it was really difficult for him. He found places like Minh Ky where food was affordable.
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2:08
He wanted to bring really good quality homemade food but keep it at an affordable price.
Business ground to a halt last spring, as the pandemic shut down restaurants. Overnight, the business that had kept long-time residents of City Heights fed, had to shut down.
3:00
For Minh Ky, it was very difficult in the beginning. Not only are my parents older, but their staff is older, and their clientele is older. They made it a priority to keep everyone safe.
Like other restaurants, they shifted to full take-out, but missed the business from the quick-shuffling sit-down experience, which fit the busy schedules of their customers.
Lucky for them, wonton soup can easily be reheated, and they’re customers fell back on the old favorite during these troubled times.
With a few loans from the federal government, and other smaller grants, Minh Ky is still on its feet as it emerges from the pandemic.
5:00
Everyone is still really excited to see us here and walking through the doors. It’s just been very fun to see everyone come back and enjoy a meal with us. It’s weird with the facemasks on, we’re not seeing all the smiles that we’re used to seeing and are known for… we’ve been around for so long, we’ve had kids that are bringing their girlfriends in or their wives in. It’s an interesting dynamic.
It doesn’t stick out and it’s not flashy, but restaurants like Minh Ky are what keep the community fed. Sandy Vuong has opened her own restaurant in Kearny Mesa, Dumpling Inn, but her family’s food and ethic remains rooted in City Heights.
5:56
That’s what makes City Heights, City Heights, it’s these businesses that are not only independently owned by small families and not backed by some big corporation, but that we’ve been here for so long. We are what the culture here is.
Max Rivlin-Nadler, KPBS News

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Coming up.... A new-york based private equity company, Blackstone Group, bought up 66 apartment complexes throughout San Diego recently, prompting affordability concerns. We’ll have that conversation next, just after the break.

The proposed sale of 66 apartment complexes to the Blackstone Group for more than a billion dollars, is being called one of the largest real estate transactions in San Diego history. KPBS reported earlier this year that the Conrad Prebys foundation was looking to sell its real estate holdings - and now its 58-hundred low income rental units scattered throughout the county are being snapped up by New York-based Blackstone. The proposed sale has already prompted concern from elected officials over whether the units will remain affordable for working families.

Phillip Molnar is a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune who covered the story. He spoke with KPBS Midday Edition Host Maureen Kavanaugh. Here’s that interview.

TRT: 8:00
The Blackstone group is based in New York, but doesn't already have significant real estate holdings in San Diego.

Speaker 2: 00:46 That's right. Blackstone is a massive private equity company. It's often referred to as a private equity giant, and some of the biggest things they own in San Diego County are the hotel Del Coronado and Lego land.

Speaker 1: 01:00 And can you give us a sense of where these new acquisitions, the 66 apartment complexes where they're located? Is it all over the County,

Speaker 2: 01:09 Basically all over the County? It's it's as far away as East County, a little bit into downtown, just basically all over the place. These are areas where Conrad previs himself. He was a real estate developer. You know, he had a large collection of real estate holdings across the County, and the foundation has been able to hold onto that for many years.

Speaker 1: 01:30 And why did the preface foundation want to sell them?

Speaker 2: 01:33 So they say, if they sell all these apartments, they'll be able to use it for more grants to give out to the community. They've been very generous over the past couple years. Uh, they gave more than 71 million to 112 organizations across San Diego County in March. And just one of those examples was they gave 15 million to the San Diego symphony. So they think they can do a lot more with this money than just holding onto the apartments.

Speaker 1: 01:58 Okay. So when a new landlord comes in, the first concern is that rents will be raised. That concern was also reflected in a letter sent by some San Diego officials. Can you tell us about that?

Speaker 2: 02:11 Yeah, that's right. Kate PPS was first to report on that. And basically as soon as these apartments went on sale, there was a lot of concern because they're sort of what they call naturally occurring, affordable housing. So they're not designated as subsidized housing. Like a lot of projects are in San Diego County. They basically are just old and you can't get that much money out of them. So they're actually a little bit cheaper for most residents. So when this collection went up for sale, there was a big concern that this is going to cause you know, rents to go up, someone's going to fix up the place and rents are going to rise for the residents that are living there. But you know, we live in a capitalist society and there's nothing to say, Hey, Blackstone, you can't buy these things. You know, there, there was nothing on the books.

Speaker 2: 02:58 San Diego didn't buy the units, the housing authority didn't buy the units. The state didn't buy them. And they were up for sale for a while and Blackstone came in and bought them. So there's not a lot anybody can do. I don't know how it's all going to shake out. Blackstone says it plans to keep the majority. We don't know how many that is of residents affordable for people that make 80% or less of the area, median income during its ownership. We'll have to see how that plays out, you know, and also Blackstone says it's eager to engage with the state of California in San Diego municipal government to explore opportunities for affordable housing in San Diego. Again, not really sure how that's going to work. Are they going to sell the stuff back, assuming for more to a municipal government, it's just a wait and see thing at this point,

Speaker 1: 03:50 That statement by Blackstone, that they intend to keep the units affordable for those who make 80% or less of the area, medium income, is that a metric that was already in place or is this some new calculation by Blackstone?

Speaker 2: 04:04 I believe it's a new calculation by Blackstone, just based on some, you know, criticism of the project early on back when KPBS first reported on it in February. I know from just off the record conversations and other stuff on background that a lot of developers had looked at this portfolio because, you know, it's a huge amount of apartments and there's a lot of possibilities for return and all this kind of stuff. But I think one of the reasons why developers passed on it in addition to needing a ton of money to pull off the deal was that there was that political pressure that these are going to become a lot higher rent than what they are right now. So as far as I know, Blackstone doesn't do this that often, but they did put that statement out there with their purchase, which I found quite significant

Speaker 1: 04:50 And Blackstone says they also plan to add amenities. What kind of amenities?

Speaker 2: 04:56 Basically, these are really old units. So they're going to be doing all sorts of stuff to fix them up, put in playgrounds, add maybe a little bit of open space kind of stuff like that. They also are going to partner with a nonprofit called Pacific housing. Typically Pacific housing works with subsidized housing mainly, but so what they're going to do for residents, they're going to have after school tutoring, financial literacy classes, health and wellness initiatives, and those are supposed to be at no cost. So that might kind of soften the blow on Blackstone's big Burgess.

Speaker 1: 05:29 Now some pandemic eviction moratoriums are about to expire. What is Blackstone stand on evictions

Speaker 2: 05:36 Blackstone says across their entire national portfolio that they haven't evicted anyone due to nonpayment of rent during the pandemic. So that might seem sort of like a good thing if you're in one of these apartments and you're kind of nervous, but just to keep in mind that the California eviction moratorium ends on June 30th, I haven't heard anything to say it's going to be extended. San Diego County actually has their own eviction. That should go until sometime in August. So we'll have to see how that works out, but it's looking like a lot of those rental protections are beginning to sunset as the economy recovers.

Speaker 1: 06:09 And since we are speaking about rants, Phil, what are they like these days as we're emerging from the pandemic in San Diego? Are they higher? Are they lower?

Speaker 2: 06:18 Rents are higher right now actually during the first part of the pandemic, most of 2020 rents were flat. They were not increasing, which is very rare for San Diego, even during the great recession our rents were going up. So the fact that there was a brief period of time where rents were about flat, which means they didn't increase year over year was extremely significant for San Diego County. But in the last few months, we have seen rents tick up in San Diego. So countywide rents are up 5%, according to real estate tracker CoStar, that's about $1,940 a month average. So it's sort of interesting because if you look at these big nationwide reports on rent, San Diego is one of the few markets in the entire nature where rents have been increasing.

Speaker 1: 07:05 And when is the Blackstone deal expected to close?

Speaker 2: 07:08 It's expected to close in the next few weeks, Blackstone is saying in the second quarter, 2021. And by my calendar, that's about in six weeks, it's going to be over. So, uh, that is probably going to be in the next few weeks.

That was Phillip Molnar, reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition host Maureen Kavanaugh.

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Iran’s “There is no evil” won the golden bear, the top prize at the Berlin film festival last year. now it opens virtually at digital gym cinema. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says it is well worth seeking out.

There Is No Evil serves up four thematically linked tales about Iran’s death penalty and the service men tasked with performing the executions. Each stories explores different choices as characters willingly comply, defiantly resist, or are coerced into following orders.
Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof was recently sentenced to prison for films Iranian authorities found to be “propaganda against the system.” He is appealing the conviction and latest film does not back away from questioning his government. But while he’s critical of Iran’s death penalty his film is humane and compassionate as it looks to how each character grapples with his options and then deals with the consequences.
There is No Evil is stunningly cinematic as it contemplates provocative moral questions. It’s both specifically Iranian and universally accessible.

That was KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. You can check out “There is No Evil” at digitalgym-dot-org

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.