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Central Valley school counselor wins national award for ‘relentless’ work with students

Jacob Scott

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Photo courtesy Alma Lopez

The importance of kindness is one of the initiatives that Alma Lopez leads at Livingston Middle School.

When Alma Lopez was in middle school in the Central Valley, she learned about college for the first time, not from her teachers or counselors, but when she saw someone wearing a Fresno State T-shirt.

Until then, she did not know what college was. But that T-shirt made a deep impression, offering a glimpse into opportunities she did not know existed. Lopez later earned two degrees from Fresno State and now works as a middle school counselor herself, ensuring that middle school students are well familiar with college and career options long before they’re seniors.

Alma Lopez is the American School Counselor Association’s Counselor of the Year.

“I don’t want kids to see a T-shirt and wonder, what’s that? I want them to see themselves at these colleges. I want them to think, ‘Could I be an architect? An engineer? A teacher?’” said Lopez, who works at Livingston Middle School in Merced County. “A lot of families in our district moved to the U.S. in search of a better life for their kids. As someone who’s been there, I want to make sure every student has the opportunities they deserve.”

Lopez’s efforts to change the trajectories of her students won the attention of the American School Counselor Association, which last month named her National Counselor of the Year. Lopez is the first Californian, the first Latina and one of the first rural counselors to win the honor.

Valerie Hardy, a member of the association’s selection committee, praised Lopez’s deep commitment to her community and her “relentless focus” on helping her students. “As a first-generation college attendee, Ms. Lopez serves as an inspiration for her students, her community and the profession,” Hardy said.

The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, Lopez grew up in Lathrop, south of Stockton in the Central Valley, with her parents and four siblings. Her father, who worked as a construction laborer, didn’t attend school past sixth grade. Her mother, a housewife, never made it past second grade.

Lopez described her parents as “brilliant people” who made enormous sacrifices for the sake of their children. But the lack of formal education prevented them from reaching their potential. “If they had a chance, they could have achieved so much more,” she said.

After receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fresno State, in 2006 Lopez accepted a counseling job in Livingston, a close-knit, rural farming community known for its sweet potatoes and vineyards. When she was hired, Lopez was the only counselor for 2,500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, spread over three elementary schools and a middle school. More than 80% of the students are from low-income immigrant families from Latin America or South Asia. Half are English learners.

“The needs are many. … Some students have endured hardships I can’t even comprehend,” Lopez said. “But I fell in love with the Livingston community. It reminded me of my own childhood in the rural valley. There’s a strong sense of family, and everyone takes care of one another.”

Despite the challenges, Lopez was undaunted. Although she saw some students one-on-one, she focused most of her efforts on schoolwide activities that could reach the largest number of students. She conducted large-scale events and campaigns focused on substance abuse prevention, anti-bullying and everyday kindness. She spoke to classes and small groups, relied on local nonprofits such as food banks and health clinics to help struggling families, and arranged frequent tours to University of California Merced, UC Davis and other colleges.

But when California enacted its Local Control Funding Formula for schools in the early 2010s, Lopez saw an opportunity to revolutionize counseling services for her students. She lobbied the superintendent and other school leaders to use their newfound budget flexibility on student mental health and wellness, which Lopez saw as crucial for students’ success.

“I told them we could have a huge impact if we invested in more counselors. If we had the staff, we could really do a lot with suicide prevention, teaching empathy … and they agreed with me,” Lopez said. “They said, ‘We’re going to invest half a million dollars in school counseling. Let’s make an impact in the lives of our kids.’”

Livingston now has five counselors for its K-eight student population, and Lopez has designed a comprehensive, districtwide counseling program that serves students as well as their families. The investment appears to have paid off. Livingston Union School District has a chronic absenteeism rate and suspension rate that is far lower than the state average, and English and math standardized test scores are consistently improving, according to the California School Dashboard.

Gurleen Bassi is among the students who say Lopez changed their lives. As a shy eighth grader, Bassi fell into a funk when her grandmother died and her family planned to move to Washington. It all happened so quickly that Bassi felt bereft and alone.

“It was such a weird time. I felt the world was going to stop,” Bassi said recently.

But just before she left, Lopez discreetly handed Bassi a packet. Inside were dozens of cards and letters from her classmates wishing her well. Bassi still has the packet and credits Lopez with getting her through a terrible time in her life, even when she was no longer a student in Livingston.

“She kept in touch, asking me how things were going, what I was up to. She made me feel so supported,” Bassi said. “She guided me out of my shell and got me through such a hard time in my life.”

Bassi is now in college in Washington, studying radiology. She likely wouldn’t be there without Lopez’s encouragement, she said.

Alejandra Sicairos has a similar story. As a middle school student, she struggled with a variety of personal obstacles and found it hard to focus on school. In her gentle way, Lopez made it clear that Sicairos could visit the counseling office whenever she wanted.

“Miss Alma made her office a safe place. If I was having a hard day, I could just go there — she had puzzles, magazines, a tissue box. It was what I needed,” Sicairos said. “She also gave me the confidence to push myself and pursue harder classes.”

Sicairos is now a freshman at UC Santa Cruz studying game design, the first in her family to attend a UC.

“I am not at all surprised that Miss Alma is National Counselor of the Year,” Sicairos said. “That title is accurate.”

The pandemic has brought a new set of challenges to Lopez. At least nine students in Livingston Middle School lost their primary caregiver to Covid, she said, and countless others lost grandparents or other loved ones, or had their lives disrupted by economic uncertainty.

A suicide-prevention survey Lopez conducted in September found that a fourth of the middle school — roughly 200 students — said they needed help and wanted to talk to a counselor. Lopez and her counseling team have met individually with all 200 students and either referred them to therapists in the community or addressed students’ needs directly.

Still, Lopez remains energized about her job. She’s back to leading college tours, getting to know new families and often drops off students who need rides home from school. She’s even learning Punjabi, to better communicate with families from South Asia.

“I love that no two days are the same. Half the time I don’t even feel like it’s work,” she said. “Even when it’s hard, I feel privileged to help young people become good human beings.”

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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