Name: Todd Groves
Occupation: Retired; lead volunteer for WriterCoach Connection at
Tell me a little bit about yourself. I used to do project management in the non-profit world for a long time and studied science, engineering and public policy. I like studying, and there’s a lot of interesting intellectual activities out there. I think kids don’t realize how big the world can be if you use your brain and how many different avenues are available. We want to bring a sense of possibility to the kids and the school, not compulsory activities, and a purpose. I want to communicate that and do what I can to bring that to every kid in El Cerrito and the schools in El Cerrito.
I moved to El Cerrito in 1996 — couldn’t afford to buy a house in Berkeley. I came to the Bay Area because of its long tradition of academic—just thinking. I like the thinking environment around here, and that’s what attracted me to this place. It was the center of bohemianism in all of its glory, and I wanted that to be available to my kids and to other kids. It’s a nice little town.
What inspired your passion for working with kids? I feel they’re getting ripped off, frankly. I see lots of really beautiful talented kids who have their potential run down. They become downtrodden and reject avenues that could be good for them. I’m trying to figure out what they can do to change that. My own kids went to El Cerrito public schools all the way through, and I saw them lose their love of learning, which was very discouraging.
What do you think are the problems facing West County kids? There are a lot of bad choices out there, a lot of bad opportunities. We need to be able to present kids with healthy opportunities and make them easier to access than the ones that have damaging consequences.
Have you seen it work? Do you have an example of a kid you were able to help? You’d probably have to talk to the kids. I do a math enrichment program at . It gets kids entranced by the beauty of thinking and problem solving. I have one student who was well above the curve mathematically and now is becoming very successful and winning awards and math competitions. I introduced him to that, and I feel very proud of that. I have another student who was routinely failing school. I spent a few days with him working on his understanding, and he came back and suddenly got an A. Little rewards — that these people are capable and that learning in itself is a rewarding activity.
Do you have a vision for an ideal environment for kids? Multiple paths open at all time for kids to find what interests them, what challenges them in a positive way. There’s plenty of challenges in our schools, but often it’s negative challenge: trying to resist chaos and inconsistencies. We want the sort of challenge to be: "I can do this better, I can achieve higher, I can really find my limit and I’m being helped to do that, I’m being guided to do that." That’s what I want to see, is that every kid has that opportunity to find what they’re good at and what they like, and that we do care as a community about every kid. Seventy percent of the kids in Kensington and East Richmond Heights now go to private school.
There’s great evidence that this community cares about its kids. We don’t seem to be able to resolve what it is it’s going to take in the school itself to make it more accessible for each child. And I’m not sure what it’s going to take, but we’re going to keep trying different things, until it works.
The policy right now is built toward a very, I’m not sure if it’s antiquated, idea of attainment. Scoring high on English and math is the sole goal of our policy, and it doesn’t seem to reach the kids at a time when they have so many opportunities to become absorbed in technology. It’s an odd time to be a child. There are a lot of forces at work. We need to be more creative at how we deal with it. The public schools are the only plausible route that I can see, and I’ve really been thinking about it a lot. I’m going to try and do what it takes.
It takes a village to raise a child. Well, this is a village. We should raise every child in it. We need to rethink the way we look at schools in El Cerrito and what happens to every kid in here. Most of the kids in our public schools don’t come from El Cerrito, but they’re here and they’re ours. We need to treat them as if they were our own children and give them every chance of success we would give our own children.
What are your favorite things to do for fun? Reading and thinking. A lot of focusing on lofty issues. That’s what I do for fun. I don’t know why, but I find it fortifying. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea (laughs).