Caleb’s Law: Step One Change-Makers in Action

    Caleb Sears

    After the tragic death of Caleb Sears in March 2015 as a result of unsafe dental anesthesia, his aunt Annie Kaplan, his parents Eliza and Tim Sears, and a team of family and friends took on the cause of saving other children from these preventable deaths. Caleb’s Law, AB 2235, is now in effect as of January 1st, 2017, thanks to their fight. Caleb was a beloved member of our Step One community, as are his sister and cousins, and Step One is proud  to be associated with this team of change-makers and their life-saving work. Our interview with Annie Kaplan is below : more on Caleb’s Law and his story here.

    Congratulations on the passage of Caleb's Law. Can you give us some background on this fight and how you got involved?

    When Caleb passed away, our family wanted to understand what happened. I was a general surgery resident so I looked at the medical records. I saw that the procedures used in the dental office were below the standard of care in other medical fields.

    The personnel giving anesthesia in dentists’ offices have limited training. Pediatric dentists train for one month, versus years for an anesthesiologist. Dentists and oral surgeons can also administer anesthesia alone: in a hospital there’s always a second person monitoring. We realized that the problem was nation-wide. People were dying; four children died in California in 2015 because of this. We had to try to change that.

    How did you move forward with an approach? And how has Caleb's Law evolved?

    The Step One community has been part of this from the beginning. Kavita Trivedi, a physician and Step One parent, was helping. Her husband Sanjay Ranchod (on the Step One board) knows the political process. He said, let's write a law. We approached Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, whose children are also Step One alums, and he sponsored it.

    At first we attempted to legislate a separate anesthesia provider, but the California dentists’ lobby is powerful and they were able to stop it. We instead passed a version that focuses on gathering information and bringing it into the light.

    We’re definitely celebrating that success. It's been hard to advocate for solutions with no data. Now, all that information will be studied, and dental professionals will have to explain the risks to families. Caleb's Law has also put a spotlight on the issue in a way that’s leading to change. California's Dental Board put together an investigation and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists has convened a task force. Many dentists and oral surgeons want to do the right thing, and Caleb's Law makes it easier for those within the profession to agitate for change.

    And, we’ll be back. We're not done with this fight.

    What does the future hold for you? And, what have you learned about creating change through your time working on Caleb's Law?

    Now that I've gotten a taste of advocacy, I don't think I'll ever completely stop. I would like to combine advocacy with clinical medicine. I think I'll be a better advocate if I'm in the trenches seeing patients and passionate about what I'm advocating for.

    I've learned that making change is possible. You have to scream really loud, even when no one seems to listen. It's hard work, but possible. Also, no one can make change alone. You need a community behind you. During this whole process, when I've reached out for help, when our family has reached out, the Step One community has been there.

    I've learned that it's possible to take a loss that's completely terrible, the worst thing in the world, and to build a change from it that can make a difference. There's a family in Virginia whose child died in a dental procedure. They tried to fight this nine years ago, and the dental lobby shut their effort down. Caleb's Law is for them, too, and for children in California and eventually around the country.

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    Anti-Bias Education in the Classroom: A Conversation with Anthony Taylor, Room 2

    Anthony Taylor with Room 2 Kids

    Anthony Taylor has taught at Step One School since 2005, and brings his passion for and commitment to anti-bias education to Room 2. He spoke with us about the philosophy that guides his classroom teaching and all of Step One’s anti-bias work. Thank you, Anthony, and all our Step One faculty, for setting kids on a path to feel comfortable in their own skin, celebrate difference, stand up for themselves and each other, and act with a concern for love and justice.

    How did you get started with anti-bias and change-maker education? What makes this work important to you, personally?

    While in high school I became aware of the disparities in the world between people. I saw haves and have-nots (in terms of economics, race, gender). I wanted to work to change this, but I wasn’t sure how.

    I then got into trouble at 17, and my mom, who was an early childhood educator and an advocate for people my whole life, made me come to work with her every day. She taught at a wealthy school that was next to a homeless shelter, and she spoke out to say “We need to serve these children” and worked to get half the kids into the school and onto financial aid. First there was resistance among some of the affluent families, but over time I saw all the families connect, through their children. I also saw the difference that the teachers made to this community of families and decided that this was how I wanted to go about making change in the world.

    I began to learn about anti-bias education during my time at Pacific Oaks Children’s School, which is where anti-bias education got its start in the United States.  This was a great way to get a working foundation.  It took on an even deeper importance when I got involved in an interracial relationship and my bi-racial children were born.

    What are your goals for anti-bias education?

    I want children to be comfortable with who they are, who their family is, and to be comfortable with others, with differences of all kinds. The ultimate goal is to recognize bias and be courageous enough to stand up against it. Starting the year, I look at the kids and say “I want 24 allies to come out of this classroom.”

    How do you achieve those goals practically, through your classroom teaching?

    To teach this way, teachers need to look inward at ourselves, then we can start with the children. Physically, culturally, around family dynamics: we want kids to have pride in who they are. We start with conversations about self and family, and then about similarities and differences, using tools like skin tone paints, self-portraits, and family collages. The kids really treasure the family collages and look at each other’s families again and again.

    To recognize bias, we want to help raise  children to see all the places in society that we subliminally get messages from. Children are naturally categorizers, very prone to sorting people into boxes. Sadly, companies know that, and we wind up in a fight against media. At a very young age our society and media tell children that boys are one way, girls are another. We’re offering children such narrow roles.

    In the classroom, we want to help children see that not all women or men are a certain way. That’s why it’s so important to have a diverse staff: lots of men, lots of women, lots of people from different backgrounds. Then children can see that each person is an individual. People are only examples of themselves, not representatives of a certain group.

    We also think about how we talk to the children, what we reinforce. So many comments are made every day about a girl’s looks or her clothes. We avoid those comments, because we want children to feel we're happy about who they are, not that we care about what they're wearing.

    How do you help kids understand ideas of justice and bias: more abstract concepts? How do you make sure you’re educating children about many different aspects of difference? (Race, class, gender, ability, etc.?)

    For young kids, their world is here. We start with their family and their school because that makes sense to them: we work with their own concept of fairness. By thinking about that, we can move to understanding bias. We might say to a child, “Would it be fair for people to not play with you because you have blond hair?”

    You don’t want to have one child in the classroom be a token for anything, whether it’s their heritage or having a disability, so we have lots of diverse books and images around the classroom. These also help us see how the children respond. For instance, one child was thrown by a picture of an adult with a prosthetic limb. Because the image was there, we were able to see her reaction and work with it.

    Children notice difference even before they’re a year old. Sometimes differences worry them. Sometimes their response is more about curiosity. But if they ask an embarrassing question and we shush them, it feels like what they said is taboo. That makes them think there’s something bad about the person who is different from them. So we encourage them to interact with each other and with people they meet around difference, and to do so in a polite, appropriate way. Our role is to support their questions, while also helping them have healthy and respectful interactions.

    My son Sage went to a daycare where he was the only child of color. He was 5 or 6 months old; I would put Sage down and all the white toddlers would come up and touch his hair. They were coming from a good place, but it was overwhelming for him. As a classroom teacher now, I would support a child being interested in hair that’s different from their own, while also teaching them that you need to ask before you touch someone else’s body or hair.

    I understand you sometimes use a change-maker curriculum in Room 2. Could you tell me a little bit about how that works?

    Our kids are at the age where they are learning to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. They learn about bad guys and superheroes, and they think, a superhero will protect me. Then they realize that superheroes aren’t real, but bad guys are. It can be hard for them to still feel safe.

    That’s where we start with the change-maker curriculum: people who make change even without super-powers. We ask the children, who takes care of you, who are your real-life heroes? It can start out small and simple. A hug in the yard can change someone’s day. Slowly, from there, you get to the great struggles for social change, for rights and equality.

    We also work with children on the whole idea of good guy and bad guy, trying to complicate that perspective. We discuss how people make mistakes. Did you ever get upset and do something you didn’t want to do? How do we support people who made inappropriate choices?

    We talk about history: that there was a time people thought if the color of your skin was ‘different’, you had to have different rules. We might say things like: “At that time, some people thought you had to keep people apart. Isn’t that silly? Is that fair? What if I told you that If you have pants on, you can’t have snack? Some people noticed that that wasn’t fair, and they wanted to change it.”

    We also discuss how making change can be scary. We talk about standing up for our friends here at school. What do you do when you hear a friend get called a name? How do you help them? How do you support each other? We want to encourage our kids to act even when they might face pressure to be silent.

    Is there anything else you would want Step One families and alumni to know about anti-bias work in the classroom?

    How important their participation is to what we’re doing. We can do all the work in the world with the children, but their parents are a much bigger influence. We are here with the children for an amazing but brief stint, and there are going to be so many examples in the world against what we’re trying to teach. We need the families working with us. We are changing the world through the children and families who will go out into the world and change others.


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    Learning to Be Together: The Legacy of Music at Step One


    Aaron Calvert Leads a Singing Circle

    Aaron Calvert and Eric Hart are both talented teachers who bring their passion for music to their students and practicing musicians who make kids' music that’s funny,tuneful, and honest. Aaron Calvert has taught at Step One since 2000, and currently teaches in the nursery school in Room 5. Eric Hart has taught in the two-year-old program in Room 3 since 2002. They team up together to play music and sing with children in Room 1 every afternoon.

    Eric Hart Performs for Students Outside

    Tell me about Step One’s musical history and legacy as you experienced it.

    Aaron: I started at Step One in the year 2000. When I came in, I was a green teacher, and music was something I brought with me, something I knew. The room I worked in had a guitar and a piano, and my mentor teacher, Katie, played both.

    Right away, I was turned on to the Jane Timberlake catalogue of songs, and their magic. Jane is an amazing musician and performer who taught at Step One from the mid-80s to the mid-90s; she wrote “Al the Alligator”. Her songs are so special because she doesn't sugarcoat anything. They’re not cutesy, they are real songs and stories, done in an inviting way.

    Eric: For me, Step One's musical history begins with our director Sue Britson. Sue has a beautiful voice and she loves how kids and adults relate to music. So I've felt such support around sharing my own passion for it: when I started teaching at Step One 15 years ago, I brought a guitar to my interview. The first time I met the kids, I played them a song.

    Jane Timberlake’s songs have meant so much to me as well. When I came to Step One, Aaron and Charlie Vincent (Step One teacher from 1983 to 2013) were singing her catalogue. Those songs are brilliant: age-appropriate, thoughtful, full of human rights and environmental consciousness, imaginative, with wonderful, folky, easygoing melodies.

    Jane Timberlake, Author of Al the Alligator, with Guitar

    What do you think the kids get out of singing and performing music?

    Aaron: It’s really important to expose children to people who are excited and enthused about music and singing. It's very common for people to not want to sing because they feel like they're “not doing it right.” Even teachers! What I love about our time singing at Step One is that it's promoting community, togetherness, and that music is fun.

    Eric: Kids get so much from music. They get language skills, vocabulary, understanding of other countries, cultures, worlds and traditions; being creative. I love teaching kids that people wrote the songs they sing using their imaginations, and that they can write their own songs.

    What role does music have in your teaching?

    Eric: I use music with the 2-year-olds to get their energy out, soothe them, and connect with them. I love seeing kids connect to songs that they already know. If you play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for a two-year-old, they feel that they already know you.

    Aaron: Music time in my classrooms is a very nurturing time with a lot of humor. It's like a family gathering, a ritualistic moment that happens the same time every day. Music gives everyone a role in the large group, and it’s also a way to celebrate the quirkiness of our classroom. We play a lot of games through song, too. There's turn-taking, and acting and props. It winds up being like a big story, or play, or a family car ride. We're all in it together, making something.

    You two work together every afternoon to sing and play with our Room One kids and the older children during Arts Enrichment time. Is there anything you’d want to say about that experience?

    Eric: One thing I think of is the difference between working with the TK kids versus the 2-year-olds in Room 3. I counted last year and we taught the 2-year-olds over 60 songs at Circle Time. The kids in room 3 usually come in knowing 100-200 words and that just skyrockets in our first month with them, so it’s great to be giving them all the language in the songs while they are having their language explosion.

    When you’re talking about TK, the number of songs we teach them is in the hundreds. I think of all the language, poetry, and thoughtfulness the kids are getting, and the emotional learning, too. We’ve been singing the standard “Blue Skies”, and one of our TK kids said, "When we sing this it makes me feel really calm."

    Aaron: All the teachers have a certain magic, their special way with kids. Eric and I do it with a guitar. That circle time ritual, through song and dance and story, it brings us together. It all comes back to Jane Timberlake. We sing a lot of her songs with that group, and they touch on real emotions.

    Honoring real emotions and feelings with kids can open up your soul to love and kindness. You don’t have to cheer someone up because they are sad: you honor that sadness, because you have to know sadness to really know happiness. You're nurturing children and showing up for them when you show them that.

    In the group, singing and playing, we're working on the skill of being together and wanting to be together, and those are the skills needed to build a new world. In that community every afternoon, I get a glimpse of how I want the world to be.

    Charlie Vincent, Eric Hart, and Aaron Calvert Perform

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    January Director's Letter

    Dear Step One Friends and Family,

    As the new year begins, I find myself considering a paradox. Our days at Step One continue to be joyful, positive, and full of hope, as days with young children should be. And yet the truth is, for many of us, these are challenging and uncertain times.

    But perhaps this isn’t as much of a contradiction as it might first appear. In our children’s optimism, we see the promise that motivates us to stand up for a better world, even when times get tough. That sense of joy and hope has inspired us at Step One for the past 35 years. As Director, I find myself cherishing the community we build here more now than ever.

    On that note, January’s issue of Step One Connect focuses on the work our teachers, families, alumni, and students do to choose love and work for positive change. From the classroom to the halls of government, our Step One community is making a difference, and I’m so excited to share that with you.

    In this month’s teacher profile, Anthony Taylor shares his take on anti-bias and change-maker education in the preschool classroom. His inspiring, thoughtful account shows me why Step One’s teachers are our most treasured resource, and why elementary schools recognize Step One graduates as remarkable leaders and classroom citizens.

    This edition of our newsletter also interviews teachers Aaron Calvert and Eric Hart about the traditions and impact of music at Step One. As Aaron says, describing playing music with Eric and our TK students: “In that community every afternoon, I get a glimpse of how I want the world to be.”

    Current parent Annie Kaplan and her family are perhaps the most remarkable example. In this newsletter, Annie details her successful and ongoing fight to make dental anesthesia safer for children. She and her family, with help from Step One friends, took up this cause after the loss of Caleb Sears, beloved Step One alum. Without diminishing their tremendous loss, they have honored Caleb’s memory by protecting other children and families.   

    In the words of Step One standard ‘The Magic Penny’ by Malvina Reynolds, “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” At Step One, we’ve seen that the more love we give, the more love flows into our families, our communities, and our world. We band together in that spirit, and whatever challenges the year brings, the Step One community will be working together to face them.

    In Love and Strength,
    Sue Britson

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    How Step One Can You Be? - January 2017

    How Step One Can You Be?

    In a riff on the famous 'How Berkeley Can You Be?,' here are moments that make us stop and think "Wow, that's so Step One." Some memories are funny, some are sweet, some encapsulate Step One values, and all of them are just about as Step One as they can be. Enjoy, and send us yours for future issues (write to

    Young change-makers: our Afternoon Arts Enrichment kids were reading one of the “Dinosaurs” books by Mark Teague and Jane Yolen and realized that all the dinosaurs were referred to as "he" and "him." They were disappointed and came up with the idea of writing this letter to the authors to ask for a change.

    Letter to Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

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