Letters were judged by the Press editorial staff for strength of argument, rhetorical reasoning and use of language.
After careful consideration, the Press has named its top four choices, with the winner awarded $100, second awarded $50, and three others awarded $25. The winning letters are printed here.
Thank you to everyone who submitted a letter. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more letters that were submitted in the contest.
And please, keep writing in. We always want to hear Your Voice.
Get involved in your local schools
In Stockton, where I am employed in education, we are facing the full brunt of social and economic disintegration — poverty, illegitimacy, broken families, gang violence and illiteracy. We have problems with not enough money to fix all of them, nor, with a trillion-dollar federal deficit, are we likely to get the money anytime soon.
We could not begin to get a handle on these challenges without community support. Our school is making great strides, but there are always students who need more individual attention. At the school I work in, University of the Pacific is providing us with more than 50 mentors for some of our struggling students.
Churches and retired people have also brought volunteers to help. Several students have had their lives turned around by these good Samaritans. Volunteers are helping many to read so they can compete in today’s global economy.
We have a city councilman, our mayor, businessmen and businesswoman working with our students to teach them job skills, how to interview and provide internships. They are teaching our student leaders to get their friends out of gangs, and they are working with gang kids themselves as substitute mothers and fathers.
You might think that this is only Stockton’s problem. If that is the case, you would be very wrong. Gang violence and membership is growing here in Tracy, and many families here suffer the same maladies that occur in Stockton.
I strongly encourage you to walk over to your local school and offer to help. There is a youngster who is waiting for you to change his or her life. Encourage your neighbors, your churches, your civic groups to take a stand, and I encourage the school to let them know what they can do.
Take a stand now for your city and for the next generation.
Scott Hurban, Tracy
• Editor’s note: This originally ran in the Jan. 11 Tracy Press.
The changing seasons of unemployment
The first couple weeks of unemployment were divine. I got laid off on June 1, which is the absolute best time for that sort of thing, in my opinion — it’s like you’re being let go on summer vacation, where for a short window of time things are bright and frivolous, and your worries come much later, when the leaves begin to change colors.
So I did what pretty much anyone would’ve done after spending years commuting to Silicon Valley: I stayed put. I fixed up the house a little. I watched some TV. I read. At high noon, I lay out beneath the boiling Valley sun. And of course, I looked for another job.
Six months later, I’ve got neither the time nor the resources for sunbathing. The biting wind stings my face, and as I pass mostly empty business spaces in downtown Tracy, I wonder why it’s so much harsher here than anywhere else I’ve lived.
I round the corner to the little hometown coffee shop, which in contrast to its desolate surroundings, is enlivened by default. “How can a place like this stay in business with six or seven Starbucks within a mile?” I think to myself. It’s midweek, midday, and the place is curiously peppered with customers; I can’t tell if the younger ones are actually burdened by unemployment, or if the older folks have actually achieved retirement. But the staff is friendly and the coffee is good, so it makes sense.
Before I know it, my order’s ready, but it’s too hot to drink right away. I’ll give it a couple minutes. By the time it takes to drive the distance from here to my place, it’ll no doubt be the right temperature for another frenzied hunt for work in the Bay Area.
Sean McNie, Tracy
Animals get short end of budget stick
When states and municipalities are cash-strapped, three areas invariably lose funds. The developmentally disabled, because they don’t vote. Library hours, because government prefers we don’t know too much. The third is animal services. In Tracy, as in cities across the nation, it gets chump change.
The obvious reason is that animals don’t vote, and aside from Mr. Ed, cannot speak up. Another reason is that humans believe they’re more important, since they’re more intelligent. Considering our nation’s massive debt and phony wars, that is open to debate.
The Tracy Animal Shelter is a sad, antiquated eyesore situated in a foul-smelling desolate site that is hardly inviting to prospective adopters. It’s euthanasia rates are better than the national average, but that isn’t saying much. We can’t know exact statistics, but the general consensus of those who study the situation is that 3 million to 5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States annually. With the funds the city, state and federal governments squander on foolishness, every dog and cat in the nation could be spayed or neutered, and even cared for all its life.
And props go to the greedy backyard breeders who crank out pit bulls and Chihuahua puppies to sell on Craigslist, where it is called “re-homing,” knowing full well the market is already flooded. Many pups that don’t sell wind up abandoned, given away for free to the first crazy person, used for experiments, or more breeding. Many of these “entrepreneurs” live and operate out of Tracy.
Add to that those humans who are too cheap and lazy to have their cats fixed. We’ll see the result of that on our streets and in the shelter this summer.
Aside from its budgetary aspects, it is a moral issue, all of us doing the right thing.
Carl Dellanno, Tracy
Time to rethink education
Universities love to say no.
As the selectivity of universities increases, pressure on students to do well in school increases, also. This leads to students being more concerned with their grades than the actual material being taught.
Whether this means cheating or doing enough work just to receive the points, learning becomes a last concern, a second thought. Instead of fostering the best and the brightest, students find ways to simply get by. Grades no longer become an accurate representation of a students’ intellect, but instead an empty letter, a reflection of how well they worked the system.
If universities continue to dwindle their acceptance rates and raise their expectations, students will continue to shift their focus on the superficial letter grades, rather than learning.
With the education system itself forcing students to not value knowledge, what is the purpose? The future leaders of our country will not necessarily be the most apt, but instead the most conniving, or those that look best on paper. Instead of being well-rounded individuals, students are simply a rank, a GPA — just another statistic — and eventually, ill-fit leaders of society.
This cycle must be broken. And it is our job to do so. Learning and knowledge are the reason for education. It is not about the grade, nor the GPA, nor the rank. We have lost sight of that, and because of this, education has lost its meaning.
It is time to step back and realize what has become of the school system, and reprioritize what is important. It is time to applaud effort and progress. It is time to applaud improvement and discovery.
Only when a passion and thirst for learning is introduced, will education find its way to a purpose once more.
Anumita Kaur, Tracy
A downtown of great neighbors
You hear it all the time — get to know your neighbors. Leave your social networks behind and take a walk.
So, my special education students and I took this advice and went Christmas caroling to our 10th Street downtown neighbors. Starting at the Tracy Community Center, we packed up our bells and hats, I strapped on my guitar, and off we walked.
Our first stop was Fagundes' Garage. Outside, we saw three men hunkered down under the open hood of an old truck. "Can we sing you a few Christmas Carols?" we asked. "Why?" one of the men replied. "Because, how many times has anyone Christmas caroled to their favorite car mechanics?" We sang one quick round of “Jingle Bells.” Great neighbors!
The students next chose Allure Salon & Spa. The salon chairs were filled with women in various stages of holiday makeovers. And with their voices — and curling irons, scissors and brushes — raised, we all sang. Great neighbors!
Our next stop was The Roasted Bean. Desiree and Alfonzo Lim, the managers, welcomed us and sang along. The next thing we knew, they were filming us for Facebook. (For the cause, we allowed one social network). After we finished singing, we purchased hot chocolate and snacks as we watched the Facebook replay. Great neighbors!
We walked past Main Street Music when out popped Ken Cefalo, the owner, to draw us back inside to sing as he took pictures. Great neighbor!
We stopped near the WIC store where three children and a parent stood. We sang “Jingle Bells,” and they clapped and thanked us. Great neighbors!
My students and I agreed that we would have a few stories to tell about all our great downtown Tracy neighbors.
Toni Lilley, Tracy