In this issue:


Student Achievements

Congratulations to July’s SAT English student Miranda Le for showing the greatest improvement during the course. Miranda raised her Critical Reading score by 100 points. Great work for only two weeks!
Megan Yen, an IYE student in 2008-2009, will attend U.C. Berkeley in the fall. Megan’s mother is Jennifer Zhuang, a math tutor whom IYE recommends very highly. Contact Jennifer for information about math tutoring.

Our Recent Book Worms

It takes persistence to finish something you start, even an exciting book!

Last month, Yunji Lee, Lynn Chui, and Kelvin Zhang all finished reading the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. The book may only be 14 chapters long, but it contains unique 737 vocabulary words!

Apart from A Study in Scarlet, Lynn Chui has also finished Call of the Wild, which contains 472 vocabulary words.

Shaya Nikfar also completed Call of the Wild. Her sister, Neeka Nikfar, has finished reading Anne of Green Gables, which contains 573 vocabulary words.

Catherine Kim has finished reading Tom Sawyer, which has 38 chapters with 472 vocabulary words.

Alexandra Li, rising sixth grader, completed her first book with IYE, The Secret Garden, which is 27 chapters long with 237 unique vocabulary words.

Shishir Neelakant has finished Red Badge of Courage. That’s 24 chapters with 651 words!

Diagramming Challenge Winner

Aashia Mehta, who completed the first half of the diagramming book in June, correctly solved our first diagramming challenge! The sentence was, "Playing Scrabble and reading, we sat on the back porch and watched the cows," which she diagrammed below:

For winning, she will receive a $10 gift certificate to Barnes & NobleCongratulations, Aashia!

Student Writing of the Month

As our summer Creative Writing class comes to an end, we proudly present several excerpts. Click here to read these excerpts by Riya Singh (rising 6th grader), Michelle Tan (rising 9th), and Kevin Lau (rising 10th).

In this summer’s creative writing class with Ann Hillesland, students explored many far-flung locations, including Russia, India, Alaska, and New York on the morning of September 11th. They imagined lives as secret agents, ghost hunters, and disastrous baby sitters, as well as mining the interest in their own lives: getting a new pet, going to summer camp, playing games while on a long car trip, and visiting a childhood home after an absence. The creative writing class gave them all a fun and challenging way to grow as writers and prepare for future creative assignments such as college entrance essays and short story competitions.


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California’s Two-Year Community Colleges

Many U.S. colleges boast of their selectivity, which means they take pride in how many students they reject. Perhaps they are right to do so. But California’s community colleges have an opposite and quintessentially American reason for pride: they give every student the chance for an education. Last year, nearly three million students attended one of California’s 112 community college campuses.
There are many reasons to choose a community college like those in Saratoga, Cupertino, and Los Altos.

1. Money

Community colleges are the best educational bargain in the state; annual tuition is one-tenth that of a UC campus. At Saratoga’s West Valley College campus, for example, this year’s freshmen will pay $1,288; at the University of California, fees and tuition are ten times as much. In addition, the extra expense of living away from home makes a UC education cost $30,000 per year total—far more than local residents pay at any California community college.

Community colleges offer the same full range of financial assistance available to students attending four-year colleges. Students from very poor families qualify for an immediate fee waiver at the time they apply. All students can ride to classes without charge on bus 23, which arrives at De Anza’s front door every 12-15 minutes.

2. Excellence

Lower-division courses used for transfer credit are equivalent in curriculum to those at four-year colleges. IYE tutor Ann Hillesland, who took community college classes while enrolled at UC Berkeley, says her Chabot College instructors were as good or better than the graduate teaching assistants who handle most of the freshman and sophomore teaching load at four-year colleges.

Although easy to get into and easy to pay for, community colleges are not so easy to transfer out of at the end of two years. The number of successful transfer students who go on to earn a four-year degree is measured in thousands, not millions.  For example, Cupertino’s De Anza College, one of the best community colleges in California, sent 36 students to Berkeley and more than 600 to other UC campuses in 2011.

You are automatically eligible to transfer into the UC system from a community college if you take the right courses and do well in them. You may also be able transfer to a private university. If your goal, for example, is to transfer to USC from West Valley College, look for the “articulation agreement” that tells you exactly which courses you need to take.

IYE tutor Dr. Mary Lynn Wilson got her start as a university professor from the instructors at the College of San Mateo. She attended for two years before going on to earn a PhD at UCLA. Heather Noonan, another of our Berkeley alumni, also attended community college before her transfer.

3. Stay at home

Thousands of students with comfortable family circumstances attend community colleges even though they could afford another college. You might need to stay home to help care for an elderly parent or grandparent. You might want to stay with a new brother or sister. Or you might want to run a tech startup from the basement of your parents’ home.

4.  A second chance

If you weren’t admitted to your first choice college, you may be able to transfer there in your junior year. Your chances of transferring to a UC campus are better from a community college than from four-year colleges such as San Jose State. Be honest, too, about your academic preparation. You may not be ready yet for the college of your dreams; working hard in community college transfer classes will help you get that way.

5. Not everyone needs to go to a four-year college

This job opening for an electrician at Sonoma State University advertises a starting salary of $55,000—more than the salary of an assistant professor.  True, if he lives long enough and pays off his college loans, the professor will earn more at the upper end of the pay scale, but he could take years to reach that point.

In addition, the job prospects for full-time employment as an electrician are considerably better than they are for college professors.  Foothill College offers the necessary 168 hours per year of instruction required of union apprentice electricians.

6. Have fun

Community colleges really do support the entire community—not just their students. This year, De Anza will bring Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, Sanjay Gupta and other celebrity speakers to Cupertino. In the college’s Flint Center, local audiences will have the chance to hear the Vienna Boys Choir and Moscow Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.

And kids of all ages can learn about sailing, belly dancing, and hiking the Santa Cruz mountains.

But the primary purpose of California’s community colleges is to give every student in California a chance for a college education. If you are headed off to Berkeley, UCLA or another highly selective university, congratulations. You deserve a lot of credit. But think for a minute about others your age who are going elsewhere. You’ve probably had advantages that they didn’t.

As a top student, you no doubt know Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus.” Surely you do. Perhaps you’ve even seen it in New York harbor:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Just as we have welcomed hundreds of millions to our country with a generosity of spirit unmatched on the planet, so California’s community colleges welcome all who yearn for education. Send these, they say, regardless of grades, SAT scores, or the social approval of alumni. Opportunity awaits.

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  Steve High,

Strunk and White’s Rule 12:
Choose a suitable design and hold to it.

by Steve High

Rule 12, “Choose a suitable design and hold to it,” is one of E.B. White’s own additions to The Elements of Style.  White had never written a book about writing or grammar before, and I imagine this principle was in his mind as he struggled to modernize and reshape Strunk’s original guide.

At first, you might mistake Rule 12 for the familiar admonition to identify a thesis statement before you begin to write. But this rule is about form, not content.

When you sit down to write, you are free to write a poem, a play, a short story, an angry comment on a YouTube video, or, indeed, anything you choose.

Once you’ve begun, however, you quickly find that your freedom has narrowed. For example, if you have written the first line of a limerick about an old man with a beard, you’ve required of yourself that the second line end in a word like “feared,” “leered,” or “steered.”

Similarly, once you’ve written the first four lines of a sonnet, you have two quatrains and a concluding couplet yet to go. Indeed, before you even begin to write a single word of your poem, you know that you will be done in exactly fourteen lines.

Of course, most literary forms are defined less precisely than limericks or sonnets. If you wish to write a novel, for example, you may find that M. Chevally’s definition—“a fiction in prose of a certain length”—gives you little guidance.

But it gives you some. In addition, you have read novels, and you have an idea of what one is. If you don’t, read some more before you sit down to write your own. You might also consult E.M. Forster, in whose Aspects of the Novel I first encountered Chevally’s charming definition.

Berkeley professor Ralph Wilson Rader told us that the difference between novels and real life is that novels have a beginning, middle, and an end whereas real life is just one thing after another. No matter how closely a novel sticks to the facts of the writer’s experience, it must be shaped to fit between the covers of a book and, more important, the limits of the reader’s patience.

There are no good writers who are not also good readers. If you aspire to write a novel, I suggest you start with Alcott and end with Zangwill.

And don’t neglect our latest recommended reading, Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs. Like Jewett’s 1905 novel, Sherwood Anderson’s 1915 Winesburg, Ohio and Tim O’Brien’s 1990 The Things They Carried all show just how “plastique,” as Chevally put it, is the form of the novel.  All three have the feel of short story collections that nonetheless cohere into what we recognize as a novel.

All of these writers began with a suitable design and stuck to it.

Be sure to do the same. Whether you’re writing a technical manual, college application essay, or book report, others before you have written works of the same shape you must aim for.

If you ignore Rule 12, as White warns elsewhere, there will be no end to your labors.

For answers to specific writing questions, email us here. Who knows? Your question may inspire our next article on Writing Tips.

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  Jen Jebens,

Loose vs. Lose

These two words may sound and look similar, but one letter can make a huge difference in meaning! However, you can avoid confusing your readers if you memorize their definitions.

Loose is most commonly used as an adjective that means “free from fastening or anything that binds.”

It’s important to tie up any loose ends before you go on vacation.

The zookeeper’s inattentiveness led to two loose polar bears prowling the streets.

Pauline realized she needed to buy more clothes after discovering all her pants were too loose.

Confusion can occur, however, because loose can also be a verb meaning “to untie, unfetter, or release.” Although there are some intransitive meanings of loose, it is most often used as a transitive verb.

With a keen eye, the archer loosed his arrow at the pheasant.

The cowboy loosed his horse to graze after a long day of herding cattle.

Marcy and James plan to loose a flock of doves during their wedding ceremony.

Lose, on the other hand, is a transitive verb meaning “to come to be without or fail to retain something.”

Because he could not complete all the work assigned to him, Theodore feared he might lose his job.

Worried that she might lose her keys again, Jacqueline bought a keychain that clipped to her backpack.

Because I botched my plan of attack, I fear I might lose this game of chess.

If you have trouble choosing the correct verb, try changing your sentence to the past tense to test it.

Present Tense Correct Past Tense Incorrect Past Tense
I frequently lose games of chess. I frequently lost games of chess. I frequently loosed games of chess.
The warrior looses a hail of arrows on the enemy’s front lines. The warrior loosed a hail of arrows on the enemy’s front lines. The warrior lost a hail of arrows on the enemy’s front lines.
Sometimes Jim loses his keys right before work. Sometimes Jim lost his keys right before work. Sometimes Jim loosed his keys right before work.
The falconer looses his bird for a daily flight. The falconer loosed his bird for a daily flight. The falconer lost his bird for a daily flight.

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Ann Hillesland,
senior tutor

Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs

by Ann Hillesland

Willa Cather once wrote: “If I were asked to name three American books which have the possibility of a long, long, life, I would say at once, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs.”  While high school teachers still regularly assign The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn, fewer people now read The Country of the Pointed Firs or any of the short stories by Sarah Orne Jewett. But Sarah Orne Jewett’s elegantly written tales of rural Maine are well worth discovering.

Sarah Orne Jewett was born and died in South Berwick, Maine, and her intimate knowledge of the region sparkles in her work.  The Country of the Pointed Firs, published in 1896, takes place in Dunnet, a small town on the coast of Maine. The unnamed narrator comes to stay for the summer, taking lodging with Mrs. Todd, an older woman who has a business selling herbal remedies.  During the course of the summer the narrator meets the strange, isolated inhabitants of this village.  The Country of the Pointed Firs is not a novel in the traditional sense but a series of sketches not only of the lonely village’s inhabitants that adds up to a portrait of isolation and decline but also of community.  As Jewett writes in the opening of the book: “When one really knows a village like this and its surroundings, it is like becoming acquainted with a single person.” Through the course of the book we get to know the village’s inhabitants and end up with a matchless sense of place and time.  We learn little about the narrator because a small village in Maine is really the main character of this book.

The people we meet in the village are mostly elderly people made eccentric through time and isolation.  Though many of the characters are retired sea captains or their wives and daughters, their contact with a wider world has ended, and they now live in small houses or distant farms or difficult-to-reach islands.  Their remoteness has increased their strangeness.  We meet Captain Littlepage, who tells a story of a ghostly town farther north than other ships have sailed, inhabited by “billowing gray figures that would pass along alone, or sometimes gathered in companies as if they were watching.” Mr. Tilley, another lonely soul, lives at a small farm, reached by a path made of “a heavy piece of old wreck timber, like a ship’s bone, full of tree-nails” and “narrow with one man’s treading.” His wife died eight years ago, but he still keeps everything “same’s poor dear left ’em,” and talks of nothing but his wife.  Most poignantly of all, perhaps, we hear the story of Joanna, who, jilted by her lover, lived on an island as a hermit for the rest of her life.

Joanna’s story provokes the following reflection in the narrator:

In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong.

We are fascinated by and sympathetic to all the hermits and eccentrics of Dunnet because we all harbor a secret isolation.

Jewett writes all of these portraits in spare, elegant prose that pays close attention to the tenuous connections between isolated people, the rhythms of country speech, and the natural beauty of their surroundings.  She has a gift for reporting the small events that illuminate the lives of these people and for flavoring their words with the taste of Maine without the dialect’s becoming distracting.  Her descriptions of nature are simple and effective:

The house was just before us now, on a green level that looked as if a huge hand had scooped it out of the long green field we had been ascending. A little way above, the dark, spruce woods began to climb the top of the hill and cover the seaward slopes of the island. There was just room for the small farm and the forest; we looked down at the fish-house and its rough sheds, and the weirs stretching far out into the water. As we looked upward, the tops of the firs came sharp against the blue sky…. I could see the rich green of bayberry bushes here and there, where the rocks made room. The air was very sweet; one could not help wishing to be a citizen of such a complete and tiny continent and home of fisherfolk.

After immersing yourself in The Country of the Pointed Firs, perhaps you, too, will find yourself wishing, despite its isolation, to belong to that beautiful country.

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