Valley Oak Voices

A Community Blog to Share Experiences in Learning

Outdoor Time:

Where Lots of Learning Takes Place

November 9, 2022

Blog Entry #5 by hElena Pasquarella

Every Wednesday is OT day at VOC-that is short for Outdoor Time. It's one of my and my students favorite days of the week, when we usually go off campus to explore and learn through experiences! Instead of writing a long post about what we have done in the past months, I am going to post the pictures I have taken documenting these magical moments with our students, parents, and staff.

Valley Oak Voices

A Community Blog to Share Experiences in Learning

Creating Community, One Potluck at a Time

September 9, 2022

Blog Entry #4 by hElena Pasquarella

Being a mom and teacher, I have experienced many “first” days of school, but none has been more meaningful and magical than the one this week at our school. Valley Oak Charter ‘s first day at school was September 6th, but we actually started the school year with orientation and “Open Time” last week. It was what one might call a “soft” opening , where students met students and teachers for the first time with their parents just down the hall.

While the parents learned how to fill out their delightfully tedious work records, their children spent part of the morning with their teachers and classmates. In my class of 4-8 -year-olds, we played name games, learned what each other’s favorite animals were, and partnered with an older “buddy” to read a book. Later, the students explored the various “centers” in their future classroom: Including Mother Earth’s Treasures, LegoLand station, and the students’ favorite--Kitchen Fun-- complete with battery operated kitchen appliances with sound effects!

After an hour of self-directed, explorative free play, parents, students and siblings joined the staff in an all-school summer-themed pot-luck. The menu was complete with organic veggie quinoa salad, a Martha Stewart-magazine-cover charcuterie plate, and ice-cold sweet watermelon. The desserts included homemade chewy chocolate chip cookies, fudgy brownies, and for those of us counting calories, a big farming crate of freshly picked pixies donated by a parent, with more than enough for everyone to take some home . We all brought our own mess kits (plates, utensils, and cups) to demonstrate how we can reduce waste while having a delicious meal.

Due to Covid restrictions, it has been more than two years since our school has seen so many chattering, mingling families on the campus at one time. While catching up on local happenings and greeting new families, they discussed which volunteer committee they might want to join: Tiny Forest, Parent Support Council Group, or Meaningful Movie Night. While their children played tag, jumped rope, or made fairy gardens, the staff marveled at how the once sad abandoned courtyard came to life under the shade of the smiling sycamore tree.

Last week’s celebration at VOC was more than just the beginning of a new school year, it was about building community, breaking bread, and laying a foundation of fellowship for our children’s futures. Being part of a community makes one feel more secure and more confident which means learning can take place. Our Valley Oak Village is providing space where students, parents, and teachers are making memories to last a lifetime.

Please feel free to share your personal stories about what brought you and your family to homeschool at VOC. E-mail me at if you'd like me to publish your story on our blog

  1. Gun Violence in Ojai?

June 16, 2022

Blog Entry #3 by hElena Pasquarella

This blog was as supposed to be about the mystical transformation of the silkworm life cycle and how it has enriched my class in so many magical ways, but then the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas happened and 19 angels and their two fairy-teacher godmothers were murdered. And the question keeps coming up, could such a horrific incident happen here in Ojai?

I have lived in many other cultures, in Africa, Latin America, and Europe, and these random “mass shootings” at schools, supermarkets, or places of worship are something that are not as prevalent as they are in the United States. Why is it that it happens so much here? There are so many factors, not enough security, racism, or mental illness just to name a few. And yet we seem to overlook the fact that we are living in a violent society that does not take time to really care about the emotional and social welfare of each other.

Here at Valley Oak Charter, we would never think of a school shooting being possible because we live in such a peaceful small town with the Krotona Institute and Krishnamurti Foundation as part of our community’s spiritual foundation. And yet, when I walk through my neighborhood I feel the tension in our society as I pass election yard signs, flags and bumper stickers that divide us, anger us, or even scare us.

Last Thursday, at the Ojai Community Farmers' Market, where I volunteer for our School’s craft booth, a worried parent stopped by for information about our school because she was concerned about the safety of her child attending public school HERE in Ojai. Wow, if this mother is thinking of moving her child to our homeschool program because of what happened in Uvalde, how many other parents are living with this fear when they send their children off to school in the mornings? These are stressful times for parents and children alike as the mass shootings continue to plague our country this past week as well.

As a high school teacher, I saw the alienation that plagued our youth on a daily basis. The bullying, the loneliness, and the pressures of getting good grades and one’s social media presence were constant anxiety inducing stresses. In response to this, I created a “Wellness” group that met once a week on campus to discuss some of these issues and how to cope with them.

Since then I started working on a more comprehensive program to address these issues with ALL students in mind. The program is called KREW which focuses on four pillars of character traits; Kindness, Reverence, Empathy and Wellness: Kindness for oneself, each other and the planet; Reverence for the awesomeness of life that brings one joy; Empathy for our fellow humans, animals, and the planet, and finally Wellness, both emotional and physical.

Now as the supervising teacher at VOC, I have started implementing the KREW ideals. My assistant said she noticed a positive difference in the children on those days as they transitioned to their free play time. According to her, from the very first day we started the meditation, they were just kinder and calmer the rest of the day as they interacted with each other.

How do we weave the threads of kindness, reverence, empathy, and wellness into the fabric of our school culture? Do we want to live in a society where fear and hatred determine the way we interact with one another, or one where lovingkindness and wellness are at the forefront in how we walk through our communities?

We need to start making sure that these values are taught to our children on a daily basis, just as math and reading are, as a way of preventing violence in our communities and bringing peace to the planet. I am calling on our parents, staff, board members, director, and students to form a committee to create a program that will promote KREW in our school on a daily basis. Maybe this could be the start of transformation we want to see in ourselves and our communities. Remember, it takes a village.

Please email me with your ideas at

When To Learn Spanish

May 1st, 2022

Blog Entry #2 by hElena Pasquarella

A few years ago, I found myself back in Ojai and teaching ESL and French at a local private high school and then subbing at OUSD grades k-12 (yes... I sub all grades because I deeply love ALL students of every age)-- until that is the universe brought me to VOC…..where I am combining my TWO passions into ONE….teaching and photojournalism. I document children learning on a daily basis! (You know you have found your dream job when you would do it and not be paid!.....shhhhh don’t let Barbara know!!!!)

I love the freedom I have at VOC to teach what my students are interested in learning. Most recently, I have introduced Spanish as part of our daily lesson and was surprised at how excited the children were to learn another language. I had been a bit worried about getting the “green light” from the director of the School--but she was thrilled at the possibilities of Spanish included in my K-2 lessons.

I wasn’t sure how it would be received by parents, but knew I was walking down an evening orange-blossom path in Ojai when I realized that a few of my students were actually learning Spanish at home. To learn why learning a foreign language in the early years is so important: What Happens To Your Brain When You Learn a New Language

Studies have shown that learning a foreign language is much easier when children are younger and I can confirm this is happening with my students now. One of my nonnative speakers counts loud and proud in Spanish and is overjoyed when we get to 100! Since she already knows how to count to 100 in English, it is easy for her to transfer the concept of counting into Spanish; but it's more challenging because she has to think of another label for the numbers she already knows.

I have two native Spanish speakers and I love that they are feeling seen and smart in the classroom because they are the first to KNOW the answers to my questions. For example--as part of my daily lessons, children are learning the days of the week. I told the students they could write the days of the week in either Spanish or English in their composition books. Most of the students wrote them in English, however one bilingual child proudly held up her notebook for all to see how she had written the days in Spanish. I felt pure joy for her as her eyes twinkled and she smiled her toothy smile with her newly acquired knowledge. What will this type of learning model mean for her? That she has a choice of choosing Spanish over English when she does her lesson. This is how we teach children to choose their education path for themselves. I would love to hear about any of your thoughts in regards to bilingual education in our community.

I hope you have enjoyed this slice of what education means to me. Come and join me and my students on a magic carpet ride where the possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. I look forward to hearing your stories and reflections of your experiences in education elsewhere and here at VOC; remember, it takes a village.

send me your thoughts about learning:

My son,Theo, and I at Red Rock Canyon Inyokern Trail on recent Spring Break vacation to the Sierras. Located just an hour north of Santa Clarita on the 14 fwy, it's a great day trip for the family to experience a mini grand canyon adventure! It's so energizing to be in the awesome presence of Mother Earth!

How I Arrived at VOC

April 16, 2022

by Helena Pasquarella

It is with great joy and enthusiasm that I joined the Valley Oak Charter (VOC) School staff in March as the K-2 Homeschool Supervising Teacher. I have landed in a beautiful community, that only one who lives under the towering, majestic oaks of Ojai’s crystal-strewn night skies can truly understand.

I am starting this blog, Valley Oak Voices-as a place for parents and teachers, as well as students-to share our VOC experiences in this process we call “learning.” Through our stories, I hope we will inspire each other and set the ground work for our children to become life-long, self-motivated learners.

I hold two passions: journalism and teaching. My professional journey began with the Ventura Edition of the L.A Times where I was a photojournalist for eight years. After that, I received my Master's in Elementary Education from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and did my teacher training at Peabody Elementary Charter School in Santa Barbara. Later, I was an ESL/ English and Journalism teacher at Santa Ana High School, but after two years, left teaching disheartened because of the dogma and dysfunction of traditional education.

It wouldn’t be until years later--when I was looking for a kindergarten for my own son--that my passion for education was re-ignited through the alternative pedagogy of Waldorf. Waldorf education was pioneered 100 years ago by Austrian philosopher, social reformer and visionary Rudolf Steiner who believed that “The need for imagination, a sense of truth, a feeling of responsibility, these are the three forces which are the very nerve of pedagogy.” For more info:

While my son attended Journey School, a public Waldorf charter school in Aliso Viejo, from k-4th grade--I started the Waldorf teacher training program and was a substitute teacher grades K-8 for four years at the school. What I loved most about this alternative way of learning, is a focus on internal motivation, movement in learning, and reverence for nature. I am excited to share my passions with the VOC community today. So don’t be surprised if you hear your child humming a tune or talking about fairies or gnomes visiting our classroom on occasion.

Please feel free to share your personal stories about what brought you and your family to homeschool at VOC. E-mail me at if you'd like me to publish your story on our blog.