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It’s a constant barrier to bridging the achievement gap: vocabulary.

Researchers believe that professionals’ children go to preschool armed with twice as many words as children on welfare. And a smaller vocabulary can cause kids to get frustrated and stop studying altogether.

San Diego Unified is engaged in a unique program trying to level the playing field. The idea: Instead of focusing on a long list of words, it’s teaching elementary and middle school students how to figure out words on their own when they stumble upon them.

“You’ll never be able to teach them the 50,000 words they need to use,” says one school official. “So they’ve got to learn strategies to learn those words.”

Also on our site:

  • Meet Portia Kirk. She’s a seamstress for strippers. Or, as our headline puts it, She Sews the Clothes They Take Off.

    Reporter Kelly Bennett shadows Kirk, herself a former nude dancer for 10 years before becoming an entrepreneur, as she designs and assembles bikinis and then shops them around various joints around town.

    “Most of the time I make stuff, I think, ‘God, this is hideous — it’s gonna sell so well,’” Kirk says.

    It’s the latest in Bennett’s monthly exploration of the things we do for money, People at Work.

  • First, we talked to the rich and famous Robin Leach for San Diego Fact Check. Now, we’re turning the fact checkers on actress Jenny McCarthy. The verdict: She greatly exaggerated the autistic population in San Diego.
  • We recently received more evidence the housing rally was continuing. Now, analyst Rich Toscano breaks down the latest numbers and sees that, for the first time in a while, the highest priced homes are up almost as much as the lowest tier. Did they hit bottom too? Check out the graphs.

Elsewhere:

  • 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, fresh off his story of a smelly stem-cell peddler in La Mesa, was in the region again recently. This time he profiled the All American Canal — what one expert he quoted called the most dangerous body of water in the United States.
  • The canal nourishes the Imperial Valley and is deeply intertwined in Southern California water politics. The hydroelectric dams along its route collect dozens and dozens of bodies of immigrants desperate to cross the canal but unaware of how swift, cold and deep it is. 60 Minutes featured the brother of former Congressman Duncan Hunter, a self-described “right-wing guy” who said he feels guilty about the drowning and has led protests pushing for safety measures. He even tried to string his own safety cord across the canal.

    In December, writer Randy Dotinga noted how a 2004 water deal had roped the San Diego County Water Authority into the controversy. In exchange for the right to purchase water from Imperial Valley farmers, the water authority had agreed to line the canal with concrete to prevent the seepage of millions of gallons of water. That leaking water, by the way, had nourished Mexican crops for decades.

  • The LA Times says that UCSD has created a new summer program for students from Compton High School in Los Angeles after the notorious “Compton Cookout” stained the university’s reputation nationwide. It is one of the many fruits of a letter the high school sent UCSD when the controversy erupted.

    “The letter launched a dialogue between very different worlds: the prestigious beachside university where blacks and Latinos make up about 15% of the student body, and the urban high school where last year 74% of students were Latino and 25% were black, and more than two-thirds were eligible for subsidized lunches.”

    We brought you up to speed about why UCSD has so few black students in this edition of San Diego Explained.

  • Logan Jenkins offered up a pretty good way to think about the bizarre interview CBS 8 did with confessed killer John Gardner. He doesn’t condemn the station’s decision.
  • A California Western School of Law professor, who’s also a professor of anesthesiology at UCSD put perspective on a recent decision by the American Board of Anesthesiologists to decertify any member who decides to participate in a lethal injection execution by any state.
  • Finally, San Diegans with a taste for parody of their town might have been hoping that a sequel to the classic “Anchorman” was in the making. But as the website zap2it.com noticed yesterday, the director of the first movie, and actor Will Ferrell’s producing partner, tweeted that Paramount Pictures had turned down their offer.

Perhaps he was just negotiating through the media (er, through twitter). Or he could be hiding that Ron Burgundy was actually critically injured by either a renegade bottle of scotch or a trident.

— SCOTT LEWIS

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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