Counting Blessings And Giving Back

I recently attended two events, which brought home both the importance of counting our blessings, and giving to others during this holiday season.

MerylMarty Lyons Foundation

This week, I was privileged to meet Marty Lyons at the grand opening of the new headquarters of the Marty Lyons Foundation in Commack. Marty Lyons, former NY Jets star, founded the Marty Lyons Foundation (www.martylyonsfoundation.org) in 1982 after the birth of his son, and the deaths of his father and a young boy to whom Lyons had been a Big Brother. Over the past 30 years the Marty Lyons Foundation has granted nearly 6,500 special wishes to children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses in 13 states. Marty is passionate about the foundation’s mission, and he takes a personal interest in the children and their families that are served.

Marty believes that by fulfilling a child’s special wish, the child and his/her family can be transported from the daily heartache of coping with illness.

“It is a joyous time that creates a wonderful memory and a better quality of life.  Every child has a dream, and although we can’t promise a lifetime of happiness to these seriously ill children, we can make one dream a reality!”

The Marty Lyons Foundation has granted wishes, including: special trips to Disney World, meeting celebrities, throwing extraordinary birthday parties, renovating homes to enable children to live with their families while receiving treatment, purchasing computers, filling a swimming pool with spring water, and many more.

Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities

20131008_133652I was recently introduced by my friend, Ellen Spiegel, to another worthy charity, which inspires us to count our own blessings while giving to others. Ellen is a trustee of ACLD (Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities http://www.acld.org/), a not-for-profit agency that serves the needs of individuals (and their families) who have developmental disabilities, are neurologically impaired, or are on the autism spectrum. The ACLD mission is to provide the opportunity for children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities to pursue enviable lives, increase their independence and improve the quality of their lives. At the fashion show, which I attended, the models included individuals who are served by ACLD as well as its supporters.

Ellen said that when her son, Fred, was born more than 40 years ago, there were practically no services for those with developmental disabilities on Long Island. Today he is one of 300 adults in ACLD residential placements, and he has a job. According to Ellen, ACLD now supports more than 3,000 children and adults in a variety of programs.  One of these is fellow trustee Megan Gardner’s son, Brian, who is nine-years-old.

“When Brian entered ACLD’s Preschool program at the Kramer Learning Center he could not speak; he could only grunt,” Megan recalled.  “He presented with no cognitive skills with the exception of touching his nose or stomping his feet on command – and those skills had taken nine months to achieve. But I knew Brian was in there, I knew my Brian was awake, aware, alive.   And … the entire team at Kramer believed me and believed in Brian’s potential too. Over the course of three years at Kramer, Brian learned to take a bus to school; he learned to make eye contact, to stack blocks and then bam!  He started to paint and color, he learned to write his name…he started to read. Now in third grade, he happily participates in ACLD’s Afterschool Program in Bay Shore.”

At this time of year, as we count our blessings, check out these two worthy organizations, which give to those who need it the most.


Profiles in Courage: JFK’s Lasting Legacy

KenedyAn article that I read yesterday on Huffington Post alerted me to the fact that the JFK Memorial Library is soliciting stories from people of how President Kennedy inspired them. In honor of the 50th anniversary of his assassination, “An Idea Lives On” website will feature people from all walks of life talking about the influence Kennedy had on them. The name is based on a 1963 quote from JFK, when he said: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

President Kennedy inspired me to read daily newspapers, watch the news on TV every evening, and become a fan of Meet the Press at age 13.  It was easy to ace the weekly current events quizzes in junior high school. Kids today may be obsessed with the Kardashians. My friends and I were smitten with the Kennedy family.  We kept scrapbooks, followed their every move, and couldn’t get enough of our handsome president, his beautiful wife Jackie, and their children, Caroline and John John.

But in becoming obsessed with the Kennedys, we not only followed their fashion and lifestyle, we learned about government and politics. I learned the name of every cabinet member he appointed, and consequently knew each cabinet department, and what it did.  I learned about the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Peace Corps, James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi, and countless other happenings. It was all fascinating to me and inspired me to engage in school and community service.

When he was brutally assassinated on that beautiful November day, it was as if the wind was knocked out of our generation. We would never be so innocent, so idealistic, and so optimistic again. But his legacy continued to teach us about our country. We had a peaceful transition of power.  We learned about the Constitution’s provisions for presidential succession as we watched Judge Sarah Hughes administer the oath to LBJ with Mrs. Kennedy standing by.

My fascination with government and politics continued. I majored in political science in college, got a masters degree in teaching, and became a high school American History and Government teacher.

Profiles in Courage is a book that I read when I was in high school, and it was one that I had my students read. Of all of President Kennedy’s legacies, I believe that this book is the one that is most sorely needed today. Kennedy writes about the courage of elected officials to do what they believe is right even when it meant going against public opinion, their constituents, and political action committees.

President Kennedy wrote:


“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.” 


What more fitting tribute could there be to President Kennedy than for our elected leaders to heed his call on this the 50th anniversary of his death? May each find it within him/herself to find that courage. In so doing, they can continue to make President Kennedy’s memory a blessing, and entrust the survival of our democracy.

Meryl Ain is the coauthor of The Living Memories Project, to be published in March 2014 by Little Miami Publishing Company. It demonstrates how grief can be transformed into positive action and living legacies. Follow on Twitter: @LivMemoriesProj

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/jfk-memories_n_4295373.html

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Events-and-Awards/Profile-in-Courage-Award/About-the-Book.aspx


7 Tips for a Safe Halloween

20131027_130423Last year, Halloween festivities were swept away on Long Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It was difficult to celebrate with the massive devastation, loss of power, and overall misery engendered by this destructive superstorm.  But it looks like Halloween is back in force in 2013. Here’s a blog I wrote about how to keep your kids safe during Halloween. It appeared in Huffington Post on October 23, 2012 – before Sandy!

There’s a nip in the air and pumpkins are everywhere: In patches, on porches, in stores and in schools. It’s hard to ignore the signals that Halloween is fast approaching.

Almost every store has aisles of costumes and candy. Elementary schools plan Halloween parades and high schools organize Safe Halloween festivities for pre-school and elementary school children. But I can’t help think that Halloween is not what it used to be, when armies of little kids combed the streets collecting goody bags from moms who had lovingly assembled them.

That was long before there were objections to Halloween on the grounds that as a religious holiday it shouldn’t be observed in public schools. A Seattle elementary school recently banned Halloween costumes on the grounds that the holiday interferes with learning. It was long before we knew sweet treats were taboo — and even dangerous for those with certain food allergies. It was long before deranged people inserted razor blades into candy and sexual predators prowled the streets. And it was long before the craze of candy-flavored tobacco in brightly colored packages. Cigarillos, cigars and such smokeless tobacco products as chew, snuff and dissolvable tobacco — considered by many the first step to tobacco addiction — compete with Halloween candy for shelf space in convenience stores.

As I recall, we got real about Halloween when schools began recommending that parents bring to school all of the candy their children collected to be X-rayed. When that happened, I thought for sure he holiday was doomed.

But it’s made a great resurgence in recent years. People now adorn their homes with Halloween lights and blow-up pumpkins, witches and scarecrows. It’s a bigger business than ever before.

And yet, Halloween has changed.

First, there are parents who object to Halloween celebrations being held in public schools. With children coming from so many religious and ethnic backgrounds, parents are opposed to celebrating holidays that are not part of their tradition.

On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing that much of the Halloween observance has moved off the streets and into the schools. It’s a lot safer. Every year it seems we get fewer and fewer youngsters trick or treating at our door.

Parents have to decide for themselves if and how their children celebrate Halloween. What do you think?

Here are some tips for a safe Halloween:

• If your child has a food issue, make sure you discuss it with the teacher and school nurse ahead of time.

• If you have an objection to a Halloween celebration on religious grounds, make sure you let your principal and teacher know about it well in advance of the holiday.

• Even if you take your children to a safe Halloween sponsored by your local high school, watch them carefully. It may seem like a very safe environment, but keep in mind that the school gym is full of strangers.

• It’s best to accompany your children if you allow them to trick or treat, including for UNICEF. And of course, discard any treats that are not pre-packaged or look like they have been tampered with.

• Honestly, it’s just a bad idea nowadays for children to go door to door — especially in the dark — to strangers’ homes.

• If you do allow your teenagers to go out, they should go to people they know — and in a group. Make sure they have cell phones with them and that you know their route. You should also stress the importance of obeying laws, respecting private property and not engaging in pranks or vandalism.

• Better yet, encourage your teens to volunteer at a Safe Halloween event at their school.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meryl-ain-edd/safe-halloween-tips_b_1990569.html


Memo to Elected Officials: You Were Elected to Make Things Better

GWI shared the thoughts below in a blog that I wrote immediately following the 2012 Presidential Election. A week into the government shutdown with a looming debt crisis days away, it seems like a good time to implore our elected officials to follow a few rules that every teacher and student already knows!

Let’s also remember the example of our First President George Washington.

Washington was a model of the behavior we should expect from our elected officials. He was guided by civility throughout his political career. At 16-years-old, his tutor gave him the assignment of copying by hand 110 Rules of Civility, an exercise that influenced his life. These rules were composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and were disseminated in Washington’s era. While many of the rules are outdated and anachronistic, their purpose was to foster respect for others as well as self-respect. They provided a guide to Washington and others living at that time about how to get along with one another and work together for the common good.

Advice to teachers and parents always boils down to: Model the behavior you want to see. President Obama might wish to copy his own rules and distribute it to members of Congress, and let everyone know he plans to emulate them himself.  Harry Truman’s sign on his desk, The Buck Stops Here, sent a message to the entire country. Perhaps President Obama would like to frame his own rules and place them on his desk. Successful teachers and parents know that by creating a sense of order, consistency, and trust, they send the message that respect, kindness, and accomplishment are paramount.

I don’t know of an elementary school teacher who does not begin the school year with a discussion of class rules. Secondary schools also have rules, and school districts are required to have Code of Conduct policies. Where is the Code of Conduct for our elected officials?

Here are a few “class” rules – gleaned from teachers and parents – that should help our representatives do the work of the people who elected them – and get to work solving our country’s daunting problems!

  1. Remember You Have Been Elected to Make Things Better
  2. Respect Your Colleagues
  3. Be Prepared To Compromise
  4. Stay On Task
  5. Complete Work On Time
  6. Respect Other People’s Opinions
  7. Stop thinking About The Next Election And Start Thinking About The Good Of The Country

The original blog was published in Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meryl-ain-edd/election-obama-education_b_2093121.html

http://www.foundationsmag.com/civility.html


Not Your Mother’s PTA

pta-meeting-parents-e1316549376678With the new school year in full swing, it’s a good time to emphasize the importance of parent involvement. This is the time to make a resolution to actively engage in your children’s education. One of the easiest and most accessible ways is to join and become active in the PTA.

Do you think PTA is synonymous with bake sales?

Think again — today’s PTA is about a lot more than cupcakes

We know that research indicates that students whose parents are actively involved in their schools have better grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates. But PTA membership is a personal investment you make not only for your child, but for yourself too.

Many opportunities await you at your next PTA meeting. Advocating for a worthwhile mission, having a positive impact on your schools, and supporting amazing events for students are the obvious benefits of PTA involvement. But I have also witnessed more subtle perks that may come to active parents.

Here are five things that you might not know about today’s PTA:

1. Volunteer and get access.

Being an active PTA member gives you legitimate reasons to have input and to be in your children’s school during the school day.  For example, do you want to have a say in booking a children’s author, a play or a music or science program for your children’s school?  Then join your PTA’s cultural arts committee. You will work closely with your principal and teachers to plan enriching events that PTA fundraising supports.  As a member of the committee, you will be able to attend programs to assess their success.

By becoming a known quantity to school staff, you will get a birds-eye view of what’s going on and principal, faculty and staff will know you by name. This will come in handy should you ever have a question or concern. Similarly, you may be asked for your perspective as a parent when issues occur. It’s sort of like the classic Peter Sellers movie, Being There. Because you are there, you may become a go-to parent.

2. Contribute and make friends.

You will meet like-minded parents who have children of comparable ages, with whom you will share similar concerns, goals, and hopes for your children. You will form close friendships and you will help one another through the sharing of ideas. If you are new to an area or your first child is starting school, PTA is a good place to meet people.

3. Give and receive much more.

PTA provides you with a wonderful outlet and platform for your passions. For example, if you are passionate about healthy eating, you can join the PTA’s health and wellness committee, and exert influence not only on the school lunch program, but also on classroom practices, such as giving candy for rewards.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably already a strong advocate for special education. It is essential that you join SEPTA, Special Education PTA. There you will meet like-minded parents and professionals who will provide you with a support network, cutting edge information and strategies to help your child succeed. You will have the benefit of attending presentations by outside experts. And you will be able to forge positive relationships with district special education administrators, who attend SEPTA meetings. This will give you easy access to these professionals, should you have questions or concerns.

4. Be a player and get the “skinny.”

You will reap enormous benefits if you rise to the highest levels of PTA leadership. If you are the PTA president of your school or a member of your District PTA Council, you will meet with your Superintendent of Schools on a regular basis.  He or she will update you on news, issues and problems and ask for your support. If you are a person who likes to be in the know, you will be informed of everything from district accomplishments to drug busts. You will have the information first and will be the one to share it with your members.  The superintendent will also solicit your opinion and may ask for you to poll your members on various issues, such as proposed budget cuts.

As a key stakeholder, you may also be asked to serve on interview committees, citizens’ advisory committees, and task forces.  The superintendent may also recruit you to help plan district-wide events, and to request that PTA help sponsor them.

5. Hone your skills and show what you can do.

The more you give of yourself and the more you hone your skills, the more valuable you will become to your PTA, your school, your district and community.  The seeds you plant may bear fruit in unexpected ways. Is your main job CEO of your household for the foreseeable future? Then why not put your accounting expertise to work as a treasurer? Or use your organizing skills to plan events? Utilizing your background and experience can help close gaps in your resume. Continue to dazzle everyone with your generous contribution of your talent, time and energy, and your volunteer experience could lead to paid employment!


The Music of Giving Back

musiccampAs summer draws to a close, it’s nice to remember that education is a 12-month-proposition, and that good teaching and good parenting are infinite.

Brian Biederman, 24, a middle school music teacher in Nashville, Tenn., fulfilled his lifetime dream of starting a music camp this summer. The Littlestone Summer Music Academy brought together 23 seventh through twelfth graders from diverse backgrounds to make music together.

As a youngster, Brian discovered his own niche when he attended music camp for the first time when he was 11-years-old.  He later worked at music camp for several summers, and formed lifetime friendships as he honed his musical talent.

“My dad said that camp for me was what I did in between school.”

“I attended the same camp as my dad,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to go to band camp at first, but my dad told me to try it for two weeks. Within three days, I wanted to extend my stay for two weeks. I ended up staying four weeks.  I knew immediately that I had to be part of the music camp community one day –as a patron, participant or to start my own camp.”

About 10 years ago, Brian, a 2010 graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville who holds a master’s degree from Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education, began planning how he would start his own music camp.

This year his dream came to fruition.

Brian comes from a family tradition of not only music, but also of community service.  His parents, Debbie and Mitchell Biederman of Commack, N.Y., are co-presidents of Helping Hands, a Long Island based charity that provides essentials to struggling families. With the advice and support of his parents, Brian created an educational non-profit organization.

“I contacted everyone I knew,” Brian recalled. “I found a private school — Montgomery Bell Academy — which agreed to let me hold the camp there.”

Brian kept cutting the tuition until he got 23 students to sign up.  He also made special arrangements for those who couldn’t afford to pay, and asked friends and professors from the Vanderbilt community for donations to help pay the staff.

“I wanted to let anyone come who wanted to,” he said. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for young people who don’t feel comfortable in a school environment. And I wanted to create a community where kids were comfortable and confident in looking at and playing music.”

Brian said he endeavored to blur the lines to have a mix of kids from diverse ethnic and socio-economic levels making music together.

“Let’s all make music together; it’s not where you come from,” he said. “Music is bigger than all of us.”

The finale of the summer season was a performance by Littlestone’s Festival Choir. Brian said the concert celebrated the diverse cultures of the students, and all students and staff participated.

For next year, Brian is looking to recruit more students, bring in guest artists, and raise money for more scholarships for students who would otherwise be unable to attend.  He also hopes to start a community choir in Nashville.

http://www.newschannel5.com/category/125220/video-landing-page?clipId=9168869&autostart=true


Memo to Anthony Weiner: The “G” Word is a Blessing, Not a Curse

 

“What are you going to do about it, grandpa?” — Candidate for NYC mayor Anthony Weiner to his 69-year-old opponent George McDonald at an AARP-Univision forum, according to the New York Post. McDonald reportedly told Weiner, 48, to not touch him again after they exchanged greetings. Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2013/08/06/anthony-weiner-calls-opponent-grandpa-at-aarp-event/#ixzz2bNyBkg69

“What are you going to do about it, grandpa?”
— Candidate for NYC mayor Anthony Weiner to his 69-year-old opponent George McDonald at an AARP-Univision forum, according to the New York Post.
Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2013/08/06/anthony-weiner-calls-opponent-grandpa-at-aarp-event/#ixzz2bNyBkg69

When Anthony Weiner referred to George McDonald, his 69-year-old rival, as “Grandpa” in an AARP Mayoral Forum this week, it set off a firestorm.  Beth Finkel, director of AARP in New York State, called the remark, “unfortunate,” saying that “a person’s age should not be a factor in politics, or anything else.”

As someone who does not vote in New York City, I have no dog in this fight. But as a grandparent, I have a big problem with this entire story line.

To begin with, ageism is nasty — just as racism, sexism, and all of the other “isms” demean us as human beings. It should have no place in politics, in the workplace, or in our lives. Our society still has a lot to learn from other cultures, which venerate the wisdom of age. When are we going to stop being so shallow?

In any case, 69 is not all that old nowadays, when people are living well into their eighties and nineties. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected president in 1980; Queen Elizabeth is going strong at 87. And should Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016, she would be 69.

When did “Grandpa” become a pejorative word?  As a young child, my Grandpa was the love of my life. He was a consistent nurturing and attentive companion to my brother and me during our weekly visits to my grandparents’ apartment.  Although he did not have the benefit of higher education himself, he was a strong believer in life-long learning. He had us learn the capitals of every state in the U.S., all of the presidents and vice presidents, and the most difficult spelling words.

He would then test us on the assigned topics the following week, emulating the quiz shows of that era. For every correct answer, he would reward us with pocket change. He would take us to the local soda fountain and order cherry sodas for us.  He died when I was 12 years old, leaving me bereft — but I keep him alive by remembering. The taste of cherry soda still brings back sweet memories of my grandpa.

Today, grandparents can be 42 or 92. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are “old” if you have a grandchild. It depends on what age you had your children, and then when your kids embark on childbearing.

Many grandparents nowadays are vigorous enough to be raising their grandchildren when their children can’t. And those who aren’t raising them – if they are fortunate – are involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Grandparents babysit; they read to their grandchildren, they play with them; some even travel with their grandchildren. And they pass on family stories and values.

I imagine that many – if not most — children and grandchildren are appreciative of the unconditional love, help and support they receive from grandparents.  And if the grandparents are not young at heart, healthy, strong, and able to provide assistance, shouldn’t they still be respected, loved, and appreciated? I would hope so.

You have only to listen to grandparents to know that most of them live for their grandchildren, and relish them in a way they could not enjoy their own children when they were small. My three grandchildren enrich my life with their smiles, their insights, and their love. What a joy it is to see the world anew through their eyes!

I sincerely hope that Anthony Weiner becomes a grandpa one day, and learns that far from being an insult, being a grandparent is the ultimate reward and honor.

The Living Memories Project, by Meryl Ain and her co-authors, will be published this winter by Little Miami Publishing Company.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/aarp-anthony-weiner_n_3719222.html

http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/08/anthny-weiner-s-grandpa-comment-criticized-92427.html


9 Tips for Parents If Your Child is Changing Schools

newscoolMy last blog discussed my reactions about our recent move. I’m happy to report we are settling into our new home, and I thank everyone for all of the good wishes.

The anxiety I experienced as an adult made me think of all of the children who may be changing schools come September. Whether your family is moving — or your child is changing schools for any number of other reasons — there are steps you can take now to ease the transition for your child.

Whatever the age of your child, it’s a good idea to arrange a visit to the new school. Although school is not in session over the summer, a visit will demystify the new school environment by enabling your child to see the physical building, including classrooms, playground, and cafeteria. The principal may be around, and as the school year approaches, teachers may be at the school setting up their classrooms. Meeting some of the school personnel will familiarize your child with the new cast of characters in his or her life.

There are also many excellent children’s books for young children that deal with school, such as Curious George Goes to School by Margret Rey, and The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Jan and Stan Berenstain. My all time favorite book for children and adults of all ages is Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. It inspires kids of all ages to be bold and courageous in new situations.

Here are some tips to help you and your child become comfortable in the new school.

1.   It is normal for both you and your child to be anxious about entering a new school, but if you have concerns, please don’t express them to your child. Express confidence and optimism about his/her ability to meet the new challenges.

2.   Look for opportunities for your child to meet his/her classmates over the summer. Check with the school principal, PTA, religious and social organizations and other groups to find connections.

3.   If your child has special needs, such as a learning disability or food allergy, work with the new school as far in advance as possible to determine placement and to line up services and support.

4.   Keep the spark of learning alive during the summer. Students can lose from one to three months of learning during the summer, so plan to keep your child engaged by encouraging reading, word games, math and nature activities. Simply cooking and baking with kids can help develop math, reading, and science skills.

5.   Call the PTA or PTO president and introduce yourself. Parent organization leaders are in a good position to share information and issues about the new school with you. Ask how you can contribute your skills and interests. Getting actively involved in your child’s new school benefits you and your child! Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.

6.   Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.

7.   Become familiar with your school and school district websites, and check them for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.

8.   Check your mail for the publication of the annual calendar/directory. Keep it in an accessible place.

9.   Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?

Staying on top of information and issues will enable you to be a proactive and informed parent. Your ongoing engagement, support, and encouragement will expedite your child’s transition into the new school.


Moving Memories

photo-8When people ask me whether I miss the house our family lived in for more than three decades, my knee jerk reaction is an unqualified NO.

It wasn’t until our eldest son expressed the desire to “see my house one last time,” that I thought about what, if anything, the house meant to me.

Through his eyes, I saw our house as the home we made.

It was the house in which he took his first steps, the house in which we brought home from the hospital two more newborn baby boys, and in which we celebrated all of their accomplishments and milestones. It was the house in which I cried when the babies were old enough to go to kindergarten — and then camp and college.

My eyes welled up as I pictured my parents parking their Buick in front of our house and coming in for their weekly visits  — always carrying food.  There were countless holiday celebrations and lifecycle events with our parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

It was the place in which we entertained prospective daughters-in-law and where I pondered what it meant to be a mother-in-law. It was the same house in which we were consoled by our family and friends after my father, mother, mother-in-law, and father-in-law died over the span of seven years.

But before that it was a party house where I catered numerous kid and adult birthday celebrations, anniversaries and assorted get-togethers.

It was also the place where we grappled with problems and analyzed issues. We searched for faith and attempted to inculcate values. It was the sanctuary in which we shared our disappointments, rejections, and hurts, and sought words of wisdom to comfort each other.  It was simply put – home.

So much has changed in the world since we moved into our first house so long ago. We had been married less than three years, younger than all three of our children are now.  There were no cell phones, cable TV or Internet.  There were 34 children on the block, and after dinner each evening there was a friendly parade of strollers. Neighbors rang the bell bearing pies to welcome us.

But that changed over time, as the mothers went back to work and the children grew up and moved on.

The house felt empty and quiet. The time was right for us to start anew.

The Optimum commercial says: “Moving is hard.” And it is. It is emotional; it is stressful; it is exhausting. What to save, what to toss — as lives are relived through photos and papers and objects.

Do I miss the house in which we raised our children? No, I do not miss the physical house. It was merely the canvas in which we lived our life as a family.

The memories do not reside in the house; they live forever in our hearts. We take them with us to our new home.

The Living Memories Project, by Meryl Ain and her co-authors, will be published later this year by Little Miami Publishing Company.


10 Tips to Encourage Summer Learning

FDRhseThe hot weather is signaling to us that summer is on the horizon. School – with all of its structured routines, homework, testing, and projects — will soon be over.  Summer – with its outdoor play, excursions to the parks and beaches, and vacations — will replace the frenetic daily school schedules.  Both kids and parents are likely to be more relaxed!

But did you know that when students return to school after summer vacation, they’ve often lost one to three months of learning?

Research indicates that math skills are most in jeopardy. Elementary students at all socio-economic levels typically lose math skills, while middle class students often make slight gains in reading. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents will be able to afford camps, tutors, and the plethora of other summer programs that can enrich learning during the summer. And school budget cuts have also reduced free summer educational programs that existed in the recent past.

So what’s a parent to do? Here are 10 tips for maintaining your child’s skills and learning levels during the summer.

  • Foster the expectation that summer is a time for learning. Ask your child what he/she would like to learn over the summer. It’s also helpful if you are a role model for learning. Discuss with your children what you plan on learning this summer.
  • Encourage reading by providing your children with plenty of books that interest them. Use school summer reading lists and library grade-level reading suggestions. Visit the library often and check out special summer events. Read with your children, and discuss the books they are reading with them. If you are really ambitious, organize a book club with a few of your child’s friends.
  • Understand that any topic of interest to your child can be a source of learning. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, surround him or her with baseball books and magazines. Watching a baseball game and keeping score or cataloguing baseball cards can be a lesson in statistics, i.e., RBI, ERA.
  • Car trips can evolve into math or geography lessons. Instead of the perennial kid question: “Are we there yet,” ask your children to estimate and calculate the travel time to a destination. Encourage your kids to recognize different state license plates, and talk about those states with them, fostering their geography skills.
  • For social studies learning, make day trips to local historical sites, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, or FDR’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Overnight trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Boston, offer a wealth of information about our nation’s history. And for science skills, don’t overlook children’s science museums and zoos, as well as outdoor natural wonders to explore, such as caves, beaches, and parks.
  • Let your child calculate what the change should be at stores, restaurants, and activities that require admission fees. If your children are old enough, ask them to calculate tips in restaurants.
  • Try word games, including board games, such as Scrabble, and crossword puzzles and Sudoku to build vocabulary. Encourage your child to learn a certain number of new words during the summer.
  • Sharpen your child’s math skills by playing games with him or her that require computation, such as Monopoly or dominoes. Let your child be the scorekeeper or “banker.” You can also use flash cards to help review addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Go online for worksheets that match your child’s learning needs and skill level. Many of these can be printed or downloaded for free.
  • Don’t overlook the kitchen as a wonderful learning lab.  Involve your children in cooking and preparing meals, and they will exercise their reading, math and science skills. For example, have them read recipes, measure ingredients, and observe how the combination of different ingredients leads to the creation of something amazing.  For advanced learning, ask questions, such as how many pints are in a quart, or what made the dough rise?
  • Inspire your children to write about their summer learning experiences. Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!

###


Scholarships Keep Memories Alive

brentwoodscholarship2013

The 2013 recipients of the Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship with Meryl Ain

On Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the Brentwood High School Awards Night as a presenter of two scholarships in memory of my father, Herbert J. Fischman, a former teacher and elementary principal in the district. With this gesture, I joined with many other individuals and groups who together awarded hundreds of scholarships to Brentwood’s deserving graduates.

Principal Richard Loeschner and his family were among the presenters, memorializing their mother, Mary Ann Loeschner. There were also countless relatives, colleagues and friends of former Brentwood employees, local residents and students who also presented scholarships

The evening, which was coordinated by Paula Santorelli, was filled with warmth, spirit, and excitement. It was particularly inspiring to hear presenters speak about the loved ones in whose memory they were donating the scholarships. Listening to the speakers actually brought me closer to my father, who worked in the school district for 25 years. I recognized many of the names as colleagues and friends with whom he had worked, all of whom were so dedicated to the students, staff, parents, district and community.

In these difficult economic times when discretionary funds are diminishing, a scholarship — no matter how small – is particularly meaningful because it can have such a positive impact on the life of a young person. It also perpetuates the living memory of a loved one. The more scholarships that are available, the more opportunity there is to acknowledge young people who work hard to do their very best, as well as those who exemplify character traits that our communities and country desperately need, such as service and caring.

Four years ago, while writing a book with my husband and brother, I decided to establish the scholarship in memory of my father. Our book, The Living Memories Project, due to be published this fall, is about honoring memories and carrying on legacies. The idea for the scholarship came from two of our interviewees — Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney and brother of Rosemary and Betty Clooney, and Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of cellist Yo Yo Ma. Both separately suggested that one of the easiest ways to honor a loved one was to establish a scholarship in his or her memory. It was then that I made the commitment to continue the scholarships each year.

While the students are the recipients of the scholarships, attending the assembly and presenting the scholarships each year has been both cathartic and therapeutic for me. For example, I met retired teachers who worked in my father’s school and who shared with me their reminiscences, as well as their affection and admiration for my dad.   In addition, listening to others speak about their loved ones confirmed that dedicating a scholarship, no matter what the amount, helps to keep alive the memory of those who are no longer here.

Since establishing the Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship I have met some amazing students, parents, teachers, and principals in the Brentwood School District. I thank them for the opportunity to enable me to honor the memory of my father in a meaningful way!


Why Coming Out Benefits Straights as Much as Gays

collinsThe recent news that NBA center Jason Collins is gay was greeted with widespread attention and acceptance. In a measure of just how much public opinion has shifted, the 34-year-old Collins was lauded for his courage in coming out of the closet as the first openly gay professional athlete in this country. Collins even received a call from President Obama.

Most agreed this is a good thing for professional sports. More important, it is a good thing for young gay people struggling with their own sexuality. Hopefully, Collins’ announcement will help save lives. Gay rights advocates claim gay and lesbian teens are three to four times as likely to commit suicide as their straight counterparts.

The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people under 24, weighed in on the announcement:

“For nearly 15 years, The Trevor Project has heard from young people all over the country who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. Too often, they struggle with accepting who they are, or helping the important people in their life love, understand and accept them. Coming out is a brave thing to do for anyone because of the prejudice, fear and hate that too often confront LGBTQ people for being who they are. Today’s public announcement by NBA veteran center Jason Collins that he is gay is an important step in professional sports and makes a great deal of positive difference for his young and impressionable fans…”

As Collins told Sports Illustrated, his announcement impacts most families:

“Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.”

In an interview with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, Collins described how difficult it was to conceal who he was:

“It’s tough to live a lie. It’s really tough: I describe it as you know the sky is blue but you tell yourself it’s red. It’s an insane logic. It’s tough to continue to live with lies and half-truths. It weighs on you. You put on a mask, but at the end of the day you’re not happy telling yourself a lie over and over again to the point where I am now being honest and truthful and not having to have a censor button; it’s liberating.”

“Coming out” isn’t just healthy, necessary, and liberating for gay people; everyone else benefits as well. Lies are destructive, not only to the person telling them, but also to everyone else who becomes collateral damage. For example, Carolyn Moos, who had an eight-year relationship with Collins, told TMZ that she had no idea that he was gay. His former fiancée said she never suspected at all, and she could not understand why he broke up with her.

“It’s very emotional for me as a woman to have invested [eight] years in my dream to have a husband, soul mate, and best friend in him,” she said. “So this is all hard to understand.”

Hopefully, she will now go on with her life and find a husband, soul mate and best friend. But despite her shock and heartbreak, she added that she wants Collins to be true to himself, and wishes the best for him.

I suspect that is what most people who love someone who is gay – boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister, child, niece, nephew, cousin, or friend — would want for them. If they only knew! It’s time to open all of the closets for the emotional health of everyone in the family.

George Will, the conservative pundit, once said that to his children’s generation, sexual orientation is no more consequential than eye color.

Perhaps with honesty, love, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding, that day is not too far off.

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/#ixzz2S2ooVyQl

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/jason-collins-former-fiancee-carolyn-moos-had-no-170001023.html

http://bruni.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/qa-with-jason-collins/


April is Autism Awareness Month: 4 Great Reads from Parents in the Know

WAA-DayApril is Autism Awareness Month, a time when the public pays attention to autism – something parents and teachers in the special education and autism community live with every day.

One in every 50 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And because it is Autism Awareness Month we are seeing a plethora of wonderful articles – filled with sensitivity, insights, wisdom and first-hand knowledge – written by those who are the true experts on the subject. Here are four great reads on the topic.

Ellen Seidman @LoveThatMax shares her take on autism awareness through the prism of her son Max. In her blog in the Huffington Post, World Autism Awareness Day: The Problem With Labels, she writes why stereotyping her son and other kids with autism prevents others from experiencing their uniqueness as human beings.

“But here’s the thing about labels: they whitewash the uniqueness of the child,” she wrote. “When people figure that Max has autism because he looks or acts a certain way, or when people think that kids with autism are like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, they presume to know what our children are like — which does our kids a major disservice. That’s where we, their parents, come in.”

All of us can do the following:

“…Help people understand that kids with special needs are distinct individuals with definitive preferences, likes and dislikes. You know, like any kids. Help dismantle the stereotypes that accompany the labels. Help people see the ability in disability.”

To read the whole article, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-seidman/world-autism-awareness-day_b_3001124.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

Dennise Goldberg @SpecialEdAdvice, who writes the Special Education Advisor blog, says in her article, April, a Time for Autism Awareness……a Time to show Compassion, that April may be the only time of year when the entire society discusses autism. Believing that there are many who have yet to be diagnosed, she calls for compassion for all those who struggle with the disorder:

“We’ve all seen other children or adults who struggle with autism-like behavior, but for whatever reason they are or were unable to receive early intervention.  We all know the importance of early intervention to assist anyone with special needs; the reality is that not everyone who needs it will be given the opportunity to benefit from it.

“My hope is that as a society, we not only look at all those who have been diagnosed but we do not ignore those who haven’t.  Don’t forget about those you might see in your child’s school, in the market, at a sporting event, the mall and the list goes on and on!  If you see a child or an adult struggling to navigate in a social situation show some compassion for them.  Maybe they are having a bad day or they have yet to be diagnosed with a disability and receive the necessary help they desperately need; we can offer assistance instead of judgment.”

To read the entire article, go to:

http://www.specialeducationadvisor.com/april-a-time-for-autism-awarenessa-time-to-show-compassion/

In another Huffington Post blog, Saint Judy, Leda Natkin Nelis writes in praise of her mother who has provided her and her autistic son consistent and loving support from day one. She writes that every parent of a child with special needs should have support and an advocate like her mother.

“Raising a child with special needs has been challenging to say the least. Convincing the medical community that my concerns about my son were valid, and then attaining a proper diagnosis, was a gruesome battle. My mother has been right there in the trenches with me from day one. My gorgeous and successful Asperger’s son would not be where he is today without Judy’s belief and support. From the day he was born, I struggled to understand why this tiny baby was clearly in pain. Family members judged me as a parent and judged my child. Mothers at the playground whispered and pointed at the non-functional displays of behavior. Throughout it all, Judy’s belief in me and in my son never swerved. She insisted that together we would find answers, and always asserted that she could see in his eyes that my son was a genius.”

She goes on to urge all mothers of special needs children to not feel ashamed to seek support:

“We all, as vulnerable mothers of special needs children, need an advocate. Your advocate can be a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a charity worker. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Do not feel ashamed.”

To read the entire article, go to:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leda-natkin-nelis/saint-judy_b_2996965.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

In his blog, Autism from a Father’s Point of View, Stuart Duncan @autismfather presents the facts about the disorder to strip away the fear. He says that while awareness is “mandatory,” the facts and figures can often lead to fear. He urges parents who have received an autism diagnosis for their child to “embrace the fear.”

“What I mean by `embracing the fear’ is that some parents fight against the autism and thus fight against their own child, pushing them to not be themselves, to not be autistic at all and take that fight outward as they try to find someone or something to blame and forcibly share more and more information that they find in an attempt to perpetuate the fear onto others so that they can fear autism as well.”

To read the whole article, go to:

http://www.stuartduncan.name/autism/autism-awareness-day-a-few-things-to-consider/


Dismal Jobs Report: What are the best and worst careers of the future?

The March jobs report was released last week and it is disappointing. There were just 88,000 new jobs created in March and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent, indicating that about a half-million people stopped looking for work. This means that these individuals are so discouraged in their job search that they have given up.

Hopefully, the economy will improve. But whether it does or doesn’t, the workplace is changing due to advances in technology and the ubiquity of the Internet. There are certain fields that are waning and others that are booming. That’s certainly something young people and their parents may want to keep in mind as they look toward the future.

Kiplinger’s Report analyzed employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify the best and worst jobs for the future. It analyzed fields that are expected to add the most positions at the fastest rates through 2020. Additionally, Kiplinger’s looked for occupations that pay well and have been increasing wages. Included are fields that both require higher education and those that offer good pay and opportunity with less schooling.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/05/the-march-jobs-report-in-seven-charts/

Top 10 Worst Jobs of the Future

1. Post Office Clerk

2. Switchboard Operator/Call Receptionist

3. Semiconductor Processor

4. Sewing Machine Operator

5. Printing Press Technician

6. Desktop Publisher

7. Door-to-Door Salesman

8. Floral Designer

9. Newspaper/Magazine Reporter

10. Jeweler

Read more 10-of-the-worst-jobs-for-the-future

Conversely, other fields are booming due to changes in demographics and technology.

10 hot jobs of tomorrow

1. Registered Nurse

Projections indicate that more than 711,000 RNs will be added to the employment rolls by 2020, the most of any occupation. As the population ages, there will be more patients requiring care. To become a registered nurse, you need a degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program, as well as a nursing license. For an advanced nursing position such as a nurse practitioner, a master’s degree is required.

2. Systems Software Developer

This is a burgeoning field due to the escalating computerization of our personal and professional lives. It’s necessary to have a college degree in computer science or software engineering, and a master’s degree is required for certain positions.

3. Plumber

The demand for plumbers is expected to grow with new building construction, heightened attention to water efficiency, and the perennial need for plumbing maintenance.

Most plumbers begin with a paid four- or five-year apprenticeship. You might also need to be licensed, depending on your state’s requirements.

4. Construction Equipment Operator

As soon as it becomes a priority to repair the country’s rundown infrastructure, construction workers will be in demand. This is a field that is typically learned on the job, but there are also apprenticeships or private trade school programs available.

5. Electrician

The need for increased connectivity at home and at work, the growing use of alternative energy, and housing renovation and construction will offer more opportunities for electricians.

Most electricians get started with a paid four-year apprenticeship. Most states also require you to be licensed.

6. Personal Financial Advisor

As baby boomers age, they will need investment and retirement advice.

A bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, accounting or a similar field is the best preparation, but most employers don’t specify a required major. Certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree, at least three years of relevant work experience, and passing a rigorous exam on a wide range of financial issues, enhances your professionalism. Licensing is required to sell certain types of insurance and investment products.

7. Physical Therapist’s Assistant

The aging of the population will increase the demand for physical therapy professionals.

Therapist assistants fall between full-fledged physical therapists and lower-skilled therapist aides in terms of pay and training required. Although assistants typically earn about $27,000 less a year than physical therapists, they just need an associate’s degree, as opposed to a therapist’s doctoral degree, to get started.

8. Computer Network Administrator

To become a network administrator, who runs the day-to-day operations of an organization’s computer network, you will need a degree in computer or information science, or in computer or electrical engineering.

9. Painter

Little experience is necessary to become a house or building painter; you can get on the job training. But formal paid apprenticeships are also available. To become an industrial painter, you may need certifications for certain jobs, which can take one day to several weeks to obtain.

10. Dental Hygienist

In addition to growing demand for dental hygienists, the numbers of dentist and dental assistant jobs are expected to increase by 20.7% and 30.8%, respectively.

To become a dental hygienist, you usually need a two-year associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which requires you to study anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography and periodontology. You also have to get a license to practice. Requirements vary by state.

Read more at kiplinger.com


Top 10 School Budget Checklist for Parents

Now that school districts are in the home stretch of the yearly budget process, it’s a good time to reiterate the importance of parent involvement. Parents are their children’s best advocates, but you can’t be effective unless you are informed. Here are the Top 10 things you need to know to help you navigate the budget process in your school district.

  1. Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. Attend these meetings if you are available.
  2. Be sure to check your district’s website for information, and read budget brochures that are mailed to your home. Read the fine print so you will understand if your children’s school experience will be impacted.
  3. Keep up with media reports of budget meetings. Local newspapers and the Patch offer different perspectives, which may not be covered in official school district information.
  4. Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
  5. Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting. You must sign up to speak before the meeting. This is the time when you can join together with other parents to protest proposed reductions that you oppose, such as full-day kindergarten, or increased class size.
  6. Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and should be responsive to their constituents’ opinions and problems.
  7. If you are upset by a proposed cut, you may circulate petitions to the board, discuss the topic at PTA meetings, write letters to the board and to the newspapers, and come to board meetings en masse. Impassioned and organized efforts sometimes have the desired results.
  8. Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
  9. Remember to vote. There is a uniform voting date for all school districts in New York State, which this year is Tuesday, May 21. If you live in another state, check with your district for the date of this year’s budget vote.
  10. If you will be out of town you may request an absentee ballot. Check with the District Clerk for information about absentee ballots, polling places and voting hours.

Declining Enrollment: Is it Time for School District Consolidation?

As Long Island school districts continue to massage their 2013-14 budgets, declining student enrollment casts a huge shadow.

About 70 percent of Long Island’s districts had a decline in elementary school enrollment over the past six years, according to a Newsday editorial this week that argued there are too many Long Island school districts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo agrees, recently calling for more consolidation of districts throughout the state.

According to Newsday, the number of K-12 public school students on the Island has decreased from a high of 471,000 in 2004-05 to a projected estimate of 430,000 in 2015-16, a decline of 8 percent that is likely to continue. The drop in enrollment is due to a variety of factors, including a weak economy with slowing housing turnover, an aging population, lower birthrates, high property taxes, and a shortage of job opportunities.

For district leaders, dealing with the fallout from declining enrollment can be a very tricky proposition, and it typically leads to rancorous battles when school closings are proposed. Parents are often attached to their children’s schools and seldom appreciate a change.

The number of full-time teachers on the Island dropped 3.5 percent in the past seven years and in the last two years, at least six school districts have closed their elementary schools, Newsday pointed out. It says more schools are on the chopping block and that the “trend shows no sign of reversing.”

How school district officials and parents respond to these changes will determine the future quality of education here.

“We’ll also need more sharing of services, willingness to close unneeded schools and a plentitude of innovative thinking,” the newspaper argued. “In one sense, there is some good news: The decreases are significant enough that some financial savings can now be culled.”

In the last decade, school districts have been reluctant to sell their closed buildings. This is because districts that sold their buildings in the past often needed them just a few years later when enrollment picked up. District officials faced criticism and remorse when the buildings could not be reclaimed. But Newsday suggests that this would no longer be the case.

“That’s a harder sell now,” it said. “No one knows when or if the tide will turn, holding on to underutilized schools and property keeps them off the tax rolls. Beyond that, a building erected in the 1950s or 1960s might not be equipped with the infrastructure, like high-tech labs, audio-visual devices and computer wiring, to fit future educational needs.”

In addition, the entire way schools do business may change, the editorial suggested. For example, the three BOCES on Long Island have just started a cooperative venture to create online advanced placement courses.

“With pension and health care costs climbing, a property tax cap in place, and little or no new revenue on the horizon for districts, the time for change is now,”

the paper said.

One person who has long been a proponent of district consolidation is Martin R. Cantor, CPA, Ed.D., the director of The Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy. He contends that consolidation of Long Island’s school districts could save millions of dollars a year and would still preserve local control and save educational programs.

Under his proposal, the merger of dozens of local districts would allow the elimination of the vast majority of school superintendents, business and personnel officials. And he would give principals the power to budget and hire. He points to county systems in similar suburbs, such as those in Maryland and Virginia, which have comfortable, well-educated residents.

He argues that consolidation would not impact the students’ school experience but rather is a budget item “that has no role in the children’s education; in fact, it directs more school budget dollars to the classroom.”

“The plan preserves the neighborhood school,” Cantor insisted. “Children are not transported to other schools and districts. Nothing changes but better education at lower costs.”

To read his proposal, go to his website, www.martincantor.com and click the publication link: Town-Wide School Districts: 
A Case for Long Island Education at Lower Costs.

Become familiar with all of the issues related to this topic. Deeper cuts are on the horizon in all districts. Be informed, and decide for yourself what’s best for your children’s education!

http://www.newsday.com/opinion/editorial-li-schools-must-manage-enrollment-drop-carefully-1.4822661


Increased Use of Smartphones Among Teens: What’s A Parent to Do?

kidsphonesA new national study shows that the use of smartphones among teens has increased during the past year. The news is hardly shocking to parents and educators – but it does give us an opportunity to reflect on the role of technology in our kids’ lives – and also in our own.

The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicates that one in four teenagers use their cellphones to access the Internet, compared to 15 percent of adults. Seventy-eight percent of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 37 percent have a smartphone, an increase from 23 percent in 2011, according to the study, Teens and Technology, 2013.

We are well aware of the escalating challenges and benefits of cellphone ownership and use. The benefit of cellphones is that it creates a safety net for teens and gives parents the ability to stay connected with their kids at all times. There are even tracking devices, such as Sprint Family Locator and AT&T’s FamilyMap.

But the challenges are many. Previous generations of teenagers used the landline to connect with their peers. Teens may have tied up the family phone for hours, but parents were well aware of their activities. In fact, parents were usually able to vet potential dates and friends simply by answering the phone or observing their kids’ phone activity. Those days are long gone. The privacy and portability afforded kids by cellphones makes it increasingly difficult for parents to monitor their teens’ behavior. Texting, sexting, taking and sending inappropriate pictures, and cyberbullying are all serious concerns, as is the potential of smartphone addiction.

The incident this week in northern New Jersey is an example of how comfortable a group of teenage girls became with their cellphone camera, taking nude photos of themselves and sharing it through a device that erases the pictures a few seconds later. But some boys to whom the pictures were sent took screen shots of the photos before they were deleted and then shared them with others.

The superintendent of the Ridgewood school district sent a letter to parents informing them that police are now investigating the matter and urging them to have their children delete the photos. He said it is a crime to create, transmit or possess child pornography. Police say they will charge any student caught with the pictures after 7 a.m. Monday.

How many adults sleep with their smartphones next to their beds? Do you really want your teen to model your behavior? Hanging out with friends at the mall is one thing, but virtually hanging out 24/7 with a cellphone not only interferes with sleep, but intensifies the peer pressure that is part and parcel of adolescence.

According to Mashable, another study by TextPlus found that half of the teens they polled said they “couldn’t live without their mobile devices for a week, while 36 percent said they weren’t able to go 10 minutes without checking their phones.”

On the other hand, smartphones can be powerful learning tools, instantly connecting users to information and visuals. But kids also need to know that everything on the Internet is not necessarily true – such as the Tweets someone sent this week claiming to be Pope Francis. Young people need also to develop critical thinking skills. And there are concerns that texting may hamper the development of communication skills, such as writing and speaking.

Our parents and grandparents decried the use of the car, telephone, television, and portable radios by teens. In every generation, parents have had to cope with emerging technology. There is no shortage of lists to tell parents how to police their kids’ activities online, how to talk to them about cellphone use, and how to set rules and insist on responsible behavior.

But beyond that, we all should take a step back and see whether we are controlling the technology we use or whether technology is controlling us. That is the ageless question.

Parenting solutions are timeless too. There is nothing more powerful for parents to do than being present for kids, creating quality family time, sharing real life experiences, communicating face-to-face, inculcating values, and modeling appropriate behavior.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/study-25-percent-of-teens-access-internet-with-smartphones/2013/03/12/45c43bc2-8b7e-11e2-9f54-f3fdd70acad2_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2013/03/smartphone_use_on_the_rise_amo.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2


Sequestration – What the President and Congress Can Learn from School Districts

Each day we get closer to the dire predictions that will be brought on by the impending sequestration cuts, I – and many other Americans — become more and more incredulous. The country has not had a budget for 1,400 days! Is it really possible that the President and Congress (who are the elected representatives of the people) cannot agree on any reasonable reductions that would not imperil the health and safety of the nation?

As a public school central administrator for 20 years, much of my professional life revolved around the “budget process.” This is the yearly activity engaged in by every school district in the country in which budgets are proposed, massaged, presented for public discussion, approved by school boards, and then passed or defeated by the voters.

If school districts, which are mini-government entities, are capable of crafting budget plans each year, why not the federal government? If school districts can mine their budgets to find non-essential and less essential areas to cut, why can’t the President and Congress do so within the vast $46.3 trillion in federal government spending?

Sure, school districts engage in politics too when presenting their budgets. They may threaten to cut full-day kindergarten, sports programs, or other popular offerings, and sometimes they are cut. But often when there is an outcry from parents, these reductions are shelved in favor of those that have less impact on students and the educational programs.

There is no question that there is a political game going on now and voters should be outraged by this fifth budget showdown in two years. We are being told that the cuts will result in an unsafe food supply, an end to important medical research, more criminals on the street, dangerous air traffic, the devastation of Head Start, the crippling of the military, etc., etc.

I have a strong suspicion that there is likely some fat in the federal government. Why can’t Democrats and Republicans stop the shenanigans and start looking for at least some of the $1.2 trillion draconian sequestration cuts in less painful parts of the vast governmental enterprise? For starters, here are just a few areas where there could very well be hidden spending:

  • New equipment, including furniture, computers, etc.
  • Food – lunches, dinners, meetings, special events etc.
  • Overtime – clerical and custodial
  • Conferences
  • Travel
  • Staff – clerical, custodial, administrative
  • Consolidating and eliminating programs that do not affect health and safety.

School boards generally try to engage in responsible spending at the same time they refrain from hurting their constituents and decimating the heart and soul of their educational programs; the President and Congress should apply that lesson as they move forward.


Education News Round-Up: Food for Thought

Should educators be armed?

Mississippi teachers and principals would be allowed to carry concealed guns in schools under a bill passed Wednesday by the House. The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by the governor.

Those who supported the bill said it was a victory for those who want heightened school security following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn. last December. The bill enables boards of education to develop policies for their own districts, subject to state approval.

Opponents criticized the bill as a “knee jerk” response to the tragedy in Newtown, and insisted that security matters should be left to trained law enforcement personnel and not educators.

It is not clear whether the bill actually has a chance to become law. No similar bill exists in the Senate, which has a proposal backed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, to provide $7.5 million in matching state funds to allow schools to hire more armed police officers for their campuses

http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20130214/NEWS010504/302140040/

School buses to have Internet access and GPS tracking

Kokomo-Center Schools in Indiana will install wireless Internet – including a GPS tracking system — on all of its 65 buses by the end of the year. Internet access will enable students to do their homework on the bus, especially during long rides to and from after-school competitions. The GPS technology will keep track of the buses and will allow the district to more closely monitor bus transportation.

“This GPS tracking system will enable our transportation department to handle parent concerns in a timely, more efficient manner,” said Larry Johnson, the district’s transportation supervisor. “It will prove invaluable when answering parent questions concerning bus estimated time of arrival and present location.”

http://kokomotribune.com/local/x503850147/KCS-plans-Internet-on-school-buses

South Koreans Bemoan Lack of Values in Students

Don’t think that inculcating values in children is just an American problem. A survey by the Korea Education Development Institute released this week calls upon South Korea’s schools to focus on values education to combat the lack of ethics in its elementary and secondary students.

More than 55 percent of the 1,800 adults surveyed said that students in grades k-12 are lacking in ethics. Improving students’ character and personalities was ranked as the most important responsibility of schools with 35.8 percent, followed by the need to tackle school violence with 34.5 percent and reducing the heavy burden of educational expenses with 11.6 percent, according to the survey.

“A series of appalling school violence incidents, including suicide attempts by bullied students, likely led the public to put priority on ethics education,” said an institute official, calling for education officials authorities to take action.

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2013/02/511_130016.html

Bad News About Bullies

Do you think bullies are anti-social outsiders? Think again. A new study has found that middle school students who bully are often the most popular among their peers. This was equally true of both boys and girls who spread rumors, started fights or bossed other kids around.

Researchers from UCLA surveyed 1,900 students at 11 Los Angeles middle schools. The seventh and eighth graders were asked to name the students who were the “coolest” and the ones who were bullies. The students who were labeled the coolest were also often named the most aggressive, and those considered the most aggressive were much more likely to be named the coolest. The findings suggest that bullying and popularity go hand in hand. This is indeed a disturbing finding, and one that may shed new light on efforts to prevent bullying.

http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=672882


Presidents’ Day and the President’s Educational Initiatives

OBAMASTAs we observe Presidents’ Day, we are reminded how our presidents have impacted our country. Last Tuesday, we saw presidential influence on display with President Obama’s State of the Union address. The President used his bully pulpit to advocate for several public education proposals. Here are his education ideas:

1.   The College Scorecard, now posted at whitehouse.gov/scorecard, shows which schools offer the best value, “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” he said. Obama also asked Congress to change the Higher Education Act to link colleges’ federal aid to their “affordability and value.”

2.   Preschool for all children, he argued, would boost graduation rates as well as reduce teenage pregnancy and violent crime. “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” he said.

On Wednesday, Obama visited a pre-school in Decatur, Ga., telling an audience of teachers, parents, and students that “education has to start at the earliest possible age.” Obama’s proposal would guarantee pre-school at age four for all children from poor and working-class backgrounds. He said also that he would support local initiatives to provide education for middle-class four-year-olds, as well as for infants and toddlers from low-income families.

3.   Higher rewards for high-tech education to prepare graduates for a high-tech economy. This non-specific initiative would “redesign America’s high schools” to prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed for today’s jobs. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs,” Obama said.

He also seemed to indicate that every student doesn’t need to go to college if he/she can learn the appropriate technological skills in high school. He referenced “those German kids” who attend schools that provide the technological skills that equip them for a job when they graduate. He pointed to P-Tech in Brooklyn, where graduates leave with a high school diploma and associate’s degree in a high-tech field.

4.   Better school buildings could be among the priorities in his “Partnership to Rebuild America,” a plan to attract private capital to help with construction projects.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s response for the Republicans included: incentives for schools to provide Advanced Placement courses, more vocational training, and increasing school choice, especially for parents of children with special needs. He said also that financial aid should not “discriminate against programs that non-traditional students rely on – like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience.”

http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/13/5-education-ideas-from-the-state-of-the-union/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-touts-plan-for-universal-preschool/2013/02/14/e16a4888-76a6-11e2-95e4-6148e45d7adb_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

PTA Reaction to State of Union Speech

The National PTA was generally pleased with the State of the Union address, particularly his call for alleviating the impact of sequestration on education, ensuring school safety, providing early-childhood education, helping students become ready for college and careers, and engaging fathers in the lives of their children. But it was disappointed that the comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was not mentioned.

This year, National PTA wants Congress to take bipartisan action to address changes to the law governing the federal role in public education. The organization is especially interested in promoting meaningful family engagement via federal mandate.

“Despite bipartisan consensus on the importance of family engagement in education, there remains no central mechanism to translate federal family engagement policies into general practice in states and local communities. Thus, there is little evidence that states, districts, and schools are implementing ESEA-NCLB’s family engagement provisions to meaningfully engage families in the education of their children,” according to the PTA’s 2013 Public Policy Agenda report.

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/parentsandthepublic/2013/02/national_pta_applauds_dings_state_of_the_union_address.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

http://www.pta.org/about/newsdetail.cfm?ItemNumber=3556


School Sports in the News

sportspictsSchools Must Accommodate Students With Disabilities in Athletics

The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a guidance document stating that schools must accommodate students with disabilities in school athletics. This means that students with disabilities must be afforded an equal opportunity to participate in school sports.

According to an article in Education Week, the guidance document says that schools can make “reasonable modifications” to enable equal access. The rights of students with disabilities are protected under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Examples of modifications include:

  • Allowing a visual cue, rather than a verbal one, to enable a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team.
  • Waiving a rule requiring a “two-hand touch” in swim meets so that a one-armed swimmer is able to participate in competition.
  • Requiring schools to provide accommodations to students with diabetes the same health assistance he/she receives during the day for extracurricular activities.

Offering students the chance to participate does not mean the rules of the sport will be changed, or that every student who tries out for a particular team will be accepted. But the guidance document notes that schools should create additional opportunities for students with disabilities to play a particular sport if they cannot accommodate them with the offerings they have.

For example, a number of school districts have created disability-specific teams, such as wheelchair tennis or wheelchair basketball. When there are not enough students with disabilities at a school to comprise a team, districts may create district-wide or regional teams, mix male and female students with disabilities on a team, or develop “unified” sports teams with both students with and without disabilities.

Terri Lakowski, a disability advocate and group chairwoman of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition, applauded the guidance, although she said she would have liked it to offer “more examples of ways to include students with developmental disabilities, such as autism, in sports,” she told Education Week.

“This will really do for students with disabilities what Title IX did for women,” she said.

Youth Sports Coalition Says Student Athletes Need Better Sports Safety

The Youth Sports Safety Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 groups, called for schools to adopt stronger measures to protect the almost 8 million high school athletes in the US. The recommendations include universal access to health care professionals, and pre-season physical exams — including concussion testing.

Each year, student athletes sustain 400,000 concussions, which may lead to long-term health issues for these young people. Also suggested were better-trained coaches, up-to-date equipment, and clean and safe sports facilities. More students die playing high school sports than in college or professional competitions.

Additionally, the coalition recommended student athletes receive warnings about performance-enhancing substances and proposed the formation of a national registry to track student athlete deaths.

Each state determines its own rules for student sports. The alliance requested that state athletic associations adopt its proposals.


Getting Ready for Kindergarten

kidreadIf you’re a parent who will be sending a five-year-old to kindergarten for the first time next September, it may seem like a long way off. But this is actually the time to start preparing. New parents often have questions about registration as well as how to help get their children ready for school.

First and foremost, you must register your child with your school district. While many districts have “official” kindergarten registration periods this month, you may register your child at any time. Actually, the sooner you register your child, the better. Schools use registration information to plan for the following school year, to budget, and to estimate how many kindergarten classes, teachers, supplies and equipment they will need. It’s also critically important if your child has special needs. You want to ensure that he/she is tested and evaluated early in order to get the appropriate help and services.

Call your district first to find out if there are specific registration hours and what documents you will need to bring with you, such as a birth certificate, proofs of residency, and immunization record.

The average age of kindergarten entrants continues to rise, with 37 states now requiring that children be five when they enter kindergarten. The fact that school districts around the country differ widely in their cut-off dates for students entering kindergarten is a source of confusion for parents. Deadlines vary in different districts; so make sure you know what the date is in your community.

Despite district deadlines, the practice of holding children back from kindergarten until they are six has become popular in the last few years. The decision of whether or not to hold a child back from kindergarten should be based on the individual youngster’s social, emotional, and academic needs and development, not on gaining a competitive advantage over other children. Parents know their children best, and should also take into account what the child will be doing if he/she is not in kindergarten

Parents of incoming kindergarten students may wonder whether teachers expect them to come prepared with certain skills. While teachers are pleased when children enter kindergarten knowing letters and numbers, they do not want you to drill them. Kindergarten teachers look for their students to have readiness skills; these are the building blocks that will enable your child to love learning and to succeed in school. You can prepare your child with readiness skills through daily activities.

Spark your child’s curiosity and vocabulary by discussing and naming observations, objects, and experiences.  Activities, such as visits to the beach, park, beach, children’s museum, or zoo, present many opportunities for you to help your child develop language skills.  It goes without saying that reading to your youngster will also help him/her learn new words and ideas. Use new words in your conversation in a context your child understands.

Kindergarten teachers will be pleased if your child has the ability to listen. Read to your child every day and ask questions about the book.  Besides nurturing vocabulary and comprehension, reading develops the listening skills necessary in a kindergarten classroom. Students must listen to concentrate on what the teacher is saying, to be able to follow directions, and to learn. Singing also fosters listening skills and will help develop reading readiness.

Encouraging your youngster to take care of him/herself is good preparation for kindergarten. For example, although it’s easier to hang up your child’s coat yourself, the kindergarten teacher will want students to do it themselves. She cannot take off the boots and hang up the coats of 25 students. Pre-school usually helps children master these skills.

Kindergarten is about socialization, so help your child get ready by encouraging him/her to share, take turns, and understand the rights, space, and feelings of others.

It’s important for kindergarten students to have good eye-hand coordination. Many kindergarten activities involve coloring, cutting, pasting, and writing with a pencil. Playing with clay or Play-Doh, writing, coloring, painting, pasting, and stringing beads are examples of activities that will get your child ready for kindergarten. These activities, along with counting and recognizing shapes and colors, are usually well covered in pre-school. But you can enhance your child’s knowledge by also providing these opportunities at home.

You can help make the transition into kindergarten a fun and seamless one by incorporating readiness activities into your child’s daily routine.


Flu Resources for Parents and Teachers

ImageUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that there is a flu epidemic this year — both in the United States and elsewhere.  The flu has been around for a long time, and there’s no need for parents to panic. Here are some resources to help parents and children make sensible health decisions.

The New York Times Learning Network offers a number of ideas about teaching students about the flu virus. Included are lessons about how flu attacks the body, how to control its spread, how vaccines work, the history of the disease and how epidemiologists work.

http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/teaching-about-the-flu-with-the-times/?smid=tw-share

Flu.gov has valuable information on children and the flu, such as: how to protect your children; how to care for them, and even what to do about your pets!  And of course, remember to “keep your child at home and away from healthy people for at least 24 hours after his or her fever is gone. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.”

http://www.flu.gov/at-risk/children/index.html

For an alternative position on flu vaccines, an article in The Daily Beast points out: “Though the CDC did guess well with most of the strains circulating this year, even CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden acknowledges that the venerable flu shot is only 62 percent effective in reducing symptoms of the disease. In other words, for every 100 people who get the flu shot, 38 of them will get the flu anyway.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/18/flu-shots-are-damn-dangerous.html

Schools are hotbeds of germs. It’s important for children to know to wash their hands often and to cover their mouths when they sneeze. Recently, some schools have been teaching students to sneeze into the crook of their elbows. The children in this kid-friendly Public Service Video from the Virginia Department of Health describe this method.

http://www.vdh.state.va.us/epidemiology/DiseasePrevention/H1N1/Video/PSAs/Sneezing101.htm

During flu season and always, encourage your child to exercise good hygiene, eat nutritious foods, and get plenty of sleep. Don’t send your child to school if he or she is not feeling well. Have a contingency plan for your work if your child is home sick. If you don’t, the school nurse is likely to call before the day is over asking you to take your child home.


Top 5 Must-Read Education Articles of the Week

There were five thoughtful articles on educational issues this week that I’m sharing with you in case you missed them. They are all well worth reading and discussing.

1. When I was a doctoral student at Hofstra University in the 1990s, it made sense to talk about “21st century skills.” But I have to admit that when some of my colleagues in the Smithtown School District continued to use that phrase a decade into the new millennium, I secretly cringed.  In her Huffington Post article, A 21st Education is SO Last Century, Lydia Dobyns cogently makes the point:

“It’s empty phraseology designed to sound like we are preparing for the future when we are already living in that future; and no one believes that what passes for a typical classroom today will be the classroom experience even 10 years from now, let alone for the next 87 years.”

The entire article is a must read.

2. Thinking about the future, David Young and J.B. Buxton write about Language Education We Can Use in Education Week. They suggest that we overhaul language programs to ensure that they are in  “tune with the demands of states, businesses, and parents to better prepare students for the global world in which they will live and work.” This is definitely something to think about.

Read the entire article.

3. On the topic of educational reform, PBS aired a Frontline documentary this week  (“The Education of Michelle Rhee”) about Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and the founder and CEO of the StudentsFirst advocacy organization.  Veteran education journalist John Merrow (Learning Matters) covered Rhee during her volatile three years in D.C. for the documentary. Emily Richmond, public editor of the National Education Writers Association, interviewed him about the documentary and Rhee’s complicated legacy.

Read the entire article.

4. Peter DeWitt raises very important questions about guns, TV and video game violence, and mental health in his Education Week piece, Does America Have A Violence Problem?

“We need to have open discussions about mental health and deal with America’s violent mentality. We need to look to the media, parents, society and what our children are allowed to watch on television. Schools are trying to teach students that fighting isn’t the answer at the same time they watch it as the only answer on television. Many parents monitor what their children see, but it seems to be getting harder and harder every year. We need children to actually be children.”

Definitely read the full article.

5. On a one-to-one level, Dr. Michele Borba offers invaluable parenting advice for parents whose children have anger management issues or are unable to handle impulses. Her wise suggestions are a must read for parents who want specific real-world suggestions on how to help kids find healthier ways to control strong impulses, overwhelming feelings, aggression and inappropriate outbursts. For example, she offers techniques to recognize your child’s anger warning signs and ways to develop a feeling vocabulary. This is a great resource for parents who live with this problem.

Read the entire article.


Five Education Stories to Watch in 2013

Question1. Questions about school safety surfaced almost immediately following the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. at the end of 2012.  The school had strong safety protocols in place, but they were no match for a shooter with military-style weapons.

In 2013, look for more soul-searching conversations and concomitant action about school safety. Parents have an absolute right to expect that when they send their children to school, they will be safe and secure, and that they will be returned to them at the end of the day in the same condition. But this heated debate involves much more than amending school safety plans. On one side are the gun control advocates and on the other are the proponents of arming not only guards – but teachers and administrators, too. Where this argument will go is anybody’s guess, but it’s sure to dominate the education and political news this year.

2. High-stakes testing was in the news in 2012. While many national policy and opinion makers favored testing as a way to reform the educational system, those in the trenches disagreed. For example, parents organized boycotts against testing and local boards of education passed resolutions against testing.

The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has been endorsed by more than 13,700 individuals and 460 organizations. It calls on the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.”

In 2013, expect the debate to heat up as more academics and education writers line up against high-stakes testing.

3. In addition, the related issue of teacher evaluations will continue to be hotly debated as teacher unions persist in questioning the wisdom of linking evaluations to testing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a deadline of Jan. 17, 2013, for local school districts and unions in New York to agree on a teacher evaluation plan following the parameters set down in state legislation. If not, Cuomo warned, they would lose state aid. Only about 250 of the state’s 700 districts had approved plans as of Dec. 1.

4. Although 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the implementation, cost, and quality of these assessments were increasingly under fire in 2012. Some believe Tony Bennett was defeated as Indiana’s state superintendent of education because of his support for Common Core.

In 2013, watch for news about grassroots efforts in several states against Common Core. Some states may even withdraw from the program, due to issues with the standards and assessments themselves, as well as the perception by some that they are a federal intrusion into education.

5. Parent/Family Engagement in schools made the news in 2012 with educators increasingly turning their attention to how to actively involve parents in their children’s education. On the other hand, a number of states adopted Parent Trigger legislation, which was passed to enable parents to take over schools — although most of these have been challenged in court.

The efficacy of the Parent Trigger will be debated and tested in 2013 amid concerns from educators that real reform efforts must include the professionals.

I wish you a happy, healthy, safe, and successful new year!!!


New Year’s Resolutions After the Two Sandys

As 2012 fades into memory, we look forward to the blank slate that is 2013. With the still fresh wounds of the horror and destruction of the two Sandys —  Superstorm Sandy and Sandy Hook Elementary School – the usual New Year’s Resolutions like losing weight seem frivolous and off key.  These two cataclysmic events reminded us to count the blessings that we too often take for granted – family, children, grandchildren, home, health, and safety.

Ann Curry’s #26Acts of Kindness hits the mark with an imperative for each of us to give of ourselves in big or small ways to honor the memories of the Newtown victims. So does the 92Y’s #GivingTuesday initiative, which puts charitable giving front and center.

With so much devastation around us, we can only hope that 2013 will be brighter. Our New Year’s Resolutions – instead of being narrow and selfish – can truly help to make things better. They can also model for our children and grandchildren what is truly important. I, for one, am going to abandon my usual resolutions in favor of the following:

  1. Be kinder
  2. Be more compassionate
  3. Be more understanding
  4. Be less critical
  5. Complain less
  6. Praise more
  7. Be more forgiving
  8. Be more generous
  9. Be more present
  10. Be more appreciative
  11. Worry less
  12. Count blessings more

My sincere wish for you and your family is that 2013 will be a year of health and happiness, and that peace and understanding will light the world!Screen


After Newtown, the Conversation Must Continue

We are all grieving.  We are all frightened. We are all bereft. Every parent, every grandparent, every sister, every brother, every relative, every friend, every teacher, every human being — has been diminished by the unspeakable massacre of little children and the caring adults who tried to save them at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The media continues to cover every angle of this gruesome tragedy. The President and other elected officials have spoken. What more is there to say?

After this week of funerals, the conversation must quickly pivot to finding solutions to vanquish the multi-headed monster that spawned the horrific events in Newtown — and the 30 other mass murders in this country since Columbine in 1999. The feelings of caring and concern and unity – and yes, outrage — must be harnessed for the safety of our children and the future of our society.

What will that take? 

President Barack Obama has vowed to a multi-pronged initiative. Speaking at a vigil in Newtown, he promised, “In the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

Our leaders will be required to abandon their knee-jerk comfortable and safe positions and govern with their hearts as well as their heads. The time is long overdue for a new volume of Profiles in Courage. And the public has every right to demand that the President of the United States and the Congress compose it in 2013.

Sen. Joe Lieberman has suggested a national commission on violence that would scrutinize gun laws and loopholes, as well as the nation’s mental health system and the role that violent video games and movies might play in shootings.

“This is a moment to start a very serious national conversation about violence in our society, particularly about these acts of mass violence,” said the Connecticut senator, who is retiring next month. “There are a lot of serious questions here about what is the impact of violence in the entertainment culture on everybody.”

In addition, school safety procedures will have to be revisited yet again. Since Columbine, schools throughout the country have done a much better job in the area of school safety and security. The Sandy Hook Elementary School appears to have had strong safety protocols in place. The staff implemented the lockdown procedures that had been practiced in drills, and there was communication with parents, police and fire departments.

The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and other faculty and staff members actually ran into the line of fire, sacrificing their own lives to protect their children. But that wasn’t enough to save their precious students from a deranged shooter. All discussions about schools must include those who work there, acknowledging how deeply they honor their role of in loco parentis.

We must ask and answer troubling questions. How does our culture contribute to acts such as these? How do we identify and care for our mentally ill? How does our 24/7 news cycle and celebrity culture make a celebrity out of a berserk mass murderer? Why aren’t violent movies in the same category as pornographic ones? Why should our children be exposed to violent video games?

Finally, all of the issues, pronouncements and policies in the world cannot remove the yeoman’s share of responsibility from parents. Here are some difficult questions:

  • Does your child know how to protect his or her personal safety and what to do if he or she is threatened?
  • Are you familiar with your school’s safety procedures?
  • Do you allow your child to watch violent movies and TV programs?
  • Do you buy and/or allow your child to play violent video games?
  • Do you know what your child is doing on the Internet?
  • Are you a role model for kindness, caring, and empathy?
  • Do you teach your children how to be resilient?
  • Do you encourage creativity and constructive behavior?
  • Do you take personal responsibility and encourage your children to take responsibility for their actions?
  • Where do you turn if you have concerns that your child has the potential to be violent?

After Sandy Hook, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Let us honor the memories of the beautiful children and brave staff with a continuing dialogue and resulting action so that we will have a saner and safer society.

http://news.yahoo.com/lieberman-democrats-want-ban-assault-weapons-002100144–politics.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9414540/A-history-of-mass-shootings-in-the-US-since-Columbine.html

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map


Nine Tips to Help Someone Grieving During the Holidays

sadholidayThe holiday season is in full swing, and there’s a feeling of good cheer almost everywhere you go. For many people, this is a time of celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. There are parties, projects, and plays at school, and religious services and other activities in the neighborhood. But for those who are struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a challenging time that unleashes painful feelings that emphasize their sense of loss.

As my co-authors and I put the finishing touch on our book, The Living Memories Project, which is slated to be published next spring, I can’t help but sympathize and empathize with both children and adults who are overwhelmed with feelings of sadness during this happy time of year. Our book features interviews with celebrities and others about how they have kept the memories of their loved ones alive through various activities and projects.

Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) offers suggestions from hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, including:

  • Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.
  • Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
  • Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
  • Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or a holiday meal.
  • Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
  • Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
  • Never tell someone that he or she should be “over it.”  Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
  • Be willing to listen.  Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
  • Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten.

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. More information about grief or hospice is available from NHPCO’s Caring Connections.


Teaching Kids the Importance of Giving

Toddler with shopping bags.The coming of this year’s holiday season was heralded with record sales in stores and online. As much as we believe that it is our patriotic duty to pump up our failing economy, this year we cannot help but stop and survey the need around us.

Victims of Hurricane Sandy have joined the ranks of the homeless as they figure out how to move on with their lives. The election is behind us, but the unemployment rate is still high, and there are still too many children who do not receive adequate nutrition.

It is deeply rooted in our culture that children expect to receive gifts at this time of year. But how do we also teach our children the important value of giving? How do we impart values, like compassion and charity? How do we teach kids such practical lessons as the value of money and saving?

There are simple ways that schools try to teach these lessons. They may sponsor a holiday service project. Some schools ask parents to refrain from giving teachers gifts and instead suggest they honor their teachers with a contribution to any number of worthwhile causes.  In this way, families can contribute what they are able to afford – or not at all if they are strapped – and the gift is from the entire class. Here are some ideas for a class or family project:

  • A gift card to a supermarket or department store for a needy family
  • A class collection of non-perishable food items for a local food pantry
  • Purchasing holiday gifts for a homeless family
  • Providing a holiday dinner for a needy family
  • A donation to a charity

There are several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate for youngsters to help support. #GivingTuesday, a national project started by the 92d Street Y in New York City to remind people about the need to give back particularly at holiday time, was a huge success when it kicked off the week after Thanksgiving. But #GivingTuesday is continuing the rest of the month as well.

Donations to CARE can provide school uniforms; contributions to Heifer International provide gifts of livestock and training to help families improve their nutrition and generate income, and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program screens children for vision problems and provides eyeglasses. Don’t forget your local charities; it’s meaningful for kids to know they are helping those close to home.

One hands-on program was started by Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Florida.
Houses for Change is a national campaign to raise awareness of homelessness and to raise funds to help homeless families. Since its launch at the end of 2010, more than 17,000 kids in over 150 cities have created their own unique Houses for Change collection boxes.

The project was conceived as a result of Wasserman’s volunteering with Family Promise of South Palm Beach County, an interfaith organization that helps homeless families with children become independent again.

“The values kids learn from this project,” said Wasserman, “will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

Using art supplies and their imagination, children decorate pre-ordered boxes to look like a house. Participants take their boxes home and in the following weeks fill them with loose change. On a selected date, kids bring their filled boxes back to the local sponsoring group for a communal donation to any homeless organization, food bank or related organization.

According to Wasserman, Houses for Change has universal appeal.  He noted that it has been adopted as a service learning project by schools and congregations.  The decorated boxes have been used at community service days and birthday parties as piggy banks; at churches as Advent, Lenten and collection boxes; and at synagogues as tzedakah (charity) boxes.

Houses for Change is more than an arts and crafts project, Wasserman notes. “It is an opportunity to teach about charity, homelessness, hunger and social action. It enables kids to realize that if they regularly save their loose change, it will accumulate to a large sum; and if they combine their savings with those of others, it can become a significant charitable donation that will help those in need.”

Houses for Change is sponsored by Family Promise, a non-profit organization that mobilizes communities to help homeless and low-income families. At  www.familypromise.org/housesforchange there are details about how to organize this project.
Engaging parents, children, and schools in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving.

Happy Holidays!


PRESIDENTS’ WEEK VACATION – ANOTHER CASUALTY OF SANDY?

Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath continues to wreak havoc on families impacted by its wrath. As the emotional and physical recovery continues into the foreseeable future, a venerable vacation tradition may become yet another casualty of the super storm – the weeklong February vacation.

As reported by NEWSDAY, most Long Island districts are expected to cancel three to five days of the February vacation, which begins on Presidents’ Day and continues throughout the week. This year it takes place from February 18 to 22. The goal of the cancellation is to try to make up lost time due to Sandy and the nor’easter that closed some schools for up to two weeks. New York City schools have already cut the vacation back to two days; students will attend school from February 20 to 22.

According to the NEWSDAY story, 66 of Long Island’s 124 school districts have already announced that they are cancelling or are considering calling off all or some of the midwinter vacation. While some district officials say they may restore the vacations if the state grants waivers from the mandated 180-day school year, the February vacation is the logical place to restore lost learning time.

Districts are in danger of losing state aid if they do not comply, although the state education commissioner can grant districts waivers of up to five days to cover “extraordinary” circumstances. But Commissioner John B. King Jr. has already emphasized that districts must use up vacation days before they are eligible for exemptions. There is also legislation pending that gives districts an additional five days of waivers, but the state legislature does not reconvene until January 1.

With news of the impending cancellations, there are complaints from students, parents, faculty and staff, many of whom have made vacation plans well in advance and stand to lose thousands of dollars – and priceless memories.  It’s likely that a sizeable number of families will go ahead with their vacation plans anyway and attendance will be down – and that’s an individual family decision.

But that’s not a good enough reason to keep schools closed for everyone. Every district has already used up its store of emergency days and it’s only November! Those days are usually set aside for snowstorms.

Off the record, educators have long questioned the February vacation for its timing and value. Coming approximately seven weeks after the Christmas break, it interrupts the flow of learning in the middle of the school year – the prime time for education. Many regions in the country do not close school for the entire Presidents’ Day Week; perhaps this is the appropriate time to question the wisdom of this weeklong break. What do you think?


Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and #GivingTuesday

For those in the northeast still feeling the after effects of Hurricane Sandy, the Thanksgiving holiday is bittersweet. It is indeed an opportunity to count our blessings – of life, health, family, community, and freedom – at the same time we survey the damage and rebuild. It recalls the first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims offered thanks for surviving a harsh winter and for a nourishing harvest.

The parallel that comes to my mind is the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. How did a shocked and grieving nation celebrate Thanksgiving and move on following this man-made tragedy? Murdered on November 22, the new President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation on Thanksgiving Day, November 28. I believe it might have been the most inspiring speech Johnson ever delivered. He said:

“All of us have lived through seven days that none of us will ever forget. We are not given the divine wisdom to answer why this has been, but we are given the human duty of determining what is to be, what is to be for America, for the world, for the cause we lead, for all the hopes that live in our hearts.”

While acknowledging the tragedy, Johnson then focused on reasons for gratitude.

“More than any generation before us, we have cause to be thankful, so thankful, on this Thanksgiving Day. Our harvests are bountiful, our factories flourish, our homes are safe, our defenses are secure. We live in peace…”

How do entire communities devastated by Sandy observe Thanksgiving this year? As always, families will join together for the traditional feast and camaraderie. In areas like Long Beach, N.Y., there will be community meals for those who have lost their homes.  And – as in 1963 — there will still be gratitude for the blessings that are often taken for granted.

But what is our “human duty” in the wake of Sandy?

The debate about whether the holiday buying season should begin on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday seems crass, frivolous, and insensitive to those who are still suffering.

A more fitting alternative is the 92Y’s new initiative to inaugurate a national day of spending that emphasizes giving back. Giving Tuesday, which will be launched November 27, is bringing together charities, families, businesses and individuals in an effort to transform the way people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season.

Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join this national celebration of our great tradition of generosity. You can help by spreading the word about the importance of giving back and joining in the conversation at givingtuesday.org, or on Twitter by following the hashtag #givingtuesday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=25999


Election 2012 Aftermath: 7 “Class” Rules for Elected Officials

Now that the 2012 Presidential Campaign is over and the people have spoken, it’s time to move ahead. Our country faces overwhelming economic challenges and looming deadlines, including a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and severe spending cuts, a spiraling national debt, and huge annual deficits. There are also weighty international challenges, including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and China, to name just a few.

Voters re-elected President Obama at the same time that they endorsed a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a Democratic majority in the Senate. After the election, President Obama offered to meet with his challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, while Romney said he and his wife Ann were praying for the President. Congressional leaders also extended the olive branch and expressed a desire to work together. Let’s hope that this is not mere lip service and is followed up by prompt and meaningful actions.

Voters exercised their responsibility to go to the polls. They did so in a dignified and patient manner, at times enduring hours of waiting time. Even victims of Hurricane Sandy, who had lost their homes and possessions, still found a way to cast their ballots. Citizens ought to continue to exercise their responsibility by following up on those they elected. They should call, write, and email them and not only let them know where they stand on issues, but also that they expect them to pursue their agendas in a civil and respectful manner.  The press also has a responsibility to stop focusing on the fluff and hold all officials responsible for their words and actions.

Now it is time for all of our elected officials to get to work immediately and to fulfill their responsibility to their constituents. Let’s hope that the dismal and negative rhetoric of the campaign is behind us and President Obama will use his leadership mandate to usher in a new era of civility in politics.

He would do well to model the example of George Washington, who was guided by civility throughout his political career. At 16-years-old, his tutor gave him the assignment of copying by hand 110 Rules of Civility, an exercise that influenced his life. These rules were composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and were disseminated in Washington’s era. While many of the rules are outdated and anachronistic, their purpose was to foster respect for others as well as self-respect. They provided a guide to Washington and others living at that time about how to get along with one another and work together for the common good.

Advice to teachers and parents always boils down to: Model the behavior you want to see. President Obama might wish to copy his own rules and distribute it to members of Congress, and let everyone know he plans to emulate them himself.  Harry Truman’s sign on his desk, The Buck Stops Here, sent a message to the entire country. Perhaps President Obama would like to frame his own rules and place them on his desk. Successful teachers and parents know that by creating a sense of order, consistency, and trust, they send the message that respect, kindness, and accomplishment are paramount.

I don’t know of an elementary school teacher who does not begin the school year with a discussion of class rules. Secondary schools also have rules, and school districts are required to have Code of Conduct policies. Where is the Code of Conduct for our elected officials?

Here are a few “class” rules – gleaned from teachers and parents – that should help our representatives do the work of the people who elected them – and get to work solving our country’s daunting problems!

    1. Remember You Have Been Elected to Make Things Better
    2. Respect Your Colleagues
    3. Be Prepared To Compromise
    4. Stay On Task
    5. Complete Work On Time
    6. Respect Other People’s Opinions
    7. Stop thinking About The Next Election And Start Thinking About The Good Of The Country

Follow Dr. Ain on Twitter and subscribe to her blog, Your Education Doctor

http://www.foundationsmag.com/civility.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/us/politics/president-obama-begins-work-on-second-term.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121108


How to Manage Your Child’s Food Allergy at School

The holiday season, beginning with Halloween and culminating in Christmas, is still celebrated in many schools with festivities – including a heavy dose of treats. This is particularly problematic for children with food allergies.

A study reported in the Journal of Pediatrics indicates that eight percent of children under the age of 18 have food allergies. The report noted that food allergies were most prevalent among preschoolers, and teenagers were most likely to have dangerous and deadly reactions. Peanut allergies were the most common, followed by milk and shellfish allergies.  Other foods triggering food allergies were: tree nuts, eggs, fish with fins, strawberries, wheat and soy.

While many food allergies in children are mild and fade as youngsters grow, others can be severe and life threatening. According to the study, 40 percent of children with food allergies experience acute symptoms, such as wheezing, and anaphylaxis– a medical emergency, which involves trouble breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure.

More students than ever are currently attending school with severe food allergies. And some believe that food allergies are on the rise. For more than a decade, I supervised the school nurses in an 11,000-student school district. I often consulted with parents, principals, and nurses about students’ allergies, the parent’s role, and the schools’ response. Parents need to be proactive about their children’s food allergies throughout the school year, but particularly when shared foods are abundant during class celebrations.

If your child has a food allergy, you are your child’s best advocate. Make sure you are thoroughly informed about your child’s needs and rights. It is critically important for you to communicate with the school principal, school nurse, and your child’s teachers, as well as other parents. Be actively involved in helping the school to understand and provide the services and attention your child needs to succeed. Here are some suggestions to help you be proactive.

  • Become an expert on your child’s allergy.  Read about it, speak with your allergist, and consider joining a food allergy support group. Know what foods your child must avoid, and the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. Learn how to use an epi-pen if your doctor prescribes it.
  • Prepare information about your child’s allergy, possible reactions, and medications, and share it with the school.
  • Learn how your school generally handles food allergies. For example: is there a peanut free table in the cafeteria? Are children allowed to bring snacks from home and share them? What happens at birthday parties and other celebrations?
  • Work with school personnel to build a support team for your child. Educate them to avoid allergens, how to respond to your child’s symptoms, and how to react in an emergency. You will also want to discuss issues, such as field trips.
  • Check the school’s policies, protocols and guidelines in regard to the handling of food allergies.
  • Update prescriptions, doctor’s orders and other necessary paperwork at the start of each school year or when there is a change in your child’s treatment.

Often, food allergies can be addressed successfully by developing a medical management plan that gives the school guidance on your child’s specific needs. Creating a medical management plan for how your child’s allergy will be handled at school should be a team effort that includes you, your child, school personnel, and your child’s doctors. It is very important that the plan is documented in writing.

Parents often ask about whether they need a 504 Plan to manage their child’s food allergy at school. 504 Plans are comprehensive plans created collaboratively by parents, nurses, and other interested parties to address the student’s individual needs. While a medical management plan provides guidelines, a 504 Plan is legally binding. It is your call whether you want to request a 504 Plan for your child.

School districts are required by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794) to provide all students, regardless of disability, with a “free appropriate public education.” This provision, found in section 504, applies to any condition – physical, mental, or emotional – that might interfere with a student’s ability to receive an education in a public school. That means that no student with a disability can be excluded from school.

A severe food allergy, such as peanuts, is a condition that may or may not fall under the Rehabilitation Act. For example, 504 Plans may address the use of anaphylactic medications, such as epi-pens, and how staff will be utilized to recognize and respond to allergy symptoms. 504 plans may also address specific responsibilities of students and staff.

A student must have a condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” to qualify for a 504 Plan. Students have to be evaluated by the school district to determine whether they are eligible. The district will take into consideration the age and capability of the child. If parents are dissatisfied with the outcome, they may appeal.

The bottom line has to do with the seriousness of your child’s symptoms and how capable he/she is to take care of his/her health needs. You are the best judge. It is your decision whether you want to have a legally enforceable plan or if you are comfortable with a medical management plan. Whichever you choose, it is always a good idea to make sure everything is in writing. If you are in doubt, consult with your child’s doctor, and an attorney who has expertise in this area.

Follow Dr. Ain on Twitter and subscribe to her blog, Your Education Doctor


NEWS YOU CAN USE – High Stakes Testing, Halloween, Autism Play

Parents and teachers, already frustrated with high stakes testing, should know that New York State standardized exams are about to get more difficult next spring! Newsday reported this week that the 2013 state tests for third-through-eighth grade students will be based on new Common Core academic standards, according to NYS Education Department officials. Common Core is a nationwide initiative of the nation’s governors and national education groups. The tests will feature reading questions based on advanced nonfiction and math questions that require more in-depth analysis.

Newsday reports that school officials and teachers on Long Island are preparing for harder tests.

The Common Core is different and, on the surface, looking to be more difficult until our kids and teachers get used to it,” said William Johnson Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent, told Newsday.

We’re anticipating the kids will be expected to read longer, more complex and, perhaps, more interesting passages,” he added.

One bright light is that exams for children in third and fourth grades will be shorter. The Education Department shortened the exams for younger students in response to complaints from Long Island and other regions that the lengthy tests wore out younger children.

Halloween Costumes Banned in Seattle Elementary School

Speaking of the impact of high stakes testing, an elementary school in Seattle has banned Halloween costumes this year. Although there are some parents who object to Halloween celebrations being held in public schools, that’s not the reason children at Lafayette Elementary School will not be celebrating Halloween at school this year, according to district spokesperson Teresa Wippel. She said the decision is not based on political correctness, but on academic concerns.

That discussion did come up … that we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are kids from different cultures, different religions (who are offended by Halloween), but that wasn’t the reason for making that decision,” she said.

Both parents and kids are disappointed with the ban, which the administration said it would reconsider next year.

There`s a lot of pressure on teachers and principals to make sure the kids are academically competent, and we prioritize that here,” Wippel said.

Has the high stakes testing grinch destroyed yet another childhood pleasure or are the days of school Halloween celebrations rightfully numbered? What’s your school doing for Halloween, and what do you think?

A New Play About Autism and the Family

I haven’t seen this play, but the theater review caught my interest. “Falling,” a play about autism’s impact on a family, is currently at the Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, Greenwich Village. Here’s the New York Times review.


New Study Links Parent Engagement to School Success

Breaking News – it’s now official. Parents are a more significant force in the education of their children than schools! As reported by Michele Molnar in Education Week , a new study indicates that parents who are engaged and involved are more influential in the education of their children than the schools themselves!

The study based its findings on data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, which measured the achievement of a group of 10,000 high school seniors in math, reading, science and history.

The study found that students were more successful if they came from families with high social capital —  the connection between parents and children. Although school social capital is important, students succeeded even if their schools had low social capital (teacher morale, positive learning environment, addressing needs of children). This means that the more parents engaged in their children’s education, the more successful their children were.

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.

Teachers, administrators, and family engagement advocates have long been making this point. When parents are engaged in their children’s education, kids get the message that they think school is important and that they value education.

Talk to your children about school, stay on top of their classwork and homework, and communicate with your child’s teacher. And don’t be shy. Take a look at the list of your rights I have compiled — and use them!

Parents’ Bill of Rights

  1.  You have the right to be your children’s best advocate and expect that their unique and special needs are met by the schools in a safe and supportive learning environment in each grade in each school year.
  2. You have the right to communicate with your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse as often as you see fit.
  3. You have the right to easily access and understand information about your children’s schools, school district, teachers, administrators, facilities, policies, procedures, and programs.
  4. You have the right to have access to your children’s educational records, information regarding services offered by the schools, and expectations about your children’s instructional programs, grading criteria, attendance and behavior.
  5. You have the right to be treated with respect, fairness, and understanding, free of discrimination and prejudice, by all staff, faculty, and administration in your children’s schools and school district.
  6. You have the right to attend all public meetings, including PTA, Board of Education, and committee meetings.
  7. You have the right to complain, without fear of retaliation, to teachers, building and district administrators, and Board of Education.
  8. You have the right to attend Board of Education meetings and address the board during the public audience part of the meeting.
  9. You have the right to know official complaint procedures within the school, school district, and outside agencies, and pursue them if necessary, without fear of retaliation.
  10. You have the right to ensure that your children are learning in safe, healthy, and caring schools, free of discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment, and that their physical, emotional, social, academic and special needs are met on a daily basis.

What Parents Can Do About Bullying Right Now

October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and as we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Recent attacks on an overweight female Wisconsin TV anchor — and her response — illustrate the point.

This week, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT responded on air to a viewer’s email that complained that she was not a suitable role model for the community’s young people due to her large size.  She responded to the attack by saying:

“That man’s words mean nothing to me, but what really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better…who get emails as critical as the one I received, or in many cases even worse, each and every day. The Internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground and this behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email. If you were at home and you were talking about the fat news lady…guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.”

My article on ParentInvolvementMatters.org this week, How Adults Can Stem the Tide of Bullying, addresses this subject. Children learn what they live, and they pick up disparaging comments and behaviors from the important adults in their lives. Along with various resources, the piece discusses the positive behaviors that adults should engage in to combat bullying. These include:

  • Talking to children about both being bullied and about being bullies.
  • Being a role model for kindness, caring, and understanding.
  • Speaking with children about bullying and cyber-bullying to make sure they are not engaging in it.
  • Discussing how hurtful cyber-bullying is, and emphasizing that what is online stays online forever.
  • Emphasizing that online misbehavior could affect your child’s future.
  • Encouraging your children to tell you if they are bullied off or online.
  • Reassuring your child and making sure to remind school personnel that retaliation cannot be condoned.
  • Discussing Internet safety with your children, and monitoring what they are doing online.
  • Informing schools if there is bullying, and joining with schools to promote bullying awareness and prevention programs.

Click here to read the entire article, along with a list of resources on bullying.


Middle School Success Tips for Parents and Kids

PTO Today recently published 34 Success Tips for Middle School parent organization leaders. All of the suggestions acknowledge, “middle school is different from elementary school, and not just for the kids.” The piece offers some great ideas about how to involve middle school parents in their children’s PTAs and PTOs, while recognizing that parents have a short commitment to the middle school. Communication – with other parents, school personnel, and students – is key.

But what if you’re not a PTA leader? You’re just an average parent – stretched in numerous directions. You are amazed at the changes in your child, and wonder how you can get involved in his or her new school.  Children leave the cocoon of the elementary school just at the time their bodies are changing and they are more interested in listening to their peers than their parents.

So how can parents empower themselves to help their children succeed now that they are in middle school? What is the best way to communicate with teachers and other middle school personnel? How can you nurture your child’s emerging independence at the same time that you keep a watchful eye on his/her activities?

Earlier this year, I wrote about this topic on tweenparent.com.   Here are some of my tips:

  • Don’t drop out of sight when your children reach middle school. This is a big mistake. Unlike elementary schools, there is usually not a need for class mothers and volunteers in the classrooms. But you should still remain actively involved. Go to PTA meetings, join committees, or volunteer to chaperone school dances and other activities. When parents are invited to events, such as meetings, concerts, plays, open houses, conferences and special programs, make it your business to attend.
  • Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children’s teachers, principal, other middle school administrators, counselors, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.
    • Know your school and school district websites, and check them frequently for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.
    • Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?
    • Keep the school calendar in an accessible area and check it frequently.
    • Help your child with organizational skills, including managing homework. Find out what method the school uses for contacting parents and helping students stay on top of homework, such as agendas or Internet sites.
    • Get to know all of your child’s teachers. Ask about their expectations, as well as homework and testing.
    • As much as your child may act like he/she is not interested in talking to you, try to engage him/her in conversation on a regular basis. Be a good listener. Show a genuine interest in his/her studies, activities and friends. Show sincere attention even if your child acts like he/she does not want to be in your company. If you keep up the communication, she/he will know you will be there when advice is needed.
    • Since the middle school years are the period when young people are forging their identity, it is the ideal time for them to explore their interests. Encourage them to become involved in extra-curricular activities, such as music, sports, social action, etc., so they can hone their talents and skills.
    • Peer pressure becomes paramount at this age. Pay attention to who your child’s friends are. Know where your child is at all times. Be alert to signs that others are unduly influencing your child.
    • Pick your issues carefully. Is it more important to take a stand on fashion or values, messy room or drugs?  Try to decide ahead of time where you will take your stand.
    • Insist on good attendance. If your child misses school for a legitimate reason, make it clear he/she needs to keep up with schoolwork. Contact the school to make arrangements.

Middle school can be a bewildering time, for parents as well as children. Your child is becoming more autonomous, but still needs your support, engagement, encouragement, and understanding.  Stay involved in your child’s school. Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.


Chicago Teachers and Students Return to School: What happened to caring?

The 350,000 students and 29,000 teachers in the Chicago Public Schools returned to school on Wednesday after the teachers’ union voted to suspend its strike that had lasted seven days.

Union members must still ratify the contract agreement with the school district. Key provisions in the contract include: longer school days for elementary and high school-age students, 10 additional instructional days each school year, and a 17 percent salary increase over the next four years.

The contract preserves the right of principals to determine which teachers will be hired and puts into place a teacher evaluation system in accordance with state law that takes into account student performance. The system will be phased in over three years, when test scores will account for 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

The evaluation system, based on standardized exams, was a sticking point for the union, as it is for teachers throughout the country.  Teachers object to this impersonal form of evaluation that they believe destroys creativity and forces them to teach to the test. They also point to the fact that any test is only a snapshot of a student on a particular day and can be influenced by any number of factors, including a challenging home situation, special needs, and health issues. One thing a standardized test can never measure is caring — a teacher’s ability to understand and address the unique needs of every child in his or her class.

Having sat in on numerous school contract negotiations, I can tell you that the best contract agreement is when both sides walk away not feeling totally satisfied. That appears to be the case in Chicago.

But one has to question the wisdom of union officials to have locked the poorest and most vulnerable children out of class at the beginning of the school year, placing additional burdens on their already struggling parents.  Chicago teachers can’t have it both ways. They can’t object to an evaluation system that does not recognize their profession as a humane enterprise – and then turn around and ignore the basic needs of their students.

Caring – the most essential and least tangible element in education – cannot be measured by test scores. But can it be gauged by the actions of a union?

As Chicago and the nation move forward from the debacle of this strike, let’s hope that the needs of children, teachers, and parents, can find common ground. The teaching profession is a caring one, and children who are nurtured by teachers and parents have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life. The concept of caring needs to be injected not only into the dialogue about education, but also into the actions of all stakeholders.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-todays-assignment-seal-deal-with-chicago-teachers-20120918,0,7319589.story?page=2

The subject of Dr. Meryl Ain’s doctoral dissertation was caring leadership in schools. She writes about this and other issues on her blog, Your Education Doctor www.youreducationdoctor.wordpress.com


Education News and Views

While attending both presidential conventions was exhilarating and exciting, I returned feeling not only feeling exhausted but as if I had been in a bubble for two weeks.

Although I wrote four blogs from the conventions, listened to the speeches, and read the respective platforms, I saw little difference between the two parties with respect to education — especially in regard to school choice. In fact, an article in Education Week points out many of the areas of agreement. The author, Alyson Klein, also printed both parties’ education platforms

Another article on boston.com, Waiting for the Candidates to Debate Education, by Jim Stergios outlines the difficulties faced by both parties in articulating their positions, and argues for clarity from both of them.

Stergios writes:

My wishes for the two parties? They’re simple:

That the Democrats stop substituting government for associations, and not insist that the government is the glue that holds us together. Our rich store of associations means that what holds us together is a lot deeper and nimble than any government bureaucracy. We just need to find how to leverage these American qualities—especially when the alternative is to undertake policies that break three federal laws.

That the Republicans provide a real alternative to the Democrats’ vision of a centralized Ministry of Education, but not simply based on a vision of individual choice—however important that is. While “Won’t Back Down” is inspirational, and its clear emphasis on parental association and bootstrapping may prove a big addition to urban school reform, a major party needs more than that. They need a vision.

Chicago Teachers’ Strike

There’s lots of room for debate about the Chicago teachers’ strike, which should be of concern to people throughout the nation. The issue of teacher evaluations based on high stakes testing — a major issue in Chicago — is playing out in every state. But it is certainly not a justification for striking, especially where the poorest and most vulnerable children and families are being hurt by the school lockout.

The union’s deaf ear to the economic context – where so many are out of work — is forcing some parents to choose between staying home and watching their kids in a dangerous city or losing their jobs.

My observation as a central office administrator in a large suburban district was that parents love their teachers but have had enough of unions. This is an issue that will undoubtedly have national repercussions.

The New York Times presented the different arguments in its Room for Debate section

The following two articles, one on Huffington Post and the other in Education Week, point out the ways that disadvantaged students are being harmed by the strike.

Teachers strike in Chicago

Chicago parents grapple with strike fall-out


Convention Notebook

Who Cares About Suburban Public Schools?

Charlotte–In a rousing speech to the cheering New York Democratic delegation here Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called New York the “progressive capital of the nation.”

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner introduced Cuomo by citing a Siena Poll that found 56 percent of New Yorkers believe the state is going in the right direction.

In spelling out the state’s accomplishments, Cuomo spoke about education, saying: “We know we can improve education by educating all children. We know we can improve education by performance standards and an (teacher) evaluation system. We just did that in New York.”

And he energized the delegates and guests by posing several rhetorical questions: “Do you believe when I invest in your child’s education, I invest in my child’s education? Do you believe education is the ladder to opportunity? Do you believe college loans have to be affordable?”

After the speech, I spoke with Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, the Democratic candidate for New York State Senate against incumbent Republican Sen. Kenneth LaValle. Fleming was attending her first convention with her nine-year-old-son Jai, who attends Sag Harbor Elementary School.

“Gov. Cuomo has outlined the blueprint for prosperity in New York State, and I’m proud to be here,” she said. “But the governor didn’t mention the need to reform the state aid formula [for public schools]. One of the reasons I’m running as a mother of a fourth grader is to change that. We give the state more tax dollars than we get back. I’m here to represent Long Island and the educational needs of Long Island, which are completely distinct from New York City or upstate. Long Island can no longer continue to be a cash cow for the rest of the state.”

Fleming said she would like to change the state aid formula “so it doesn’t punish people who pay high property taxes but don’t have much disposable income. We need to reduce tax assessments for purposes of the formula. When aid to education is reduced, it shifts the burden to the taxpayer and hurts the local economy.”

Lawrence C. Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., was at both the Republican and Democratic conventions and we chatted about how neither party is currently talking about addressing the needs of suburban schools.

“If the Republicans and Democrats were to score points with swing voters in the suburbs, they should start talking about what they can do for suburban schools,” Levy said. “Both parties are assuming it’s still the 60’s or 70’s when suburban schools didn’t need help. It’s one thing to leave the content of curriculum to the states, but it’s another to leave the entire burden of funding. The suburbs need a lot more help and only the federal government has deep pockets.”

Obama’s Trouble With Young People

Characterizing the 2012 election as one of the closest in recent history, on Tuesday Independent Pollster John Zogby reviewed the difficulties President Barack Obama faces in attracting young voters in the 2012 election. He noted that Obama, who received the support of young people in record numbers in 2008, is having trouble with the 18-29 year old constituency this year. He said that young people, who he characterized as “America’s first global citizens,” comprised 19 percent of the total vote last time, and that in 2008 they were “filled with hope and optimism.”

He noted that this year a subset of this group, which he referred to as CEMGA – College Educated Not Going Anywhere – because of the recession, don’t trust anyone. Zogby said his poll indicated that at the present time, there is a small group of young people  — 10 percent – who say they may vote for Gary Johnson, a libertarian.

Zogby said also that he found a growing sense of libertarianism among young people, as well as “a sense of distrust about the government, the debt, the leadership.”


Convention Notes

Michelle Obama wowed the crowd last night at the DNC, just as Ann Romney did last week at the RNC.  Everyone loves the First Lady and potential First Lady – and rightfully so. Both are attractive, intelligent, and dynamic speakers who appear to love their husbands and their children. Both value education and the American Dream, and of course, support their husband’s competing visions for this country.

It’s a relatively new phenomenon to use the candidates’ wives as character witnesses, and while both these women are impressive, let’s remember that it’s not really news when Mrs. Obama asserts that “we can trust” her husband, or Mrs. Romney tells us her husband “will not fail.” Both these women are tremendous assets to their spouses, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re not electing them to run the country.

Hazel Dukes and Voter ID

Yesterday, I met Hazel Dukes, the president of the New York NAACP. Formerly of Roslyn, the 80-year-old activist said she’s “too busy to get old.” She’s been traveling to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in an effort to help those without drivers’ licenses, comply with new requirements that they need official identification to vote. “I’ve met people who are 96-years-old, are registered voters and have voted in every election; they don’t understand why they need identification now. But we take them by the hand, and help them get what they need.”

On the other hand, the Charlotte Observer reported that The Voter Integrity Project, a North Carolina group focused on cleaning up voter fraud, presented the North Carolina Board of Elections last week with a list of 30,000 names of dead people statewide who are still registered to vote. The group, which calls itself non-partisan, supports requiring photo ID to vote, which Republicans typically support and Democrats typically oppose. Charlotte Observer

12-Year-Old Volunteer at DNC

The youngest person at the Democratic Convention floor is Joseph Block of Westchester. He’s just 12-years-old and a seventh grader at SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY. He’s serving as a page at the convention. His responsibilities include “running around the hall,” and helping to distribute information to the delegates. His father, Herb, a DNC volunteer, said, “It’s a good job for kids.” Herb was a Congressional page during the summer of 1982, so Joseph is following in his father’s footsteps.

Joseph said he got interested in politics when he was seven years old, and this is his second Presidential Convention. He attended the DNC in 2008 when Barack Obama was nominated for the first time. “I get to hear great people speaking about our country,” he told me. I get to see how things work behind the scenes, and it helps me understand more about politics and government. It’s cool.”

Not surprising, social studies is his favorite subject. “I can’t wait till social studies,” he said. Joseph said he likes learning activities, rather than textbooks, and thinks good teachers “care” about their students. “They’re not just doing it for a job; they like teaching, educating kids.”

In regard to politics, he admitted that his friends are “not into it” and are more interested in sports. Joseph said he doesn’t aspire to be a politician because you get “a lot of people criticizing you, and you have a really tough job” but he might want to work behind the scenes.

Joseph will be campaigning for President Obama this year. He plans to give out flyers, signs, and knock on doors. He said if he had the opportunity to speak to the President, he would say: “You have a really tough job. You’re doing good.”

He estimates that about 70 percent of his classmates support Gov. Romney this year, reflecting their parents’ views. He said that in his school’s mock election in 2008, Obama lost by 18 votes out of 700.


What We Can Teach Our Kids About the Conventions

After five days at the RNC in Tampa, I arrived in Charlotte yesterday to a city rollicking with DNC festivities and tumult. A street fair appeared to strain the city’s security forces as kids with painted faces and their parents filled the streets, along with delegates, guests, and media. I took refuge in the Huffington Post Oasis, where Arianna Huffington greeted guests who were treated to healthy lunch fare, massages, and facials.

The convention begins today with Michele Obama as the headliner. Bill Clinton is the keynote speaker on Wednesday, and President Obama addresses supporters in the nearly 74,000 seats in the outdoor Bank of America stadium on Thursday night. Both parties script their conventions nowadays, and some pundits, like NBC’s Tom Brokaw, have even suggested that the one hour the networks devote to coverage each night is too much. That’s really a shame.

I fell in love with politics as a kid when I first heard the soaring cadence of John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech when he was nominated for President in 1960. I became a political junkie right then and there. I remember watching conventions when the broadcast networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of floor fights, platform debates, and even walkouts on the convention floor — but those days are long over.

More of a shame is the endless 24/7 media spin – telling us what we saw and what to think – ad nauseum – and there’s blame to go around on both the right and the left. In Tampa, I watched the convention each night in its entirety from the convention hall, and I came to the conclusion that I don’t need an intermediary telling me what to think – and either does anyone else. Perhaps we should all try watching C-Span.

And what about our kids? What can they learn from the conventions and the political process?

They can learn that our two-party system is part of our government’s system of checks and balances. It’s a good thing, and prevents excesses of power.

We should teach them how to observe, fact-check, form their own opinions – and express them fluently.

We ought to stop talking about religion in politics. There’s still way too much interest in a candidate’s theology in a nation that prohibits religious tests. I remember being shocked that Kennedy’s religion was an issue in 1960. After all, half the kids in my public school were Catholic, and I had no idea all the previous presidents had been Protestant. If we stop talking about it, it will cease to be important.

We should impress upon our kids that they can – and should — get involved. I was once part of a group of students that Vice President Hubert Humphrey addressed. He said, “If you think politics is dirty, get in there with your bar of political Ivory soap, and clean it up.” It was a tall order then, and it’s more so now. But it’s not impossible. Informed participation is the essence of democracy, and we ought to encourage our best and brightest to go into public service.


Notes on Education from the Republican National Convention

I’m so thrilled to have the good fortune of attending BOTH Presidental Conventions. This week I’m at the RNC in Tampa, and next week I plan to be at the DNC in Charlotte.

There have been a number of references to education in the various speeches at the convention. On Tuesday night, Ann Romney stressed that her husband would make education a priority of his administration, just as he had as Governor of Massachusetts, where she said the schools there were “best in the nation.” Also that night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took on the teachers’ unions, saying: “We love teachers, not the unions.” Last night former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about education as the new civil rights issue, noting that you can see what kind of education a child is receiving by looking at where they live.

I’m meeting and talking to lots of people here, and I’d like to share with you a conversation I had this morning with Elaine Miller, who lives on Long Island and has taught for more than 30 years in the New York City schools. An ELA and Social Studies teacher, she teaches special needs students at a middle school in Queens. During her more than 30-year career, she has worked throughout the city in various locations. She said she’s a Republican because her values mesh more with the Republican value of less government. We had a very free  ranging discussion about education, and she noted that most teachers she speaks to feel the same, regardless of party.

About Teachers and Parent Engagement in Schools:

“Teachers work very very hard. Like any profession, such as doctors, there is a spectrum of quality and expertise. Values begin at home. They have to be instilled in the home. Parents need to follow their children in school. There are dIfficult challenges today — single families, economic hardships, special needs. When children’s education is neglected at home, they can’t perform well in school. I don’t  know how you create a value system without parents helping and supporting schools. I’ve not met a teacher who is not dedicated to educating youth.”

On Dr. Rice’s Speech  to the Convention:

“Condoleezza Rice is fundamentally correct — look at the zip code — you get an idea of the socioeconomic issues and how they affect families, and how parents’ values about education affect the children’s values.

I think of how when I was growing up my mother expected me to have a better life than my parents had. And it has improved for me. However it was always instilled in me that education is your way out of a situation. And that’s open to everyone. It’s the individual’s responsibility to grab hold and take advantage. That’s given to all of us.”

Perception of Teachers:

“It seems as if the fundamental values of education in our sociey have changed to some extent. You walk into a school today and many students perceive teachers as their enemies, not their friends. Respect for teachers has changed. Teachers are no longer valued as a #1 commodity. The teaching profession is now viewed at the bottom rung of the ladder, not the top. Although they knew it was a good job, teachers never went into it for the money. The profession had respect and dignity.

Do parents support teachers? Some do and some don’t. Some parents are ready to attack teachers rather than deal with the problem their child is having. Discipline in schools isn’t the same as it used to be.  There are metal detectors in high schools; students run out of class into the hallways. Teachers are trying, but it’s difficult without discipline.”

Federal Control of Education

“Education was never meant to be federally controlled. It’s a state and local power. It’s up to state and local officials. We don’t need a Department of Education. It should be disbanded.”

Standardized Testing:

“The whole idea of standardized testing — putting teachers’ lives on the line — for one day of testing is insanity. It takes the creativity out of teaching. It takes away the availability of the teachable moment. It makes teachers focus on the state exams and teach to the test. It’s a cookie cutter approach to education.”

When Joel Klein was NYC Chancellor, I wrote him a letter about state testing. I said: ‘You are assessing a teacher on an exam a child is taking, but there are so many variables for students in the schools, such as a difficult home situation, the challenges special needs students face, broken homes, divorce, a death in the family, etc. A child is walking into an assessment and the teacher is also being assessed. How do you assess the value of a teacher saving a student’s life. How a teacher has influenced a child is never tested. How do you measure the real contributions teachers make? When you know that a child is suffering emotionally and you make a difference in the life of a child, how do you test that?”

Gov. Chris Christie:

“I feel the union shot itself in the foot by becoming so political. I’m not against the idea of unions; workers need protection. But unions have become too political and that is their downfall.”


Back to School Toolkit for Working Parents

It’s the time of year when parents who have school-age children are in back-to-school mode. But not only should we be thinking about preparing our children for a new school year, we should also think how we can best plan our own schedule.

As a fervent supporter of parent engagement in education, it’s very easy for me to say that all parents should be actively involved in their children’s schools, become active members of PTA, and attend board of education meetings regularly. We know that doesn’t happen. In fact, I have attended meetings where fewer than 10 parents were present – out of a potential 20,000!

Today’s parents are stressed and scheduled to the limit. Parents who work long hours are not available during the day, and may not be inclined to leave home in the evening. So what’s a concerned parent to do?

Cindy Krischer Goodman, a columnist for the Miami Herald, recently interviewed teachers to get advice about how working parents can remain engaged in their children’s education.

Here are some of their suggestions for the overburdened parent:

  • Communicating with your child’s teacher via email or phone.
  • Making every effort to attend parent/teacher conferences.
  • Setting aside one day or evening to be present, such as chaperoning a field trip or attending an evening program.
  • Checking your child’s work folder on a regular basis.
  • Reading with your child.
  • Reviewing your child’s homework every night.
  • Monitoring middle school students’ agendas and teachers’ websites.
  • Checking high school students’ electronic grade books regularly, and communicating with teachers if there’s a problem.

Additionally, Goodman offers tips that have worked for her on her Work/Life Balancing Act blog. Here are some of them:

  • Merge the school calendar into your work calendar so you can plan ahead for days off and half-days.
  • Take your vacations during school holidays and use personal days for special events at school.
  • Stock up on extra school supplies at the start of the school year so you won’t have to make emergency shopping visits after a hard day on the job.
  • Get rid of the clutter as soon as it comes into the house.
  • Establish a simple system by the door to assist you in remembering what is needed for each day, e.g., musical instrument for lessons, sneakers for gym. Have a receptacle there so you can leave the items you need in plain sight.

To be engaged, working parents also need to know what’s going on in the school and in the district. Here is my list:

  • Become intimately familiar with your school, school district and PTA Websites.
  • PTA Websites should give you the names of the PTA officers, meeting and event information, and issues for which the PTA is advocating.
  • PTA presidents are a great source of information, so keep in touch with them if you can’t attend meetings.
  • School and district websites should give you the names and contact information of all the important players from teachers to board members. You should be able to find important dates, time schedules, meeting information and minutes, policies, procedures and news.
  • If you want to find out about the burning issues and controversies in your district with all sides represented, learn whether there are local weekly newspapers or online media outlets such as The Patch that cover your schools. They generally send a reporter to every board meeting and write about it.

Top 10 Back to School Blogs

It has been a year since I started my blog, Your Education Doctor. With the new school year about to start, it’s a good time to look both back and forward.  I hoped that my blog would take some of the pressure off parents and to make you feel in control and empowered. I wanted to help you find your way through the school system so that you could get the most out of your school on behalf of your child. I hope that, in some small way, I have accomplished that goal.

There is no question that parents are their children’s best advocates, but parents can’t be effective unless they are informed; they need to play with a full deck.  My mission continues to be to empower parents to better understand and navigate their children’s schools with the insider information, unvarnished truth, and useful strategies I acquired in the trenches and at the top levels in public and nonpublic schools.

Thank you to subscribers to Your Education Doctor and to my Twitter (@DrMerylAin) followers for your ongoing support. Please let your friends know about my blog, and tweet me your questions and concerns or email me at youreducationdoctor@youreducationdoctor.com.

In the course of the year, I’ve made so many terrific friends online. I want to especially thank Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Danielle Wiener-Bronner, Liza Burby, Melissa Taylor, Suzanna Narducci, Dennise Goldberg, Myrdin Thompson, Mindy Lampert, Joe Mazza, Steve Constantino, Rick Ackerly, and Dr. Doug Green.

I’ve been fortunate to have my work published on a number of other sites, including ParentNet Unplugged, Huffington Post, Parenting.com, Long Island Parent Magazine, Special Education Advice, and TweenParent.com.  As we plan for the first day of school, here are some of those articles, which I hope will assist you in getting your kids off to a successful school year!

  1. Essential Back-to-School List for Parents: The One the School Doesn’t Give You, ParentNet Unplugged
  2. Tips for Transitioning to a New School, Parenting.com
  3. How to Help Your Middle School Child Succeed, TweenParent.com
  4. PTA — Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, ParentNet Unplugged
  5. Parents: Do You Know Your Rights?ParentNet Unplugged
  6. Is Public Education Really Free? Huffington Post
  7. Do You Know What’s Going on in Your Children’s Schools? PBC.org
  8. Ask the School Expert: Assessing Kindergarten Readiness, LI Parent Magazine
  9. Do You Need A 504 Plan for Your Child’s Health Needs?Special Education Advisor
  10. Interview about Parent Power, Imagination Soup

Summer Endnotes: Last Minute Ideas for Fun and Learning

ImageIt’s August, and that means summer’s end is on the horizon. But there’s still plenty of time to savor the sunny days, warm weather, and relaxed lifestyle. Whether you are planning a last minute vacation with your kids, a “staycation,” or just looking for some creative ways to entertain and educate your children, there are many resources to help you do it.

Top 20 Summer Destinations for Learning on SchoolFamily.com presents a potpourri of suggestions, divided by geography. From the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Ga., to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., consider some of these cool venues that just might match your child’s special interests: Cool Venues

GreatSchools.org offers 10 great tips for enhancing family time during the summer. Ideas range from ambitious to simple – from taking a volunteer vacation to family reading night. Included are suggestions that can be executed in your backyard, such as planting a garden or a camping experience. Check out the whole article: GreatSchools.org

If you are visiting or live on Long Island, you know that there are many opportunities to dip into the beach or pool. Newsday’s Beth Whitehouse provides five other ways to stay cool on scorching summer days. If you won’t be on Long Island this summer, explore water adventures in your area. Newsday

Finally, if the weather is bad, try showing a DVD, such as Toy Story, one that’s entertaining and conveys life lessons. Take a look at this recommended list, compiled by UK child psychologist Dr Kairen Cullen. Recommended List


Are You Ready for the First Day of School?

Top 10 Back-to-School List for Parents

Back-to-school supplies have hit the store shelves reminding us that summer won’t last forever. Yes, the first day of school is on the horizon, and that means getting your children ready. Most schools prepare lists of essential school supplies that parents are required to furnish. Depending on the grade of the student, these range from notebooks to laptops. The average parent will spend $600 on school supplies, clothes, backpacks, and sports equipment.

Many parents will put a lot of thought into their children’s Back-to-School List. But preparing your kids for school is only half the battle to ensure a successful school year. Parents, too, have to be prepared, as full partners with the schools. From my perspective, it’s not enough to obsess about the list the school gives you. The list they don’t give you is equally, if not more, important. Here’s my list for parents, one that will serve you and your children well in the coming school year.

  1. Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children’s teachers, principal, other school administrators, and school nurse.
  2. Find out if anything that might affect your child has changed since the last school year. With budget cuts, schools have reduced services and personnel, so just don’t assume that everything is the same. Are time schedules the same? Does your child still have bus service? Are there any late buses? Does your school district still offer full-day kindergarten? Is the person you expected to be your child’s teacher still there, or has she been excessed or moved? Does the school have the same principal and assistant principals? Have sports or music or art been reduced?
  3. Know your school and school district websites, and check them frequently for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.
  4. Find out how your school communicates important information with parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?
  5. Keep the school calendar in an accessible area and check it frequently.
  6. Find out when Meet-the-Teacher evenings are held, and do your best to attend them for each of your children even if they’re seniors in high school. If you can’t attend, contact the teachers to let them know you are an interested and involved parent.
  7. Know when PTA meetings are held, attend them, and become an active member. This is the single, best way to keep informed and become involved in your children’s schools.
  8. Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting if you have something important you want to share.  You must sign up to speak before the meeting.
  9. Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and are usually responsive to their constituents’ opinions and problems.
  10. Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of your Superintendent of Schools and other district-wide administrators. If your child has a particular issue, such as a medical problem, food allergy, or learning disability, it’s important to know the name and contact information for the central office administrator in charge of that issue.  Although it is always desirable to follow the chain of command, i.e., teacher or school nurse, then principal, sometimes it’s necessary to go to a higher level in advocating for your child. Be proactive and have that information at your fingertips in case it’s needed.

Hot Summer Issues for Parents and Educators: What do you think?

Are Unmarried Parents the New Normal?

A recent article at Parenting.com points out that kids with unmarried mothers and fathers are becoming more common than children with divorced parents. Findings from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicate that children are twice as likely to have unmarried parents living together than divorced ones. “Divorce used to be the biggest issue facing kids, when in fact, having cohabiting parents is the more common scenario,” Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told Parenting.com.

While the article points out that celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Kourtney Kardashian, have all but erased the stigma that used to be associated with children out of wedlock, an unmarried parental unit is not as stable as a marriage. The National Marriage Project reported that two-thirds of children will experience the break-up of cohabiting parents by the time they are 12-years-old while only one-quarter of married couples with children of the same age will divorce.

What, if any, are the implications of these findings for our schools and society?

http://www.parenting.com/article/cohabitation?page=0,0

Public Wants Local School Boards to Run Schools

An article by Michele Molnar in Education Week reports that parents and taxpayers look to local elected boards of education to run and improve their public schools. At the same time, the public wants federal and state governments to disseminate learning standards and ensure equitable funding. These were the findings of a study by researchers at Michigan State University based on 40 years of public opinion polls.

With all of the emphasis on federal government initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, it’s important to remember that our public schools are locally controlled. According to the article, more than 90,000 locally elected school board members serve on about 15,000 boards of education in the United States.

It goes without saying that if parents and taxpayers are counting on their elected representatives to run their school districts, they ought to be engaged and involved in the process. Attend board meetings, read local media coverage, and check out school board minutes!

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/parentsandthepublic/2012/07/what_the_public_wants_in_school_control.html

Bullying Specialist Hired Following Complaints

Speaking of local boards of education, the Rochester, N.H. school board voted unanimously last week to hire a “student safety and behavior support specialist” to address bullying and harassment at the Rochester Middle School. This is a brand new position in the district, according to Principal Valerie McKenney. 
She said she developed the position following community complaints about student behavior.

Last month, a mother and grandfather spoke at a school board meeting about their concerns for their middle school student.  The mother told the school board that her child had been severely damaged by teasing and even pulled into a closet by staff, which she believed to be inappropriate. When she asked to see surveillance footage of the incident, her request was denied.

Superintendent Michael Hopkins told the board that the middle school administration will still meet with parents to address behavioral issues with students, but the specialist will work to investigate initial complaints that come in from students, and work with 40 to 50 students that are consistently engaged in bullying.

The new bullying and harassment specialist will receive a teacher’s salary. Was the creation of this position an admission that the existing administration can’t handle all of the bullying in this school?  Is this money well spent? Parents at the Rochester Middle School will have to decide.

http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120714/GJNEWS_01/707149967/-1/fosnews

Conflict of Interest Paid for by Taxpayers

According to the Huffington Post, a Virginia education reporter, who reported on the Alexandria Public Schools for the online media outlet, Alexandria News, was hired as a consultant for the same district to help it improve the district’s public image. She was paid to help with spin control on an independent audit that revealed mismanagement in the district’s capital improvement budget.  She also drafted a district-wide and school communication plans, and occasionally wrote press releases. The reporter no longer consults for the district.

Superintendent of Schools Morton Sherman said he did not consider the reporter’s role in the district a conflict of interest. According to the Alexandria News, he has spent more than $4 million on consultants since becoming superintendent in 2008.

The use of consultants in school districts across the country has aroused concerns and is an issue that should be monitored by the public in these difficult economic times. Parents and taxpayers should also be alert to conflicts of interest in their own school districts.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/virginia-education-report_n_1669251.html?utm_hp_ref=education


Appalling Penn State Report: High Time to Stop Child Sex Abuse

It is appalling — but not surprising — that Penn State officials were more concerned with “bad publicity” than the welfare of children who were being sexually abused by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This is the conclusion of a report that was just released, based on the eight-month investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh. Freeh was hired to determine why school officials who were aware of complaints of child sexual abuse did not stop Sandusky or report him to the police.

The investigation was based on 430 interviews and reviews of 3.5 million emails and other documents.

Penn State President Graham Spanier, left, and head football coach Joe Paterno

The report said that Joe Paterno, along with officials Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and former president Graham Spanier, “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities.” The report blamed these school officials for not stopping Sandusky and failing to protect other children from his predatory behavior. The four officials showed a “striking lack of empathy” for the victims of Sandusky’s abuse and empowered him to continue abusing, the report said. Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse in June.

Read the full report at http://thefreehreportonpsu.com/.

As I pointed out last month in my blog on the Sandusky case, there are powerful lessons here for all parents, educators – and everyone who is concerned about children. As a former school district official, I will tell you that institutions are concerned with protecting their own reputations. Is it blatantly at the expense of kids, as it was in the Penn State situation? Hopefully not, but it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to hold schools, sports organizations, religious and social organizations accountable.

The blog, What We Should Have Learned From the Jerry Sandusky Case, urges parents and educators to stop being “reverent, diffident and polite,” where their children are concerned. The Freeh report emphasizes the need for eternal vigilance and the danger of blind faith. Here is the link to my Huffington Post piece, which offers tips to recognize the warning signs of child sexual abuse:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meryl-ain-edd/what-we-should-have-learn_b_1628968.html

http://news.yahoo.com/joe-paterno-psu-officials-concealed-sanduskys-abuse-avoid-122654613–abc-news-topstories.html


Not Your Mother’s PTA

With the new school year in full swing, it’s a good time to emphasize the importance of parent involvement. This is the time to make a resolution to actively engage in your children’s education. One of the easiest and most accessible ways is to join and become active in the PTA.

Do you think PTA is synonymous with bake sales? Think again — today’s PTA is about a lot more than cupcakes

We know that research indicates that students whose parents are actively involved in their schools have better grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates. But PTA membership is a personal investment you make not only for your child, but for yourself too.

Many opportunities await you at your next PTA meeting. Advocating for a worthwhile mission, having a positive impact on your schools, and supporting amazing events for students are the obvious benefits of PTA involvement. But I have also witnessed more subtle perks that may come to active parents.

Here are five things that you might not know about today’s PTA:

1. Volunteer and get access.

Being an active PTA member gives you legitimate reasons to have input and to be in your children’s school during the school day.  For example, do you want to have a say in booking a children’s author, a play or a music or science program for your children’s school?  Then join your PTA’s cultural arts committee. You will work closely with your principal and teachers to plan enriching events that PTA fundraising supports.  As a member of the committee, you will be able to attend programs to assess their success.

By becoming a known quantity to school staff, you will get a birds-eye view of what’s going on and principal, faculty and staff will know you by name. This will come in handy should you ever have a question or concern. Similarly, you may be asked for your perspective as a parent when issues occur. It’s sort of like the classic Peter Sellers movie, Being There. Because you are there, you may become a go-to parent.

2. Contribute and make friends.

You will meet like-minded parents who have children of comparable ages, with whom you will share similar concerns, goals, and hopes for your children. You will form close friendships and you will help one another through the sharing of ideas. If you are new to an area or your first child is starting school, PTA is a good place to meet people.

3. Give and receive much more.

PTA provides you with a wonderful outlet and platform for your passions. For example, if you are passionate about healthy eating, you can join the PTA’s health and wellness committee, and exert influence not only on the school lunch program, but also on classroom practices, such as giving candy for rewards.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably already a strong advocate for special education. It is essential that you join SEPTA, Special Education PTA. There you will meet like-minded parents and professionals who will provide you with a support network, cutting edge information and strategies to help your child succeed. You will have the benefit of attending presentations by outside experts. And you will be able to forge positive relationships with district special education administrators, who attend SEPTA meetings. This will give you easy access to these professionals, should you have questions or concerns.

4. Be a player and get the “skinny.”

You will reap enormous benefits if you rise to the highest levels of PTA leadership. If you are the PTA president of your school or a member of your District PTA Council, you will meet with your Superintendent of Schools on a regular basis.  He or she will update you on news, issues and problems and ask for your support. If you are a person who likes to be in the know, you will be informed of everything from district accomplishments to drug busts. You will have the information first and will be the one to share it with your members.  The superintendent will also solicit your opinion and may ask for you to poll your members on various issues, such as proposed budget cuts.

As a key stakeholder, you may also be asked to serve on interview committees, citizens’ advisory committees, and task forces.  The superintendent may also recruit you to help plan district-wide events, and to request that PTA help sponsor them.

5. Hone your skills and show what you can do.

The more you give of yourself and the more you hone your skills, the more valuable you will become to your PTA, your school, your district and community.  The seeds you plant may bear fruit in unexpected ways. Is your main job CEO of your household for the foreseeable future? Then why not put your accounting expertise to work as a treasurer? Or use your organizing skills to plan events? Utilizing your background and experience can help close gaps in your resume. Continue to dazzle everyone with your generous contribution of your talent, time and energy, and your volunteer experience could lead to paid employment!


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