Fat Letters to Parents Spark Controversy
The North Andover (Mass.) Patch recently reported that parents there received letters from their schools alerting them to the weight status of their children. Selectman Tracy Watson called attention to the letters when she got one indicating that her son Cameron was classified as “obese.” The letter explained BMI (Body Mass Index) standards and suggested that she and her husband contact Cameron’s pediatrician.
Watson was bemused because her son is engaged in sports and participates in martial arts. He’s a member of a wrestling team, wrestling club, and plays football. A child’s BMI is calculated with a BMI-for-age chart established by the Centers for Disease Control, and a percentile (compared with age and gender) is determined for classification. The classifications are: underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. Cameron was in the 95th percentile so he was classified as obese, although he looks – and is — fit.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health has required public schools to adopted a “BMI initiative” since 2009. The initiative requires schools to calculate the BMI of elementary and secondary students of specific ages and send the results to the children’s parents.
The letters have sparked controversy in the town, with some saying they are damaging to kids’ self-esteem and that school suggestions should focus on healthy living and eating.
Good News for Parents of Kids with Autism
There’s some good news for parents of children with autism who have been told that if their child isn’t speaking by four or five-years-old he/she may never talk. An article in Autism Speaks reports on a new study of more than 500 children with autism. The study in the journal Pediatrics indicates that some children with autism develop language skills as late as elementary or secondary school. Scientists at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore, Md., studied 535 children ages 8 to 17 who at age four were diagnosed with autism and with severe language delays. Their language delays ranged from not speaking at all to using single words or phrases without verbs.
Researchers discovered that most of these children later developed language skills. Forty-seven percent became fluent speakers and 70 percent were able to speak in simple phrases.
“These findings offer hope to parents that their language-delayed child will go on to develop speech in elementary school, or even as teenagers,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “By highlighting important predictors of language acquisition – especially the role of nonverbal cognitive and social skills – this also suggests that targeting these areas in early intervention will help to promote language.”
Personal Notes: In the Family
Congratulations to my daughter-in-law, Beth Ain of Port Washington, N.Y., on her new children’s book, Starring Jules (As Herself), which was just published by Scholastic. This is the first in a series and is geared to the 7 to 10-year-old set. It got a great review from Publisher’s Weekly and I, of course, loved it too! It brought me back to the days of reading Judy Blume books with my kids!
Kudos to my friend Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Florida, on being named an “Unsung Hero” by the Sun Sentinel for his award-winning project, Houses for Change. After retiring as a senior economist for the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., he has put his heart and soul into helping the homeless with this endeavor.
Since the end of 2010, 25,000 kids have raised more than $375,000 in the Houses for Change collection boxes they created for homeless organizations. Mark has been nominated by Congressman Alcee Hastings for the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the nation. He is looking for more schools and youth organizations throughout the country to participate in this great community service project. For more information on Houses for Change, visit: Family Promise
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
- 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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
As 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.”
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.
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.
If 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.
Unless 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.