Education News and Views

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.

http://northandover.patch.com/articles/fighting-the-fat-letters

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.”

http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/many-nonverbal-children-autism-overcome-severe-language-delays

Personal Notes: In the Family

bookCongratulations 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!

http://www.amazon.com/Starring-Jules-As-Herself/dp/0545443520

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

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/palm-beach/boca-raton/fl-cn-hero-0224-20130222,0,597718.story

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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!


Houses for Change: Kids with homes helping kids without

How do you teach kids values, like compassion and charity?

How do you teach kids such practical lessons as the value of money and saving?

Houses for Change does all that — and is fun as well. It is a national campaign started by Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Fl., 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.

Congressman Alcee Hastings recently recognized Wasserman and the Houses for Change Project in a statement on the House floor.

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, great photos of proud kids and parents with their creations, a TV news story, educational materials to download, and an online store to order the inexpensive undecorated boxes.

For more information, contact Chris Kaul, Family Promise Marketing and Public Relations, at ckaul@familypromise.org (908) 273-1100 ext. 43 or Mark Wasserman, Coordinator, at markwboca@gmail.com (561) 699-5116.