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.


School Bus Accidents in the News – Are Your Children Safe?

Three separate school bus accidents on Monday – in Indiana, Washington State, andOhio — have left a student and a bus driver dead, and scores of students injured, some critically.  The three crashes have fueled concerns about school bus safety.

In the Indiana accident, the bus was mangled when the driver hit an overpass without braking. In Washington, the bus rolled over after it veered off the road. In Ohio, the bus tipped and then rolled over onto its right side into a ditch.

None of the buses were equipped with passenger seatbelts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not require in larger school buses. But those accidents have now renewed calls for passenger seat belts on all school buses.

Federal law requires seat belts on school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but 80 percent of the nation’s school buses do not fall into this category. Six states – New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana – have laws requiring seat belts on all school buses.  But just because seat belts are installed, doesn’t guarantee they will be used.

For example, New York leaves the decision of whether the seat belts will be used to local school boards.  On the contrary, the Texas law calls for disciplinary action against students who do not use them. California and Florida laws, while requiring seat belts in school buses, state that employees of school districts are not responsible for requiring students to buckle up.

The debate about seat belts on school buses has been going on for years. Despite increasingly strict requirements about helmets for bikers, seat and lap belts, and car and booster seats for children in passenger vehicles, school bus safety has not kept pace. In an ABC News interview, NHTSA spokesperson Lynda Tran said of school buses: “They are safer than their parents’ cars.” But Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatrician, told ABC that about 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year from injuries sustained in school bus injuries.

Defenders of the status quo regarding school bus safety contend that statistics are on the side of the 24 million children who take a bus to school each day. But statistics fly out the window if it is your child who is involved in an accident.

Two of my three children were involved in school bus accidents and I have to tell you that although they were minor, it was a chilling experience to be notified that your child has been in a school bus accident. Parents have a right to expect that when they put their children on the school bus in the morning, they will get to and from school safely. They certainly don’t expect serious injuries or worse.

Seat belts have become a hot topic, but I can tell you as a former school administrator that they are not the only bus safety issues. Buses tend to be a “no man’s land” when it comes to supervision. It’s difficult for drivers to steer the bus while at the same time police kids’ behavior. Because there is no adult supervision on the bus other than the driver, school buses are fertile fields for bullying, profanity, fistfights, and other dangerous behavior, such as walking around while the bus is in motion and throwing things.

If the bus driver reports misbehavior to the school, it will be handled with an appropriate consequence. But not all bus drivers take the trouble to write a report. If your child tells you about misbehavior on the bus, take it seriously and report it to your principal or assistant principal. It’s not just annoying – it’s potentially dangerous. Be sure to inquire what steps the school takes to emphasize school bus safety. And make sure you reinforce them at home.

You may also inquire about the supervision of bus drivers.  If the school district owns a fleet of buses and the drivers are district employees, they are usually better screened, supervised, and monitored than if the district contracts with a private company for their buses and drivers. If you have reason to believe a bus driver is engaging in dangerous or suspicious behavior, be sure to report it to your school district immediately.

The following bus rules should be emphasized by the school and reinforced by you with your child at home.

  • 

Kids should go directly to their seats. They should remain seated and facing forward for the entire ride.
  • Children should speak quietly and make every effort not to distract the driver.
  • Students should not throw things on the bus or out the windows, or play with the emergency exits.
  • The aisles of the bus should be clear at all times. That means no walking around or placing objects that may cause someone to trip.
  • In an emergency, children must listen to the driver and follow instructions.
  • Students should never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
  • At their stop, children should wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up. They should then walk, not run, to the front door and then exit using the handrail.

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/school-bus-crashes-raise-the-issue-of-seat-belts-and-bus-safety/


Kindergarten Redshirting – Smart Strategy or Educational Quackery?

The practice of parents waiting until their children are 6 to enroll them in kindergarten has become so widespread that CBS’ 60 Minutes has taken note.

Parents who follow this practice told correspondent Morley Safer that it gives their child a competitive advantage over their younger classmates – both academically and on the sports field.

Safer said studies showed that boys are twice as likely to be held back by their parents as girls, whites more than minorities, and rich more than the poor.

The concept is taken from college sports, where athletes will practice with the team for the first year but sit out competition while they get bigger, stronger, and more competitive. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he shows that a disproportionate number of successful young hockey players in Canada were born earlier in the year, and the effect continues all the way up to the National Hockey League.

While this approach may work with athletes, the research on kindergarten redshirting, as the practice is called, is mixed. Safer interviewed the author of a recent Canadian study who found that redshirting can yield positive academic outcomes. But other experts disagreed, insisting that academic gains are not sustained in later grades and that there may be an increase in social and behavioral problems when older and bigger students enter puberty. Samuel Meisels, president of Chicago’s Erikson Institute, said that while redshirting may be appropriate for some children, it is “educational quackery.”

Age appropriateness is something I’ve pondered since my mother told me that I had “missed the deadline” for kindergarten by three weeks. I don’t know whether I would have done as well in elementary school if I had not missed the cut-off and started kindergarten a year earlier, but I know that I did well enough to qualify later for the “Special Progress” class in junior high school, which enabled students to complete three years of junior high in two. Terrible idea! I have long believed that essentially skipping eighth grade erased whatever edge I had and wreaked havoc on my self-confidence. But that’s an indictment of being pushed ahead, not being held back.

My two oldest sons have August and October birthdays, while the third was born in March.  Did my third child appear to have an advantage when he entered kindergarten? Absolutely! But I don’t know if that was due to his early birthday or being raised in a family with older siblings. Redshirting was not an option back then, but my father, who was an elementary school principal, was of the opinion that early advantages generally equalized by third grade. I have found this to be true.

Redshirting clearly needs more study, but what disturbs me is the motivation behind it. Parents say they are leveling the playing field for their children, but what they are doing is creating an unfair playing field for the other kids who are age appropriate for their grade. And before their children even start school, they are setting up a competition with other students. Kids should be competing with themselves, encouraged to be the best they can be, not constantly looking over their shoulder at others. Schools should also be equipped to differentiate instruction, being able to meet the needs of varying individuals with different learning styles.

Actually, 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 range from June 1 to December 31, so make sure you know what the date is in your community

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 a parent-instigated race with other kids. Parents know their children best, and should also take into account what the child will be doing if he/she is not in kindergarten. Here, parents with resources have a clear advantage in providing alternative educational experiences.

Sending your child to kindergarten is an important milestone for you and your child. Here are some ways you can help prepare your child for kindergarten:

  • While teachers are happy when children enter kindergarten knowing letters and numbers, they do not want you to drill your child. 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 his/her daily activities.
  • Does your child approach learning enthusiastically and is he curious? Is she eager to explore, discover, and ask questions?  Point out your child’s surroundings, including flowers, trees, birds, people, etc., and take time to encourage and answer her questions.
  • Hand-in-hand with curiosity and discovery go language skills. Help your child build his vocabulary by giving him words and descriptions as he observes and experiences his surroundings.  Additionally, activities, such as visits to the beach, park, beach, children’s museum, or zoo, present many opportunities for you to help him develop language skills.
  • Kindergarten teachers will be pleased if your child has the ability to listen. Read to your child every day, and engage her by asking questions about the book.  Besides nurturing vocabulary and comprehension, reading develops the listening skills necessary in a kindergarten classroom.
  • Encouraging your child to take care of himself will prepare him for kindergarten. For example, although it’s easier to hang up your son’s coat yourself, his kindergarten teacher will want your child to do it. She cannot take off the boots and hang up the coats of 25 students. Help your child to become ready for school by teaching him to do such tasks as going to the bathroom himself and washing his hands, and opening up a juice box and putting the straw in.  Perhaps if he attends pre-school, he has already mastered these skills.
  • Kindergarten is about socialization, so help your child get ready by encouraging him 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.
  • Kindergarten teachers will teach their students how to write and recognize letter sounds. But they are happy when their students come to school knowing how to count to 10, and know shapes and colors. If your child attends pre-school, this is usually well covered there.

Redshirting: Holding kids back from kindergarten- 60 Minutes – CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7400898n&tag=contentMain;contentAux


Bullied Teen Steps Up to the Plate to Help Other Victims

The 17-year-old student suspected this week of shooting to death three classmates and wounding two others in the cafeteria of their Cleveland high school was characterized by some as an outcast and a victim of bullying.

Despite all the safety measures schools have put in place since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that killed 13 and all of the attention placed on bullying prevention, we have clearly not made enough progress. When parents send their children to school each day, their minimum expectation is that they will be safe. The ways to do that are not simple because they involve multiple fronts, including gun control, parenting, school safety and security, mental health awareness, and of course, bullying prevention. As the unfortunate ramifications of bullying come to the forefront once again, here’s a heartwarming story of one young person, Jamie Isaacs, who is trying to make a difference after being a victim of bullying herself.

Jamie Isaacs

When adults ponder solutions to the bullying epidemic, they often view young people as a big part of the problem. But LI teen Jamie Isaacs — a victim of bullying herself — is determined to be part of the solution.

Jamie’s journey began when she was a second grade student and was bullied by a classmate at her Lake Grove elementary school. As the years went by, other students joined in, forming an “I Hate Jamie Club.” Members of the club sent Jamie derisive emails and even death threats. Her parents ultimately decided to transfer her to a private school.

Now 15, Jamie has started a foundation, written a book, and is lobbying for stricter laws. She is also in the process of writing and recording a song about her bullying experience and is shooting a music video to accompany the song. Last summer she worked with filmmakers to create a documentary about bullying. Her book, In Jamie’s Words, is her effort to be a voice for other victims of bullying, and to share the strategies she used to persevere.

The Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying runs a hotline that takes calls from kids who are being bullied. It also presents programs to students, teachers, and administrators to help raise awareness about the signs and effects of bullying. In addition, the foundation assists children and their families to find services and resources to help them overcome the impact of bullying.

According to Newsday, Jamie was recently honored, along with Paige Pless of Albany, by the New York State Senate for their attempts to stop the spread of cyber-bullying.

“I didn’t want what happened to me to ever happen to anyone else,” she told Newsday. She added that it is important for victims not to feel alone.

“That helps them, knowing that there’s someone else out there like them that’s experiencing the same thing.”

Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) introduced resolutions commending the two teens for fighting against harassment and bullying that occur online.

Last month, Klein introduced a cyber-bullying bill that would expand the crimes of stalking and aggravated harassment by adding engaging in “electronic communication” with minors.

“What we’re seeing now in the digital age is hundreds, hordes of invisible bullies that are hiding behind social media and harassing one another,” Klein told Newsday. “The old adage is that sticks and stones may break your bones but words cannot harm you, I think we’re seeing, unfortunately, that words can kill.”

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57386080/suspect-idd-in-deadly-ohio-school-shooting/

http://www.jamieisaacsfoundation.org/

http://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/jamie-isaacs-honored-for-cyberbully-efforts-1.3527514


Answering Parents’ Questions at Long Island Parent Magazine

I’m pleased to let you know that beginning this month, I will be a regular

contributor to Long Island Parent Magazine. 

Published by Liza Burby, it is a wonderful resource for parents as it addresses issues of concern to parents on Long Island and beyond.

My first article, What You Need to Know About Your School District Budget, provides tips about how to navigate the budget process in your school districts.

Here are a few tips from the article: 

  • Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. 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. Keep up with local media reports of budget meetings.
  • Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
  • 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.
  • Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk.
  • 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.
  • Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
  • Remember to vote. 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. 

To read the full article, go to http://liparentonline.com/features3.html.

In addition to the print version, I will be writing a monthly online column, Ask the Education Expert, on the Long Island Parent website. There I will be answering questions submitted by readers. In the current column, I discuss parent concerns related to kindergarten registration and readiness. Take a look at http://liparentonline.com/ask-the-school-expert.html. Email your questions to me at youreducationdoctor@youreducationdoctor.com and check out LI Parent online for the answers each month.

For more information about Your Education Doctor or Meryl Ain, please visit:

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A Plan to End Bullying and Make Schools Kinder and Gentler

A plan that would virtually end school bullying and make school discipline kinder, gentler and more meaningful is being proposed for schools throughout the country.

The man behind this revolutionary concept is Dr. Robert Goldman, a Long Island psychologist/lawyer. He is intent on changing the culture of schools based on lessons found in his book, No Room for Vengeance, and his work with the Suffolk County Probation Department.

Goldman’s book, co-authored with Victoria Ruvolo, tells the true story of an incident that took place on the Long Island Expressway in November 2004. A teenager tossed a 20-pound frozen turkey out the rear window of the car he was riding in and it broke the windshield of an oncoming car, hitting and nearly killing Ruvolo, its driver. But instead of going to prison for up to 25 years, the offender, Ryan Cushing, 18, was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree assault at the insistence of Ms. Ruvolo.

As a result of Ruvolo’s compassion, Goldman developed a program of repentance for juveniles, one believed to be the first in the country.

After Cushing entered his plea and was leaving the courtroom — knowing he would be sentenced to only six months in jail, five years probation and one year of community service — he stopped in front of Ruvolo who was standing at the end of a row and hugged her. The two cried openly.

“I’m so thankful that you are doing well,” he whispered to Ruvolo, whose face had to be rebuilt using metal plates and screws in a 10-hour operation.

“You’re such a wonderful person,” he continued, sobbing uncontrollably as others in the courtroom choked back tears. “Never did I intend to hurt anyone, especially someone as special as you. I prayed for you every night; I never meant this to happen.”

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” Ruvolo told him. “I am going to be watching over you now. Just do good with your life.”

Inspired by her compassion and challenge to create a venue where Ryan could do something good with his life, Goldman developed a program called TASTE, an acronym that stands for Thinking errors, Anger management, Social skills and Talking Empathy.

The program in Suffolk County’s juvenile justice program offers young people a chance to apologize to their victim in writing or in person. Goldman, who is now the supervising psychologist in the Probation Department, said that Ryan’s community service required him to address youngsters in the TASTE program. It is for youngsters 12 to 15-years-old who have pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes (including shoplifting, criminal trespass, assault, graffiti and aggravated harassment) and have been sentenced to probation or had their cases adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Goldman noted that Ryan continued speaking to groups with Ruvolo well after his one-year of community service ended.

The hour-long probation programs — which can range from four to 16 sessions, depending on the needs of each youngster — also involve the participation of the youth’s parents. Goldman and his colleagues at the Probation Department run TASTE, which focuses on teaching the juveniles about self-control.

The key to the program is to have youngsters stop and think of the long-term consequences of their actions before they act.

Now Dr. Goldman wants to bring this program to schools as an alternative to suspension.

“Rather than throwing them out of school, thereby rewarding them for their behavior, I would hold them accountable by putting them through this program and having them make peace with their victim — especially in the case of bullying,” Goldman explained.

This is an intriguing program and one certainly worth considering. As the Hearing Officer in Superintendent’s Disciplinary Hearings for more than a decade, I often felt hamstrung in meting out consequences. New York State law allows only for suspension as a punishment. Counseling, alternative behavior modification programs, and creative solutions can only be recommended, not mandated.

Goldman also wants to give principals more authority — rather than automatically requesting a Superintendent’s Hearing — to impose more than a five-day suspension. He notes that implementing TASTE in schools would give kids — particularly those involved with drugs and similar offenses — along with their parents and school personnel the opportunity to explore why the offense occurred, how the school was impacted, what such behavior does to the community.

“Let the children hear the consequences of their behavior on the school so they can understand,” Dr. Goldman said. “Let them become part of the program, part of the solution. Let them mentor others on the dangers of drugs.”

In addition, Goldman is currently developing a curriculum, based on the TASTE principles that he hopes to implement throughout the country, starting with New York. He says it fulfills the requirements of The Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect in New York State in July. It was enacted to protect students in public schools from discrimination and harassment. New York joins 11 states, which have already passed similar legislation, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Dignity Act protects against all forms of harassment, especially those based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. What’s notable about this legislation is that it amends state education law to require schools to incorporate diversity and discrimination awareness and sensitivity training into lessons on civility, citizenship, and character education. Additionally, schools are also required to develop effective responses to harassment and bullying, and to implement strategies to prevent these behaviors.

http://www.nyclu.org/files/OnePager_DASA.pdf

 


MLK Day: Beyond the Anniversary

We’re well into the 21st century but two recent news items should make us wonder how far we’ve actually come in this, the 83rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth and the 58th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. 

The first is an article by Katherine Schulten in The New York Times that notes that on last year’s National Assessment of Education Progress exam, only 2 percent of U.S. high school seniors were familiar with the civil rights struggle of the 1950s.  Students could not identify the wording from Brown v. Board of Education, the US Supreme Court decision that knocked down the “separate but equal” doctrine in public schools. 

Ms. Schulten reported also that after a comprehensive review, the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that civil rights history is often avoided in schools. 

Much more disturbing, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that parents in one Georgia school district were enraged by math worksheets that contained questions about slavery. Among them: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” Another: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” 

Parents are demanding an apology as well as diversity training for teachers and administrators.

Parents should be demanding a lot more than that! They should ask about the teacher(s) who gave the test. Where was the sensitivity to the African-American students? They should know the context of the math test. Was this an integration of math and history? If so, were these the best examples that could have been used? They should ask if this was an ad hoc blooper or a carefully crafted piece of the curriculum. Finally, who is responsible for supervising the teachers and the curriculum in the school and district – and where were they? 

Both parents and teachers need to be vigilant in preventing prejudice and in celebrating the diverse and tolerant country we say we are. That begins with Martin Luther King Day, but doesn’t end there. 

In honor of MLK Day, the NEA called upon teachers to “help students put in perspective Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, his impact on the Civil Rights Movement, and his significance to American culture and history.”

Martin Luther King Day is observed this year on Monday, January 16. As the magazine PTO Today wrote, this day is an opportunity for parent groups to “help focus students’ attention on the civil rights leader and to reinforce his message of racial justice and equal rights.” 

In the second decade of the 21st century, students have to know more than anniversaries. The history behind the anniversary tells us who we are as a people and what we aspire to be. The lessons of Dr. King’s life and legacy must go beyond one day in our schools. How the civil rights movement is taught or how Martin Luther King Day is observed, while important, is not the whole story. What is important is that we teach our children that we are a society that respects and celebrates differences. 

http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/how-do-you-teach-the-civil-rights-movement/ 

http://www.ajc.com/news/gwinnett/norcross-parents-upset-by-1292851.html 

http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/mlk-day.html 

http://ht.ly/8i1Ao

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TV Parents: What Values Do They Convey?

During the holiday break, I confess watching a few episodes of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras, a reality show that features actual parents (mostly mothers) preparing and entering their small children in kiddy beauty pageants. The mothers are depicted inflicting on their tiny daughters coaching lessons, spray tans, heavy makeup, false eyelashes and hairpieces – all for the privilege of winning a crown or a small monetary prize for their child’s physical appearance.

It got me thinking about whether TV parents reflect our values or help to shape them. And what, exactly, are the values that we want our schools to teach our children? 

Have you seen Robert Young in re-runs as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best, a popular 1950’s situation comedy?

Jim set
 standards for his children — Betty, Bud, and Kathy — and constantly differentiated right from wrong.

Or do you remember June Cleaver as the mom in Leave it to Beaver? She was always in the kitchen with her shirtwaist dresses and pearls
dispensing milk and cookies, while her husband, Ward, gave their sons,
Wally and Beaver, weekly lectures in the proper way to behave.

The baby-boomer generation and their parents thought these were the perfect families, and while they were glorified lily-white versions of reality, there was no question that the parents’ primary responsibility was to impart values, such as fairness, honesty and caring, to their children. They also sat down as a family for daily meals, during which they discussed the day’s events.

In later decades, the Cunninghams, Howard (Tom Bosley), a hardware store owner, and his stay at home wife, Marion, attempted to set their children and family friend, “the Fonz,” on the right path in Happy Days.

On The Cosby Show, the Huxtables — Cliff (Bill Cosby), a physician, and Clair, a lawyer, African-American 
parents of five — also modeled and taught the values they wanted their children to live by.

While all these parents were idealized versions of real mothers and
 fathers, they provided a benchmark against which actual people could
 measure their actions. And they supported the notion that American 
parents were the repositories of wisdom, knowledge and integrity, and 
were supposed to pass these values on to their children.

Fast forward to 2012. We don’t hear too many lectures on ethics from
 television parents. But we do hear about social and emotional 
intelligence, and schools’ attempts to teach character education. 
Values such as respect, kindness, empathy, and giving back are needed 
more than ever in our society, and there are many programs in our
schools that attempt to develop nice human beings and good citizens. 
But it’s naïve and unrealistic to expect schools to do this alone. 
Parents are key partners in inculcating values in their children. All 
the lessons and activities in the world will not succeed without
 parental support.

What are we learning about values from today’s fictional TV parents? 

Cam and Mitchell, the same-sex parents of Lily on ABC’s Modern 
Family, are over-conscientious and ever-present to their daughter’s 
needs. Being present is key to success and an important value. Parents 
can’t influence their kids at all if they are not physically,
 emotionally, and mentally present. This includes: engaging in
conversation, attending school and other events, and modeling values.

Frankie Heck, played by Patricia Heaton on ABC’s The Middle, should 
also be commended for parenting three rather odd children and
allowing each of them to be whom they are. Enabling children to
 discover their own interests, find their purpose and pursue their own 
dreams is a key to happiness.

In total contrast, the mothers on TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras live
 vicariously through their children. They spend thousands of dollars to
 have their daughters — some less than a year old — compete in beauty
 pageants. It is painful to watch toddlers crying and fighting their mothers as they get them ready to “compete.” Equally disturbing is the intense disappointment of both parent and child when the aspiring mini-beauty queens fail to win a crown. While some of the children say they like to
 participate, their parents are forcing their own passions on their
 children! One mother admitted that she had a baby so she could enter
 her in pageants. Another did not have the daughter she wanted, so her
s on is now one of very few boys competing on the pageant circuit.

As we enter the New Year, it’s crucially important for parents to be
 strong partners with their children’s schools in building character. 
For better or worse, TV parents, then and now, provide a framework of 
what and what not to do. Here are some tips for 2012:

• Be role models for honesty, integrity, kindness and caring.

• Let your children know what your standards are in word and in deed.

• Teach your child to respect and celebrate differences.

• Be present for your children, and show up physically, mentally, and
 emotionally.

• Model the importance of giving to others.

• Eat dinner together as a family.

• Allow your children to discover their own interests, and to find 
their own purpose.

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Education News Review of 2011: What will be trending in 2012?

1. In a dismal economy, schools made deep cuts into their educational programs in 2011. 

• In 2012, look for more cutting, including mid-year cuts. School districts will consider school closings, grade reorganization, and redistricting. Administrative jobs, particularly district-wide positions, will be on the chopping block. Parents will lobby for central administrative cuts, insisting that an extensive and excessive central administration should not be kept at the expense of educational programs impacting their children. Consolidation of school districts, in a way that reduces administration and retains neighborhood schools, will also be seriously explored.       

 

2. High school and college sports were under fire for lack of accountability in insular “old boys’ networks” in 2011. Most notably, the egregious allegations of repeated child abuse by Jerry Sandusky and the cover-up by his superiors heightened awareness of the dangers to children when there is a lack of accountability. On Long Island, a superintendent who had once been a coach was accused of directing a principal to have teachers inflate the grades of a star football player. 

• In 2012, look for more uncovering of favoritism and bad behavior on the part of the adults in charge in high school and college sports.  There will be an outcry for fairness, watchfulness, and an overhauling of sports programs as well as child abuse reporting laws.

 

3. Bullying and cyber-bullying were in the news in 2011 because of resulting teen suicide. States, such as New Jersey, passed anti-bullying laws. 

• In 2012, look for more serious discussion about bullying and cyber-bullying. The emphasis will be on programs that prevent bullying and what adults – parents, educators, and others – can do in this digital age where online bullying can occur 24/7.  Watch also for a serious dialogue of whether legislation is the answer or if creates additional victims. 

 

4. In 2011, SAT student cheating rings were uncovered on Long Island, and teachers were accused of cheating by changing their students’ answers on standardized tests in Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. 

• In 2012, watch for more cheating scandals. While there will be more arrests to crackdown on cheating, there will also be soul-searching reflections about why students and teachers feel compelled to cheat. 

 

5. Many parochial schools closed their doors and there was increasing fire directed at some charter schools in 2011. 

• Look for the impact on already strapped school districts as hundreds of former parochial school students enter the public schools in 2012. 

 

6. In 2011, parents formed unions in places as far-flung as California and New York City. These groups were created to empower parents with a voice in their children’s education. 

• Watch for more parent power in 2012. For example, in New York State a 2 percent tax cap will go into effect, forcing districts to look for cost savings unless 60 percent of the voters vote to exceed the cap. Parents in New York and elsewhere are becoming increasingly aware that districts can put anything on the table to be cut, including sacred cows such as full-day kindergarten. Look for your district’s schedule of budget meetings, attend them and speak up! Stay tuned to Your Education Doctor for strategies to help you advocate for quality education for your children!

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

 


December Dilemmas

It’s the holiday season and there are celebrations everywhere – at the office, at home and in the schools.

Happy Holidays

However you celebrate at home or in the office, the notion of what is appropriate and inappropriate in public schools continues to evolve as our communities become more diverse.

When I was a child, Christmas was observed in the schools with Christmas pageants, Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, candy canes and Christmas carols. Children who did not celebrate Christmas felt excluded. A generation later, Hanukkah was given a mention with a Hanukkah song in the holiday concert and perhaps Hanukkah food, such as jelly doughnuts. It was better than nothing, but still not much.

Later, Kwanzaa was included. Whether it was called “holiday festivities” or Christmas, everyone understood that it was basically a Christmas celebration with merely a nod to non-Christian holidays.

Nowadays, students observe so many different winter holidays in our multi-cultural society that schools simply can’t keep up with them all.  Rather than being exclusionary, a number of schools have adopted an educational solution to this winter dilemma by having the students share their family traditions with their classmates.  In this way, the school or teacher doesn’t put an imprimatur on any one practice. The children explain their customs and share their foods – and it becomes a learning experience. 

Did I say “food?”  Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows that you can easily gain seven pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas with all the ubiquitous goodies. But sharing food among children has become a real problem. Is the food gluten free, peanut free, animal free, kosher or halal? With medical conditions, such as celiac disease, food allergies and dietary restrictions, it’s not as easy as it used to be to share holiday fare with your classmates.  In the past, people just didn’t know any better; now we do!

Add to this the rampant concern about obesity and healthy eating in this country, and we have another dilemma on our hands. Parties bring together students, teachers and parents, and provide a break from the routine. But school parties typically revolve around junk food, such as candy, cookies, cupcakes and chips. As parents across the country lobby for school wellness policies and healthier fare in school cafeterias, the traditional holiday party becomes almost politically incorrect.

With these dilemmas, parents who care have to weigh in. You have to speak up if your child feels uncomfortable or is in danger of having his health or beliefs violated. School officials will listen to your concerns. In one district where I worked, parents rallied against a Christmas pageant in one school. It was replaced by a more ecumenical sharing of traditions.

Recently, one Rockland County teacher went way too far by telling her students that there is no Santa Claus. Parents complained and the teacher called each parent  to apologize. Clearly, this teacher had no business imposing her own views and impinging on children’s beliefs.  

If your child has a food restriction, let the school know ahead of time. If it’s a matter of healthy eating, are you willing to make an exception for a special occasion – or do you think school parties shouldn’t revolve around junk food?  A study in the Journal of Nutrition, Education, and Behavior indicated that when fruit was served along with candy and cookies, children ate it and their total consumption of calories dropped.

If you are a parent who cares passionately about what is served at class parties, form a committee and come up with healthier food alternatives. Additionally, plan fun activities that are not food-related. How about a community service project instead, around which parents and students can unite?

Whatever your individual concerns or beliefs, our public schools are for everyone. Most important at this time and throughout the year is that parents — in partnership with schools — teach children how to respect and celebrate their differences. 

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a healthy new year!