How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Summer vacation is around the corner – and that means that both parents and kids get a break from the rigors of the school year. If your children are enrolled in day camp or other summer programs, they’ll likely get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and exploration. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents have the means to afford camps, tutors, and 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.

The bad news is 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.

The good news is that there are a number of strategies that you can use to ensure that your child doesn’t lose learning and skills over the summer. In the June/July issue of Long Island Parent, I offer 10 suggestions to help parents continue their children’s learning during the summer months.  To read the whole article, go to: http://liparentonline.com/features2.html

Here are a few of the tips:

  • 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.
  • 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?

Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!


It’s Scholarship Season – Helping Graduates and Preserving Memories

ImageThis week I look forward to attending the Brentwood (N.Y.) High School Awards Night as a presenter of two scholarships in memory of my father, Herbert Fischman, who was a teacher and principal in the school district for 25 years.  With this gesture, I will join with many other individuals and groups who together award hundreds of scholarships to Brentwood’s deserving graduates. I suspect that we are all part of a much larger group this spring who will also donate scholarships to high school graduates across the country.

In these difficult economic times, it hardly seems like a $500 or $1,000 scholarship makes a difference, but it does. Many of the students are awarded multiple scholarships, so while most of the individual awards are modest, they can add up — and numerous students receive sizeable support.

But it’s not just about the money. It’s about honoring young people who have excelled in spite of adversity, and who passionately want a shot at college. One of those Brentwood graduates, Samantha Garvey, made national headlines earlier this year when she was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average.

Scholarship But you don’t need to have Samantha’s resume to receive a scholarship. The more 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. I have to confess that the scholarship was not my idea. Vicki Novak, a Brentwood graduate who later became president of the Smithtown Council of PTAs, had the council donate the scholarship when my father died in 2005 and I was the administrative liaison to the PTA Council.

It wasn’t until three years ago while writing a book with my husband and brother that a light bulb went off in my head. Our book is about honoring memories and carrying on legacies, and the idea for the scholarship came from two of our interviewees — Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney and brother of Rosemary Clooney, and Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of cellist Yo Yo Ma. Both separately suggested that one of the most accessible ways of honoring a loved one was to establish a scholarship in his or her memory. It was then that I made the commitment to continue the scholarship each year.

While the students are the recipients of the scholarships, attending the assembly and presenting the scholarships 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.  Some of the past recipients have sent me thank you notes expressing their appreciation.

One female student wrote:

“It is with great appreciation that I thank you and your family for allowing me to be one of the recipients of the $500 Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship.  Words can’t describe how grateful my family and I are for your help towards my future.  In this economy every little bit helps.”

And a young man who was on his way to an Ivy League college wrote the following:

I would like to thank you for your generosity and support toward my college education.  I would also like to pay respect to your father since he did serve in the community for an outstanding 25 years and is most likely respected by former colleagues and students.  It still must be tough to cope with this loss since it is just over five years, but I know he still lives through people like you who give back to the community of Brentwood.

I am of Mexican and Haitian descent and I will be the first in my family to attend college.

I am blessed that I am one of the recipients of your scholarship. I will work hard to keep the spirit of your father alive and I will not let you down.

In these difficult economic times where discretionary funds are diminishing, a scholarship, no matter how small, can enhance the life of a young person. It also perpetuates the living memory of a loved one.


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/


Teachers’ Holiday Gifts – What’s A Parent To Do?

`Tis the season and everywhere we look there are suggestions for gift giving.  No doubt on your list of recipients are your children’s teachers. Newspaper articles, TV spots, websites and blogs — not to mention catalogs — provide a potpourri of possibilities for teacher gifts. There’s a lot of pressure out there to give your children’s teachers the right gift. So what should that be?

You might want to start by examining your school’s policy on gifting. Some schools set a limit, e.g. $25, some don’t allow it at all, some specify one gift from the entire class, while others say nothing on the subject. Whatever your school’s policy, it’s likely to be ignored by at least some people. My experience has been that parents feel very pressured to give the teacher a gift she/he will appreciate, and worry that no gift could influence the teacher’s perception of their child.

Some parents go all out, while others begrudgingly do the minimum. I will never forget that when I was in first grade my teacher announced to us that Becky had given her the best gift in the class. She had been invited to Becky’s house for lunch and Becky’s father, a dress manufacturer, presented her with a beautiful dress. I remember that I and the other children felt powerless and unworthy as she opened our gifts. Throughout the year I understood implicitly why Becky was the teacher’s pet.

Those days may or may not be gone. There are still some parents who will lavish expensive gifts on teachers, causing others to be resentful. There are some parents who believe teachers don’t need “tips,” and others who simply can’t afford it in these difficult economic times.

Conversely, as a former teacher and administrator, I can safely say that most teachers don’t even want gifts. They truly appreciate a lovely note or card expressing appreciation, or perhaps even a homemade gift or gift card. But while receiving a truckload of extraneous gifts is flattering, they usually don’t know what to do with all the random stuff they get.

Case in point: one year I sent an email to all 1,000 teachers in our district asking for new items that we could use to put together gift baskets for the elderly in the community.  I was inundated with “stuff” — unwanted Christmas presents. We recycled the gifts, assembling beautiful baskets wrapped in cellophane and curling ribbon, and made a lot of people happy. It’s amazing how a potholder, dishtowel, and hand lotion can be made to look so good with the proper wrapping!

There are some schools that 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:

  • 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

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently suggested several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate as an educational exercise for students.

For example: 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.

Even if it’s too late to change your school’s culture now, start a discussion now – and maybe things will change next year. Engaging parents and children in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving

Happy Holidays!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/kristof-gifts-that-say-you-care.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212


Sneezing 101: Sickness in Schools

Right before Thanksgiving, I caught a “head cold” from my husband. His cold went away after a week, but mine got worse. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or breathe through my nose. I finally went to the doctor, who determined from a blood test that I had developed a bacterial upper respiratory infection, which required an antibiotic. The experience took me back to my three boys’ childhood illnesses, including late night bouts with the croup when they were babies; we would turn on the hot shower and steam up the bathroom as per the doctor’s recommendation. It also brought me back to my own childhood sicknesses, when my mother made me feel cozy and safe as I recovered on the living room couch after the doctor gave me a penicillin shot for tonsillitis.

The experience started me thinking of the difficulty parents have nowadays when their kids get sick. With so many parents working outside the home, the question of when to keep a young child home from school is a challenging one.

It is probably better to err on the side of caution. My daughter-in-law recently asked me to babysit for my four-year-old grandson because he hadn’t slept well and was lethargic. That’s a good reason to keep a young child home from school. If a child does not feel well enough to comfortably participate in school activities, he is better off at home.

Most parents know not to send their children to school with fever or a contagious illness. Kids who are vomiting, wheezing, have diarrhea, a rash, or persistent cough do not belong in school. You do not want your child in a compromising and embarrassing position. In addition, she will be sharing her germs with others. No one appreciates that!

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. Lately, schools are 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)

School nurses encourage seasonal flu vaccinations to prevent flu epidemics in the schools. It is also highly recommended by doctors and nurses that children be vaccinated against communicable diseases. A number of these diseases, including whooping cough, are making a comeback in schools. They are highly dangerous and can be fatal. 

As we enter the flu season, encourage your child to exercise good hygiene and get plenty of sleep. 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. Better to be safe than sorry. Let your child get the loving care he is entitled to, and to quote my grandmother, “He will be a professor a day later.”


The Week That Was: From SAT to Steve Jobs

There is a gaping chasm between the values of the high school students involved in the SAT cheating scandal in Great Neck, L.I., and those of Steve Jobs, the genius inventor who died last week at 56. 

What messages and what kind of pressure did these young people get that made them abandon common sense, ethics, and the law in the pursuit of stellar SAT scores they believed they were incapable of getting on their own? What beliefs did Jobs have that gave him the confidence to drop out of college and invent products that truly transformed the way that we live, learn, communicate and work?

I suspect the Great Neck teenagers felt pressure to achieve – from their peers and from their parents.  They are certainly not alone in succumbing to that pressure. You have only to watch Toddlers and Tiaras to know that parental pressure has no age or geographical boundaries. Does anyone really believe that three-year-olds aspire to be beauty queens and actually enjoy having false eyelashes glued onto their faces?

The high school students who paid someone to take their SATs for them had swallowed a bill of goods that led them to believe that to be successful, they needed to attend a top tier college. Likely, they thought they would forever be defined by the college they attended and their prospects for future success would be set in stone their freshman year. They did not have confidence in their own skills or abilities, believing instead that the top tier schools they attended defined success.

It never occurred to them that they could distinguish themselves at a third tier school, or even that they could transfer from Nassau Community College after two years.  Ironically, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, about 775 U.S. colleges and universities – including some first rate schools — are now test optional. Some schools exempt students who meet grade-point average or class rank criteria, while others require SAT scores only for placement purposes.

Contrast the mind-set of these young people with the advice Steve Jobs gave to the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford University:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

“You’ve got to find what you love.”

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition…

What can parents learn from these words?

Stop pressuring your children to live up to some ideal standard. If they get a 93% on a test, don’t ask them what happened to the other seven points. If they want to and can get into an Ivy League school on their own power and desire, that’s great. But don’t keep telling them they have to go to Harvard or Yale. And please, don’t make them think they have failed if they can’t reach that goal – just because you want it. There are tens of thousands of high schools in the U.S. and each has one valedictorian and one salutatorian — and all are trying for the same nine top tier schools.

Encourage your children to live their own lives. Don’t pressure them to live out your dreams; let them have their own. Enable them to become the best they are capable of being, not the best your neighbor’s child is capable of being.

Help them find their passion and to pursue it. If they follow their interests, they will not only distinguish themselves but also be true to themselves.

Most of all, children of all ages need unconditional love, ethics and values from their parents. As hard as schools may try, they can’t teach character education without parental agreement and support.

Steve Jobs never finished college.  And most successful people didn’t have perfect SAT scores. Without character, commitment, and emotional intelligence it really doesn’t matter where your kids go to school.


How Schools Have Changed Since 9-11

As I read and watched the September 11thanniversary coverage, I was brought back to that terrible day which transformed all of us forever.

The World Trade Center

My initial reaction when I learned a plane had hit the first tower was that I would know people who were in the World Trade Center – and I was right. Among the casualties was Andrew Zucker, a 27-year-old lawyer our family had known since he was six-years-old. His mother told me later that after having led members of his law firm to safety, he was going back to help more when the second plane hit and he disappeared. He left behind grieving parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends – and a pregnant wife.

That child, now almost 10 years old, innocently joined thousands of young and unborn children who lost a parent on 9-11. Not only did that terrible day change the lives of countless children and their families, but it also changed our schools.

At the time, I was working in the central office of the Smithtown Central School District, about 30 miles from Manhattan. Minutes after the first attack, I and the five other members of the superintendent’s cabinet were summoned to the office of Dr. Charles A. Planz, the superintendent of schools, to watch the ghastly events unfolding on TV and to discuss how we should handle the catastrophe. Dr. Planz ordered a lockdown of all schools and each of us was assigned to visit two of the district’s 14 schools.

I found panic as I drove up to the first school. Parents who had rushed to the school to take their children home, had congregated in the lobby waiting for their children to be released to them. Many had come to the school because cell phone service had been knocked out and they wanted to be with their children at this time of national crisis. As I circulated among the parents, one mother was crying and visibly shaken.

“My husband is a New York City firefighter,” she told me.

Only later as events unfolded did I realize the true import of her words – that her husband and other brave first responders had rushed into the burning Twin Towers without a moment’s hesitation, ultimately sacrificing their lives to save others. Her husband was one of several first responders and employees in the towers from the Smithtown community who died saving others on September 11.

9/11 Memorial

So many things changed in our country’s schools after 9-11. Schools became better at communicating with parents through websites and automated phone messaging systems. Character education blossomed. The events of September 11 were taught and commemorated. Security guards and security cameras became commonplace. Policies were written, post-Columbine codes of conduct were amended, and rules were established that were unforgiving of prejudice and threats of any kind.

Time and again as the Hearing Officer in Superintendent’s Disciplinary Hearings, I had to explain to a student and his parents that although he had made what he insisted was an idle threat or even a joke, since Sept. 11 the school district was obligated to take it seriously and impose consequences.

But some things will never change, such as the memory of disbelief and horror that day evokes, the families and friends who lost loved ones in such a horrific way, and the unborn children who are now almost 10 years old.  All parents have a basic and enduring instinct to protect and shelter their children from harm. When they send their children to school each day, they have implicit faith that their schools are their trusted partners in that essential endeavor.

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