How An Elite New York City Prep School Created A Safe Space For Angry Zionists


On the morning of May 15, a day after Israeli soldiers shot and killed more than 60 largely unarmed Palestinian protesters on the Gaza–Israel border and injured thousands more, Joel Doerfler, a history teacher at New York City’s elite Riverdale Country School, decided to post The New York Times’ front page headline and accompanying photos in the hallway outside his classroom. “ISRAELIS KILL DOZENS IN GAZA,” read the headline, to which Doerfler added a personal note: “I support Palestinian human rights.”

Doerfler, now 74 years old, had been a member of the faculty at Riverdale for more than 25 years, heading the history department since 1992. He often taught an elective course covering the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and his politics weren’t a secret. “I’ll Believe that Corporations are People When Texas Executes One,” read a sticker plastered on the front of his classroom door. I had him as a teacher years ago, at Columbia Prep. He was a lefty then, too, unabashed but never dogmatic about it and certainly never dismissive of any argument from the other side of the aisle. He welcomed opposing views, and he made us work for the ones we might’ve shared with him. Doerfler introduced us to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and we spent a year delving into third world economic dependency theory. He had a wry sense of humor and never handed out an easy A, which made some students want to earn his approval all the more.

From what I gathered in talking to a number of his recent pupils, little about my old teacher had changed: Doerfler, who is Jewish, didn’t push any political doctrine so much as he inculcated in his students a powerful desire to understand how the world works, by whatever lights they preferred.


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Doerfler at Columbia Prep in the late 1980s, from the author’s yearbook.

When Doerfler posted the Times’ headline, he wasn’t doing anything terribly out of the ordinary. The strange part came next. A small but vocal minority of pro-Israel students responded by putting up a slew of articles and handwritten post-it notes all around the perimeter of Doerfler’s initial posting, practically enveloping it. Over the course of the next two days, the tone and tenor of the responses, including memes, grew more openly anti-Palestinian and then explicitly anti-Arab. One student said some of the articles on the wall were culled from “ultra-conservative sites.” Multiple sources described the later postings as “Islamophobic.” It was, they said, as charged a political atmosphere as they’d ever experienced on campus.

The outrage metastasized, quickly swallowing up another teacher in the history department, Shawn Redden. A select group of parents got involved. A New York City tabloid took up the cause. And soon what began with a headline and a few photos posted on a wall outside a Bronx classroom would come to involve a multimillion-dollar Jewish advocacy organization and a number of influential supporters of Israel. Those influential parents, who collectively have donated vast sums to Riverdale in recent years, met in private to lobby highly receptive school officials — including the board’s chair, David Westin, the former president of ABC News — and worked to shape and then dominate the agenda of a more public parents’ meeting in June.

It was during that latter meeting that Riverdale’s culture war exploded into the open. Parents aired a number of long-simmering grievances, claiming some of their children were being unfairly persecuted and laying out a vast, unfounded conspiracy of leftist indoctrination and speech suppression on the part of the faculty. At one point in the meeting, some teachers were likened to a “tumor” that required immediate removal. At another, Doerfler himself was compared to a white supremacist. Someone even invoked the Me Too movement, analogizing the teachers to powerful predators. And throughout, they treated any criticism of Israel or its current government as equivalent to anti-Semitism. It was the playbook of Israel’s staunchest defenders, adapted to a prep school setting.

The wall outside Joel Doerfler’s classroom on May 18. Names have been blacked out.


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The wall outside Joel Doerfler’s classroom on May 18. Names have been blacked out.

By mid-June it was all over. Doerfler had quit in protest, and Redden, who’d been out on paid leave since May despite enjoying the support of a group of students and a larger group of alumni, was resigned to never teaching at Riverdale again.

The saga was a parable of political correctness as it more commonly exists in America, beyond the apoplexies of mainstream pundits. For all of the coverage devoted to the supposed assaults on free speech perpetrated by the left on college campuses and the honking claims of persecution by the right, the real threats to liberal ideals within the academy come from the influential and powerful, people who can demand that a school stand in lockstep with their political agendas or risk losing out on their largesse.

There was something in all of this that an acolyte of Doerfler’s might grimly appreciate: Students at Riverdale had gotten an excellent lesson in how the world really works.

Sacred Spaces

Riverdale Country School, founded in 1907, sprawls across 27.5 acres in the affluent Riverdale suburb of the Bronx. The 1,100 students or so who constitute the lower, middle and upper schools have access to an enviable range of facilities: close to a dozen academic buildings, multiple tennis courts, a regulation football field, a greenhouse, performing arts spaces, science-specific labs and a massive 13,000-square-foot indoor aquatic center, recently built to replace the old pool named after the family of Steve Mnuchin, an alumnus and the the current secretary of the treasury. The academics are rigorous, and admission isn’t cheap, with the cost of tuition and other expenses exceeding $50,000 per year. The school also has a $63.3 million endowment, per Riverdale.

Former and current students alike speak of the school as a place where intellectual curiosity is valued above all else. I talked to a dozen or so members of the Riverdale community in all. They were unanimous in their assessment of the campus and its intellectual climate, though something of the current climate was also suggested by the fact that all but one insisted on anonymity, for fear of reprisals. Additionally, some current parents are worried that if they spoke publicly, the administration might retaliate by damaging their child’s college admission prospects down the road.

Whatever their present anxieties, Riverdale students are personally invested in the school’s “greatness,” as a recent alumnus put it. Politically, the school tends toward a cosmopolitan liberalism, though the administration works diligently to ensure that all sides of any hot-button issue are given a full hearing. Prior to the 2012 election, New York Times columnists Charles Blow, whose two children attended Riverdale, and Ross Douthat were invited to speak. But teachers and the administration are more than willing to praise and encourage activist efforts, such as a video shared on Riverdale’s Instagram page this March celebrating students who staged a walkout to demand tighter gun control legislation.

Riverdale was quick to respond earlier in the 2017–18 school year when the campus was rocked by two incidents of direct racist provocation. Someone scrawled the N-word on the wall of an African-American teacher’s classroom; a month later, a swastika was found on a bathroom stall, per emails sent by the administration and obtained by HuffPost. In both cases, the administration made it abundantly clear that the vandalism was beyond the pale and would not be tolerated. During Riverdale’s 2018 graduation ceremony, Shelby Stokes, the teacher whose classroom had been vandalized, spoke movingly about the incident — “a violation,” she said, “of what I consider to be a sacred space.”

Students rallied around her “in a way that mended the hole in my spirit,” she said in her speech, a video of which was viewed by HuffPost. She recalled the multicolored post-it notes of “affirmation and love” that filled her office. She drew on the work of Paulo Freire. “Freire tells that love is a commitment to others and that it must generate acts of freedom,” she said. “You cannot have known how you freed me from a crushing sense of self-doubt. I will be forever grateful for your intervention.”

Her speech painted a portrait of a warmly supportive environment in which teachers learn from students as surely as students learn from teachers. As Doerfler would himself learn, though, there are limits to Riverdale’s soft progressivism.

After he posted the headline and photos, the hallway outside his classroom became a hub for hotly contested conversations about Israel and Palestine. Over the next two days, the furor continued unabated. Maybe 50 students in total — approximately one-tenth of the middle and upper school — regularly engaged in debates around the wall, with participation increasing as the week went on. And while some of the conversations were respectful, the loudest voices belonged to the pro-Israel students, some of whom asserted that supporting Palestinian protesters was the equivalent of supporting Hamas, ISIS, even terrorism in general.

One such example on the wall, per multiple sources, was a quote that has been attributed in numerous publications to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, but its provenance is questionable: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” A similar, handwritten but unattributed post-it note on the wall read, “Arabs need to stop loving their bombs and start loving each other.”

“Some have suggested that this wall was a healthy dialogue,” wrote Kelley Nicholson-Flynn, Riverdale’s head


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“Some have suggested that this wall was a healthy dialogue,” wrote Kelley Nicholson-Flynn, Riverdale’s head of upper school, in an email to students and staff, “while others have suggested that the anonymous postings were deeply problematic.” 

For his part, Redden posted on the door of his classroom the names of the Palestinians who had been killed and also Amnesty International’s article likening Israel’s actions to war crimes. Like Doerfler, it wasn’t hard to deduce where Redden landed on the political spectrum. In 2011, Redden was participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests at Zuccotti Park and insisting on more concrete demands. “Like Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand,’” he said, according to The New York Times.

One student, a rising senior at Riverdale, told me about a run-in with a group of other students. This was May 17, two days after Doerfler’s posting. After leaving a bioethics class, the student approached the wall and, staring at Meir’s probably apocryphal quote, said sotto voce, to no one in particular, “These Jewish kids…” Before finishing the thought, the student was surrounded by a handful of male students, five or so, who screamed “racist” in front of the student’s face over and over again. The encounter lasted two to three minutes, by the student’s recollection. The group dispersed, and the student was left in tears. (A classmate who was present backed up the student’s account.)

In recalling the incident, the student expressed deep regret for having explicitly criticized Jewish students, saying it was “wrong” to have done so, especially when there was no way to determine who was responsible for the postings in question. But the student also remembered having felt stunned and unable to respond while under attack. “I felt shocked. I felt shocked and powerless,” the student said. Never before had the student felt so explicitly targeted. “Riverdale is becoming a more and more foreign place to me,” the student said.

Later that Thursday night, another student sent an email to Kelley Nicholson-Flynn, the head of upper school. In the email, which was obtained by HuffPost, the student made it clear that the wall had sparked few, if any, productive conversations. Pro-Israel students, however, were “exhibiting racist tendencies,” the student wrote, “posting racist remarks” and sharing decidedly “anti-Arab articles.” The student also asked that the school make a definitive statement condemning these posts, as they had done in October and November in response to the racist vandalism.

Realizing the situation was becoming untenable, the administration jumped in. Nicholson-Flynn sent an email addressed to all upper school students and Riverdale employees on the morning of May 18, decrying the use of both anti-Arab and anti-Semitic language and suggesting that students consult the Upper School Student Handbook to see if any of the behavior during the past week constituted harassment. If so, the incidents would be fully investigated, Nicholson-Flynn promised.

This was well-intentioned but curious. No anti-Semitic material had been posted on the wall, sources told me. Save for Redden’s posting on his classroom door, all the material affixed to the wall by students was supportive of Israel. If Nicholson-Flynn meant that anti-Semitic opinions had been expressed verbally, she did not make any such a distinction in the email. And the wall itself, in her view, was a matter open to debate. “Some have suggested that this wall was a healthy dialogue,” Nicholson-Flynn wrote, “while others have suggested that the anonymous postings were deeply problematic.”

In her note, she announced a new policy with regards to the wall or any material posted on campus: They would have to be signed by a student, student group or faculty member. If not, they would be removed.

The email then went on to outline what the administration felt was the best path toward building “a climate that supports dialogue,” including a series of meetings with interested students.

By the end of the day, all of the postings were taken down.

But the tension had not solely been confined to the hallway. There were classroom arguments, as hinted at by the New York Post. I heard about one such encounter from a source favorable to Redden: On May 17, a student in a freshman class supposedly told Redden that posting the Amnesty International article and names of the Palestinian victims on his door was tantamount to supporting terrorists. Several weeks later, at a parents’ meeting, the mother of a Riverdale student would allege that a teacher “screamed and banged on the table while not letting my son speak his views.”

The parent was almost certainly talking about Redden and the May 17 incident. The source disputed the parent’s version of events while acknowledging that the exchange was indeed tense. Voices were raised, but no one struck any tables. The student in question aired his views, and the conversation became more measured as the class as a whole discussed what life is like in Gaza, which is under a crippling Israeli blockade and what a United Nations panel has likened to apartheid rule. Two million Palestinians have to survive with only three to four hours of electricity per day, Redden pointed out, according to the source, and 97 percent of the water is undrinkable. By the end of class, the source said, Redden and the student were on amicable terms.

Then, on May 18, during his mock trial elective, Redden was leading a discussion of the events of 1947–48, specifically the removal of over 700,000 Palestinians from Israel. A senior female student, who is Jewish, stood up and announced that she would not remain in class, according to three sources who were in the room, all of them sympathetic to Redden. The teacher told the student to remain seated. Should she choose to leave, Redden told her, it would impact her final grades. She bolted the classroom anyway, slamming the door behind her.

Redden was on a scheduled paternity leave the following week — his wife had recently given birth to the couple’s second child — but on May 23, he was informed by Dominic Randolph, Riverdale’s head of school, that he would be placed on paid leave, pending an investigation.

It would emerge later that someone had accused Redden of saying “all Israelis are terrorists” during mock trial on May 18, an allegation he vehemently denies.

“I would never have said that, because it is not what I believe,” Redden, whose wife is Jewish, told The Forward. “I was providing historical context in response to the many allegations posted on the wall of the building where I teach, and among some students, equating all Palestinians — indeed, all Arabs — with terrorists.”

Two students who were in the mock trial elective at the time of the incident backed up Redden’s account. “The claim that Mr. Redden stated ‘Israelis are all terrorists’ is a complete fallacy,” one of the students told HuffPost via email. 

“I firmly believe that no teacher has attempted to allow students to consider all sides of an argument as Mr. Redden has,” the student continued. “He is outspoken and passionate and that’s what makes him one of the greatest teachers that Riverdale has.”

Randolph told Redden that the investigation would be completed the following week, after the long Memorial Day weekend. Redden had already been scheduled to take a sabbatical during the following fall semester. But via email, he confirmed that he will not be returning to Riverdale. “I welcome the time with my five-month-old son and am excited to get back in the classroom soon,” said Redden, who declined to comment beyond his email.

Because of Redden’s scheduled absence the following week, it took time for word to trickle down to the faculty and student body. Discourse was had in the meantime — “sustained, in-person dialogue about the current situation in the Middle East” among students and invited faculty members. That’s how Nicholson-Flynn put it in an email. According to a student who attended one such session, the conversation centered on the meta question of why the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is a “challenging subject.”

Amid all the uncertainty, students began to rally in support of their now-absent teacher. A 20-page single-spaced dossier with personal testimonials from a dozen students was presented to the administration. They also sent a group email praising him to the rafters as both a teacher and mentor, and decrying the lack of information about his job status, especially since, per the email, a board meeting to determine Redden’s fate was imminent.

“Mr. Redden stands out as one of few Riverdale community members who truly champions dialogue and explores all sides of an argument,” the email stated. “Mr. Redden sets out to encourage this behavior in us, his students, everyday [sic] at Riverdale.”

In response, Randolph, the head of school, sent this email on May 30:

I deeply respect your writing this message to me and understand your feelings in regard to Mr. Redden, a teacher whom I also admire and respect. I know that he is a very important figure in this community for many students and other teachers.

At the same time, several incidents happened that are concerning. We are looking into those incidents and will decide what happens. We have clear expectations for our community members and hold people accountable to those expectations. 

A student who co-signed the support email found Randolph’s response to be enervating and disheartening. “We felt so powerless,” the student said. “Because we recognized that at the end of the day the administration and the parents who fund the school have the power.”

A group calling itself “Students for Redden” was formed. Members put up posters on the walls in support of their teacher on June 6 and then again on June 7. The administration quickly took them down, despite the fact that they were signed, per Nicholson-Flynn’s emailed directive.  


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No current Riverdale teacher was willing to speak with HuffPost. Reached by phone, one faculty member, in a flat, affectless voice, said that any questions should be directed to Randolph, then quickly ended the conversation. “Their jobs are at stake,” the member of Students for Redden said of the faculty. “The administration has proven time and time again that they’re willing to listen to parents who want these teachers fired.”

What the bulk of the student body did not know is that their activism paled in comparison to the work of a far more influential group operating behind the scenes to determine not just Redden’s fate, but Doerfler’s. These individuals had larger goals in mind, too, than jettisoning a couple teachers. They sought to impose their vision on all Riverdale teachers and bend the school’s curriculum to their will.

‘Tolerance For Hate’

On May 21, Tal Keinan, the Israeli-born founder of Clarity Capital, emailed four other Riverdale parents with a draft of a letter that he planned to send to Randolph. He was requesting comments and possible additions. The bulk of the draft, which was obtained by HuffPost, concerned “last week’s campus discussion of events in the Middle East,” and the students who were “silenced” and experienced “unprovoked and angry rants about Israel” from unnamed teachers, Keinan wrote.

A series of emails followed, the recipient list growing with every one. This was a mustering up of angry parents and their grievances, and the emails laid out in detail just how redress would be achieved.

More allegations were lobbed, many of which concerned Redden. On May 22, Seth Berger wrote: “The Redden War Report Twitter feed would support someone [sic] belief he is being unstable.” Redden’s Twitter account has since been deleted, but as Berger noted with horror, “The top banner of Redden’s Twitter feed is a picture of presumably his very young child holding an election ballot (presidential election) where they wrote in for president Assata Shakur,” the exiled former member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in the shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper. Sam Levine also chimed in to say, “I would like to see Redden terminated for cause.”

Keinan sent the letter to Randolph on the afternoon of May 22. The following morning, he and Levine met with Randolph. Later that same day, Randolph informed Redden that he would be placed on paid leave.

In the evening, Keinan wrote another email to get the group up to speed it now included over four dozen participants. In it, he summarized the meeting with Randolph: “There is an atmosphere of tolerance for hate, which permeates only a narrow constituency at Riverdale, but that targets a specific community and enables the type of behavior that we experienced last week,” Keinan alleged. Some students felt “intimidated,” and parents were upset at the insufficient response by Riverdale. But Randolph “sees things as we do,” according to Keinan, and “is committed to addressing the issue at its source.” A “formal communication” from Randolph would be forthcoming.

In his email, Keinan also mentioned having complained to Randolph about “four specific teachers.” Two sources told HuffPost that Doerfler and Redden made up half this quartet. The remaining two are current members of the Riverdale faculty.

On May 29, as promised, school officials met with Levine, Berger and Keinan. In attendance from Riverdale were Randolph; Dan Rosen, vice chair of the board of trustees, who serves as a member of the board of the American Jewish Congress and was appointed by former President Barack Obama to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; and Westin, the chair of the board of trustees, who, after leaving ABC News, landed a gig as an anchor for Bloomberg TV. The next day, Levine sent a lengthy email from his wife’s address recapping the meeting.

In the email, which was obtained by HuffPost, Levine wrote that while they’d made their feelings known in multiple previous meetings with the administration, concrete results were not achieved. The goal for this meeting was to ensure their demands were met.

  • Taking “specific action” with regards to Redden.
  • Addressing the climate of purported “indoctrination” by left-leaning members of the faculty and preventing “teachers from using their platform to promote personal ideology regarding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, particularly when the topic is outside of the academic curriculum.” This would be accomplished by way of a reworking of the school’s current guidelines and policies.
  • Following the example set by the pending “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” co-sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) — “one of my closest friends,” Levine wrote — and perhaps even inviting Deutch to speak at Riverdale.
  • Meeting with a small group of students who felt “intimidated by certain teachers.”
  • Holding training seminars for faculty members comparable to Starbucks’ decision to close 8,000 stores that same day for racial bias seminars. 

Also, as was made clear at different points throughout the email, Randolph and Westin were in the parents’ corner. Levine wrote:

David [Westin] was very clear in his response, stating that there was no excuse for teachers to be using their platform of power to indoctrinate students with their point of view regarding Israel. David went on to say he wanted the school to have direct conversations with teachers to make clear that if they felt they could not stop themselves from this action, then they would not be allowed to teach at Riverdale. 

According to the email, Randolph, Rosen and Westin agreed that the Starbucks-like seminars were “a good course of action,” though the exact contours “would need to be worked out.” And plans for meetings between Randolph, Westin and individual students were “already underway. ”

After talking for 90 minutes, the meeting attendees shared a “moment of levity,” as Levine described it: “We explicitly said that we are ‘not going away [emphasis and italics theirs] and wanted to remain engaged to make sure change is made and David responded, that after meeting us, he was quite clear we would not be ′going away.’”  

Levine also promised the parents that Randolph, Rosen and Westin “are going to take real action,” starting with a board meeting to discuss the parents’ agenda. 

One parent spoke of teachers exacting ‘retribution’ against students for disagreeing with a ‘left-wing, anti-free-enterprise, anti-Israel agenda.’

Berger, Keinan and Levine did not respond to a request for comment. I asked for comment from the Riverdale administrators, only to be handed off to a man named Michael McKeon. McKeon is a partner at Mercury, a lobbying and crisis communications shop. In a statement on behalf of the school, he wrote: “At Riverdale Country School, we believe that there should always be robust dialogue and debate of different points of view. At the same time, all community members — students, faculty, and staff — must be treated at all times with respect as outlined specifically in our Principles of School Life. When it appears that these principles may have been violated, we investigate immediately and take whatever actions may be required.”

I’d asked whether Randolph agreed there was a “tolerance for hate” at Riverdale, as Keinan’s email indicated. McKeon wrote in response: “At Riverdale, we are proud that we have created an environment of trust that encourages our students and facility to explore many points of view in an open and healthy way. To suggest Dominic [Randolph] or any school administrator would characterize the school’s environment in any other way, and especially in the incomprehensible way [Keinan’s email] does in your note, is simply wrong.”

Neither Levine’s nor Keinan’s emailed summaries of the meetings mentioned the alleged Islamophobia of the previous week. However, Levine did note that he looked forward to seeing many of the email’s recipients at yet another, much larger follow-up meeting on May 31, which would be held at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a pro-Israel and pro-Jewish nonprofit advocacy organization and the former publisher of the neoconservative magazine Commentary. Per The New York Times, the AJC is “widely regarded as the dean of American Jewish organizations,” and according to the AJC’s most recent publicly available tax return, it had amassed over $143 million in net assets.

According to the email, “more than 160 parents and students” were expected to attend the May 31 meeting at the AJC. There, they would be treated to “a very interesting learning opportunity” via “the always very impressive David Harris.” Harris is the chief executive officer of the AJC. (He wrote a number of columns for HuffPost via the now-defunct contributors program.)

Berger is also listed as a member of the board of the New York chapter of the AJC, and his wife Cori Berger was listed as the chair of the AJC’s Women’s Leadership Board in the organization’s 2014–15 impact report. In May 2017, she posted a photo of the “AJC’s Leaders For Tomorrow (LFT)” on Facebook, following a meeting the student group had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. During an appearance on the AJC’s podcast last year, Cori Berger said she created the LFT student program because she was “worried about how Israel is being portrayed and decided to do something about it.”

It is unclear if the AJC provided additional assistance or guidance to this group of parents. In a statement, Harris confirmed that the AJC was asked by “members” of the Riverdale “community” to host the May 31 meeting. While he did not reveal what he told those who attended, Harris signed off on the entirety of their claims, saying he admired “those students who’ve refused to bend” and “the parents who’ve stood by their children.”

“I was dismayed to hear accounts by parents and children of attempts at what can only be described as not-so-subtle indoctrination and intimidation, mostly revolving around Middle East topics as well as anti-American and anti-capitalist sentiment, by a couple of teachers in the social studies/history department,” the statement read. “What I heard flew in the face of everything we’re taught to believe about education, which begins with the centrality of teaching children how to think, not what the party line ought to be.”

By HuffPost’s calculations, the parents who received the May 30 email had donated upward of $500,000 to Riverdale in the 2016–17 fiscal year alone. (The 2017–18 report has not yet been released.) Because the school lists only funding ranges for donations in its annual report, it is possible the total is far greater. Specifically, an individual or couple is listed as having given anywhere between $10,000 and $24,999, $25,000 to $49,999, over $50,000 and so on — meaning one year’s worth of their donations could easily have surpassed seven figures.

These parents did not have to wait long to make their platform more widely known. If the initial series of meetings served as the group’s dress rehearsal, the full production was unveiled to the rest of Riverdale’s parents two weeks later, complete with pre-written scripts.

‘The Anti-Israel, Anti-Capitalist, Anti-American, Anti-Success Narratives Of Resentment’

In an email sent on June 4 by Randolph, co-signed by Westin and Rosen, all parents from the middle and upper schools were invited to attend an open meeting on June 11 at Riverdale’s Jeslo Harris Theater. It was described as “a moment for us all to talk together about how we support and conduct civil discourse on our campus.” 

That’s not quite what the meeting turned out to be. Once again, little to no information was provided about what was transpiring on campus in terms of the postings on the wall and the allegations of Islamophobia. Instead, parents were treated to an expanded version of the talking points and unsubstantiated allegations described in the emails and aired at the AJC meeting.

Nor was it an “open” meeting. A delegation of teachers from the history department was in attendance, but they were asked to leave by Randolph before the meeting formally began. They did so, per multiple sources.

An audio recording of the June 11 meeting obtained by HuffPost begins after the alleged expulsion of the faculty members. For 90 minutes, parent after parent, many of whom were reading from prepared remarks, launched an assault on the curriculum as a whole. They inveighed against the purported biases of the faculty in general, and against those of Doerfler and Redden in particular. They claimed the current environment at Riverdale “does not make learning safe” for some students. Coverage of the meeting by The Forward took their words at face value.

They alleged that students who expressed conservative political opinions were bullied into silence or coerced into writing papers and expressing opinions contrary to their beliefs. If they did offer right-of-center arguments, either in class or an academic assignment, they risked being punished with lower grades, multiple attendees said. One parent spoke of teachers exacting “retribution” against students for disagreeing with a “left-wing, anti-free-enterprise, anti-Israel agenda.”

Dozens of current and former students told HuffPost the parents’ allegations couldn’t be further from the truth. Julia Attie, who took the elective about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and graduated from Riverdale in 2016, said via email that Doerfler “welcomed debate and adored many students who disagreed with him.”

“Joel allowed students to reach their own conclusions,” she continued, “and like any great teacher, he challenged those conclusions. If anything, class discussion was dominated by students who disagreed with Doerfler’s analysis, eager to express their views.”

Another recent Riverdale graduate said via email that Doerfler’s elective provided “some of the most intellectually fulfilling discussions I have had in my life.” A wide range of perspectives was presented, the graduate said, adding that Doerfler “always made sure we understood criticisms of any argument we read (whether it be liberal, right-wing, Zionist, or anything else).”  

An alumni who graduated in 2009 and took Doerfler’s classes could not “even begin to fathom” the notion that grades had ever been used as an ideological cudgel. “Not only because of [Doerfler’s] own, demonstrated integrity as an educator,” the alumnus said via email,“but because Riverdale would never allow that to happen.”

But on June 11, no one voiced any such support for Doerfler, Redden or other members of the faculty. The closest thing to a defender was a woman of color with two children in the lower school, who spoke in cautious generalities about issues raised by African-American, Hispanic-American, LGBTQ and female members of the Riverdale community. “We don’t feel, all the time, that we’re a part of each other’s conversations,” she said, noting the lack of diversity in Riverdale’s leadership on stage. (HuffPost reached out to all the parents who identified themselves during the meeting. They did not respond to a request for comment.)

More common was the sentiment expressed by a parent named Brad Bernstein. Near the meeting’s onset, someone read aloud a letter Bernstein had written to the board of trustees: “What I see is a systematic effort through curriculum, choice of faculty, and teaching style to indoctrinate our children in a political and social agenda.” He also took issue with the curriculum, specifically “the environmental damage that Walmart has caused in world history class, the study of mass incarceration in [inaudible], and extensive focus on slavery, racism, almost to the exclusion of everything else, in ′Constructing America,’” an American studies survey class for juniors. 

Still, Bernstein, a Riverdale alumnus and the father of both a 2016 graduate and rising senior, donated upward of $50,000 in the 2016–17 and 2015–16 fiscal years, between $10,000 and $24,999 in the 2014–15 and 2013–14 fiscal years and between $5,000 and $9,999 in 2012–13, per Riverdale’s annual report.

Brian Schreiber, the father of four current Riverdale students and an invitee to the AJC meeting, spoke of the “selective use of data and use of factual inaccuracies [to] support a particular narrative.” He complained about a discussion of the minimum wage, which he felt was slanted. He complained about another, unnamed teacher who allegedly told a group of parents, “We all think the American Dream is a sham.” He complained about a critical review by Doerfler of the movie “The Jazz Singer. (Schreiber did not specify whether he was referring to the original 1927 film starring Al Jolson in blackface, or the remake, which featured Neil Diamond getting chewed out, along with the scenery, by Sir Laurence Olivier.)

“The anti-Israel, anti-capitalist, anti-American, anti-success narratives of resentment echo off the walls of this school,” he said.

Schreiber did not explain why, despite all the echoing, he has continued to enroll his kids at Riverdale for the past 15 years. Nor did he mention that he and his wife donated between $10,000 and $24,999 in 2016–17 and $5,000 and $9,999 in 2015–16 and 2014–15. From 2014–16, his wife volunteered to serve on the school’s annual fund drive.

One parent, the mother of three Riverdale students, including the student who stood up and left Redden’s class, was an invitee to the AJC meeting. (She identified herself in the meeting, but for the sake of her daughter’s privacy I won’t name her.) She reiterated her allegation about Redden’s comments during mock trial, adding an additional unsubstantiated charge: Redden had “harassed” her daughter. The parent also said, “I love Riverdale,” and that her daughter had received “the gift of this spectacular school.”

Gifts bestowed by this parent in return include: volunteering for the Annual Fund Campaign Committee in 2016–17; endowing a scholarship at Riverdale; and donating, with her husband, between $10,000 and $24,999 in 2016–17, 2015–16 and 2014–15.

Another parent, who did not provide his name prior to speaking, said that his daughter “couldn’t be happier than she was this year. She had the best year of her life, and we had the best year of ours as parents, watching her.” And then he went off about the degree to which Israel and Palestine were discussed in other classes, though not Doerfler’s elective. He also kvetched about “one-sided indoctrination” and “identity politics.” 

The metaphors started to float free from their moorings. Thomas Stern, also an invitee to the AJC meeting and the chairman of the board of the Birthright Israel Foundation, likened certain teachers to “a tumor that needs to be excised” from Riverdale. “If there’s any question about whether they’ve crossed the line,” he said, “check the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.”

A father who has sent multiple children to Riverdale said the dynamic between some students and teachers is “very analogous to the Me Too movement, in that you’re taking powerful people who have opinions, are doing things to vulnerable students in a captive audience.” 

Levine, who met with Randolph on May 23 and May 29, and his wife, Laurie Blitzer, a member of the board of directors of the Birthright Israel Foundation, gave between $1,907 and $4,999 in 2016–17. He wondered whether an Israel-Palestine course should even be taught at Riverdale. “Now you can decide whether Riverdale should teach that class or not — it’s your decision.” he said.

If the class were to remain a part of the curriculum, Levine went on, Doerfler should not be permitted to continue teaching it. “If Riverdale wanted to create a [inaudible] class on the Civil Rights movement, and they were looking for a teacher to teach that class and in the process of interviewing candidates to teach they found a teacher who was a white supremacist … clearly that teacher would not be considered,” Levine said.

When it comes to Israel and Palestine, Doerfler “is effectively the equivalent on this issue of a white supremacist,” Levine said. As part of his spiel, Levine cited articles written by Doerfler that he said had been published by a “hate site,” a label also used by Stern.

The site they are referring to is Mondoweiss. It is not a hate site. It is a blog founded by a Jewish reporter that is often very critical of Israel. Doerfler has had four articles published there beginning in 2012.

The experience of teaching the subject of Israel–Palestine at Riverdale is, in certain crucial respects, altogether different than the experience of teaching any other subject. This is not, I hasten to say, because the subject is any more complicated, or difficult to research, or more ethically elusive than other subjects.

It is, rather, because there exists at Riverdale, and in the culture at large, assertive, influential and highly emotional supporters of Israel and of pretty much everything it does and has done, who are hell-bent on stifling precisely the sort of academic investigation that is commonplace and unexceptional in pretty much every other academic–intellectual realm. 

He wrote of a “chilling effect” that can set in. “What teacher, after all, wants to take on the Israel Lobby and its local minions?” he asked, noting that parents at Riverdale had been in frequent contact with the school’s administration about his teaching. “In particular, what non-Jewish Riverdale teacher would want to wade into this hornet’s nest,” Doerfler continued, “knowing that unless he teaches the Zionist party line about Israel they may very well be accused of anti-Semitism?”

‘A Terrible Precedent Has Been Set’

On June 13, a day after graduation, Doerfler was on campus for the final full faculty meeting of the school year. Afterwards, he was told by Randolph that his elective course on Israel and Palestine would no longer be offered. The class was canceled neither because of a lack of interest from the student body nor because of any specific issues with Doerfler’s pedagogy. As Randolph explained over a month later in a message to an email group composed of recent alumni, Doerfler’s elective about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict needed to go “to give everyone in our community some space” thus permitting students as a whole to “see various sides to issues and argue from different stances as modeled by our teachers.”

At no point in Randolph’s email did he describe how either Doerfler or his class impinged upon Riverdale’s stated academic ideals, but he did inform them that Doerfler had decided to resign in protest.  

“Randolph communicated no criticism of the course itself: its curriculum, the way I taught it, or the classroom experience of students,” Doerfler told HuffPost via email.

“Canceling a course for no academic or pedagogical reason was unprecedented in my 40 years of teaching experience,” he said. “I resigned on principle because it would have been ignominious to return under such circumstances.

“I had never heard from any member of the school administration, including the deans, that students who took the course felt ‘uncomfortable,’ politically or in any other way.”  

The recent alumni also published an open letter on Medium, in which they wrote, “Riverdale can — and must — do better.” Another alumnus set up a GoFundMe page to help the Redden family with their expenses while he looks for his next job.

The Jewish father of a student who graduated Riverdale two years ago called the decisions made by the administration “a terrible assault on the culture of the school” and a threat to free academic inquiry and progressive ideals. “To me, it’s upsetting that this could happen at a school like Riverdale, where the actions they took are the opposite of the values they espouse,” he said.

“This group of influential parents will not stop at Doerfler and Redden,” he added. “They will make more demands in the future. I can promise you that. A terrible precedent has been set.”

Tucked into a back booth in an Upper West Side diner, I met with a recent Riverdale graduate who is likewise dismayed by everything that’s happened over the past two months. There’s little I can say about this person, who asked that I not include a name, age or gender identity, for fear of personal attack. But I can say that the graduate was worried above all about old school friends, former classmates, favorite teachers — what sort of community would they be returning to in the fall? “The idea that a select group of parents… are able to influence and dictate what they want the school to teach, who they want to be teaching, and what’s done in the classroom is deeply troubling and, to me, personally frightening,” the graduate said. 

We shared stories about Doerfler, and I couldn’t help but recall that in 1986 he brought speakers to Columbia Prep to talk about the then-apartheid state in South Africa. In our yearbook, students wrote of what they learned from our school’s first-ever South Africa Day: “From that day forth we have been unable to say simply, ‘Oh, yeah Apartheid, bad stuff,” while watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ or reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and feeling superior. … Action is the key word, not sympathy … and maybe all these acts will snowball into freedom in South Africa and equality closer to home. But perhaps not. We can only hope.”

Two weeks later, the graduate was texting me about the recently enacted legislation in Israel that practically guarantees the eventual disenfranchisement of Arabs. The New York Times’ front page headline, though, framed it thus: “ISRAEL ENSHRINES RIGHTS FOR JEWS.” A trick was being played — de facto apartheid had become de jure in the blink of an eye, and the reader was none the wiser. The graduate was thinking about Doerfler’s canceled course, how necessary it seemed, especially in moments like this when the world is trying to hide the way it works.

Robert Silverman is a freelance journalist living in New York. His work has appeared in The Daily Beast, The New York Times, ESPN, The Guardian, VICE Sports, Deadspin, The Outline and more. You can follow Robert on Twitter at @BobSaietta. 





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University of North Carolina Students Topple Confederate Monument



Frustrated by the inaction of university leaders and what they described as their school’s “institutional white supremacy,” students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stormed a controversial Confederate statue on Monday night — and toppled it with their own hands.

Students reportedly numbering in the hundreds, as well as faculty members and area residents, thronged the statue known as Silent Sam while a group of police officers created a perimeter around them.

A number of counterprotesters, some of whom wore Confederate flag T-shirts, were seen arguing with student protesters. There were no reports of physical altercations.

The protesters used a rope to pull the monument to the ground, student paper The Daily Tar Heel reported. Silent Sam was toppled at around 9:20 p.m.

Next up, Charlottesville!” protesters shouted as they felled the statue.

Erected in 1913 and funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Silent Sam has been a target of vandalism and protests for decades. In April, UNC doctoral student Maya Little was arrested after dousing the statue with red ink and her own blood.

According to The Raleigh News & Observer, Monday’s student demonstration began as a gathering to support Little, who faces criminal and honor court charges for her protest. But the off-campus event “quickly morphed into a march … to the UNC campus, where police officers stood at the monument,” the newspaper reported.

“It’s time to build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy,” Little told the crowd at one point during the rally. “It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.”

UNC issued a statement labeling the protesters’ actions “dangerous” and a form of vandalism.

The university has long rejected calls to remove or relocate Silent Sam, citing state law as a barrier to action.

North Carolina, along with a number of other southern states, has in recent years strengthened its laws protecting Confederate statues. In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill that prohibited state agencies and local governments from dismantling any “object of remembrance” on public property that “commemorates an event, a person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” Only the General Assembly has the power to remove such a monument. 

UNC spent $390,000 last year on security for the statue, the News & Observer reported.

Reacting to the news of Silent Sam’s dismantling, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in a statement that while he “understands that many people are frustrated by the pace of change” and that he shares their frustration, “violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities.” 

The toppling of Silent Sam comes one year after a group of activists pulled down a Confederate statue in nearby Durham. Although the activists were arrested and charged for toppling the monument, a judge later dismissed all charges against them ― and the statue was never put back up. 

In June, the Southern Poverty Law Center said that at least 110 Confederate monuments and symbols had been removed from public spaces across the United States since 2015 when a white supremacist opened fire in one of America’s oldest black churches and killed nine people.

More than 1,740 Confederate symbols ― including about 170 in North Carolina ― are still standing, the group said. 





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5 Teachers Share What They Actually Buy For Their Classrooms



As their children head back to school, many parents send along with them supplies for their teachers, including Kleenex tissues, paper towels, hand sanitizer and maybe even some pencils or art supplies. But what about the many other things teachers opt to provide for their students without reimbursement?

The recent rise of sites like DonorsChoose, a fundraising platform for educators, and Teachers Pay Teachers, a site that allows them to buy and sell educational resources, underscore that many educators are left to fully supply their classrooms on their own. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education released survey findings in May that showed 94 percent of public school teachers paid for classroom supplies without reimbursement during the 2014-2015 school year. Among those teachers, the average amount spent was $479.

Some educators publicly share links to their Amazon wish lists filled with suggestions for supplies, and recently, a report from Airbnb showed nearly one in 10 hosts on the lodging site in the U.S. are teachers, many of whom are trying to make ends meet. During the past year, many teachers have participated in walkouts across the country as they seek higher wages and improved funding for their classrooms. 

HuffPost chatted with five educators to learn what back-to-school season looks like for them and what they actually provide for their rooms ― including some unexpected items ― to ensure their students have a fun and effective learning setting.

A friendly and comfortable learning environment

Several of the teachers said they funded “flexible seating” to make their rooms more comfortable for students. 

“Not all students work best in a plastic chair and desk,” said Ashley LaGrow, who teaches fourth grade in Illinois and blogs about her experience at Learning with Miss LaGrow. “Think about where you work best at home and it puts it in perspective a bit. Over the past year, I have bought fuzzy lounge chairs, wobble stools, exercise balls, rugs, floor cushions, clipboards, lap desks, and bar stools. Having a lot of options allows students to work optimally, but I’m only provided with desks and plastic chairs.”

Books for classroom libraries can also make a dent in teachers’ paychecks. While some educators are lucky to get books donated from friends, family and parents of students ― or inherit them from a past teacher ― others buy the ones they think will help them do their job. Denise Dunbar of Connecticut, who has been teaching for 18 years and shares her tips on her site I’d Rather Educate, said via email that she also provided book bins for her classroom so she could categorize them by grade level. 

To help students thrive, many teachers decorate their classrooms with colorful and fun designs that aim to keep the kids engaged and alert. Part of Dunbar’s classroom decor includes rugs. She said that during one of her years of teaching, her rug was thrown out because of flood damage, and the school administration denied her request to have it replaced. 

Sally DeCost, a recently retired educator in New Hampshire who taught for 40 years and shares teaching resources on her site Elementary Matters, made sure she had snacks available so none of her students would be hungry while trying to learn. 

The everyday supplies

Everyday office supplies like paper, pencils, glue and scissors certainly make the cut on many teachers’ wish lists, as they’re crucial for class activities. And hygienic items such as Kleenex tissues and hand sanitizer are important to help maintain the good health of students and teachers. Many parents donate these items at the beginning of the school year, but they can run out quickly. 

“As the year continues and we start running out of pencils or Kleenexes I know I will start to purchase those on my own,” said Stephanie Yi, who teaches math in San Jose, California.

Yi shares updates about her classroom on Instagram at the handle @MathWithMsYi. She said she wants to provide these basic hygienic supplies for her class as part of creating the right environment for her students. 

“I personally remember, in middle school, during the height of allergy season using paper towels from the bathroom to blow my nose because we had no more Kleenexes,” she said via email. “It’s the little things that help our students feel cared for and I aim for my students to feel like they are cared for. However, this means that the money I make goes right back into my classroom.”

Kristen Wesson, who teaches in Louisiana and is known as Miss Wesson in the Middle on her education-focused Instagram profile, told HuffPost that the past two years she supplied items like paper towels, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, pencils and paper because she had morning bus duty instead of a homeroom, so she didn’t receive these supplies from students and their families. 

“This year, however, is my first year with a homeroom, so I am feeling over-the-moon grateful to have a nice stock of these everyday supplies!” she said via email.

For special moments and projects

For holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day, many kids give homemade gifts that they make at school to their parents. DeCost told HuffPost she paid for many of the supplies for these activities. Another one of her big purchases? A laminator and the sheets that go with it for her classroom.

“Many of the learning games, name tags, bookmarks, reading and math materials needed the durable laminate to survive the little ones [using them],” she said via email.

Many teachers have seen the benefits of hands-on science experiments in the classroom, but the tools and supplies that go into them can add up. LaGrow said that last year she spent her own money on supplies so her students could build flexible rollercoaster tracks for a marble as they learned about force and motion.  

“That lesson is what really solidified my students’ understanding of the unit, as they referred back to it constantly and made connections,” she said. 

Investing in the future

Many teachers also turn to additional resources when the textbooks their school districts provide don’t match up with the curriculum they’re told to teach. For most educators, these purchases are investments for the future of their classroom as well as the future for their students.

“I live paycheck to paycheck and struggle at the end of every pay period in order to make sure that my students have what they need to learn and grow in a positive classroom environment and to be successful inside and outside of school,” Wesson said. “I try to think of the money I put into my classroom and students as an investment in the future of our country.”

It’s important to note that not all teachers buy their classroom supplies out of pocket. Some educators receive a budget or stipend from their school. Others don’t. Some receive donations throughout the year, and many apply for grants to fund their school activities.

But what teachers put into their classrooms often goes beyond a dollar amount. LaGrow pointed out that educators put in extra time after a typical school day to be prepared to teach the next day. 

“I think going along with the spending aspect is how much time we spend outside of ‘school hours’ on our jobs,” she said. “For self-care purposes, I try to stay at school an hour or two after most days to not take any grading or lesson-planning home, but a lot of nights, papers find their way to my apartment.”

Yi, who said she was given a “small stipend” to spend on her classroom this year, noted that many schools try their best to support their teachers, but the money is simply not there. It’s a sad reality in America that many schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid for their time and work. 

“While my school has great intentions and wants us to have everything we need to teach and make our room a comfortable space, our budget is extremely tight and needs to be allocated in many different places,” she said.



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The Problem With School Lunch: How The Wealth Gap Is Shaming Students



Atasha Jordan has vivid memories of her school lunches growing up.

“I definitely remember not liking the food,” said the now 26-year-old, who is in the University of Pennsylvania’s joint doctor of medicine-master of business administration program.

“I hate corn dogs, so I would switch with the kids who wanted corn dogs and brought their lunch.”

The kids with lunchboxes packed from home had “way better stuff,” like Gushers and Fruit Roll-Ups, she remembers. From third grade, when Jordan moved with her family from Barbados to Sunrise, Florida, she and her siblings received free or reduced-rate school lunches, depending on the year.

By eighth grade, when the family moved to Newtown, Pennsylvania, because of her mom’s promotion, they no longer qualified for free or reduced lunches, so Jordan’s dad made her lunch most days.

Looking back, Jordan sees her experience in the school cafeteria, first on the free-lunch program and then bringing lunch from home, as a symbol of her family’s upward mobility and the achievability of the American Dream. 

“I think it is reflective of the fact that there is a divide,” Jordan told HuffPost. “It represents how a lot of times, you can have people living in the same area with such a mix of different socioeconomic levels.”

Last year, about 30 million students nationwide participated in the National School Lunch Program, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of those, 20 million received free lunches, 2 million received reduced-price meals and 8 million students paid full price. The school-sanctioned lunch is especially important for low-income families, who often struggle to afford healthy foods.

As kids are heading back to the classroom, many feel a stigma attached to their free or reduced-price lunches. Several incidents of schools shaming children over unpaid lunch bills have made headlines recently, highlighting how the school lunch can be a symbol for the socioeconomic and food disparities that exist in America.

The Cost Of School Lunch

Schools nationwide face a variety of constraints in serving lunch. Meals must meet USDA nutritional requirements, be appealing to students and fit within a usually tight budget, says Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations at the School Nutrition Association.

In 2012, new nutritional standards for the school lunch program were implemented to require more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less fat and sodium. Schools have leeway on what to serve within the requirements, and there are no regulations for fresh versus processed foods.

When students choose an eligible meal, which must include a fruit or vegetable, schools are reimbursed by the USDA $3.31 for free lunches and $2.91 for reduced rates, with the student paying 40 cents. 

A 2008 USDA study estimated the average cost to produce a school meal at $2.91, but it can vary by region.

In some high-poverty communities, where the majority of students qualify for free meals, all students can receive free breakfast and lunch without their parents having to apply.

For students to qualify for a free school lunch in the 2018-19 school year, family incomes must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,630, for a family of four. Reduced-price eligibility extends to incomes up to 185 percent of the poverty level, which is $46,435.

Lunch-Shaming In The Cafeteria

Adrian Brooks, a ninth-grade English language arts teacher in the North Bronx, New York, sees students’ midday meals as a broader representation of the wealth gap, during which students attribute status to classmates who bring lunch from home or are able to get someone to bring them fast food or takeout.

“They’re sort of gauging each other, as to who has money and who’s [eating] free lunch in the school,” Brooks said.

“Shaming around free lunch isn’t so much overt bullying as an attempt by students to avoid eating the lunch or not wanting to eat the lunch because the stigma attached is that it is automatically not good to them — like, it doesn’t taste good, because to them it’s cheap.”

Brooks, 35, says his experience was similar when he was a student on the free-lunch program.

“In elementary school, nobody cared,” he remembered. “It was just assumed we all got free lunch, and I don’t think anybody thought about it any other way. The dynamic starts to shift when you go from middle school to high school, and you get into these sort of social hierarchies.”

Brooks said there were often two separate lunch lines for those who were paying and those who weren’t.

“If you [could] pay for lunch, you could purchase more desired options like the french fries and cheeseburger,” he explained.

For years, schools have been fighting the stigma associated with school lunches, Pratt-Heavner said. Many have changed their payment processes to be more inclusive and have eliminated separate lunch lines.

“They do everything they can to make sure that the point of sale is not an identifying experience for a child,” she told HuffPost, explaining that some schools have online payment systems, where all students — whether getting free lunch or not — enter a PIN to pay for their meals.

“[Lunch] is the one time of the school day when everybody comes together to share a meal, and that can be a uniting experience.”

Why Some Kids Avoid A Nutritious Meal

“Students need healthy meals for both their minds and bodies,” Whitney Linsenmeyer, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and instructor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Saint Louis University, said via email to HuffPost.

Meals at school may be the only consistent meal that some students eat, and school lunch or other nutrition assistance programs give kids access to healthy foods needed for growth and development, according to the academy. In 2016, 6.5 million (or 8.8 percent of) U.S. children and adolescents lived in low-income households that were food insecure. 

However, Linsenmeyer said, “Stigma has been fairly well-documented as a barrier to participation in meal programs.”

That stigma stands in the way of many students getting the only healthy meal they’ll be offered all day. The meals served at school tend to be healthier than many bagged lunches, Linsenmeyer said, but of course, that can vary by student.

“I have seen students that bring bento boxes of fresh and balanced meals, students that bring a half-eaten bag of chips for lunch, and students that have nothing to pack from home,” Linsenmeyer said.

A study on schools in rural Virginia, for example, found that meals packed from home were higher in fat and sugar and generally less nutritious than lunches provided by the school.

An Opportunity To Break The Stigma

Around the country, grassroots efforts are popping up to disrupt the school lunch program by incorporating gourmet-esque menus and fresh produce that kids enjoy eating. One such program is Brigaid, founded in 2016 by Dan Giusti, former head chef at the renowned Noma in Copenhagen.

Brigaid hires professional chefs to oversee school kitchens and lunch programs full-time. The program started in six schools in New London, Connecticut, and will add six schools in the Bronx for the 2018-19 school year.

“Probably what is the hardest part is making meals that kids really like,” Giusti told HuffPost. “A lot of it has to come down to communication, soliciting feedback, listening to the students, and trial and error.”

The meals are made from scratch, and chefs have tried to cut down on processed foods — for example, replacing chicken patties with whole chicken thighs, Giusti explained. Some of the biggest hits have been cornbread, which counts as a whole grain under the federal requirements, and chicken Caesar salad. 

“A big part is keeping it simple and searching out what is going to make [students] happy,” Giusti said.

Making full meals from scratch can be tough for schools, since so many of them are financially strapped. Before Brigaid, Giusti admitted, he was critical of how school programs operated, but he now understands why many choose to purchase ready-made foods.

“Cutting fruit for a thousand kids is a big job that takes time,” he explained. “It takes space. It takes know-how. Even a simple task like that becomes pretty labor intensive. So, there’s no question why schools end up just buying things done already.”

Giusti believes the quality of food can be a solution for ending the school lunch stigma, which he agrees does exist in some schools. He says parents and schools contact him often to learn about Brigaid’s model.

“Generally, I think that the food system shows where there’s [an] economic divide and disparity for sure,” he said. “I think people who have access to quality foods, unfortunately, are the ones that have more money.”

“I think school lunch is an opportunity to break that divide because you’re catering to everyone at one time. So, if the quality of the food was higher, you have the unique opportunity to bring everyone together.”



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Connecticut Boarding School Says 7 Former Staffers Sexually Abused Students



SALISBURY, Conn. (AP) — Seven former faculty members sexually abused students for decades while school administrators failed to take action, an independent investigation released by an elite Connecticut boarding school found.

The report released late Friday by the Hotchkiss School near the New York state line found that 16 students were subjected to unwanted contact from male faculty, including intercourse and unnecessary gynecological exams. It also documented instances when administrators failed to intervene when made aware of the sexual misconduct, which happened between 1969 and 1992.

It’s the latest prestigious boarding school in New England to deal with allegations of pervasive sexual misconduct in recent years, including St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island.

Hotchkiss officials said in a letter with the report that they have notified law enforcement and other authorities about the report’s findings, including any subsequent employers of the former staffers. They’ve also stripped titles and recognitions bestowed on staffers and removed the names of former school heads who failed to act from any prizes, scholarships, endowments and spaces on campus, including their portraits.

And officials said Arthur White, who served as the headmaster from 1983 to 1989, has resigned from the Board of Trustees after cooperating with investigators.

“To the survivors of abuse, we apologize from the bottom of our hearts,” wrote Jean Weinberg Rose, president of the school’s board of trustees, and Craig Bradley, the school’s current head. “The School did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We apologize with humility — understanding that words cannot measure our sadness and regret or erase the harm that you endured. ”

The 36-page report was compiled by the law firm Lock Lord through interviews with more than 150 individuals and reviewing about 200,000 pages of documents.

It said the misconduct happened primarily during the 1970s and 1980s and largely involved seven teachers and staffers: Christopher Carlisle, an English teacher from 1963 to 1982, Ronald Carlson, an English teacher from 1971 to 1981, George DelPrete, an athletic director and history teacher from 1970 to 2004, Dr. Peter Gott, the school’s medical director from 1972 to 2005, Albert Sly, a music teacher from 1950 to 1970 and again in 2008, Leif Thorne-Thomsen, a classics teacher from 1964 to 1992, and Damon White, an English teacher from 1983 to 2012.

The report goes into lengthy detail about Thorne-Thomsen’s controversial tenure and the failures of administrators to act on allegations. Investigators said he engaged in sexual misconduct with female students over nearly two decades, targeting vulnerable girls who had experienced earlier sexual abuse.

“Thorne-Thomsen would ingratiate himself with them by sharing personal details about his life and coax them into believing that he was relying on them for emotional support,” the report said. “He used the trust these students placed in him as a teacher and mentor to engage in repeated acts of sexual misconduct.”

The report says Thorne-Thomsen, Carlson, DelPrete and White declined through legal counsel to be interviewed by investigators. Carlisle, Gott and Sly are deceased.



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Houston School Removes Sexist Quote From Hallway Amid Outrage



“The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman” may seem like an outdated bit of womanly wisdom plucked from its time to illustrate the misogyny that once poisoned the hearts and minds of the nation.

But in a Houston-area school, it was an inspirational quote presented at face value, unattributed, in stark black lettering above a row of lockers.

That was the day Houston-based Twitter user Lisa Beckman posted a photo of the galling quote to her personal account. Her post lambasted Houston Independent School District’s Gregory-Lincoln Education Center, which teaches pre-K through eighth grade, for peddling the harmful idea that women and girls can be blamed for the actions of men and boys, and it received a lot of attention.

“It’s perpetuating horrible gender stereotypes, shaming women, and relinquishing boys of all responsibility,” Beckman wrote. “It’s sexist, misogynistic, and discriminatory!”

“I’m horrified,” she concluded.

Beckman told local news outlet KHOU11 that a friend took the picture and sent it to her. She subsequently wrote to the school and its board to petition for the quote’s removal.

“The quote does not align with HISD values, and it will be taken down,” the school said in a statement provided to Houston Public Media. The phrase was removed Friday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“The input of our community is invaluable, and we appreciate that this was brought to our attention,” the statement said.

An HISD teacher who wished to remain anonymous told KHOU11 that she was uncomfortable with the quote’s place in the school to begin with.

“To me it meant that girls need to take responsibility, not only for their own actions, but for whatever the boys do to us, as well,” the teacher said. “I just didn’t feel like that was an image of the equality and self-determination that, we as a district or myself as a mother, want to portray.”

News outlets are attributing the quote to Sydney Biddle Barrows, a famous brothel keeper, but HuffPost was unable to verify its origin.





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Should Teachers Share Their Political Views With Students?



When I first started teaching high school history, government and journalism a decade ago, I worked hard to appear politically neutral. I belong to one of America’s two major political parties, but I took pride in controlling my bias and selecting readings that (I hoped) would allow my young charges to make up their own minds regarding right and wrong, fair and unfair.

People at both ends of the political spectrum are quick to accuse teachers on the other side of unfairly influencing students. I refrained from sharing my political leanings even after students graduated, not out of a sense of intellectual superiority or to ignite frustration, but to curtail accusations of indoctrination and perceived bias. 

Students have accused me in the past of not having faith in their intellectual maturity. Quite the contrary. My job is to expose young minds to new ideas. I respect their intellectual maturity so much, I go to terrific lengths to avoid exerting untoward influence on what they choose to support or believe.

I was certain of that approach until my juniors and seniors expressed their disgust with Donald Trump’s 2015 presidential announcement speech. It promoted xenophobia and racism, they told me. Several pointed to an especially egregious line often cited during the following president campaign: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I started to wonder: Do students take my silent and neutral behavior as a sign of apathy or endorsement of Trump’s views? Does that alter the way they perceive me as their teacher?

These conversations became more frequent and urgent in my classroom after Trump’s election. My journalism class expressed outrage over one of the president’s tweets in February 2017, which read, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” 

I once believed in concealing my political thoughts unless I couldn’t in good conscience keep quiet. Trump’s remarks have repeatedly crossed that line for me, and as Abraham Lincoln said, “It is a sin to be silent when it is your duty to protest.”

My students asked for my take, so I told them, but rather than focus on venting what appeared to be a collective disdain, I urged them to look into why others felt differently.

Sharing my personal view left me conflicted; if I taught in South Carolina vs. Massachusetts, it’s likely many students would disapprove of my criticizing the president’s behavior. And part of me feels they would be justified in challenging me for it. As a mentor recently told me, “one teacher’s sense of ‘social justice’ is another teacher’s sense of ‘irresponsible judicial activism.’”  

So, as back-to-school season ramps up, this is the question educators across the country face: In the age of Trump, should teachers refrain from sharing their own political views, or does our current political schism call for a different approach?

Instead of ‘appearing neutral’ (a species of mild dishonesty, after all), let’s admit our biases openly.

As the legendary Bob Dylan sang in his 1964 album, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Just one year later, the first “teach-ins” occurred at the University of Michigan and Columbia University. Professors worked alongside students to hold antiwar seminars, and this political activism by teachers spread to college campuses around the country.

I’m not suggesting today’s teachers and professors do something similar by protesting or publicly supporting any of Trump’s policies. But I am suggesting that educators of students of all ages re-examine how we hold political discussions in the classroom.

Whether I decide to share or withhold my personal views about anything, my main concern should be with establishing a productive learning environment with students, treating them as people who have concerns that should be listened to, and helping them fashion their understanding of the world.

Teachers should know their students as individuals, not just as learners, before deciding whether to be open or opaque politically. I wouldn’t advise a teacher of any student to come out in favor of the president’s immigration remarks, for example. This would be insensitive, all the more so to our Latino students, and it would also lack academic value. But students would benefit from learning about and debating policies for and against immigration, undocumented or otherwise.

This year, I will continue refraining from making or repeating partisan humor or making off-the-cuff remarks that politically savvy students could pick up on. But I’ll also adopt a new approach as to how I handle politics in the classroom ― and I encourage other educators to consider doing the same.

Instead of “appearing neutral” (a species of mild dishonesty, after all), let’s admit our biases openly. Let’s express them, explain why we have come to hold them, clarify what is troubling to us about them, and then articulate our best version of our opponents’ arguments all in the spirit of encouraging our students to examine their own beliefs, scrutinize their own biases, and thereby move to higher levels of understanding.

This is something I hope all teachers, regardless of political affiliation, can agree on.

David Cutler teaches history, journalism and government at Brimmer and May, an independent PK-12 school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter at @SpinEdu. 





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How Free Haircuts Make Kids Feel Good About Going Back To School


The average American family will spend somewhere around $637 on back-to-school supplies for each elementary school child this year and twice that for a high school student, according to the annual Backpack Index from Huntington Bank and Communities in Schools. Add to that the fact that both children and parents typically have anxiety about the transition of going back to school at the end of summer, and this can be a trying time, emotionally and economically.

Jermaine Smith of Cleveland decided to do his part to ease some of that worry this year. He and four other barbers at his Premier Barber Studio cut the hair of about 40 kids and teens for free last Saturday.

“That first day of school, you want to look your best,” Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle of why he got involved. “When you get your hair cut, you look good; you feel good.”


Photo: Courtesy Ronald Bridges and Jermaine Smith

Jermaine Smith serves his community as both a barbershop owner and a police officer.

The haircuts were just part of the Start School on the Right Foot event organized by Cleveland record label All Inn Entertainment, which also handed out about 50 backpacks full of school supplies. Last year, the event partnered with a sneaker store for the giveaway. Retired pro boxer Mark Davis recruited Smith, his friend from the neighborhood, just last week.

“Our mindset is if kids feel that they look good, they do better, and we try to take some stress off of parents who may not have [money] to buy sneakers or get all their children haircuts,” Ronald Bridges, president of All Inn, tells Yahoo.

Smith has been giving back to the community in other ways long before this weekend. He cuts hair by day, but in the evenings, after bringing his daughter home from school, he goes to his second job as a police officer.

“All the kids know they can come to me for anything,” Smith says of his presence in and out of uniform. “A lot of the parents bring their kids to me [for haircuts] because I’m a police officer. They trust that we don’t have any type of drama in the barber shop.”

“Our mindset is if kids feel that they look good, they do better, and we try to take some stress off of parents who may


Photo: Courtesy Ronald Bridges and Jermaine Smith

“Our mindset is if kids feel that they look good, they do better, and we try to take some stress off of parents who may not have [money] to buy sneakers or get all their children haircuts,” Ronald Bridges, president of All Inn, tells Yahoo.

Since he started cutting hair almost 20 years ago, he’s found ways to give free cuts to the kids he thinks might need it.

“I always tell young men that they always got to stay groomed,” Smith says. “When you have a haircut people have a tendency to treat you with respect.”

Other free haircut and school supply events have popped up all across the country this month, as organizers have recognized how much parents can use this extra help.

Maybe a service that would only cost $15 regularly seems like just a drop in the bucket, but child and teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg sees this as more than just a one-time free service.

Whether parents take their kids to one of these free events or have the means to buy their supplies and cuts themselves, back


Photo: Courtesy Ronald Bridges and Jermaine Smith

Whether parents take their kids to one of these free events or have the means to buy their supplies and cuts themselves, back-to-school preparations can become a meaningful ritual for both adult and child.

“Typically my practice gets very busy during the last weeks of August because kids of all ages have trouble with transitions, just like adults,” Greenberg tells Yahoo. “One of the ways to make a transition easier is to make it fun and introduce some novelty, so the whole idea of getting a haircut and it being something that’s free and exciting makes kids feel special and important. … Self-care makes all of us at any age feel better.”

Whether parents take their kids to one of these free events or have the means to buy their supplies and cuts themselves, back-to-school preparations can become a meaningful ritual for both adult and child. What really helps is if the parents model the idea of this activity being fun, rather than a chore.“Don’t expect the kids to act too excited,” Greenberg warned, explaining that children’s anxiety might not allow them to show enthusiasm. She also has a suggestion for anyone who wants to take this charitable effort one step further: “Maybe somebody should give out free haircuts to the parents too.”



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In Texas, Armed ‘Marshals’ And ‘Guardians’ Stand Ready To Protect Students


ABILENE, Texas — Craig Bessent used to be a bull rider. Now he’s an assistant superintendent who stays on top of school bus schedules and cafeteria complaints.

But the black bulletproof vest tucked in the corner of Bessent’s office is proof that he hasn’t left danger behind.

The 60-year-old administrator, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 215 pounds, is a school “marshal,” one of about 165 Texas teachers and other school employees expected to be authorized to carry firearms in public schools this fall to fend off armed intruders — a fivefold boost in less than three months.

In addition, there are scores of other gun-toting teachers and school officials in Texas who are known as “guardians.” At least 227 school districts, more than 20 percent of the state’s 1,031 districts, had authorized the guardian program by mid-August, compared to 170 districts in February, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Training programs surged this summer after a gunman killed eight students and two teachers in May at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. About two-dozen states have considered similar programs in the wake of the Santa Fe massacre and last February’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members.

“There’s a need out there,” says Bessent of the Wylie Independent School District, who, unlike other marshals, has been publicly identified so he can promote the program. “A school marshal’s responsibility is to isolate, distract and neutralize the threat. If they’re shooting at the school marshal, they’re not shooting at the kids and teachers.”


The Pew Charitable Trusts

Craig Bessent, assistant superintendent of the Wylie Independent School District in Abilene, Texas, became part of the Texas School Marshal program in its inaugural class in 2014. Bessent — who has logged more than 500 hours of training and also served a marshal instructor — is a fervent public ambassador for the effectiveness of the school protection program.

Some Texas districts have posted signs on school buildings designed to deter would-be intruders. In the North Texas town of Peaster, for example, signs warn that “the staff at Peaster ISD is armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students.”

But the “Don’t Mess with Texas” style of defense remains controversial. Of all the states mulling such legislation this year, only Florida approved it.

President Donald Trump endorsed the idea, but a well-organized coalition that included educators, law enforcement groups, parents and vocal Parkland students pushed back in a state-by-state counterattack.

“We just absolutely do not agree with gun lobbyists that turning janitors and librarians into sharpshooters is effective,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nationwide nonprofit that helped block bills in 16 of 17 states. Other bills are pending in at least a half-dozen other states.

After Alabama legislators rejected a bill that would have armed teachers and school administrators, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey created the “Alabama Sentry Program” to arm administrators on campuses. Democratic lawmakers denounced her action.

The issue also flared in California after several school districts began using an exemption in the state’s Gun-Free School Zone Act to authorize gun-licensed personnel to carry concealed firearms in schools. A bill signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in October closed the exemption and halted the practice.

The Florida law, while putting in place some gun control measures, created a $67 million marshal program that allows superintendents and sheriffs to arm designated school personnel, though not full-time classroom teachers.

But the Broward County school board, which oversees the high school where February’s shooting occurred, voted unanimously in April against accepting money to arm personnel, and Watts said her volunteer organization is trying to convince other districts to reject marshal funding.

Survivors from the Florida and Texas shootings differ sharply over arming teachers. Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez called it a “stupid” idea in a “60 Minutes” segment. But Santa Fe survivor Grace Johnson told a roundtable discussion led by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: “Arming teachers, and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.”

At least nine states permit the arming of school officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, prompted Texas to launch the marshals program. Several other states also acted in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Shoot/Don’t Shoot

Under the Guardian Plan in Texas, created in 2007 after mass shootings at a Pennsylvania Amish schoolhouse and at Virginia Tech, school districts choose which staff members to arm and what training they will receive. Guardians can constantly carry their weapons, but marshals in direct, regular contact with students must keep theirs in a lock box until needed.

Marshals, most of whom are men, also must hold a concealed handgun license, complete 80 hours of training, undergo a psychological exam and, after two years, complete a 16-hour license renewal course along with another psychological evaluation.

Matt Adams, superintendent of the Peaster Independent School District in Parker County, Texas, stands next to a sign intended


The Pew Charitable Trusts

Matt Adams, superintendent of the Peaster Independent School District in Parker County, Texas, stands next to a sign intended to deter would-be intruders that is posted outside of the school. Several other Texas districts also have posted similar signs.

At a recent Austin-area course, 20 prospective marshals got a harrowing preview of what they could face on the job.

Wearing protective headgear that covered their faces and clutching blue Glock training pistols that fired paintball-type markers, two of the school officials — a man and a woman — strode methodically through the halls of Windermere Elementary School in suburban Pflugerville in the hunt for an assailant.

The drill called for a “shoot/don’t shoot” decision after the sound of gunfire — blanks from a starter pistol — sent more than a dozen “students” pouring out of a classroom. The gunman, played by a reserve deputy, rounded a corner in the hallway and was shot by the marshals-in-training.

One of them was a 46-year-old father who has two children in his southeast Texas school system. Describing himself only as a school employee, he said his district spent at least a year considering the deployment of marshals before deciding it was needed to “make our district a safe place.”

“We hope we never have to use this training,” he said. “In an event where something as dire as an active shooter were to happen, then we want to make sure we’re prepared.”

The marshal candidate said he had no prior law enforcement experience but was familiar with firearms through hunting. He said he felt confident that he could encounter a real-life bad guy after being exposed to a “tremendous amount of techniques” through his training.

Another trainee from the same district, who played a fleeing student, identified himself as one of the school board members who voted to authorize marshals for the district. “I felt like I need to know what level of training these teachers and administrators had before we actually put the guns in the school.”

Like his colleague, the board member, 55, said he has no law enforcement experience but has carried a concealed firearm for more than 20 years after Texas authorized concealed carry following a 1991 mass shooting in Killeen. It was the Santa Fe shooting, he said, that led him and fellow board members to approve the marshal program.

To preserve the element of surprise against a potential intruder, the identities of marshals and guardians are kept secret.

Working with Traditional Officers

Marshals and guardians complement other school security measures, including local law enforcement personnel designated as full- or part-time school resource officers and school district police departments. Texas has 221 school district police departments, with a total of more than 2,750 officers, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

Although school resource officers work alongside marshals and guardians, the National Association of School Resource Officers has opposed the arming of teachers, warning that they are unprepared for high-stress situations that could end with the taking of a life, “especially the life of a student assailant.”

As students prepare to return to Santa Fe, the district is increasing its police department to a staff of 24 full-time and part-time officers and installing metal detectors provided by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s office. The district does not use marshals or guardians but might consider it, said school spokeswoman Nancy Porter.

Abbott has signaled his intention to strengthen the marshal program in the 2019 legislative session that starts in January. He has called for repealing the contentious lock box requirement as well as increasing the number of marshals that can be appointed per school, to one for every 100 students, instead of one for every 200. Abbott’s office has also directed $115,000 in criminal justice grants to fund this summer’s marshal training.

Bessent was in the first class of marshals when the program was launched in July of 2014. He has logged more than 500 hours of law-enforcement based training and often serves as an instructor for other marshals. He also works closely with the governor’s office and has testified repeatedly at legislative hearings.

“Really, the school marshal has one purpose and that’s to prevent serious bodily injury or death to students, teachers, volunteers, anybody on that campus,” he said. “And the rest of the time they just do what they normally do.”



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Fewer and Fewer States Escaping School Privatization’s Reach



According to a 2017 national poll, a strong majority of public school parents give the traditional public schools in their neighborhoods either an A or a B – higher grades than they have given in years. The same survey also found that the majority of the public believes that lack of funding is the biggest problem facing schools today.

While creating and supporting great public schools should be the focus of lawmakers across the country, the reality is quite different. The commitment in state legislatures to the “great equalizer” that is public education has eroded quite dramatically.

That is the sobering conclusion of a recent report released by the Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation titled “Grading the States: A Report Card on the Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools.”

“Grading the States” examines the far reach of the school privatization movement and its impact on public schools and students. Across the nation, states have implemented and expanded charter schools that are unaccountable to the public and voucher programs that have siphoned off public taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition.

The proponents of these policies and the corporate interests that bankroll them insist their goal is to improve the quality of education – a dubious claim, the report states, “in the face of the reality that too often there is little to no public accountability, fiscal transparency, or maintenance of civil rights protections for students in privatized programs.”

Source: “Grading the States,” Network for Public Education and Schott Foundation

Private schools and charters are not designed to serve all students, but this hasn’t stopped these programs from establishing a strong foothold in communities across the country. Every state except three have charter schools and 28 states have in place some sort of school voucher program. The trend – which shows little sign of letting up – has sown exclusivity and division into the educational system and depleted public schools of valuable resources.

“Although parents always have a right to send their children to private schools at their own expense,” the report states, “they are not and never can be the model for educating all of this nation’s children, nor should they be supported by public dollars.”

The State Report Card

The researchers assigned all 50 states and the District of Columbia with a letter grade, deducting points based on the presence of charter schools and voucher or “neo-voucher” programs (merely voucher programs tweaked to circumvent legal restrictions against giving public money to private schools through tuition tax credits and education savings accounts.)

Twenty-two states received overall grades between a C and a B+. Six states and the District of Columbia received a grade of D or D+ and 17 received a grade of F.

school privatization

In “Grading the States,” higher grades were assigned to states who resisted public funding for charter schools and voucher programs. Only nine states received an over all grade of A or B. (Click to Enlarge)

States were awarded an A+ if they have successfully resisted public funding for privatized alternatives. The top ranked states are Nebraska (99.5 score), North Dakota, and West Virginia. Kentucky and South Dakota received an A.

As the report makes clear, it’s no coincidence that rural states received the highest marks. Many rural areas are strapped for cash and most residents have no appetite for draining already-scarce funds out of the education system. Still, not all rural states have followed this path, and Kentucky, it’s noted in the report, may see its A rating disappear if lawmakers find the money to fund its recent charter school law. So far, no such schools have opened in the state.

The state with the worse overall score was Arizona (31.5), followed closely by Florida (35.5).

California is ranked near the middle with an overall score of 66.7. California has the largest number of students enrolled in charter schools (568,800, representing over 9 percent of all public school students in the state) but the state has so far successfully turned back attempts to divert taxpayer money to pay for private school vouchers.

Evaluating Charter and Voucher Programs

Merely having charter schools and/or vouchers didn’t automatically generate failing grades. The researchers looked at a state’s specific school privatization program, deducting points for failing to protect students’ civil rights, charter school accountability and oversight shortcomings, a lack of transparency, and poor charter school performance. While charter schools in California fail to meet these benchmarks, Virginia lost fewer points because its nine charters must be authorized by the public school district – evidence of some level of oversight.

These are the major findings in each category:

Overall Civil Rights Protections. Charter schools and voucher programs allow for institutions to circumvent civil rights obligations that are mandated to public schools. Charter schools often have  “strict codes of discipline, a lack of free or reduced lunch programs and free transportation, and curriculum with a religious bent” that makes them increasingly exclusive. Of the over three-quarters (75%) of all states with privatization programs, 19 fail to include additional state and local civil rights protections for students.

Although parents always have a right to send their children to private schools at their own expense, they are not and never can be the model for educating all of this nation’s children, nor should they be supported by public dollars.”

Accountability and Oversight. At most charter and private schools, requirements for teacher certification, testing practices, financial disclosure, and facility maintenance are not upheld. Neo-voucher programs, such as ESAs and Tuition Tax-Credits create even more challenges because they have virtually zero accountability while further draining public funding. Arizona’s ESA program, the largest in the country, “expects no evidence or monitoring of student achievement,” according to the report.

Transparency. While public schools are run by elected school boards and have full transparency regarding disciplinary practices and student achievement, rarely any information about voucher programs and charter schools is shared with the public.

Charter Schools. Thirty states prioritize children of board members or employees in the enrollment process, with little to no conflict of interest requirements. Children with disabilities are not provided for and are often excluded in admissions in 39 of the 47 states with charter schools.

Loosening privatization’s grip requires a moratorium on new charter schools and voucher programs, according to the report. The authors recommend a phasing-out of existing programs so as to not displace children currently in the system. Charter schools should be “absorbed” completely into the public school system to ensure that they are governed by the taxpayers whom the district serves.

Educators and their unions have been leaders in pushing back against school privatization, particularly in preventing school vouchers from gaining a foothold in many states, including California, Idaho, and New Hampshire, and thwarting efforts to expand existing programs, most notably in Arizona. The dismal record of these privatization initiatives has fueled the nationwide mobilization of educators demanding lawmakers support public education.

“While it is easier to transfer public funds to private entities than to undertake the challenging work of fixing our public schools,” the report concludes, “it is fruitless and short-sighted to divert resources from the public schools that serve the vast majority of students. … Just as this nation was intentional about the establishment of the public education system, we must continue to be intentional about the urgent need to prioritize a quality public education for all students and not privatize the educational system for the benefit of just a few.”

Join the fight against school vouchers at vouchers.nea.org

Sara Luster contributed to this story



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Educators Demand Safe School Water as Nationwide Lead Crisis


The Amherst Education Association’s two-year push to ensure safe drinking water across their New Hampshire district started when President Larry Ballard asked, “When was last time anyone checked our water for lead?”

School administrators and facilities mangers were at the table, but no one could remember.

It was 2016 and questions about the safety of water in our public schools were on educators’ minds as a water crisis was unfolding in Flint, Michigan. There, pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha documented a spike in children’s lead levels following a switch in the municipal water supply that officials soon discovered was unsafe but covered up.

According to a new study by the Government Accountability Office that was also prompted by the Flint crisis, only 43 percent of school districts test for lead in drinking water. About a third of districts that do test reported elevated lead levels.

That means tens of millions of students and educators could be exposed to lead—a proven neurotoxin that is especially devastating to children’s developing brains—through water they consume at school. Educator unions are leading the charge in many communities to demand water testing and access to the results and advocating for policies to ensure future monitoring.

“Nobody could recall if Amherst schools had conducted water tests after the schools were switched from well water to a municipal water supply,” says Ballard, a music teacher now in his 23rd year of teaching.

New Hampshire, like most states, did not have a law requiring lead testing in schools. That meant that while the water itself was tested by the public utility, no one was checking its safety as it flowed through the district’s aging buildings.

Flint water crisis McClendon

During the Flint water crisis in early 2016, elementary school teacher Darlene McClendon delivered bottled water to her students. (Photo by Jose Juarez)

An initial round of testing ordered by the superintendent revealed a few serious problems—but information was not shared. An elementary school water fountain was shut down, but no one was told that the water it dispensed tested 100 times the EPA lead limit.

The union would press for months to gain access to the results, and expand the testing to other schools.

“It just took a lot of work for use to get the district to do all of the testing that was clearly needed, and we felt they could have been more transparent about the results at the outset,” Ballard says.

“They Came to Us Instead”

In Portland, Oregon, lack of transparency was an even greater problem.
“Our school district knew that there was lead in our water, and they didn’t act upon that information in even the most basic ways, beginning with letting people know,” says Suzanne Cohen, a middle school teacher and president of the Portland Association of Teachers.

Once the truth came out in early 2016, the union stepped up to get answers for outraged educators and panicked parents. Could they send their kids to school once the water was shut off? Should they have their blood tested for lead? Why hadn’t they been informed when lead was found in 47 sites back in 2010?

“This was pretty much the lowest moment in Portland Public Schools history in terms of trust,” says Cohen. “Families and educators could not go to the district for reliable information, so they came to us instead.”

“Nobody could recall if Amherst schools had conducted water tests after the schools were switched from well water to a municipal water supply,” says music teacher Larry Ballard.

Next, the local advocated to make sure that the district would reimburse educators who wanted their blood tested. Several students would discover they had elevated lead levels.

Water fountains and cafeteria water supplies would remain shut off across Portland Public’s 90 school buildings for more than two years, during which time students and educators made do with prepackaged foods and bottled water.

The Oregon Education Association pressed for policy changes that the state would adopt, including regular water testing. OEA also teamed up with Oregon PTA and Children First for Oregon to call on the state to address the $7.6 billion in deferred maintenance desperately needed across the state’s public schools.

“Oregon has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the nation, and some of the lowest per pupil spending,” explains Cohen. “What we are dealing with is schools that are terribly underfunded, and ours is a district that gave up on facilities maintenance to keep educators in the classroom.”

The local’s Social Justice and Community Outreach committee worked quickly to revise a bond issue to include school health and safety, which Portland voters passed in May 2017. The district has announced that it will re-open this year with all fountains and faucets turned on.

What Underfunding Means for Student Health

The New Jersey Education Association has made progress in ensuring water safety as part of Healthy Schools Now, a coalition that lobbied the state Department of Education to issue regulations requiring lead testing in 2017. The coalition is still working to get a law passed to make that requirement permanent.

Mike Rollins who heads up NJEA’s Worksite Safety and Health Committee helps locals establish their own health and safety committees to serve as “watchdogs” not only to ensure regular water monitoring, but other facilities issues as well.

“We train them to oversee what materials are being used during construction, for example, and what chemicals are used around the campus,” Rollins says. “The idea is for the local to collaborate with administrators. It’s not a ‘gotcha’ situation, it’s a chance to improve the environment for the educators and for the kids.”

Larry Ballard says the superintendent was very responsive to the Amherst Education Association’s requests for future monitoring, establishing an air and water quality testing schedule in all school buildings. During contract negotiations the local association was able to write a requirement into their collective bargaining agreement that the union will receive copies of all testing results within 10 days of receipt.

This spring, Amherst School District voters approved a ballot article for a $310,000 project to replace pipes in a middle school building constructed with solder containing an average of 54 percent lead.

New Hampshire has also passed a law that will soon require universal water testing in all schools, joining eight other states with similar laws.

“Our buildings are older and we’re going to see a lot of school districts discover that they have some pretty big issues,” Ballard predicts.

Although there is no federal law that requires states test school drinking water for lead, the GAO report strongly recommends that federal agencies including the EPA and Department of Education should update their guidance on lead testing and remediation, and make those resources more readily available to districts.

Federal investment in school infrastructure would go a long way in ensuring that states can efficiently investigate and address health and safety issues that include lead.

“As a community and an entire nation we need to understand what underfunding schools can mean,” says Suzanne Cohen.

“It’s not just things you can see and quickly understand, like how big is my class, what curriculum do I have, how long is my school year. It includes every aspect of students’ learning conditions from the air they breathe to the water they’re drinking.”

environmental racismSchools in Farming Communities Surrounded by Dangerous Pesticides
In one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States, thousands of students – the vast majority of them Hispanic – may be poisoning themselves just by breathing the air. Corporate profit has been judged more important than children’s health, say educators, who have become the loudest voices in demanding change.



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Jerry Falwell Jr. Insults Founding Fathers To Defend Trump’s Jerky Behavior



Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. just came up with a truly bizarre defense of President Donald Trump’s rude behavior ― and all he had to do was blame Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

On Thursday, Falwell attempted to justify Trump’s rudeness in a tweet that suggested the Founding Fathers wanted people like him in the White House.

However, many Twitter users found holes in his argument even bigger than Trump’s ego.

And, boy, did they pile on.





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How To Prepare Your Kid For Kindergarten, From 7 Parents Who’ve Been There


The first day of kindergarten is often marked by adorable photos alongside “I can’t believe this!” captions filled with crying emoji. Because although many parents are happy to watch their kids start that stage of childhood, some moms and dads also face many fears.

HuffPost turned to parents who have been through the transition of sending their kids to kindergarten to learn what they did (and didn’t do) to make the transition as easy as possible. From how to talk to your kids about their big day to how to tackle your own concerns, here’s the advice they had about all things kindergarten.

Nervous? Try not to let it show.

No one can blame parents for being nervous before their kids head to their first day of kindergarten. But if your children can tell you’re nervous, they might think they should be nervous about school too. Melanie Dale, a parenting blogger and the author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends, said via email that, as someone who loved school as a kid, she tried to stay positive to get her family excited about the experience, not anxious.

“A year before my son went to school and he saw kids heading back to school, I told him excitedly, ‘Next year that’ll be you!’” she said. “I bought him a little backpack to wear around the house, and he spent the next year getting pumped about it. So stay positive and excited. If you act nervous, then they’ll pick up on it and get nervous.”

If they do show a bit of fear, have a conversation to address any concerns.

“At the same time, honor their feelings and let them talk about them,” Dale said. “If they say they’re nervous, rather than say, ‘Don’t be nervous,’ ask them why they’re nervous and validate that feeling. Share a time when you were nervous and how it worked out.”

Build up your kids’ self-esteem before they head to the classroom.

Laura Fuentes, the mother behind MOMables family meal plans, recently passed the first-day-of-kindergarten milestone with her youngest child. She said via email that building up kids’ confidence is crucial so they’re comfortable sharing their thoughts in the classroom.

“Teaching them to speak up when they need something or have a question, to speak with other kids in their classroom and make friends and to speak up when spoken to (by their teacher) are all new skills your child will develop at school,” she said. “Building their confidence before they get there can help them adjust to their new social skills.”


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Building up children’s self-esteem at home can help with their confidence in the classroom.

She suggested having your children practice speaking loudly and clearly and letting them make “small age-appropriate choices” like picking out their clothes or breakfasts to boost their confidence. 

Do your research and ask for a tour of the school.

If you’re finding yourself more caught up in the whirlwind of kindergarten than your kid, researching your child’s school options can help you feel more prepared. For Eugene Hung, known as Feminist Asian Dad online, that research began before preschool. He said that before he and his wife looked into their local kindergarten program (including its reputation and academics), they researched preschools to ensure the program would teach their daughters important emotional skills and “how to relate to other adults and to other kids.” 

“Our reasoning [was] if our girls have a good experience in pre-K and they really enjoy going to school, then that’ll set them up for a better kindergarten experience,” he said. 

Hung said tours of the schools were especially helpful to get a feel for the environment his children would be in during the day. Christa Carter-Williams, a parenting blogger at The Williams Party, said tours helped prepare her daughter for her first day of kindergarten.

“The school tours made the transition very easy as well, as she was able to see the dynamics of the classrooms,” she said via email. 

Have the talk about kindergarten with your kid early — and be realistic about it.

Because her daughter didn’t attend pre-K, Carter-Williams made sure to be realistic about the changes that come with going to kindergarten and turn them into something positive.

“We told her that she would not be spending all of her time during the day with me anymore but she would be spending time with other children her age and that it would be so much fun,” she said. 

Doyin Richards, a dad of two and the author of the children’s book What’s the Difference: Being Different Is Amazing, said that being realistic is also helpful for parents. He encouraged moms and dads to prepare themselves to leave their kids at school and get ready to face some tears, just in case.

“Let them know that you have their backs and that you love them before class begins, but get ready emotionally to leave them if they’re crying for you to stay,” he said via email. “I’ve seen parents sit with their crying kids for the first hour of school, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. Your child will be fine. My motto is ‘Don’t worry if your kid cries at school drop-off, worry if your kid cries at school pickup.’”

Seek out resources like children’s books.

The world of kids’ books is filled with handy resources to help explain the experience of kindergarten to children. Dale suggested The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. Sili Recio, the mom behind the blog My Mamihood, read The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing to her family.

Children's books like&nbsp;<i>The Night Before Kindergarten&nbsp;</i>by Natasha Wing can make it easier for kids to underst

Phyllis Myung, known for her blog The Napkin Hoarder, sought out advice from friends who already had kids go through kindergarten. She also used Glennon Doyle’s popular blog post about reminding kids of the importance of compassion and kindness before they head to the classroom.

And Hung found it helpful to talk with his friends who were parents and turned to his therapist for advice.

“He’s had kids of his own as well, and he gave me good insights about what was healthy for my girls and what wasn’t,” Hung said. 

Make the first day of school special.

Carter-Williams admits she planned her daughter’s first day of school “over and over” in her head to make it easier. She made her daughter’s favorite lunch and hid fun notes in her lunchbox and folders.

Myung made sure her family had a special dinner the night before and plenty of time the next morning to get ready. She and her daughter picked out their outfits together, and Myung took off work so she could pick up her daughter and they could go out for a treat.

Don’t forget the first day is a big deal for you too. 

It’s important to remember that your kid isn’t the only one dealing with a lot of changes, and if you need it (and you can take the time), it’s OK to treat yourself. To keep herself from wondering and worrying about her daughter’s first day of school, Myung carved out some time with a friend. 

“I scheduled a lunch for myself with a good friend that I knew would help me to take my mind off the first day of kindergarten,” she said.

Dale said she tries to take time off from her schedule during the first week of school to do something she and her husband don’t do as often with the kids around, like see a movie or go to lunch with friends. 

If you still have concerns, be sure to speak up.

Myung encouraged moms and dads to “not be afraid to advocate for your kid.”

“There are lots of interesting questions to ask your kid that go beyond ‘How was your day?’ that can help to parse out how things are going,” she said. “And if things aren’t going well, go with your gut and speak up.”

But many times, the problem can be solved with a little patience and support.

“Kids are so resilient!” Recio said. “All they need is some support and encouragement, and they can get through anything. As parents, we have to remember that. Kindergarten is the beginning of letting go.”



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Campus Suicide Exposes Risk of Cutting Mental Health Staff


The non-profit organization Active Minds, which raises awareness of mental health, offers a traveling exhibit of 1,100 empty backpacks to college campuses. The exhibit, called “Send Silence Packing,” illustrates the 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year. (Photo: ActiveMinds.org)

In June, two days after campus administrators unexpectedly eliminated the job of the only mental-health counselor at Florida Polytechnic University, professor Christina Drake drove to the state’s higher education board meeting and warned them.

“The termination was so abrupt,” she told board members, “there was no time or ability for the counselor to put into place a continuity of care for her patients, including those for which there is a concern for suicide.”

Six weeks later, a 21-year-old Florida Poly engineering student who enjoyed hiking, cooking, and tinkering with computers sat down on a campus bench and shot himself. In the wake of his death by suicide, university employees confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that the student had been a client of the laid-off counselor, prompting the newspaper’s editors to declare: “A student suicide and a question: Could it have been prevented?”

“There’s no way to tell if that student would have reached out,” said Casey Fox, the former counselor, to the Times. “There’s no way to know because there was no one there. There was no one on campus to be that person.”

Florida Poly isn’t the only campus in the U.S. struggling with skyrocketing numbers of students with depression. It’s also not the only one to cut counselors or privatize their services in an attempt to save money. Those are life-threatening trends on campuses across the nation.

But those issues are made more dangerous by another growing development: increasing administrative and legislative attacks on faculty and staff’s ability to speak up. Counselor Fox and other Florida Poly employees who were terminated this spring, including the university’s only librarian, were union members who openly advocated for students. By getting rid of them, administrators may have hoped to silence complaints around administrative pay raises, a “toxic” campus culture, and growing concerns around mental health issues.

Faculty and staff speak up for a reason, and often it’s to make things better for students. Retaliating against their speech isn’t just wrong—it can be dangerous.

In her testimony this June, professor Drake made this point, cautioning board members: “It is dangerous in an educational setting, when the administration retaliates against faculty and staff who bring forth concerns, in good faith, as a part of their job function. If we do not allow employees to speak up on issues, we run the risk of a student being injured in one of our labs, a student being sexually harassed or worse, or a student committing suicide.”

The Tsunami of Depression

Suicide has become the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. Likewise, depression is at an all-time high on college campuses with record numbers of students seeking help, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH).

More than a third of the students who seek mental-health counseling on campuses say they have “seriously considered” suicide, according to CCMH’s 2017 annual report. (Data is unavailable for the many students who don’t seek help.) Fifteen percent say they’ve seriously considered it within the past two weeks. About 10 percent of college clients have attempted it.

There’s no way to tell if that student would have reached out. There’s no way to know because there was no one there. There was no one on campus to be that person.” – Casey Fox, former counselor, Florida Polytechnic University

Making matters worse, as state funding for higher education has declined, many colleges and universities are cutting their mental-health staff and seeking to privatize those critical services.

The recommended number of counselors on campus, according to the International Association of Counseling Services (IACS), is one per 1,000-1,500 students. But finding this is rare. The California Faculty Association, the statewide faculty union, recently studied California State University (CSU) campuses and found that the system averaged 2,217 students per counselor. At Cal State LA, there are only seven full-time, non-tenured counseling positions for more than 28,000 students.

“It’s surreal in this high demand for services and the increase in severity of student mental health issues that the CSU doesn’t want to hire and retain experienced permanent mental health counselors,” CSU Stanislaus counselor Martha Cuan told CSU trustees last year.

Meanwhile, Florida Poly has 1,400 students—and, since June, not one on-campus counselor. Instead it has a 24-hour hotline number and a contract with a private company to send a counselor to campus for 4 to 8 hours a week.

A Culture of Silence

Problems at Florida Poly, which opened in 2014, have been surfacing for months. Earlier this year, an anonymous employee wrote to university trustees, saying, “In the last 9-12 months things here at the university have gotten progressively worse, and while myself and others have tried to bring these things to light we continuously are made to feel incompetent,” according to a report in the Lakeland Ledger.

When asked about the letter, Poly president Randy Avent told the Ledger that he was more concerned with the “group responsible for the letter” than its content, which included concerns about 20 to 29 percent administrative pay raises and mental health on campus. “We have one counselor here doing a job meant for three people,” the letter said, putting the campus “dangerously close” to an avoidable tragedy.

In May, the two-year-old faculty union, a chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF), surveyed faculty about campus climate. Two-thirds said they feared reprisal if they expressed “a dissenting opinion about administration’s policies.” In the comments section, one faculty member wrote “administrators dismiss students’ concerns and criticize faculty who try to alert them to those concerns.”

Since then, the union has filed a charge of unfair labor practices on campus, relating to staff layoffs, which the state has deemed sufficient. An evidentiary hearing likely will take place this fall.

Although nobody signed the letter sent to trustees, its author named about 20 employees who might provide the board with more information, or who had a history of speaking up about serious issues in the workplace. This spring Florida Poly began laying off or terminating the people on that list.

“These terminations… appear aimed at suppressing potential whistleblower complains,” professor Drake told state board members in June. “They appear aimed at staff who have spoken up about safety issues, legal and ethical issues, and other problems plaguing the university.”

The seventh person laid off was the university’s only on-campus librarian, who was invited to a meeting and surprised with a police escort off campus. “I’m sure we’re now the only university in the United States to not have a dedicated librarian,” said Drake.

The eighth person laid off was Fox, the mental-health counselor.



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NYU To Cover Tuition For All Medical Students



New York University will pay for the tuition of all its medical students, the first top-ranked institution in the country to do so,

With the tuition scholarships, the school hopes to alleviate the rising costs of medical education, attract a more diverse class of top students and address physician shortages, NYU Medical School Dean Robert Grossman said on Thursday.

Additionally, students who are not saddled with six-figure debt after graduation can pursue fields that may not be as high-paying but still important, such as pediatrics and obstetrics, NYU said in a press release.

Incoming medical students and those already enrolled will receive an annual scholarship of $55,018 to cover tuition starting this upcoming academic year, NYU said.

More than 86 percent of medical school graduates carry educational debt, and 41 percent of those students reported their debt exceeded $150,000, according to the American Medical Student Association.

Grossman said covering tuition for all students was at the forefront of his goals when he became dean about 12 years ago. 

“We really believe that medical student debt is among the biggest issues our country faces in terms of providing excellent physicians to serve our health care needs,” Grossman said.

Over more than a decade, NYU raised $450 million of the estimated $600 million it needs to maintain the scholarship.

By taking tuition costs off the table, NYU Associate Dean of Admissions Rafael Rivera said he hopes to level the playing field for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We fully expect that this will positively impact the diversity of our medical school class,” Rivera said. 

For its most recent application cycle, the school received more than 6,000 applications for 102 spots, according to Grossman.

The U.S. News and World Report ranked NYU the third best medical school in the nation. The school also implemented in 2013 an accelerated 3-year M.D. program so students could start earning a salary one year earlier.

Other medical schools have attempted to assuage the financial burden of medical school, including the University of Houston’s College of Medicine, which offered full scholarships to its inaugural class. 



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Teachers Donate Their Sick Days To Colleague Battling Colon Cancer



A teacher who desperately needed sick days to continue fighting colon cancer was blessed with donated time after pleading his case with a Facebook selfie.

In April, after undergoing a colonoscopy to address why he was experiencing bowel discomfort, Robert Goodman, a 23-year history teacher at Palm Beach Gardens Community High School in Florida, was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. One month later, the 56-year-old had surgery to remove a tumor that was growing into the wall of his colon and 44 lymph nodes, three of which were malignant.

Doctors prescribed six months of chemotherapy and a host of medications, but Goodman knew he needed extra time to heal. “I had enough sick days to cover me through the end of the year, but I also anticipated being physically and emotionally exhausted,” Goodman tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “As a history teacher, I stand in front of my students all day, and I didn’t want them to see me break down.” 

However, Goodman was short 20 sick days to qualify for a catastrophic leave of absence, which would guarantee him six weeks of paid leave. So he hesitantly turned to Facebook. “If I can get 20 more sick days from any teacher or district employee volunteers that would allow me to take more time to recover in battle through chemo for 12 weeks which should be enough time for me to complete at least the treatment,” Goodman wrote in aJuly 23 Facebook post. “So if any of my teacher friends are out there spread the word for me I would appreciate it thank you so much.” 

The musician-turned-teacher included a selfie snapped while receiving treatment at Tomsich Health and Medical Center of Palm Beach County and a contact at his school’s HR department for donations. “I didn’t want to be ‘that person’ on Facebook, and at my age, you want to be self-sufficient,” Goodman tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But the post was another part of sharing my story, and I did need help.” 

After just four days, Goodman received enough sick days from employees in his school district to cover him for one semester. “Out-of-state teachers and university professors also tried to donate, people sent me grocery store gift cards, and I got offers to tune my piano and mow my lawn. Beautiful, wonderful offers.”

When he’s feeling healthier, Goodman plans to throw a party to thank his donors, who are currently anonymous.

“These people could have saved their sick days to cash out when they retire — instead, they gave them to me,” says Goodman. “There is so much dialogue and humanity happening. It’s healing.”

More from Yahoo Lifestyle:



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Florida Schools Ordered By Law To Display ‘In God We Trust’ Signs


Children heading back to school in Florida this month will have a new message waiting for them as required by law: “In God We Trust.”

An education bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in March includes a mandate that all public schools in the Sunshine State must now display those four words in each building that’s used by the district school board.

Statue Title XLVIII Chapter 1003 was approved by the state House in February by a 97 to 10 vote, after being sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Democrat from Jacksonville who runs a Christian ministry. Daniels cited the then-recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for displaying the religious text, stating God is the “light” and “our schools need light in them like never before.”

“In God We Trust,” became the official state motto in 2006.


Lonely Planet via Getty Images

“In God We Trust” has been Florida’s state motto since 2006. It is now mandatory to display in all public schools.

The signs must be placed in a “conspicuous” place, though specific rules regarding each school’s displays will be determined by each district school board, according to the statute.

According to West Palm Beach station WPTV, some schools said they have been given signs to hang up, while others said they were emailed signs to print out for display.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit whose goal is to keep religion and government separate, is among those speaking out against the mandate, which has also been adopted by other states including Tennessee and Arkansas.

“These godly postings exclude and alienate the one-in-five students in our public schools who do not believe in god. And they’re meant to,” the foundation said in a statement. “These laws are not about patriotism, they’re about turning believers into insiders, and nonbelievers into outsiders. There’s nothing patriotic in undermining our nation’s secular Constitution.”



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Threats To Transgender Student Drove Oklahoma School District To Close For 2 Days



An Oklahoma school district briefly shut down this week after people purporting to be parents of students used social media to make violent, epithet-filled threats against a transgender girl.

Public schools in Achille reopened Wednesday after being closed Monday and Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, Bryan County Sheriff Johnny Christian has launched an investigation into a series of posts in a now-deleted private Facebook group called Achille ISD Parents Group. A number of users there made cruel and transphobic comments about a 12-year-old seventh-grade student, identified in the media simply as Maddie. 

“If he wants to be a female, make him a female,” one user wrote. “A good sharp knife will do the job really quick.” Another post read, “You know we have open hunting seasons on them kind. Ain’t no bag limit either.” 

Although Maddie identifies as female, many of the Facebook posts referred to her using male pronouns. Others referred to the child as a “half baked maggot” and a “thing.” One post appeared to encourage another student to “whip his ass until he quits coming to school.” 

Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, told local news station KXII that the trouble began on her daughter’s first day of middle school, Aug. 8. The girl had been using a staff bathroom since fifth grade when the family moved to Achille, Rose said. But when Maddie was unable to locate the staff bathroom in the new school, her mother said, she opted for the girls’ bathroom instead. 

After another student’s parent found out that Maddie had used the girls’ bathroom, Rose told KXII, that parent took to the Facebook group to complain. 

“She’s been living as female for years. We had no problems when we first started,” Rose explained, adding that her daughter is now fearing for her safety. “These are adults making threats ― I don’t understand it. To see any fear in her, I can’t explain how bad that hurts me for them to hurt her.”

The controversy has put Achille ― a small town located about 160 miles southeast of Oklahoma City ― on the national map. A number of LGBTQ advocacy groups and rights advocates have weighed in, including Tyler Clementi Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi, who commended the school district “for taking action to protect the safety of its students.”

“When children use the internet or social media to harass, embarrass or demean their peers, it’s cyberbullying,” Clementi told HuffPost in a statement. “But when adults use the internet to threaten violence to a child, it’s a crime.” 

The news also prompted about 20 people to stage a silent protest in Achille on Tuesday in solidarity with Maddie. 

Sheriff Christian said Bryan County was working with several agencies, including the FBI, to investigate the Facebook posts. He told the Kansas City Star that Rose had filed a protective order against one of the parents who threatened Maddie, but that no arrests had been made. 

Both he and Achille school Superintendent Rick Beene, who oversees some 360 students, said that many of the users who made the transphobic comments weren’t even from the area.

“Most of our community is very, very good people … very open to all ethnicities, all populations,” Beene told KFOR. Noting that he plans to work with local LGBTQ advocacy groups to coordinate special training for Achille teachers and administrators, he added, “We’ve got a group of kids that love each other.”



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Video Shows Cop Restrain, Handcuff 10-Year-Old With Special Needs


The parents of a 10-year-old boy with special needs are demanding answers after their child was restrained and handcuffed at a North Texas school.

“It’s disgusting that this officer is put there to protect and serve our children, and he abused a disabled, little boy,” the boy’s mother, Emily Brown, told Dallas–Fort Worth’s KTVT News. “He showed no compassion.”

She is urging state and federal authorities to conduct an investigation into the incident.

According to Brown, her son Thomas, who has autism, was subdued by a Denton Police Department school resource officer on at least two occasions this year, on April 23 and April 30.

It was after the second incident, she said, that she and her husband discovered their son was covered in marks and bruises. Suspecting excessive force was used to restrain him, the Browns requested video from the officer’s body camera.

Authorities on Tuesday released the footage from the April 30 incident. In the video, recorded by a camera worn by Officer Eric Coulston, Thomas is seen attempting to hide in a cubbyhole. A teacher pulls the boy out, and Coulston scoops the boy up and carries him into an empty room.

“Do you want the handcuffs? Or not?” Coulston asks the child when they’re in the room.

Thomas repeatedly screams, “Get off,” and struggles to escape as the officer holds him facedown by his neck.

Coulston can then be seen handcuffing the boy’s arms behind his back.

“We’re back to where we were the other day,” Coulston says. “Want to kick some more?”

The boy’s ordeal, according to the video, goes on for approximately two hours. Though the handcuffs were removed at one point, the officer put them back on after Thomas tore tissues into small pieces and threw them at a teacher, police said.

“It’s abuse, the torture, and the hell that he was put through,” Emily Brown told ABC affiliate WFAA, referring to the April 30 incident.

The Denton Independent School District’s director of communications, Mario Zavala, told HuffPost the district has protocols in place to ensure the safety of students.

“In this instance, the school resource officer (SRO) made the determination, after all other efforts to de-escalate the situation proved ineffective,” Zavala said. 

He added that Thomas was “a detriment to his own safety and that of the other students and staff.”

Authorities said the child was acting out before being restrained. He was being disruptive, swung a computer mouse near other children and kicked and spit on the officer, police said.

Brown told KTVT-TV her son was acting out because he was scared.

“He’s got a lot of anxiety because the very people that I told him to trust, he can’t,” she said.

According to a statement released by the city, the Denton Police Department Office of Professional Standards reviewed the incident and found no violations.

“The decision to use restraints was made only when the child posed a serious threat to himself or others,” reads the statement. “Once the child was calm, the restraints were removed.”

While the Texas Education Code permits trained staff members and resource officers to physically restrain special education students, they may do so only “to protect the health and safety of the student and others.” The law further states the restraint must be discontinued “when an emergency no longer exists.”


Denton Police Department

A student with special needs was pinned to the ground and handcuffed by a police officer in Texas.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is opposed to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, calling the practices “very dangerous.”

“Their use has injured or killed students in far too many cases,” Zoe Gross, the organization’s director of operations, told HuffPost. “Restraint and seclusion can also cause lasting trauma and prevent students from fully accessing their education.” 

The family said the school has an intervention plan and a set of de-escalation techniques that staffers are supposed to follow if their son becomes agitated. The tactics the school chose to use were unnecessary and resulted in bruising on his knees, arms and back, according to the Browns.

The parents have since removed Thomas from the school. They are reportedly planning to file a lawsuit.

“This is about justice for Thomas,” Emily Brown told KTVT.

Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.





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Wisconsin Democrats Will Run On Education Against Gov. Scott Walker



Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers won the Democratic primary on Tuesday to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker, setting up an education-focused fall gubernatorial race. 

Evers was the front-runner in a crowded primary, with former state Rep. Kelda Roys and state firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell as his major competition.

Wisconsin is expected to be one of the closest gubernatorial contests in the country in November, and the Democratic and Republican governors associations have each reserved millions of dollars of television ad time. Democrats view this election as their best chance to finally knock off Walker, who managed to crush the state’s public employee unions in 2011 and survive a recall attempt in 2012.

President Donald Trump’s approval ratings in the state are low, and a state Supreme Court election this spring showed Democratic energy was high.

The 66-year-old Evers was the best-known politician in the Democratic field. He won his most recent election as superintendent in April 2017 with 70 percent of the vote. He’s banked his campaign on education, pitching himself as the remedy to Walker-backed cuts to the state’s schools and universities. 

“What’s best for our kids is what’s best for our economy and our democracy,” Evers said in a phone interview last month. “We can’t let our higher and K-12 systems flounder for another four years.”

Walker has spent heavily on ads promoting himself as “the education governor,” which Evers and other Democrats have dismissed as laughable. 

The other Democrats in the race, including Roys and Mitchell, tried to argue Evers would be a weaker candidate in the general election. They portrayed him as boring ― “I have nothing bad to say about Tony Evers,” Mitchell once said. “He’s like my grandfather.” ― and as unable to fire up the party’s base in November.  

National Democrats have consistently viewed those complaints as overwrought, hoping Evers’ low-key demeanor will contrast with the partisan warfare of Walker’s tenure as governor. 

Republicans have already made clear they plan to attack Evers as a “Madison bureaucrat” ― referring to the liberal state capital ― who didn’t do enough to punish teachers accused of wrongdoing.



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Georgia Teen Attached College Wish List To Balloons. Miles Away, A Pastor Took Action.


A teen who attached a written prayer for college supplies to helium balloons said she was shocked when a stranger miles away actually answered.

Mykehia Curry, an 18-year-old from Macon, Georgia, who is the first person in her family to go to college, has dreams of becoming a nurse and creating a better life for her family. But days before she planned to move into her college dorm at Albany State University, there were still two items she hadn’t been able to purchase to help make the big transition smoother ― a refrigerator and a comforter. 

Curry says money was already tight for her family ― her single mom is disabled and struggling to care for the teen and her younger brother. So she appealed to a higher power. She wrote a prayer and her phone number on a piece of paper and tied the note to three helium balloons left over from her grandmother’s birthday party.

“God this is me again,” read the note Curry wrote on Aug. 4. “Please help me get everything I need to leave Wednesday.” 

Then, she let the balloons float up into the sky. 


13WMAZ

Mykehia Curry, an 18-year-old from Macon, Georgia, is the first person in her family to attend college.

About 15 miles away in the nearby city of Gray, Curry’s prayer ended up in the hands of a stranger. Jerome Jones, a part-time Baptist pastor, told CBS-affiliate WMAZ that he was working at a construction site on Aug. 6 when he noticed something shining near a dumpster. He walked over and picked up the note.

“It was God calling me saying, ‘You need to answer this,’ and I did,” Jones, an associate minister at Springfield Missionary Baptist Church in Monticello, told the station.

Jones and members of his church decided to pitch in and get Curry a mini-fridge and comforter. The gifts arrived at the teen’s house last Tuesday, right before she moved into her dorm on Wednesday. 

Melissa Watson Strozier, church secretary, told HuffPost that saving souls and helping people is part of the church’s mission. 

“And a soul reached out,” she said. 

Curry told HuffPost the balloons and her note were part of a private moment of prayer. She didn’t expect anyone to pay attention to her request.

“I just needed some help and I wanted to reach out to God. I wasn’t really expecting anything,” she said. “I thought someone was going to pick up the balloon and throw it in the trash.”  

“I was feeling very shocked,” Curry recalled about receiving the gifts. “And just blessed.”

Mykehia Curry scrawled a prayer on a scrap of paper and sent it up into the sky.


Mykehia Curry

Mykehia Curry scrawled a prayer on a scrap of paper and sent it up into the sky.

On Monday, Curry started her fall semester at Albany State University, which confirmed her enrollment to HuffPost. She said her experience so far has been “kind of rocky,” since she’s still facing some struggles in paying for her education. But she said she’s confident she’ll get through.

“I really just want to get a degree out of this,” she told HuffPost. “I want to enjoy my college life, but my main purpose of coming here, two hours away from home, is to get a degree so that I could make a better life for my brother.”

She also said that hearing back from Jones has had a profound effect on her faith. 

“It really shows that God wants me to continue through college and actually strive and go through obstacles,” Curry said. “And that he has my back through anything.”



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9 Things Every Teacher Wishes Parents Knew



Take a minute with me here and think back to your school days. What are your memories around that time? Is there a teacher you remember fondly? Do you recall a noisy lunchroom? Do you conjure up the image of a hard taskmaster when you think of a particular teacher? Could you tell, even as a child, that some teachers were only fake-angry, but always had a soft spot for your class? Did you have a best friend, and a ‘better’ best friend — just in case?

Your strongest memories are linked to your strongest emotions. It’s the same for children, no matter how young they are. It becomes paramount that parents actively seek to understand how their child feels about their school environment, the teachers, their peers. Every aspect contributes to sum total of their learning experience, which in turn affects their attitude towards learning and education itself.

Most parents consider the school is a third party realm. Many unwittingly assume that there are thick invisible lines between the child’s home and their school. Parents need to understand that their attitudes, messages, and signals to the child have a great influence on the child and their ability to have a healthy experience in school.

Here are some things that teachers wish parents knew:

1. Parents are their child’s primary role models.

It’s true that your child’s circle of influence expands once they’re in school. There are teachers to look to in the midst of a tiff and peers from varied backgrounds. Children may learn a wide range of things — slang, social behavior and skills — from peers (which, by the way is very evolutionary thing). However, parents remain the child’s primary influencers and role models all the way up to and through adolescence.

It’s important to succinctly model only what you wish your child to follow  –  in their presence or otherwise. Says Dr. Mary Ann Franco, licensed marriage and family therapist at Argosy University, “The foundation they set at home spills over in all other settings – school, social, occupational.”

She goes on to explain, “I clearly recall a 16-year-old female client I had. Her intake paperwork looked very scary. Her symptoms ranged from defiance, disrespectful behaviors, and physical altercations with mother, angry outbursts, irritability, sadness, poor academic performance and more. I was actually reluctant to see her. She turned out to be one of the sweetest teens I had ever met. Upon deeper exploration I discovered that the mother never wanted her. She described the client as ‘a monster even when she was still in my belly.’ During family session, the mother could not utter one positive adjective to describe her child. The client’s behaviors were very reflective of her relationship with her mother – full of sadness, anger, rage, and hopelessness.”

2. Discipline is really about respect.

Says Melissa Schwartz, author and founder of Leading Edge Parenting, “Parents want children to ‘get it’ or ‘listen’ because a parent is frustrated. However, for children to learn personal responsibility and cooperation they NEED to be in an environment with clearly defined boundaries and consistent expectations. Many parents are exhausted from working and life in general so they are lax when it comes to routines. Children do best when they know what to expect and what is expected of them.”

3. Parents can become roadblocks to their child’s education.

In their eagerness to see their children succeed academically, parents can become too focused on the results.

How a parent reacts to a child’s failure will set his attitude to failure for his entire life. Dr. Carol Dweck in her book, “Mindset,” talks about how attempts at encouraging kids should always be directed towards effort – supporting the “growth mindset.”

When results become the only basis for defining success, parents can unwittingly encourage the “fixed mindset,” which disregards the person’s ability to grow himself into success. In the fixed mindset, the person is either born with it or not.

Developing grit in children primes them for success with a combination of two important things: positive self-worth and optimism.

4. Your kids might behave differently when not with you.

Kids can gauge their surroundings much better than we think and adjust their behaviors based on expectations and consequences. Which means they change their behavior in settings where they won’t see their parents. Children intuitively understand that they cannot expect to be the center of attention among a hundred other kids like them.

Here’s Chanté Griffin, a Los Angeles-based language arts instructor, sharing her experience: “Parents don’t know that who their kids are with them isn’t necessarily who they are with their friends at school. I’ve seen A+ students behave like hellions. They talk while I’m talking. They pound on their desks. They play with anything and everything in their backpacks, and even worse – they get other students to misbehave with them. If your child’s teacher tells you that your exemplary son or daughter is misbehaving, believe them. And then give some consequences at home. Parents must support their child’s teachers.”

5. Parents often make some unfair assumptions.

Parents tend to assume (and expect) that teachers have a never-ending supply of patience and restraint when surrounded by about 30 kids, all of them coming from different family backgrounds and situations. Your kid, who sometimes totally gets on your nerves, is one of them!

6. Putting your child in school doesn’t shift all educational responsibility to the teacher.

As parents, we put in a lot of effort to bring the absolute best to our kids. Sometimes the hunt for a good school goes on for months. Yet parents make the mistake of assuming that their role ends there. Your child’s chances of developing good, long-lasting study and personal development habits are still accomplished only by the parent.

“I used to tutor two siblings. Each was at least two grade levels behind. I asked the mother what she was doing with them at home, and she said that she wasn’t doing anything. She said that she thought that that was the teacher’s job. I told her that teachers have a classroom to tend to and can’t give a lot of individual attention to students. I encouraged her to go to the library and check out books for her children, which she did. I told her to have her children read to her, which she did. She went from being a passive parent to an active parent-teacher. It made all the difference.

7. Teachers are not available for a “little chat” all the time.

We’ve all done this, right? We catch a glimpse of a teacher walking past us while we’re waiting to pick up our kids and we go, “How do you think my child is doing?” or, “I’d like to talk to you about yesterday’s situation.”

The teacher is likely to be overwhelmed by these impromptu meetings. Contrary to what some may think, teachers have a very busy schedule and everything needs to get done in the midst of controlled chaos.

Scott Ertl, M.Ed., school counselor and inventor of Bouncy Bands says, “Most parents don’t realize that just because they see their child’s teacher in the hall when they drop off their kids in the morning, their teacher really isn’t available for a conversation at that time. Parents need to schedule a time to talk when the teacher can be focused, prepared, and available instead of when he/she is watching other kids in the hall, waiting to teach the kids, or handling a variety of other responsibilities before school starts.”

8. Teachers genuinely want the best outcome for your child.

In the majority of education conferences I’ve attended, I’ve observed one thing consistently. Most teachers refer to their students fondly and proudly as “my kids.” It took me a while to figure out they actually meant their class kids. Most teachers want the best for their children and are very interested in making a difference in the child’s life. When parents understand this, it makes it a lot easier for the teachers.

Says Scott, “Parents sometimes assume that teachers are lying, mean to their kids, or not interested in a solution as much as they are focused on the problem. While there could be times that any of these assumptions could be true, teachers are usually honest, fair, and they want to solve problems.”

9. Most teachers don’t have the time to socially connect with every child every day.

The typical adult-child ratio in schools is 30:1 as compared to the 2:1 or 2:4 ratio at home. It is physically impossible for the teacher to give individual attention to all children. Teachers tend to use their limited resources on children who need it the most. They don’t have the luxury of having social lunches or other regular social events with their students. Any parent who expects this to happen by default needs to step back and think about it realistically.

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Baby And Toddler Storytime Can Create A Lifetime Love Of Reading


On a recent weekday morning, librarian Annabelle Blackman stood in front of a room full of young children at the Cesar Chavez Public Library in Oakland, California, singing a children’s rhyme and swaying from side-to-side. Her performance was more than mere entertainment; it was part of her weekly summer storytime that is designed to promote early literacy for infants and toddlers.

At a time when youth are increasingly tethered to electronic devices, Blackman and other librarians continue to promote the value of books by engaging children long before they become formal readers.

During the summer, dozens of libraries across California offer free programs for parents who want fun and engaging activities that promote early reading skills, such as open-ended creative playtime with blocks or puzzles. Though infants and toddlers are not subject to a loss of learning momentum that summer sometimes brings for older students, literacy experts say summer is an important period for children birth to age 5 to develop new vocabulary words and sounds.

Library storytime can play a critical role in teaching these skills to infants and toddlers. Most storytellers go beyond reading a book and incorporate fun activities that encourage children to play and move. Libraries also use storytime to model early reading skills for parents so they can practice at home and help boost their children’s love of books.


Ashley Hopkinson for EdSource

An infant stares at the colorful images in an alphabet board book as her mother reads to her after a summer storytime at Cesar Chavez Public Library in Oakland, Calif.

One of the hallmarks of Blackman’s storytime is rhyming. In an hour-long session she read a book titled, Snail, Where Are You? and incorporated more than five rhyming songs. At various times, children were jumping, reaching down and shaking their arms left to right, mimicking Blackman’s movements. Most parents gathered that day sat on a colorful rug in the center of the room, a few with babies nestled in their arms and other caretakers with infants crawling close by.

That’s what the ideal early literacy environment looks like, said Deborah Turner, child psychologist and program director with First 5 Alameda, an early childhood advocacy organization. It’s a lively atmosphere where children are exposed to play, sound and interaction through stories, she said. “When most people talk about literacy they’re talking about reading and writing,” she said. “But before children can read and write, they need to learn about sounds and how we communicate in our world.”

Phonological awareness — a recognition of spoken words, sounds and syllables — is often learned through rhyming books and songs highlighted during storytime, literacy experts said. In library settings nationwide — talking, singing, reading, writing and playing are a common part of early reading activities, said Nina Lindsay, supervising librarian for Children’s Services at Oakland Public Libraries.

“Hearing rhythm and rhyming words, asking questions for response, making up nonsense words — all these things build literacy skills in children,” Lindsay said. If children can act out reading before they know how to read, it reinforces the basic principles of reading. “They are figuring out how a story comes out of a printed page and are learning context from pictures and memory,” she said.

Mother, Elizabeth Paniagua, reads a board book with her 20-month-old son Joaquin, at Cesar Chavez Public Library located in t


Ashley Hopkinson for EdSource

Mother, Elizabeth Paniagua, reads a board book with her 20-month-old son Joaquin, at Cesar Chavez Public Library located in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland, California.

Storytime also encourages families to spend more time in their community and build social connections with other parents and children, said Joanna Fabicon, senior librarian for Children Services at Los Angeles Public Library. Fabicon said one of the goals of storytime is to show parents how to bond with their children though song, dance and books. “We are modeling the behavior,” Fabicon said. “So as librarians are reading stories, they are incorporating active experiences that go beyond the board book,” to demonstrate what is possible, she said.

For instance, during a recent storytime Fabicon said she read Dear Zoo, a children’s book that mentions snakes. “So we talked about snake sounds and the ‘sssssss’ and then I incorporated some writing by having them draw the shape of an S in the air.” Fabicon said they typically open storytime with songs to show that melody, off-key or not, helps children to understand syllables. “I tell parents don’t worry about your singing voice, you’re their parent and they love you,” Fabicon said. “Singing each note breaks the word down into sounds and it helps them to learn in a fun way.”

Turner, an early childhood expert, said language, communication and literacy are linked, so one of the best ways to encourage a love for reading is to create a language-rich environment, by asking children to talk about their day and talk about what they are doing. “Don’t wait until children are talking or until they are 2 years old or 5 years old, talk to them right away, read to them right away,” she said. In the 75 library locations in Los Angeles County, Fabicon said they ask open-ended questions during storytime to model the importance of conversation.

Children's librarian Annabelle Blackman reads a book titled, <i>Snail, Where Are You?</i> during her summer storytime at Cesa


Ashley Hopkinson

Children’s librarian Annabelle Blackman reads a book titled, Snail, Where Are You? during her summer storytime at Cesar Chavez Public Library in Oakland, Calif.

Back at Oakland’s Cesar Chavez library, storytime had ended and parents helped pick up toys and books scattered on the floor. Blackman walked through the room, greeted parents and made conversation in a high-pitched voice with children. In a corner near the bilingual children’s section, she explained that a library should feel like home and that her primary goal is to build a sense of community. “More and more in our modern world it’s easy to stay in your bubble but libraries are embraced by so many different people in the community; it’s like a coming together,” Blackman said. “I want our library to be an extension of a family’s living room.”

A big part of community building is ensuring parents in the neighborhood feel motivated, so Blackman said she reminds parents that everyday activities such as singing to a child at bedtime help to promote early literacy. “I affirm them,” she said. It’s also important to ensure those families have access to resources such as toys, puzzles and art and craft supplies that can support their children’s development, she said.

Summer offers an opportunity for the library to facilitate family activities that some residents may otherwise not be able to access. For instance, some families with limited finances or lack of transportation may not be able to send their children to summer camps or conveniently visit museums or zoos, Blackman said.

The library can bridge this gap and position itself as the central meeting place in the community, she said. This summer, Cesar Chavez hosted several events that included circus jugglers, animal exploration, puppet shows and art activities. Blackman said she wants children to be lifelong readers but also lifelong learners.

“We try to book all kinds of performers that may facilitate a rich use of language or different kinds of interactions that can encourage families to talk about new things,” Blackman said. “Last week we had tortoises and snakes and it was all people could talk about for days.”

Elizabeth Paniagua and her son Joaquin look for new books to check out from the local library. Cesar Chavez Public Library in


Ashley Hopkinson

Elizabeth Paniagua and her son Joaquin look for new books to check out from the local library. Cesar Chavez Public Library in Oakland Calif., also provides parents with toys as a checkout option.

Tips for Parents from Children’s Librarians

  • Follow your child’s interest. If they are interested in bugs, read about bugs and talk about bugs. It is important to recognize that children’s interests change often, so be flexible.

  • Ask children to describe activities in their life. What did you do with your big brother or sister today? What did you see at the park? What did grandma make for you?

  • Follow along with their play activities. If your child is pretend grocery shopping, make a list with them. If they are pretend driving a race car, ask them where they are going.

  • Babies and toddlers should play with books. Let them explore, put a book in their mouth, try to turn the page and even scribble on the page. It helps them connect with books.

  • Continue to read to your child even after he or she begins to read on their own. Having someone read a story aloud to you helps to motivate developing readers.

This story originally appeared on EdSource.org.



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Guidance Counselor Fears She’ll Be Fired After School Learns She’s Married To Her Wife



Students at a Roman Catholic high school in Indiana have come to the defense of a guidance counselor reportedly fearing for her job after administrators discovered she’s in a same-sex marriage. 

Shelly Fitzgerald has worked for Roncalli High School in Indianapolis for 15 years, the Indianapolis Star reported Monday. She and her wife married in 2014. They’ve been together for 22 years and have one child. 

ABC affiliate WRTV cited a Facebook post written by Fitzgerald and distributed to a select group of parents that outlined her story. In it, she said she’d kept quiet about her relationship during her years at the school. She went on to allege that someone “sought out my marriage certificate” and presented it to school administrators. From there, she said, the certificate was turned it over to the archbishop of Indianapolis and Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach. 

Fitzgerald said she met with Weisenbach and the school president, Joseph D. Howell, and they gave her three options: to resign, to “dissolve” her marriage, or to “wait it out and stay quiet and maybe I can make it the rest of the year,” with the knowledge that her contract would not be renewed. 

Noting that she has no intention of getting divorced, quitting or “not telling anyone why I have to leave the job I’ve loved so much,” Fitzgerald added: “I ask that you pray for my family, for change in the world, and know I have absolutely loved my job for the past 15 years.” 

Roncalli administrators on Sunday responded to Fitzgerald’s claims in a lengthy Facebook post. Calling the situation “a confidential personnel matter,” they nonetheless added: “The personal conduct of every teacher, guidance counselor and administrator and staff member, both at school and away from school, must convey and be supportive of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

“When the expectations of a contract are not being met, the employee and the school will attempt to reach a resolution so that the contractual requirements are fulfilled,” the school’s post added.  

Meanwhile, Hollowell confirmed to the Indianapolis Star on Monday that Fitzgerald had been placed on paid administrative leave, but did not comment further. 

A Facebook page in support of Fitzgerald was created Sunday and had more than 2,900 members as of Tuesday morning. 

Supportive students left flowers and T-shirts on a bench outside of the Roncalli High School campus in solidarity with their guidance counselor Monday. 

“At the moment, we have … a fair amount of LGBTQ students here at this school,” 11th grade student Madison Aldrich told the Indianapolis Star. “I hope that this sends a message that no matter who you are ― race, gender, sexual orientation ― you are welcome at Roncalli.” 

Fitzgerald, in a Monday interview with WTHR, thanked students and parents for their support. 

“We taught [students] to use their voice,” she said, “and they are.”





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School Nurses Vital to Student Health, In and Out of School


School nurses are an essential component to the health and wellbeing of students, particularly those with acute and chronic health conditions.

“For many of these students, without nursing services, attendance would decrease or students would be unable to attend school,” says Louise Wilson, health services supervisor and a school nurse in the Beaver Dam Unified School District in Wisconsin.

Wilson recalls sitting at her desk recently when she received a call from a concerned mother questioning whether her four-year-old son, diagnosed with diabetes, would be cared for during the school day. The child had Type I Diabetes, a chronic health condition that requires constant monitoring and a level of medical knowledge most educators and school administrators do not possess.

“I knew this mother was overwhelmed,” says Wilson, a nurse for 37 years, the last 25 working at schools. “She herself was trying to learn how to manage and safeguard her child.”

In recent years, school nurses have transcended treating the traditional bumps, bruises, and scrapes, to become a central force in helping parents gain access to healthcare for their children.

For example, in some states, school nurses work in conjunction with private healthcare providers and parents to help manage students with chronic diabetes, asthma and other conditions. At many schools, nurses screen students for hearing and vision problems that could create a barrier to learning.

Community Connections

The job of a school nurse has become what the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) calls, “the hidden healthcare system,” offering lifesaving care to students across the nation.

“I have connected families to resources to obtain eye exams and glasses,” says Wilson. “Sometimes, I collaborate with local organizations to complete these activities.”

Nina Fekaris, NASN president and a school nurse in the Beaverton School District in Oregon, says school nurses play an increasingly important role in the lives of children with chronic health conditions because they are the first healthcare provider students visit without a parent present.

Nina Fekaris

“School nurses play three main roles,” says Fekaris, “providing direct care for students, educating staff and students on personal healthcare, and finding healthcare for students beyond the school.”

With the many services that nurses provide to students and staff, budget constraints have caused some districts to cut back on hiring nurses. According to Wilson, one Wisconsin district has a nurse available only four hours a month. This forces the nurse to delegate care for children with food allergies, feeding tubes, and diabetes to unlicensed staff.

“School districts should not have to make the decision [between] paying for curriculum or school nursing services,” Wilson argues. “I have prevented medication errors by training unlicensed staff to properly administer oral and other medications, establishing and insisting on compliance with procedures and protocols, and clarifying medical orders.”

New Legislation

In recognition of a school nursing shortage, Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada introduced companion legislation with Montana Sen. Jon Tester to help schools hire more full-time nurses. The Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere (NURSE) Act, will allow public elementary and secondary schools to apply for grants to reduce the cost of hiring a nurse.

The legislation was introduced to the Senate in 2016, then reintroduced last March. However, the bill has been stalled in the first stages of the legislative process, according a representative with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The act requires that funding for a school nurse is provided for Title I schools, where 20 percent or more kids are on the school lunch program.

“School nurses are on the front lines, promoting wellness, managing chronic diseases, administering medication, and addressing issues that affect students in and out of the classroom,” said Titus, in a press release.

School nurses coordinate care with the parents, school cafeteria staff, and teachers.

“They facilitate meal planning for the diabetic students, for example,” says Wilson. “The nurse also teaches staff how to count carbohydrates so the correct amount of insulin for some students is administered at meal times.

Scarce Commodity

As the new school year begins, public elementary and secondary school students nationwide are facing the consequences of underfunded school-nursing programs.

“There are days when I would like to clone myself so that I can be in two places at once,” says Lynnette Ondeck, a school nurse for the Nooksack Valley School District, Everson, Wash.

Ondeck covers five schools, sometimes travelling upwards of 10 miles between buildings. In her district, nurses have to triage injury and illness over the telephone. Without a school nurse present to coordinate policy, students with complicated health needs will face challenges throughout their academic career.

“I have to rely on non-nursing personnel to administer medications, provide first aid, and chronic disease management,” says Ondeck. “Every student should have access to quality health care at school.”

School Nurses Affiliated with NEA

As school budgets tighten more than ever for the 2018-2019 school year, many districts will face the diffult decision to hire either more teachers or a sufficient number of mental health professionals, such as school nurses.

NEA policy analyst John Riley works closely school nurses who are categorized by NEA as specialized instructional support personnel (SISP). Some nurses are categorized by NEA and state Associations as education support professionals (ESP).

“Many policy makers turn to standardized test reforms to improve school performance,” says Riley. “In reality, attendance and ability to focus are integral to obtaining high achievement among students. These factors are tied to student health.”

More than 1 million SISP work in our nation’s public schools. They include school counselors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, library media specialists, speech language pathologists and others.

Approximately 2.8 million school support staff work in K-12 public schools and colleges. Health and Student Services is one of nine NEA ESP career categories. In addition to providing first aid, monitoring immunizations, conducting health screenings, and assisting sick and injured children, these ESP also assist students with chronic conditions and disabilities. Some job titles include:

• Licensed Practical Nurses
• Nurses’ and Health Aides
• Health Technicians
• Family and Parent Services Aides
• Community Welfare Services Workers
• Non-managerial Supervisors

Whether a school nurse is categorized by NEA as an ESP or SISP depends on local bargaining contracts, member education levels, state health and education laws, and other factors.



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Why The Phrase ‘Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps’ Is Nonsense


“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It’s a common phrase in American political discourse, particularly present in conservative rhetoric about self-reliance.

The concept is simple: To pull yourself up by your bootstraps means to succeed or elevate yourself without any outside help.

But when you examine this expression and its current meaning, it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

To pull yourself up by your bootstraps is actually physically impossible. In fact, the original meaning of the phrase was more along the lines of “to try to do something completely absurd.”

Etymologist Barry Popik and linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer have cited an American newspaper snippet from Sept. 30, 1834 as the earliest published reference to lifting oneself up by one’s bootstraps. A month earlier, a man named Nimrod Murphree announced in the Nashville Banner that he had “discovered perpetual motion.” The Mobile Advertiser picked up this tidbit and published it with a snarky response ridiculing his claim: “Probably Mr. Murphree has succeeded in handing himself over the Cumberland river, or a barn yard fence, by the straps of his boots.”

“Bootstraps were a typical feature of boots that you could pull on in the act of putting your boots on, but of course bootstraps wouldn’t actually help you pull yourself over anything,” Zimmer told HuffPost. “If you pulled on them, it would be physically impossible to get yourself over a fence. The original imagery was something very ludicrous, as opposed to what we mean by it today of being a self-made man.”

Zimmer, who is currently a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, first looked into the phrase in 2005 for an American Dialect Society newsletter. In his research, he came across claims that the expression dates back to the story of Baron Munchausen, a fictional 18th-century German nobleman who was famous for telling tall tales about his sensational achievements as a soldier and world traveler. In one such tale, he manages to launch himself up out of a swamp by pulling on his own hair.

Supposedly, an American version of the story has Baron Munchausen using his bootstraps to pull himself out, though Zimmer said he hasn’t been able to find any evidence of this. 

Regardless of whether such a connection exists between the American expression and German story, the Baron Munchausen example helps to illustrate the original intention of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”


UniversalImagesGroup via Getty Images

 Baron Munchausen’s remarkable leap

Beyond the Murphree example, versions of the phrase appeared in many published texts to describe something ridiculous. Popik has documented several of these examples on his blog

“Though not so palpably absurd, it is still of the same character as the efforts of the man who should essay to lift himself by the straps of his boots,” reads a line from The North American Review from 1867. 

“When steam was turned on the pressure in both ends of the cylinder was perfectly balanced through this connection and the piston could not move any more than a man can lift himself by his bootstraps,” notes another example from an issue of Popular Mechanics published in 1908. 

So when did “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” change from something ludicrous to something attainable? The shift appears to have occurred around the early 20th century. 

The Oxford English Dictionary cites James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) as its earliest example of the phrase, and it appears to illustrate the contemporary meaning: “There were … others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps.”

A 1931 volume of Pattern Makers’ Journal notes, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps; shake off your cloak of indifference and voluntary serfdom.” And in 1927, Britain’s Sunday Times published an editorial ridiculing the headstrong American belief in self-improvement as exemplified by “the American bootstrapper.”

It’s unclear why the understanding of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” shifted from absurd to accessible. 

“It’s hard to explain why the meaning of an expression changes over time. Sometimes things start off as having a kind of ironic or humorous edge to them, but that gets forgotten along the way,” Zimmer explained. “People have been referring to bootstraps in this metaphorical way for so long, the original irony of the expression was lost. Nobody’s thinking of the impossible image of pulling themselves over a fence.”

“Maybe that says something about Americans and how they view themselves,” he added. “That something that seems utterly ludicrous and impossible becomes a regular idiom for improving yourself.” 

Today, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” appears in political speechescriticismscientific studies and even pep talks. The related term “bootstrapping” has taken on a number of meanings in contexts ranging from technology to statistics to entrepreneurship to law.  

The related term &ldquo;bootstrapping&rdquo; has taken on a number of meanings in contexts ranging from technology to statist


jackaldu via Getty Images

The related term “bootstrapping” has taken on a number of meanings in contexts ranging from technology to statistics to entrepreneurship to law.

While it’s certainly interesting to look back on the shifting meaning of the phrase, does this apparent contradiction actually matter? Not really, according to Grant Barrett, a lexicographer and co-host of the public radio show, “A Way with Words.” After all, idioms simply mean what they mean. 

“The saying does its new job as well as it did its old job,” said Barrett. “There’s something called the ‘etymological fallacy,’ which is when people incorrectly believe that the original or older meaning of a word or expression is the more correct one. It just isn’t the case: Lexical items often change their meanings; they often have more than one meaning. Those meanings often co-exist, and we learn to manage those possible conflicts through context, clarification, and restatement, which are normal parts of human language.”

By this logic, the modern use of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is just as valid as the early version. Barrett noted that the English language is full of hyperbolic and figurative expressions that should not be interpreted literally. 

“‘She busted her ass meeting the deadline,’ for example. Her ass did not break,” he noted. “‘My boss’s head exploded when he saw our sales numbers.’ His head is intact. ‘Juanita has a bug up her butt about getting the report’s margins to line up.’ There are no insects in her derrière.”

Still, for those who disagree with the bootstraps notion of pure self-reliance as a universally attainable goal, the whole phrase feels somewhat ironic.

Writer John Swansburg touched on the contrast between the early, literal meaning of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and its current figurative sense in a piece called “The Self-Made Man,” which examined “America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.”

“The very language we use to describe the self-made ideal has these fault lines embedded within it: To ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ is to succeed by dint of your own efforts. But that’s a modern corruption of the phrase’s original meaning. It used to describe a quixotic attempt to achieve an impossibility, not a feat of self-reliance. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, anymore than you can by your shoelaces. (Try it.) The phrase’s first known usage comes from a sarcastic 1834 account of a crackpot inventor’s attempt to build a perpetual motion machine.”

“He thought it was perfect that this is all kind of founded on an expression that’s literally impossible,” said Zimmer, who consulted with Swansburg for the piece. “It’s part of this rags-to-riches, Horatio Alger view ― a kind of American idea that you can always better yourself, usually financially but also spiritually when you look at the self-help movement. Other people might find the idea ludicrous in the way that British people reviewing American bootstrappers in the 1920s did.”

Ultimately, Zimmer offered a similar conclusion to Barrett’s, noting that the English language is full of idioms that don’t appear to make literal sense. “Looking for logic in language is a fool’s errand,” he said.

Indeed, it might just be as foolish as … trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.



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Why I Use Harry Potter To Teach A College Course On Child Development


By Georgene Troseth, Vanderbilt University/The Conversation

In an effort to find a more engaging way to present child development to new psychology students, I decided to use a book about a little orphan boy who later discovers he is a wizard.

As the course evolved over the years, I found another benefit of using J.K. Rowling’s famous books: The story of Harry Potter, who lost both his parents to traumatic deaths at an early age, offers new college students insights that might help them better appreciate their own resilience.

As the 20-year anniversary of the debut of Harry Potter in the U.S. draws near, I believe that the course I developed more than a decade ago is still relevant for today’s first-year students, many of whom first got introduced to Harry Potter during their own childhoods.


Clark Jones/Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc./AP

Harry Potter books have captured the imaginations of entire generations.

The class I teach at Vanderbilt University – simply titled “Harry Potter and Child Development” – uses the science of developmental psychology to deepen students’ understanding of the behavior of Harry, Hermione and Ron – the central characters of the books – and the adults in these characters’ lives.

Near the end of the semester, I include topics such as depression, perfectionism, the need for a growth mindset and tolerance for differences – challenges that students entering college must grapple with to be successful.

How it all began

The seeds for the development of this course began back when I – like many parents in the late 1990s – spent many evenings reading the Harry Potter books to my then-young son.

Most parents probably did not interrupt their reading of the Harry Potter books as I did when I would dog-ear a page or jot a note in the margin. Trying my son’s patience, I’d grab a pencil and write notes such as: “Great example of Harry as a resilient child.” Or I’d note how Harry and Tom Riddle – the two orphans in the story – turned out, compared to institutionalized orphans in Eastern Europe.

When I came upon the part about Lily Potter instinctively stepping in front of a killing curse to save her infant son, imbuing Harry with an “old magic” that continued to protect him from the forces of evil, I wondered in my notes if that could be a metaphor for the lasting effect of secure parental attachment? Were Harry’s depression – during Dementorattacks – and his adolescent anger the result of hormones? Or were they expressions of childhood grief, age-appropriate responses to traumatic death?

We delve into all these questions and more in the class.

Resilient Harry Potter

For instance, on the topic of childhood resilience, I help the students make connections between Harry Potter and a famous 30-year longitudinal study by Emmy Werner that followed 698 children from a small Hawaiian island from before they were born, through childhood and into adulthood.

With good parenting, most of the children in the study who suffered birth complications or early trauma overcame any deficits. On the other hand, those who experienced some early trauma and whose families had major problems, such as divorce or substance abuse, tended to end up with long-term problems. They did poorly in school, got in trouble with the law, and had a much higher incidence of mental illness than their peers. But there was a twist to the story. Surprisingly, a third of the children with challenges from both nature and nurture “grew into competent young adults who loved well, worked well and played well.”

Werner looked back at her data to identify why some children were “resilient.” She discovered that resilient children tended to be intelligent, or talented in some way. They tended to view school as a “home away from home” where they could feel safe. They were spunky or charming, with personalities that attracted adult attention. Despite their troubled upbringing, resilient children had some adult in their lives – a coach, teacher or minister – who served as a mentor. And they ended up successful adults.

Harry Potter seemed to fit the description of one of Werner’s resilient children in more ways than one. He had just 15 months to develop a secure attachment with his parents before their traumatic deaths. He then lived with relatives who abused him physically and emotionally. Yet he entered Hogwarts School, his “home away from home,” as a smart, spunky 11-year-old who had not been crushed by his experiences. Harry’s modest, charming personality drew mentors to him who filled the roles of surrogate family members, including Hagrid, the Weasleys and Sirius Black. At school, professors McGonigall, Lupin and Dumbledore nurtured Harry’s growing skills and talents. The loving oversight of all these mentors helped Harry grow into a successful adult and the hero of the story.

The psychological value of reading fiction

Research supports the idea that reading literary fiction can affect how readers think and act. Fiction offers a simulation of social life that challenges readers to figure out characters’ motives and points of view.

Fiction also has the power to foster empathy and change attitudes. The immersive experience of using one’s imagination to understand characters in a fictional world – particularly those different from us, but with whom we can identify – can lessen prejudice. Imagination, J. K. Rowling said in her 2008 Harvard commencement address, is “the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

The students in my course are encouraged to note when Harry Potter’s development diverges from expected outcomes based on research. Realistically, an orphaned infant left in the care of people like the Dursleys would be unlikely to become our hero – if he survived at all. Yet Rowling’s astute observations about humans and their behavior – rich descriptions that prompted my note-taking back when I used to read Harry Potter books to my son – also offer college students psychologically realistic characters that capture their hearts while educating their minds.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, a website dedicated to bringing ideas from academia to the public. Read more analysis on Harry Potter. Georgene Troseth is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University.

Author’s Note: Neither this article nor the college course mentioned herein were prepared, authorized or endorsed by J. K. Rowling, the publishers or distributors of the Harry Potter books, or the creators, producers or distributors of the Harry Potter movies.



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Florida Wants To Help Bullied Kids — Unless They’re Gay


A new anti-bullying program in Florida sounds so good on paper. The first of its kind in the nation, it gives public money to kids who have been victims of bullying and helps them attend private school. Florida Gov. Scott (R) touted it as an example of government stepping in to do good.

“Every child in Florida should have the opportunity to get a great education at the school of their choice so they can achieve their dreams,” Scott said in March upon signing the bill into law.

The only problem is, not all victims are welcome. For some private schools participating in the program, LGBTQ students need not apply.

The Florida Hope Scholarship Program, a voucher program launching this school year, gives up to around $7,000 to individual students who have reported instances of bullying to help them attend a participating private school. Students may also use a smaller transportation scholarship to transfer to a different public school.

However, a HuffPost analysis of private schools that have signed up to participate in the program shows that many of these schools enact their own form of state-sponsored bullying ― by refusing to admit LGBTQ students or outlining punishment for students in same-sex relationships. For this analysis, HuffPost studied the student handbooks and mission statements of schools that signed up for the Hope Scholarship Program.

As of Aug. 1, 2018, nearly 70 schools had signed up to participate in the program, although the organization granting the scholarships says it expects more schools to do so over the course of the next few months.

Of these schools, at least 10 percent have zero-tolerance policies for LGBTQ students.

One school’s student handbook says students are required to refrain from “Any action involving pornography or homosexuality.” Another school’s student handbook says that in addition to prohibiting sex before marriage, “Homosexuality is likewise denounced and is called an abomination to God.”

Beyond discriminatory admissions policies, more than 30 percent of the nearly 70 schools use a curriculum that promotes bigoted views of LGBTQ students. These schools use curricula created by ultra-evangelical companies like Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education. A HuffPost investigation into these curriculum sources found that they promote regressive or hateful ideas about LGBTQ people, women and non-Christians.


Abeka

An eighth-grade U.S. history textbook published by the evangelical Christian publisher Abeka discussing the 2000 election.

The Hope Scholarship Program is one of four private school choice programs in Florida, with the other programs designed to help low-income students or students with disabilities. While the funding mechanisms and specifics of each program vary, they all provide students with taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private institutions. The Hope Scholarship program will be paid for by residents who choose to earmark over $100 to the scholarship when they purchase a new car. The state does not require scholarship recipients to verify reported instances of bullying. 

These voucher programs are a pet cause of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who spent years pouring money into the expansions of these programs and has proposed such a program at the federal level. DeVos has been repeatedly pressed about LGBTQ discrimination in these programs ― and has emphasized the importance of parental choice in these matters.

“The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions,” DeVos said during a hearing in May 2017 when asked about this type of discrimination. “States and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions and framework on behalf of their students.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education Committee in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2018.


Leah Millis/Reuters

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education Committee in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2018.

HuffPost asked the office of Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor who signed the program into law, about the results of its analysis. “Governor Scott does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” Scott’s press secretary Ashley Cook responded.

Public school activists and supporters have long rejected and fought against these types of initiatives, saying they drain the public school system of resources and prop up extreme religious schools with public money. But the Hope Scholarship Program is viewed with particular suspicion because it allows certain private schools to benefit financially from victims’ pain while overtly discriminating against a group of students.

“Choice is a false and cruel promise for far too many children,” Eliza Byard, president of GLSEN, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ students, told HuffPost.

The Not-So-Safe Schools

Westwood Christian School is of the more than 2,000 Florida schools already participating in a private school choice program, and thus eligible to take part in the Hope Scholarship Program ― though it is unclear if the school will participate. 

When Lyana Rodriguez, a former student at Westwood, found out her old school might be part of an anti-bullying scholarship program, she was disturbed. Rodriguez, now 24, had transferred to Westwood after experiencing severe bullying in her middle school ― also a private religious institution. But Westwood was no safe haven, either.

Other students taunted Rodriguez for being too shy and for her appearance. One time, someone stuck a sanitary napkin to her hair. Rodriguez was particularly hurt by her school’s strict teachings about who was considered a “good” Christian.

Rodriguez fought intrusive, obsessive thoughts. She wondered if she was an atheist and then hated herself for entertaining such ideas. She struggled with feelings of same-sex attraction, then swallowed such feelings so deeply that she forced herself to believe she was straight. She had nightmares about being damned to an eternity in hell.

“I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had realized I was bi,” said Rodriguez, who came out in college. “I could only imagine the type of torture it is.”

Indeed, being LGBTQ at Westwood Christian School is not an option.

In the Westwood Christian School handbook, students who believe they are “homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual” are directed to disclose such feelings to the school pastor or administrator and seek counseling through the church. If a student acts on their sexual orientation or chooses not to seek counseling, “the student will be asked to withdraw from school,” says the handbook.

Westwood Christian School also uses curricula created by Abeka and Bob Jones University that furthers this view. The founders of Abeka established Pensacola Christian College, an institution that outlaws homosexuality in its code of conduct along with profanity and transcendental meditation. Bob Jones University Press is connected to Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist college in South Carolina that banned interracial dating until the year 2000. The textbooks these companies produce promote racist versions of history and backward ideas about women and non-Christians.

“We use history textbooks where it said killing all these Native Americans was worth it because they got to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. That was horseshit,” said Rodriguez.

Representatives from Westwood Christian School did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

A Miseducation

The curricula used by many schools participating in the Hope Scholarship Program raise questions about whether these institutions are the best environments for victims of bullying and harassment.

HuffPost found that 21 schools signed up for the program use curricula created by Abeka, Bob Jones University Press or Accelerated Christian Education, three popular evangelical Christian education companies. A HuffPost investigation found that these sources produce materials that are not only educationally unsound ― promoting false views of science and myopic views of history ― but that they promote prejudiced ideas about different races and religions.

An Abeka eighth-grade textbook that HuffPost reviewed disparages Native American ideologies, saying “their stories about the Creation and the Flood were not accurate.”

The textbook later argues that ideas like “evolution” “progressive education” and “modern psychology” had a “devastating effect upon American life.” The textbook also likens homosexuality to a “disgraceful sin,” refers to the “liberal media,” and says environmentalists view “mankind as the enemy of nature.”

A Bob Jones University Press world history textbook for high schoolers takes a similar approach. It disparages Catholicism, saying the religion has problems rooted in “doctrinal error.”

An 11th-grade textbook from Accelerated Christian Education, the most extreme of the three companies in many ways, flippantly describes slavery as “black immigration.” The book refers to immigrants as “aliens” and suggests that God created the Civil War as punishment for “religious apostasy and cultism.”

The textbook later says that women who cut their hair short are ignoring biblical wisdom and that President Barack Obama “promoted an agenda that encouraged lifestyles condemned by God’s Word.”

Professors who have reviewed the curriculum say its teachings provide a slanted, biased view of history while promoting patently false ideas of science.

“The textbook simply distorts history,” David Brockman, a nonresident scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, wrote to HuffPost for our previous investigation after examining Bob Jones and ACE textbooks in December 2017. “And given the biblical command not to bear false witness, I would question whether a distorted history is consistent with Christian teaching.”

When HuffPost asked about these historical inconsistencies, Abeka representatives vigorously defend their product. Representatives from Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education did not respond to requests for comment.

“We recognize that academic scholars have differing opinions on historical/scientific content and that this frequently occurs in both public and private educational institutions as reported in the media,” Brent Phillips, a representative of Abeka, wrote by email several months ago for HuffPost’s previous investigation. “We are confident that our content is accurate, age appropriate, and academically rigorous.”

Still, opponents of school voucher programs in Florida take issue with the fact that public money is being used to bolster schools that use these curricula. In the case of the Hope Scholarship Program, they also worry that the program will fail to stomp out the root cause of bullying, and instead just shuffle victims around from school to school.

Instead of helping children escape certain schools, the scholarship funds should be used to increase counseling and professional development so teachers are better trained on how to deal with these issues, said Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association.

“We’re going to leave the bully in place and this bully is going to pick another student,” McCall told HuffPost.

Supporters of the scholarship are quick to defend it, however.

State Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican, championed the bill that created the Hope scholarship. He says he has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from community members.

Responding to criticism that the program will allow bullies to flourish in public schools, Donalds countered that it will force public schools to double down on their anti-bullying efforts to retain students. And families and students ― including LGBTQ children ― shouldn’t choose a school that is clearly a poor fit, he said.

“The reality is, there are all types of private schools in the state,” Donalds said. “If the parent of a child doesn’t feel comfortable going to a school of choice, well, they don’t have to go to a school of choice. You can’t mandate what a school is going to teach if you want them to be free to have the type of culture they want in their private school.”

For Rodriguez, a bully-free environment only came when she left for her public, secular college. There, she came out as bisexual. She dove headfirst into her love of literature. She became more comfortable in her own skin.

“It was like a taking a plant into the sunshine. They’re going to grow,” said Rodriguez.



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Rice Krispies Treats Just Took A Real Step Toward Inclusivity


Kellogg’s is increasing accessibility to the full joys of Rice Krispies Treats for children with visual impairments.

Last year, the packaged food giant rolled out writable wrappers on individual Rice Krispies Treats so that parents and others could pen encouraging messages for kids to read at school. But those notes wouldn’t reach some 62,000 American schoolchildren who are blind or low-vision, as the company said on its website.

So Rice Krispies announced Tuesday that it has partnered with the National Federation of the Blind to create “Love Notes” in the form of Braille stickers and recordable audio boxes, allowing kids with visual impairments to get a verbal boost with their snacks too. 


Rice Krispies Treats

The Braille stickers come in sheets of eight with preprinted uplifting phrases such as “You’ve Got This” and “Love You Lots.” They’re shaped like a heart, which matches the spot for writing notes on the Rice Krispies wrapper.

Because some children don’t read Braille or respond better to the spoken word, Kellogg’s is also offering a recordable audio box in which to tuck one Rice Krispies Treat. When the box is opened, it plays a 10-second message recorded by mom or dad.


Rice Krispies Treats

According to Kellogg’s, the audio message can be re-recorded more than 1,000 times. That amounts to several school years’ worth of support ― assuming kids bring the boxes home each day. 

The stickers and the audio boxes can be ordered through the Rice Krispies Treats website at no cost while supplies last. 

The Love Notes also honor Will Keith Kellogg, the founder of the Kellogg Company, who lost his sight for the last decade of his life, according to Jessica Waller, vice president of sales and co-chair of the Kapable Business/Employee Resource Group at Kellogg’s. 

“Inclusion is in our DNA, and is now shared through Rice Krispies Treats’ ‘Love Notes,’” Waller said in Tuesday’s press release. “Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”

Other companies have also taken steps toward increasing inclusion for those with physical impairments. Starbucks announced in July that it would be opening a “signing store” in Washington, D.C., where all employees will know and use American Sign Language. The store is set to open in October. 



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University Of Louisville Grad Satirizes Gun-Toting Graduation Pic With Dildo



Haley Davis didn’t just leave the University of Louisville with a bachelor’s of science in criminal justice. She also left with some memorable graduation photos starring her clutching a dildo.

On Monday, the 21-year-old shared two snapshots of herself standing in front of her alma mater’s name with her arm raised, dildo in hand. 

“Come and take it!!!” the now-viral post reads.

The photos of Davis posing with the sex toy, sans context, are humorous, but she told HuffPost that she took them to satirize another graduation photo from this year that also went viral.

In May, Kent State University graduate Kaitlin Bennett posted an image of herself in front of her university’s sign with a rifle affixed to her back and a cap that read, “Come and take it.”

Bennett’s post said that she “should have been” able to carry a gun on her campus but wasn’t allowed to.  

Davis told HuffPost that she wasn’t “enraged” by Bennett’s post, but that she did think, “Dang, this girl takes things too seriously” and that “bringing an assault rifle to the campus is in poor taste.” Those thoughts led her to recreate the photos herself.

“Knowing I would be graduating soon, I wanted to make satire out of her very bold photos just to lighten it up a little bit. I think comedic relief is very valuable and can ease pain people may be feeling,” Davis said.

Bennett, a conservative student activist, called for students to be able to carry concealed weapons during her time at Kent State. She cited the Ohio National Guard’s killing of four unarmed student protesters at Kent State in 1970 as a reason she should be able to carry a weapon. “If the government has it, we should have it. Machine guns — any weaponry,” she told The Washington Post

Though her first image garnered vitriol online, Bennett was undeterred and posted a second one just days later:

Davis says she has “mixed feelings” about gun control and doesn’t feel that she’s fully educated herself on the subject.

“But I personally would not feel comfortable arming myself with a gun,” she told HuffPost. “I also don’t believe it’s necessary for civilians to own assault rifles.”

As for why she chose a dildo to hold, Davis said: “As a feminist, I value sexual liberation and acceptance of sexuality. That, combined with my desire to provide comedic relief, is why I chose to pose with a dildo.”

Davis frequently tweets “comedic things involving sex toys,” she added. 

As for what she’s up to now that school is over, Davis says she’s planning to take “a gap year to work a little bit before pursuing more education.” She says she wants “to pursue family law, but my mind could be changed.”





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