Educators Reinvigorate Organizing and Activism With Art Build

Photo: Joe Brusky

On a typically warm and sunny Saturday last week in Venice, California, Kristie Mitchell sat outside at a table surrounded by Sharpies and a pile of posters. Each one featured the same basic illustration – an outline of an African-American woman and three school-age children with the words “I Stand For” across the top. It was up to Mitchell and the other public school parents and children around the table to decorate the poster with whatever color or flourishes they preferred, but also to include what they believe their school needs the most.

Mitchell had already created two posters – one declared “I Stand For School Nurses Five Days a Week,” the second, “I Stand for Smaller Classes” – and was busy working on a third.

“We need to give teachers a stronger voice,” Mitchell said. “They don’t have the resources to teach our kids. Everybody in the community should help give them more power. When we get together like we are today, that’s what we are doing.”

Mitchell was just one of the many parents who joined hundreds of educators, students, artists, activists and who converged on a three-day community Art Build hosted by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to create protest art supporting public education. The event was held at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a popular community arts center housed in an old art deco building that until the mid-1970s was the Venice Police Station.

A few feet in front of Mitchell at a longer table, a row of educators, parents and students were dipping into tins of black and orange paint to decorate a large banner adorned with the proclamation “Fight For the Schools LA Students Deserve.”

A little further away, a few students had begun applying the first layers of color to four 24-foot parachute banners that cloaked the  outdoor parking lot. At the studio inside, artists were churning out silk screen picket signs with messages denouncing school privatization and corporate greed and championing smaller class sizes and solidarity with educators.

Parents, teachers and students at UTLA’s community Art Build for public education.

“Anyone here is reminded of how much kids love art,” said teacher Julie Van Winkle, “and why we need it in our schools.”

By the time the event wrapped up on Sunday night, participants had produced 8 parachute banners, 1,600 picket signs, 1000 posters, and 30 banners. Every last piece will be carried at a the March for Public Education in downtown Los Angeles on December 15, and a possible UTLA strike in January.

Events like Art Build, said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, are a demonstration of the power of art in social movements and how passionate the people are about public schools  “and the fight we are in.”

“We should take confidence from this. The community is with us.”

Art in Action

Art Build is a “transformative experience” for educators and their allies, says Nate Gunderson, an organizer with the National Education Association. Gunderson, who organized the UTLA event, witnessed the first Art Build in Milwaukee in 2017, and helped coordinate subsequent events in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gunderson believes Art Builds, regardless of the location, inspire educators and communities and open up new paths for advocacy and union organizing.

“It’s the creativity, the collaboration, the inherent power of art, and the democratization of images and messages,” says Gunderson.

Joe Brusky, a fourth grade teacher in Milwaukee and member of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, was instrumental in organizing that city’s Art Build and was onhand in Los Angeles documenting UTLA’s event on social media. He recalls how Art Build became “entry point” into the union for many educators.

“The event energized them,” Brusky says. “Afterwards, people were getting involved for the first time. I remember seeing them at Art Build and then suddenly they were at school board meetings.”

UTLA Art Build 2018


Where there is grassroots support for public eduction, there is potential for an Art Build. The Oakland Education Association (OEA) will be hosting its own event on January 18-20. OEA President Keith Brown visited UTLA’s Art Build to lend his support and preview some of the logistics.

The Social and Public Art Resource Center was an ideal partner. SPARC not only provides studios for silk screen and digital printing and the necessary outdoor space to unfurl 24-foot parachute banners, but offers invaluable guidance to organizations looking to create public art for social change.

Last November, Gunderson put out a call for educators, artists and activists to submit images and slogans promoting public education. The Art Build Committee reviewed the submissions and selected those that would go on to form the basis of the posters, banners, picket signs and parachute banners that were delivered to SPARC in December.

Gloria Martinez, UTLA Elementary Vice President, was struck not only by the creativity of students and parents in bringing these objects to life, but by the conversations they were having.

“You ask students what they wanted for their schools, and they came up with these long lists,” Martinez recalled. “Smaller class sizes, more art, or just more money for schools in general. And their parents are listening to them. It’s great to hear them and their children talk about our issues and then use those discussions creatively.”

A LAUSD student gets a silkscreening lesson at Art Build. (Photo: Joe Brusky)

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, it was important that everyone understood that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“Projects like this, when we come together with the community, show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda explained.

There’s something else about Art Build, said Cecily Myart-Cruz, UTLA/NEA Vice-President, that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Yes, it takes our activism and our visibility to the next level. But you know what? This is a also stress-reliever for our members. They need this. It’s fun and will build resiliency. It’s been a difficult time and we may have a lot more work to do in January.”

“We All Want the Same Thing”

Myart-Cruz is referring to a possible strike early in 2019. In August, UTLA’s 33,000 members voted overwhelmingly (98%!) to authorize such an action if an agreement between teachers and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cannot be reached.

After two years of negotiations, educators are refusing to retreat from their demand that LAUSD end an era of austerity and privatization that has starved public education across the city.

The situation was exacerbated in May when the Los Angeles school board selected  Austin Beutner as district superintendent. Beutner is the quintessential corporate “reformer”: a billionaire investment banker with zero experience in school or district leadership and a tireless appetite for school privatization. He has dismissed calls to slow down the expansion of charter schools (which currently cost the district more than $600 million annually) and refuses to tap into the district’s $1.6 billion reserves to properly fund the city’s schools.

“We are in a battle between Austin Beutner’s vision to downsize the public school district and our vision to reinvest in the public school district,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl wrote to the membership in November.

Unless UTLA stays strong, he warned, Beutner will be back for “another pound pound of flesh every year in a downsizing plan that includes layoffs, school closures, cuts to services, and healthcare cuts.”

From the start, the successful forging of partnerships – a tenet of “bargaining for the common good – has strengthened UTLA’s resolve and its position. The bond between parents, their children and educators at Art Build is striking, said Julie Van Winkle.

“We’re all on the same side. We want the same thing. We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” Van Winkle said as she motioned to a group of students hard at work on a banner that read “Give Our Kids a Chance.”

By Sunday night, that banner would be complete, ready to be added to the abundant stockpile of strike ready art. Next stop: downtown Los Angeles for the March for Public Education.

If a massive rally of educators, students, parents and community members doesn’t push the district into an agreement with UTLA, then there will be a strike, but “it will then be a strike of the city, not just of a strike of teachers,” said Caputo-Pearl,

“And if we’re on the picket lines in January, then this art will again be right there with us.”

Posters and Banners from UTLA Art Build

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One Of Her Classmates Died By Suicide. Then Another. Then She Said ‘Enough.’

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kansas ― Josh Hoston’s friends thought he’d had a fun summer. They were about to be high school freshmen, and the group was buzzing with anticipation. Then, days before classes started, Hoston killed himself.

“His mom found him in the basement,” says 18-year-old Bella Price, one of his good friends and a classmate. “It was a big shock.”

Hoston was popular and smart, according to people in Spring Hill, a tiny town of about 5,000 in Johnson County. He played football and basketball and even set a middle school record running track. He had a loving family. His friends couldn’t make sense of what happened, says Price.

The next summer, another member of Price’s class at Spring Hill High also died by suicide. This second death shattered the community.

Over the last two decades, the suicide rate in America has risen 33 percent, according to statistics released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country’s life expectancy has declined over the last several years, and suicides are the biggest culprit, after drug overdoses. Among young people specifically, suicide is a leading cause of death.

Johnson County — a predominantly white, affluent set of suburbs near Kansas City — saw itself as one of the most desirable places to live in the sprawling metropolitan area. So suicide was not a topic people here were prepared to confront. Since 2017, at least 14 students have taken their own lives, compared with five student suicides in the previous two years. Each new death brought a fresh wave of helplessness and isolation.

In response, the community is coming together to pull back the curtain on the uncomfortable topic of teen suicide and address it directly.

Last spring, superintendents across the county’s six school districts formed a coalition to make suicide prevention a top priority in schools. Over the next few months, the group met with mental health professionals, law enforcement, hospitals and faith leaders to come up with a plan to train students, teachers and parents to identify a young person in need and how to get them help.

“We decided we need to come out and publicly talk about this,” said Todd White, superintendent of the Blue Valley School District, where five students died by suicide between the spring of 2017 and spring of 2018. “We need to stop making suicide a subject that’s taboo and let the kids help us figure out what to do.”

It was White who first convened the superintendents. Their effort has since expanded beyond school walls, touching many aspects of life in the county. Though it’s too soon to tell how effective it’s been, the CDC says many suicides can be prevented if more people understand the warning signs and ways to intervene.

Dr. John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says communities need to talk openly about suicide. “We don’t want to be pulling drowning kids out of a river. We want to make sure they’re not jumping into the rapids in the first place,” he says.

Here are stories from some of those whose lives have been touched by teen suicide and who have engaged in the effort to prevent more deaths.

The Student

Jill Toyoshiba for HuffPost

Price shows her phone screensaver, which features a photo of her and some friends, including Hoston.

The screensaver on Bella Price’s phone features a photo of her friends, a grinning bunch crowded together on her family’s basement steps. Bella’s at the top, her red wavy hair tumbling down over her shoulders. Josh Hoston is right next to her with a mile-wide smile and his muscular athlete’s arms folded across his knees.

Three years after his death, Price and her friends are still grappling with the loss. The suicide of another classmate, Tai’Shaughn Mathews, would eventually push Price to action. This fall, she became part of the “teen council,” a group of students from the six school districts in Johnson County who have come together to see how they can work to prevent any more of their friends and classmates from taking their own lives.

They’re learning how to identify trusted adults and encouraging kids to tell someone when they’re worried about a friend or classmate. They’re studying warning signs from peers and working on a prevention campaign dubbed #zeroreasonswhy to change perceptions and behaviors associated with suicide.

“I want to be someone that people feel comfortable bringing their problems to, that someone felt that they could go to if they ever felt like there was no other way out,” Price says.  

“Everyone wishes that they could have reassured Josh that like, ‘Hey, you could have come to me and I would have helped you with anything, no matter what.’”

The Family

Nathan and Sylvia Harrell lost their 17-year-old son, Chad, to suicide. A favorite photo (right) shows Chad as a 2-year-old b

Jill Toyoshiba for HuffPost

Nathan and Sylvia Harrell lost their 17-year-old son, Chad, to suicide. A favorite photo (right) shows Chad as a 2-year-old being comforted by his older sister, Melanie.

Seventeen-year-old Chad Harrell was angry his parents wouldn’t let him go to a party on a Sunday night in June last year. The Friday before, they’d found out he’d been drinking and driving. His parents, Sylvia and Nathan, said they weren’t grounding him, but they thought it was not appropriate he go to a party just two days later. Besides, they’d planned a family night with his big sister.

Chad stuck around but when he was disengaged and silent, his dad sent him to his room.

Later that night, his parents stopped by his room to say goodnight. He still seemed steamed. They told him they loved him and went to bed.

Knowing Chad was upset, his mother opened his door to check on him just after midnight. Chad had killed himself.

“And that was the moment this unending nightmare began,” Sylvia said.

Both parents said they were completely broadsided by Chad’s choice.  

“We were the closest family I know,” Nathan said. “He didn’t take drugs. He wasn’t a substance abuser. He was a fun-loving kid with a great sense of humor and great friends.”

Now they’re reaching for any possible insights that might explain the loss.

“Chad’s personality from the time he was 2 was independent,” Sylvia said. “He’d always say ‘I do it, I do it,’ if it was holding his hand while we crossed the street or putting butter on his bread.”

The Harrells created a foundation called Keep the Spark Alive after losing their 17-year-old son, Chad (pictured), to suicide

Jill Toyoshiba for HuffPost

The Harrells created a foundation called Keep the Spark Alive after losing their 17-year-old son, Chad (pictured), to suicide.

The suicide haunts Chad’s 20-year-old sister, Melanie, too. They were best friends. She was in her room across the hall when he took his life. He’d sometimes mention to her that he felt sad but didn’t know why, that he had everything he wanted.

“I hate the idea he was right across the hall in his room and struggling so much,” she said. “I would be there in a heartbeat anytime he needed me, and that he felt so alone and couldn’t reach out is hard.”  

The family has gone over and over how they might have missed any warning signs.

“All his friends came over the next day,” Sylvia said. “I asked them what they thought God was saying to Chad. Was he saying, ‘Chad, good job! Way to go!’ They were crying and shaking their heads. They knew he’d made just one final, irreversible bad choice.”

Friends created a GoFundMe account that raised $90,000 after Chad’s death. The family sponsored a golf tournament and raised another $150,000 to fund a new curriculum for students in elementary, middle and high school. It’s designed to encourage kids to talk about their own sadness, depression or anxiety. For the older students, programs will start this winter to reduce stigma around mental health and engage parents and school staff as partners in suicide prevention. The Harrells have created a foundation called Keep the Spark Alive, after Chad’s nickname. The family is in the early stages of collaborating with other efforts across Johnson County targeting the teen suicide epidemic.

“From the minute we lost Chad, we said the only way we’re really going to get through this is to try and make a difference,” Sylvia said. “To give these young people the tools to help each other reach out when suicide seems like the only option.”

The Pastor

Adam Hamilton is pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in the Johnson County suburb of Leawood. Hamilton says

Jill Toyoshiba for HuffPost

Adam Hamilton is pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in the Johnson County suburb of Leawood. Hamilton says he’€™s done 32 funerals for young and older people who’€™ve taken their own lives in the last two years.

When school superintendents in Johnson County were discussing how to address the rising number of teen suicides, one of the first people they contacted was Pastor Adam Hamilton of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in the town of Leawood.

Hamilton is nationally recognized as a pot-stirrer among his largely Republican flock, unafraid to tackle thorny issues like poverty or suicide.

Hamilton says he’s conducted 32 funerals for young and older people who’ve taken their lives in the past two years. That’s more than he did over his last two decades at the church.

“One thing you recognize when you’re doing a funeral for a teenager,” he said, “is there are a whole lot of other teenagers there who’ve also walked through dark circumstances and the likelihood they will see suicide as an option has increased dramatically. So we have to deal with that.”

At a time when young people are said to be leaving the church, the charismatic pastor has been able to attract thousands of youth at four campuses across the Kansas City metro area.

He talks to them about reading the suicide note his grandmother left when his mother was just 16.

“I tell them she really felt she was doing them a service, relieving them of caring for her and her depression,” he says. “I tell them that the impact of her suicide is being felt by her family 60 years later.”

The church has started education and awareness programs in the wake of the increase in teen suicides. It’s held large and small meetups with counselors, mental health professionals and testimonials from survivors.

Hamilton hopes to switch the dialogue, to talk boldly and honestly about suicide to a generation accustomed to seeing an unvarnished version of life on social media.

“We had a video of a man who’d jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and talks about regretting it the moment he jumped,” Hamilton said. “If we’re not talking about this from a theological, spiritual and pastoral perspective, then we’re missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle around the number of teen suicides.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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Muslim Student Said College Expelled Her For Wearing A Hijab

A young Muslim college student in Tennessee has been expelled from school simply for wearing a hijab, a civil rights organization said. 

On Tuesday, Muslim Advocates and a local law firm sent a letter to the Georgia Career Institute, demanding the college refund Linde McAvoy’s tuition and amend its dress code. 

According to the letter, staff had told McAvoy that her hijab didn’t adhere to the college’s dress code. McAvoy said staff members repeatedly harassed her and told her she was not allowed to wear her covering even after she explained to school’s administrators that she wore it as a part of her religious beliefs.

“It’s incredibly important for Muslim women to wear the hijab and get educated. We don’t think those things are antithetical. We don’t think that wearing the hijab is inherently unprofessional,” Nimra Azmi, a staff attorney at Muslim Advocates told HuffPost.

The school’s dress code policy does not prohibit religious head coverings; the only specified requirement is that students dressed “professionally” and wore solid black attire according to the student handbook.

McAvoy said that she still dressed professionally, wearing black slacks, black shirt and a neatly-tied black hijab.

The 21-year-old also said that the college president Joyce Meadows forcibly removed her from classes and sent her home. Meadows told McAvoy that if she wanted to continue to finish her studies at the school with the hijab – she needed to provide a note of external confirmation that she wore the hijab for religious reasons.

But McAvoy refused to provide confirmation, she said, because she believed she was adhering to the dress code, which did not state students had to present any letter.  

“I was expelled in a public space. It made the environment feel very hostile. It was pretty intimidating to have to choose [between] the career I’m trying to pursue and do for the rest of my life versus the religion that I’m following and hold dear to me and want to do well in,” said McAvoy. “I definitely felt targeted.” 

Meadows told HuffPost the allegations were “unfounded” in a statement and said the school’s “staff, students and graduates represent every possible cultural, racial and religious group. No one has ever been expelled from the Institute for requirements of a religion.”

She said she could not elaborate further due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – a federal law that protects the privacy of student records.

It’s incredibly important for Muslim women to wear the hijab and get educated. We don’t think those things are antithetical. We don’t think that wearing the hijab is inherently unprofessional.
Nimra Azmi, a staff attorney at Muslim Advocates

GCI is a for-profit school. The letter alleged the school violated federal civil rights law because it receives federal funding; specifically in the form of federal loans from McAvoy and other students. Receiving those funds, the letter said, makes the school bound to Title IX, which is a civil rights law prohibits educational programs from discrimination on the basis of sex.

McAvoy was excited to jumpstart her studies at the institute that trains students in cosmetology and other areas. A year after McAvoy began studying at the school, she converted to Islam and decided to wear the hijab. She said she was nervous about becoming a hijab-wearing student. She specifically worried that some students would taunt her for new religious beliefs. But it turned out her peers didn’t give her any issues. It was the staff.

“Immediately there were problems on day one,” McAvoy told HuffPost over the phone. “I was expecting more problems maybe from the students but definitely not from the teachers. That definitely came as a shock to me.”

McAvoy’s lawyers are now seeking a full-tuition refund on her behalf and implementation of anti-discrimination training for all the staff and its owner. 

“It is illegal to discriminate against Muslim women who want to wear the hijab. It is unjust to do so. Wearing the hijab isn’t somehow in opposition to receiving an education or growing your career,” said Azmi. “All women should have the opportunities regardless of how they dress themselves in accordance to their faith.”

This story has been updated with a statement from Meadows.

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Study Hopes To Help Lead-Exposed Children Before Learning Disparities Emerge

Illinois child advocates have created a first-of-its-kind early intervention pilot study to provide lead-exposed young children with the support to overcome potential learning disabilities and developmental delays before they manifest in school.

The three-year study, which began in late summer and is currently enrolling children in three Illinois communities, targets infants and toddlers before they begin K-12 schools, the period when educational learning disparities typically emerge as the children begin to learn lessons that require higher cognitive skills.

The pilot’s goal is to show the usefulness of early intervention so that all Illinois children with blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or higher would be automatically eligible for early intervention services at the point when a child’s developing brain is best able to overcome the negative neurocognitive effects of lead exposure.

“We know the successes that come from early intervention for children who have not been lead-exposed, and we know the negative impacts on development from lead exposure, that we have a moral imperative to offer [early intervention] as soon as possible,” said Amy  Zimmerman, one of the pilot’s creators and the director of children and families partnerships for the Legal Council for Health Justice, a Chicago-based nonprofit that partners with health providers to address the legal needs of patients to ensure positive health outcomes.  

Ultimately, the study’s creators hope the pilot, which is funded by the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation and the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, can be replicated across the country as a national learning collaborative. The study also offers service providers with guidelines on how to effectively provide intervention to lead-exposed children.

Nationally, there are no widespread interventions that address the effects of lead on a child’s brain development, a gap the pilot hopes to fill, said Zimmerman. Early intervention is a federal program in every state that targets children with disabilities in the crucial developmental period between birth and 3 years of age, and provides developmental services, such as behavioral therapy. It also provides parents with the tools to support their child’s development.  

Early intervention was established under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to reduce developmental delays among young children.

Currently, only some states ― and not Illinois ― offer automatic eligibility for early intervention to lead-exposed children, despite the recommendation by a group of experts in a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that lead-exposed children should have streamlined access to assessment, intervention and special education services.  

And existing early intervention programs operate under a deficit-driven model where children’s delays aren’t addressed until they manifest, said Zimmerman. If a child were to be automatically qualified for early intervention based on lead exposure as the new study recommends, service providers could then work with families to support the child’s development before they enter K-12.   

“That’s a real practice shift for early interventionists to go from a deficit-driven mode to a proactive, interventionist mode,” Zimmerman said.

The idea for the pilot study stemmed from a discovery made by a working group, led by Legal Council for Health Justice, that conducted a survey of states that offer automatic early intervention eligibility for lead-exposed children.

Even among the 18 states that do offer automatic eligibility, none offers guidance about how services should be provided to lead-exposed children, and some of those states only offer the support after the child shows signs of delay, the Illinois working group found.

That approach misses a crucial period to help a lead-exposed child, says one of the pilot’s co-creators, Nicole Hamp, a third-year pediatric resident at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Hamp points out that children who have been exposed to lead have lower IQ levels, difficulty with attention and language processing, and behavioral and emotional problems issues that typically emerge only once a child starts school.

During training, the pilot teaches parents that their child may not necessarily exhibit any obvious symptoms, particularly with low levels of exposure. That way parents understand that even if their child is not showing delays at an early age, intervening early can make a difference later in school.

The hope, said Hamp, is that if children receive this early intervention that later they can function at the same level as their school peers, preventing the educational delays and other issues that researchers have found among lead-exposed children.

Some of the long-term impacts for lead-exposed children include an increased need for special education services, a greater likelihood of having reading disabilities, and increased school absenteeism and high school dropout rates, according to a recently published article in the Pediatric Annals journal co-authored by Zimmerman, Hamp and Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School student Jessica Hoffen.  

One of Zimmerman’s goals is also to impart hope to parents who might assume that lead exposure equals a life sentence for their child.

Early intervention “really offers that hope to change that child’s developmental trajectory,” Zimmerman said.


A 2-year-old California girl plays in soil that tested positive for hazardous levels of lead. In a new Illinois pilot study, advocates hope to make environmental factors a stronger determinant for early intervention support.

To ensure that lead-exposed children are connected with early intervention services, a key component of the pilot is working directly with service providers to emphasize the importance of taking a child’s environmental history during pediatrician visits by the time the child is mobile, and following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to check a child’s blood lead levels at the ages of 1 and 2 years.

Research has shown that, nationally, pediatricians are not following through on these recommendations. And in Illinois in 2015, only about 26 percent of the children under age 5 received a blood lead test, Hamp said. That percentage should be at least twice as high, she said, noting that 50 percent of Illinois children are on Medicaid and must be tested at those ages according to federal requirements.

During the span of the study, the early childhood experts at the Erikson Institute in Chicago will also evaluate the service guidelines by doing surveys and focus groups to make improvements during the pilot, and will be studying the outcomes of the study’s participants.

This is an important component, said health justice scholar Emily Benfer, who pointed out that the 2015 CDC report on educational interventions for lead-exposed children found that researchers had yet to study the effect that early intervention and educational supports have on lead-exposed children.   

There are many studies that show how early intervention affects developmental delays, autism and speech delays, for example, so there are positive indications that early intervention will likewise make a difference for lead-exposed children, said Benfer, who is a visiting associate clinical professor of law at Columbia University Law School where she directs the health justice advocacy clinic.

“We know for a fact … that children who go through early intervention with those diagnoses, they are much better throughout school than children with the same diagnoses that didn’t get that intervention,” Benfer said. “So that’s why early intervention makes a lot of sense for lead poisoning.”

Providing early intervention would likely save money in the long run. In Illinois, early intervention costs an average of $5,000 to $6,000 per child, according to Zimmerman, who said this is significantly less expensive than what it costs to serve a child in special education.

Despite a consensus among child advocates and experts that primary prevention is the best way to protect children from lead exposure, funding remains the primary roadblock for locating and remediating environmental lead contamination.  

“To prevent lead poisoning in the United States for future generations will require a 100 percent commitment on the part of federal, state, local governments and individuals across the country. And I don’t think that we have reached that level of commitment yet,” Benfer said.

This makes early intervention services paramount, she said.

For now, Hamp and Zimmerman said they will focus on the children who continue to be exposed to lead so that they don’t start school behind their peers, or fall behind as their lessons become more challenging.

“Early intervention, in my eyes, is one of the best things we can do for a child who is at risk,” Hamp said. “Because it sets them up for success down the road so that they can contribute to society and become the best version of themselves.”

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Middle School Student Dumps Trump From His Name After Relentless Bullying

A middle school student in Delaware has been allowed to change his surname after enduring relentless bullying from his peers.

Joshua Trump, who is not related to President Donald Trump, will now be known at school as Joshua Berto after dropping his mother’s surname for his father’s. 

The 11-year-old’s parents told ABC affiliate WPVI that the bullying of their son had been relentless and first started when Donald Trump began his presidential campaign. 

“He said he hates himself, and he hates his last name, and he feels sad all the time, and he doesn’t want to live feeling like that anymore, and as a parent that’s scary,” his mother, Megan Trump, said. 

Talley Middle School in Wilmington agreed to immediately change Trump’s last name in their system in the hope that it will put an end to the ridicule.

“I do know the teachers were aware of the last name, and I know in speaking with the student that the teachers do their very best to try not to say his last name,” Principal Mark Mayer said. 

Five students have reportedly been disciplined by the school, which said it would put support mechanisms in place for Joshua to report any future bullying. 

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Former Baylor Frat President Accused Of Rape Is Banned From Commencement In Texas

Jacob Walter Anderson, a former fraternity president at Baylor University who was given a controversial plea deal after being accused of drugging and raping a woman, was banned from a commencement ceremony at his new school on Wednesday.

“There is nothing more important at UT Dallas than the safety and security of our students,” Richard Benson, president of the University of Texas at Dallas, where Anderson is a student, said in a statement. “Based on recent court action and other information over the last several days, the student will not participate in UTD commencement activities, will not attend UT Dallas graduate school and will not be present on campus as a student or as a guest.”

Anderson was accused of the assault against an unnamed 19-year-old in 2016. He initially faced two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine after being indicted on four counts of sexual assault but was later offered a plea for a lesser charge, which he accepted. This week, a judge handed him a $400 fine, a recommended three years’ probation and ongoing psychological, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, but no jail time.


Anderson pleaded no contest to unlawful restraint in exchange for four counts of sexual assault being dropped against him in October.

The light sentence drew widespread outcry, and the University of Texas said in response that Anderson would not be able to attend the school’s graduation proceedings next week. The university said in a statement that it admitted him two years ago “without knowing [his] legal history.”

Anderson was expelled from Baylor after a separate university investigation into the sexual assault claim.

The alleged victim in the case, identified only as Donna Doe in court records, addressed Anderson and the presiding judge in court during the sentencing.

“I am devastated by your decision to let my rapist Jacob Walter Anderson go free without any punishment,” Doe told Texas State District Judge Ralph Strother, according to a report by the “Today” show.

Her attorney, Vic Feazell, told a local news outlet he had “never, ever seen such a sweetheart deal for a defendant” like Anderson.

“It pays to be rich and white in McLennan County when you’re charged with a crime,” Feazell told KWTX-TV in Waco, Texas.

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HBCUs as Engines of Upward Mobility

A recent study showing that low-income students who attend minority-serving institutions, like historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), are more likely to climb the economic ladder than their peers who opt to attend predominantly white institutions (PWIs) doesn’t surprise the faculty who have dedicated themselves to those students.

The difference is in the quality of relationships between students and faculty mentors, they say. “Climate surveys show that HBCU students leave more confident, more satisfied, and more motivated because they’ve had this one-on-one mentoring with faculty, and the faculty is more diverse,” says Elizabeth Davenport, a professor in the college of education at Alabama State University, an HBCU in Montgomery, Ala.

The paper, called “Minority Serving Institutions as Engines of Upward Mobility,” published by the American Council on Education using data from the Equality of Opportunity Project at Stanford University, looked at the income of students’ parents when those students entered college and compared it to the students’ own income at age 30. They found that income-mobility rates—or the rate at which institutions move their students from the lowest-income quintile to the top quintile—are two to three times higher at minority-serving institutions.

The study notes that this success occurs despite the fact that these institutions, which include Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges, often are educating the “country’s most vulnerable students” with limited institutional budgets. Indeed, a NEA study last year, “A Looming Crisis for HBCUs?” found that federal funding for HBCUs lingers behind other, predominantly white land-grand institutions, and is falling faster. And faculty are more poorly paid, too.

At Jackson State University, an HBCU in Jackson, Miss., department chair Marilyn Evans estimates about 75 percent of the students in her elementary and early education classes are first-generation or low-income students.

Do they get more support on her campus than they would a PWI?

“Of course they do!” she says.

The HBCU Mission

In 2015, the nation’s minority-serving institutions enrolled about 4.8 million students, or 28 percent of all undergraduates, the report found. Many come from America’s poorest families: about one in four HBCU students grew up in the very lowest income quintile. This poverty rate is about three times higher than the rate at predominantly white institutions. Meanwhile, about half of students at minority-serving institutions are the first in their family to go to college.

In these ways, HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions look like the future—and their success can be a roadmap. As the nation’s demographics evolve, within a decade black, Hispanic and other ethnic-minority students are expected to account for nearly half of all college students in the U.S., the study says. In California today, two-thirds of college students are people of color. At the same time, the jobs of the future are more likely to require a college degree.

It is, and always has been, the HBCU mission to welcome students without economic or racial privilege, and make sure they graduate, ready to succeed. “It’s about mission. You have to remember that HBCUs attract, just by their mission, students with lower socio-economic status and first-generation college students,” says Davenport. “And then, second, once we get them, our mission requires them to graduate.”

Elizabeth Davenport

Elizabeth Davenport

This often means smaller class sizes, intensive faculty support, close-knit student communities, and a more diverse faculty who more often look like students. When HBCU students, faculty and alumni talk about their campuses, they say things like, “What you have here is a family.”

This is the not-so-secret formula for success, say researchers. “A substantial body of research, conducted over more than 50 years, makes clear that faculty-student interaction is a key factor in promoting student success, particularly among those students who most need support, such as first-generation college students and students of color,” wrote Adrianna Kezar and Dan Maxey in NEA’s Thought & Action journal. (This is why, they note, “major consideration” should be paid to supporting faculty, too.)

But this doesn’t mean HBCUs don’t have challenges. Their successes often are drowned out by stories of their financial challenges. And often “performance” funding formulas used by state legislatures often focus on metrics that disadvantage HBCUs, like the amount of student debt among graduates, and don’t include other measures that would point to HBCUs’ unheralded strengths—like the rate of income mobility among graduates.

The report highlighted a few institutions that do particularly well at income mobility. They include Alabama State University, Davenport’s institution, which has a mobility rate of about 24 percent.

“People say to me, ‘Dr. Davenport, you went to a PWI!’ and I say, ‘I knew there was something lacking in my experience!’” says Davenport, whose degrees include a J.D. from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree from New York University, and a Ph.D. from Michigan State.

“At Michigan, I was to meet Michigan where they were at,” she explains. “Here (at Alabama State), as a faculty member and mentor, I’m meeting the student where they’re at.”

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Neutrality in the Classroom Shortchanges Students

When teaching about U.S. elections or politics many educators will strive for neutrality. They may insist these discussions have no place in the classroom, while others argue that standardization and a lack of time make them a non-starter. Even if there was an opening, the slightest hint of bias could attract the ire of an administrator or parent. In this hyper-polarized political climate, that’s a line that’s easy to stumble across.

All this neutrality or avoidance may work for the teacher – but what about the student?

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, believes that a strict adherence to “neutrality” – not expressing your views to students and/or avoiding political topics – is a tactic that can actually marginalize many students.

Neutrality is itself a political choice, Dunn argues, and is one that bolsters the status quo. What results is a classroom that potentially ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of many students.

To be clear, Dunn is not talking about a teacher who stands in front of the class and reads aloud endorsements for local, state and federal political office and then urges students to go home and tell their parents to vote accordingly.

The kind of neutrality that concerns Dunn is, for example, a decision to avoid discussion of  “controversial” issues – racism, inequity, climate change, or gun violence, for example – out of fear of appearing political or partisan.

Education, at it’s core, is inherently political, says Dunn.

“Everything in education—from the textbooks to the curriculum to the policies that govern teachers’ work and students’ learning—is political and ideologically-informed,” she explains. “Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.”

Especially after as the election of Donald Trump.

Although political polarization didn’t begin with his candidacy, Trump’s incendiary, crude, and divisive rhetoric about race, religion, gender, and immigration that marked his campaign (and his presidency) has been deeply unsettling to many, if not most, Americans.

“I don’t care what my school administration says. My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 2016 presidential campaign had a “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms…particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.”

Yet, as Dunn and her colleagues Beth Sondel of the University of Pittsburgh and Hannah Carson Baggett of Auburn University concluded in a recent paper, many teachers continue to feel pressured to remain neutral when discussing Trump and are generally uncomfortable addressing racial and social justice issues in the classroom.

“This pressure (to stay neutral) is reflective of the lack of trust, autonomy and professionalism for teachers in our current climate,” the study, published in the  American Educational Research Journal, concludes.

The researchers surveyed 730 teachers from 43 states to gauge how their pedagogical choices were affected after the election.

Some respondents made it very clear they did not adhere to what they saw as misdirected directives from school or district officials to stay away from anything Trump-related.

One middle school teacher explained that despite the fear many of his students had of deportation and harassment, “my school, tied by a never-ending desire to remain ‘unbiased,’ did nothing and told teachers to limit conversations about the elections because such conversations were not included [in the standards].”

“I don’t care what my school administration says,” the teacher continued.  “My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

Generally, however, responses from educators were littered with words such as  “fearful,” “anxious,” “unsure,” and “scared,” even as they acknowledged that a more engaged, proactive approach in the classroom may be necessary.

One educator from Massachusetts summed up the dilemma this way:

“Trump unlike any other presidential candidate stands for everything I work to combat: racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. My students fall into categories of people he wants removed or controlled, in his America. I do not know how to talk to my students about this and be neutral (as per country policy).”

According to the study, teaching after the election was most challenging for those who were “ideological outsiders” – Clinton voters in areas where the majority of voters were pro-Trump and vice versa.

“Teachers had to negotiate if and how to talk about their own beliefs knowing that their students’ parents and/or colleagues may disagree with them,” Dunn says.

For example, an elementary teacher from a predominantly White school in Michigan explained,

“I always feel nervous explicitly discussing politics in my classroom due to the variety of views of my students’ parents and my own fear that parents will be upset or complain about me if my own view come up explicitly in classroom lessons/discussions. I know I have students whose parents supported both candidates passionately and I do sort of feel a responsibility to respect their parents’ views (no matter how much I may disagree)”.

It doesn’t help that so much of our discourse is labelled “political” or “partisan,” including discussions about human rights and social justice. Pedagogical choices, the researchers argue, should not be confined by this false construct.

“Making justice-oriented pedagogical choices is not about partisanship or controversy but, rather, is reflective of an overarching commitment to equity,” they write.

Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.” – Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Michigan State University

Anchoring discussions to a justice and equity framework can provide educators with a path forward. Still, many of the respondents in the survey did not feel particularly well-prepared to take this on, let alone publicly challenge the presumed virtues of a neutral classroom. The study concludes that teacher training programs need to better prepare educators in adapting their classrooms to help students understand current events and political upheavals. The researchers recommend that current teachers, especially those “ideological outsiders,” seek out networks across schools and districts that can serve as “restorative and supportive communities.”

While Dunn and her colleagues are careful not to downplay the pressures educators face, they emphasize that, ultimately, teachers are charged with preparing their students to work toward a more democratic society.

With 2019 and 2020 shaping up to be just as tumultuous as the previous few years, what are the chances more educators will feel empowered and better prepared to talk politics (for lack of a better word) in their classrooms?

Don’t count on the administration to lead the way, at least not yet. “Districts are still issuing bureaucratic demands on teachers that take their time away from the most important thing they can do in the classroom: create responsive and relevant curriculum for their students,” explains Dunn.

And while too many parents still believe the classroom door should always be shut to any political discussion, they may be “ignoring the reality that such a move is never really possible,” Dunn says.

teaching controversial issuesTeaching the ‘Hard History’ Behind Today’s News
For educators, uncomfortable discussions come with the territory. The challenge is to help students grapple with controversial issues without turning into enemies. The job is also to prepare people with multiple points of view to survive and thrive in self-government.

NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education.

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An ‘(Unintentional) Grinch’ Tried To Ban Christmas From The Classroom

An elementary school principal from Omaha, Nebraska has been placed on administrative leave after directing teachers to refrain from celebrating Christmas in the classroom. 

In a memo circulated to educators at Manchester Elementary School late last month, Principal Jennifer Sinclair said that she came “from a place that Christmas and the like are not allowed in schools.”

Sinclair ― who signed the memo as “The (Unintentional) Grinch who stole Christmas (from Manchester)” ― also included a detailed list of “acceptable” and “not acceptable” practices for classrooms. 

Sinclair deemed candy canes unacceptable because she felt that “historically, the shape is a “J” for Jesus. The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his resurrection.”

Liberty Counsel, a right-wing evangelical organization, sent a letter to the school district’s superintendent after obtaining a copy of the memo.

Arguing that Sinclair’s policy “violates the U.S. Constitution by showing hostility toward Christianity,” the organization urged the “reversal of the comprehensive ban on all Christmas holiday symbols.”

In a statement obtained by local NBC affiliate WOWT, the Elkhorn Public Schools District said that the issue had been “promptly addressed” and that Sinclair’s memo did not reflect the district’s policy “regarding holiday symbols in the school.”

Sinclair also sent an email to parents last Wednesday in which she said she had “mistakenly sent out an internal staff memo detailing what can and cannot be done in a public school surrounding the holiday season.”

“I wanted to reach out and make sure our families understand what occurred, and what has been done to correct the issue,” she said. 

Speaking to a spokeswoman for the school district, CNN reports Sinclair had been placed on administrative leave as of last Thursday.

“Principal Sinclair was in her first year as an employee at Elkhorn Public Schools,” she said. “Due to the fact that this is an ongoing personnel issue, the district cannot comment further.”

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Antiquated Or Integral? Ohio Students May Soon Have To Learn Cursive

Could cursive be making a comeback? 

Students in Ohio may be required to learn the craft after the state’s senate passed House Bill 58 last Thursday. 

The bill, according to local NBC affiliate WCMH-TV, would allocate resources to schools allowing for the development and implementation of a curriculum to teach cursive handwriting. 

While some question the relevance of the handwriting style in the age of the computer, students from more than 10 states are still required to learn cursive, with Alabama and Louisiana joining the list in 2016

Florida also made it part of the learning requirements for children in the third, fourth and fifth grades, The New York Times reported

The curriculum, which will be optional for Ohio schools to implement, would be aimed at children in kindergarten through to the fifth grade.

According to CBS, students would be required to print letters legibly by the third grade and write in cursive by the end of elementary school. 

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My Son Is A ‘Gifted Child.’ Here’s Why Raising Him Has Been Anything But Easy.

We knew pretty early on that our son was a little different. At a young age, he’d go up to other kids on the playground and speak in proper sentences: “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m 18 months. How old are you?” By age 3, he understood multiplication and division. By age 4, he was writing stories and reading books. One day he came home from preschool raving about the “delicious cylinder-shaped snack.” (It was a tortilla wrap, we finally figured out.) 

“He must be gifted!” friends with older kids said now and then, but we never even said the word. Gifted sounded so pretentious, so ridiculous … so not us. All three of our kids seemed bright, and our son — the middle child — was just an early bloomer, we figured.

At the end of the first week of first grade, he said fiercely, “I hate this school.”

As the months crawled by, first grade just got worse. He raged about his coloring homework. He complained that he was only allowed to check out “easy books” in the library. He begged us to give him hard math problems. On weekends, he assigned himself research essays about weird topics that intrigued him: cloud computing, Buckingham Palace guards, Alcatraz.

He complained daily about the class-wide punishments. “Why should I get in trouble,” he’d ask us angrily, “when I didn’t do anything wrong?” He was so unhappy. “First grade is even easier than kindergarten!” he told us through tears. “And my teacher is always yelling at us.” He began faking sick on a regular basis in a bid to stay home from school.

On weekends, he assigned himself research essays about weird topics that intrigued him: cloud computing, Buckingham Palace guards, Alcatraz.

He’s 8 now, in third grade, but when I picture my son, this is still what I see: He’s 6 years old, his small shoulders hunched, blinking back tears as we walk out of that school. He looks helpless and hopeless. That first grade year will never leave me.

We asked his first-grade teacher if she’d meet with us, but she said she’d prefer to communicate via email. I sent her a heartfelt and carefully worded email detailing my concerns: how he found the work so easy, how he was worried the class was falling behind, how he disliked the class-wide punishments. 

Her responses were brief, peppered with quotation marks: He seems to be quite “sensitive,” she wrote. He seems to be internalizing classroom discussions, feeling like he’s “in trouble” when I have to have “a talk” with the class.

I asked about the possibility of more challenging work. She called me on the phone and admitted she knew the work was too easy and said she was doing what she could with limited time and resources. “I can’t meet his needs,” she said. “There’s no way our curriculum could meet his needs.”

Out of school, he was generally happy. We had a running joke about how he was a 40-year-old man trapped in a little boy’s body. 

Mingled with that miserable first-grade year are so many sweet and funny memories: After losing a tooth, he wrote a long and virtually flawless missive that began: “Dear Toof Fairy, I’m sorry to say I swallowed my toof.” He wondered aloud why the female principal of his school wasn’t called a “princess-ipal” and then explained to us the Latin word princeps after he looked it up.

At the children’s museum, he draped accessories atop the giant checkers pieces, modifying the game so he could challenge us to chess instead. He asked the barber to give him a haircut that would make him look “mature.”  

He wondered aloud why the female principal of his school wasn’t called a ‘princess-ipal’ and then explained to us the Latin word princeps after he looked it up.

But first grade remained a daily nightmare.

In hopes of shedding some light on his needs and our schooling options, we took him to a psychologist. The result: He was gifted — very gifted.

This is the point in our story when the eye-rolling starts. Yes, my kid is gifted. Am I bragging? No. Do I think he’s more special than other kids? No. Do I even like the word gifted? Not particularly.

Giftedness is nothing to be proud of — and it’s nothing we caused. It just means my son is wired differently. It’s an inherent trait, a special need actually, that comes with a whole host of worries. 

For one thing, my son is intensely emotional and sensitive. When the teacher said, “Someone stole the math blocks off my desk, and we will all suffer the loss,” most first-graders said, “It wasn’t me” and moved on. My kid agonized for days and one night at bedtime whispered, “Mommy? Does suffering physically hurt? Or did my teacher pick an inaccurate word?”

He has a strong sense of justice and fairness. When a lunchroom supervisor had all the kids at the cafeteria table lay their heads down for a moment as punishment for being noisy, most kids complied and moved on. My son complained that night at dinner that it was “incredibly degrading.”

Giftedness is nothing to be proud of — and it’s nothing we caused. It just means my son is wired differently.

Like around 1 in 5 gifted kids, my son struggles with perfectionism. He can’t stand doing something if he knows he won’t do it perfectly.

He also struggles with asynchronous development ― which means while he may have understood logarithms in first grade, he could barely tie his shoes and he still put his pants on backward sometimes.

He feels different and, like he’s said, “kind of like an alien.” He sometimes gets along better with adults than he does with kids. I’ve seen the awkward interactions firsthand: My son’s idea of a conversation starter is often something like, “Did you ever notice that the word repetition has repetition in it? It repeats the letters t-i,” but not all little boys want to talk about that stuff.

He tends to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. He worries about people who don’t have enough to eat or access to clean water, feeling like these world crises are his problems to solve. His first-grade teacher promised to sponsor a well in a third-world country if the class improved their behavior, and he agonized daily over the prospect of failing. “When my class is disrespectful,” he said, “we are literally taking away those kids’ chance at clean water.”

He doesn’t hold in his feelings. When something in his life goes wrong, the shockwaves of misery reverberate through our entire family ― and it’s an understatement to say that first grade was going wrong. 

That first-grade year just kept getting worse. The gifted program coordinator told us we were “asking for special treatment” when we begged for enrichment, subject acceleration, something. The principal looked at me blankly as I explained that my son was regularly trying to make himself vomit to stay home from school. “He seems fine at school,” she said finally. “Maybe it’s something at home that’s making him unhappy.”

We were done. We knew we couldn’t stay at that school. But what were we supposed to do? Home schooling was not an appealing option. The private gifted school the psychologist recommended was an hour away (and tuition was $25,000 per year!).

Our salvation came in an unlikely form: a terrific public school with an excellent gifted program in a little city 15 miles from home. By some miracle, they had room for out-of-district students. Though we spend more time driving, and life is more hectic, I’m relieved my son no longer hates school.

He’s in third grade now, 8 years old (“If you turned my age sideways, I’d be infinite!” he said recently) and happier than he’s ever been. The work is challenging. There are no class-wide punishments. His current teacher is one of his favorite people in the world, and we’ve had nothing but good experiences with the entire staff (not to mention zero awkward meetings!). The school is incredibly welcoming, and the principal is friendly and caring.

I struggle with good old parent guilt: Are we doing enough? Providing ample stimulation and the right opportunities?

But still I struggle with good old parent guilt: Are we doing enough? Providing ample stimulation and the right opportunities? Some gifted kids my son’s age take college-level classes, compete in high-stakes academic competitions and make the news for their research projects; mine plays Minecraft and rides bikes after school.

The gifted-kid journey is also a lonely one. I can’t exactly talk about our struggles. Complaining that my kid is smart? Ha. Bemoaning the lack of local chess teams for 8-year-olds? Right. I’ve seen the memes, I’ve read the message-board comments, and I’m already well-aware that many people see the parents of gifted kids as “special snowflakes.”

The thing is, none of us chose this. When a friend told me her daughter missed the cutoff for the gifted program by a few points, it was all I could do not to say, “Lucky you!”  

We found out recently that both of our other children are also gifted ― though their giftedness is not quite as “in your face” as our middle son’s. They’re happy, thankfully. They’re thriving at school and finding regular classwork challenging enough. But I worry about the future. When I considered the realities of having three gifted kids rather than one, all I could think was, Is this what parenting is going to be like for us? Advocating for harder work? Attending stressful meetings at their schools? Worrying we’re not doing enough?

I adore my son, and I wouldn’t change anything about him. I want him to be happy, to love life, to feel fulfilled. He is an amazing kid; I can’t wait to watch him grow into an amazing adult. But I’m not going to pretend it’s easy having a gifted kid.

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Educators Share their Most Memorable Gifts

From practical and personal to silly and sentimental, the gifts educators receive definitely leave a lasting impression. We asked our Facebook fans to share their most memorable gifts, and, in the spirit of the season, they delivered. Happy Holidays!

A half bottle of used perfume. A fifth grade boy who lost his mom said I reminded him of of her so he wanted me to have her favorite perfume. I wore that perfume every day.
Holly, Bradenton, Florida

A Christmas ornament given to me in June because his locker was such a mess that he “lost” it until the end of the year locker clean out!
Amy, Boyne City, Michigan

It was a hand-written colorful birthday note from a 6th grade student. She wrote about how much she appreciated me not just because of my role in her life, but as a single mother to my own daughter (2nd grade at the time), and how she saw me working hard in that role, as well. It touched my heart and went well beyond her years.
Stacey, Chandler, Arizona

A simple “Thank you” from one of my high schoolers at the end of the year. I said good morning to him every single day that I drove the bus and he never answered, sometimes even scowled. I knew he was going through something deep. On the last day of school, he told me his mother had left the family and he felt lost. He said he felt happy to hear the ‘good morning’ each day.
The best gift ever! It resides in my heart. Marti , Traverse City, Michigan

The students in a club that I sponsored surprised me with a life-sized cardboard cut-out photo of me so that I could be in two places at once. Debi , St. Louis, Missouri

After my dad, a retired science and social studies teacher and park ranger, died, my student bought a tree to be planted in his memory. I got a certificate and everything. My dad planted hundreds of trees in his lifetime, so this was perfect. Emily, Pheonix, Arizona

I taught students from Haiti in a bilingual program. When school was about to be dismissed for Christmas Break they spontaneously got up and begin to run around the room hugging one another, shaking hands, and wishing each other Merry Christmas. Just watching that go on was such a greatest gift! It was heartwarming. Marilyn

When, 15 years after leaving my class, my student, Marco said, “ I became a singer because of you.”
Pam, Oneieda, Wisconsin

After my house was burglarized my third-graders bought me new earrings! Linda, Pensacola, Florida

When I was student teaching a boy gave me a “Favorite Teacher” ornament that he had taken off of another teacher’s tree. You might not see the love in this, but he was very poor, already in a gang, and had never been successful in any class before. It told me I was making a difference in his life…on so many levels. To this day, I don’t care where he got it. Kathleen, Brentwood, California 

I received a hand-painted portrait of my Golden Retriever, done by a second-grade student in a frame made by his Grandfather. Suzanne, Louisville, Kentucky

One of my students made me a traditional Dominican meal which still makes my mouth water when I think about it! Melissa, Hopewell, New Jersey

I worked in a Dual Language school and most of my students were from migrant worker families. Once a young girl gave me a perfume set. I spoke with her mother and expressed my gratitude for the gift. She told me that her daughter worked the fields with them for a month so she could save enough money to buy it. She told me that the gift was her way of showing how proud she was of me for earning my Masters, which I had just done that December. She told me she wanted to be exactly like me and grow up to be a teacher. I still have that empty perfume bottle. My student graduated and is now a teacher and I am honored to have been a small part of her life. Lisa, North Carolina

A seat on a bus. The parents organized a trip to Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit. They paid for all the teachers who wanted to go! Polly, Lebanon, Ohio

My very first student was on the autism spectrum and was primarily nonverbal. Toward the end of the year, I was telling my educational assistant that I had been accepted into the Peace Corps and was going to the Philippines He looked me in the eye and said clearly, “I’ll miss you, Reyna.” Best gift ever and is what got me into the field of special education and autism. Reyna, Nehalem, Oregon

I was pregnant and on bed rest. I went into school the day before break and found a note that said, ”Mrs. Mascaro, I don’t have any money to buy you a gift, so I cleaned your desk. Merry Christmas!” Best Gift Ever.
Kelly, Central Square, New York

A rubbing of my cousin’s name from the Vietnam memorial I received in the mail. A former student was in Washington, D.C. his junior year. I was his third-grade teacher, and always read them “The Wall” on Veterans’ Day, and told them about my cousin. I can’t believe he remembered that! Stephanie

One of my students made a Lord of the Rings cookbook for me. He found the recipes online, and made a leather cover with the Tree of Gondor. I treasure it. Ann, Anchorage, Alaska

After winter break I had a first-grader drag in a Christmas tree he found in the alley to school to give to me. Dolores, El Paso, Texas 

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Student Gardeners Win Big at Agricultural Fair

Nancy Burke (right) and student Taylor Warren (left) in the Haverhill High School garden.

In late September, paraeducator Nancy Burke and several student-gardeners delivered more than a dozen different types of vegetables, herbs, and berries to contest judges at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts. This was the fourth year that students with special needs from Haverhill High School’s gardening program had entered the agricultural competition, which includes fruit and vegetable entries from across New England.

“My goal when I started the garden was to teach students where food comes from and encourage them to make healthy food choices,” says Burke, a member of the Haverhill Education Association (HEA). “But they really look forward to participating in the fair.”

In 2012, Burke turned an indoor school courtyard into a single-bed vegetable garden. The garden bed was raised high enough off the ground so students sitting in wheelchairs could plant seeds, smooth soil, and pluck buried vegetables with ease. Today, the garden contains three raised-beds and an outdoor orchard.

“I started out small, and got carried away,” says Burke. “It was always supposed to be a learning garden.”

At the fair, one by one, Haverhill’s sunflowers, Swiss chard, red hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes were awarded first-place ribbons in the Junior Fruits and Vegetables competition for gardeners ages 14 to 19, in the special needs category.

Emotions ran high for Burke and the 50 members of the garden club as their winning streak extended to nine second-place ribbons for their carrots, white potatoes, berries and various herbs. Plus, three of the students walked away with the fair’s top three prizes in a farm-themed poster contest.

“We had a very good fair this year,” Burke says.

While recognition at the Topsfield Fair holds deep sentimental value for Burke and her ninth-through twelfth-grade students, they have also received state recognition for being at the forefront of the farm to school movement.

On October 3, as the fair was still packing in crowds, Burke was named a 2018 Kale Blazer award recipient by Massachusetts Farm to School.

“Nancy was selected because she has stood out as a farm to school champion over a number of years,” says Simca Horwitz, co-director of the organization. “She helps ensure that all students, regardless of ability, have access to hands-on, experiential education in the garden.”

Horwitz says the Haverhill garden “did not start high up in the administration. It started with an education support professional (ESP) who worked hard and has earned tremendous respect from students and school administrators.”

The award honors Burke as an activist who promotes gardens as outdoor learning labs and teaching tools.

“I’m grateful for the award, but am particularly happy because it included a whole bunch of kale instead of flowers,” says Burke, who received the award at a statehouse ceremony in Boston surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). “I used the kale to make sausage soup.”

Growing the Holiday Spirit

To Burke’s delight, garden club students not only inherited her green thumb but also her engaging community spirit. During the holidays, students volunteer at Sacred Heart Church Food Pantry to help unload delivery trucks and organize inventory.

“The students go to the church to unload cases of bananas, cabbage, apples … whatever,” says Jason Burns, a Haverhill special education teacher who works with Burke in the classroom and garden.

After unloading the wood cases, students then sort and box the food items for pick-up by needy families and others.

“The pantry is particularly busy during the holidays,” says Burns. “After the students found this out, they wanted to help.”

Just before Thanksgiving Day, students invited their parents and guardians to the school for a meal of ham, mashed potatoes, broccoli, cranberry sauce, and rolls.

“Students developed the menu, shopped for the items at the market, prepared some of the food, and cleaned up after everyone,” says Burns, who works with students through the Multi Support, AIM and REACH programs. “The kids are involved in the whole process of preparing meals from start to finish.”

Over the years, members of the football and wrestling teams, Junior ROTC squad, and Boy Scouts have helped to cultivate the garden.

“The whole high school supports the garden,” says Burke. “At lunchtime, students and staff like to sit around the garden and talk. Some teachers have class out there.”

A Garden at Every School?

“Educators do not need special training to develop school garden programs,” says Horwitz. “There are a huge number of free resources available to help people get started – from basic tips on gardening with kids, to in-depth guides on integrating gardens with the curriculum to meet established learning standards.”

Horwitz points to the National Farm to School Network for local farm to school contacts as well as a resource database.

Simca Horwitz says school gardens are excellent settings to instruct students on a variety of topics.

“School gardens provide an incredible setting for teaching students,” she says. “It is not a new subject area, rather it’s a place where learning about math, science, history, language, and art can come alive for students.”

At Haverhill, Burke was able to secure several grants in recent years from MTA and NEA to purchase lumber, tools, and other supplies. But what about schools that do not have the space or capacity for a garden?

“In these situations, even exposing students to growing food like lettuce in the classroom or cooking with students can have many of the same benefits,” Horwitz says. “Farm to school activities such as these have been shown to positively impact student eating habits – encouraging them to consume more healthy foods.”

Garden-inspired learning can impact student achievement as well as social and emotional learning, she adds.

“Some students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting may excel in a school garden environment,” says Horwitz, who acknowledges that most educators may not have sufficient time during the school day to develop and maintain a garden.

“For this reason, it’s really important to think of the school garden as a tool and a setting for teaching the material that educators are already planning to teach,” Horwitz says.

If all goes as planned, Haverhill will soon have a patio with picnic tables and a pergola for use by teachers, ESPs, and students.

“We try to make it a four-season garden,” says Burke. “Even though the growing season has ended, we go out to the garden and orchard and have hot chocolate.”

Want to Start a School Garden?

For ideas, visit Eco Literacy, Lifelab, USDA Farm to School Program, National Farm to School Network, Edible Schoolyard.

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Teacher Claims Catholic School Fired Her For Getting Pregnant Before Marriage

A former Pennsylvania Catholic school teacher claims she was fired from her job last week after her employer found out she was pregnant and had no plans to marry her boyfriend. 

Naiad Reich told ABC affiliate WNEP 16 that the principal of Coal Township’s Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School told her Friday that she was being let go for violating the school’s morality code.

“I feel like I’m a rewriting of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ at this point, just minus the affair,” the 31-year-old said about her termination, according to The Associated Press.

Reich had taught high school English and creative writing at the school, and also served as yearbook adviser, Penn Live reports. On Wednesday, she was still listed on the school’s website as a high school teacher. 

The teacher is expecting a child with her boyfriend of four years next June, Penn Live reports.

Reich said when she told the school’s principal about the pregnancy, it was apparent that the principal was “not happy with the circumstances.” 

“If there’s no eventual plan in the near future to get married, it was either that or I had to be let go,” Reich told WNEP 16.

Reich said the couple wants to get married on their own terms, but said she understood the school’s decision to abide by its morality code.

“This is their beliefs and their moral code and what they live by and I understand that,” Reich said. “Though I don’t agree with it, I understand.”

WNEP 16 / Screenshot

Naiad Reich and her boyfriend are expecting a baby next June. 

Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School falls under the purview of the Diocese of Harrisburg. In its official application form for school employees, the diocese states that employees must avoid engaging in conduct that “constitutes serious or public immorality, sacrilege, lewd conduct, public scandal or overt rejection of, or the holding up to doubt, public ridicule or question of the official teaching, doctrine or laws of the Catholic Church.”

The application states that violations of the school’s morality code could result in termination.

When reached for comment, the school told HuffPost that all questions need to be directed to the Diocese of Harrisburg, “since they are the ones who made this decision.”

The Diocese of Harrisburg said it could not comment on personnel matters, but added, “as outlined in our policies, every professional employee agrees to follow the teachings, doctrine, and laws of the Catholic Church as part of the hiring process.”

Teachers in other Catholic dioceses across the country have also been fired for violating the church’s morality code ― often for getting pregnant out of wedlock or for being gay and in a relationship.

Long-standing Catholic doctrine teaches that sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is sinful.

The Supreme Court has recognized the right of churches to claim a religious exemption to workplace bias lawsuits — as long as the employee is identified by the church as a “minister” who plays some role in advancing the organization’s religious mission.

The Diocese of Harrisburg has come under scrutiny in recent months for its alleged role in covering up decades of clerical sex abuse. In August, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro claimed in a landmark report that senior church leaders in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including in Harrisburg, knew that abuse was occurring but didn’t do enough to stop predatory priests. The Harrisburg diocese has published a list of over 70 priests and other church members who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. 

In response to the report, the Diocese of Harrisburg said it has learned from its past mistakes and has already implemented multiple safeguards to protect children. Its current leader, Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, has also asked for “forgiveness for the sinfulness of those who have committed these crimes.”

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Your Computer Isn’t Broken: Quick Tech Fixes for Students

The Number One reason—according to students—why their computer doesn’t work is… It’s broken. As a teacher, I hear this daily, often followed by their preferred solution, “I need a different computer.” My students innately think computer problems are something they can’t solve. I asked them what happened in class when I wasn’t there to fix the problem, or at home. I usually got a shrug and one of these responses:

“My classroom teacher can’t fix them.”

“My mom/dad can’t fix them.”

“The school tech people couldn’t get there fast enough.”

Which got me thinking about how these problems that bring learning to a screeching halt really aren’t that complicated. They don’t require a Ph.D in engineering or years of experience in IT. So why not teach kids how to troubleshoot their own problems?

I started with a list. Every time a student had a tech problem, I wrote it down and then ticked it off each time it happened. It didn’t take long to determine that there are about 16 problems that happen often and repetitively. Once students learned how to solve these, they’d be able to fix half of the problems that bring their education to a screeching halt. I spent the school year teaching the solutions authentically as they arose starting in kindergarten. By the end of second grade, students felt empowered. By the end of fifth grade, they rarely asked for help.

Here’s my list but yours may be different. Include those that arise in your school’s educational endeavor. For example, if you use Macs, right-click issues won’t be as big a deal.

Once students have these in their toolkit, they realize they can solve their own problems, they can troubleshoot, and they can act independently. Not only does this impact how they use technology but every other part of their lives.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is
the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources, including a K-8
technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, and a K-8 Digital Citizenship

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The Case for Collaboration is Clear

A good relationship takes time to build, and along the way, trust is formed, collaboration grows, and the collective does better. The same holds true when district leaders, unions/associations, and school boards work together. Decades of research support this claim, and the results show gains in student achievement, improved school climate, increases in teacher retention, and both principals and association representatives being seen as stronger resources by educators in their school.

Rutgers Professor Saul Rubinstein, co-author with Cornell University Assistant Professor John McCarthy of a national study on collaboration in public schools, says state- and district-level partnerships among unions/associations, school boards, parents/community, and management leads to collaboration within the school building.

And, “we see significant and important gains for students when there is greater collaboration,” underscores Rubinstein during a recent webinar with the National Labor Management Partnership, which brings together top leaders from The School Superintendents Association (or AASA), American Federation of Teachers, National School Boards Association, and the National Education Association.

Rubinstein points to research that shows schools with the highest level of collaboration, on average have 12.5 percent more students performing at or above standards in English Language Arts, and 4.5 percent more students performing at or above standards in math than schools with the lowest levels of collaboration, after adjusting for poverty.

But to get to these positive outcomes, one thing must happen first: you must start somewhere.

That’s the message from education leaders who form the National Labor Management Partnership.

NEA Vice President Becky Pringle—including AFT President Randi Weingarten, NSBA Executive Director and CEO Thomas Gentzel, AASA Associate Executive Director Mort Sherman—announced a Call to Action to collaborate around student-centered goals.

Previously, collaboration was often built on individual leaders. When those leaders left, collaborative initiatives would dissipate.

“What we’re talking about is a new way of doing our work,” says Pringle. “It’s not just about working together. We know that many of [our members and allies] are already doing it … But what we’re now asking is that our affiliates work with our district [and state] partners to create the structure that will sustain the collaborative work over time.”

Rubinstein and McCathy’s research shows that the association, as a boundary spanning network, is pivotal in bringing the voice of educators, as those closest to the students, to the forefront of educational decisions.

And each national partner organization is committed to intentionally foster and support lasting structures for collaboration at all levels, so it becomes a part of how the entire school community operates and is sustained at a systemic level, beyond any individual’s duration.

Get Started

The moment is ripe for collaboration, given that #RedForEd has shown a national spotlight on the needs of public education, the need for community support, and the power of educator voice on issues that matter to the school community. Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act provides an opportunity for educators to have an influence over the federal law as amendments to approved state plans are now being accepted and as district and school improvement plans are still being crafted.

Everyday educators can start by joining with their principals, parents/community, and building representatives to address the needs within their own classrooms and school buildings.  By working together on collaborative projects education stakeholder teams around the country have begun to address some of education’s most challenging issues: achievement gaps, discipline policies, new teacher induction, peer assistance, and scheduling. Others have started with smaller, more immediate needs: one example showcases how educators worked together to figure out how to involve third graders in helping excited first graders keep down the noise level while transitioning between classrooms.

nea charter schools policy

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle (CALVIN KNIGHT / RA TODAY )

But what’s the path to get started?

“There’s not one path,” says Pringle, but rather common elements that lead to collaboration. These elements are to prepare, act, and reflect.

  1. Prepare: Stakeholders learn the case for collaboration (increased student outcomes, educator retention, and association & administration roles in teaching and learning); identify partners; and commit to collaboration.
  2. Act: Structures and processes are built by identifying collaborative teams and functions to establish support and resources; defining content for collaboration and the process for collaboration; and implementing collaborative efforts.
  3. Reflect: Groups will share lessons learned with others. This analysis is key to repeating and sustaining the work.

Collaboration Works

As Pringle noted earlier, working together isn’t new. Successful collaborative efforts go back several decades. In the early 1990s, for example, the ABC Unified School District near Los Angeles, Calif., went on strike for eight days over budget concerns, and the district’s plan to slash teachers’ health benefits and pay while increasing class size. In the strike’s aftermath, an educational partnership between the union and the district was born.

Today, district and union leaders recognize that a more collaborative relationship is the most effective way of improving teaching quality and student performance. In working together to solve substantive problems for students and teachers, the the union and the district built a relationship grounded in mutual respect and trust, and abide by six guiding principles:

  1. All students can succeed and we will not accept any excuse that prevents that from happening at ABC. We will work together to promote student success.
  2. All needed support will be made available to schools to ensure every student succeeds. We will work together to ensure that happens.
  3. The top 5 percent of teachers in our profession should teach our students. We will work together to hire, train, and retain these professionals.
  4. All employees contribute to student success.
  5. All negotiations support conditions that sustain successful teaching and 
student learning.
  6. We won’t let each other fail.

Combative to Collaborative

The relationship between California’s San Jose Unified School District and San Jose Teachers Association was once contentious, according to an analysis from the California Collaborative on District Reform, an an initiative of American Institutes for Research. Heated labor negotiations, hostile board meetings, and regular teacher strikes were the norm.

When the superintendent at the time invited the then-president of the San Jose Teachers Association to a cup of coffee and a conversation, the relationship took a turn, and went from combative to collaborative.

The two groups became intentional about their work. They created succession plans to ensure new superintendents and union presidents committed to continuing and growing the partnerships facilitated by their predecessors.

The district also created formal roles and responsibilities for union leaders and members, giving SJTA a voice in important districts policies. Most notable was the decision to make the SJTA president a member of the superintendent’s cabinet in 2010.

Collaborative relationship between the district and union matters because it fosters trusts and enables everyone within the school community to better serve students.

Teamwork and Trust

In New Jersey, several groups are working together to encourage greater collaboration among administrators, educators, and union officials in 13 pilot school districts which comprise 59 schools serving more than 35,000 students.

Superintendent Vincent Caputo of the Metuchen Public School District spoke in March during a conference on collaboration of how he and other local educators became interested in creating an educational partnerships within the district.

“Four years ago (2014), when he (Rubinstein) shared his data that union-management collaboration had a positive, statistically-significant impact on Math and English Language Arts achievement, we were more than intrigued,” said Caputo.

In Metuchen, educators created district-wide committees, revamped its instructional council, and established School Leadership Teams (SLT) at most schools. Administrators learned more about what teachers require to be successful through input from SLTs and related committees. For example, the district embraced Google Classroom on the advice of the technology committee and shifted funding from white boards to Chromebook Carts on the recommendation of the budget committee. Also, parent conferences are scheduled at more convenient times based on advice from members of the Metuchen High School SLT.

It’s really about the relationship,” Delgado said. “You need the relationship to develop the partnership. When the relationship grew for us, the partnership grew.” – Cory Delgado, principal, Montgomery Township, New Jersey

“The board, administration, and the teachers remain steadfast in our commitment to collaborate with the common goal of improving student achievement,” Caputo said.

Montgomery Township High School teacher Jennifer Jones is a member of the school’s solutions committee, which collects information about training, technology, office supplies, and other concerns from educators. The information is then discussed with the school principal.

“It was important for staff to be heard,” said Jones, MTEA vice president. “We (administration) work together, attend conferences together, and focus on resolving any issues. When you reduce stress for teachers, it reduces stress for students.”

Principal Cory Delgado from New Jersey’s Montgomery Township said educators and administrators in his district used to only meet for school business. It was a dramatic departure from the status quo to begin meeting socially and even travelling together to education conferences.

“It’s really about the relationship,” Delgado said. “You need the relationship to develop the partnership. When the relationship grew for us, the partnership grew.”

Teacher Karen Kevorkian, an MTEA member, collaborates with Delgado and other administrators.

“It’s a process … it takes a long time to (build the relationship),” she said. “Cory and I made a promise that we would not let each other fail. If we succeed, our students succeed.”

The best school year calendar “we ever had came from the staff,” said Montgomery Superintendent Nancy Gartenberg.

“You have to trust each other,” she added. “In Montgomery, everyone has skin in the game.”

In a time when the Supreme Court case of Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) seeks to strip educators and all public employees of voice and decision-making power, labor management partnerships that foster shared-decision making structures for educators might just be the winning strategy that results in the outcomes we know are necessary for public education: thriving students, fulfilled educators, and education associations that help to provide meaningful avenues for professional voice.

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This Professor Teaches Journalism At A Top UK University. He’s Also A 9/11 Truther.

An academic teaching journalism students at one of the UK’s top universities has publicly supported long-discredited conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attack, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Professor Piers Robinson is the chair in politics, society and political journalism at the University of Sheffield, specialising in “contemporary propaganda, with a particular focus on the current war in Syria”, according to the University’s website.

He is also the co-director of the University’s Organisation for Propaganda Studies, which claims to conduct “rigorous academic research and analysis of propaganda.”

The University of Sheffield’s Department of Journalism Studies is one of the most prestigious in the country and has placed top in the Guardian’s rankings for the subject for the last two years.

Its advisory board includes a range of high-profile journalists, including BBC Sports’ Dan Walker, Yorkshire Post Editor James Mitchinson and Nina Bhagwat, Channel 4′s Diversity Executive.

But Robinson’s work has been described as “conspiracy-theory driven”, “completely insulting” and of having “no interest in truth or justice” by academics speaking to HuffPost UK.

A former head of MI6 and a former Supreme Commander of Nato have both told HuffPost UK that quotes they gave in public have been misinterpreted by Robinson in his lectures to journalism students. 


Robinson is a regular guest on Kremlin-backed media channels.

Robinson’s lectures and public appearances are heavily critical of western governments and media, and he often appears on Kremlin-backed channels such as RT and Sputnik. 

During an interview with Sputnik in March 2018, Robinson suggested Russia was being “demonised” over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in order to distract from the west’s “aggressive regime change strategy” in the Middle East. 

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a deadly military-grade nerve agent in March. Extensive evidence has been presented of the identities, military records and links to the Russian government of the two suspects in the Skripal affair, and European arrest warrants have been issued.

In an email to HuffPost UK, Robinson stood by the interview, saying: “I have not seen persuasive evidence to attribute blame to the Russian government re Skripal.”

In March last year Robinson appeared on RT’s Going Underground programme in a segment titled “Can the Mainstream Media Convince us Trump is a Russian Manchurian Candidate?” 

He told the host that allegations Russia had engaged in a campaign of disinformation and fake news to influence the US 2016 Presidential Election were part of “propaganda activities” aimed at “shifting attention onto Russia”.

In the email to HuffPost UK, Robinson said: “I have not seen any compelling analysis or evidence to show that there was any significant propaganda campaign to influence the US 2016 presidential election.”

One of Robinson’s latest published works is a glowing review of a book titled ‘9/11 Unmasked’ by David Ray Griffin, a leading figure in the so-called 9/11 truther movement.

The book rejects the established narrative that 19 al-Qaeda operatives hijacked five planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in 2001, instead suggesting explosives were used to bring down the towers, and questioning whether the planes were even hijacked by terrorists.

These claims form the mainstay of the 9/11 truther movement. An extensive investigation by the The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US Government science laboratory, debunked many of these claims in 2005.

In his review, Robinson calls the book “a serious challenge for mainstream academics and journalists to start to ask substantial questions about 9/11″ in order to “search for the facts and speak truth to power”.

Robinson also provided a quote for the back cover of the book, writing: “9/11 Unmasked provides an authoritative and carefully argued exposition of key problems with the official narrative.”

When asked by HuffPost UK if he agrees with the conclusions of 9/11 Unmasked, Robinson said in an email: “My position, as has been the case for some time, is that [conclusions detailed in 9/11 Unmasked] demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that significant parts of the official narrative are very likely to be incorrect.

“It is no longer tenable for academics and journalists to avoid asking probing questions about the possible involvement of state actors in the 9/11 attacks. 9/11 requires further analysis and investigation and this is a position I share with many other academics.”

Robinson also suggested a number of other academics whose work would allow readers to “get up to speed with geo-politics and the current dynamics of the international system”, one of whom was Kees van der Pijl, an emeritus professor at the University of Sussex.

Earlier this month van der Pijl tweeted: “Not Saudis, Israelis blew up Twin Towers with help from Zionists in US govt.”


Lydia Wilson, an Oxford and Cambridge research fellow and editor of the Cambridge Literary Review, said this raises serious questions for the University of Sheffield.

“It’s ridiculous that Piers Robinson is teaching propaganda,” she told HuffPost UK. “The most troubling thing for me is how did he get this job? It’s not hard to uncover this man.

″[The review of 9/11 Unmasked] is conspiracy-theory driven. There’s no academic who should write a post like – there’s no argument and there’s no evidence.

“It’s dangerous to students – he’s working in a journalism department and he can’t analyse journalism sources.” 

Robinson has taught at the University of Sheffield since last year, HuffPost UK understands that his inaugural lecture to students in October 2017 was based on a paper he published around the same time, titled “Learning from the Chilcot report: Propaganda, deception and the ’War on Terror’.”

This paper argues that the ongoing conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, is not the result of the popular uprising known as the Arab Spring, but is in fact the “consequence” of policies made by former leaders George Bush and Tony Blair in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. 

Robinson uses a number of quotes from the Chilcot Report – the public inquiry into the origins of the Iraq War, which was published in 2017 – and other sources, to make the case that the current war in Syria is part of a regime-change plot by western governments, supported by an extensive propaganda campaign aimed at the public. 

In one instance during his lecture and paper, he quotes Blair as saying “the Middle east is set for catastrophe” as “indicative evidence” the former prime minister knew the region would be embroiled in “big and significant” western-backed conflict a decade later.

Piers Robinson/YouTube

In his email to HuffPost UK, Robinson stood by his interpretation, saying: “Remember Blair and Bush are planning the overthrow of Saddam [Hussein] in these documents plus discussing when to ‘hit’ Iran and Syria.”

But the next page of the Chilcot Report, which he does not show to his students, shows Blair was actually discussing offering Iran and Syria “help and support in building a new partnership with the West”.

Dr Yasser Munif, a Lebanese expert on middle eastern politics and society at Emerson College, Boston, told HuffPost UK: “Robinson and people like him are trying to transpose what happened in the Iraq War onto what’s happening with the Arab uprisings of 2011.

“One of the major problems with his thinking is he completely denies the agency of the Arab population, perceives anything happening in the region as a form of conspiracy.

“He thinks Arabs have to be manipulated and funded and told exactly what to do – it’s completely insulting.”

A major part of Robinson’s case for arguing the Syrian war is part of a western regime plot, is a quote from US General Wesley Clark, made in 2006.

At the time, he described a 2001 encounter with a Pentagon official who alluded to a plan to “take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iraq”.

<strong>A slide from Robinson's inaugural lecture at the University of Sheffield.</strong>

Piers Robinson/YouTube

A slide from Robinson’s inaugural lecture at the University of Sheffield.

Robinson claims in his lecture and paper that General Clark was “was more or less right on the money” and says it is further evidence the conflict in Syria began as part of a western regime change plot.

When HuffPost UK spoke to General Clark and informed him of how Robinson was using his quote, he said: “Tell him to stop – the document was written in 2001 so I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with Syria in 2011.

“It certainly wasn’t a western regime-change issue.”

Robinson also uses another quote in both his lecture and paper, from a speech by the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove.

Speaking at the Rusi think-tank in 2014, he describes a pre-9/11 conversation with Saudi Prince Bandar, who told him: “The time is not far off, Richard, in the Middle East when it will literally be God help the Shia, more than 69 million Sunnis have simply had enough of them”.

<strong>A slide from Robinson's inaugural lecture at the University of Sheffield.</strong>

Piers Robinson/YouTube

A slide from Robinson’s inaugural lecture at the University of Sheffield.

Robinson presents this as further evidence the middle east will be hit by a series of western-backed wars.

But the next part of Dearlove’s speech, which Robinson does not play to his students, makes clear he is talking about possible Saudi funding for Islamic State, not regime change, as explained by journalist Patrick Cockburn.

When HuffPost UK informed Dearlove of how Robinson was using his quote, he told us: ”[He] is wildly misinterpreting me.”

In his inaugural lecture to journalism students, HuffPost UK has also learned that Robinson claims the infamous “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner that hung behind George W Bush when he made his speech declaring the Iraq War over in 2003 was “was actually imposed over, it wasn’t actually there”.

In his email to HuffPost UK, Robinson elaborated saying he believed it was “imposed via computer programming overlay in real time, like they do with adverts at football matches and so on”.

We have been unable to find evidence to support this claim. The speech, complete with banner, was broadcast live on TV at the time and the banner now hangs in the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

<strong>Robinson says the banner&nbsp;"imposed via computer programming overlay".</strong>


Robinson says the banner “imposed via computer programming overlay”.

Robinson is also a  public speaker and regularly shares a stage with and promotes the work of:

Promotional material from a "Media on Trial" event held in London last year. Syrian activists who protested the event were ha

Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told HuffPost UK: “Piers Robinson and his friends have no interest in truth or justice, they have an interest in propaganda and their propaganda is rooted in a particular worldview that stems from the belief that the only evil in the world comes from the West.

“The administrators of the university that he teaches at have to be presented with this evidence.

“Someone who’s supposed to be objective and teaching propaganda is himself a propagandist.”

A University of Sheffield spokesperson, told HuffPost UK: “Academics in our community share, scrutinise and debate a range of different views based on their areas of research.

“The principles of academic freedom allow views to be shared and challenged within the law.”

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Students Protest University Of North Carolina’s $5 Million Plan For Toppled Confederate Statue

Months after a controversial Confederate statue was pulled from its pedestal by a crowd of protesting students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, fresh protests erupted on the school’s campus on Monday in opposition to the university’s plan to keep the statue on campus, housed in a new $5 million building.

WITN-TV estimated that a “couple hundred” students and community members took part in Monday night’s protest. Videos shared on social media showed students and others chanting “Stand up, fight back!” and other slogans as they marched through downtown Chapel Hill before making their way onto the UNC campus.

Police officers, some of them in riot gear, surrounded a barricaded area where the Confederate statue, known as Silent Sam, had once stood. Videos shared on Twitter by the university’s newspaper The Daily Tar Heel showed tensions mounting between protesters and police.

No major clashes or incidents of violence been reported by late Monday.

The Silent Sam monument, erected in 1913 and funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was toppled by student protesters in August. The students used a rope to pull the statue to the ground. 

“It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy,” Maya Little, a UNC doctoral student who was arrested in April for dousing the statue with red ink and her own blood, told the crowd at one point during Monday’s rally. 

After Silent Sam’s toppling, UNC, which had long refused to remove or relocate the monument despite years of protests, labeled the protesters’ actions “dangerous” and a form of vandalism. 

“While we respect that protesters have the right to demonstrate, they do not have the right to damage state property,” UNC leaders said in an August statement, adding: “We do not support lawlessness.” 

On Monday, those same leaders announced a plan to build a $5.3 million “History and Education Center” to house Silent Sam and other artifacts on campus. 

“The Center would be in a new, free-standing building with state-of-the-art security and outstanding programming,” said a statement issued by the office of Chancellor Carol Folt.

Folt’s office described the plan as the “best legal option” for the school and one that would protect public safety while “preserving the monument and its history.” As the Raleigh News & Observer noted, a 2015 state law prohibits the removal of historic objects of remembrance on state property except in cases of preservation or construction, and it limits options for relocation.

“We have a long and important history to tell, and the Center will offer us an excellent opportunity to tell it all,” Folt’s office said of the plan. “We are the only public university to have experienced our nation’s history from the start ― war, slavery, Jim Crow laws, suffrage, civil unrest, as well as hope, freedom, emancipation, civil rights, opportunity, access, learning, and great discoveries fostered here. All of these subjects will be covered in the proposed Center.” 

Many students, however, lambasted the plan as evidence of the university’s continued tolerance for racism. Some also criticized the school for proposing such a hefty investment given rising student fees and tuition rates, reported WITN. 

“They are building a safe space for white supremacy and forcing us to pay for it,” several student groups, including UNC Black Congress and Defend UNC, said in a statement.  

According to the News & Observer, the UNC system’s Board of Governors and the North Carolina Historical Commission will need to approve the proposal for the statue’s relocation before it can go ahead. The Board of Governors is scheduled to review the plan on Dec. 14.

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The Tough Road From Foster Care To College

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — College students often decamp from their universities during the summer to intern, study abroad or just get a break from dining hall food. But for Kayla Mayes, it’s a time to buckle down.

Her first semester at Western Michigan University, Mayes barely earned a 1.7 grade-point average. A class on the health effects of drug use felt overwhelming — “I wasn’t used to such long lectures,” she said — and pre-algebra was a struggle too. But good grades in reading and writing classes helped her finish the year with a 2.6 GPA and now she is hoping to lift it higher.

“I’m working on getting above a 3.0,” said Mayes, now 19, one rainy afternoon earlier this year. She was sitting in the campus’s Bernhard Center, which offers a mix of fast-food dining options, quiet places to work, a bookstore and other student resources. Later that day, she planned to study for her summer session classes, English and public speaking, and to meet with an advisor.

After that, she’d head back to the dorm, which stays open year-round for students like her. Later in the week, she might pop over to an office across the sprawling campus to chat with the employee who makes sure her financial aid is on track, or to see the coaches she visits regularly for help with coursework and other advice.

This support is available to Mayes because she’s part of a select group of Western Michigan students known as the Seita Scholars. Her primary qualification for the program: being in foster care.

A fast talker with a polished look and cornrows that hang past her shoulders, Mayes entered the child welfare system when she was around 9 years old. Her mother is schizophrenic and in and out of hospitals; she never knew her father. She spent most of her childhood living in kinship placements with relatives, in sometimes unstable environments that made sticking to her studies difficult. Her first two years of high school, she cycled through three different schools. But, junior year, she was placed with a new foster mother who offered steady guidance and encouraged her to apply to Western Michigan.

Started in 2008, the Seita Scholars Program is one of several efforts at U.S. colleges to help students like Mayes. Nationally, just 50 percent of foster youth graduate high school by age 18, according to estimates, and 2 to 9 percent obtain a bachelor’s degree. Too often young people who’ve spent time in foster care lack not only the money to apply and pay for college but also the direction from adults to fill out applications, secure financial aid and choose a school. Many have bounced among homes and schools, leaving them unprepared academically. They may not have anywhere to stay during summers and other college breaks, or anyone to turn to in a pinch.

By giving students from foster care up to $13,400 per year in scholarship money, plus academic and emotional support, Western Michigan administrators hope to overcome these challenges. Along with legislative changes, advocates say programs like this can make a dent in the achievement gap for foster youth. The percentage of Seita students to graduate from Western Michigan has ranged from 24 to 44 percent for cohorts that started between 2008 and 2013, according to university administrators. That’s lower than Western Michigan’s overall graduation rate, 54 percent, but significantly higher than the national figure for foster care youth.

Jennifer Pokempner, director of child welfare policy at Juvenile Law Center, a legal advocacy group in Philadelphia, said the Seita program is “seen as a model.” Ensuring that “youth in the child welfare system are positioned to have the same choices that youth outside of the system” have is critically important, she said, and programs like Seita help level the playing field.

Sean Proctor for Hechinger/HuffPost

The Seita Scholars Program at Western Michigan University gives students from foster care $13,400 a year, plus academic guidance and life skills.

Western Michigan, a suburban public university with more than 18,000 undergrads, started the Seita Scholars Program after some of its faculty and staff attended a conference in 2007 on the educational challenges facing foster youth. Today the program serves about 125 students per year.

Students who’ve spent time in foster care can apply to Seita once they’re admitted to Western Michigan, and nearly all are accepted, said Ronicka D. Hamilton, the program’s director. Scholars are invited to campus the summer before their freshman year for a special transition program designed to introduce them to one another and to mentors and other staff. They are required to live on campus during their time at Western Michigan and take a first-year seminar together. “We are really intentional about creating and building a community,” Hamilton said.

Over the years, she said, the program has learned that students from foster care are most likely to drop out because of insufficient preparation for college-level work, poor money management and mental health struggles, and it has zeroed in on these challenges.

Seita scholars are assigned a campus coach, a full-time staff person who plays the role of social worker, parent and superhero. Coaches help students stay on track academically and work through personal and emotional challenges.

Edward Lara started as a campus coach in July of 2017 and works with about 22 students. On any given day, he helps students with homework, drives them to the bus station to catch a ride home for the weekend or shows them how to get a refill for a prescription. “A lot of our students, they’ve never done that for themselves,” Lara said.

Other times, he may accompany students to their first intake session with a new therapist or even to court if they’ve had a run-in with the law. Seita scholars also receive one-on-one help with money management and financial planning. “It’s very easy for new students to go out and start spending,” he said.

Mayes has enjoyed working with a number of coaches — Mallory, Elise and Peter. She aspires to work in broadcast journalism after graduation and says Seita’s nurturing environment has been key to turning around her first-semester grades. Peter, a math whiz, tutored her in pre-algebra; Mallory and Elise helped with her writing assignments. “There’s a lot of support,” she said.

Every Seita Scholar gets a campus coach, someone who helps students stay on track academically and work through personal and

Sean Proctor for Hechinger/HuffPost

Every Seita Scholar gets a campus coach, someone who helps students stay on track academically and work through personal and emotional challenges.

Federal law requires that foster youth receive some preparation in life skills beginning at age 14. But it’s difficult to track the success of these efforts, said Pokempner, and whether or not young people get this support often depends on their individual circumstances. Group homes may have too few staff and not enough time to teach basic life skills, she said, and foster families may fear legal liability and keep kids away from perceived dangers, even basic activities like using the stove and learning to cook. Federal legislation passed in 2014 aimed to reduce barriers to foster youth working after-school jobs, playing sports and participating in other activities, but implementation has been uneven.

“I think we’re setting them up to have a much harder time,” Pokempner said.

In recognition of the challenges facing many young people who’ve spent years in foster care, the University of Pennsylvania’s Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research has partnered with a handful of colleges in the state to help them offer more academic and financial support to foster youth. The Foundling, a New York nonprofit, runs a two-year-old project with the city’s child welfare agency to provide current and former foster youth enrolled in the City University of New York college system with coaches who live alongside them on campus. KVC Health Systems, a child welfare organization based in Kansas, plans to open a college specifically for foster youth in the coming months.

Government programs have also freed up some financial support. For example, a federal program introduced in 2002 helps states make available up to $5,000 a year to help current and former foster students pay for postsecondary education. And since federal legislation in 2008 enabled states to extend the age of foster care to 21, about two dozen states, including Michigan, have done so. Youth who remain in the child welfare system until age 21 have more time to access federal financial aid and assistance from social workers.

On Capitol Hill, politicians are lobbying for more changes to increase foster youth’s resources and put a dent in how much they have to spend for higher education. Bills introduced in the House and Senate since last fall would streamline financial aid for foster and homeless youth, require universities to keep dorms open for these students during holiday breaks and ensure they have a point of contact on campus to assist them, among other steps. Some proposed legislation would make foster youth eligible for food stamps.

The Seita program continues to try to close the gaps between campus and government resources. The office collaborates closely with Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services to ease the transition to college for foster youth. DHHS staff work from the Seita office to help students access state grants and to provide other support.

The university is also trying to do more for students from foster care who don’t apply to or qualify for Seita, which has a limited budget and a small staff. Two years ago, the university extended career mentorship and other support to all of its students who’ve spent time in foster care.

Seita Scholar Ali Tinai, an immigrant from Eritrea, is studying international and comparative politics. He hopes to move to D

Sean Proctor for Hechinger/HuffPost

Seita Scholar Ali Tinai, an immigrant from Eritrea, is studying international and comparative politics. He hopes to move to DC or New York after college, and work in international affairs.

Seita’s office is located in a cozy space in a big building near the entrance to Western Michigan. There are photos everywhere of students smiling, laughing — and graduating. Near the Seita director’s office, alongside inspirational messages from people like poet Maya Angelou, inspirational speaker Zig Ziglar and Seita alumni, is a photo collage of students who’ve made the dean’s list. Among them is Ali Tinai.

Now a junior, Tinai is one of thousands of youth from abroad (currently 1,300 still in homes) who have been in foster care. He fled his home country of Eritrea as a teen to avoid being conscripted into the military. Because of its repressive government and harsh national service requirements, which compel people to serve in roles likened to slave labor for indefinite periods of time, thousands leave the East African country each year.

Tinai migrated to Sudan and then to Egypt, where he applied for asylum and was transferred to the United States. In 2014 he was resettled in the small town of Bath, Michigan, through a federal foster program for refugee children. But he didn’t get along with his foster family and was relocated to a new foster home in Lansing. He graduated from JW Sexton High School, a STEM-focused magnet school, in 2016.

His foster dad managed government housing for refugees and wanted Tinai to help him out at work while attending nearby Lansing Community College. But Tinai, who wants to move to D.C. or New York after graduation and work in international affairs, had heard that Western Michigan offered extra assistance for foster care students. He applied and was accepted.

At Western Michigan, Tinai is studying international and comparative politics and has a 3.91 GPA. He’s a member of the school’s Arabic club, the Refugee Outreach Collective and the College Democrats. He lives on campus in a bedroom strewn with baseball caps for sports teams like Manchester United and books on topics including immigration policy and Chinese politics.

Tinai says the Seita program has been a support system for him from day one. His campus coach has been especially helpful in guiding him, he said: “If I’m struggling in school, that’s the first person that I go to.” Freshman year, when his grades in algebra began to sag, his coach helped him find a tutor. He ended up with a B in the course.

For her part, Mayes likes the Seita office so much that she sometimes visits four days a week. She’s never there to study, but instead enjoys chatting with various staff who’ve cultivated a homey environment. One of her favorite people to “bother” is LaToya McCants, a liaison with the Department of Health and Human Services. “She’s kind of like a mother figure,” Mayes said.

As September approached, Mayes was gearing up for the new semester. She’d passed her English and public speaking classes with a B average and had signed up for algebra, communications and a handful of other fall courses. She also planned to juggle two jobs: one in catering and another as a front desk assistant at the Bernhard Center.

That won’t leave much time for extracurriculars, she said, but she plans to purchase a camera soon to start honing her journalism skills. She appreciates Seita’s support — but recognizes that getting a degree is ultimately up to her.

“If I just think positive, I just keep on pushing forward and put my foot forward,” she said, “all good things should come to me.”

This story about foster care and higher education was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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New Complaint Targets School That Banned Child With Dreadlocks

In August, 6-year-old Clinton Stanley Jr. was kicked out of his new school before he even had a chance to step inside a classroom. Administrators at the Florida school didn’t approve of his hairstyle, which he wore in locs, and said he couldn’t return until he changed it. 

Now the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and American Civil Liberties Union are filing a legal complaint with the state’s Department of Education, alleging that the private school’s hair policy is racially discriminatory. The complaint cites HuffPost data showing that it is not uncommon for private schools in the state to maintain hair policies with clear racist undertones.

The school in question ― A Book’s Christian Academy ― is private, but it participates in several of the state’s voucher programs, which provides publicly funded scholarships for kids to attend private schools based on factors like income. Clinton was supposed to attend A Book’s Christian Academy on one such scholarship. 

But the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Defense Fund complaint says that A Book’s policy is illegal, violating federal civil rights laws that schools in state voucher programs are required to follow. 

“A Book’s ban on ‘dreads’ – a style that Black students are particularly likely to wear – does not advance any legitimate school objective,” says the complaint. “Therefore, A Book’s policy illegally discriminates against Black students.”

I was bewildered that the all-white staff in charge of a predominantly Black school would have the audacity to shame something so closely tied to Black identity.
Clinton Stanley Sr.

The complaint also notes that at one point, school administrators told Clinton that his hair was too long because it fell below his ears. But promotional materials for the school show a white male student with hair falling below his ears. 

“Clinton Stanley Jr. was excluded from accessing an education at A Book’s Christian Academy simply because he is a Black male with locs,” says the complaint.

Clinton Stanley Sr., who was with his son when he was turned away from the school, documented the experience in a Facebook video at the time. He also wrote about his son’s experience in a blog post for the ACLU

“I was bewildered that the all-white staff in charge of a predominantly Black school would have the audacity to shame something so closely tied to Black identity,” wrote Stanley.  

Angel Harris, an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said she hopes that the Department of Education decides to investigate A Book’s Christian Academy and that the school changes its policies. She added that she hopes other schools with similar policies will take note.

The Legal Defense Fund previously sent a letter to the Florida Department of Education about the issue in October. The attorneys decided to file the formal legal complaint when they did not hear back from the department, she said. 

“The Florida Department of Education does not condone discrimination of any kind in Florida schools,” spokeswoman Audrey Walden told HuffPost. She said the department was still reviewing the complaint, which it received Thursday. 

In August a HuffPost investigation found that at least 20 percent of private schools participating in Florida’s newest voucher program have strict hair policies with specific racial undertones. Florida’s newest voucher program ― in which A Book’s does not participate ― provides scholarships to students who are victims of bullying. Hair policies in these schools require “natural” styles and ban dreadlocks. One school even has a ban on “progressive” hairstyles, while another school’s handbook says “many styles of fashion are clearly a result of the liberal influence of today’s secular society.”

This article was updated with comment from the Florida Department of Education. 

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Betsy DeVos’ New Title IX Regulations Will Only Hurt Female Student Athletes

Earlier this month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released newly proposed Title IX regulations regarding how schools should handle reports of sexual harassment and violence. When they are formally put into place, these guidelines will narrow the definition of sexual misconduct so fewer cases fall under Title IX’s umbrella.

It would also make schools responsible only for harassment or violence done on campus or at school-sanctioned events (so not at off-campus fraternity houses or apartments.), and restrict whom someone must report to at a college in order to initiate a formal investigation. And these new regulations would encourage a higher standard of evidence.

Those most concerned about students who are accused of harassing or harming others are cheering what they see as a strengthening due process and the rights of the accused. Survivors and their advocates are concerned this will make it harder to report and so discourage people from doing so. Also, this is a financial advantage for universities who will have less legal liability (DeVos appears to care very much about protecting institutions over and above students.)

DeVos’ proposed guidelines will mean less incentive for protecting the welfare of student-athletes in the face of preserving the overall interests of an athletic department.

As someone who has reported on campus sexual assault and sports over the last five years, it’s hard for me not to read over these proposed regulations and think immediately about what this will all mean for college athletics. Anyone who cares about mitigating abuse and the enabling of it within collegiate athletic departments should be very worried.

There is recent data that suggests student-athletes are more likely to be involved in Title IX cases than other students. You have to wonder what DeVos’ changes mean specifically for student-athletes who are themselves victims of sexual harassment or violence at the hands of another student-athlete.

Sports play such a large role on university campuses. Student athletics regularly involve huge amounts of money and they have their own media machine always looking for content. When the issue of campus sexual assault discussed, it is often when it involves a student-athlete. Think of Baylor, Minnesota, Michigan State, Tennessee, Florida State, Texas A&M, on and on.

“I meet at least three female survivors that have been raped by another athlete at every single school I go to,” Brenda Tracy told me. Tracy, founder of Set The Expectation and a rape survivor whose attackers included Oregon State football players, spends much of her time visiting and speaking with sports administrators and student-athletes about changing the culture of departments and encouraging programs to work toward eradicating sexual harassment and violence.

She believes these proposed guidelines will not foster “any type of a culture for survivors so they can come forward and report,” which will especially be true in athletic departments.

A 2014 congressional report found that one-fifth of universities allowed their athletic departments to oversee cases that involved student-athletes. And this was under the Obama administration’s guidelines, the ones that DeVos’ administration and advocates for the accused thought went too far.

At the time, Kate Fagan wrote a piece for espnW in which she talked about the specific problem in collegiate athletic departments: “That 20 percent number in the congressional report is chilling, as athletic departments (as well as colleges in general, of course) have competing interests,” she wrote. “Yes, they’re charged with protecting the welfare of student-athletes but also with protecting a very lucrative brand. Too often, their commitment to the former is sacrificed for a preservation of the latter.”

Now, when DeVos’ proposed guidelines go into effect, it will mean less incentive for a commitment to protecting the welfare of student-athletes in the face of preserving the overall interests of an athletic department.

That’s cynical, sure, but it’s backed up by a history that shows that programs fail to adequately implement Title IX when it comes providing equitable resources for women’s sports (which is an extension of an overall culture within sport that cares less about female athletes) and when it comes to dealing with reports of sexual harassment or violence.

“It’s already hard enough for a female athlete to navigate the process,” Tracy says. Athletic programs, she says, train athletes to think of it as a family. And so, “Everything stays within athletics. If you have a problem in your class, you find a tutor in athletics. If you get a parking ticket, go to this person in athletics. So, it’s already hard enough to report against another athlete, because you’re basically betraying the family, right? You’re causing a problem.”

No one wants to be the next Baylor or Ohio State or Michigan State.

Cody McDavis, a former Division I basketball player at the University of Northern Colorado and an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, told me these proposed regulations “compound on an issue of non-accountability in collegiate athletics” by “further insulat[ing] that non-accountability. There’s an elephant in the room, but it’s just being put under the carpet in a fairly obvious way.”

The NCAA doesn’t care enough about this issue to do anything (they certainly didn’t punish Michigan State). What they have done has no teeth.

McDavis says sports needs to get this right, though. “It drives a lot of the cultural mores,” he says, so sports “can be a beacon of a lot of good things, but they can also be one of a lot of bad things.”

If the Department of Education and the NCAA are not going to help mitigate sexual harassment and violence within athletic departments, what can someone do? Well, first, these are proposed regulations. The public can comment on them beginning on Nov. 29. End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX have partnered to create Hands Off IX that explains how to participate in the process.

For sports specifically, McDavis has a petition “calling on the Power Five Conference Commissioners — the most influential conferences in the NCAA — to immediately ban student-athletes with a history of violence.” Tracy says fans, alumni and donors should go directly to their schools and advocate for policies that protect the safety of the campus and of student-athletes.

And the media has to keep reporting and we all have to keep sharing these stories. Universities might not like being legally liable but they might just hate bad PR more.

No one wants to be the next Baylor or Ohio State or Michigan State. It’s our job to tell them: So don’t be.

Jessica Luther is a freelance journalist, an author and a co-host of the feminist sports podcast “Burn It All Down.”

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Where Do Teachers Get the Most Respect?

How educators are respected in relation to other professions can be a key marker in determining their overall status in an individual country. In China and Malaysia, the teaching profession is often placed on par with doctors. In Finland, the public aligns teaching with social work. Other countries rank teaching alongside librarians. These are just some of the findings in the 2018 Global Teacher Status Index, a worldwide survey of the general public and educators in 35 countries on the status of the teaching profession around the world.

How teachers were viewed relative to other occupations is one of four indicators the index uses to measure overall respect for the profession. The survey also looked at what teachers should be paid and whether parents encourage their children to enter the profession.

The researchers said 2018 data show a clear positive relationship between teacher status/respect and student achievement as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores.

China and Malaysia have the highest score in the 2018 index, 100 and 93 respectively. Taiwan – the only other country that places teachers on the same level as doctors – is third.  Russia and Indonesia round out the top five. At the bottom of the rankings are Argentina (23.6), Ghana (18.9), Italy (13.6), Israel (6.6) and Brazil (1).

Most countries surveyed recorded an increase in teacher respect for 2018 over the previous year, including the United States. The U.S. score was 39, which placed it 16th overall.

Doctor was the highest status profession in the survey. Other occupations included nurse, librarian; local government manager; social worker; website designer; policeman; engineer; lawyer; accountant; and, management consultant.

(Source: Global Teacher Status Index 2018)

Most countries placed teaching on the same level as a social worker. The U.S. equated the role of teachers to that of librarians, although the educators in the survey chose local government manager.

The survey asked respondents to estimate the starting salary for a teacher in their country, then give a figure that they thought was fair. They were then told how much teachers in their country were actually paid and asked if they thought this was fair.

“In the majority of countries, actual teacher wages were lower than what was perceived to be fair by respondents,” the report says.

 We find that there are major differences across countries in the way teachers are perceived by the public. This informs who decides to become a teacher in each country, how they are respected and how they are financially rewarded. This affects the kind of job they do in teaching our children, and ultimately how effective they are in getting the best from their pupils in terms of their learning.” – Global Teacher Status Index 2018

The survey also found a clear correlation between the level of respect for teachers and the likelihood that parents encourage their child to enter the profession. This holds even when controlling for pay levels, suggesting that teacher salary has little impact on a parent’s decision to encourage teaching.

In most countries, the public “systematically underestimates how much teachers work per week – often by more than 10 hours a week,” according to the report.

Despite the lackluster overall score of the United States, it’s evident from much of the data in the U.S. survey that respect for teachers – indeed, for the entire public education – is on the upswing.

Here are some of the highlights:

-The U.S. public think that teachers are underpaid by $7,500.

– Seventy-eight percent of respondents “instinctively view” teachers as influential, the fourth highest of all the countries surveyed after China, Ghana, and Indonesia.

– Americans’ confidence in their education system is increasing. When asked to rate the quality of their education system out of 10, US respondents said 6.7, a significant increase from 2013 when they rated it 5.9. This places the U.S. 11th of all the countries polled in 2018.

– Over four in 10 Americans would encourage their child to become a teacher, the fifth highest of all  countries surveyed. In 2013, only a third of US respondents would encourage their child to join the profession.

– The U.S. public underestimates the number of hours teachers work, putting the figure at 45.02 hours – almost an entire school day less. Overall, U.S. teachers report they are working significantly longer hours than their colleagues in other countries.

– Teachers in the United States think the status of their profession is lower than the general public does. Teachers who were polled set their status level at 37.1 out of 100, while the general public put it at 48.7 out of 100.

-Support for merit pay has dropped dramatically. Half of US respondents believe teachers should be paid according to the results of their pupils. That’s down from 80 percent in 2013.

These results mirror what we’ve seen from other national surveys. The 2018 Phi Delta Kappan poll, for example, found that two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low, and 73 percent of the public would support teachers in the own communities if they went on strike for higher pay – impressive numbers, bolstered by the #RedforEd movement that forced a national debate about public education priorities and helped elect pro-public education candidates across the country in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Reversing the chronic neglect of the nation’s school system and the damage “blaming teachers first” has had on the profession may take a few years, but “the public is on our side,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

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Melania Trump’s ‘Be Best’ White House Ornaments Lead To Christmas Jeer

Twitter users also spotted “Be Best” ornaments, referring to the first lady’s youth campaign to encourage “positive social, emotional and physical habits” in children.

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Dual-Language Immersion Programs Boost Student Success

If you are an English Language Learner (ELL) enrolled in a dual immersion program, learning to speak, read, and write English is about many things. It’s about new words. It’s about pronunciation. It’s about becoming bilingual and biliterate. Above all, it is about something very elemental: maintaining your native tongue while gaining access to grade-level classes in math, science, and other subjects.

Dual-language immersion programs are effective because they encourage students to master English but not at the cost of losing their native language, says Elizabeth Villanueva, a language and literature teacher at Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.

“Language is power,” says Villanueva, a member of the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA). “When we encourage students to use their language while learning English, academic success follows.”

In Minnesota, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is one of the state’s largest school districts with more than 37,000 students who speak more than 125 languages.

“Maintaining a student’s native language is vital to their self-esteem, family heritage, and identity,” says See Pha Vang, a teacher with the SPPS Office of Teaching and Learning. “German, French, Spanish … all native languages are critical to who we are as individuals.”

Two-Way Language Learning

Numerous studies have shown that academic skills and knowledge transfer between languages, according to James Crawford and Sharon Adelman Reyes, authors of Diary of a Bilingual School, which combines narratives and analysis from a Chicago magnet school to demonstrate how dual language programs work.

“Students who learn to read well in, say, Spanish, tend to learn to read well in English over the long term,” the authors state in an article for Colorin Colorado. “Developing fluent bilingualism also gives children a variety of economic, cultural, cognitive, and psychosocial advantages.”

Dual immersion has proven successful precisely because “it avoids skill-building in favor of natural approaches to language acquisition,” according to the authors. “Students acquire a new language incidentally, as they understand it, by making sense of it in context, while engaged in purposeful activities.”

Comprehension is enhanced when children from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds interact and learn from each other in the same classroom, according to Crawford and Reyes. Immersion teachers employ sheltering strategies that adjust the language of academic lessons to students’ current level of understanding.

“The emphasis is on developing children’s capacity to use the language for meaningful pursuits, an approach that is far more likely to engage their interest than memorizing the syntactical forms of English or Spanish,” they state. “It is also far more likely to foster proficient bilingualism.”

Heritage Language Learners: Spanish

Latino students enter U.S. public schools at varying degrees of language literacy. Some are from families who have been in the U.S. for generations and happen not to speak fluent Spanish. Some are bilingual in Spanish and English. Some are immigrants who cannot speak a word of English, while others are illiterate in even their native tongue from lack of formal schooling.

“The linguistic needs of a second or third generation Latino are very different from someone who arrived in the U.S. at age 16,” says Villanueva, who has conducted research and written numerous papers on language and cultural heritage. “Whatever their grasp of English, we should use their linguistic skills to empower and enrich their education and sense of self.”

Dual language programs and curriculum, says Villanueva, can prompt student’s interest to connect new words and knowledge with their own learning experiences and surroundings.

“When students make these connections, they create an internal relationship with the subject matter, new words, and culture that builds their confidence,” she says. “This ultimately leads to academic success.”

In 2017, Latinos were almost 18 percent (57.5 million) of the U.S. population. As members of the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority, many ELL Latino students exist in a familiar environment surrounded by Latino family members, music, food, and culture. For those who are literate in Spanish, learning English is enhanced when they are encouraged to immerse themselves in both cultures and languages, according to Villanueva.

“Encouraging them (heritage learners) to read and write in Spanish not only prepares them better for academic success in mainstream courses, it also enhances their learning skills in English,” she says. “Dual immersion programs work well because these students are motivated to cultivate their Spanish as well as their English skills.”

Heritage Language Learners: Hmong

In Saint Paul Public Schools, the top four languages are Spanish, Somali, Karen (spoken in Myanmar (Burma) and the borders of Thailand), and Hmong, a language and dialect native to China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Hmong is an endangered language, says Vang, a native of Laos who speaks Hmong, Lao, and English. She also studied Spanish in high school and college.

“The main reason is that Hmong is, traditionally, an oral language,” she says. “It is passed on verbally from one generation to the next.”

In response to the growing Hmong community in St. Paul over the last dozen years, the district established the Hmong Dual Language Program for elementary school students and Hmong Language and Culture Program for students in middle and high school.

Vang, who joined the dual language program about five years ago, says there are no higher education institutions or recognized scholars in the Hmong language arts to reference regarding lesson plans, curriculum, and other etymological formalities.

“We are our own resources,” says Vang, a member of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT). “We (language teachers) consult with each other and with Hmong elders about the language, cultural values and identity.”

In SPPS, many of the enrolled Hmong students arrived in the U.S. not knowing English. The Hmong immersion program was developed to foster bilingual, biliterate students by easing them into speaking English as they progress with their peers through the public-school system.

In the early years of their education, Hmong students spend the majority of their school day reading, writing, and speaking in Hmong. Their instruction involves learning English through the use of their native language. As students gain knowledge and experience, the percentage of classroom time using English increases.

“If you live here, you have to learn English,” says Vang. “But there are also tremendous benefits to speaking your own language and other world languages. The boost in self-esteem, world-view, and joy of experiencing other cultures cannot be valued enough.”

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The New Title IX: Cross-Examination of Rape Victims

Any 19- or 20-year-old victim of rape can imagine what it would be like to be cross-examined, through an advocate, in a live hearing, by their rapist.

Painful. Traumatic. And avoidable—if they simply opt not to report their assault.

Sexual assaults on campuses already are under-reported by victims—an estimated 90 percent never come forward. The new federal Title IX rules, released this month by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which include a provision to enable cross-examination of victims as well as additional protections for accusers, is projected to lead to a 50 percent drop in future reports.

“Secretary DeVos has fallen short yet again on a very simple and fundamental premise of her duty: to protect all students,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “This Trump-DeVos agenda would return schools to a time when rape, assault, and harassment were swept under the rug.”

Title IX is a federal law, passed almost 50 years ago, that ensures women have equal access to education in schools and colleges that receive federal funds. Maybe best known for paving the way for millions of female athletes, the rules also make sure girls and women have equal access to course offerings and on-campus housing—and that they are safe from sexual harassment and assault in their K12 schools and college campuses. Nearly one in four undergraduate women experience rape or sexual assault through physical force or violence.

“The real problem with these new rules is that they will make it much less likely that victims will report incidents of harassment or violence—and these incidents already are under-reported,” says Mark F. Smith, NEA higher education policy analyst.

The new rules, which were developed after DeVos met with men’s rights groups last year, will go into effect after a 60-day period for public comments that could lead to revisions. They will replace rules that were put into place by the Obama administration in 2011, and revoked by DeVos more than a year ago.

There are significant differences between the old rules and the new DeVos rules, including:

  • The new opportunity to cross-examine accusers stands out for its likely chilling effect on victims. “College students will have an understanding of what this adversarial process will be like,” says NEA attorney Keira McNett—and it’s not the “trauma-informed” practice that NEA would like to see. Additionally, low-income victims may be especially discouraged. “There’s this huge asymmetry between male responding parties who can afford lawyers and female reporting parties who can’t,” Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, told Inside Higher Ed. “For a lot of those victims—male, female or otherwise identified individuals—who know they can’t afford good legal advice going in, if the other side has high-paid lawyers, I think it’s going to create a powerful incentive to not persist.”
  • The old rules advised colleges to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard, meaning allegations would be proven when colleges find that it’s more likely than not that harassment or abuse occurred. The new rules aim to protect the accused with a higher standard—specifically, colleges must find “clear and convincing evidence.” This likely will lead to mini-trials that schools and colleges, especially smaller ones, aren’t equipped to handle.
  • New language says institutions would be responsible for investigating abuse that occurs within college-sanctioned programs only. But many sexual assaults—including the Brock Turner rape at Stanford, or the alleged rape of a student by a Dartmouth professor—occur off-campus. Indeed, the department’s proposed rule notes that 41 percent of college sexual assaults occur off-campus. These incidents are no less traumatic than rapes that occur on campus.
  • A less publicized change concerns private, religious schools or colleges that take federal funds, and consequently must comply with Title IX. Previously, if those schools wanted to claim a religious exemption for any practice that runs counter to Title IX, they would have to write a letter to the Department of Education (DOE) seeking the exemption and explaining the religious tenet. Under the new rule, schools would no longer have to write a letter—schools “can de facto claim the exemption without any oversight by DOE,” explains NEA attorney Gypsy Moore. This could make it much easier for an institution to dismiss or discriminate against LGTBQ students or even pregnant students.

Bottom line, these changes won’t help students, says Eskelsen García. “If adopted, the rules will mean fewer students report their assaults and harassment, schools will be more dangerous, and more students will be denied their legal right to equal access to education after experiencing assault and harassment,” says Eskelsen García. “Educators across the country are appalled. The proposed rules conflict not just with Title IX’s purpose but also with the basic values of equality, safety, and respect that we teach our students every day.”

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In California, A County Of Children Without Schools

In the days since Camp Fire ravaged Butte County, consuming 150,000 acres and more than 10,000 homes, Annie Finney’s house has been turned into a makeshift school, filled with a group of eager second-graders. 

Finney, a teacher at Children’s Community Charter School in Paradise, California, is one of the lucky ones. Most of her school burned down, but her house is still standing, which is more than many of her students and co-workers can say.

In the morning, students sit around her kitchen table, practicing math problems on a whiteboard that Finney borrowed from a neighbor. In the afternoon, they go outside for recess on her front lawn, wearing plastic masks to protect against the polluted air as they play basketball.

“After we figured out everyone was safe, I knew we would want to meet up again and show that we’re still a community,” said Finney, a teacher of nine years.

For teachers in Butte County, Nov. 8 could have been any other day filled with backpacks and blackboards, until the sky became dark and students were ordered to evacuate. Now, after the smoke has cleared, many will never be able to return to their classrooms, after the fire destroyed at least three schools and damaged five more in the Paradise area. County schools have been closed since the fire, with the hope to start up again Dec. 3. But it’s unclear where classrooms will be housed and how many students will be coming back to the area. Students and teachers will work together on reading, writing and arithmetic, but also on finding on shelter and rebuilding their lives.

For the past few days, about a dozen students have come to Finney’s house, as her husband, a firefighter, has gone out to sift through rubble for missing persons. Only about two of her students still have their homes. Those that are still in the area come to her from temporary trailers and the homes of friends and family members. The structure and sense of normalcy – at least for a few hours a day ― has been helping them cope with all the ways in which their typical routine has come crashing down.

When school starts up again, she has no idea where she’ll be teaching or how many of her students will still be living in the area.

Photo Credit: Annie Finney

Teacher Annie Finney created a makeshift school at her home after part of her school burned down in Camp Fire. 

Most students from Paradise Unified School District who have been reached by teachers say they hope to stay in the district, according to Marc Kessler, a seventh-grade teacher at Paradise Intermediate School. Kessler has been working with other teachers to try and track down every student in the days since the fires. Students also communicate with teachers and each other through a website that was set up for them to share their experiences.

A group of teachers call about 15 students a day, says Kessler. Others can’t bear to make the calls: They’re still too traumatized and busy trying to ensure their own survival. 

Kessler spends about three hours a day making calls, in addition to delivering gift cards to families in need and trying to track down supplies for the makeshift school that students will eventually return to. Teachers at his school are working to create a school for thousands of students in two weeks. They need computers, chairs and desks.

“We were in a life-or-death situation with our students, and it’s been hard for us, not knowing where they went and what happened,” Kessler said. 

Katelyn Alderson, a teacher at Paradise elementary school, can’t fathom the idea of delving back into academics upon returning to school. At first, she just wants to make sure her students are okay.

Alderson’s school burned down, along with her house. Before the fire reached the school, she spent the morning trying to occupy her students in her classroom, keep them calm with games and tasks that would mask the chaos of the day.

But eventually, the fire made its way to the back door of her home, and she was sent to collect whatever she could salvage. For her students, the situation only got worse. When a bus came to evacuate students who hadn’t been retrieved my parents, it left without taking all the school’s kids. Teachers were told to stuff children in their cars and drive for their lives, embers flying all around them. 

We were in a life-or-death situation with our students, and it’s been hard for us, not knowing where they went and what happened.

Now, like many of her students, Alderson is house-hopping with her husband, a fellow teacher, as they try and figure out what’s next.

“All I want is to hold my kids and tell them it’s going to be ok,” Alderson said.

Life was already tough for many students in Butte County before the fires destroyed their communities.

There, more residents report having multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) than any other county in California. The ACEs scale is used to measure childhood trauma. Now, youth counselor Greg Shafer worries that life for local students is only going to get worse.

Shafer has been helping at a shelter for those who have been displaced as he works to track down his students, who are spread out between shelters, tents, trailers and houses of family members and friends in other communities. Many of Shafer’s students – who he treated in schools around the county ― already technically fit the definition of homeless before the fires started. He can only imagine how tenuous their already fragile routines must feel.

He describes the ones he as spoken to as being in a state of shock and focused on the short-term challenges of the day, like getting a relative’s necessary medication.

“This is going to be a deeply traumatic event of their life, and it is going to take years for it to have any meaning,” Shafer said.

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One School’s Mission To Teach Kids Whose Lives Have Been Hijacked By Trauma

BRONX, N.Y. — Sasha Redlener slipped into a child-sized chair at a table beside first-grader Alyssa. It was midway through a class discussion on safety, with the students at Mott Haven Academy Charter School scratching out answers to questions like, “What does it mean to feel safe?” and “What can you do to help make your school feel safe?”

But Alyssa was sticking out her tongue and shimmying in her chair. Redlener asked the girl if she was comfortable at her table.

“I’m comfortable,” said Alyssa. “I just have a lot of energy.”

“I can see that,” said Redlener, suggesting they visit the water fountain for a quick break. As she escorted Alyssa into the hallway, Redlener’s co-teacher, Carolina Garcia, and Alexa Wernick, one of the school’s family and student specialists, scooted beside other students to coach them on their writing.

The goal with Alyssa, as with all her classmates, is to keep her “in the green.” At Haven, a decade-old South Bronx charter school serving roughly 450 kids in pre-K through seventh grade, moods are characterized by colors. Red and blue represent unpleasant moods: anger, frustration; sadness, boredom. Yellow stands for positive, high-energy emotions, such as excitement and joy. Green is tranquility, serenity, satisfaction — ideal conditions for what Haven teachers refer to as “learning mode.”

Alyssa has large, brown eyes; dark hair that’s often gathered in a ponytail; and a tendency to wiggle and squirm. (“Watch your body, Alyssa,” has been a common refrain from teachers.) At the start of the school year, she would often shut down, arms folded, eyes cast downward. But midway through the school year, she had learned to express herself more effectively, to recognize her pooling frustration and take steps to forestall it. She would speak up when she was feeling excited or upset and listen when teachers gave her feedback. Taking water breaks, drawing and coloring and interacting one-on-one with teachers also helped. Alyssa’s school weeks were still marked by ups and downs, however; she was particularly on edge if she missed a visit with her mother.

Since November 2015, Alyssa had lived in foster care, and her time with her mother had been restricted to twice-weekly visits, meted out one hour or so at a time, in the drab office of a child welfare organization and under the supervision of a caseworker.

At many schools, a home life like Alyssa’s would be an outlier — but here it’s written into the founding documents of the school. A third of the kids at Haven are in foster care, and another third come from families enrolled in the city’s preventive services (such as drug and mental health counseling), which are designed to stabilize households to keep kids from entering foster care. The final third live in the surrounding neighborhood. These students often have their own intense needs as their families contend with the stresses of poverty. The Mott Haven section of the Bronx, a mix of row houses, retail stores and hulking housing projects one subway stop from Manhattan, is located in the poorest congressional district in the country.

At first, Haven’s educational experiment seemed like it might be a flop. Classes were chaotic and it showed in the school data: Of Haven’s first class of third-graders, only 29 percent earned a “proficient” score on state standardized tests in math and 26 percent in reading. The school responded by overhauling its approach — adding teachers, behavioral specialists and extra academic support. Gradually, its scores improved and its students in the child welfare system began to outperform foster children attending other schools. In 2017, 59 percent of its third- through fifth-graders earned a proficient score on the state tests compared with 42 percent of third- through fifth-graders citywide; discipline has shown improvement too. Haven has begun to draw educators from Texas, Maryland and elsewhere to observe its approach to teaching some of the country’s most vulnerable children.

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Mott Haven Academy Charter School was started by a New York City child-welfare organization with the goal of helping lift the academic performance of the city’s most vulnerable students. 

While even Haven’s backers say its approach can’t be scaled in its entirety — and critics worry about even partially segregating children who are in foster care — the institution has begun to find some answers to one of the toughest questions facing schools: How do you educate children whose lives have been hijacked by abuse, neglect and violence?

Haven was started by the New York Foundling, one of the city’s oldest and biggest child welfare organizations. Last year, the organization served roughly 27,000 children and families through programs that support foster kids, youth with disabilities, expectant parents and juvenile offenders. Until a decade ago, however, the group’s education experience was limited to after-school tutoring and a Head Start program in Puerto Rico.

But the Foundling’s president, Bill Baccaglini, was interested in trying to reverse the singularly grim educational performance of foster youth. Nationally, on any given day, there are about 442,995 children in foster care, according to the latest data, a number that has increased recently in part because of the opioid epidemic. In New York and across the country, children who’ve spent time in the child welfare system tend to fare worse in school than just about any other group of students. In the 2016-17 school year, for example, just 21 percent of third-graders in foster care in New York City earned a proficient score in English and 20 percent did so in math. Just 16 percent of students in foster care were on track to graduate from high school within four years of starting. Often exposed to trauma and then doubly harmed by being torn from their parents, foster children tend to ricochet between multiple homes and schools, adding to their learning challenges. “It borders on criminal,” says Baccaglini, a white-haired veteran of state child-services agencies.

Baccaglini wanted to see if, by drawing on the agency’s long experience with traumatized kids and locating casework services within a school, the Foundling could make a difference. So, in 2008, the agency rented space at the Mott Haven neighborhood elementary school, P.S. 43, and broke ground on an adjacent plot of long-vacant land. In 2010, Haven moved into its permanent home, a boxy, seven-floor building with a gym, dance studio and cafeteria in the basement and a health clinic and caseworker offices upstairs. The school later concluded that putting Foundling caseworkers inside the school building wasn’t essential, so long as kids were getting mental health support from social workers when they needed it, Baccaglini says. Recently, all but one of the school’s upper floors gave way to classrooms as Haven has added middle-school grades. (The school plans to halt its expansion when it reaches eighth grade in the 2019-20 school year.)

The Hechinger Report followed three of Haven’s families over the course of the last academic year to examine the school’s solutions to the many problems complicating the education of youth in foster care. First-grader Alyssa lived with a foster mother. Brandon, in fourth grade, and his two siblings at Haven were being raised by their mother, Jennifer, who’d learned about the school while getting mental health support for herself and her kids through preventive services. Salima, a sixth-grader, and her sister Khadija, a kindergartner, had been admitted through the lottery system for children from the Mott Haven neighborhood. The families’ last names have been omitted to protect their privacy.

‘A child is not a revolving door’

Alyssa trundled to school each morning between the towers of the public housing complex where she lived, dressed in brown Ugg-style boots in winter and white high-top Converse in warmer months. She’d moved in with her new foster mother, a woman in her fifties named Michelle, the previous summer.

In Michelle’s three-bedroom apartment, Alyssa shared a bunk bed with her 3-year-old brother. A 10-year-old girl from another family joined the household in February. Michelle’s teenage son lived there too, along with a small dog named Ms. Peaches.

Michelle had raised four kids of her own — and fostered seven. As soon as she received a foster kid of school age, Michelle would call Haven. “They do all kinds of things,” said Michelle one winter evening, as Alyssa emerged from her bedroom carrying a flyer for an upcoming school movie night. Michelle was trying to get the 10-year-old into Haven, too, but the school didn’t have any midyear openings.

Alyssa in her first-grade classroom at Mott Haven Academy Charter School, where she enrolled after moving in with a foster mo

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Alyssa in her first-grade classroom at Mott Haven Academy Charter School, where she enrolled after moving in with a foster mother who lives near the South Bronx institution. 

Alyssa’s first few months at Haven were bumpy. In November, Alyssa’s teachers and the school’s director of social work called Michelle in for a meeting. Their message: The girl needed extra support. She would continue to receive small group instruction each day in reading through a program known as Preventing Academic Failure. A member of the school’s behavior intervention team, Krystina Avila, was put on call for Alyssa when needed, and she had daily check-ins with Wernick as well. The 6-year-old would also likely be evaluated for a learning disability, but mainly as a way to gather more information on her aptitudes and challenges; Haven officials felt confident they could work with her successfully. As winter set in, Alyssa grew more comfortable in her classes and began to make some tentative academic progress.

 Meanwhile, at her home, Alyssa’s behavior was improving too, according to Michelle. On weekends, the girls would often go out and get their hair done; at night, the foster mother said, they’d say their prayers together at Michelle’s bedside. Alyssa had started out a bit distrustful, fiercely protective of her younger brother. More recently, she’d softened. “She’s my little helper,” said Michelle. “She’s always asking me, ‘Can I polish your fingers?’ ‘Can I do your hair?’ … She’s very lovable.”

But toward winter’s end, events risked cleaving that newfound consistency. Michelle’s relationship with Alyssa’s biological mother had been strained for some time, a not-uncommon dynamic. Alyssa’s relationship with the 10-year-old girl in the household had also started to sour. Then, in February, Michelle said that Alyssa’s mother accused her of yelling at Alyssa’s little brother and injuring his finger, an allegation Michelle denied. Unnerved, Michelle said she filed paperwork to have Alyssa and her brother removed from her home.

“I was in a numb mood,” Michelle said a few days later. “When I say numb, I was blank. I have never in my history of taking care of kids had to write out a 10-day notice.” She was going back and forth on whether it was the right decision; she planned to meet later that week with staff from the Foundling, who oversaw Alyssa’s placement in foster care, to discuss her options.

A native of Savannah, Georgia, Michelle grew up in foster care, and she viewed her work as a foster mother as her way of giving back. She proudly hung awards from community groups including the Foundling on her living room wall. This made Michelle all the more anguished at the idea of Alyssa and her little brother going to a new home: “A child is not a revolving door.”

If Alyssa did move, it would be her third foster home in as many years. The traumatic events she’d experienced were piling up.

Refining the model

Haven officials are quick to acknowledge that, in the school’s first years, they underestimated the educational consequences of trauma. Some of the kids showed up to kindergarten unable to speak in full sentences. Others had difficulty forming attachments to adults and other children, couldn’t cope with setbacks and exhibited impulsiveness, distrust and antisocial behavior. A growing body of research suggests that traumatic events and constant stress can sap children of their resilience and even cause chemical changes in their bodies and brains.

“A lot of these kids would make a mistake, and they would just melt down or crumple up all their work or hit another kid,” said Marla Brassard, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who studied Haven in its first years as part of her research on childhood trauma. (The Hechinger Report, which produced this story, is an independent unit of Columbia’s Teachers College.) “The level of support [needed] was well beyond what even the most highly skilled teacher could manage.”

Mott Haven Academy Charter School teacher Carolina Garcia helps one of her first-grade students with an assignment. At Haven,

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Mott Haven Academy Charter School teacher Carolina Garcia helps one of her first-grade students with an assignment. At Haven, all elementary school teachers have a co-teacher to allow them to give students more personalized attention. 

When the school received its first test scores, earning it a D rating from the city, Brassard says she wasn’t surprised by the poor results. Haven employees were fiercely dedicated, she said, but the school’s model relied perhaps too heavily on forging strong relationships between students and teachers. It was a loosely structured approach better suited for students whose academic and behavioral needs were already being met — but the kids at Haven needed much more.

Brassard approached Baccaglini, and, later, Jessica Nauiokas, Haven’s principal. It turned out they had their own concerns about Haven’s model. After much study, Baccaglini and Nauiokas decided to adopt a more structured, trauma-informed approach to teaching, one characterized by repetition, predictability and extra academic and emotional support.

Haven has been refining its approach ever since. Each elementary class has two teachers, who share equally in academic and behavioral responsibilities. Four social workers teach lessons designed to help students regulate their emotions; they also intervene regularly to support classroom teachers and give students extra attention. Some kids receive 30 minutes or more of mental health counseling a week, during gym or recess, so they don’t miss class. Struggling learners, in particular, benefit from the Preventing Academic Failure program. For young kids, the school incorporates a play-based curriculum, and opportunities for free time and classroom rewards are plentiful. All staff have access to a database in which they can see updates from the children’s caseworkers and other teachers; those updates sometimes help explain why kids are acting out. This past year, Haven rolled out more social and emotional strategies, such as the Yale-designed, color-coded “mood meter.”

Principal Jessica Nauiokas has led Mott Haven Academy Charter School since it was founded a decade ago. The school continues

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Principal Jessica Nauiokas has led Mott Haven Academy Charter School since it was founded a decade ago. The school continues to adapt its educational model for teaching vulnerable kids.

Unlike the “no excuses” philosophy of some charter schools, Haven has long taken a measured approach to discipline — using “point sheets” to encourage good behavior and consequences like loss of free time to discourage misdeeds. Suspensions are rare. Haven also tries to avoid labeling too many kids as having a learning disability; Nauiokas says that foster youth are often over-identified for special education because their trauma is confused with impairment. Still, nearly 100 Haven students had special education designations last year.

Don Lash, author of the book “ ‘When the Welfare People Come’: Race and Class in the U.S. Child Protection System,” and executive director of the nonprofit group Sinergia, says that too many charter schools, in particular, weed out kids with emotional and academic difficulties. He praises Haven for taking the opposite approach: “It’s great you’re committed to serving that population.” That said, Lash faults the education and child welfare systems for so thoroughly failing these students: “It’s a shame that it is a necessity to have to be a set-aside rather than something that all neighborhood schools should be capable of doing.”

Baccaglini agrees — and yet, most schools are not able to devote the same level of resources and attention to this population of students. That’s why he thinks it makes sense to forge ahead with the educational experiment, even though it raises concerns among some advocates that a specialized school could further stigmatize kids in foster care. Baccaglini has been encouraged by the school’s performance so far, but, he says, “I’m still not happy.” Although Haven’s overall test scores are good, kids from the general community routinely outperform the foster care kids, and the kids in preventive services do slightly worse than those in foster care, according to Baccaglini. Those achievement gaps have narrowed significantly, but Haven’s leaders hope to zero them out.

‘They try to keep your family together’

The assignment in classroom 4B was to write a letter to your parents describing fourth-grade life. What was a typical day like? What are you doing well on? What do you need to improve on? The students’ writing would be shared during upcoming parent-teacher conferences. (When they were told this, the kids bellowed in unison, “No!”)

As the fourth-graders worked on their letters, their teachers, Olivia Evanko and Jill Kearney, floated among the kids with an air of choreographed precision, checking their progress. Brandon, a brown-haired kid with a fondness for dogs, high-top sneakers and amusement parks, sat at a desk by the window. He’d been on a roll that morning, whipping through the math lesson on fractions, then turning to help his classmates near him. In his letter, Brandon said that he was excelling in math, behavior and partner work. For things to improve, he listed handwriting, reading and “my excitement.”

Most days, Brandon was barely recognizable as the student who’d first enrolled in Haven as a kindergartner. With turmoil at home, he’d struggled mightily with his behavior; now, the point sheet on which teachers scored his behavior in goals like “be respectful” and “be safe with hands and feet,” along with weekly 30-minute sessions with a school therapist, were enough to keep him on track. His family life interfered with his school work less and less.

Brandon in his fourth-grade classroom at Mott Haven Academy Charter School. Brandon enrolled in the school as a kindergartner

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Brandon in his fourth-grade classroom at Mott Haven Academy Charter School. Brandon enrolled in the school as a kindergartner after his mother learned about the program upon signing up for preventive services. 

His mother, Jennifer, was trying hard to keep it that way. She’d learned about Haven after enrolling in preventive services on the advice of a therapist she was seeing to manage her bipolar disorder. The therapist had told Jennifer that preventive services could help her access additional counseling for her family; from there, she was introduced to Haven. Initially uncertain, Jennifer quickly grew comfortable with Haven’s teachers; her four kids fell into a routine.

A few years ago, after Brandon spoke with teachers about some of his family’s challenges with domestic violence, the school’s director of social work, Gabriella Cassandra, helped Jennifer get a court order against her ex. Jennifer said she was grateful for the support, which contrasted starkly with her past experiences.

“At other schools, if you speak about some of these issues, you get scared that you’re going to get in trouble with ACS [the Administration for Children’s Services, which runs the city’s preventive services program] or someone is going to come and remove your kids,” she said. “It’s different here. They are more family-oriented and they try to keep your family together.”

Whereas foster parents like Michelle receive stipends to raise the kids in their care, biological parents like Jennifer often struggle to keep their kids in diapers, their refrigerators full and their homes above scrutiny from ACS, which critics accuse of often conflating issues of poverty with neglect. In the South Bronx, nearly one-half of kids live in poverty. Because of this, at Haven, services are targeted based on the individual child’s needs, not the student’s category — foster care, preventive services or local. But families enrolled in preventive services tend to struggle the most with getting their kids off to school, making sure the children’s homework is done and showing up for appointments. Haven has a list of roughly 55 families whose kids are chronically absent; the vast majority of those parents are enrolled in preventive services.

Brandon's sister, Bella, works on a writing project in her first-grade classroom at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School.&nb

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Brandon’s sister, Bella, works on a writing project in her first-grade classroom at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School. 

Jennifer, though, had been able to give her kids a sense of security that some children in preventive services lack. Although she had struggled to stay consistently employed, the family had lived in the same apartment building since before her youngest child, Bella, now a gap-toothed first-grader, was born, and Jennifer’s kids had near-perfect attendance. Some preventive services parents get 6:30 a.m. calls each day and an annual dressing down from school administrators; Jennifer had never needed either.

Still, Jennifer worried about the effects of her relationships and mental health issues on her kids and took pains to keep her problems from further complicating their lives. That wasn’t always possible. One Friday morning this spring, Brandon waited for his uncle in the school’s administrative office. Despite the opportunity to spend time with his uncle’s menagerie — a turtle, goldfish and three pitbulls — Brandon didn’t want to leave school for his uncle’s Lower East Side apartment. But Jennifer needed a break, and she’d turned to her brother, a ballast she’d come to rely on more regularly, to take the kids.

“My mom’s okay,” Brandon said as he sat and waited for his brother and sister to join him in the office. “Not great.” Meanwhile, of her four children, Brandon was the one Jennifer tended to worry about most. She explained: “He’s the most like me.”

That included being a voracious learner. One day in 4B, as his classmates finished typing out an assignment on America’s westward expansion, Brandon had already completed his and moved on to an open-ended essay. His subject: “Dogs are the best.” On the day leading up to parent-teacher conferences, he scurried around his desk to help a classmate on the lesson about fractions, dividing a sandwich among stick figures. Later that afternoon, when Evanko and Kearney gathered the fourth-graders to discuss their improvement letters, Brandon’s hand shot up first.

“Take a minute to think about it,” said Kearney, before calling on him.

“My writing,” said Brandon.

“But you’re working on it, right?” said Kearney, encouragingly.

‘Over here they take the learning more seriously’

One of Baccaglini’s biggest initial fears was that the neighborhood kids’ education would suffer because of their proximity to so many high-risk students. “The last thing I ever want to do is negatively affect a kid in the South Bronx’s education,” he recalled.

But that hasn’t happened. In fact, Haven’s local students routinely outperform the city average in both reading and math — in 2017, for example, 66 percent of Haven’s general-community kids scored proficient or better in math on the state standardized tests, according to the school, compared with 42 percent of students citywide. The school is a big draw for local parents; the waiting list for kids from the general community totaled more than 300 this year, the school says, compared to six kids on the foster care waiting list and 16 on preventive services’ list.

he classroom walls of Mott Haven Academy Charter School are covered in student work.&nbsp;

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

he classroom walls of Mott Haven Academy Charter School are covered in student work. 

The high share of Haven students in foster care barely registers with Mariana, a native of Ghana who has sent three of her children to Haven. It’s the school’s strong academics and community-minded focus that appeal. Mariana is a regular at Thursday morning coffee with Nauiokas, the principal, and monthly community meetings with parents and staff. Her older children attended P.S. 43 across the street, but her daughters Khadija, in kindergarten, and Salima, in sixth grade, followed their brother Abdul to Haven.

“Over here they take the learning more seriously,” said Mariana. Just the previous Friday, she said, Salima’s English teacher had called to say the girl had talked during a test: “They are going to call and make sure everything is right,” said Mariana. “I love when they call me.”

She also loves the bevy of field trips, community meetings, parent nights and outings. Last year, as a fifth-grader, Salima traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit the monuments and Howard University. Closer to home, she saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Apollo Theater and toured Columbia University and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Haven’s idea is to put college directly in its students’ sights.

Plus, the sorts of support that Haven offers, such as the intensive social and emotional lessons, small group instruction and strategies for helping kids with executive function, are important for students of all backgrounds, educators say.

On Haven’s first floor, Salima’s younger sister, Khadija, was sitting at a table with three of her kindergarten classmates. Wernick, the family and student specialist, asked each of them to use the mood meter to share how they were feeling.

“I feel calm,” said Khadija in a quiet voice. 

After each of the kids had shared, Wernick explained that they would be spending the lesson learning about big problems versus small problems. Big problems were ones for which you needed an adult; small problems could be solved on one’s own.

Khadija volunteered that if someone wanted to play with her but neglected to say ‘please,’ that would be a small problem. Other kids posed questions: What if you were playing outside and your ball rolled away? What if a child got sick and threw up?

“I’ve already forgotten what a small problem is,” said Wernick, intentionally using repetition as the lesson wound down. “Is it something where you need to ask or you can fix it yourself?”

Khadija said: “Fix it yourself.”

‘I wish I were your daughter’

At Haven, as at any school, there are always plenty of problems that need fixing — and with summer approaching they tend to add up fast. Student behavior typically declines near school holidays, as kids anticipate structure-less days spreading out before them.

Over the summer, Haven’s children would be trading their highly predictable school days for a months-long stretch in often unstable homes. A few weeks before school ended, one girl hid her counselor’s cellphone and her teachers searched for it. One male student got so anxious for an end-of-school ceremony that he refused to walk across the stage.

One morning in late May, in 4B, Brandon was wearing a Camp Felix sweatshirt. He’d be attending the sleepaway camp, which is run by the Foundling. Cassandra, the school’s director of social work, had helped Jennifer fill out the application to make sure he got in.

The previous month, Jennifer had found a job working with people diagnosed with severe autism and other disabilities; the position used the certification she’d earned the previous year in human services, which pleased her. She was working overnight shifts, but she didn’t mind too much, as she could get the kids off to school in the morning and help them with homework in the evening. “It works out,” she said.

Jennifer was proud of Brandon for his academic performance and for maintaining his behavior, which she credited to the therapy he’d been receiving at Haven. “That really worked for him,” she said, “so I’m hoping that next year he’ll continue to do the same.”

That same day, in classroom 1A, Alyssa was getting antsy. A few weeks earlier, she’d moved out of Michelle’s apartment and into the home of another foster parent.

For Michelle, it had been a nightmare scenario. She’d kept Alyssa and her little brother at her home through the winter and much of the spring, but then a fresh conflict with Alyssa’s mother had erupted in late April. Michelle denied she’d done anything wrong, but the allegations against her, this time involving Alyssa, led not only to Michelle returning the first-grader and her brother to the Foundling, but also ACS’s removal of her other foster child, now 11.

Michelle was heartbroken. Only a few weeks earlier, she’d secured the girl a spot at Haven for the coming school year. But after the girl was removed from Michelle’s care, she had missed a mandatory intake meeting. Michelle pulled up an email from the school on her cellphone and looked at it despondently. You have declined your spot at Mott Haven, it said.

Michelle shook her head. “They didn’t even take her to the appointment.”

During the transition to a new home, Alyssa had missed two days of school. But by the third day, she was back at Haven, much to the relief of her teachers and the school social workers.

Alyssa’s Foundling therapist had come to the school to speak with teachers about what the girl was experiencing. Haven staff were now trying to ensure that Alyssa would stay enrolled next year no matter where she ended up living. “She’s done pretty well considering how sudden the move was,” said Cassandra. That said, Alyssa’s move had underscored the need for a stronger protocol in such situations. Said Cassandra: “We need to expand our toolbox.”

As summer approached, Alyssa appeared to remain her shapeshifting self: bouncing from affectionate to distracted and back again in the space of a few moments. She was eager to talk about her new foster mother, with whom she seemed to be getting along well, but also how she missed Michelle and her own mother.

One afternoon, standing by the door to her classroom, she leaned into Carolina Garcia, wrapping her arms around the teacher’s legs. “I wish I were your daughter,” Alyssa said.

Garcia hugged her back reassuringly. “You’re in my class.”

This story about foster care and education was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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Texas Students Will Soon Learn That Slavery Played ‘Central Role’ In Sparking Civil War

After a bitterly contested and, many say, politically driven debate that played out in the public eye, the Texas State Board of Education approved new standards last week for social studies curriculums in public schools.

One notable change making headlines: Students in the state will soon learn that slavery played “the central role” in causing the Civil War. The board also decided to keep in the curriculums Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller — both of whom had been nixed, to widespread outrage.

As The New York Times noted, Texas’ current educational standards list slavery as one of three causes of the Civil War, behind sectionalism and states’ rights. Under the new standards, the “expansion of slavery” is highlighted as having played “the central role” in sparking the conflict — though sectionalism and states’ rights are still listed as “other contributing factors.” 

Lawrence Allen Jr., the board’s only African-American member, proposed the language change, NPR reported. He said that Texans remain divided on the history of the Civil War but that the new language makes a clearer link between slavery and the conflict. 

“I think it’s an excellent start,” Allen, a Democrat, told Texas Public Radio. “I don’t think we really have that as a consensus in our state … and so if we can’t drive it to a consensus in our state, we’ll just let our students look at it from all points of view.”

Many educators have criticized the revision as not going far enough, however. Nearly 200 scholars from colleges and universities across Texas took issue with listing states’ rights as a cause of the Civil War.

In a Nov. 12 letter to the state’s education board, the scholars said doing so “resurrect[s] the ‘Lost Cause’ myth, a long-discredited version of history first promoted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to glorify the Confederate past and reinforce white supremacist policies such as the disenfranchisement of African Americans and Jim Crow segregation.”

Ron Francis, a Dallas middle school teacher who testified before the education board this month, put it another way. “The lies they’re telling are a little smaller than the lies they used to tell,” he told The Texas Tribune.

Historians have also taken issue with the board’s decision to keep the biblical figure Moses on a list of political thinkers “whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents.” The board rejected amendments “to remove a reference to the ‘heroism’ of the defenders of the Alamo” and “to correct a standard that suggests separation of church and state is not a key constitutional principle,” The Washington Post reported.

The board bowed to public pressure to keep former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and author and activist Helen Keller in the curriculums. A draft of the revisions had removed the two women, along with several other notable figures, in an effort to streamline the curriculums. But the omissions were met with public furor after the proposed changes were made available for public comment in September.

Marty Rowley, a Republican member of the board, said he decided to vote in favor of restoring Clinton’s and Keller’s names to the curriculums after seeing the reaction their proposed removal triggered.

“I don’t necessarily agree with Hillary Clinton’s politics, but there was significant public outpouring that indicated that she was a significant political figure that needed to be included, so that’s how I voted,” he told the Times, adding that he took into consideration suggestions made by people living in other states because “Texas has a level of influence, certainly, with regard to instructional materials.”

As the paper noted, 1 in 10 American public school students lives in Texas, and textbooks based on the state’s education standards are used by public schools across the nation.

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Biology Student Uses BTS Members To Explain Parts Of The Animal Cell

This is pretty much the only way we’ll understand biology. 

Diane Petit-Frere, a biology student and BTS fan, did what a proper brainiac K-pop stan would do. She broke down the parts of an animal cell by comparing the components to the members of BTS. 

After reading her explanation, it really all makes sense. And now we know more about the cell parts than just “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” 

Petit-Frere’s post went viral, and many BTS fans, who are called “ARMY,” credited the student with helping them learn a thing or two. 

“People were telling me that the thread helped them study and learn the material which is awesome,” Petit-Frere explained to BuzzFeed UK. “I certainly didn’t expect that but I’m glad my thread had such a positive effect.”

She might’ve even created a new faction of the BTS fandom ― “scientist ARMYs.” 

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Corporate America Still Lacks Leaders Of Color — And That’s A Problem

By John Wang, founder and president, Asian American Business Development Center

Diversity and inclusion, popularly referred to as D&I, has become such a common phrase in corporate America that it’s almost easy to take it for granted.

Nearly every major company in the U.S. has adopted a D&I agenda, appointed a D&I chief and formed employee resource groups dedicated to the mission. And many nonprofit organizations have sprung up to advocate the interests of minority groups, becoming recognized as important contributors to more balanced workplaces.

The organization I founded in 1994, the Asian American Business Development Center, was established with a mission of recognizing, encouraging and developing executives and entrepreneurs of Asian descent. We’re proud of our heritage, and believe it is important to showcase successful Asian role models in business. We also believe in collective strength, and teamed up with CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion to support culturally sensitive workplaces.

Encouragingly, younger generations appear to be more welcoming of cultural differences than those that came before. For instance, the millennial group, that much-analyzed — perhaps overanalyzed — generation of young adults, has demonstrated a much more open mindset than previous generations.

Less noticed, perhaps, is the emergence of the next cohort: Generation Z, whose oldest members were born in 1998 and are on the cusp of starting their first jobs. Studies say that this generation will be the most racially diverse group ever. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2020, a tad over half, or 50.2 percent, of children under 18 are expected to come from a minority race or ethnic group.

This is the big wave of the “majority-minority” population, the “new majority” or the “new mainstream.” And I can’t help but wonder: Will this multi-ethnic cadre of employees find bosses who look like them? Or will they still be asking the types of questions that I, along with Black and Latino business leaders, have been posing for some time: Why aren’t our corporate leaders a better reflection of our diverse employees, customers and communities?

Within my lifetime, there have absolutely been positive changes around inclusion. My organization was privileged to have the support of PepsiCo for our diversity initiatives during Indra Nooyi’s tenure as CEO. We were thrilled to have Xerox CEO Ursula Burns attend one of our annual Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business dinners. And Lisa Su, whom we recognized with a Pinnacle Award, occupies a rare spot as the female and minority CEO of a major tech company, AMD.

But it’s undeniable that boardrooms and corner suites still lack leaders of color. Many studies support this fact, and one recent confirmation of this was when the BBC ran a story that included a composite photo of the CEOs of the top 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. Unsurprisingly, the image that emerged was that of a Caucasian male.

And yet, there’s widespread agreement that companies with diverse leadership and boards fare better financially than those that don’t. We think that diversity is part of smart business strategy, not about quotas or preferences. In fact, we host conferences and panel discussions each year highlighting the connection between diversity and growth, including our fourth annual Asian American Business Roundtable, scheduled for Jan. 16, 2019, in New York City.

Forward-thinking businesses will not just pay attention to the words spoken about diversity and inclusion, but seek to earnestly translate them into actions. Doing so will put them at the front — and on the side — of their incoming workforces.

According to a study by Goldman Sachs, Gen-Z members are not only more racially diverse than any previous generation, but they also embrace ethnic diversity in America more than prior generations. This reality will be a business reality, as well. It is estimated that by 2020, Gen Z will be 30 percent of the workforce, and 40 percent of the consumer market.

And it’s a consumer market not to be taken lightly. Research shows that Gen Z members have spending power amounting to over $100 billion, on par with the GDPs of some countries.

Gen Z may seem like a quiet generation for now, but I believe they will be a disruptive force in a few short years. I only hope we will be ready to lead them.

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