5 Ways To Prevent The Summer Slide

Summer brain drain. Summer setback. Summer slide. Summer learning loss. Most parents have heard a version of the idea that over summer vacation, kids lose some of what they learn during the school year. But they’ll be happy to know there are actually realistic (and affordable!) ways to combat it.

Dr. Katrina Lindsay, a clinical and pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, is the director of the hospital’s School Success Clinic, which specializes in helping kids who struggle in school. She told HuffPost that students lose about one to two months of learning over the course of the summer. For kids with learning disorders, that loss can be even larger.

Reading is a go-to choice for keeping kids engaged, and many teachers encourage it by giving summer reading lists. Public libraries are also a helpful resource for families during the summer. We talked to experts about a few more ways to prevent the summer slide ― some of which are activities your kids probably already do.

Baking and cooking

Lindsay told HuffPost that cooking is “one of the best things you can do for kids” because it combines science, art and math. She encouraged families (and summer babysitters) to help keep the STEM skills sharp by discussing different measurements and physical processes, such as what happens when the food is actually cooking.

“If you think about the chemical reaction ― liquid goes in the oven and comes out a solid ― it’s amazing learning for kids,” she said.

She also noted that while she understands parents can get more done at the grocery store without the kids in tow, the supermarket can be an ideal place to discuss numbers while looking at prices and counting coins.

Playing video games

Hear us out. Screen time for kids is a highly debated issue, and there isn’t a lot of research on its effects on kids just yet. Hilary Scharton is the vice president of K-12 product strategy at Canvas by Instructure, an educational technology company. She noted that kids shouldn’t be wrapped up in screen time all summer, but suggested that parents occasionally lean into their kids’ love of video games by talking about the shapes of the characters.

“The animations in video games, those are all shapes, changing and morphing,” she said. “All of that shape-changing is like algebra and geometry and trigonometry.”

Lindsay also recommended video games and pointed out that there are many educational apps available to keep kids learning while they enjoy some screen time.

“If they have to be wired in on a rainy day, that doesn’t mean they have to stop learning,” she said.


Research shows that volunteering can teach kids a variety of important skills. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering throughout the year can help kids develop leadership skills and become more patient. And as research from Michigan State University shows, working with others in this way can also promote social skills, which can be especially important for kids taking time out of the classroom during the summer.

Another benefit? Volunteering can make kids more empathetic and help them understand more about the world.


“Practice helps with anything,” Lindsay said ― including writing. Caretakers may want to promote an activity in which kids write often, especially students who may struggle with it. She’s seen the benefits of writing repetition firsthand with a patient of hers who wrote to a pen pal overseas. She also suggested having kids keep journals over the summer so they can both improve their writing and have a way to look back at everything they did.

“Spectacularly” failing

You read that right. As a summer activity, Scharton recommended “anything where kids have a chance to just spectacularly fail.” Why?

“We know from research that problem-solving skills really are one of the most important things that kids need to learn,” she said.

She noted that this doesn’t have to involve anything elaborate like a science experiment with a volcano. It can easily happen in the kitchen.

“My daughter has made chocolate chip cookies, making every possible mistake,” she said. “They’re always super fun, and it’s a great learning experience.”

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UVA Students Blast School For Hiring Trump Aide And Frequent Defender

A group of students and faculty at the University of Virginia is attempting to block President Donald Trump’s legislative director, Marc Short, from taking a teaching position at the school after he departs the White House on Friday.

Short, who has often appeared on television to defend some of the president’s most controversial stances, revealed his plan to step down earlier this month.

A Change.org petition has gathered hundreds of signatures in an effort to protest Short’s hiring. Petitioners moved their campaign to the public site after a version made through Google Docs counted well over 100 signees from professors, students and staff. The campus in Charlottesville, which witnessed a deadly white supremacist rally last August, is quickly approaching the anniversary of the infamous clashes.

“While we do not object to dialogue with members of this administration, we do object to the use of our university to clean up their tarnished reputations,” reads a petition with around 300 signatures. 

“More personally,” it continues. “As we approach the first anniversary of the white nationalist violence against this university, this town, and our friends, neighbors, students, faculty and staff — all of whom are represented among the injured — it is unconscionable that we would add to our university a person who served in a high-level position for the administration that first empowered, then defended, those white nationalists.”

In the wake of the rally, which left one counterprotester dead, Trump infamously claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict. 

Short told Politico that he is “sympathetic” to the petitioners’ concerns and thought the administration “could have done a better job expressing sympathy for the victims and outrage at those who perpetrated this evil.”

He will serve as a fellow at the university’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, a nonpartisan affiliate studying the American presidency, where he will participate in conferences and engage with students and faculty. The former aide has ties to the university, as he received his MBA from its Darden Business School, according to Politico

William Hitchcock, a history professor at the Miller Center, told Inside Higher Ed that the university did not allow faculty to give input on Short’s hiring. He feels the former aide “doesn’t fit the values” of the center.

“He is extremely partisan, and this is a nonpartisan scholarly institution,” Hitchcock said. “We examine politics here but we are not participating in any political campaigns.”

A representative for the Miller Center defended the decision in a statement to HuffPost, stressing that the center is nonpartisan and Short’s inclusion “deepens our scholarly inquiries into the workings of the American presidency.”

Yet an associate history professor who signed the petition, Andrew Kahrl, called the center “pitifully naive” for its suggestion that Short will be a positive addition. The blowback was “not about silencing Short or imposing an ideological purity test on potential hires,” Kahrl added. 

“It’s about whether this university should be burnishing the reputations of members of an administration that has attacked America’s democratic institutions and attacked this community in particular,” he wrote.

Although Short was one of the longest-serving members of the Trump administration, his departure comes as Republicans risk losing congressional seats in the upcoming midterm elections. Short is also stepping away as the Trump administration prepares for a contentious Senate confirmation battle for its Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  

This story has been updated to clarify Short’s relationship with the University of Virginia. Although he may speak at its Darden Business School in the future, Short will not be teaching at that school, as Politico reported previously.

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This Heartwarming Twitter Story Shows The Power Of Representation In Media

A heartwarming viral Twitter thread involving a tender moment between children at a swimming pool and a Muppet with autism is being hailed for showing why media representation, specifically for children, is so powerful.

“Don’t tell me representation doesn’t matter,” wrote Twitter user @shiphitsthefan, who goes by Ship and uses the pronouns they/them. Ship shared the swim class story of their son, who’s nicknamed Action Kid, and a little girl who wanted to play with him because he reminded her of a character on “Sesame Street.”

Ship was “trying my best not to cry because I was so happy” watching the swimming pool scene, they told HuffPost, and wanted to share the story on Twitter. Ship has talked about “Action Kid” on social media since he was a baby, and knew friends and followers “would understand the significance.”

“I figured it might get a few retweets and help other parents know how to, I guess approach their own preschoolers, and where to look for guidance,” Ship said. “I wanted there to be something happy on the timeline.” 

Bill Clark via Getty Images

“I shared that little moment because it’s the opposite of discrimination,” Ship continued. “It’s an abled child not seeing a person to help, but someone to coexist with. The reason the story ‘feels good’ is because it’s active participation. Neither party is passive. It’s unqualified acceptance, because the playing field has been leveled through education and understanding.”

TV networks, Hollywood, and other parts of the media industry have long struggled to portray people of color, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, and others.

“Sesame Street’s” Julia shows the push for more inclusive representation. Still, the trend isn’t without convulsions. Last week, Scarlett Johansson pulled out of a movie project after backlash for signing on to portray a trans man, but retail chain American Eagle was celebrated for including a disabled model in advertising for lingerie brand Aerie.

Of Julia’s arrival on “Sesame Street,” Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, told People at the time: “Children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied, and with one in 68 children having autism, that’s a lot of bullying. Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences. Children with autism share in the joy of playing and loving and being friends and being part of a group.”

Ship said in a follow-up to the initial tweet-thread that they were initially “pissed at Sesame Street’s portrayal of an autistic child, because it hit so many tropes, and every autistic kid is different (It’s not a spectrum; it’s a sundae bar.)”

But that was “looking at it like an adult,” Ship tweeted. 

Many people cheered Ship for sharing the story. 

Ship was “blown away” by the response.

“I never expected it to go viral, or reach so many people, or instigate the conversations it has,” they said.

“In a span of hours, I’ve had to take on a more active advocacy―which is exciting! Terrifying, but heartening to think I get to help beyond calling my congresspersons and retweeting disability advocates.”

Ship said Action Kid’s interaction with the little girl in the pool lasted just a minute or so, and Action Kid didn’t acknowledge her.

“She took it in stride,” Ship said. “I encouraged her and encouraged him, and that was enough. A short but special moment.”   

There is quite literally a body of research and a term known as “symbolic annihilation,” which means that “if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.” 

As Ship’s story shows, on-screen representation operates as an important (if undervalued) way to glean information about the world.

The Aerie campaign featuring a woman in a wheelchair.


The Aerie campaign featuring a woman in a wheelchair.

“Kids are smarter than we acknowledge. The earlier we learn to accept and make the world accessible for people like my son, the easier it is for all of us. The story gives warm fuzzies for the right reasons. It isn’t inspiring; it just *is*, and that’s how it should be,” says Ship.

“I’m happy that Action Kid gets to continue his swim classes, because I want to foster that sense of independence. I want him to learn that it’s okay that he experiences the world differently, and that he doesn’t have to change himself in order to live his life. I want him to understand that he isn’t lesser, or lacking. I want him to have the confidence I never had as a child. And being an active character in his own story is the best way to teach him.”

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Educators, Students Forced to Deal With Sweltering Classrooms

When a public school educator takes to Twitter to declare “We did it!” you might expect some good news about student achievement, a school victory, or maybe an advocacy win benefitting public education.

But last May, Mark Westpfahl, a history teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, was pointing to a milestone that was hardly worth celebrating.

One week later, there was no relief in sight as a heat wave gripped the midwest. With only a few days left in the school year, Westpfahl wasn’t letting up.

Westpfahl had already written a letter to district officials about these unacceptable conditions that had forced him to send a dozen students to the nurse’s office. He was soon lugging bags of ice and igloo coolers into school and took to Twitter again to asked if anyone in the area could spare a few barn fans to help create a little cross breeze in the school’s stifling hallways.

School officials in St. Paul acknowledged the problem and delivered 2,000 water bottles and 361 fans to schools cloaked in hot temperstures. They also told families to provide their children with plenty of water and wet towels to wrap around their necks .
That the district had to scramble to help students and staff cope with the heat is unsurprising in view of the fact that air conditioning is installed in only one-third of its schools.

Relying on Stopgap Measures

Very few districts have mandated temperature maximums, nor is air conditioning required in many schools. A 2017 analysis found that a dozen of the largest districts in the country, including Baltimore County, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, and Jefferson County, Colorado (suburban Denver), did not have fully air-conditioned schools.

So what actions do they take when classrooms become too hot? Often schools just close early, or they stagger toward the last day of school with a patchwork of quick, temporary, and usually inadequate fixes.

Many districts deem air conditioning to be an inordinately expensive investment, pointing out that the suffocating heat of summer generally arrives and stays after school gets out. Students and staff, however, still have to cope with May and June, and oppressive temperatures stick around long after they return in August or early September.

And even if a school is equipped with air conditioning, systems break down and often don’t get repaired or upgraded. The air conditioning in Mark Westpfahl’s school in St. Paul, Capitol Hill Magnet, malfunctioned as the heat wave hit the area in May.

hot classrooms

Many of the largest school districts in the United States do not have fully air-conditioned schools. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

At Attleboro High School In Plainville, Massachusetts, students spent much of their time of the last days of the 2017-18 school year in the air-conditioned auditorium, library or computer labs.  The school’s AC system wasn’t pushing enough cool air to reach most of the classrooms.

School officials and educators kept close track of any potential heat-related health effects and moved students around when classrooms became too hot.

As Brianna, a junior at Attleboro, told The Sun Chronicle, “It can be really hard to concentrate in class when it’s this hot. I do a lot better when it’s cool as it helps me stay calm and relaxed.”

On the hottest days, she added, the two fans situated in her classroom don’t provide much relief.

“This time of year you do the best you can do,” said Plainville Public Schools Superintendent David Raiche.

Hot Classrooms Make it Harder to Learn

But “best” may not be good enough. Coping with oppressive heat in a sweltering classroom isn’t just a bothersome rite of passage before summer break. Hot classrooms are unhealthy for students and staff and, as a team of researchers concluded recently, the lack of air-conditioning in schools is directly impairing student outcomes.

In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, and Jonathan Smith examined test results of 10 million students attending high school from 2001 to 2014. They then used federal weather sensors to measure the temperature experienced by students on school days in the year leading up to the test.

By crunching this and other data, the researchers were able to determine that students who took the exam after experiencing a hotter year had lower scores compared to their test performance after a cooler year. Without air conditioning, each 1°F increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent (or the equivalent of being absent for two days).

“Air conditioning appears to offset nearly all of the damaging impacts of cumulative heat exposure on academic achievement.” they concluded.

hot classrooms

As a heat wave gripped St. Paul in late May, teacher Mark Westpfahl hauled bags of ice and igloo coolers into the classroom to help students cope. (Photo: Mark Westpfahl)

Most troubling, though hardly surprising, is the disproportionate impact of hot classrooms on students of color. The report’s authors conclude that “heat effects account for up to 13% of the U.S. racial achievement gap.”

Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools, which are more likely to lack air conditioning. In addition, more affluent parents are better positioned to reduce the academic effects of hot classrooms on their children with home air conditioning, or paying for a tutor after school.

The researchers acknowledge the strain air conditioning can put on a district’s budget, but argue the long-term benefits can’t be overstated.

Goodman, the study’s lead author, told Earther in June that since the paper’s publication, he has heard other ideas about curtailing heat in classrooms.

“I see school air conditioning as one piece we know for sure how to do,” Goodman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s the best solution or only solution but it is a potential one. I’ve gotten email from folks about planting trees and shading schools that could help.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey are stressing this point as they marshal support for a bill, introduced in March, that would require all schools to have temperature-controlled classrooms. The bill’s supporters in the legislature say there are various ways to help cool a classroom, but air conditioning tops the list.

If the bill is approved and signed into law, the New Jersey departments of education and health will be charged with creating guidelines, which districts will be responsible for implementing.

The state’s public school educators have lined up to support the bill.

“Extreme temperatures like those that exist in too many of our schools hurt student learning,” said New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan. “If we can air condition every movie theater in New Jersey and heat every fast-food restaurant, there is no excuse for failing to modernize our schools in order to give our students the best possible learning environment.”

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Most Public Schools Aren’t Even Checking For Lead In The Water

Periodic mass shootings aren’t the only source of lead in schools that the U.S. government doesn’t care about.

Even after America freaked out over toxic lead in Flint, Michigan, most school districts still aren’t checking to see if there’s lead in their water, according to a new study. 

Only 43 percent of school districts say they tested their water for lead in 2016 or 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office, and 37 percent of those districts found at least some of the toxic metal. The rest either didn’t test or couldn’t say whether they’d tested, though these districts contained far fewer students than the ones that did test.

Even tiny amounts of lead exposure can be dangerous, especially for children. “Lead in a child’s body can slow down growth and development, damage hearing and speech, and lead to learning disabilities,” the GAO notes in its report.

The Flint water crisis ― a national scandal in which Flint’s children suffered higher blood lead levels from contaminated water from 2014 through 2015 ― exposed the weakness of federal drinking water regulations, which don’t require cities to remove lead pipes connected to people’s homes.

Public schools are not even covered under those regulations. There is no federal requirement that schools watch out for lead in their water.

There is no federal requirement that schools watch out for lead in their water.

The good news is that states are picking up some of the slack. At least eight states require school districts to test for lead, according to GAO, and most of the laws came about in the last two years, presumably because of Flint. Thirteen more states are helping schools test their water voluntarily.

City leaders in Washington, D.C., for instance, created a new school testing regime after finding lead in the water in three public schools in 2016. The new law requires annual testing and filters on all sources of drinking water in schools. If a liter of water from a fountain contains more than 5 micrograms of lead, the school has to shut it off and take remedial action.

Five micrograms, or parts per billion (ppb), is stricter than the federal threshold of 15 ppb that utilities follow for household taps, but activists with the Campaign for Lead Free Water were disappointed that city lawmakers didn’t set the bar at one microgram ― any lead at all ― since even the tiniest exposure can harm a child.

“This risk is especially serious because the release of lead into water is highly variable, such that scientific research has confirmed that a tap that sampled below 1 ppb at one moment could dispense lead in the tens, hundreds, and even thousands of ppb in the next moment,” the Campaign for Lead Free Water said in a position statement opposing the new law.

Nationwide, most schools set a higher threshold, GAO found in its survey. Remediation efforts that schools took included removing fountains from service, replacing plumbing parts that contained lead, and simply running the water for a bit to flush the pipes.

Fully eliminating lead from plumbing materials is the only way to guarantee nobody will drink lead-tainted water. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly delayed revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act regulation that governs lead in tap water, though it could propose a new version this year. The EPA has not indicated whether requiring utilities to get rid of lead pipes will be a priority.

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How Exclusionary Discipline Creates Disconnected Students

Balancing appropriate discipline with school safety, classroom effectiveness, and positive outcomes for students is a daunting task for teachers and administrators everywhere. Many schools continue to rely on exclusionary discipline, removing students from the classroom through suspension or expulsion for various innfractions. The damaging long-lasting effects of “zero tolerance” has gotten more attention over the past few years, sparking a movement among many schools to move away from these practices and focus more on social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and positive behavioral interventions.

 The Center for Promise, the research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, recently analyzed how and why students become disconnected from school after facing harsh disciplinary action. The findings can be found in a new report,  Disciplined and Disconnected: How Students Experience Exclusionary Discipline in Minnesota and the Promise of Non-Exclusionary Alternatives.

“The reality is that exclusionary discipline practices do not make schools more conducive to learning, do not help improve student behavior, and do not make schools safer. But these practices do force youth off-track,” says Dr. Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise.

The Center studied three school districts in Minnesota that had previously relied on suspensions and expulsions, interviewing 38 middle and high school students who had experienced these exclusionary practices. What the researchers found was that kids wanted to be engaged in school, but felt that the administration and penalization methods inhibited them from doing so.

“When students don’t feel heard or understood, that leads them to check out and disconnect not only from school, but their future. That is a terrible and unnecessary result,” explained John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise

Students who faced exclusionary treatment, the study found, felt silenced, undervalued, and misunderstood.

“All you got to do is get suspended one time and you’re labeled,” said one student interviewed for the study. “I see it, like they follow the same kids around, like everybody knows, hey, those are the bad kids….”

Another student commented, “It’s really dumb, ’cause my grades dropped because of it. I missed a lot of school. It was really stupid, and it didn’t even happen during school… They didn’t give me any of my work… I got suspended on finals. I didn’t get to take them…”

When students don’t feel heard or understood, that leads them to check out and disconnect not only from school, but their future. That is a terrible and unnecessary result.”

In analyzing student and administrators’ thoughts on the matter, the Center concluded that kids who were suspended or expelled were more likely to drop out and disconnect from their education for three reasons: the true root of the problem was not addressed, their learning was interrupted, or the students did not feel valued or connected to their school community. Additionally, students of color are disproportionally targeted by the exclusionary practices.

To reform their disciplinary system, the Minnesota districts decided to listen to students’ perspectives on discipline, make sure they know their rights and school rules, build trust between administrations and family, provide opportunities for students to make academic progress while disciplined, and invest more in research on non-exclusionary discipline.

As in many other districts across the nation, the communities in Minnesota found that students were being suspended for infractions that were not serious enough to warrant harsh discipline.

“Not only have suspensions and expulsions been disproportionately applied in Minnesota, but nearly half of suspensions and exclusions in schools are for minor, non-violent student behaviors that did not endanger others,” said GradMinnesota Director Alexis Goffe of the Minnesota Alliance With Youth. “What we’ve learned is that, without clear and objective standards, students may be subject to individual school personnel biases about what constitutes disruption.”

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

The National Education Association is a vocal proponent of improving disciplinary policies and has promoted bringing restorative justice programs to more schools. At the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly, educators approved a policy statement calling for a campaign of awareness and advocacy to address and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2016, Dallas-NEA worked with the Dallas school districts to implement restorative programs in six of the schools across the city. They used methods like “circling,”which brings students and teachers together to discuss behavioral problems and lets the kids explain themselves and be heard.

Dallas educators found that when students feel heard, they are more likely to abide by the rules and engage in their learning process.

“This effort has focused on students building relationships with teachers in the hopes that in these relationships, problems can be addressed and solved before they become bigger issues” says David Griffin, a teacher in Dallas.

In Dallas, the rates of in school suspension dropped by 70%.

School districts across the country are following suit, turning to restorative justice and other programs that foster understanding and communication over excluding students from classrooms.

“If we want more students to stay on a path to graduation,” says John Gomperts, “schools should consider a non-exclusionary approach to their discipline practices and policies to make sure they’re not doing more harm than good.”

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San Francisco Now Allows Noncitizens To Vote In School Board Elections

San Francisco will become the first city in California to allow noncitizens to vote for certain positions in an upcoming election. 

On Monday, the city’s Department of Elections began issuing registration forms for the vote on Nov. 6 that allow noncitizen and undocumented parents, guardians and caregivers of students in the San Francisco Unified School District to vote in school board elections.

About one-third of the students in the district come from immigrant households, so the measure will give many parents a rightful voice, Hong Mei Pang, director of advocacy at the San Francisco-based nonprofit Chinese for Affirmative Action, told HuffPost in an email. Pang’s organization is involved in the Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative, which partnered with the city elections department to spread awareness on the measure. 

“These newly enfranchised voters would now have a direct voice to influence decisions that impact their children’s needs that are often underrepresented, ranging from issues like language access to health and wellness,” Pang told HuffPost. 

Voters in San Francisco initially passed the measure, Proposition N, in 2016, with 54 percent of the vote. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the ordinance in May. 

“Voting is paramount to having a voice,” Stevon Cook, vice-president of the SFUSD Board of Education, told reporters. “Seeing our families feel like they have to go into hiding, like they can’t have their concerns heard because of the attacks from the White House, is something we want to stand firmly against. This is part of an overall strategy that assures that families in our city, whether they’re citizens or not, they have a voice in the direction and future of our schools.” 

This is part of an overall strategy that assures that families in our city, whether they’re citizens or not, they have a voice in the direction and future of our schools.
Stevon Cook, vice-president of the SFUSD Board of Education

The San Francisco Unified School District is home to a significant population of immigrants and minorities. Asian-Americans are the largest racial group in the district, making up more than one-third of the student population. Latino students make up the next-largest, with 27 percent. A sizable portion of students ― 24 percent ― are also English language learners. 

Community organizations including Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Central American Resource Center and others have been working to “ensure monolingual, limited-English proficient, and vulnerable immigrants can have linguistically and culturally adaptable access to the full picture,” Pang said. 

Prop N was met with resistance, and it took three attempts to pass the proposition. Some critics of the legislation felt the right to vote should be reserved for citizens.

But Pang argues that historically, communities of color have been disproportionately barred from voting or targeted by voter suppression, and civic engagement will only allow the district to progress. 

“With this initiative, we are democratizing citizenship that lays on the continuum of progress,” she said. “Non-citizens not only contribute to the society through social and political engagement and involvement through their communities, but also are economic stakeholders through their tax dollars that directly fuel institutions like public education.”

Though California is considered a “sanctuary state,” voting doesn’t come risk-free for some undocumented immigrants. The Department of Elections warned that any information it’s provided could be obtained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Hong advises families to assess the risks and their own immigration status prior to participating in the vote “during these times of escalated federal attacks.”

The option to vote, however, is still important against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration and its zero tolerance policy toward undocumented immigrants. Though immigrant communities are already on edge, Pang said community organizations have been attempting to strengthen safety nets for immigrant families.

“The current Administration’s policies have already created a chilling effect on immigrant access to public services,” Pang said. “Given this political reality, community-based organizations have been working to strengthen the protections that exist for immigrant communities through the local ordinance that provides guidance to the Department of Elections based on language access, and immigrant rights.” 

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Anonymous Donor Pays Tuition For Medical School’s Entire Inaugural Class

An anonymous $3 million gift will pay for the full tuition of every member of the inaugural class of University of Houston’s College of Medicine, the school announced Wednesday. 

University of Houston President Renu Khator said the donation will have a significant impact on the lives of the 30 students in the class. 

“Student debt is the number one deterrent for students when applying to medical school,” she told local outlet ABC 13. “This generous gift will allow such students an opportunity to attend and ultimately lead the future medical workforce. As a result, the UH College of Medicine will increase access to primary care, enhance quality of life and strengthen Houston as a business destination.”

The money will also go toward the university’s “Here, We Go” campaign to raise $1 billion, according to ABC. 

Average medical school debt was estimated to be $190,000 as of 2016. Twenty-five percent of medical school graduates carry debts higher than $200,000.

Congrats to these lucky future doctors!

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Teacher Who Fired Gun Inside High School Classroom Sentenced To 2 Years

A former Georgia high school teacher has been sentenced to two years in prison for a firing a gun inside a classroom in February.

Jesse Randall Davidson, 53, learned his fate on Tuesday after pleading guilty to several charges related to the incident at Dalton High School.

Those charges included two felonies ― first-degree criminal damage to property and first-degree carrying a weapon within a school safety zone ― and disrupting the operation of a public school, which is a misdemeanor.

Authorities said the former social studies teacher barricaded himself inside his empty classroom as school was in session and then fired a .38-caliber revolver out a window when the school’s principal confronted him at the door.

No one was seriously injured in the Feb. 28 shooting, and Davidson surrendered without further incident.


Jesse Randal Davidson, 53, has been sentenced to two years in prison for firing a gun at Dalton High School in Georgia.

The shooting occurred the same day that classes resumed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a lone gunman killed 17 people two weeks earlier.

District Attorney Bert Poston, who announced Davidson’s sentence in a release, said detectives investigating the case determined that Davidson’s goal was likely to be killed by police.

“Davidson cooperated with law enforcement and his attorney, Richard Murray, indicated from the very beginning that he would be entering a guilty plea to the charges and taking responsibility for his actions,” Poston said.

Ahead of Davidson’s plea, Poston said the court heard from students, staff and family of those directly involved.

“There was no way to meet with each victim individually but every effort was made to ensure that any person wishing to be heard or to have a voice in the process was provided that opportunity,” Poston said. “Several individuals wrote letters and provided victim-impact statements to the court.”

Upon his release, Davidson will serve eight years of probation and owe a $1,000 fine, 100 hours of community service, and more than $16,000 restitution. He will also be unable to possess a firearm, must undergo mental health counseling and treatment, and will not be allowed to work, volunteer or set foot on public or private school property.

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Black Students From Atlanta Make History At Harvard Debate Competition

A group of 25 black students from Atlanta, competing against hundreds of young scholars from around the world, made history over the weekend with winning performances in a Harvard debate tournament.

The young scholars were the first backed by scholarships through the Atlanta-based Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project to participate in Harvard’s summer debate council residency.

Harvard Debate Council, which runs the annual summer program at the school’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, divided nearly 400 participants, including high school students from Asia, Europe and Russia, into 12 teams for debate competitions. 

Harvard Debate Council

Jordan Thomas, from Atlanta’s Grady High School, won the competition. He said in a press release that he “was determined to represent my city and my story. I wanted people to see where I came from and how I could keep up with them.”

“Being a young, middle class, black, public school student from the South created a stigma that automatically set me back in comparison to the competition, most of who were international students or from preparatory schools in the Northeast,” said Thomas.

“To bring the championship back to Atlanta was the most satisfying feeling, and to walk onto the campus of one of the most elite universities in the world and meet personal and council goals, brings a unique and new satisfaction that I’ve never experienced.”

The 25 Atlanta scholars, selected for Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project’s inaugural class from about 150 applicants, began the residency program with a daily, 10-hour academic regimen to learn research, analysis, argumentation and political science. Then, using their new skills, they were split into teams for the competition with other high school students from around the world.

Harvard Debate Council

Thomas described the project as “not a competition between each other, rather it is an incubator of intellect and a cultivator of brilliance.”

Notably, most of the Atlanta students were inexperienced debaters. They were from 16 different schools in the region.

Brandon Fleming, a Harvard assistant debate coach who founded Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, said the project aims to be a “pipeline that would recruit, train and send students of color to Harvard on full scholarship.”

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Hygge: The Classroom Design Word That Means Calm

(Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

The first day of school is exciting—and also a little anxiety-provoking. But with a few calming classroom design elements from the popular Danish design trend hyyge (pronounced “hoo-guh”), you can help put your students at ease the minute they walk through the door.

Hygge is a Danish concept that means comfort, togetherness, and well-being, and it was what motivated third-grade teacher Aubrey Dane’s classroom design decisions.

“I’ve always been particular about design in my own home and I enjoy having a calm environment myself,” says Dane, who teaches at Redmond Elementary School in Washington, the state that introduced us to cozy coffee shops.

Dane used calming colors in her classroom, dimmed overhead lights and hung softer, string lights. She also created a cozy reading corner.

“The first step in setting up a space for ‘hygge’ is to designate a ‘hyggekrog’—the cozy nook,” says Jane Zhang, cofounder of room2learn.org, a classroom design website that’s been called the Pinterest of classrooms. “You don’t need a giant space to snuggle up in a blanket with a book. In a classroom, dedicate a corner or section of the room for cozying up.”

In Dane’s hyggekrog, she included a comfy chair with a big pillow, soft lanterns and string lights, and a cozy carpet. She also framed children’s book covers that pop with color on a dark background in dollar store picture frames that she spray painted to match.

To create a hygge-inspired classroom, follow these tips from Dane:

Start With Calming Colors

Many classrooms are painted in dull industrial colors. If you can paint your classroom, choose calming colors like light gray or light blue paint, which are softer than typical school paint colors. A lot of teachers have been able to paint their classrooms—some do it themselves, others were lucky enough to get the district to do it.

Aubrey Dane

Fabric or Paper the Walls With Calm Colors

If you can’t paint, cover the industrial cinder block walls with a calming solid color paper or fabric. I used black paper in the book nook with bright borders, but I kept a color scheme of calming grays and blues. On the fabric, which doesn’t tear or get all wrinkly, I can hang the book covers so they really pop. I used lots of staples because I’m in a portable classroom where the walls can be stapled. It’s really easy to decorate as a blank canvas. If you don’t have that, you can cover your bulletin boards with calming fabric colors and your doors. Wallpaper works very well on doors, too. Choose calming colors or patterns. I like cohesive blues and grays, but pick colors that you love and that make you feel good. If you feel comfortable and calm your students probably will too.

Limit Wall Hangings

When I was a student I found walls with too many posters and colors distracting. There were too many things to look at and different colors. It was overwhelming.
Try to minimize what’s on your walls. Only include what’s necessary. So often teachers put all their posters about everything so that all the tips for students are there, but it frequently leads to information overload and students stop using them as reference. If you put up fewer posters, students will pay attention more carefully.

Change it Up

If you have a lot of great posters, you can still display them, just not at once. I have a select few posters that I’ve framed—get them at the dollar store and spray paint them and they look great on a budget. Then I swap them out rather than having them all up at once covering the walls. I immediately noticed that students were calmer, more engaged.

I also switch out the book covers that I frame and students sometimes choose which books we’ll have framed in the nook. It provides interest and a spot of color in the calming nook.

Aubrey Dane limits her classroom color scheme to two or three calming shades, and also keeps bulletin board content to a minimum so students are not overwhelmed by visual clutter. (Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

Framing is Easy and Cheap!

Framing posters and book covers makes them seem fancy, important, and special and it’s an easy design hack. Remember, the dollar store is your friend!

Dim the Lights

A key element in hygge is soft lighting, like flickering candles or the glow of a crackling fire. To create softer light in your classroom, turn off the overhead fluorescent lights, make use of natural light as much as possible, and use lamps where you can. You can use hanging twinkle lights in your hyggekrog as well as a lamp or two, but check with your district first.

My string lights are very lightweight LED lights that don’t get hot, and if they fall they’re plastic so they don’t break. All my lamps are LED lamps as well, with low wattage, soft white bulbs. Together with natural light coming in through the windows, there is a good amount of light in the classroom that’s not as harsh as the overheads and allows the kids to feel calm and to think.

Cozy, Comfy Seating

Start with the book nook, but in addition to the hyggekrog, have different and comfortable pillows, chairs, and workspaces throughout the classroom so students can feel comfortable, even feel like they could be at home.

Calm, Cool Community

A hyyge classroom design takes away anxiety that many students have at the beginning of the year. They see that the classroom is their space, designed for their comfort. They see it as a place where they can sit down and relax and not feel threatened. Hygge creates a family type of environment and helps build our community as a class. The whole idea is to build a community environment. Once you have that, everything else starts to fall into place.

Farewell Desks, Here Come the ‘Starbucks Classrooms’
While the idea of modeling a classroom on a Starbucks coffeeshop may elicit skepticism, the move to more flexible seating is grounded in research that points to real gains in student health and classroom engagement. Meet some teachers who are happy they “ditched the desk” in favor of standing tables, stability balls, crate seats, couches, and beanbag chairs.

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Delaware Mayor Apologizes After Muslim Kids In Shirts, Hijabs, Kicked Out Of City Pool

The mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, has apologized to a local Islamic school after a group of Muslim children wearing shirts, shorts and hijabs were pressured to leave a public pool.

Mayor Mike Purzycki admitted in a statement Saturday that city officials at the Foster Brown public pool “used poor judgment” in response to the students’ religious clothing requirements.

“We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed this incident,” he said. “I apologize to the children who were directed to leave a city pool because of the religious-required clothing they were wearing.”

The statement was a reversal of the officials’ initial reaction, which was to speak of unspecified city policies about bathing suit requirements.

In his apology, Purzycki said that the city “referred to vaguely-worded pool policies to assess and then justify our poor judgement, and that was also wrong.” 

Screenshot from Delaware News Journal video

Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel, the camp director the Darul-Amaanah Academy summer program in Wilmington, Delaware, says children in the program were harassed multiple times about their swimwear at a public pool.

The children are part of a summer Arabic enrichment program run by the Darul-Amaanah Academy, a local Islamic school. For the past four years, students in the program have visited the Foster Brown pool.

Camp director Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel told HuffPost that some girls in the program prefer to wear T-shirts and leggings in the pool. Some also cover their hair with headscarves while swimming. The students’ pool attire conforms with their families’ interpretation of Islamic rules about modest clothing. 

Other religious groups, including some Orthodox Jews and Christians, also encourage members to wear modest clothing while swimming.

Ismaa’eel said she didn’t have any issues with pool management before. But on June 25, the first day of camp this year, facility managers reportedly had a negative reaction to the clothes that the kids wore in the pool.

She said the pool manager repeatedly told camp leaders that cotton clothing was not allowed in the pool. She said staffers at the pool asked her when she was going to leave.

Ismaa’eel said she eventually decided to pull the kids out of the pool.

“If you are making us so uncomfortable that we aren’t enjoying a public facility, if you’re pressuring us by asking what time we’re going to leave … I got the message,” she said. 

Ismaa’eel reached out to Wilmington’s parks and recreation department about the episode. Despite receiving assurance from the department that her kids could wear religious attire in the public pool, she said, she was harassed about the swimwear policy on three other occasions. 

She said no rule prohibiting cotton clothing is posted at the facility. She added that she believes management enforced regulations in a way that discriminated against her students. 

“The bottom line is, if you have a policy, it has to be written, posted and applied across the board ― not arbitrarily,” she said.

Ismaa’eel said she had taken kids from the program to the Foster Brown public pool for the past four yea

Screenshot from Delaware News Journal video

Ismaa’eel said she had taken kids from the program to the Foster Brown public pool for the past four years with no issues.

City officials initially told The Delaware News Journal that the cotton ban is a safety issue, since cotton becomes heavy when wet and could strain the pool’s filtration system. 

Cotton clothing isn’t explicitly banned at public pools by city rules, the Journal reportsState regulations state only, “It is recommended that all bathers should wear bathing suits.” 

Ismaa’eel said she believes pool management used the lack of clarity about the rules to target her students. 

“What happened at Brown pool, from my estimation, is that [the pool manager] weaponized an unwritten policy to target us and to try to keep us out of the pool, to antagonize us and get us banned from the pool,” she said. 

The city now plans to place signage around its public pools to clearly communicate that swimmers must wear proper swimwear made of nylon, spandex or polyester and refrain from wearing cotton or wool. 

For Ismaa’eel, that change may be too little, too late. She said she appreciated the mayor’s apology but believes many of her students may not be able to comply with a rule against cotton. Most come from poor families, she said, and can’t afford expensive swimsuits made to comply with Islamic modesty requirements.   

“Most folks will try to make do with what they have,” she said, which is usually T-shirts and leggings.

Children swim at the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington, July 12. Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement that

Screenshot from Delaware News Journal video

Children swim at the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington, July 12. Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement that city officials at the pool “used poor judgement” regarding the children’s attire.

She added that the atmosphere at the Foster Brown pool has gotten so hostile that she is considering taking her kids to other local swimming pools, like the YWCA’s. 

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Ismaa’eel is that her students seem to be hurt by what’s happening. 

“My campers are observing all of this, and they’re being picked on,” she said. 

She said it’s important for the children enrolled in her summer camp ― especially the special-needs kids ― to get an opportunity to play in the pool just like kids from other communities in the neighborhood. 

“It’s so important. It’s part of your summer experience. Kids love to go to the pool,” she said. “Our special-needs kids especially, they enjoy the water. This is therapeutic for them.” 

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What It’s Like To Be A School Therapist

Public schools across the United States are scrambling to manage students’ mental health ― and the problem is only getting worse.

One in five kids between ages 3 and 17 shows signs of a mental health disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nonprofit Mental Health America has noted a 3 percent increase in cases of children with severe depression over the past five years. And the number of kids hospitalized for thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide has been rising for the last decade, according to a new study.

Early identification and care are critical, and some schools have dedicated mental health professionals available for students ― but these workers are overstretched and budgets are tight, especially in rural areas, meaning many kids go overlooked. And families don’t always have adequate insurance coverage for treatment. Meanwhile, a staggering 63 percent of children with major depression reported that they did not receive care, according to Mental Health America, putting them at risk of lifelong learning issues and social problems.

Samantha Boatwright, a licensed clinical social worker who works with public school kids, knows these challenges firsthand. She offers counseling to students in Georgia ― ranked one of the worst states for mental health care access ― through the state-funded Georgia Apex Program (GAP). Launched in 2015, the program has partnered with local mental health organizations to bring services like Boatwright’s to more than 300 schools across the state. It has reached thousands of kids who said they’d never received mental health services before.  

Dustin Chambers for HuffPost

Boatright sits in her office in the Board of Education building in Thomasville.

The program focuses mostly on schools in underserved areas. Boatwright herself is based in the rural southwest part of the state. “Income is definitely a barrier to receiving mental health treatment in our area,” the 29-year-old therapist said. “We work with a lot of lower-income families.”

HuffPost spoke to Boatwright about how she’s hoping to help families struggling to understand mental illness in children and why working with children on their mental health is crucial for development.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell me about your work with GAP.

I’m a therapist and supervisor for GAP, working with children from ages 4 to 18, or until they graduate from high school. Most of my work has been with younger children, primarily those in kindergarten through middle school.

We take most of our referrals for students in need from guidance counselors or teachers. We start out by providing a behavioral health assessment that gives us a comprehensive overview of what’s going on so we can provide mental health services that fit the needs of the student. My work helps students going through anything from divorce to depression and anxiety. Some students have even come in with suicidal thoughts.

How can something like GAP help these children? What would happen if a child doesn’t receive the help they need?

It’s important to reach children with mental health issues early. Early intervention is important and it teaches children how to deal and cope with emotions during a stressful time. Depending on the issues they have, their mental health can potentially get worse or stressful situations can compound an already present issue.

Boatright displays art given to her by kids she works with.

Dustin Chambers for HuffPost

Boatright displays art given to her by kids she works with.

What does it feel like for you to offer these services to kids in an area where they’re not readily available?

It’s rewarding, fulfilling and challenging all at the same time. It’s rewarding to see the difference receiving services does for these kids during the most challenging times in their lives. Watching these kids grow and begin to cope with the stressors in their lives is fulfilling. It feels good to know and to be able to see that I’m making a difference.

We are able to provide services to children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive them whether it be due to financial reasons, lack of transportation or simply being unavailable. Some of the private providers in our area have waitlists that are several months out.

Have stressful situations like reports of gun violence played any role in the mental health of the children you’re working with?

The reports that are in the news do frighten the children. If their parents are watching television and the child sees it, that seems to become a concern for them. I have had kids ask questions about it and about safety. Some children have asked what to do when they feel unsafe. That’s something I’ve been working with them on.

In working with the children, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced?

Sometimes within our program, we can struggle with getting parent participation. It’s not impossible, and it’s not all parents, but if we could increase parent participation that would help the children. Parents also need to learn how to cope with a child’s mental health issues.

Kids dealing with mental health issues need to have support outside of school. When children leave school, they need someone to remind them of how to use coping skills and to help them understand what they’re feeling.

Boatright outside of the entrance to the Board of Education building where she works in Thomasville.

Dustin Chambers for HuffPost

Boatright outside of the entrance to the Board of Education building where she works in Thomasville.

What do you think is important for parents or others to know about the struggles of mental health in children?

No matter the age of your child, it’s OK to ask for help. The more that we talk about mental health issues in children and the more it’s out in the open, the more it becomes normalized. It’s good for other parents to know that it’s not just their child going through this.

For parents reading that might not have a program like GAP, where should they turn and what should they do if they’re concerned about their child’s mental well-being?

Look for a mental health agency, like a psychiatrist or therapist in your community. Make sure to explain to them what’s going on with your child. In extreme cases for example, if a child is in danger of harming themselves or others, or a mental health situation is getting out of control with rapid mood swings, agitation, hallucinations or substance abuse, and parents fear they are no longer able to de-escalate the situation, then parents may want to consider making a trip to the emergency room for their child.

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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The High Cost of Education Budget Cuts

Not only do some Arizona teachers have to contend with mice in their classrooms, they also have to buy their own glue traps.

Classroom globes that spin to reveal two Germanys, antiquated plumbing that regularly floods a school hallway also known as the “poo pod,” decades-old textbooks that overlook the last 10 elements added to the periodic table or call Ronald Reagan our current president—this is just some of the evidence of how Arizona lawmakers have neglected their public schools.

There also are the 48 students crammed into their high school English classroom, and the elementary school counselor who cares for 1,430 children.

No state in the nation has cut K–12 funding more than Arizona, where lawmakers slashed school support by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). This year, school funding is 13.6 less than in 2008. Even as the state’s economy rebounded from the Great Recession, Arizona lawmakers opted for corporate tax cuts rather than investments in public education. Now Arizona students are paying the price.

“My students—and all students in Arizona—deserve more. They deserve more. They deserve to be learning in a fully funded classroom,” says kindergarten teacher Amy Ball, who has taught for 12 years in central Phoenix. “Every single student in Arizona deserves to have the most opportunities for success.”

The state’s educators aren’t taking it anymore. In late April, about 75,000 Arizona Education Association (AEA) members and allies held the largest educator walkout in history, flooding the streets in Phoenix to demand more state funding.

“I have spent 30 years in education and in that time we’ve seen cut after cut after cut and excuse after excuse. We’ve absolutely had enough,” says Phoenix technology specialist Thomas Oviatt, an educator for 30 years.

“Not only do I think Arizona students deserve better, I think every student deserves better. Arizona is a symptom of what’s been happening across the nation,” he says. “Every one of our students have been robbed of funding for decades.”

Oviatt is right—the education funding crisis isn’t just Arizona’s. In 2015, 29 states provided less school funding than in 2008. Since state funding fuels nearly half of the nation’s K–12 spending, these cuts have huge implications. They force school boards to either cut programs and hike class sizes, or raise more money locally. But for low-income communities especially, there is no choice. They must cut. And, research shows, those cuts do affect student achievement.

Educators across the nation have had enough. In what NEA President Lily
Eskelsen García has called an “Education Spring,” enormous rallies, walkouts, or strikes were held this spring in Oklahoma, Colorado, Kentucky, and most recently North Carolina to demand state lawmakers fulfill their promises to children.

Many were inspired by West Virginia Education Association members, who led a nine-day strike in February that closed public schools in every one of the state’s 55 districts.

“This is an absolute movement…and it’s not just one state,” says Eskelsen García. “Talking to legislators isn’t working. It’s like talking to a wall. We have to get the public’s attention. We have to rally. We have to be in the streets.”

The school funding crisis, says Eskelsen García, is a “man-made crisis” that lawmakers created and that they absolutely can fix—if they choose to.

In fact, in Arizona and elsewhere—Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—state lawmakers have opted to enact tax cuts that cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

This is money that could have paid instead for lower class sizes, current technology and textbooks, or even a fifth day of school in the hundreds of districts that have been forced to cut back to four.

Mice, Mold, and More

With photos shared on social media, teachers and education support professionals have pulled back the curtain on classroom conditions that have shocked parents and community members.

In Oklahoma, where lawmakers cut K–12 funding by more than 15 percent between 2008 and 2015, the pages of 1990s textbooks are held together with duct tape. Classroom chairs and desks are broken. Class sizes are outrageously large.

In Arizona, where some schools restrict the use of air conditioners to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and daytime temps can top 110 degrees, one teacher made her own homemade air-conditioner with a Styrofoam ice cooler and electric fan. Meanwhile, school librarians haven’t had money to buy new books since 2008. (Do Arizona kids think there’s just one Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Since 2008, Jeff Kinney has published 12 sequels!)

In Colorado, more than half of school districts have switched to four-day weeks to save transportation costs. Art, music, physical education, world languages, high school journalism, and more—in many states, these classes should be on an endangered or extinct species list.

Troubling trends in state funding explain why educators and allies have taken to the streets to demand more for schools.

In these states, pay is not the issue that has driven educators to the breaking point, but it is a fact that their pay is abysmal. In Oklahoma, there’s a teacher who sells his blood to help support his family. Everywhere, teachers work late into the night as Uber drivers or restaurant servers.

In Arizona, the weeklong walkout ended in early May after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that he claimed would give teachers a 20 percent pay raise. (AEA’s calculations say the money adds up to less than a 10 percent raise, and union leaders point out it doesn’t provide a dime for support staff.)

Arizona educators aren’t satisfied. Their movement isn’t about pay. It’s about funding. They’re committed to fighting for more money in their classrooms—for their students—and they are prepared to set their next battle at the ballot box.

In Oklahoma, educators ended their week-long strike in mid-April when lawmakers voted to override Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of the budget and tax bills, which combine to modestly fuel an increase in state K–12 investment.

Through their persistent presence in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) members won a pay bump for teachers and support professionals. Even more important, they won the first state tax increase in the past 28 years.

This is new, recurring revenue for Oklahoma classrooms, points out OEA President Alicia Priest, and the thousands of OEA members and parents who worked for it “should be overwhelmed with pride.”

But is it enough? No.

“They say Oklahoma students don’t need any more funding, and they’re wrong,” says Priest. OEA members now will turn their attention to state elections in November. “The state didn’t find itself in a school funding crisis overnight. We got here by electing the wrong people to office.

“No more,” she promises.

There Are Solutions

It’s up to educators to call on their state’s elected leaders to:
1. Stop subsidizing corporations
2. Ask companies to pay their fair share in taxes
3. Raise income tax rates for top earners
4. Eliminate ALL voucher schemes

Join us in the fight to convince elected leaders to invest in public schools.
Sign up at EdVotes.org today!

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How ESSA Amplifies Support Professional Voices

Custodian Stephone Avery’s job is so much more than keeping his school building clean. He’s a friendly, familiar face to all the students, always ready with a wide smile, a high five or a fist bump. He’s a reliable presence — a source of comfort and security, and also a joke or two for students and fellow educators.

His title is custodial maintenance supervisor, but his most important duties are mentor and role model.

“They know I love them, and that’s the glue of our relationship,” Avery says.

In fact, Education Support Professionals (ESP) like Avery are the glue that holds a school and student body together. They’re with the students in the halls, in the school cafeteria, in the front office, and on the bus – where teachers and principals leave off, ESPs step in to fill the gaps.

“We call ourselves ESP—education support professionals, and we support the whole child,” Avery says. “A child has to be healthy. They have to feel safe. The bus driver is the first one to see the child. Cafeteria workers are feeding the child. And many times, we have the flexibility in our schedule to really stop, sit down, and listen and give the kids eye-to-eye contact. Everybody that works in a school should be called, in some kind of way, educators.”

And now that critical role has been recognized by the new federal education law, Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESSA gives paraeducators, referred to as “paraprofessionals” in the bill, and “other staff,” which includes everyone from custodians and nurses to bus drivers and food service staff, a voice in key decision making and professional development opportunities.

ESSA Brings Opportunities for ESPs

Avery is a busy man. Not only is he head custodian at the Camden/ Fairview Intermediate School in Camden, Arkansas, he represents his district on the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) Board and on the ESP Advisory Committee.  He’s also his school’s association building rep, which is how he spread the word about how to create a school improvement plan for ESSA, and he served on the local leadership team that planned several events to inform the staff and community about the Arkansas plan for implementing ESSA.

“At first I was a little skeptical, bracing myself for another law that focused on the test, but I soon saw that ESSA is different,” Avery says. “The new law changes how schools will be rated for success with many factors other than test scores.”

Avery grew up in Camden and went to college in Monroe, Louisiana on a football scholarship. A defensive back and running back, Avery helped lead the squad to a conference championship. That earned him a tryout with the Green Bay Packers. “I got to play in some preseason games before I got cut, so I have lots of football stories,” he says. “The kids ask me about it all the time.” Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Education Association.

Avery says ESSA recognizes the need to educate the whole child, which requires everyone who works at the school. ESSA says that school success is no longer solely dependent on a teacher whose students do well on a test.

“ESPs are being integrated more intentionally,” Avery says. “All of the arms starting to come together.”

The Gospel of ESSA

Avery is actually a very busy man. Not only is he an educator and association activist, he’s also the pastor St. Paul Christian Church in Camden and a leading member of the area’s Ministerial Alliance, a group of local pastors who come together to talk about issues facing their congregations and the larger community.

“At one of our meetings, I spoke to them about ESSA, about the invasive nature of testing, and encouraged them to take the survey,” Avery says.

The church figures prominently in the community and Avery asked the pastors to come to a town hall he was organizing about the promise of ESSA for improving schools and measuring their success on what really matters.

“I knew that if they came, the parents would come too,” Avery says.

After learning about how ESSA can be a game changer for their schools and students, all of the pastors in the alliance attended the town hall. Parents saw them filling out the My School/My Voice survey and followed suit.

The faith-based community is already active in many Arkansas schools, and ESSA will make that partnership stronger. In Avery’s district, he says pastors act as mentors. They come and pray, walk the halls, sit down with students at lunch, or give a motivational talk to all of the students in the cafeteria.

“We’re part of the fabric of the school community,” says Avery. “As a custodian and as a pastor, I bring a spiritual nature into the school, a working love to help shepherd our children.”

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Officials Fighting Release Of Parkland Shooting Videos

Roughly five months have passed since Florida’s deadly Parkland school shooting, and the public has yet to see exterior video surveillance footage that may shed light on the actions of law enforcement.

On Tuesday during a hearing before the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, a school board attorney and a lawyer representing the Broward state attorney argued against releasing the videos, The Miami Herald reported.

The school board attorney reportedly said releasing footage from the Feb. 14 attack, which authorities say was carried out by former student Nikolas Cruz, would jeopardize the “integrity” of security at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The state attorney’s lawyer argued that the footage is “criminal investigative information” and therefore exempt from public records laws.

A coalition of nearly a dozen media outlets, including CNN, The South Florida Sun Sentinel and The Miami Herald, filed suit against the school board and Broward County Sheriff’s Office in late February after they were denied access to the exterior recordings. The lawsuit asked the court to compel the defendants to release the surveillance footage.


A still image in a video from WSNV.com shows students being evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

Sheriff’s deputies have been under intense scrutiny for their response to the shooting after officers from the Coral Springs Police Department ― who were also dispatched to the school and the first to gain entry ― alleged that deputies took cover outside the building.

The media consortium lawsuit argues that the videos may reveal what actions responding deputies took. The gunman killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen. Authorities did not enter the school until more than 10 minutes after the first shots were fired.

“First, there is a strong public interest in having the public — and more specifically Florida citizens — fully evaluate how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this terrible tragedy,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed on Feb. 26 by Dana J. McElroy of Thomas & LoCicero.

The lawsuit adds: “Disclosing this video footage from exterior cameras (not the interior where the shooting occurred), lies at the core of understanding exactly how events unfolded and will provide critical insight into the propriety of the government’s response.”

In March, a judge ordered the release of four redacted video clips that show former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson standing behind a concrete wall during the mass shooting, The Sun Sentinel reported. Peterson resigned after an investigation by the sheriff’s office found that he’d failed to engage the shooter.

President Donald Trump heaped scorn on Peterson and theorized that he was either a “coward” or “didn’t react properly under pressure.”

“When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened,” Trump said after the release of the videos, according to USA Today. “But he certainly did a poor job. There’s no question about that. That’s a case where somebody was outside, they’re trained, they didn’t act properly or under pressure or they were a coward. It was a real shock to the police department.”

While officials did not appeal the judge’s decision to release the four video clips, they are challenging the release of additional videos.

The news organizations’ lawsuit requests only video clips from exterior cameras that captured law enforcement’s response, according to The Miami Herald. The suit does not seek the release of video from interior cameras.

Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during a February court appearance.

POOL New / Reuters

Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during a February court appearance.

“The footage is the only objective evidence of what occurred and when,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Tuesday, according to The Miami Herald. “The whole purpose of our open government laws is oversight and accountability. Access to the video footage allows us to hold those accountable who may not have done their jobs.”

It’s unclear when a ruling on the videos will be issued.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole.

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

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Top Universities Balk At Trump’s Rollback Of Affirmative Action Guidelines

At least a dozen top U.S. universities have turned up their noses at the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era affirmative action directives.

Between 2011 and 2016, President Barack Obama issued several guidelines recommending colleges use race as a factor in admissions to boost the number of underrepresented minorities in higher education. Last week, the Justice Department announced the rollback of the guidelines as part of the elimination of 24 federal guidance documents, saying they were “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

Colleges that defy federal guidelines could be subject to a federal investigation or lawsuit or lose funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Still, top schools from around the nation — including five Ivy league institutions — told HuffPost that they plan to continue using race as a factor in admissions. 

Harvard University, which is in the middle of a closely watched lawsuit about its admissions practices, said it plans to buck the federal government’s new guidelines to ensure the diversity of its student body.

“Harvard will continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years,” a Harvard spokeswoman said.

Brown University said it will also maintain its current policies, adding that the school would oppose any laws that would prevent it from doing so.

“Through our race-conscious admission practices, Brown assembles the diverse range of perspectives and experiences essential for a learning and research community that prepares students to thrive in a complex and changing world,” a university spokesperson said.

Dartmouth College said it will continue to exercise its right to affirmative action, citing the Supreme Court’s multiple rulings upholding the controversial practice. The Supreme Court deemed affirmative action constitutional in two court cases in 2003, saying that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest” to justify the use of racial preferences in college admissions. In 2016, the court reaffirmed the ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas.

Schools in the South (College of William and Mary, Rice University and Emory University) and New England (Tufts University, Middlebury College) told HuffPost they would also continue to consider race as an admissions factor.

“We have found that a diverse student body adds to the breadth of perspectives that enhance student learning and contribute to constructive engagement with undergraduate life,” a Rice University spokesperson said. “In some cases, race or ethnicity may be considered as one factor among many.”

Two days after the government’s announcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the New York state system to adhere to existing diversity and inclusion plans.

“The new federal action should have no bearing on admission policies and should not interfere with SUNY’s and CUNY’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body,” Cuomo wrote in an open letter to university trustees. “We will continue to work together to dismantle barriers to social and economic mobility and extend the promise of equal opportunity to all New Yorkers.”

Together, SUNY and CUNY encompass 88 campuses serving more than 800,000 students in New York.

Several colleges are already restricted from affirmative action under state laws. California, which is home to the University of California system that currently teaches more than 235,000 students, has barred colleges from considering race in admissions. Seven other states also ban affirmative action at their public universities: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

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NEA President: Kavanaugh Is a Poor Choice for Students

Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks to the crowd after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/ Abaca Press (Sipa via AP Images)

This week, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. circuit court judge who once predicted that the Supreme Court would uphold the constitutionality of school vouchers, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

His nomination was immediately decried by pro-public education groups, including NEA, who predict that the 53-year-old could tip the balance for generations on Court decisions of critical importance to public school students and families, including school vouchers and the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

“Americans deserve a Supreme Court nominee who will apply the law fairly for all and not favor corporations, the wealthy and the powerful; Judge Kavanaugh is not such a nominee,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We oppose this nomination and urge all senators to do the same.”

Visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh could play the deciding role on Court decisions that include whether it’s constitutional to divert taxpayers’ money to pay for private schools; whether educators have a voice on the job in advocating for themselves and for their students; and whether all Americans, including children and families, will have access to health care. Other issues that may face the Court include reproductive health, guns, voting rights, and separation of church and state.

Kavanaugh would replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been a critical swing vote on the court for nearly three decades, sometimes voting with more liberal judges on issues like LGBTQ rights and the death penalty but also voting with conservatives on voting rights and gun control.

Almost certainly Kavanaugh would push the court to the right on issues that matter to students and families. His record shows support for school vouchers—during his 2004 Senate confirmation group, he said he previously served as co-chair of the Federalist Society’s “School Choice Practice Group,” and that he worked on voucher litigation in Florida “for a reduced fee,” Politico reported on Tuesday.

His record also shows support for school prayer—he headed the Federalist Society’s “Religious Liberties Practice Group”—and opposition to the consideration of race in college admissions. In 2016, he also argued against the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has aggressively assisted students victimized by for-profit colleges and predatory lenders.

Additionally, in 2011, when the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—Kavanagh dissented, voting against ACA, which has provided health care for millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

He is exactly the “rubber stamp” nominee that NEA expected—and will not stand for, Eskelsen García said. “President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and their wealthy and powerful allies envision an America where public schools lose public funding to private, religious, and for-profit schools, and educators lose their ability to advocate for themselves and their students,” said Eskelsen García.

“These ideologies have been at the core of the Trump administration’s playbook, and the majority of Americans continue to reject them. Yet, if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump’s agenda would be more than a temporary departure from our ideals and values.”

With the stakes for students so high, Kavanagh “can’t be trusted to protect the interests of students and educators,” said Eskelsen García.

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Educators Advocate and Organize For Big Wins!

(Photo Maryland State Education Association)

From West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky to Colorado and Arizona, educators took to the streets last spring to rally for adequate K–12 funding, properly equipped classrooms, better wages, and stronger public schools. And in all sorts of other places, they’re winning victories that serve students, create stronger public schools, and strengthen the education profession. Here are a few of
these important wins.

Massachusetts—Ban on Bilingual Education Repealed

For four decades, Massachusetts has required public schools to provide language acquisition programs for all English learners. Districts with large numbers of English learners in a single language group typically used transitional bilingual education—teaching in a mix of the students’ native language and English—with an increase in the use of English along the way. In 2003, that all changed when a Massachusetts law made sheltered English

immersion the default model and greatly restricted the teaching of students in their native languages. No more.

Last November, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) supported a successful coalition effort to enact the new Language Opportunity for Our Kids Act. The new law gives school districts the flexibility to implement programs that best meet the needs of their students. It also provides parents with more power to ask for alternative language acquisition programs.

“This new law respects the diversity of learners and their native languages and cultures,” says MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “It is especially meaningful that parents will have more voice in advocating for the needs of the children.”

North Carolina—Education Community Pushes Back on School Takeovers

Two years ago, North Carolina’s general assembly created the Innovative School District (ISD), a state managed district that typically—like Tennessee and Louisiana—turns public schools over to charter operators. This year, several local school districts were in line for a takeover by for-profit charter companies.

That was until parents, educators, principals,advocacy groups, and some school board members pushed back.

In Durham, five schools were among 48 tapped for a takeover. Organizing efforts by members of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and other allies, brought out thousands of people who pressed the state to remove all five schools from the takeover list.

The momentum spread to other districts, like Nash-Rocky Mount Public and Northampton County Schools, where schools were removed from the takeover lists. Robeson County was originally home to five potential school takeovers. But after local pushback, only one school—Southside-Ashpole Elementary School—was selected.

Although four schools were saved, the takeover of one is still hard to swallow. “The weight of balance was either close a school and subject 300 children to an extra hour ride on a bus—and [loss of] a foothold in the community—or submit to a school takeover,” says Dee Grissett, president of the Robeson Association of Educators (RAE). And in rural areas, like Robeson, shuttering a school could mean the demise of a community.

The collaborative efforts to gain knowledge, find answers, and seek resolution for their students united RAE members and the community. Together, they will remain vigilant.

“We united teachers, parents, clergy, and community leaders,” says Grissett, “and together we will hold the charter operator accountable for the performance of Southside-Ashpole.”

Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, says that the state association “has strong local presidents and members across this state who have been leading and standing up in community events and forums to educate our citizens about this unproven and unaccountable takeover scheme that does nothing to improve student achievement.”

‘Test Reform Victories Surge’ Nationwide

After pressure from parents, students, and educators, many states and local school districts rolled back the amount of testing and reduced high-stakes exams, according to a report released by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). The report, “Test Reform Victories Surge in 2017: What’s Behind the Winning Strategies?” detailed victories that eliminated tests such as graduation exams or reduced testing time. It promoted better forms of assessments, too.

Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest and the report’s lead author, explained in a news release that “these wins often resulted from effective grassroots advocacy by parents, teachers, students, and their allies. They reflect the growing public understanding of the damage caused by the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.”

The report brings to the forefront the hard work of public school educators, with their unions and other allies.

Here are some of the biggest wins:
Cut the amount of state or district testing or the time spent on testing. Maryland capped the time districts can devote to testing and ended its requirement to test all kindergartners. New Mexico eliminated the requirement that ninth and tenth graders take at least three assessments each year in reading, English, and math. West Virginia ended English and math tests in grades 9 and 10. Hawaii dropped three end-of-course high school exams along with the ACT in grades 9 and 10.

Districts that eliminated or significantly reduced local testing mandates include Las Cruces and Santa Fe, N.M.; San Diego and Sacramento, Calif.; Knox County, Tenn.; Clay County, Fla; Vancouver, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn., and Jefferson County, Ky. Victories often occurred in districts with large percentages of low-income, African American, or Latino students.

Stopped or reduced use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. In 2017, Connecticut dropped this requirement. At least seven states have done so since former President Barack Obama signed into law the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. New Mexico joined several other states in reducing the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations.

Now allow students to opt out of tests. New policies in Idaho and North Dakota brought to 10 the number of states that allow parents to opt their children out of some or all exams.

Implemented performance assessments. Half of New Hampshire’s school districts have replaced standardized tests in most grades with local, teacher-made performance assessments. Nationally, many districts that cut their testing mandates are joined by local unions in developing better assessments.

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Why ‘Child Care Deserts’ Remain, Even As States Increase Preschool Funding

Research suggests that early childhood education primes young minds for academic and social success. And yet in much of the country, many parents struggle to find any day care at all.

To get more young children into high-quality programs, an increasing number of cities and states are imposing academic standards and other rules on child care providers and using public money to expand access to them.

At least 16 states now offer preschool programs to more than a third of 4-year-olds, up from three states plus Washington, D.C., in 2002. And nationwide, states have increased preschool funding by 47 percent in the past five years.

“What we’re seeing is an influx of state policymakers starting to wrap their arms around the fact that learning doesn’t start in kindergarten,” said Bruce Atchison of the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based nonprofit. “You have to have high-quality pre-K programs, and programs for younger children too.”

Closer scrutiny has come with a cost: In some places, stricter regulations for child care providers may be exacerbating the shortage of slots. Small providers who care for children in their homes also can find it difficult to comply with rules regarding sprinkler systems, radon detectors and fire escape plans.

In California, the number of licensed providers caring for children in private homes declined by 30 percent in the last 10 years, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

“We’re trying to understand the barriers for home-care providers,” said Rowena Kamo, the network’s research director. “We want to build up the supply of what are really small businesses.”

In a 2017 study of 22 states that make up two-thirds of the U.S. population, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., found that more than half of the children in those states lived in “child care deserts,” neighborhoods or communities with no child care options or so few providers that there are more than three children for every licensed child care slot.

Overall, child care deserts were most common in lower-income rural areas, but they could be found in urban areas too.

In Oakland, California, for example, 63 percent of children under 5 years old live in a child care desert, the study found. There also are significant child care shortages in San Jose (62 percent), Austin (50 percent), Miami (35 percent), Atlanta (33 percent), and Denver (27 percent).

The proportion of residents living in child care deserts ranged from 24 percent in Iowa to 62 percent in California.

“It shows just how ubiquitous the child care shortage is,” said Rasheed Malik, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “In big cities, it’s very common, as well as in low-density rural areas. But it’s also a problem in suburbs of all types and in all the states that we looked at.”

Many areas with child care shortages would get a boost from the federal budget President Donald Trump signed several months ago. The budget includes an additional $5.8 billion over the next two years for the Child Care Development Block Grant, money that states can use to help low-income families pay for child care so they can work or attend job training.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said his state would spend $26 million of its share of that money to wipe out its waitlist for subsidized child care.

Texas’ federal grant under the program would double to nearly $1 billion a year, according to Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the Houston-based nonprofit Children at Risk, which advocates on issues affecting children.

“That will cause a huge push to help provide child care,” Sanborn said. But the new child care slots won’t all provide high-quality instruction, he cautioned.

“If parents don’t have a close-by relative, they are finding the cheapest, safest, cleanest place they can for their children, but it’s basically the warehousing of children,” Sanborn said. “It may be clean and safe, but there’s no learning going on.”

In the District of Columbia, widely considered a leader in providing child care to its residents, officials hope to avoid that problem by requiring that preschool teachers and directors have bachelor’s degrees or certificates in early childhood learning.

“We try to avoid the [term] ‘day care’ because this is about education,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, assistant superintendent of early learning in Washington, D.C. “It used to be babysitting, but it’s not anymore.”

Low Wages and Stricter Rules

Child care can be extraordinarily expensive, so much so that it was the top reason cited in a recent survey of young adults by Morning Consult for The New York Times about why they’ll have fewer children than they considered ideal. Child care is the highest single household expense in most regions of the country, and families are spending 20 to 30 percent of their incomes on it, according to the advocacy group Child Care Aware America. In 28 states and the District of Columbia, it costs more to send your child to day care than to a public university.

One reason for the shortage is that it doesn’t pay to be a child care provider. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, the median wage for child care workers is about $10 an hour.

“People think it’s about holding a baby; it’s not,” said Judy Berman of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in Washington. “People think it’s just about changing a diaper; it’s not. A lot goes on when you’re changing a diaper.”

The first thousand days of a baby’s life are critical, said Lori Turk-Bicakci, a senior research manager at the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health in Palo Alto, California.

“You want a child care provider, whether it’s a relative or parent or whoever is touching the baby, to be looking at them, making eye contact, talking to them,” she said. “Those simple things are so important.”

But using public money to boost the salaries of child care workers can be a tough sell, even in liberal areas with a shortage of child care providers.

Voters in Alameda County, home of Oakland, narrowly defeated a ballot initiative last month that would have raised the sales tax a half-cent for 30 years, bringing in about $140 million a year to increase pay to $15 an hour for child care workers and expand access to child care for low- and middle-income parents.

Stricter regulations also can be a barrier to providing more child care opportunities, according to Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative nonprofit focused on economic issues facing women.

“All of these regulations sound like common sense, but you wonder how those are applied,” Lukas said. “If you’re having radon testing, and can’t have a baby sleeping in a room without an adult present, it needlessly raises costs.”

The Denver Fire Department recently barred new child care providers from caring for more than five children unless they have a sprinkler system. According to Liddy Romero, executive director of WorkLife Partnership, a nonprofit that is working with companies to create more child care in the city, a $30,000 sprinkler system is an expense that many at-home providers can’t afford.

Licensing issues are “going to prevent big change from happening” in child care availability, Romero said.

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Teacher Invites 80 Students To Her Wedding Because She ‘Couldn’t Picture Getting Married Without Them’

Newly married teacher Ashlyn (Houck) Kurtz considers her students family. So when it was time to send out the invitations to her Philadelphia wedding ceremony, it was a no-brainer that the third grade teacher would invite her “kids.”

“We spend a lot of time together during the school year and they become a very important part of my life, and I just couldn’t picture getting married without them as a part of it,” Kurtz tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

She invited the third grade class and a class of fourth graders she taught the year prior to her June 22 nuptials — about 80 students total — with superhero-themed invites to match her hero-decorated classroom. With the support of their parents, about 30 children showed up at the ceremony at St. Cecilia’s Church, the church associated with the school that Kurtz has taught at for the last four years.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Gaffney Black

Guests and the photographer alike snapped photos of the blushing bride surrounded by a group of smiling students, who have been involved in the wedding festivities since the beginning. The teacher’s now-husband, Matt Kurtz, involved her class in his proposal in 2014 and the parents threw the couple a surprise superhero-themed bridal shower leading up to the big day.

The couple didn’t believe that their wedding should be any different.

“As a class, we share our lives. They tell me all about what is going on in their lives and I do the same,” she says.

She also wanted the students to know how amazing love is.

“They are not just students in my class during the school year, but at your wedding you want your special people there and that I want all my special people with me all the time. That they are ‘my kids, my heroes,’” she said.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Gaffney Black

A mom of two daughters in the third grade class tells Yahoo that the wedding was a great experience for her twin daughters: “She is an incredible teacher.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a full-on school affair if a school bus wasn’t involved, which the Kurtzes used as their wedding transportation.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Gaffney Black

 “With my love of teaching and him proposing in my classroom, it just felt right,” she says.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: 

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Here’s What School Is Really Like For Some Migrant Children Separated From Their Parents

Serious challenges, including a lack of experienced teachers, may be undermining the federal government’s efforts to educate undocumented children in its care, according to five former employees of Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit network of shelters the government pays to take care of migrant children.

Although many teachers and staff at Southwest Key facilities deeply care about the kids, it’s not clear how much students are learning, and teachers sometimes serve more as babysitters than educators, the ex-employees said.

Southwest Key shelters thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children on behalf of the federal government until they are released to a sponsor, such as a relative. The government, which is legally required to educate undocumented kids, requires organizations like Southwest Key to provide the children with at least six hours of age-appropriate education a day, Monday to Friday, in basic academic areas like science, math and reading.

Like many other shelter organizations, Southwest Key has witnessed an influx of children in recent months as the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings led to thousands of children being separated from their families.

But at a Southwest Key shelter for migrant children in Channelview, Texas, teachers acted almost like a cross between prison guards and babysitters, said Julie Minerbo, who worked as a therapist at the center in February and March 2018. Minerbo was terminated after managers said her Spanish was inadequate — a claim she disputes.

Minerbo and the other former employees cited in this article didn’t have access to curriculums. But they witnessed students of all ages sitting in the same classrooms together. They often seemed to be lacking books or materials, with a teacher serving to make sure no one hurt themselves or ran away, she said.

“It never really seemed like there was much education,” Minerbo added.

A spokesman for Southwest Key directed all questions to the Department of Health and Human Services, which did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The kids barely learn anything; they’re watching number videos, listening to reggaeton and coloring.
Antar Davidson, former youth care worker in Tucson, Arizona

Southwest Key emphasizes that its shelters are not detention centers. Children are also only supposed to live in government-funded shelters for relatively brief periods of time before being reunited with family members. (The average length of stay for an unaccompanied minor in the program is about 57 days, the government says.)

Salvador Cavazos, Southwest Key’s vice president over education services, said that details of their education services are proprietary information, according to the Dallas Morning News. Southwest Key and HHS did not tell HuffPost why a publicly funded education service is proprietary.

It’s also not yet clear how the influx of kids under the zero-tolerance policy will affect education services. Overall, Juan Sanchez, president and CEO of Southwest Key, told NPR last month that they were “caught off guard by it ramping up so quickly. And we’ve hired now all the staff we need, but it took us a while to be able to do that.”

Migrant shelters are complex and challenging educational environments. Children come in with different education levels, and many have dropped out of school at a young age or been unable to safely attend schools in their home countries, said Fátima Menéndez, legislative attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Many of the migrant children Menéndez saw when working for another organization were far behind their U.S. counterparts in school, she said, and may have had limited access to education in their home countries. Children may also speak indigenous languages other than Spanish that require specific instruction and spend varying amounts of time at the shelters before they are released. And they may arrive at the shelters deeply traumatized by their journeys across the border.

MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

People protest as first lady Melania Trump visits Southwest Key’s facility for children in Phoenix on June 28, 2018.

Staff members might not know whether a child would be in the facility for 15 days or 12 months before being placed with a sponsor, explained Irma Gonzalez, who worked as an assistant lead case manager for Southwest Key in Texas from January to May 2017. Gonzalez wasn’t privy to individual lesson plans. Staff intentions were good, she felt, but she nonetheless saw kids “just sitting there coloring, the teacher standing there babysitting.”

Teachers are “really trying” and “working hard,” but they don’t have resources, echoed Antar Davidson, who was a youth care worker at the Estrella del Norte shelter in Tucson, Arizona, before quitting earlier last month. “The kids barely learn anything; they’re watching number videos, listening to reggaeton and coloring,” Davidson said.

This environment would be a challenge for any teacher, but according to some former staffers, Southwest Key only required minimal experience in education.  

A Southwest Key job posting for a teacher in Phoenix asks that candidates be least 21, have a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field, and 1-2 years of paid or unpaid experience working with youth. Teachers are expected to maintain a grade book and implement daily instruction in “all core subject areas,” including ESL, physical education and vocational courses. A posting for a lead teacher in Houston, Texas requires a combination of a bachelor’s degree with a state certificate, or a master’s degree.

Public school teachers in Texas, by comparison, are required to have a bachelor’s degree, to complete an approved teacher preparation program involving experience in the classroom and to pass teacher certification exams. In Arizona, a bachelor’s degree is also required to be a secondary school teacher, along with completion of a teacher preparation program or 30 semester-hours of education courses and a specific license. At the same time, both states are currently suffering from teacher shortages.

A Southwest Key spokesman told ProPublica the nonprofit has “rigorous hiring standards” and that staffers undergo a minimum of 80 hours of classroom and on-the-job training before they can supervise a child, with additional mandatory training each year.

Jose Elias Martinez was hired for a teaching job in a Southwest Key shelter in June. He studied engineering in college and spent some time tutoring younger kids and college students, but had never formally worked as a teacher before getting hired at Casa Phoenix, he told HuffPost. He had to leave the job after several weeks of training because his background check raised red flags. He is still hoping to return to a Southwest Key classroom.

“I was kind of going through a job transition,” said Martinez, 27,  who learned about the job through a LinkedIn advertisement. “I was intrigued by the fact that it was all over the news.”

Outside of the classrooms, too, students moved in a highly restricted environment that seemed like a mix of high school and prison culture, Martinez said. Other staff members had described it in a similar way.

Southwest Key would take kids on field trips and celebrate holidays, Gonzalez said. Job postings say there are activities for Cesar Chavez Day and the Fourth of July, and that there are visits to museums and a water conservation center.

At BCFS Health and Human Services, another nonprofit, kids could decorate a Christmas tree and receive little presents, recalled Gonzalez, who previously worked for the group in Harlingen, Texas. But she noted that staffers were “very careful not to give them anything that could be turned into a weapon.”

House Democrats sent a letter to Trump administration officials last week seeking additional information on how the government is ensuring that educational standards for unaccompanied minors are being met, and about the credentials and experience of teachers. They requested a response by Friday.

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2018 NEA Representative Assembly Energized By Red for Ed, Student Activists

Delegates stand to vote during Red For Ed Day at the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 5th 2018. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

The 2018 National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA) convened less than week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against working people with its decision in Janus v. AFSCME. How to thrive in post-Janus  world was just one of the many pressing issues on the minds of the 6,200 delegates the as they entered the Minneapolis Convention Center on July 2.

The challenges to educators and public schools are mounting, but by the closing gavel four days later, the delegates left Minneapolis ready to harness the energy of burgeoning Red for Ed movement and meet them head on.

These are dark days, NEA President Lily Eskselsen García told the gathered educators in her keynote address, because “billionaires have placed themselves over the rest of us; they have no sense of servant leadership; Billionaires believe that they are our rulers.”

But there is a groundswell of energy and support for public education  that is already having an enormous impact. The movement started in West Virginia in February and quickly spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

“You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!” Eskelsen Garcia told the cheering delegation.

Educators have a powerful ally in students. Whether its demanding lawmakers properly fund our schools or take action to help keep students safe from gun violence, young people have taken up the call.

“You see them come together in a collective voice. You feel the power of their action – they’re not complaining. They’re not waiting for permission,” Eskelsen Garcia said, before she yielded the stage to one of those student leaders, David Hogg, survivor of the Parkland school shooting and outspoken advocate for common sense gun laws.

Student activist David Hogg speaks at the NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Calvin Knight)

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” Hogg said. “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

In a display of union solidarity, Eskelsen Garcia bought to the stage Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to address the delegation.

Building union strength and national coalitions was the focus of NEA Executive Director John Stocks’ speech.

“We can’t be in a movement by ourselves and for ourselves,” he said. “What the Red for Ed movement has shown us is that when members and non-members, parents, communites, and students stand together, we are a formidable force and together we can fight and win.”

The RA also honored three of the nation’s most outstanding educators of 2018: Education Support Professional of the Year (ESP) Sherry Shaw, Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning, and – for the first time ever – the NCHE Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Bagsdell.

2018 ESP of the Year Sherry Shaw on the RA stage (Photo: Rick Runion)

Shaw, a special education paraeducator in Wasilla, Alaska, manages a program that provides food, clothing, and hygiene products to families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. In her speech Shaw urged the delegates to “crack the code” of students’ worlds.

“They show up in our classrooms, our hallways, on our busses, and in our cafeterias in all kinds of ways,” Shaw said. “Often, there is no room for learning. They are just trying to figure out how to survive the day.”

ESPs play critical roles in helping these students navigate through this uncertainty.  “We get up every morning before the sun rises and do our jobs, and do them well,” she said. “We care for our kids. We nurture them. We love them. We educate them. We challenge and guide them,” Shaw said.

RA delegates celebrate July 4th. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

Teacher of the Year Manning spotlighted immigrant and refugee students, a population she serves so loyally  at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington.

“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved enough or that they matter,” Manning said.

Manning introduced two remarkable students to the delegation, Iya and Fayaah. Both came to the United States with their families only a few years ago and have thrived in their public schools, thanks in large part to the educators who looked out for them.

“[Students like Iya and Fayaah] are showing us how it’s done,” Manning said. “They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”

And the first-ever NCHE Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Ragsdell addressed the RA on July 4. A self-described “guerrilla educator,” Ragsdell said she educates at every opportunity — “the grocery store, the laundromat, Macy’s! I like to think I was born with a textbook in one hand and a lesson plan in the other.”

2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning backstage at the NEA RA with students Fayaah (left) and Iya.

The RA also heard from Ted Dintersmith, entrepreneur and author of “What School Could Be,” and the 2018 recipient of the 2018 NEA Friend of Education Award.the

Speeches and celebrations are always a highlight of any RA and 2018 was no exception, but the business of the RA is … business. Delegates spent the lion’s share of their time in the Convention Center debating and adopting new policy statements, resolutions, amendments to existing policies and more than 100 new business items, which, taken together, create a detailed NEA education policy blueprint for the upcoming year.

RA delegates also held elections for NEA’s Executive Committee.  This year, Eric Brown, a biology teacher in Evanston, Illinois, was elected to the Executive Committee for a second three-year term.  Shelly Moore Krajacic, a high school English and drama teacher from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, also won re-election to the Executive Committee.

The delegates also sent a new face to the committee: California special education teacher Robert Varela Rodriguez.  Delegates elected Rodriguez, from San Bernardino City Unified School District, for a one-year term to begin September 1.

Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Ragsdell acknowledges the cheers of the RA delegates (Photo: Rick Runion)

“We are living in difficult times, but I believe that only through organizing and collective action can we effect change,” Rodriguez said.

On the final day of the RA, Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, stood on the convention floor to deliver remarkable news about how educators and RedforED are creating this change.

On July 5, public education activists in her state submitted 270,000 signatures (100,000 more than was nedded) to put an initiative on the November ballot that, if approved, could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new education funding.

“This spring, when we walked out, we walked out for our children, and we did with the support of NEA,” Garcia said as the delegates stood and applauded. ” We knew you were with us, and when we go to the polls in November, we will win!”

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Fraternity Accuses Restaurant Of Canceling Event Because Members Are Black

A predominantly black fraternity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is suing a local restaurant it says refused to rent an event space to members because, they were told, “we’ve had problems with your kind before.”

The Tuscaloosa Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court on June 27 accusing the Cypress Inn of two counts of racial discrimination stemming from February, when the group attempted to rent a pavilion, according to Al.com.

The complaint accuses the restaurant of not offering the same services to the predominantly black organization that it would provide to white customers.

The suit claims the alumni group planned a social event and fundraiser at the Inn for Feb. 23 and paid a $1,500 reservation fee, according to the Tuscaloosa News.

However, the Cypress Inn canceled the event on Feb. 6 and refunded the deposit after meeting with chapter President Clifton Warren.

He said he went to the restaurant to make final arrangements only to have a staff member tell him that, due to security concerns, the inn would no longer host the event, according to CNN.

The lawsuit says the staff member, a white woman, told Warren she hadn’t known his organization was an “all black” group.

Warren said he explained that the fraternity’s membership consisted of “African-American professionals and business leaders,” and he offered to pay for additional security and to assume liability.

Despite that, the restaurant still refused, and Warren told CNN that the restaurant’s owner, Renea Henson, told him, “We’ve had problems with your kind before.”

The group ended up holding its event at another location, but the change of venue caused the fraternity to lose money from the event, which was supposed to raise funds for local mentoring programs, according to the lawsuit.

The restaurant insists the allegations of discrimination “are completely untrue,” and released a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday:

“Our outside security firm recommended against hosting the party because the fraternity was proposing to sell tickets to the public and our security firm strongly recommended against hosting that type party out of concern for public safety.

“We look forward to presenting the complete facts to the Court. We are confident we will prevail.”

The fraternity chapter seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction barring the restaurant from discriminating in the future.

“This is 2018, and this is just not acceptable,” Roderick T. Cooks, an attorney representing the chapter, told CNN. “There’s no place for it, especially here in this state, where sensitivity should be heightened to this kind of thing.”

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Teachers’ Activism Will Survive The Janus Supreme Court Ruling

By Sherman Dorn, Arizona State University/The Conversation

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME 31 will hurt public employee unions in both membership and funding.

The majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, said that requiring public employees who are not union members to pay fees to a union for representation compels them “to subsidize the speech of other private speakers” – a union. That, the justices ruled, violates the First Amendment.

This decision essentially turns all of the United States into a “right-to-work” environment for public employees. That means unions in the majority of states can continue to represent teachers, police and other public workers, but those unions can’t require workers to join or pay representation fees. The ruling affects hundreds of thousands of teachers, public health workers and police officers in 21 states from Hawaii to Maine.

As a scholar of the history of post-World War II education policy, I see this decision as an important landmark in the history of teachers unions. The Supreme Court ruling is a serious legal and financial blow, but it will not kill public employee unions, teachers unions – or the ability of teachers to work together to amplify their voices for social change.

The choice for teachers unions

Collective bargaining is an important role for unions, but it’s important to understand that unions have long been about more than that.

Hartford History Project

Hartford teachers strike, 1968.

Starting in the 19th century, teachers – who were mostly womenfought for decades to gain the right of union representation. That fight was not just about fair salaries and treatment. There has always been a social and political side of unionism. The first major teachers’ union in Chicago allied with social reformers to sue for the collection of corporate taxes in the early 20th century, for example. The enforcement of those corporate taxes funded schools and city services in general.

Decades later, national teachers’ unions and union leaders often worked in collaboration with civil rights organizations. In the battle over voting rights in Selma, Alabama, teachers led by the Rev. Frederick Reesecomprised the first group of professionals to join the voting rights marches, in January 1965.

These two dimensions of union history – advocacy for workers of specific employers and a broader engagement about the terms of politics and the social contract –– have consistently been at play, true of local as well as national unions. Activist unions fight for parental leave and early childhood education – for values, in addition to salaries and a lunch that teachers can take by themselves.

Looking ahead

Activist unions can survive in a “right-to-work” environment.

I know this personally. When I worked in Florida, I recruited dozens of my colleagues to join my university’s faculty union. Since the revision of the state’s constitution in 1968, Florida’s teachers and other public employees have operated under the state’s “right-to-work” provision in the state constitution. In other words, the United Faculty of Florida thus had the same legal context all public employee unions now face after Janus. When promoting membership, I explained what our union did concretely. But many of my former colleagues joined because our union defended values shared by faculty.

Arizona teachers striking in April.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Arizona teachers striking in April.

This spirit of activism was on display this year as thousands of teachers in West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma effectively organized despite having no union. Arizona’s teachers shut down schools for six days. They pushed a conservative legislature and governor into making a down payment on increased funding for schools and teacher salaries.

Like their counterparts in West Virginia and North Carolina, Arizona’s teachers persuaded the public that they were walking out on behalf of their students and on behalf of what education could and should be.

In making the case about more than teacher salaries, Arizona teachers revived a long history of social movement by teachers. The teachers who started the movement to organize the walkout were not leaders of a union, but they made the type of impact on teachers’ lives and public policy that we usually associate with unions.

Legal status is not the only factor that determines what teachers unions and a public workers social movement can accomplish.

In my opinion, those who think the Janus ruling is irrelevant are fooling themselves. So are those who think this decision will kill all public employee unions.

The factors that pushed teachers to unionize in the past century will not go away. The tools at their disposal may change – but the drive to improve their careers and workplaces will continue.

Sherman Dorn is Professor of Education at Arizona State University. He wrote this article for The Conversation, a website bringing ideas from experts to the public. Read more analysis on education.

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Grown-ups Defend Teen’s Right To Cuss Out Congress Over Gun Laws

Months before protesters disrupted Kirstjen Nielsen’s dinner and the owner of a farm-to-table restaurant asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave and hecklers confronted Pam Bondi at a movie theater, 17-year-old Noah Christiansen walked out of class, called his congressman’s office, and said lawmakers should “get off their fucking asses.”

By the phony standards of our national discourse, this was uncivil stuff — never mind that at the time of the call Christiansen was participating in a nationwide school walk-out to demand action on gun control, a civil cause in every sense. This was about a month after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school. Christiansen had placed a call to Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), a National Rifle Association-endorsed politician, who has called for loosening restrictions on gun sales.

You might remember what happened next. Arturo Garzon, the staffer in Amodei’s office who’d taken the call, was unmoved by the high-schooler’s plea for life-saving intervention. But he was bothered by Christiansen’s use of profanity. And so he phoned up the kid’s school in Reno and tattled. Administrators at Robert McQueen High School suspended Christiansen two days for what it determined was an act of “defiance/disrespect/insubordination.” He was also told he couldn’t serve as the school’s class secretary.

The incident was an early entry in our dispiriting National Civility Debate, in which people with little power are scolded by elites for expressing themselves in a manner commensurate with the stakes of this fucking political moment. Emails obtained via a public records request show a fuller picture: of the pettiness of authority figures, sure, but also of what “civility” really means to the sort of people who don’t hang out in TV green rooms.

According to one email, the school’s principal, Amy Marable, justified the punishment by describing Christiansen as a student with a history of behaving uncivilly. In a letter responding to the American Civil Liberties Union, which had taken up Christiansen’s cause, Marable said that he used the “the F word repeatedly” at a debate tournament, had argued that the school’s dress code restrictions on women baring their shoulders promoted rape culture, and handed out condoms in the hallway after being told the school clinic would not provide them to students.

The school eventually removed the suspension from Christiansen’s record and allowed him to serve in student government — but only after hearing from the ACLU and a bunch of angry grown-ups from all over the country. Email after email to Marable chastised the principal for not seeing that the greater obscenity was the phenomenon the teen was addressing — the political cowardice that has created a generation of students like Christiansen who have to worry about getting gunned down in the middle of math class.

One man, who identified himself as an “educator,” advised Marable to tell Amodei and his staff to “fuck off.” (The school redacted Christiansen’s name from all the emails provided to HuffPost.)


Amodei is “a true snowflake,” another remarked.


A professor at Columbia University weighed in and said that Amodei should “get off his fucking ass” and pass gun legislation.


“If people are not passionate and willing to speak out about change more innocent children and people are going to die,” one woman wrote.


Schools should encourage students to call their elected officials, a lawyer wrote.


Even the more civilized adults who thought Christiansen shouldn’t have cussed thought the school went too far.



Teenagers say “fuck” all the time, one eighth-grade teacher helpfully informed Marable.


How can we expect a student to be more polite than the president, several grown-ups wrote.




People who wrote school administrators on Christiansen’s behalf received a carefully worded non-answer about the importance of free speech from the Washoe County School District.


The school’s response did not go over well.



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Why I’ll Still Put ‘Asian’ On College Applications Even If It Costs Me Admission

When it comes to identity, most think “who are you?” The question I’ve consistently heard is, “what are you?”

Some insist I’m Brazilian and others guess I’m from the Middle East, but my mom’s Indian and my dad’s white. While being biracial has kept me constantly aware of both my ethnicities, the college admissions process has sparked an identity crisis.

In seventh grade, it started. “You could apply for a Hispanic scholarship,” my sister said at the dinner table, half-jokingly, “since Mom’s maiden name is Fernandez and most people think you look Hispanic.”

There isn’t anything Hispanic about my identity; my mom’s maiden name only stems from Portuguese missionaries in her Indian village. Even in seventh grade, I knew who I was — part white, but not quite. I was aware my white friends probably weren’t wearing churidars to their Christmas celebrations. I could smell that their mothers’ cooking certainly had fewer spices. And as I gathered from their constant invitations to hang out, their parents weren’t nearly as strict about homework, grades or performance.

I was Indian-American and I had no problem with that.

I was realizing that according to colleges, however, to have Indian blood is to be robotic, passionless and devoid of personality. Harvard, for example, is the pinnacle of education but apparently not fond of the personalities of Asians. To suspect a bias against Asian-American students is one thing. But to realize that the perception of coming up short in having a “positive personality” and being “widely respected” contributes to a 24 percent decrease in accepted Asian-Americans is another.

Harvard’s dismissal of Asians feels like a high school popularity contest — as if the elite school is telling me, “No matter how hard or passionately you work on your education, unless you’re liked you’ll only be that nerdy Indian kid.”

Naturally, I dodged from these stereotypes and disadvantages and searched for other routes to my college dreams.

I was realizing that according to colleges, however, to have Indian blood is to be robotic, passionless and devoid of personality

The advice continued to float by in high school, though. An article popped up about a company that helps with college applications that advised top students to “appear less Asian.” The evidence was piling up — getting into an elite college meant hiding my ethnicity. It was a hurtful message. Apparently, the culture I loved and lived with was unappreciated and disdained. Still, college was my goal and so I convinced myself: I could just be white!

At the start of junior year, however, I stopped being so sure. As I perused college essay questions, the words “background” and “identity” kept popping up. I pictured paragraphs on being biracial and bilingual. I knew the adaptability, open-mindedness and cultural knowledge central to my identity was thanks to my heritage. Learning my mother’s native tongue, Malayalam, had opened me up to the world. I was so grateful and proud of my heritage.

Just as quickly as I had these fond thoughts, I deleted my imaginary paragraphs. It felt like I was deleting myself but if I answered these questions instinctively and truthfully, I’d give away my Asian ethnicity and, according to all my gathered statistics and advice, possibly cost myself a college admission.

Rebecca Stevenson

The author and her mother.

But here was my dilemma: There was no question I could figure out how to entirely answer without being Indian. I couldn’t communicate my personal identity with colleges without revealing my ethnicity. Since birth, I had been explaining my heritage to confused faces with pride, and my unpracticed attempt in hiding it only left me feeling ashamed.

I decided to take a different approach — I would be the very best Asian I could be. Khan Academy’s SAT prep replaced my social life and became a constant companion. The SAT transformed into a desperate idol and the numbers became the defining factor of my identity.

But numbers are not reliable and the identity sharply shattered when the marks for my first SAT came in more than 100 points below my target. I had failed in making a stellar SAT score part of my identity. Still, the relentlessly hard-working Indian culture predictably prodded me forward without hesitation. So I picked up the pieces of my fallen pride, studied again with renewed humility and received a score over my initial goal. But then what? My obsession didn’t stop. I wasn’t satisfied.

My supposed embracing of Asian stereotypes had led me to a path of dangerous idolization. Where I was once content with personal devotion and honest ambition, I became concerned with college success by whatever means necessary. My mother and her culture had, throughout my life, encouraged me to work hard, study hard and pursue what I love. However, I had pushed away my true heritage, as well as the words of my parents, and allowed the college and media stereotypes of a culture to pressure me and define my identity.

The truth — the truth I now realize — is that I am unlike any other Asian. No Asian is like any other Asian. Sure, some work hard on their standardized tests. Some play violin like maestros. Others don’t wish to go to college at all. Regardless, they are all Asian and so am I. How I look on a college application defines neither my identity nor my ethnicity. 

The truth — the truth I now realize — is that I am unlike any other Asian. No Asian is like any other Asian

My tumultuous journey with college applications during junior year did reveal that I was, whether I liked it or not, Asian. I wasn’t a stereotype but I did have my culture. If I didn’t have an Indian mother, I without a doubt would not have the work ethic that I have. I would not have the love of ancient stories and civilizations that I have. I would not have the awareness of poverty in both the United States and India. A life where I am not Indian is a life where I am not myself. 

Why should I hide the beauty of my Indian-American culture? Why should any Asian hide their magnificent heritage? The diversity of Asia includes cultures that no one should be ashamed of. The stereotypical pinpoints of Asian culture, diligence, discipline, and obedience, are only an aspect of Asian culture — and an often noble aspect at that. The stories that each individual Asian student and family have are bound to be more diverse and flavorful than colleges could expect.

My college application doesn’t define my identity. No college is worth hiding who I am. I will write about the beauty of being biracial and the stories from my family home in India. I will enthusiastically share how my Indian heritage has birthed my passions. I will confess who I am entirely, for I am not ashamed. I will be Asian and white and all that I am and if a college doesn’t want to accept that, I don’t want to be there. 

Whether it hinders my admission or not, I will be putting “Asian” on my college application.

Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to pitch@huffpost.com.

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2018 Teacher of the Year: Our Students Give Us Hope

2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning at the NEA Representantive Assembly in Minneapolis.

Washington educator Mandy Manning was named the 2018 National Teacher of the Year in April for her unwavering commitment to the immigrant and refugee students she teachers at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane. Her devotion to newcomer students was on display today at the NEA Representative Assembly. Honored by the more than 6,000 delegates at the Minneapolis convention center, Manning spoke briefly so that she could pass the microphone to two students who, she said, “teach us how to keep on marching, and, ultimately they give us hope.”

When Manning, a member of the Spokane Education Association,  visited the White House in May, she handed President Trump notes from some of her immigrant and refugee students expressing their concerns about the current toxic political climate. Manning’s students come to the U.S. from all over the world: Syria, Chuuk, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Her students’ fears, Manning told the delegates, have been confirmed by the inhumane rhetoric and policies that have come out of the White House in recent weeks.

“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved, enough or that they matter,” Manning said.

While there’s a lot to talk about in one speech, Manning chose instead to share her time on the RA stage with two newcomer students. “They are the ones most impacted by these policies and because, frankly, right now, our students are our role-models. They’re showing us the true power of a collective voice,” she said.

With that, Manning introduced Iya, a Hmong student from Laos, who just graduated from LEAP high School in St. Paul, and Faaya, a Muslim student from Oramia, who is about to attend FAIR Senior High School in Minneapolis.

Iya came to the United States only three years ago. She recounted how happy she was at LEAP.

“I felt happy and excited going to school everyday. LEAP is a small school with less students and loving teachers and that’s all I want,” Iya said. “It is a safe community and is another place where I can call home. It gave me hope.”

Faaya is about to become a freshman at FAIR Senior High School in Minneapolis. She’s more comfortable in school now, but the transition was difficult. When she was in 7th grade, students teased her and pulled off her hijab. 

After a teacher stepped up to stop the bullying, school life began to get easier for Faaya.

Educators should always be prepared to create safe and culturally-inclusive learning environments, Faaya said.

“Take the voice you have to speak,” she urged the delegates. “Students are your stars and you are the night sky. The power of education has no borders.”

During her speech, Mandy Manning turned the microphone over to newcomer students, Iya (right) and Fayaah.

Visibly moved by the students’ remarks, Manning returned to the microphone and closed by telling the audience about one of her own students, Safa, who arrived in Spokane in 2012 as a refugee from Sudan. A dedicated student, Safa graduated from high school in 2016. Now a junior at Eastern Washington University, she is studying to be an elementary school teacher and she recently became a citizen

Safa recently appeared with a proud Manning before a legislative K-12 committee at the state capitol to advocate on behalf of English Language Learners.

“Just like these amazing students you heard from today, Iya and Faaya, Safa is a shining example of the potential all of our students represent,” Manning told the delegates.

“They are showing us how it’s done. They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”

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Here’s What It’s Like To Write And Edit A Dictionary

When you hear the title “editor,” editing a dictionary is likely not the first thing to come to mind. How do you edit such a comprehensive work anyway? 

Peter Sokolowski, a Merriam-Webster editor-at-large, said that people who compile and edit a dictionary are also referred to as lexicographers. As editors, his team members, who work on the online and print versions of the dictionary, take on a lot of reading.

He told HuffPost that Merriam-Webster used to have an editorial program that required its staffers to read an hour a day. Employees coordinated with one another to ensure that everyone was reading different things, from magazines to newspapers to novels to academic journals. The program is much less formalized now, he said, but the team still reads a lot.

Nowadays, of course, editors also have online material to read ― not only social media posts but also online news sources and databases of historic documents. Sokolowski said that the addition of online reading has, in some ways, made a dictionary editor’s job easier.

“We can find so much more,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back. I’m just old enough that I started here writing the dictionary before there were any computers. There was only one computer on the editorial floor … It was for keeping pay stubs and time keep.”

Similar to Merriam-Webster’s editorial program, Oxford English Dictionary has a team dedicated to reading a variety of publications (in print and online) and identifying new words. With help from this team and her own research, Fiona McPherson, a senior editor for the dictionary’s new words group, decides which words should be added to the dictionary. 

“Each day starts with me looking at a suggestion for a word that isn’t yet in the Oxford English Dictionary, and my job is then to research and evaluate the evidence for the word,” she said via email. “Every word included in the Oxford English Dictionary has to pass the criteria for length and breadth of usage, and I ascertain this by looking on a number of databases to find examples of the word in use.”

She also is responsible for writing the word’s “all-important definition,” she said.

“This can be challenging in a number of ways; getting to the heart of a term with which you are familiar can be just as difficult as describing something unfamiliar,” she wrote.

So how does a word get added to the dictionary? Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary have a few tests that a word must pass. The dictionary teams make sure it has widespread use in a variety of publications. (It can’t be repeatedly used by only one writer to be considered.) It also has to have long-term use or show promise that it will stick around and stand the test of time. Sokolowski said Merriam-Webster deliberately uses the vague phrase “long-term use” because in the digital age, words can meet this criterion much more quickly than before. 

“In the old days, it used to be decades. It would take time,” he said. “But I think ‘blog’ was in the dictionary within four years of its coinage. Also true for the word ‘AIDS’ in the 1980s for the same reason. It was very clear that it was a word that was going to stay that was in the news all the time, a word that we needed in our dictionary and a word that didn’t exist just a few years earlier. There is no easy answer [what long-term use means]. Every single word has its own pace.”

Some recently added terms include “binge-watch,” “clickbait” and “photobomb.” Sokolowski noted that the dictionary also must keep up with changing meanings of words. For example, Merriam-Webster added a definition of “bandwidth,” for the sense of “ability to take on a task.” 

Merriam-Webster also requires words to have meaningful use and a general agreement on what they mean. This is why, he said, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary doesn’t include “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which seemingly satisfies the widespread and long-term use criteria but not meaningful use. The word “irregardless,” however, is included in the dictionary, with a note to use “regardless” instead, because above all, the editors want to be useful and make people aware of how words are being used, Sokolowski said. 

Becoming a dictionary editor doesn’t necessarily mean having studied words or literature in school. At Merriam-Webster, editors have a variety of backgrounds. Sokolowski said it’s important to have editors with expertise in physics, music, literature, art history and more so entries can be as accurate as possible.

As she adds words and succinctly puts together their definitions, McPherson is learning about a variety of topics as well.

“One [entry] might be an old word that is no longer in use, and then the next a regional slang term, and the next a new genre of music,” she said. “It keeps you on your toes and definitely stops you from ever feeling bored.”

Both editors are incredibly proud of what they do, although Sokolowski admitted that the work can be tedious.

“We spend all day, every day thinking about words,” he said. “Candidly, it’s a little bit boring. We’re word nerds. That’s who we are … and we own that.”

Even if the work doesn’t always give you an advantage on game night with friends. 

“One of the most satisfying things about the job I do is starting off with a blank page and ending up, if I have done my job properly, with an entry which contributes to the history of the English language,” McPherson wrote. “Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make me better at Scrabble, but it does make me proud.”

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Trump Administration Undoes Efforts To Boost College Racial Diversity

President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Tuesday that it is rescinding multiple policies made by former President Barack Obama’s administration to encourage race as a factor in college admissions.

The decision was announced in a joint letter by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Divisions. It specified seven guidances on affirmative action that had been made to increase diversity in schools.

The letter said those guidances went beyond legal limits and were based on ideas rather than facts.

“The documents advocate specific policies and procedures for educational institutions to adopt, analyze a number of hypotheticals, and draw conclusions about whether the actions in those hypotheticals would violate” citizens’ constitutional rights, the letter states.

The guidances were among 24 documents that were rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday after they were deemed “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

“In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law. That’s why in November I banned this practice at the Department and we began rescinding guidance documents that were issued improperly or that were simply inconsistent with current law,” Sessions said in a statement. “Today we are rescinding 24 more and continuing to put an end to unnecessary or improper rulemaking.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a statement obtained by HuffPost, also defended the administration’s efforts as sticking to what’s constitutionally legal.

“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, and the Court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue,” DeVos said. “Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”

News of the Trump administration’s removal of those guidances was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

zrfphoto via Getty Images

The Trump administration on Tuesday removed Obama-era policies that encouraged considering race as a factor in college admissions.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) was quick to condemn initial reports of the guidance removals on Tuesday, calling the anticipated move “yet another attack on the principles of equal access and opportunity.”

“Racial diversity is not only key to preparing our nation’s young people for the global economy, but it also exposes students to new ideas and perspectives, which are essential to a well-rounded education,” Todd A. Cox, policy director for the LDF, said in a statement. “We urge all schools ― from K-12 to higher education ― not to be dissuaded in their efforts to pursue equal access and opportunity as part of their educational mission.”

Cox further expressed concern about the policy changes in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement news. Kennedy’s departure opens the door for Trump to appoint his replacement, who is expected to shift the balance of the court more conservative.

“This underscores the need to proceed slowly and deliberately in choosing and vetting the next Supreme Court justice, which should happen no sooner than the electorate has had a chance to exercise its voice in the next election,” Cox said. “Moving quickly with the nomination process threatens to jeopardize hard-fought civil rights advancements. We must ensure that the Court continues to advance diversity and protect equal opportunity for students of color.”

The Trump administration’s plans to change policies come as the U.S. Justice Department considers a case about whether Harvard University is illegally discriminating against Asian-American students by limiting the number it accepts. That’s despite those applicants generally achieving better academic records than other ethnic groups, according to the complaint under review.

Harvard has denied limiting its number of Asian-American students and accuses the lawsuit’s plaintiffs of oversimplifying its admissions process.

Harvard University is accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by conservative advocate Edward Blum. That

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Harvard University is accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by conservative advocate Edward Blum. That lawsuit will head to trial in October.

That lawsuit, first filed in late 2014 by conservative advocate Edward Blum, who is white, is expected to go to trial in October. It has been criticized as working to undo affirmative action measures that support historically disadvantaged minority groups.  

It isn’t the first major lawsuit to arise in recent years against such practices.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that race can be a consideration for college admissions, following an argument by a white woman who felt discriminated against in her application to a University of Texas program in 2008. Blum was an advocate for that woman’s suit.

This story has been updated to include the justice and education departments’ announcement confirming the policies’ removal.

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