Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Lambert And More Go Purple For Spirit Day

Hollywood stars and advocacy groups alike helped turn social media into a sea of purple Thursday in support of LGBTQ youth. 

The occasion, of course, was Spirit Day (Oct. 18). Now in its eighth year, Spirit Day was first observed in 2010 in response to a spate of queer youth suicides, including that of New Jersey teen Tyler Clementi. Since then, GLAAD has called on celebs, activists and media personalities to share photographs of themselves wearing purple clothing to both honor victims of suicide and show visible support for LGBTQ youth during National Bullying Prevention Month in October. 

Ellen DeGeneres was among the A-list stars to express her support, sharing an animated, emoji-style image of herself on Twitter. 

Also chiming in was Adam Lambert … 

… and Mariah Carey, who looked stunning even as she opted against the suggested violet attire in a floor-length, sequined yellow gown. 

Britney Spears, Barbra Streisand and the “Will & Grace” cast were among the stars who also paid tribute. Meanwhile, the Kellogg Company unveiled a special edition “All Together” cereal at its New York café for the occasion.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement that such visible signs of LGBTQ youth support were especially necessary given America’s current political climate. 

In addition, the organization presented statistics from GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey that showed how deeply affected LGBTQ youth remain when it comes to bullying. For example, 85.2 percent of queer students reported having been verbally harassed, while 48.6 percent said they’d experienced cyberbullying of some sort. Similarly, 57.6 percent of LGBTQ students said they chose not to report an incident of bullying because they doubted anything would be done. 

“Spirit Day is a day of national importance that highlights the serious issue of bullying and its disproportionate impact on LGBTQ youth,” Ellis said. “It also sends powerful messages of support, letting LGBTQ and other marginalized youth know that they are not alone — something sorely needed in our culture today.” 

Check out how many stars supported Spirit Day on social media below. 

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Kesha’s Haunting March For Our Lives Video Exposes ‘Vicious Cycle’ Of School Shootings

A haunting new music video turns the sequence of events after a school shooting into a predictable cycle of death, memorials and debates that ultimately lead nowhere.

Then, the “most vicious cycle” starts all over again. 

“Safe” by Sage, featuring his sister Kesha and rapper Chika and released with March For Our Lives, shows the chain of events as a Rube Goldberg machine, triggered by a series of bullets fired down a school corridor in slow motion. 

To amplify the message of the cycle and its predictability, the video repeats two more times: 

Sage and Kesha sing:   

In a mad man’s world, happens every day
I don’t understand why the rules can’t change
I don’t wanna be a moment of silence
I don’t wanna be an early grave
When I’m walking through the halls
I don’t wanna be brave, I just wanna be safe

March For Our lives was founded by survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead. The organization is urging voters to choose candidates who back gun control laws in next month’s midterm election. 

Sage’s YouTube channel said he was a high school senior at the time and wrote the first version of the song in response to the Parkland massacre. He played it for his sister, who “instantly felt the power of the track and wanted to help the cause by lending her voice to the song and movement.” 

Kesha also wrote about the song, and her decision to team with March For Our Lives, in an essay for Teen Vogue. 

“It’s sad to me that many politicians, pundits and everyday Americans dismiss gun violence, not just mass shootings in schools, as just another part of the culture in our country,” she wrote. “I wish it wasn’t. It doesn’t have to be.”

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn

The idea of talking to your child about pornography may feel terrifying, humiliating or just straight-up awkward. But it’s a necessary conversation for parents who want to raise kids with a healthy understanding of sex.

“It’s frustrating to me how slow society is in getting on board with how important porn literacy is for young people,” sexuality educator Robin Wallace-Wright told HuffPost. “I teach in many middle and high schools and it is very apparent that students are getting a lot of their sex education through viewing porn. I see from the questions they ask me how it skews what healthy relationships and sex should be like, causes body image issues and unrealistic performance expectations.”

Although porn is a tough topic, it’s a reality in our world, with kids as young 5 years old being exposed to sexually explicit media thanks to smart devices, video games and other mainstays of the digital age. Fortunately, parents have the power to shape their children’s worldview through meaningful discussions about these issues.

To offer some guidance, HuffPost spoke to sex educators about the best ways to talk to kids about porn. Here are 11 things to keep in mind.

Start Early

“We know from preliminary research that the average age of first viewing of porn is between 10 to 12 for boys and 11 to 13 for girls. So it’s best to get ahead of that,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill told HuffPost.

Many kids come across porn accidentally while searching for something unrelated on the internet or when they’re feeling curious about puberty and their bodies, but kids often show it to younger kids on the playground or even at school as well.

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Speaking calmly and in a neutral tone of voice makes a difference in these kinds of sensitive discussions.

“Talking with children helps prepare them and can help minimize potential harm. It also allows the parent to give the child some insight into what they may see,” said Wallace-Wright, who advised parents to be mindful about giving their children smartphones and tablets and setting rules for internet use.

Remain Calm

Speaking calmly and in a neutral tone of voice makes a difference in these kinds of sensitive discussions, according to Wallace-Wright. “Parents are understandably concerned, but this fear cannot creep into their voices during discussions, or their child will sense this and become anxious,” she noted.

Wallace-Wright also offered a general script for parents who want to broach the subject:

“If you ever come across naked bodies doing sexual things like touching each other’s private parts, rubbing against each other ― this is called pornography or porn. I know it seems weird that I’m bringing this up with you ― I feel awkward talking about it. I bring it up because you might accidentally see porn and I want you to know these images and videos are for adults and don’t show what real, loving relationships and sex are. If you see these, please know that you are not in trouble. I’d like you to close the computer or turn off the phone and come talk with me so I can help explain what you have seen.”

Reassure Them That Their Curiosity Is Natural

“Always let them know that their curiosity about sex, about nudity, about bodies, about porn is normal,” sex educator Melissa Carnagey explained, noting that parents should reassure their children that they’re glad they came to them to ask about these curiosities. Shame and secrets should not be part of the discussion either.

“Always let them know that their curiosity about sex, about nudity, about bodies, about porn is normal.”

– Sex educator Melissa Carnagey

“It’s important that parents create that safe space so that no topic is taboo essentially. Parents often underestimate their influence when it comes to this area,” she continued. “Make sure kids understand that porn is not sex education. So if kids want to know more about these different topics, then the best place to go is the parents, and there are also safer places online where they can get accurate information about sex.”

Don’t Get Too Personal At First

When it comes to older kids or teens, Cavill believes it’s better to enter into the discussion from a digital ethics perspective, rather than bombarding your child with deeply personal questions like “Have you watched porn?” “What kind of porn do you watch?” and “Where are you watching it?”

“The internet feels very private to each of us, when in reality, it’s not, so bursting through that shroud of perceived privacy can be really confronting, which is not a great way to start off a conversation,” she explained.

Instead, she recommends asking open-ended questions about what friends and classmates are doing. It can also be helpful to feign a little bit of “old-people ignorance,” by asking questions like, “I heard this story on the radio today about these sexting rings. Have you heard about anything like that happening at your school?” That allows parents and young people to start the conversation in a non-confrontational way and see where it takes them.

asiseeit via Getty Images

It’s important to emphasize to young people that pornography has little to do with sex in real life.

Emphasize That Porn Is Entertainment, Not Reality

“I always make sure to say that pornography is sex as entertainment. It is not sex in real life,” said Cavill. “Some of that sex as entertainment is made to simulate real life, but it is entertainment. It has very little to do with sex in real life.”

The sex educator added that she usually follows this declaration by joking that watching pornography and feeling like you’re ready for real-life sex makes as much sense as watching “Star Wars” and insisting to NASA that you’re ready to pilot the shuttle.

In explaining that porn is entertainment, it’s important to emphasize that it’s not a healthy way to learn about sex. Carnagey noted that mainstream pornography transmits mixed messages and harmful ideas about the human body, about what’s natural and what’s enhanced, about consent and about safety.

“Oftentimes in mainstream porn, they’re not showing condom use or other contraceptive use, so it’s not a healthy representation of sex,” she explained. ”Porn is an industry that’s for profit, not sex education. It’s not going to give a curious child accurate information about relationships, bodies and sex.”

Break Down The Ways Porn Differs From Real-Life Sex

Wallace-Wright offered a number of talking points for parents of older children to break down the ways porn is not like sex in real life.

“In a healthy sexual relationship partners talk to each other, they find out what feels good for both of them and check in: ‘Does this feel OK?’ Before doing any kind of sexual act, they get consent from their partner: ‘Are you OK with us doing this?’” she explained. “Partners treat each other with kindness and respect throughout.”

“[W]atching pornography and feeling like you’re ready for real-life sex makes as much sense as watching ‘Star Wars’ and insisting to NASA that you’re ready to pilot the shuttle.”

Other talking points include the fact that the bodies in porn usually don’t look like most people’s bodies (penises are often larger than average, breasts have been enlarged, etc), consent is seldom asked or given, the sex can be violent and there’s rarely equality in gender roles in heterosexual porn as women are “servicing” men with little consideration to their own pleasure.

“Porn is acting. Actors are paid to do what they do. This is not what real sex looks or sounds like,” she stressed. Wallace-Wright also suggested that parents tell their kids, ”The only thing that appears to be of value in porn is how sexually desirable a person’s body is. Your value is so much more than what you look like ― it includes your personality, character, interests, talents ― all the things that make you you!”

Teach Them Everyone’s The Boss Of Their Own Body

When it comes to sexual matters, young children generally have two main fears: “Do I have to do that?” and “Does it hurt?” When it comes to porn, little kids may worry that the people in the video are in pain because of the moaning sounds they make.

After clarifying that the porn actors are not hurt, parents can take the opportunity to remind their child that they are the boss of their own body.

“I’d reassure them that you never have to do anything with your body that you don’t want to do,” said Cavill. “So if you don’t want to watch videos like that or if you don’t want to do the same things with your body, you don’t have to do that. You’re the boss of your body.”

Regarding the pain concern, she added, “Most people choose to have sex because most of the time, sex feels really good. But you don’t have to do anything with your body that you don’t want to do.”

Use Resources

Carnagey and Cavill both recommend Amaze.org’s YouTube videos to help guide the discussion about pornography. “There’s a video called ‘Porn: Fact or Fiction’ that’s short, fun and age-appropriate,” Carnagey said.

“A parent watching something like that with their young person is a great way to spark a conversation, and it can offer some language to parents feeling nervous about how to say what they need to say,” she added.

Carnagey also recommends the book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, who also offers resources online to help parents raising digital natives.

Additionally, Carnagey is an ambassador for The Porn Conversation, an organization founded by ethical porn producer Erika Lust to help parents have meaningful conversations with their children about these topics. She also has a free downloadable resource on the Sex Positive Families website called “Porn Talks: A Cheat Sheet for Parents & Caring Adults.”

Make It Clear They Can Come To You

“It is key that the parent reassures the child they can come to them any time they see something upsetting or have any questions,” Wallace-Wright said. She advised parents to tell their children: “If you ever see anything you don’t understand, or that makes you uncomfortable, please let me know. I’m here to talk to and help you.”

Ideally, before the porn discussion comes up, parents will have already started having small conversations about sexuality with their children on topics like body parts, gender, puberty and relationships.

“This gives their child a foundation of knowledge the parent can build upon ― i.e., they’ve already discussed how loving relationships involve communication, tenderness, respect, so it makes more sense to the child about how porn does not convey a loving relationship,” Wallace-Wright explained.

Kids often have questions about what exactly porn is, or the specific acts they saw when they came across porn, said Carnagey. Although there are ethical forms of porn on the internet, the videos and images kids see tend to be mainstream porn, which gives off a lot of harmful and toxic messages about consent, gender roles, dynamics, race, ableism, etc.

“[Y]ou can’t really effectively parent from a place of fear, as understandable as it is.”

“What we have to do as parents and caring adults is open up those conversations, so we make sure that we give them the tools and lens to be able to interpret what they see and to know they have a safe place to go to if they have questions or if something comes up,” she explained.

Know It’s About More Than Online Videos

Cavill emphasized that the pornography discussion shouldn’t revolve solely around PornHub-type media.

“That’s not the only way young people are experiencing pornography,” she explained. “Because of the normalcy of sexting and digital life and sending nudes back and forth, there have to be conversations around the laws that intersect with those kinds of behaviors.”

In many states, there are laws that criminalize teenagers sending nude photos back in forth as manufacturing and disseminating child pornography, and although enforcement is inconsistent, Cavill believes it’s important for middle and high schoolers to be aware of what their state’s legal system says.

Parents can broach this topic by asking their kids if classmates engage in sexting. “Then you can say, ‘I think we should probably look up what the laws are in our state about this, just so we know, right? Why don’t we look those up together?’”

That way, families can frame the discussion in terms of internet ethics and being responsible online. From there, Cavill recommends talking about specific family values when it comes to sex: “This is what the law says is legal, but this is what our family believes is the moral thing to do and not to do on top of those legal standards.”

Teach Them To Reduce Digital Risk

Parents can ask their kids to refrain from risky digital behavior, but issuing commands like “Never send nudes!” is not particularly effective. Cavill noted that it’s important to send the message that it’s illegal to ask for nude photos as well.

“Many young girls have reported feeling harassed and coerced into this kind of behavior. They’re not choosing it but get a lot of persistent messages until they finally just send a photo to make it stop,” she said, adding that young people also don’t know what to do if they’re being harassed in this way.

Westend61 via Getty Images

The conversation around nude photos should cover the risk in sending nudes but also in asking for them. 

Ultimately, Cavill advised parents and caring adults to be realistic about the kinds of behaviors young people engage in and give them the information they need to reduce their risk ― like the laws in their state, what to do if they feel harassed, how to deal with nude photos after a consensual relationship has ended, who to talk to if they’re in a tough situation, etc.

“My main caution for parents who are understandably fearful about this kind of stuff ― though I’d argue you can’t really effectively parent from a place of fear, as understandable as it is ― is not to go into it with a kind of authoritarian rule-passing,” she explained.

“Parents want to go into the conversation like, ‘Let me see your phone!’ ‘Where’s your fake Instagram account?’ ‘Let me check your phone every day!’ ‘Don’t do this!’ For some kids, that does work, but not for most,” she continued. “For most, you get what looks like compliance. But they just get better at hiding it, and then you haven’t really talked about risk in a way that feels connected to what young people are dealing with on the ground.”

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, HOW TO RAISE A KID. In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own: bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative, emotionally intelligent children. In short — kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not To Raise A Jerk.

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Chronicling the Voices Fighting for Education Justice

A young girl handcuffed to a pole at a police station for the crime of doodling on her desk or a boy dragged by his collar through the mud and back through the school entrance before he could explain that his IEP allowed him to be outside are outrageous examples of institutional racism we don’t often hear about but that happen in our schools with alarming frequency. The new book Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement, features voices of a new movement for educational justice. Each essayist tells the story of how black and brown parents, students, educators and their allies are fighting back against profound and systemic inequities and mistreatment of children of color in low-income communities.

NEA Today spoke one of the contributors, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, who writes about how her African American son was pushed out of preschool. She is National Field Organizer for Dignity in Schools Campaign and she co-founded Racial Justice NOW! to provide a voice for parents facing racism in schools. Within a few years they won a moratorium on pre-K suspensions in Dayton schools. We also spoke with Lift Us Up co-author Mark Warren, a professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Warren studies and works with community and youth organizing groups seeking to promote equity and justice in education, community development and American democratic life.

How did you become involved in the educational justice movement?

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar: I came into the work as a parent pushing back on the treatment of my then three-year-old son who’d been labeled as a problem and a disruptive student. They used words that I thought were typical of three year olds, like temper tantrum or trouble transitioning. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time as a racial justice issue or what the stereotypes around me might have been. They’d ask me if there were problems at home, and I was a working class black mother, and I sort of internalized what was being projected on me and my family.

I was actually a part time employee for the state of Ohio and also a full time graduate student. That child care facility was on the campus and it had an excellent reputation. But the preschool is very expensive – $1000 a month – and I qualified for title 120, a welfare program that allowed children to attend the preschool for free if their parent is working at or attending the school. When I signed up for the voucher I was treated brusquely and the woman said, “You know, we only accept so many of these.”

And then, my very bright, energetic and normal three year old who loved going to preschool was starting to have emergency removals where they’d call me and ask me to pick him up for what I know realize are minor issues typical of energetic kids. I started to see his little bright light starting to dim. Before they expelled him, I removed him because I didn’t want that to be his experience. He’d tell me, “Mommy, I don’t think my teachers like me.” At only three years old and already feel you’re not wanted! I then co-founded Racial Justice NOW!

lift us up bookWhy aren’t more people aware of institutional racism and the biases experienced by students of color?

Mark Warren: A lot families of color are aware, but as a white person who interacts mostly with white communities, the reality is that they’re really unaware of what’s happening in communities of color. There are two Americas. People are shocked when they hear these stories. But because of the segregation that still exists, these stories aren’t well known.

The point of the book is to bring these experiences out into the wider world, not just to expose the individual biases but how these practices are systematic in our schools with harsh zero tolerance policies, and also the strong and pervasive inequities with schools that are under-resourced with less qualified teachers and wider issues of poverty.

Can you describe the educational justice movement and how it began?

MW: Families and communities have been struggling historically for a long time. You can go back to the struggle of slaves fighting for the right to read. We’re in a new phase of that movement and that was the occasion for this book – to tell the stories of change led by parents, students, educators and their allies in this movement. Organizing groups like Racial Justice NOW! in Dayton, Ohio, were really struggling on their own and were isolated in local communities. Over the last several years they have found ways to come together and connect.

Through the Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Journey for Justice, and other national alliances, local groups are joining with other organizations around the country in an educational justice movement. Now they’re not fighting on their own and local groups have the resources and support from national alliances.

Why are parents critical to the movement and creating change?

lift us up book

Zakiya Sankara Jabar

ZS: One thing I found out in the process is that parents of color have been socialized to believe that they have no power, and it’s even more pronounced if you are a black mother who is poor or working class. There is a lack of respect and dehumanization. I say that from experience – personally and as an advocate. We have to work hard to change the narrative of how they see working class parents and how they pathologize us. There is an ecosystem and we must realize that if child has some needs, he has a parent with some needs.

We talk about this as a social justice crisis and systemic discrimination and poverty. These crises are always addressed and changed by the people most impacted by the inequities. Movements built and led by people most affected are the most effective, like the Civil Rights movement. We won’t have an education justice movement unless parents and students are at the heart of it.

What other groups are integral to the movement?

MW: Alliances are critical. Labor unions, service workers unions, hotel workers unions — where are their children going to school? They’re going to underfunded, low income urban schools. In Los Angeles, the janitors union negotiated for parent advocacy workshops as part of their contract so they could be advocates for their children in the schools. This is how you bring about systemic change. They also negotiated for time off in the contract so they can go to meetings at schools during work hours.

What role do educators play?

MW: If we want to transform schools, educators have to be part of the movement. Teachers in low income schools with no resources, teaching in old, decaying buildings and in districts that are dysfunctional – they need to be a part of this, but it isn’t an add on for them. They teach in the first place to help children and advocate for them. They can’t do that until they help change the policies, like ending the overuse of tests that prevents them from teaching real content and building relationships with students.

In the book, we show how educators can find ways to partner with their students, families and communities to change the way resources are being used. They can find ways to introduce restorative justice and improve school climate for all students. This isn’t an add on or an extra. This needs to be work they’re doing to fully educate children.

It’s also true that some teachers have to take a hard look at their own practices and examine personal issues of bias and stereotyping. Are they participating in practices that are pushing students out? We want to be there to support teachers trying to change and this book can help.

How do we change mindsets about different groups of students? In one essay a girl writes about being labeled “ghetto” — why are some students labeled in such a way?

ZS: That student’s experience with being labeled ghetto because of the way she dresses or acts is in accordance with middle class culture and vividly shows the gap between many teachers and the communities they serve.

Things can change when young people themselves stand up and become part of the organizing processes and challenge these mindsets. The students can demand that they be treated with respect. There are lots of students who look like, or even say, they don’t care and who have discipline problems, but as individual people they have tremendous potential and ideas just like every person does.

They need the resources that more affluent girls have to be given chances to realize their potential. In our two-tiered education system, some kids go to modern, resourced schools where students are respected and valued, while others go to schools where the ceilings caving in and their bathrooms are broken and they’re subjected to harsh discipline.

What are some key elements to a just educational system?

MW: There are lot of elements, but equity is at the top. We must offer the same quality of education to all of our children. Educational systems in low income communities will need more resources at the start because they have been systematically underfunded for years. Other elements include strong relationships between teachers, students and families; the removal of racial stereotyping; culturally relevant education; and a curriculum that builds upon African American and Latino cultures rather than solely on white Europeans. Finally, a just educational system empowers our students, allowing them not just to answer questions, but to ask them. Asking questions allows them to become agents of change.

What do you hope will be the impact of this book?

ZS: I hope that this book is shared widely and that it helps shift the narrative about communities that are over criminalized and seen as deficient. That it shifts the narrative about what it means for black and brown children to be educated. That they have the access to an education that is appropriate, culturally relevant, and not be pathologized for being uniquely who they are.

MW: I hope the book will inspire people to take action. I also hope the book helps people understand that to really create the kind of change we need, it isn’t going to happen by tweaking one thing or another. There is a profound question of social justice across the country, not just in education. We hope this movement sparks a resurgent social justice movement with education at the heart of it. Education is a critical institution for democracy. What will be the future of our black and brown children? Will they be fodder for prisons? Cogs in a capitalist society? Or will they be agents of change and social justice warriors for the future?

Learn more about the fight for Racial Justice in Education:

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Groups To Sue Department Of Education For Information On Issue Of Arming Teachers

A coalition of advocacy and teacher groups will sue the Department of Education on Wednesday morning for information related to its decision to allow schools to purchase firearms using federal funds. 

The American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence say the Department of Education is violating federal law by not releasing records related to the decision in a timely manner. 

In August and September, the groups filed two Freedom of Information Act requests for more information on the decision. The requests, filed on behalf of the groups by Democracy Forward, were designed to glean information on issues such as whether the Education Department was influenced by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups. A request also sought information on which school districts were interested in arming teachers using federal funds. 

The government is required to determine whether to comply with a FOIA request within 20 days. But according to the lawsuit, also filed by Democracy Forward, the government has fallen short of its statutory obligation. The plaintiffs are requesting expedited processing of their information request, which the government previously denied.

“The information sought by Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests, which will shed light on whether lobbyists associated with the firearms industry or gun-lobby groups including the National Rifle Association were involved in the Department’s decision and reveal communications between the Department and states or local school districts and within the Department concerning the use of these funds to arm teachers, is plainly of great public importance,” says the lawsuit. 

Controversy over the issue started in August, when The New York Times first reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was weighing whether to allow states and districts to use federal grant money under the Every Student Succeeds Act to arm school staffers, after representatives from Texas asked if it was permissible. The grant money is intended to provide academic support and improve conditions for student learning. But in late August, DeVos said she would not restrict how these grant funds are spent, writing that she had “no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff.” The law, as she interpreted it, gives schools substantial flexibility in this area.

Critics said her move undermines the intent of the act, since Congress has expressly prohibited schools from using federal funds on firearms in separate laws. The groups filing the FOIA lawsuit also say that using federal funds in this manner is unlawful.

“She wants to turn the U.S. government into an arms dealer for schools. That’s insane,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in August of DeVos. 

Weingarten, in a press release Wednesday, also said she has heard from gun-owning teachers around the country who are concerned about the safety effects of bringing more guns into a school setting. 

“It’s time Betsy DeVos starts standing up for kids and teachers, not the NRA,” said Weingarten. 

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As More Latinos Go To College, Will Schools Step Up To Serve Them?

This story about Hispanic-Serving Institutions was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

By Delece Smith-Barrow, The Hechinger Report

ORLANDO, Fla. — The University of Central Florida opened during the civil rights movement, and from the beginning school leaders made racial diversity a priority. In 1969, the school established a black student union. In 1970, it developed an affirmative action strategy. Now UCF is on a new mission to excel in enrolling, educating and graduating Latino students, and nothing better sums up its new diversity goal than the phrase on the T-shirts displayed in the front of its bookstore: “¡Vamos Knights!”

The school is increasing its resources for Latinos, hosting roundtables on undocumented immigrant students and offering workshops on topics such as “Latinidad and LGBTQ+.” After Hurricane Maria, it welcomed displaced Puerto Ricans and gave them an in-state tuition break.

Like hundreds of universities around the country, the University of Central Florida’s Hispanic population has been growing, rising from 21.6 percent in fall 2014 to 26 percent today. Nationally, Hispanic college enrollment grew from 8 to 19 percent of all students between 1996 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Cyndia Muñiz, UCF’s assistant director for Hispanic-serving initiatives, said her institution has embraced the growth. “We want to be an example of what it means to be a Hispanic-serving institution, if not the example,” she said.

There are incentives to do so. Any school with at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment can apply to be federally recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a label that can qualify them for federal grants. UCF hit that enrollment threshold in the 2017-18 school year. It expects to be on the Department of Education’s list of Hispanic-serving schools by the end of 2018, Muñiz said.

During the 1995-96 school year, there were just 131 schools that fit the definition of a Hispanic-serving college or university. By 2016-17, there were 492, ranging from well-known four-year schools such as the University of California, Irvine to regional two-year schools such as New Jersey’s Essex County College. Nearly two-thirds of Latino undergraduates attend Hispanic-Serving Institutions, according to estimates by Excelencia in Education, an organization that advocates for Latinos in higher education. But the federal budget for HSIs isn’t keeping up, leaving many schools out of the running for one of the coveted, competitive federal grants.

And soon, there will be many more of these schools. In 2016-17 there were 333 colleges and universities on track to become Hispanic-serving, what Excelencia calls emerging HSIs. The schools have between 15 and 24.9 percent Latino enrollment.

Many colleges and universities are eager for the Hispanic-Serving Institution label. Beyond the potential grant dollars, being identified as “Hispanic-serving” makes them more attractive to minority students as schools vigorously compete for dwindling numbers of undergraduate learners. But advocates say the label can be hollow. That’s because the Department of Education doesn’t look at what services or programs a university offers these students, just their numbers.

“As more and more institutions hit that enrollment threshold, we have to raise the standards and expectations of what it is to be really serving our students,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excelencia in Education, at an event in Washington, D.C., in September.

One measurement of how well a school serves its students is graduation rates. Latino students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions typically have higher graduation rates than Latino students at non-HSIs, according to a December 2017 report from The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income students. For example, Latino students who had an SAT score in the 1000 range and attended a Hispanic-Serving Institution had a 51 percent six-year graduation rate. Those who went to a non-HSI had a 46 percent graduation rate.

Photo: Delece Smith-Barrow/The Hechinger Report

“We have to raise the standards and expectations of what it is to be really serving our students,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excelencia in Education.

Yet several institutions on the list of Hispanic-Serving Institutions have wide gaps in graduation rates between their white and Hispanic students. For example, at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, the six-year graduation rate for Latino students pursuing a bachelor’s degree is 20 percent, but for all students it’s 43 percent and for white students it’s 46 percent, according to a Hechinger analysis.

“Despite their growth, HSIs have been criticized for solely being ‘Hispanic-enrolling,’ meaning they enroll a large percentage of Latina/o students but do not necessarily produce equitable outcomes,” wrote Gina Garcia, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, in the Review of Higher Education journal in 2016. “Focusing solely on enrollment and graduation rates creates a limited understanding of what it means to have an identity for serving Latina/o students.”

At Oklahoma Panhandle State University (OPSU), the recent boost in Latino student enrollment is a reflection of demographic changes in the Panhandle region. Hispanics are more than 50 percent of those younger than 44 in Texas County, where the university is located, according to a report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

OPSU was recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in February of 2018, and the administration says it’s trying to cater to its Latino students. The university is a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), and students participate in the group’s internship program, which serves as a pipeline to get more Latinos into the federal workforce. Director of Hispanic student services Teri Mora regularly accompanies members of the school’s Hispanic American Leadership Organization student group to the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute conference. OPSU students also won the National Hispanic College Quiz in 2015 and 2017. This year, the university started an alumni group for Latino students to strengthen engagement with graduates.

But it recognizes that its graduation rates for Latino students are far from stellar.

The university is in need of more resources, says Ryan Blanton, vice president of outreach. Oklahoma has slashed appropriations for higher education. Per-student funding fell by more than 30 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institution that examines how to reduce poverty and inequality.

Becoming an HSI was critical for seeking resources to help the university close the graduation gap, says Blanton. “That allows us to go after federal programs designated specifically to increase graduation rates and better support Hispanic students in higher education.”

Nancy Melendez, a member of OPSU’s student senate and Hispanic American Leadership Organization, believes the school’s HSI designation will have a positive effect. “It’s definitely an improvement not just for us, but I think, for all minorities, that we’re creating a bigger diversity,” said Melendez, a 26-year-old senior from Mexico. “Not only are we growing in numbers, but we’re bettering ourselves.”

Forging an identity is part of the challenge of being Hispanic-serving in not just name but also practice. Unlike historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the most well-known category of minority-serving institutions, Hispanic-serving schools were not created with the sole purpose of educating minority students. HBCUs were started in the 1800s because African-Americans were initially barred from enrolling in white colleges. Historically black schools are known for having curricula, faculty and student groups that center on black culture, and have been largely run by African-Americans since their incarnation. The term Hispanic-serving institution wasn’t created until the early 1990s, and receiving this designation does not mean a school is steeped in Latino culture or curricula.

The learning environment at Hispanic-serving schools varies widely. At some, such as University of California, Irvine and Florida International University, students can get a degree in Spanish. At others, such as Oklahoma Panhandle State University and Massachusetts’ Cambridge College, students don’t have this option. A Hechinger Report analysis found that at some schools, such as The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, over 30 percent of faculty are Latino. At others, such as California’s Mount Saint Mary’s University, less than 10 percent of faculty are Latino. On average, about 21 percent of faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions identify as Latino, according to a 2015 report from New America, a left-leaning think tank. At HBCUs, about 57 percent of faculty identify as black, according to a 2013 report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Currently, any school that meets the definition of an HSI can apply for certain grants, such as the Title V grant and the Title III Part F grant, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which are awarded for five-year periods. The grants enable Hispanic-Serving Institutions to expand resources for Latino students. Title III Part F helps Latinos and low-income students who want a degree in science, technology, engineering or math, and the average grant amount is $775,000. Many Title V Grant requests are north of $2 million.

But plenty of schools that apply get zero dollars, and advocates worry that the growing number of institutions will quickly drain the pool of funding from Congress. In fiscal year 2015, the last year for which the Department of Education has data, Congress appropriated more than $100 billion for Title V. For Title III Part F — the STEM grant — the appropriation was nearly $95 million in 2013.

“There is still a huge gap, because the number of HSIs continues to grow more rapidly every year than the amount of dollars coming from Congress,” said Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which has lobbied for more federal money for these grants. “Only about half or less of all the HSIs get some grant funding at any given year because there is not enough money for everyone.”

As the number of Hispanic-Serving Institutions increases, “you have more competition,” Flores said.

The label is more “sexy” now, says Santiago of Excelencia, because of the potential for federal grants, but its broad definition doesn’t always motivate schools to do the hard work of serving. That’s all the more reason to make the designation more meaningful: “We have seen institutions that say look … I’m an HSI because of my demography,” Santiago said. “I’m not necessarily an HSI where I own that definition because of my intentionality and my impact.”

Excelencia is one organization that’s trying to help schools act on their mission and increase the number of Latino college graduates.

On October 11, Excelencia announced the Seal of Excelencia, a voluntary certification for which institutions can apply. The seal will highlight schools that go above and beyond to help Latino students excel.

“The Seal of Excelencia is a way to codify what it really means to serve Latino students, not just enroll them,” Santiago said. “The seal is critical because we need to find ways to recognize what it means to serve these students well.”

Santiago anticipates that, initially, 20 schools will receive the seal. Those that apply but aren’t awarded a seal can participate in a “Ladder of Engagement … a way for us to bring together technical assistance around data, practice and leadership — which are the three pillars of the Seal of Excelencia — for institutions that want to do a better job.” The assistance will include improving curricula and faculty hiring, along with bolstering other practices to boost Latino student enrollment, academic performance and graduation rates.

“We think there needs to be more to differentiate or to better understand institutions that are taking seriously their commitment to the students who are enrolling and helping them to persist and complete,” Santiago said.

Even at the University of Central Florida, students say there’s work to be done. Puerto Rico native Jennifer Tirado came to UCF right after high school, just shortly after her family moved to Florida. In her early months on campus, the presence of Latino culture left something to be desired.

The 21-year-old senior remembers just one campus restaurant that specialized in Latino food — Cafe Bustelo — when she arrived. Now there’s also Pollo Tropical and Gringos Locos. More substantially, last year students formed the Puerto Rican Student Association, and now Tirado is its president.

She says the fact that the University of Central Florida is a Hispanic-Serving Institution is important. “It also means that the university cares about the Hispanic population.”

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The Number Of Homeless Children Has Hit A Record High In NYC Schools

A record 114,659 homeless or temporarily housed children attended New York City public schools during the 2017-2018 school year ― making up roughly 10 percent of the city’s public school students, according to newly released data.

The new figures released on Monday by the organization Advocates For Children of New York shows 66 percent more homeless students within the school district ― the nation’s largest in terms of enrollment ― since the 2010-2011 school year.

In New York state, there were 4,624 more homeless students than in the previous school year. In New York City, there were 3,097 more. In the borough of the Bronx, one district had 10,804 students living in temporary homes.

Advocates for Children of New York, October 2018

Roughly 10 percent of New York City’s public school students are homeless, according to Advocates for Children of New York.

Students’ temporary homes included homeless and domestic abuse shelters, hotels, unsheltered areas like cars or parks, and the homes of other family members or friends ― a situation called “doubling up.”

“The number of students who are homeless in New York City would fill Yankee Stadium twice,” Kim Sweet, AFC’s executive director, said in a statement. 

“While the City works to address the overwhelming problem of homelessness, it must take bold action to ensure that students who are homeless get an excellent education and do not get stuck in a cycle of poverty,” Sweet said.

According to a homelessness report compiled by the city, reasons behind the annual increase in homeless students include poverty, a loss of affordable housing and domestic violence ― longstanding issues the city has actively worked to fix for years, according to city officials.

“Our comprehensive plan to address the citywide challenge of homelessness is built around sheltering homeless New Yorkers closer to support networks, including schools, to preserve stability during challenging times,” Isaac McGinn, director of communications for the city’s Department of Homeless Services, told HuffPost in an email on Monday.

Homeless students stay in temporary homes, including homeless and domestic abuse shelters, hotels and unsheltered areas like

ridvan_celik via Getty Images

Homeless students stay in temporary homes, including homeless and domestic abuse shelters, hotels and unsheltered areas like cars or parks. Some of them also live with other family members or friends.

The city says the overall number of families with children staying in Department of Homeless Service shelters has decreased by 2,596 families since 2014. The city’s School Proximity Project, launched in July, has also transferred nearly 200 families to traditional shelters that are within five miles of their youngest school-aged child’s school. Since early 2016, it has also provided yellow bus service to all students in kindergarten through sixth grade who live in DHS shelters.

“We’ve made progress driving down the number of families in shelter, which has given us the flexibility to begin implementing this borough-based approach by offering hundreds of families who faced long commutes to school the opportunity to move closer to their youngest child’s classroom,” McGinn said.

A report compiled by the city comptroller’s office in March, reported on by the New York Times, found that the average homeless student misses more than a month’s worth of classes. It also found that the city’s education department failed to contact a parent to report the absence, as required, approximately 92 percent of the time.

Poverty, a loss of affordable housing and domestic violence have all contributed to growing student homelessness, accord

manonallard via Getty Images

Poverty, a loss of affordable housing and domestic violence have all contributed to growing student homelessness, according to the New York City government.

The city has increased the number of social workers from 43 to 70 at elementary schools with the highest rates of students in temporary housing, Richard A. Carranza, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, told HuffPost in a statement on Monday. It is also investing $16 million annually.

“We will continue to expand and deepen our investments, and we will have more policy updates to share in the coming months,” he said. 

New York City’s student enrollment dwarfs that of all other school districts in the country, including runners-up Los Angeles and Chicago.

According to The New York Times, which first reported on AFC’s data on Monday, about 5 percent of students in Chicago’s public schools were homeless last year and a little more than 3 percent of Los Angeles’ students were homeless in 2016.

The Times noted that though New York City has allocated millions to assist its homeless population, it hasn’t received much philanthropic funding, despite being a top city for philanthropy.

The Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation is reportedly the only organization that has donated more than $1 million to support the city’s homeless students in recent years.

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5 Little Ways To Show Your Kids The Importance Of Mental Health

When children scrape their knees, they know it’s an injury that needs to be treated. But when they suffer from something mentally, they might not know it’s just as important to have their minds cared for too.

Maintaining good mental health should be considered a lesson not only for adults but for children as well.

“I used to see this level of stress in high schoolers who were applying to college,” said Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and the author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. “Now I have 5-year-olds in my office who are dealing with anxiety disorders and excessive stress.”

We spoke to experts in psychology, pediatrics and mindfulness for tips on how to teach kids the importance of mental health. They offered five interesting ways to get children to express themselves, feel validated in their emotions and take care of their minds just as much as their bodies.

Try the ‘emotional volcano’ method

Hurley said she talks to kids and parents about their feelings using the “emotional volcano.” She draws a volcano on a whiteboard and explains that everyone has different feelings throughout the day. When we don’t express those feelings, they remain in the volcano until it erupts.

“If we just leave those feelings in the volcano, they start to really bubble and bubble and bubble until they come flying out and exploding, and that’s when you get the crying, hitting and kicking,” she said.

Hurley noted that many parents regard these actions as the result of a behavioral problem, but it’s more “an explosion of emotions that weren’t dealt with.” That’s why it’s important to teach kids to talk about their feelings and release them one by one.

“If you see a child making a particular face in response to a stressful situation, rather than saying, ‘Oh, don’t be frustrated,’ you can say, ‘Your face looks upset. What’s up? What’s going on?’”

– Rachel Busman, clinical psychologist and senior director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute

Teach by example and be mindful of your own habits

Various studies have shown that in excessive amounts, screen time for kids and gaming and social media for teens can have harmful effects on behavior, mood, sleep schedules and overall health. Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician and the vice president of the Orange County chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it’s important for caretakers to set an example of sensible screen time with habits like having no phones at the dinner table or at bedtime.

Similarly, it’s important for parents to lead by example and share their vulnerabilities so their kids will be comfortable exposing and discussing their own.

“You can say something like, ‘I had something happen at work today, and I’m not even sure I handled it right, but I did my best,’” she said.

Take note of the language you use

Rachel Busman, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and the senior director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, said it’s important for parents to not automatically interpret their kids’ facial expressions and instead give them a chance to explain.

“If you see a child making a particular face in response to a stressful situation, rather than saying, ‘Oh, don’t be frustrated,’ you can say, ‘Your face looks upset. What’s up? What’s going on?’” she said. “It’s beneficial to provide an opportunity for kids to tell you how they feel, rather than narrate what you think your kid is experiencing.”

When looking for the right language to use when asking about a child’s day, caretakers should avoid very general questions like “How’s school?” or “How was the playdate?”

“’Those conversations often don’t end in a lot of information,” she said. “Instead ask, ‘What was something interesting that happened today?’ or ‘What did you do in gym class?’”

Teach them mindfulness techniques

Mallika Chopra, an author and wellness expert and the daughter of spiritual leader Deepak Chopra, learned how to meditate at the age of 9. She said it’s a “great gift” she also passed down to her kids. The experience inspired her to write her children’s book, Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More.

Brenna Vaughan

Mallika Chopra, an author and the daughter of spiritual leader Deepak Chopra, wrote Just Breathe to teach kids about mindfulness.

Aside from meditations, the book features gratitude exercises as well as suggestions about movement, like walking and yoga, and being aware of how you use your words.

“The goal of this book is to share the tools that I had growing up,” she said. “As a mom, I can see that this generation has a lot of pressure.”

Encourage them to journal

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling can reduce stress and help people manage anxiety and depression. Dianne Maroney, who has a master’s degree in psychiatric and mental health nursing, has also seen the impact of giving kids the power to tell their stories, and in 2015, she founded the Imagine Project Inc., which offers a seven-step process focused on expressive writing.

The journals used in the project (offered in age groups from kindergartners to adults) are available on the nonprofit’s site at no cost. The project allows kids to process stress and trauma and gain confidence while letting parents, teachers and caretakers in on difficult times the child may be going through.

“The Imagine Project helps kids talk about what’s happened to them, if it’s stress, minor trauma, major trauma, anything,” Maroney said. “It’s a point where they can still talk about it, overcome it and write a new story in its place. It helps give kids hope, and hope is something that kids really need. I think they’re struggling with that in our society right now.”

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, How to Raise a Kid. In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own — bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative, emotionally intelligent children. In short, kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not to Raise a Jerk.

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Educators Weigh In on Lawnmower Parents

A Missouri mom sued her son’s high school after he didn’t make the varsity soccer team. A father takes time off from work to deliver an insulated water bottle to his teenager so she doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of drinking from a water fountain for one day. Another parent calls a teacher to ask if her son can have an extension on an assignment rather than letting him ask himself because “she handles that kind of thing for him.”

Introducing the “lawnmower parent.” Rather than hovering above their children like helicopter parents, lawnmower parents plow ahead of them, interfering and micromanaging their children’s lives to safeguard them from failure, disappointment, or even the slightest bit of struggle. Lawnmower parents clear the way, mowing down obstacles so their children can blithely skip down a smooth, green path as glossy as a golf course.

It’s difficult to strike the right balance between ensuring a quality education for your child and letting go and trusting the process. But though lawnmower parents are well meaning, they are doing more harm than good for their kids, as Duquesne University professor Karen Fancher writes in a blog post about parents who continue to clear the way even for their college-aged kids. She says this kind of parenting has long-lasting, detrimental effects on a child. For example:

  • She becomes poorly equipped to deal with routine growing and learning experiences. This includes everything from asking for directions and dealing with an annoying roommate to much broader skills like communicating with superiors, negotiating for something she wants and coping with disappointment.
  • She doesn’t develop a sense of personal motivation or drive, since she only knows how to follow the path that the Lawnmower Parent has already prepared.
  • She can’t make a decision, big or small, without the guidance of others.
  • She constantly receives the message that she isn’t good enough to do this herself. In essence, the Lawnmower Parent is repeatedly demonstrating to the child that she cannot be trusted to accomplish things on her own.

According to a WeAreTeachers blogger, “in raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no what idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle. A generation who panics or shuts down at the mere idea of failure. A generation for whom failure is far too painful, leaving them with coping mechanisms like addiction, blame, and internalization. The list goes on.”

Stephanie Samar, a clinical psychologist at the Mood Disorders Center of the Child Mind Institute, told “Good Morning America” that focusing on short-term parenting goals will take away from the practice of important, long-term goals that kids can benefit from like resiliency, grit, problem-solving, conflict resolution and coping skills.

For example, the parent who asks for an extension on her son’s assignment should instead let her son advocate for himself, if capable with guidance.

“When parents are removing obstacles for their child they are really taking away that opportunity for kids to learn those problem-solving techniques,” she said.

What do educators have to say? We asked our Facebook fans what advice they’d give to the well-intentioned lawnmower parents they are likely to encounter this fall at Parent-Teacher conferences, and here are a few highlights.

“It’s better to allow our students to experience the challenges and sometimes the pain of mistakes or failure in the age-appropriate environment of school so they can gain valuable coping skills and corrective life skills to handle inevitable pain and disappointment in certainly less safe environments later in life with few supports,” posted Jennifer Simpson of Houston, Texas. “The loving arms of parents can help them process pain and console them, but they don’t need to prevent it.”

Elizabeth Rich of Atlanta, Georgia, suggested we ask parents to think back to the times they went experienced something that built character. “Was it an easy breezy occasion,” she posted. “Or something very hard? By removing obstacles we’re depriving these great souls of endless opportunities to grow, change, mature, and become kind people.”

Renee C. Johannesen of Fredericksburg, Virginia, said if lawnmower parenting continues, “We’re creating a generation with no coping skills.”

Mary Grebe, from Bethpage, New York, puts it simply, asking parents to relax because “We got this.”

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Michelle Obama Frustrated With Lack Of Changes Since Me Too Started

Former first lady Michelle Obama said Thursday that she is not satisfied with the progress that has been made since the Me Too movement began last year. 

“I’m surprised at how much has changed but how much has not changed,” she said on “Today” while discussing the cultural movement to end sexual violence.

“I think that’s where the fire is coming from. Enough is enough,” Obama added. “The world is a sadly dangerous place for women and girls and we see that again and again.”

Obama sat down with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on the International Day of The Girl, which the United Nations introduced in 2012 to celebrate and empower girls around the world. 

“I think young women are tired of it, they’re tired of being undervalued, they’re tired of being disregarded, they’re tired of their voices not being invested in and heard,” she said. “It’s not just around the world, that’s happening right here in this country. And if we’re going to change that we have to give them the tools and the skills through education to be able to lift those voices up.”

The former first lady also announced the launch of Global Girls Alliance, an Obama Foundation initiative to empower girls around the world through education. The foundation estimates that 98 million adolescent girls are not in school.

“The stats show that when you educate a girl, you educate a family, a community, a country,” she said. “If we care about climate change, if we care about poverty, if we care about maternal child health, then we have to care about education.”

Obama also urged people to support girls’ education in a CNN essay published Thursday

“The evidence is clear,” she wrote. “Girls who attend secondary school earn higher salaries, have lower infant and maternal mortality rates, and are less likely to contract malaria and HIV. And studies have shown that educating girls isn’t just good for the girls, it’s good for all of us.” 

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Retired Teacher Donates Family Farm for Foster Children Housing

Judy Singleton (center) with Randall Greene and Melissa Bailey of Sunrise Children’s Services (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Judy Singleton remembers running up and down the hills on her Kentucky farm as a child. “I used to love to do that as a kid!” Hers was a childhood full of farm activity and animals—a pet lamb, a pet cow, a pet pony, pet dogs, cats, chickens…

But these days, the retired kindergarten teacher isn’t looking back. She’s looking forward to the farm’s future, when it will be transformed into Solid Rock Children’s Ranch, a foster-care home where siblings in foster care can stay together. Last year, Singleton donated her 130-acre Winchester, Ky., family farm to Sunrise Children’s Services, a 150-year-old, non-profit, faith-based organization dedicated to caring for Kentucky’s abused and neglected children, which will use the land to construct two five-bedroom foster homes.

“This was a vision that God placed in my heart,” says Singleton. In her 35-year career as a full-time teacher, plus recent years as a part-time Response to Intervention (RTI) teacher, Singleton has seen an increasing number of children in crisis, who live with grandparents or with parents who can’t capably care for them.

“As I worked with the kids, I began to see all these problems, and God placed in my heart that I could do more.

“I’ve still got some good years ahead of me, and I want to help these kids,” says Singleton, 65, who will continue to live on the farm during her lifetime. As a certified respite caregiver, Singleton can welcome the children into her home, and do crafts, cooking, Bible study, and other after-school activities with them. “I want my home to be a place where they can come and just talk, and know it’s going to be okay. Whatever they need, I want to be that for them.”

With the number of children in foster care rising across the nation, her gift couldn’t come at a better time, notes Melissa Bailey, director of marketing for Sunrise Children’s Services. “When folks like Judy, and other donors, supporters and prayer warriors, find us and contact us, it’s so important to our ministry.

“There are more and more children to help.”

An Epidemic of Need

As opioid addiction has soared across the nation, the need for foster care also has climbed. In 2016, the number of U.S. children in foster care rose for the fourth year in a row, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report. By the end of 2016, they numbered about 437,500. For more than a third of those children, a parent’s drug abuse was a factor.

Making matters worse, at least half of U.S. states have seen their foster-care capacity decrease since 2012, according to a Chronicle of Social Change report. Either these states have fewer beds and more youth in foster care, or any increase in beds has been dwarfed by the skyrocketing number of children who don’t have parents who can care for them.

Kentucky is no exception. The state’s painkiller and heroin epidemic parallels a 23 percent jump, between 2012 and 2017, in the number of children in foster care. State officials say 71 percent of those children came into foster care as a result of drug abuse.

“Kentucky certainly does have an epidemic on its hand,” says Bailey. “This year, we’re approaching 10,000 kids in state care. We’re at crisis level. So the work that Sunrise Children’s Services does, and other state agencies, is vital.”

Singleton knows these children—and she knows how important it is for them to stay together. “One time, I had this little boy in kindergarten who was actually taking care of his younger siblings! There were three little boys, like stair steps. And when he got to first grade, it was his job to get the kindergartner to school. Eventually they went to live with their grandparents, but it was heartbreaking to see his burden at 5 or 6 years old.”

More recently, as a part-time RTI educator who works specifically with children with challenges, Singleton has found that most of her students are living with grandparents or “in home situations that they should not be in,” she says. “A few years ago, I had a family of five—four girls, one boy—I was working with the boy the year they were removed from the home, and I was very concerned that they would be separated but they were actually placed with an older lady together.”

Sibling Power

Studies show that siblings placed together in foster care are less likely to run away, less likely to have behavioral issues, and more likely to succeed academically. They feel safer and more supported. And federal law does require states to make a reasonable effort to keep siblings together, unless there are safety reasons not to do so.

“It’s traumatic enough that they’ve been removed from their biological home and parents,” says Bailey. “Breaking them up is really detrimental to their healing.”

But keeping siblings together isn’t easy. Not many foster homes can accommodate more than one or two children, notes Bailey. “In an ideal situation, we’d have siblings working together, healing together, under one roof. But when you have a sibling group of four, five, six kids, which we see from time to time, we don’t often have one roof for them to go under together.”

Sunrise and Singleton’s vision for the Solid Rock Children’s Ranch calls for the construction of two, five-bedroom cabins where siblings can stay and heal together. The first phase will establish the necessary infrastructure—a new access road, plus water, septic and electric systems—and the first of the two cabins, and cost about $500,000.

So far, Sunrise has raised about $20,000. “We’ve got a little ways to get there,” says Bailey, “but we’re confident the Lord will provide and our friends and supporters will gather.”

“I know God didn’t bring me this far for it not to be finished and completed.”

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A New ‘Trumpaganda’ University Class Focuses On Donald Trump’s ‘War On Facts’

The “war on facts, press and democracy” being waged by President Donald Trump’s administration is the focus of a new course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Students taking the eight-week “Trumpaganda” class starting Oct. 22 will examine the Trump White House’s “disinformation campaign, its ‘running war’ with the mainstream news media, and their implications for American democracy,” the university says on its website. 

Previous American administrations have had a contentious relationship with the news media, but the Trump administration’s conflict with the press is different in strategies and tactics, challenging Americans’ tendency to think of propaganda as something that doesn’t happen in democratic societies,” the description adds.

Associate media professor Mira Sotirovic, who is teaching the class, told the university’s Daily Illini student newspaper it was “critical to learn how to detect propaganda and recognize propagandistic features of any communication, including presidential.”

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No, Affirmative Action Has Not Made Asian-Americans The ‘New Jews’

When the U.S. District Court in Boston convenes on Monday to consider the case of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, conservative activists may be on the verge of accomplishing what more than four decades of relentless effort has failed to do: the elimination of affirmative action for blacks and Latinos.

Having tried four separate times (DeFunis, Bakke, Grutter, and Fisher) to convince the Supreme Court to abolish the practice, those activists have now adopted a new strategy, arguing that Asian-Americans are discriminated against in admission to elite colleges because of affirmative action.

This charge of discrimination draws much of its moral force from its claim that Asians are the “new Jews”; that just as Jews were subject to invidious discrimination in the 1920s and beyond, so, too, are Asians today. But this analogy, based in no small part on my bookThe Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, is both flawed and deeply cynical.

The analogy between Jews and Asians that frames the current case against Harvard obscures more than it illuminates.

The story of discrimination against Jews in college admissions begins in the early 1920s, when Abbott Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard and former vice president of the Immigration Restriction League, decided that the school needed to apply the same xenophobic logic to the “Jewish question” that led to the racially and ethnically discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924. That law limited the number of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe while banning immigrants from Japan, China and other Asian countries.

Lowell and his political allies believed that too many Jews ― and in the case of immigrants, too many people of non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds ― threatened the very character of Harvard and the nation as a whole.

When growing numbers of Jews passed the exam that was then the only requirement for admission, Harvard imposed various measures designed to stem their enrollment ― among them, the emphasis on “character,” “leadership,” athletic prowess and alumni parentage.

And when the new policies failed to sufficiently limit the number of Jews, Harvard and other leading colleges resorted in the 1920s to the blunt-edged instrument of a Jewish quota: 15 percent at Harvard, 10 percent at Yale, and 3 percent at Princeton.

Discriminatory policies against Jews remained in place in some form until the 1960s.

If the context in which Jewish quotas in college admissions were devised was one of restriction and exclusion, the context in which affirmative action was born was one of diversity and inclusion.

Adopted in the 1960s in response to the civil rights movement, affirmative action aimed to rectify a historic wrong: a long history of oppression and discrimination against racial minorities, especially African-Americans. Now nearly forgotten is the history of de facto segregation at the nation’s leading universities; as late as 1960, the total number of black students entering the Ivy League’s three most selective institutions was nine at Harvard, five at Yale, and just one at Princeton.

In an atmosphere of civil rights protest and urban riots, such exclusion was simply no longer tenable, and race-based affirmative action was created as a modest but meaningful reform.

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Harvard’s ranking of such highly subjective qualities as “personality” and its notoriously opaque admission process have led to suspicions of discrimination.

In such an atmosphere, the exclusionary immigration policy in place since the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 also found itself under challenge. On Oct. 3, 1965 ― barely two months after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and just over a year after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ― President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed racial and national barriers and made America much more open to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

A dramatic demographic transformation of the U.S. population took place over the ensuing decades. The new immigration law has had a particularly transformative effect on the Asian-American population; totaling just under one million in 1960, Asian-Americans now constitute a socially and ethnically heterogeneous population of approximately 20 million

By the 1980s, when charges of discrimination against Asian-Americans in college admissions first surfaced, the context of elite college admission had been dramatically altered. Unlike in the 1920s, when WASPs and Jews were the principal groups vying for admission to Harvard and the overall acceptance rate was over 50 percent, a multitude of groups ― whites, Asians, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, plus applicants from a wide range of countries in an increasingly globalized world ― were now fiercely competing for a slice of the admissions pie, and the proportion of applicants admitted had dropped under 15 percent.

By 2018, the admission rate at Harvard had plummeted to below 5 percent, and the guiding ethos was one of inclusion, with a conscious effort to enroll not only blacks and Latinos, but also the socioeconomically disadvantaged of all races. Unlike in the 1920s, when the percentage of Jews at Harvard dropped sharply after the imposition of quotas from 28 percent in 1925 to 15 percent in 1927, the proportion of Asian-Americans has gradually (if unevenly) increased, reaching 22 percent in the class that entered Harvard in 2017.

Yet Harvard’s ranking of such highly subjective qualities as “personality” and its notoriously opaque admission process have led to suspicions of discrimination. And there are, without question, features of Harvard’s policies ― most notably the preference for alumni children and athletes ― that have the consequence of limiting the number of Asians-Americans. There can, moreover, be no denying that, as the plaintiffs in next week’s case argue, an admissions policy based strictly on academic criteria would ― as was the case with Jews in the 1920s and beyond ― result in an increase in the number of Asian Americans.

The Asian-American question is an entirely different matter than whether universities should end affirmative action for historically underrepresented minorities.

But the policy of Harvard and other leading institutions is self-consciously not one of admitting students solely on the basis of putatively objective academic measures such as SAT scores and grade point averages. Harvard and its peer institutions understand themselves to be in the business of selecting and shaping the next generation of national and global leaders ― a mission that they judge would be poorly served by a definition of “merit” that is narrowly academic.

These policies, as well as such dubious practices as legacy preference that further privilege the already privileged, are properly the object of vigorous public debate.

That said, the analogy between Jews and Asians that frames the current case against Harvard obscures more than it illuminates. Unlike quotas, which substantially reduced Jewish enrollments, affirmative action has proved compatible with both an increase in Asian-American enrollments and expanded opportunities for African-Americans and Latinos.

But perhaps the most revealing of the many differences between the two cases is the response of Jews and Asian-Americans to the charge that Harvard was discriminating. In the 1920s, the Jewish community was virtually unanimous in its denunciation of Harvard’s policy whereas today, the Asian-American community is divided on the issue. Recognizing that the lawsuit is at bottom an assault on affirmative action, 156 Asian-American organizations signed a brief defending Harvard’s policies.

In the end, the Asian-American question is an entirely different matter than whether Harvard and other highly selective universities should end affirmative action for historically underrepresented minorities. We know from the experience of my own institution, the University of California at Berkeley, what the consequences will be if affirmative action is ended: After the passage by California voters of Proposition 209 in 1996, black enrollment declined from nearly 10 percent in the mid-1990s to under 3 percent in recent years.

In a nation still wracked by glaring racial inequalities, a ruling permitting the controversy over Asian-American admissions to serve as a wedge enabling the foes of affirmative action to realize their long-cherished goal of abolishing it would be a serious mistake.

Jerome Karabel, professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. He is at work on a book tentatively titled Outlier Nation: The Roots of American Distinctiveness and How It Shapes Us Today, which he began as a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

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Stephen Miller’s 3rd Grade Teacher Calls Him ‘A Strange Dude’ Who Ate Glue

Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller may be President Donald Trump’s top guy on immigration, but his third-grade teacher thinks of him in other terms.

Nikki Fiske, who taught Miller 25 years ago when he attended Franklin Elementary in Santa Monica, California, said in The Hollywood Reporter that her former student was “a strange dude” with bizarre habits:

“Do you remember that character in Peanuts, the one called Pig Pen, with the dust cloud and crumbs flying all around him? That was Stephen Miller at 8. I was always trying to get him to clean up his desk — he always had stuff mashed up in there. He was a strange dude.

I remember he would take a bottle of glue — we didn’t have glue sticks in those days — and he would pour the glue on his arm, let it dry, peel it off and then eat it.”

Although Fiske said Miller never had any academic problems other than sloppy handwriting, she was worried about him socially because “he had such strange personal habits” and was “isolated and off by himself all the time.”

“Of course, Stephen wasn’t political then — it wasn’t until later that he started to make waves,” she said. 

Fiske said she attempted to write down all her concerns into Miller’s school record, only to have the principal obscure her comments with Wite-Out after Miller’s parents complained.


Stephen Miller’s former teacher says she worried about his “strange personal habits” and the fact that he was “isolated and off by himself all the time.”

Several people from Miller’s life have recently expressed far more substantial concerns about him than his former teacher, decrying his anti-immigrant and nativist policies in particular.

As one of the youngest and arguably most influential advisers to President Donald Trump, Miller is behind some of the administration’s most notorious and racist policies, including the travel ban on people from mostly Muslim-majority countries and the separation of undocumented families at the border.

Last month, Miller’s former rabbi, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, condemned the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy Miller helped to craft, saying it was “completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.”

In August, Miller’s uncle, retired neuropsychologist David S. Glosser, said his nephew “has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.”

His uncle told HuffPost that Miller likely views certain ethnicities as “unworthy or inherently unsuited to life” in America. 

Miller, who grew up in a family of Democrats and was part of a progressive Jewish temple, leaned into conservatism in college and eventually made his way to Congress as a staffer of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.).

He is still close with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, a proponent of far-right populism in Europe and the former executive chairman of Breitbart News.

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NAACP Legal Defense Fund Asks Florida To End Racist Hair Policies At Schools

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to the Florida Department of Education earlier this month asking it to take action against schools that ban students from sporting dreadlocks, braids and other traditionally African-American hairstyles. The letter, which calls such hair policies racially discriminatory, comes after a HuffPost investigation into the issue. 

The HuffPost investigation found that at least 20 percent of private schools participating in Florida’s Hope Scholarship Program have strict hair policies with distinct racial undertones. Six schools ban or regulate dreadlocks, Afros and braids. The NAACP LDF cites this data, saying the policies are either “discriminatory on their face or may lead to discriminatory application against African-American students.” 

The Florida Hope Scholarship is a voucher program that gives publicly funded scholarships to kids who have experienced bullying. However, many of the schools that participate in this program either ban LGBTQ students or have strict hair policies that disproportionately affect African-American students.

This issue jumped to the spotlight in August after a video of a 6-year-old student being turned away from a private school in Florida went viral. The student, Clinton Stanley Jr., sported dreadlocks. The school, A Book’s Christian Academy, bans such hairstyles in its handbook. 


Clinton Stanley Jr., 6, was shown in a video being turned away from a Florida private school because of his dreadlocks.

A Book’s Christian Academy, a Christian school, does not currently participate in the Hope Scholarship program, although it is eligible. It participates in other Florida voucher programs, meaning it receives public funding although it is a private school. 

The NAACP LDF letter calls on the listed schools to create new hair policies in consultation with community members and says they should commit to providing cultural competency training for faculty and staff. The letter also asks the Department of Education to review hair policies at listed schools and request that any that are discriminatory are rescinded. 

Florida school voucher programs ban discrimination based on race. But, as the NAACP LDF letter points out, hair policies can perpetuate a more subtle type of discrimination.

“The forms of racial discrimination most commonly seen in education have evolved. It is now rare to find a policy that explicitly excludes potential students based on skin color,” says the letter. “However, subtle rules and restrictions based on racial stereotypes and proxies have the same force and effect.”

Representatives of the Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment. State offices in Tallahassee were closed Wednesday due to Hurricane Michael. 

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked the state to respond to its letter within 10 days.

“This has always been a priority for us, that African-American children have access not just to quality education but that they are welcomed into those environments,” Angel Harris, assistant counsel for the Legal Defense Fund and author of the letter, told HuffPost.  

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How To Raise A Creative Kid

In a society that thrives on deadlines and productivity, it’s tough for many adults to embrace their creative sides. And for busy parents, it can be even more difficult to help foster their kids’ creativity between after-school activities, homework and regular life.

We spoke to a play expert, an art teacher and an early childhood specialist at a children’s museum to discuss the importance of creativity in kids’ lives. They offered tips on how even the busiest parent can easily encourage children to observe, explore and imagine.

Never underestimate the power of playtime.

In a clinical report released in August, the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that “the importance of playtime with children cannot be overemphasized” and suggested that play is a key factor in raising “creative, curious and healthier kids.”

Dr. Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, is also an advocate for playtime. He recently teamed up with footwear company Kamik for its #FreeYourPlay campaign, which encourages unstructured outside play. Gray notes that several factors, including lack of recess and access to playgrounds as well as certain toys, keep kids from fully exploring their creative sides.

“For example, Legos used to just sell you the bricks that kids love to play with to make their little creations … now they sell these kits with instructions on what to build,” Gray said. “The kids are not learning to be creative with that type of play.”

He added, “This whole message of there’s a right way to do it, that limits creativity.”

While there are benefits to this individualized playtime, it’s crucial for parents to play with their children, too, according to Cassie Stephens, who has taught elementary school art for 20 years.

Stephens encouraged parents not to gloss over the seemingly simple things that adults have seen a hundred times. To kids, they’re important and interesting.

“When two colors make orange, and a 5-year-old is excited that they made that, I’m going to get excited with them,” Stephens said. “That excitement is contagious, and I want to really inspire them to keep exploring. I’m not going to say, ‘Of course, we talked about that, remember?’”

Be mindful of your own lack of wonder.

Most adults don’t have “the same creative juices” as kids, says Rachel Giannini, an early childhood specialist at the Chicago Children’s Museum and a former educator.

That means it’s easy for parents to pick up a toy and assume what its purpose is. She said the “perfect example” is a block. Many parents would begin building with it, but a child might pick it up and pretend it’s something else.

“A toy might be a plane, it might be a submarine,” Giannini said. “If you say, ‘Oh it’s a car, it has wheels, and it goes on the road,’ then you’re kind of crushing your child’s spirit.”

Giannini said the Chicago Children’s Museum set up its Tinkering Lab with this kind of play in mind. It’s a workshop that keeps directions minimal and offers prompts to kids like, “Let’s make something move” or “Let’s make something play.”

“It’s really self-guided,” Giannini said. “It’s this idea of, ‘What do you want to make?’ There are no instructions.”

Over time, many adults are conditioned to not notice “the magic in the little things,” or not be more observant of the world around them, Stephens said. Be mindful of that and don’t allow yourself to limit your kid’s imagination.

Keep it simple and use what’s around you.

“It’s really easy to tell a parent that they need to do something with their child and immediately [the] price tags pop in their head,” Giannini said.

She told parents not to worry because there’s no need to purchase expensive toys to inspire creativity at home. Kids benefit from “open-ended materials and loose parts.”

“Being outside and grabbing acorns and pine cones ― any object that doesn’t have a designated use ― is an opportunity to be creative and to problem-solve,” she said. “It can be a pine cone on Monday, and on Tuesday it’s part of a structure. It allows this non-prescribed play.”

If you’re on the hunt for creative supplies, Stephens said her students especially love working with clay, and she’s featured many of her go-to projects in her book Clay Lab for Kids. She also suggested parents lean in to activities their kids already enjoy.

“The slime craze: It drives some parents bananas, but [the kids] aren’t staring at a screen and they’re excited about it,” she said.

Let kids make mistakes.

Gray stressed the importance of children learning how to independently problem-solve. “Not solving their minor problems for them, not projecting themselves or running over every time they get in a quarrel with someone” is critical for parents, he said.

Giannini also noted the importance of allowing kids to make mistakes when they play and experiment. This will encourage them to not be embarrassed to give their project another go.

“Having a place where not only can you fail, but fail in a very safe environment where you can try again, where there is no ‘I’m sorry, pencils down’ moment, is really reaffirming for kids to know that their instincts are correct,” she said. “And if it doesn’t work out, provide time to talk with your child about why it didn’t.”

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, HOW TO RAISE A KID. In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own: bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative, emotionally intelligent children. In short — kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not To Raise A Jerk.

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The 5 Elements Of A Good Preschool

By John D. Tulenko, Jackie Mader and Lillian Mongeau, The Hechinger Report

We know preschool makes a big difference for kids and that its effects can last a lifetime. But to have that kind of impact, early care has to be high quality.

Faced with constraints on price, availability and location, parents are often unclear about what actually matters when evaluating a potential preschool. No matter what educational philosophy or model an early childhood classroom uses, these five elements are the essentials to look for when choosing a preschool.

1. Classroom atmosphere and design

A classroom that’s conducive to learning should feel joyful and friendly and be designed around clear focus areas, called centers, that offer a variety of activities.

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– Dress-up clothes and props

– Unique child art on the walls

– Age-appropriate learning materials (So look for a number line, but not a multiplication chart, picture books, but not chapter books, etc.)

– Low shelves with accessible toys

– Child-sized tables and chairs

– Clearly delineated areas (You might see a dress-up area, an artist’s station or a mini-library, for example.)

– How much time is spent in group activities? (Hint: Should be about half the day or less.)

– How much time is spent in free play at centers?

– Do kids decide which centers they will use, or do they cycle through all of them?

2. Teachers

Teachers should guide academic growth, model classroom behavior, and offer children tools for dealing with strong feelings.

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– Teachers crouched at eye level talking to kids

– Teachers constantly observing children as they work and play

– Teachers asking open-ended questions

– Teachers repeating students’ feelings back to them (You might hear: “You’re mad. It’s hard to feel mad.”)

– Teachers prompting students to resolve disputes

– Children looking engaged

– Children offering spontaneous gestures of endearment to teachers (Look for kids reaching for teachers’ hands, giving them a quick hug, etc. Quick physical contact is one way young children express their comfort with adults.)

– What’s your teaching philosophy? (A wide range of philosophies are effective. What’s most important is that teachers can articulate their approach.)

– What’s your training and how long have you been teaching?

– What do you like about teaching preschool?

– How often do teachers leave this school?

– What can parents do to support what you are doing in class?

3. Discipline and Social-Emotional Development

Preschools should help children understand their feelings and interact with their peers.

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– Charts and pictures on the walls to help kids identify feelings

– A quiet, calming spot in the classroom where upset children can relax

– Minimal use of exclusionary tactics for punishment (Short time-outs can be helpful, but they should be no longer than 3 to 5 minutes and should be framed as a chance for children to calm down and regain self-control, not as a punishment. Children should not be exiled form the classroom or kept confined in a separate area from their classmates.)

– Corporal punishment is never used

– Teachers deal with misbehavior without raising their voices.

– Do you have a plan for teaching children to deal with their feelings?

– What is your plan for when children bite or hit each other? (Hint: Schools should be willing to work with families to figure out what’s going on and help work out a plan to teach children to self-regulate.)

– Do you ever suspend or expel children? (Ideally, the answer is “no,” although teachers should be willing to discuss alternative or additional opportunities available for children with emotional, mental or physical problems that affect their ability to adjust to a classroom.)

4. Academics

Children should learn fundamental academic skills in reading, math, science and social studies through discovery and creative activities.

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– Children creating and explaining patterns

– Children telling a story while the teacher writes it down and the child illustrates it

– Children playing with building materials (such as blocks and train sets)

– Children playing with puzzles and games that require counting or an understanding of more and less (such as a simple version of Chutes and Ladders)

– “Artifacts” of authentic learning, such a child art, science projects and other evidence of child-directed learning

– Teachers prompting students to explore an idea further (You might hear: “You’ve built some tall towers, but they keep falling down. What could you do differently to make them stay up?”)

– Teachers prompting students to predict what they think will happen next in a story, a math puzzle, or a science experiment (You might hear: “We know Clifford, the big red dog, loves his friend. Now that his friend is stuck in a tree, what do you think Clifford will do?”)

– Minimal use of rote learning (Children singing songs they’ve learned by heart or practicing counting to 20 — as long as their whole day doesn’t consist of parroting back memorized answers.)

– What is the curriculum you use, and is it based on educational research?

– What are the academic goals for this year? (Hint: They should tell you about their plans for math instruction and other subjects, not just literacy. Listen for phrases like “activity-based” and “hands-on” when they tell you about their plans.)

– How do you track what my child is learning? How do you tell if my child is learning?

– How will you keep me informed about whether my child is on track?

5. Safety

Students should not be at undue physical risk while at preschool.

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– Chemicals stored in closed cabinets, cords tucked away out of reach

– No open bodies of water (such as a kiddie pool or a filled tub)

– Tall furniture secured to walls

– A process for entry (Look to see if just anyone could walk in and if a child could easily walk out. If the entry system is unclear, ask staff about it.)

– Basic standards of cleanliness are met

– Fire safety certifications be up to date and displayed

– Are emergency systems in place? What would you do if my child is hurt?

– What happens if my child needs medicine?

– Are background checks on staff up to date?

– Can I see your latest state inspection report? (You may also be able to look up inspection reports in a public state or city database online.)

This story about high-quality preschool was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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NEA Members Stand Ready to Help Communities Hit by Hurricane Michael

This Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Michael, center, in the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA via AP)

The devastation to the panhandle of Florida will likely be catastrophic as Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to hit the area in more than a century, makes landfall.  An extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, it is a life-threatening event for large portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast, where residents have never experienced such a powerful storm.

After devastating coastal communities with a storm surge that could climb to 13 feet in some areas, flash flooding is also a concern. Forecasters predict the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, southeast Alabama and parts of Georgia could receive four to eight inches of rain, with some spots getting as much as a foot.

Once again, the National Education Association and its members stand ready to help.

“Hurricane Michael has swelled to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane. Forecasters have warned about a potentially devastating storm surge, along with punishing winds that could tear through the region today and tomorrow,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.  “In the spirit of solidarity and compassion, NEA is asking its members and the public, as we did last year after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and just last month after Hurricane Florence, to help educators and schools affected by Hurricane Michael. Communities in North and South Carolina are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Florence.”

NEA members, their students, and communities will need ongoing contributions to make it through the relief and recovery phase, which is often months, if not years, long.

“They need to know we are with them, that we share their sorrow and empathize with their losses. Our compassion and generous donations will help restore their hope that tomorrow will be better,” says Eskelsen García.

Donations can be made to the NEA-MB’s GoFundMe page for Hurricane Michael Relief Fund, which will go a long way to replace belongings and the many expenses educators and their families will certainly incur in the days, weeks, and months to come.

“All of us can play a role in rebuilding the lives of those impacted by these natural disasters, standing strong for our members and their families, and mending communities,” said Eskelsen García. “On behalf of affected NEA members, thank you for your prayers and generosity.”

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

NEA Member Benefits is here to support educators in tough times. For members affected by Hurricane Michael, including damage to a house, auto, or classroom as the result of the hurricanes, visit www.neamb.com/disaster-assistance.htm for more information about which NEA MB Partner offers might apply to you and your situation. You may also contact the Member Service Center toll-free at 1-800-637-4636.

NEA Resources

Educators know that when disasters such as Hurricane Florence strike, children are often traumatized and they need help from families and educators to cope and heal. NEA is providing resources and information to help deal with students’ fears and questions.

NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)
A step-by-step outline of what to do before, during, and after any school or community crisis like a natural disaster. NEA offers best practices that address the full spectrum of crisis response from how to prevent and prepare for a crisis to how to respond and recover in the minutes, days and weeks following the event.

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

American Red Cross The American Red Cross is working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this disaster.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety central web site for North Carolina response.

The American School Counselor Association provides an extensive list of resources for helping kids deal with hurricanes and floods.

Colorin Colorado Colorin Colorado is a bilingual web site for educators and families has information on how to help children after a natural disaster and additional resources.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network “After the Hurricane: Helping Young Children Heal”.

Harvest Hope Food Banks are in need of donations for food banks across the Carolinas.

United Way provides basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine, as well as the long-term recovery services.

Additional Resources

Tips for Parents: Helping Kids Cope with Hurricane Harvey (Save the Children)

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: 15 Moving Books for Kids of All Ages (Brightly)

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)




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Democratic Senators Call For Investigation Into Virtual Charter Schools

Two Democratic senators asked Wednesday for the Government Accountability Office to launch an investigation into the practices and policies of virtual charter schools. The request comes on the same day the Center for American Progress released a report outlining stark academic shortcomings at these schools and a disproportionate focus on profit over quality.

The virtual charter schools have come under scrutiny in states including California and Ohio. But now Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) are calling for a more comprehensive look at how these schools work in the 27 states that house them. About 300,000 students attend these online public schools of choice. The enrollment has been steadily increasing over the years.

“There is almost no research on whether virtual charter schools meet student needs, especially for students who require specific accommodations, including English learners and students with disabilities,” says the letter from the senators.

Brown and Murray are asking the GAO to shed light on issues surrounding student outcomes, school funding and spending, rigor of academic courses, recruitment tactics and the relationship between enrollment growth and student performance. 

The new report from the liberal Center for American Progress is providing a critical look at these schools. It looked at both for-profit virtual charter schools and virtual charter schools that are managed by for-profit companies, focusing on companies like K-12 Inc. and Connections Education. K-12 Inc. has strong ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who had invested in the company and has championed its brand of school choice. But researchers, who looked at five states in the report, say that students at virtual charter schools are suffering poor academic outcomes while company executives get rich.

There is almost no research on whether virtual charter schools meet student needs.
Sens. Patty Murray and Sherrod Brown

In 2017, for example, Idaho Virtual Academy, an online school with connections to K12 Inc., had a 44 percent graduation rate, compared with the state’s 80 percent graduation rate. While leaders connected to virtual schools often stress that they typically serve severely economically distressed children, the students attending Idaho Virtual Academy did not appear to be significantly poorer than those in the state at-large, according to the report. 

Representatives of K12 Inc. were not provided with a copy of the report prior to its publication, but they emphasized that the students they serve often come to their school already behind. K12 Inc. is the largest for-profit virtual school company in the country. 

“When [students] get to us, they’re not going to graduate with their normal class because they weren’t going to graduate with their class at the school they came from,” K-12 CEO Nate Davis told HuffPost by phone. “We have to remediate them.”

In a statement, Davis criticized the report for attacking the virtual school model rather than trying to “understand why parents are choosing online charter schools and how to best address students’ needs.”

The Center for American Progress report also criticizes these schools’ use of public dollars. Unlike traditional public schools, these institutions are designed to turn a profit, which means they place a disproportionate emphasis on recruiting new students. Financial records indicate that K12 Inc. spends over $30 million on marketing and advertising to recruit students, according to the report. Top company executives can also earn millions of dollars. Executives are eligible for lucrative bonuses so long as less than 10 percent of K-12 Inc. schools are in jeopardy of closure. 

Indeed, Davis told HuffPost that “schools’ ability to meet academic performance and stay open” is a measure that has been used in determining executive compensation. In the past, state proficiency scores have also been used as a measure. 

Representatives of Connections Education noted that its own recent report had different results than CAP’s analysis. It found that its students performed similarly to those in schools with highly mobile populations. 

But Meg Benner, author of the CAP report, said she hopes that for-profit charter schools start to receive more scrutiny, as do for-profit colleges.

Overall the research is clear: The academic progress of for-profit charter schools, and online ones in particular, are really abysmal,” Benner said.  

This story has been updated with a statement from Nate Davis.

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White Supremacy Is Still Welcomed In Charlottesville

Four white supremacists were arrested last week on federal charges that accuse them of involvement in the August 2017 terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The men from the so-called Rise Above Movement ― a white supremacist group that uses mixed martial arts fighting styles to commit acts of racist violence ― are finally being held to account for the brutality unleashed in the streets, and their arrests are of worthy consequence.

But there cannot be an enthusiastic celebration while racist terror and white supremacy persist in our community.  

#Charlottesville, the hashtag, was a beacon that lit the way for other cities to repel white supremacy. The August 2017 violence prompted actions of solidarity around the country.

But there is a difference between #Charlottesville and the community of Charlottesville. #Charlottesville has inspired cities and towns to remove their racist symbols and revise their racist policies. Charlottesville the town is now experiencing what feels like a rededication to overt and structural forms of white supremacy. Federal charges against four violent white men do not heal the relationship that Charlottesville continues to maintain with those who harmed our city in 2017 (and continue to hurt it today).

Our major educational institutions continue to privilege the rights of white supremacists over those of the larger community. Since the 2017 attack, the University of Virginia has arrested more people (its own students) for protesting white supremacy than it has people who violently promote white supremacy and attack its students. Following this disturbing trend, the city and county that comprise Charlottesville have arrested more than 60 anti-racist activists in the last 18 months.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017. 

You’d think the University of Virginia would have an interest in protecting its students and staff from someone who previously led a violent attack on its campus. But you’d be wrong. This spring, the Law School Library not only welcomed Jason Kessler ― the local leader of the same Unite The Right group that ignited terror in 2017 ― but also provided him a private office, a designated legal researcher and police protection.

In contrast, when a theology graduate student and anti-racist activist breached the police barrier in protest, he was arrested, charged with trespassing and banned from the school. The white supremacist who led a torch rally, attacking students and community members, was safely escorted away by UVA officials.

This unthinkable ethic is alive and well in Charlottesville, not just in our hallowed university, but throughout our county school system ― and here, dissent is also forcefully suppressed. In early August, the Albemarle County Public School Board refused to take comments and concerns about the destructive nature of white supremacist imagery from parents, students, teachers and community members. Members of Hate-Free Schools of Albemarle County planned to present evidence arguing the school dress code ― which allows students to wear Confederate imagery and other white supremacist insignia without punitive consequence ― is harmful.

Instead of listening to community members’ concerns (as is their jobs), the board chair chided people at the meeting for snapping their fingers in support of the first and only public comment. Ultimately, in a move that would make Hogwarts’ High Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge proud, the board shut down the meeting rather than tolerate the legitimate frustration and well-reasoned critique from parents. One board member wore a tie bearing a Confederate flag. Six community members were arrested at a meeting of that same school board a few weeks later, when the board again refused to hear any critique.

With this display of aggression, the Albemarle County School Board revealed it fetishizes order over justice. Their haste to maintain the white supremacist status quo by preserving Confederate imagery in schools leads to subsequent moral failures that ultimately harm students, parents and the entire community. This is especially clear in the case of one arrested man: a teacher’s aide, whose arrest was so violent he had to be processed at the hospital. He sustained a sprained wrist, cuts on his head and arm, and possible nerve damage to his wrist. And in a literal example of adding insult to injury, he was charged last week with felony assault against an officer ― an egregious abuse of state power, to say the least.

In 2014, Charlottesville was judged to be the Happiest City in America. The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, which sponsored the study, attributed the “joy” of Charlottesville to “a sense of community, broadly liberal values, a leading university (the University of Virginia).”  

What a difference a racist attack makes.  

One year after fear and hate marched, punched and sped through this community in a lethal rampage, Charlottesville still finds itself deep in the throes of white supremacy. Don’t let last week’s arrests fool you: This new form of bureaucratic bigotry may not be trained in mixed martial arts, but it keeps our community on the ropes.

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she specializes in African American literature and culture. She is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and is active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the College Fellows Program to reshape undergraduate general education curriculum.

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School Funding Goes Directly Before the Voters

As voters head to the polls on Nov. 6, educators in Florida are going to be particularly eager to bring the Rick Scott era to a close. As governor, Scott kept the state’s education funding to crippling lows and never came across a school privatization scheme – or a tax break for the state’s wealthiest citizens – he didn’t wholeheartedly champion.

The Florida Education Association is supporting Andrew Gillum, who has called for increased funding for public schools and a brake on the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Electing Gillum – not to mention like-minded state legislators – is critical. But in 2018 that victory by itself may not be enough. Further down on the November ballot voters will also find a proposed state amendment that could potentially straightjacket any new plans to reinvest in public education.

It’s called Amendment 5. If approved, it will require any new revenues for any purpose be approved by at least a 2/3 majority of legislators in each house. (Currently, the legislature needs a simple majority to pass any new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones). This supermajority threshold essentially empowers a small number of legislators to block budget proposals that invest in key public services, locking into place Rick Scott’s legacy of austerity for public schools and tax breaks for corporations for decades to come. (Needless to say, Amendment 5 does not extend to efforts to further cut taxes for the wealthy.)

Amendment 5 would likely force even deeper education cuts in a state that already already ranks low on many education funding and performance measures. According to an analysis by the Florida Policy Institute (FPI), Florida ranks 47th in attracting and retaining effective teachers, 44th in high school graduation rates, and 42nd in spending per K-12 student.

The FPI report warns those rankings could dip even further in an economic downturn:

“The rising cost of competing priorities could shift support away from education. If a two-thirds majority cannot be reached, then local lawmakers would be forced to choose between raising local taxes or reducing support for schools and other local priorities.”

As in Florida, the underfunding of public schools has taken center stage across the nation this campaign season. Educators are out in force, leading a #RedforEd movement to sweep pro-education candidates into office (there are 554 educators on the ballot this fall) and push an aggressive legislative agenda to reinvest in their students.

Elections aren’t just about candidates. In many states, voters in 2018 may be determining the future of public school funding.  State ballot measures – the good, the bad and the ugly – have risen the stakes.

florida amendment 5

‘Schools Cemented Into a Permanent Recession’

Florida isn’t the only state where powerful interests are using ballot measures to choke off revenue streams for public services and secure tax breaks for the wealthy. A similar scheme is underway in North Carolina, another state another still reeling from decade of deep cuts to education.

Senate Bill 75 would cap the state income tax rate at 7% (a decrease from the current constitutionally-mandated 10%). Supporters like to call the proposal merely a way to protect taxpayers. What it is, says Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, is “a permanent tax cut for corporations and millionaires that will leave our schools starving.”

According to estimates, an income tax cap would drain $3.5 million annually from the state’s coffers, damaging any effort to make significant investments in public schools and students. Jewell says it would also force lawmakers to increase other taxes, such as property and sales taxes, which disproportionately burden working families.

A flexible income tax helped keep the state afloat in the previous two recessions.  According to the North Carolina Justice Center, “state policymakers enacted temporary top brackets on high-income taxpayers to raise revenue that minimized cuts to public schools, public health, and other investments that were important to the long-term well-being and economic success of the state.”

If a cap is implemented, the state’s public education system will face dire consequences. Progress NC Action called SB75 the “sound of North Carolina’s public schools cemented into a permanent recession.”

Public education activists in North Carolina and Florida believe the experience of other states serve as cautionary tales.

north carolina income tax cap amendment

In November, voters in North Carolina will decide whether to cap the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates at 7 percent. Mark Jewell of the North Carolina Association of Educators calls the proposal “a permanent tax cut for corporations and millionaires that will leave our schools starving.” (Photo: NCAE)

Since 1992, Colorado’s schools have been under the thumb of the so-called “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” (TABOR), a voter-approved referendum that drastically limited the amount of revenue governments could collect and spend.  Although lawmakers have loosened its restrictions, Colorado spends $2,000 less per student on average, compared with other states. Teacher pay is well below the national average, and schools are constantly struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified educators.

Colorado, meanwhile, has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.

In June, activists delivered 175,000 signatures (significantly more than the required 100,000) to place Amendment 73 on the 2018 ballot. The amendment would raise $1.6 billion a year in additional revenue for Colorado’s public schools, bringing the state closer to the national average in school funding.

Getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is no easy task in Colorado. Activists had to collect signatures from at least 2 percent of voters in all 35 Colorado Senate districts, a new rule implemented in 2016 to make it more difficult to change the state’s constitution.

In such a healthy economy, the state has run out of excuses not to bolster school funding. “It is up to all of us to get Amendment 73 passed by voters to ensure students and educators across Colorado have access to a high-quality public education no matter where they live,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association.

Sharing the Growing Economy With Students

Educators in Hawaii and Utah are also determined to open new revenue streams for their students.

Utah educators are campaigning for Question 1, which asks voters to approve a small increase in the gas tax (costing the average driver only $4 a month), with 70 percent invested in public education and 30 percent to improve local roads.

If Question 1 is approved, it could generate more than $100 million in new funding for Utah schools, money that goes directly to classrooms and teacher salaries. “Question 1 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, which worked with community members across the state and the legislature to get the measure on this year’s ballot.

Writing in the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah teachers Aaryn Birchell, Valerie Gates, Allison Riddle, and Gay Beck called attention to how the funding generated by Question 1 will empowers those who know their students best:

“Individual schools would create a plan detailing how their allocation will be invested to meet the needs of their students, while the school board verifies the funds are used only for academic purposes. This innovative approach allows each community to participate in how the funding is spent, measure what results are achieved, and ensure that funding isn’t used toward district administration or school construction.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), voters in the state will vote on a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would permit the Legislature to place a “surcharge” on investment properties valued at more than $1 million, with revenue to be used to fund public education.

No state in the nation allocates a smaller percentage of both state and local revenue toward education than Hawaii.

“If the 1 percent want to call Hawaii home then they should be giving back — and that starts with paying their fair share to ensure our children get the quality education they deserve,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president.

“Every year we say education is a priority,” he added. “But we don’t do enough to improve chronic underfunding of public education while Hawaii’s children are falling behind and schools struggle to prepare students for 21st-century jobs.”

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Columbus Day Is A Monument To White Supremacy

I come from Laguna Pueblo and the Yuma Nation, and even in my small reservation border town ― where many of us children were Pueblo, Apache, Ute and Navajo ― Columbus Day was taken seriously by my elementary school teachers. We honored the Italian explorer, coloring pictures of the ships Columbus captained to “discover” our homeland. We took red crayons to the crusader flag, never realizing then that it was the same color as the blood our ancestors shed during colonization at the hands of Columbus and his Spanish conquistadors.

I’m a Native woman, but my husband is an Italian immigrant born and raised in Italy. Columbus Day is an important federal holiday for many Italian-Americans of the baby boomer generation, and I understand why: Many of them remember a time when their grandparents were considered outsiders in this country and faced violence and oppression as a result.

But this federal holiday ― and the monuments that celebrate Columbus as an uncomplicated hero ― must go.

Few educational texts in this country return to reliable, primary sources when it comes to discussions about Columbus. Biographical depictions of the explorer tend to be subjective and came long after his death. But one historian who knew Columbus personally, Bartolemé de las Casas, published A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in 1552. He decried the brutality, describing how Columbus and the conquistadors disfigured Native slaves and fed them alive to dogs. Columbus was eventually arrested by the Spanish Crown and stripped of his governorship for executing Spanish citizens without a trial.  

Ever since Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. city to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in the early 1990s, Americans have been re-examining the explorer’s role in our nation’s history. In blue states especially, communities now recognize Columbus as a slaveholder, rapist and plunderer of gold; a total of 56 cities and four states have followed Berkeley’s example.

It’s not only Native populations that are harmed when we continue to celebrate Columbus year after year. The first and perhaps most famous Columbus monuments sits in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis. It was commissioned more than 130 years ago by an English-born businessman named Henry Shaw, who was reportedly appalled by the way Italian-Americans were being treated by American society and wanted to help the community integrate and gain acceptance.

The monument honoring Columbus has been repeatedly defaced in recent years, particularly since Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old man, was shot and killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Last year around the Columbus Day federal holiday, bright red graffiti across the statue spelled out “Black Lives Matter” and “murderer,” calling attention to the atrocities the explorer committed against African slaves.

Growing up in Milan, my husband’s teachers spoke openly about Columbus’ brutal past. He doesn’t understand why Americans stay so attached to the Genovese explorer when Italian luminaries like Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giordano Bruno and Amatore Sciesa could easily be honored instead.

It’s not my place to tell Italian-Americans who might replace Columbus as their historical hero. But I can say that he represents a great deal of suffering for us Native Americans. We are not immigrants, yet we remain outsiders on our own land, with voices that are rarely heard.

New York Daily News via Getty Images

A statue of Christopher Columbus is defaced with red paint in New York City’s Central Park.

The executive director of Tower Grove Park recently asked protesters ― white students, Black Lives Matter activists and urban Native professionals ― to make nonbinding recommendations about whether the statue should be removed from the park entirely or a plaque added to contextualize its history. A community forum will be held this month to discuss the issue.

These talks represent progress, though they promise to be heated and there’s no assurance that any proposed changes will actually be implemented.

I admire Henry Shaw for wanting to help an ostracized people feel more at home in their country. He cared about Italian immigrants when they were reviled by society, and thanks to people like him, their population no longer needs thoughtful inclusion. We can honor Shaw’s legacy now by turning our attention to another ostracized population: the Native community.

Imagine traveling to Europe and seeing statues of Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler perched on pedestals. You wouldn’t, because these countries recognize their violent histories. Yet here in America, 46 states still celebrate a man who committed unspeakable crimes against humanity.  

I suggest we revise our nation’s origin story by forcing ourselves to see it more clearly. We must add proper historical context to our Columbus monuments and put them in museums, rather than public parks. If Italian-Americans wish to continue celebrating their heritage (and they have every right to), there are many other important historical figures to be proud of.

Let’s consider Native children across the country, whose sense of self and worth would be greatly improved by the renaming of this federal holiday. Columbus Day honors one man with a violent and controversial past; Indigenous Peoples Day honors many who have died and who have survived historic discrimination and violence. Let’s make it Indigenous Peoples Day once and for all.

Deborah Taffa is an enrolled member of the Yuma Indian Nation and a descendant of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. She teaches creative nonfiction at Webster University in St. Louis and will be writing season three of the PBS series “America From the Ground Up.”  

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Missing Maine Teacher Was Sleepless, Stressed, Husband Says

Police searching for a Missing Maine schoolteacher roped off a house near where she lived on Friday, days into an intensive search.

Crime scene tape surrounded the small house, about a half-mile from Kristin Westra’s home in North Yarmouth, and there was “a large police presence,” according to ABC affiliate WMTW-8. It wasn’t immediately clear whether investigators had discovered anything.

Westra, 47, disappeared from her home Sunday night, according to her husband, and had been anxious and sleepless.

Searchers estimated they cleared a 1.5-mile wooded area near her home without finding a trace. Police said earlier there was no indication of foul play, but they wouldn’t rule it out.

“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t always keep that on the table,” Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Scott Stewart told the Portland Press Herald.

Westra “was experiencing what I would call some anxiety and she expressed that she had some sleepless nights and was worried” in the hours before she disappeared, her husband, Jay Westra, told NBC News.

Earlier Sunday, she saw a nurse practitioner for a “safety assessment” and was judged “not at risk for any harm to herself or anybody else,” Jay Westra said. “She made plans with a nurse practitioner, her sister-in-law, to have the labs drawn on Monday.”

Jay Westra told police he and his wife went to bed after dinner Sunday night and that’s the last time he saw her.

Relatives described her as a dedicated and dependable elementary school teacher who would not just leave her husband and two children.

She is the “last person that would do something like this,” her brother, Eric Rohrbach, told ABC News. “This is very abnormal.”

Her husband said she was gone when he awoke after 6 a.m. on Monday.

“Because she’s a communicator, we don’t go a day without texting or calling,” Westra’s best friend and co-worker, Tammy Drew-Hoidal, told WGME-TV. “The fact that that happened, I just felt sick.”

Kristin Westra teaches grades 3 to 5 at Chebeague Island School. It’s a small school, with only about 25 students, saidDrew-Hoidal, who teaches kindergarten through second grade.

According to her husband, Kristin Westra was restless when they went to bed Sunday night. He told police he remembers waking at 3:30 a.m. and finding she wasn’t in bed, but assumed she’d gone into another room.

“At 6:20, I woke up as sort of our usual schedule,” Jay Westra told NBC News. “My daughter was up, she was getting herself ready for school. I showered. Didn’t want to wake Kristin because I thought possibly she was asleep in the next room. And then after my shower, I walked by it, did not see her, panicked slightly.”

Kristin Westra wasn’t anywhere in the house. Her husband said she left without her car, purse or cellphone.

Jay Westra told police searched the neighborhood for his wife, an avid runner, then contacted the sheriff’s office and reported her missing.

Authorities said they investigated more than 100 tips.

Jay Westra told WCSH-TV he is cooperating with police and isn’t concerned with what people might think or say.

“My feelings are secondary,” he said. “My primary thing is the return of Kristin to me and her family … I don’t care what people think. I don’t care what people gossip.”

Kristin Westra is described as a white female, with brown hair and brown eyes. She weighs about 140 pounds and is 5 feet 10 inches tall. Police said they are not sure what she was wearing at the time of her disappearance.

A prayer vigil is planned for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Congregational Church in Cumberland.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center at 207-883-2810, Option 2.

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

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This Union Has A Radical Plan To Save Itself: Get To Know Its Members Again

PEORIA, Ill. ― The U.S labor movement has a lot riding on workers like Meghan Innis and Joey Grace.

In late July, the two public school teachers were crisscrossing Peoria in Innis’ SUV, working their way through a list of fellow educators. Their task was simple: Talk to the teachers about their schools and their concerns. Let them know about an upcoming contract vote for their union, the Peoria Federation of Teachers. Ask them to re-sign their union cards as a gesture of commitment.

The first door they knocked on was Teresa Harper’s. The librarian and teacher at Peoria High School was in the middle of painting her apartment before the end of summer break.

“Can I just… talk?” she asked.

“Yes!” assured Grace, a high school special education teacher. “That’s the whole idea.”

“One of the huge issues at our school is discipline,” Harper said, beginning what became a nearly hourlong conversation. “I think the rules for discipline [for students] need to be clearer.”

Not long ago, an unsolicited home visit from union representatives would have been unheard of here. But the Peoria Federation of Teachers is trying to do things differently now. The open-ended talk in Harper’s dining room is just the type of outreach unions are doing after the Supreme Court recently dealt them a severe blow that could reduce membership.

In a landmark decision, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the court ruled that government workers cannot be required to pay fees to the unions that represent them. The decision gives millions of public employees the option to drop their support for unions that, under the law, must still continue to bargain on those employees’ behalf.

Faced with the threat of lost members and funding, the most forward-looking unions are now changing how they operate, in potentially transformative ways.

What’s happening in Peoria is an experiment of the local’s parent union, the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers. The goal is to steer away from a top-down model of unionism, in which teachers view the union primarily as an insurance policy when trouble pops up. Instead, they want to achieve a bottom-up organizing model in which members are deeply involved in the union and setting its agenda.

Doing so, they believe, will help retain membership and make the union a more effective advocate for teachers and the education policies they want to see. 

“We offer extremely good services for our members, but we realized if we don’t shift to an organizing model, we might get decimated,” said Jeff Adkins-Dutro, a Peoria English teacher who also serves as the local union president. “In my opinion, this is really going to strengthen our union.”

The transition requires a change in thinking and a lot of legwork. That’s why teachers like Innis and Grace gave up some of their summer break, taking part in an internship program organized by unions and a community group. They sat through seminars run at their local union hall across from the Illinois River, then hit the pavement to speak with teachers about school funding and whatever else they had on their minds.  

They also urged their fellow teachers to sign “recommitment” cards, pledging to stick with their union even if the Supreme Court decision gave them a financial incentive to cut ties.

“The Janus decision, for me, just solidified me getting active in my union,” said Grace, 33, who is in his third year of teaching middle school. “I think we’re at the point where we’ll need a whole new labor movement, or the [economic] disparity will just become too great.”

Daniel Acker for HuffPost

Joey Grace, a teacher at Glen Oak Primary School in Peoria, Illinois, leads a geography class.

The share of private-sector workers who belong to a labor union has been falling for decades. The membership rate is now flirting with a historic low, at just 6.5 percent. Unions have fared much better in the public sector, where the membership rate is a robust 34 percent. Local governments typically don’t fight union campaigns with the same vehemence of corporations, which has made it easier to organize the likes of teachers, sanitation workers, corrections officers and firefighters.

By hurting unions for government workers, the Janus decision could weaken what has become labor’s spine.

The 5-4 ruling dealt with what are known as “fair share” fees. Under U.S. labor law, unions must represent every worker in a bargaining unit equally. Therefore, unions try to secure contracts that require every worker to pay fees that cover the costs of bargaining and representation. The Janus decision outlawed such arrangements in the public sector on the grounds that the fees amounted to “compelled speech” and violated a worker’s First Amendment rights.

Even before the ruling, no worker could be forced to pay for a union’s political activities. But the Janus decision means no government worker can be forced to pay for even basic representation either, effectively making the entire public sector “right to work.” Unions fear this will lead to what they derisively call “free riding” ― workers opting out of paying union fees while still enjoying the benefits of their contract.

The case had its roots right here in Illinois, where it was originally brought by the state’s Republican governor, Bruce Rauner. After a judge ruled Rauner did not have standing in the case, a government worker named Mark Janus intervened. A child support specialist in the Illinois health department, Janus had been paying fair share fees to AFSCME against his wishes. (After winning his case, Janus left his government job and took a position with Illinois Policy Institute, the conservative group that funded his case.)

Although the Janus decision directly affects only government workers, it sent the message to private employers that, as far as the judiciary is concerned, it’s open season on unions, said Paul Secunda, a labor law professor at Marquette University Law School. If public-sector unions are diminished, he noted, it becomes easier to pass laws weakening ones in the private sector as well.

“The last several years have been disastrous for labor,” Secunda said. “The right-to-work expansion is part of a larger strategy led by corporate America to decimate unions for a very simple purpose: It makes it quite easy to expand corporate profits.”

Still, the Janus decision is not all terrible news for organized labor, he said: “The unions that remain standing will be strong unions and will not be pulled down by the weaker ones.”

The Peoria Federation of Teachers began preparing for this decision last year with the help of the much larger and extremely powerful Chicago Teachers Union.

That union had grabbed national headlines when it launched a citywide strike in 2012. Teachers and union staff from Chicago trained the Peoria local on how to mobilize members and students’ parents when necessary. Peoria (population 113,000) is famous as a Midwestern test market, and union leaders hoped the internship program created here would be expanded elsewhere in Illinois.

Linda Wilson, a second-grade teacher at Trewyn Middle School in Peoria, said, “No one from the union had taken the time

Daniel Acker for HuffPost

Linda Wilson, a second-grade teacher at Trewyn Middle School in Peoria, said, “No one from the union had taken the time to really listen and engage before.”

One of the first to take part was Linda Wilson, a second-grade teacher and mother of five who attended Peoria public schools. Wilson, who is African-American, gained her teaching certification through the state’s “Grow Your Own Teachers” program, which aims to staff lower-income schools with more diverse candidates. She has since become her union’s political and diversity director.

During these home visits, Wilson realized how much work the union had ahead of it. On a couple of occasions, she caused alarm when she introduced herself to a teacher’s spouse on the doorstep. An unannounced call from a union official seemed so out of the ordinary that they assumed the teacher must be in trouble.

But almost everyone was eager to talk.

“No one from the union had taken the time to really listen and engage before,” Wilson explained.

“There have been people who were kind of shocked the union is here. There are others where you’ve got to back out after two hours” because the conversation won’t end, she said with a laugh.

Wilson was one of just four teachers who gave up her summer to take part in the program in 2017. This year, 19 teachers applied, and the union could only take on seven. They were joined by four other public-sector employees ― home care workers with the Service Employees International Union ― as well as two parents of Peoria students.

The parents were asked to talk to other parents and bring their concerns back to the union. If the union was going to become more than just an interest group for teachers, the thinking went, then it had to do more to bring parents into the fold, too.

Linda Wilson gave up part of her summer break to talk to other teachers about the union.

Daniel Acker for HuffPost

Linda Wilson gave up part of her summer break to talk to other teachers about the union.

During a recent seminar at the union hall, the parent representatives were asked what they thought the union could do to improve schools. One parent said the system was failing her son ― his grades were bad, and he showed behavioral problems, but he kept passing each year anyway. He would soon be in high school and wasn’t prepared.

“He’s not ready,” she said, visibly upset. “He shouldn’t have passed.”

Innis told her many teachers feel the same way, but the school district has become more reluctant to hold students back.

“We agree with you,” Innis said. “We’re setting them up not to be successful in high school. But it’s not the teachers. We all feel your frustration.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, likes to think her union has learned the lessons of Wisconsin. In 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Wisconsin Republicans passed Act 10, which repealed collective bargaining rights for most government workers. The public-sector unions were blindsided. Four years later, it was that much easier for state legislators to pass a right-to-work law hurting unions in the private sector.

After Janus, unions can no longer afford to take their members for granted, which is why Weingarten wants to fund programs like the one in Peoria.

“What we’ve tried to do is change our culture,” she said. “What happened for a long time is basically people saw the union as a transaction ― you negotiate a contract, someone would have a problem and come to the union. As opposed to the union being really important in their lives.”

Roughly three-quarters of the AFT’s locals are now running member engagement programs. The union’s affiliates rounded up more than half a million recommitment cards before the Janus decision came down in June. Weingarten hopes that what’s happening in Peoria will be replicated in other, smaller locals throughout the country.

Meghan Innis, a teacher at Peoria High School, says the recent strikes across the nation were "for the schools and their kids

Daniel Acker for HuffPost

Meghan Innis, a teacher at Peoria High School, says the recent strikes across the nation were “for the schools and their kids,” not about the teachers themselves.

The effort doesn’t come without a cost. The AFT has been steering a portion of dues into a special fund for member engagement since 2016. At least some of those dollars would have otherwise gone to external organizing, to unionize new workplaces and grow the ranks. The Janus decision has forced unions to spend money reaching out to the workers they already represent.

But the price of not doing so could be great. As soon as the Supreme Court issued its ruling, conservative groups began contacting teachers and other public employees to show them how to cut off payments to their unions. Illinois teachers received direct mail and email referring them to websites like leavectu.com, run by the Illinois Policy Institute, which argues that “opting out of the union allows you to keep more of your hard-earned money.”

A union that doesn’t bother putting in the effort could easily lose the information war. But Adkins-Dutro, the president of the Peoria union, said he slept soundly the night before the Janus decision was expected. He was certain the “drop out” campaigns the opposition launched wouldn’t be as effective as the member outreach his union was already doing.

“They’re sending emails,” he said of anti-union groups. “We’re knocking on doors.”

As Innis and Grace made their rounds, the effort seemed to be paying off. At the end of their talk with the librarian Harper, she signed a recommitment card without hesitation. They hopped into Innis’ SUV and checked their list for the next address. With school starting in a little over two weeks, the union had managed to round up recommitment cards from more than 90 percent of its membership. There were less than three dozen left, and Innis and Grace were able to pick up two more that afternoon.

Within days, Peoria teachers approved a new contract with the school district, winning a 3 percent raise for each of the next two years, an improvement over the last deal. The number of teachers who voted on the contract was twice as high as the last time ― a sign, union leaders believe, that their outreach is already getting members more engaged.

But Innis said it wasn’t really about keeping dues-paying members in the fold or winning bigger raises. She pointed to the teacher strikes this year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, and why she thought they were ultimately successful.

“It was never about their bottom line,” Innis said of those teachers. “They fought for the schools and their kids, not for themselves.”

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Ask A Dad: How Do I Talk To My Sons About The Me Too Movement?

This is part of a regular parenting column from author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards in which he tackles some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email askdoyin@huffpost.com.

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Parents all over the country are admitting their fears that their sons will someday be accused of sexual assault and that the allegations could ruin their lives.

As a mom of two young boys, I felt conflicted while watching Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. I believe women, but I also worry that my sons could someday have their lives forever changed because of something stupid they did during childhood. How do I reconcile these feelings (and protect my sons)?

Let’s not get it twisted, Kate. Getting caught playing ding dong ditch qualifies as stupid stuff during childhood. Sexual assault is criminal stuff — and that’s what Kavanaugh is being accused of here.

Last week’s hearing was essentially a highly publicized job interview, not a criminal trial, so I’m not going to spend time debating this dude’s guilt or innocence. But I will address a disturbing trend I’ve been noticing lately.

Parents all over the country are admitting their fears that their sons will one day be accused of sexual assault and that it could ruin their lives. So let’s look at the data. False reports of sexual assault and rape account for only about 2 to 8 percent of reports. This number falls in line with most other falsely reported felony crimes, so the chances that your sons will be wrongfully accused are very low.

Plus, only 1 in 3 sexual assault victims reports the crime to the police. So rest easy, Kate: If your sons do sexually assault someone, they’ll likely get away with it.

(I hope my sarcasm was clear enough for you.)

Since 1989, only 52 men have had their sexual assault convictions overturned because they had been falsely accused ― compared with almost 800 people exonerated of murder during the same time frame. So if you think for a second that false accusations of sexual assault forever changes the lives of men at a rate remotely comparable with how real sexual assault affects the lives of survivors, then I really don’t know what to tell you.

And to be honest, I’m having a hard time understanding how you can write that you “believe women” but are worried about your sons in the same sentence. That’s just another version of “Some of my best friends are black.”

If you truly believe women, then you’d understand that sexual assault survivors are the ones who are never the same afterward. Many of the women (and men) I know who were victims of such heinous crimes have dealt with or still struggle with mental illness, suicidal feelings or living in a state of fear or have spent countless hours in therapists’ offices just to remain functional human beings. Hell, one woman I know sleeps with a baseball bat in her bed every night; she was raped at 12 years old. She’s 39 now.

But look on the bright side, Kate. You know what your boys will never have to do? Fan their keys between their fingers like Wolverine from “X-Men” as they walk to their car at night. Ask a trusted friend to watch their drink when they go to the bathroom at a party so they don’t get drugged. Spend the night at a friend’s house because some creepy “admirer” won’t leave them alone.

And you’re here wallowing in the myopia of the off chance your boys will be falsely accused of sexual assault? Please take all the available seats.

My parents raised three boys, and I promise you they never worried about us sexually assaulting people. Why? Because they taught us to respect the boundaries of others and have a basic understanding of consent. If you want to protect your boys, I suggest you do the same. Because the boys who aren’t taught these lessons grow up to become our doctors, teachers, elected officials, coaches, co-workers, neighbors and potential Supreme Court justices who believe they are entitled to do whatever they want with others’ bodies without consequences. And no one wins in that scenario.

The overwhelming majority of men who commit sexual assault are walking the streets with us today, and they don’t have signs around their necks reading, “I’M A RAPEY SCUMBAG! BEWARE!” As a dad raising two girls, I’m tired of contending with parents who believe it’s totally normal for boys to be handsy whenever they feel like it. It’s not normal. It’s criminal.

Teach that to your sons, and they will do just fine.

Whether your kid is kind to others is a much stronger testament to your parenting abilities than raising a star athlete or st

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Whether your kid is kind to others is a much stronger testament to your parenting abilities than raising a star athlete or star student.

My neighbor and I both have daughters in the second grade. Hers is an excellent reader, speaks multiple languages and excels in sports. My daughter is the kindest kid in the world, but she struggles with school and doesn’t play any sports. My neighbor constantly talks about how great her daughter is in front of me and makes passive-aggressive comments like, “School is challenging for other kids, but it’s so easy for Samantha. I must be doing something right as a mom.” She makes me feel like the worst mom on the planet. Should I confront her?

― Deb in Portland, Oregon

Samantha is not a perfect child — and I can say that confidently without ever meeting her. Don’t be fooled by these social media moms and dads who share only the highlight reels of their kids’ lives, Deb. Everyone has their shit. Some people just choose to be dishonest about it.

You know what you’re doing right as a mom? You’re raising the kindest kid in the world — which is a much stronger testament to your parenting abilities than raising a star athlete or star student.

Don’t freak out about your daughter’s academic woes. I struggled big time in school as a kid. It took me longer than most to learn how to read, and I had a horrendous speech impediment that lasted throughout elementary school. Today I’m an author, a writer and a keynote speaker — because I have parents who believed in me and provided the extra help I needed when I was young. I have a feeling you’ll do the same for your little one too.

But this brings up a larger point: the stress you’re feeling about parenting. Almost 80 percent of American adults surveyed by Pew said they believe moms feel pressured to be amazing at raising children. I’m here to say most fathers don’t deal with that. If a dad posts a photo with a kid in a baby carrier while making a ponytail for his other daughter, he’s viewed as a hero. (I know this because I’ve been the one wearing the figurative cape.) Moms? They don’t have the same luxury.

Nothing removes the joy from parenting faster than comparison, and comparisons are everywhere. It’s about whose kid walked first, read first, learned a second language first, won a tournament first, got into college first, ad nauseum. But does any of that really matter?

Parenting isn’t a professional sport, and no medals are handed out for raising our kids well. Why? Because the great secret of parenting is that none of us know what we’re doing! We’re all just doing the best we can while trying not to significantly damage our kids in the process.

Should you confront your neighbor? Nah. I could be wrong here, but it seems the main reason you feel inclined to do so is based on your own insecurity. And — going out on a limb again — I believe it’s your neighbor’s insecurities that prompt her to keep boasting about her kid’s accomplishments.

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change. When your neighbor goes on about her daughter, simply congratulate her and move on. What that little girl does has zero bearing on your daughter or your parenting abilities.

Remember: You are a great mom raising a kind girl. You should believe that with all your heart, and if you don’t, just ask your daughter. She’ll agree with me.

Doyin is a father, husband and author dedicated to creating and celebrating a world of great fathers. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook at @daddydoinwork or ask him a question for a future column at askdoyin@huffpost.com.

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Cheerleader Gave Away Pot Brownies To Win Homecoming Queen Vote: Police

A cheerleader’s dream of becoming homecoming queen may have gone to pot, just because of a few marijuana brownies.

Police in Hartford, Michigan, are currently investigating how a batch of 12 weed-laced desserts were distributed at Hartford High School on Sept. 26.

Hartford patrolman Michael Prince, who is investigating the incident, told local station WWMT it’s one of the stranger cases he’s seen.

“You always think you’ve heard it all and seen it all, and there is always something new to surprise you,” Prince told the station. “We are investigating two things. Number 1, some were put in goody bags for players. Also, they were used to obtain votes for the queen contest.” According to WWMT, a student is believed to have included the brownies in gift bags for the school’s football players.

Michigan State Police heard about the alleged brownie bribes via an anonymous tip, according to CBS Chicago.

A school investigation confirmed several students received brownies laced with marijuana, according to a note posted on Facebook by superintendent Andrew Hubbard.

“All individuals involved are being dealt with according to our District Policies and Student Handbooks. We have notified the Hartford Police Department and are assisting them in their criminal investigation of the matter,” Hubbard wrote.

Hartford High staff members recovered three of the brownies and sent them to the state police crime lab for testing to confirm the presence of drugs. The remaining nine are unaccounted for, and were possibly consumed by students, according to local station WXMI TV.

Those three desserts have been sent to the state police crime lab for testing to confirm the presence of drugs.

Prince says any students who distributed the brownies could face felony charges. The cheerleader whom he said is the main suspect is currently out of state, reportedly dealing with a family emergency.

He told WXMI he hopes to interview her when she comes back to town.

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Teacher’s Simple Chart Breaks Down The Idea Of Consent For Kids

In reaction to recent political and social events in the U.S., a California teacher momentarily set aside the usual school subjects of reading and math to talk about another important topic: consent.

Liz Kleinrock is a third-grade teacher at Citizens of the World Charter School Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Last week, she posted an image on her Teach and Transform Instagram and Facebook pages of a chart she’d shared with her students. It sums up many important facets of consent, including what “consent” actually means, what it sounds like and when we need it.

In the post, Kleinrock explained that her lesson was inspired by the media coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by three women. One of them, psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

“I think whenever I tend to look at things spiraling in society, particularly political events that are going on, I like to think about what kind of foundational skills should have been in place earlier to prevent these things from happening,” Kleinrock told HuffPost.

The educator also had her students do a writing activity about consent and participate in a role-playing scenario in which they asked her if they could give her a hug. The idea was to give them real-world examples of what consent does ― and doesn’t ― look like.

“I’m saying the word ‘yes,’ but my tone and my body language are so clearly uncomfortable so I ask, ‘Can you read my body? Can you read my face? How do you think I’m actually feeling?’” she said. “Or I’m laughing and saying, ‘No, not right now.’ I look happy and positive, but the words coming out of my mouth are still no. It’s the tone and delivery.”

Kleinrock pointed out that she didn’t even consider mentioning sex while preparing to teach her third-graders about consent.

“People seem to have a really hard time with this because of the connection between consent and sex, but it never crossed my mind to talk about sex with my class,” she said. “My students are 8 and 9 years old. It’s really about respecting space and physical boundaries and interacting with each other.”

She also noted that she plans on expanding her consent lesson to clarify the idea of “secrets” on her chart and to remind her students to come forward if they learn information about another person being sexually abused or otherwise harmed.

In addition to teaching, Kleinrock, who has a background in social-emotional learning and social justice education, serves as her school’s diversity coordinator. She was one of the winners of the 2018 Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Teaching Tolerance project.

Besides the issue of consent, Kleinrock has also had discussions with her students about race, discrimination, stereotypes, privilege, the Holocaust and slavery.

She said, “I’m going to say this for the rest of my life: When there are persistent issues in a society, you can’t hope to fix them unless you actually talk about what they are.”

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people who are trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, “How to Raise a Kid.” In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own: bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative and emotionally intelligent children. In short — kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not to Raise a Jerk.

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Empowering Educators to Find Voice

John Ross says of Oakwood Windsor Elementary School, “a school that will always have a piece of my heart.”


It almost reads like an old joke: an organizer and a policy wonk walk into a school, but instead of a slapstick punchline at the end, a genuine conversation occurred, a relationship was formed, and a new NEA member/leader was born.

This is the story of South Carolina’s John Ross, a K-5 math curriculum interventionist for the Aiken County Public School District and a member of the Aiken County Education Association, an arm of the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA).

Ross started his teaching career 11 years ago in Florence, S.C., as a math and science teacher, and was a member of his local association for a short time.

It was during the Great Recession, and he—like many across the country—struggled financially. His salary was low and cost of living was high.

Ross knew the local and state associations fought for the rights of its members and supported them professionally, but “as an early career educator, I couldn’t afford the $40 or $55 that came out of my paycheck,” says Ross. “I ended up dropping.”

After five years in Florence, he took a position at Oakwood Windsor Elementary School in Aiken. He held several positions there, including stem-lab instructor for the last two years of his six-year stretch. (Ross now works for the district.) He taught students things like electricity, simple circuits, weathering, and erosion. Within this time, Ross also started a family.

My family is my world. I love them so very much and I would do just about anything for them,” shares Ross, a husband and father of two children under the age of four. “I also love education and I love the students in my building.”

To support his family and continue in the profession, Ross picked up part-time work at Target, teaching Monday through Friday and moonlighting Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. His membership status remained “canceled,” until recently that is.

A 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics states that about 16 percent of teachers across the nation work second jobs outside the school system. Even more, a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows how teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind the pay of comparable workers with similar experience and education levels.

#RedforEd Inspires Membership

It’s common to see state and national association staff set up a table in the teacher’s lounge to talk to members and potential members about the issues they care about most or the challenges that affect their students and profession. During this time, educators sign up to become members of their associations, too.

This is how NEA staffers—John Riley, a senior policy advisor, and Nathan Allen, a national organizer—met Ross in March 2018.

“He came during his planning time and shared his story with us and the issues that concerned him,” says Riley, a former special education teacher in Maryland. “We talked about ESSA and the power of educator voice, as well as joining (or considering joining) the association and working towards building schools students deserve. And then he left.”

As the school year continues, district leaders need to create ESSA implementation plans, leaving schools identified for improvement with the task of building their own site-based plans. Since the plans must include educator input—not only teachers, but also specialized instructional support personnel such as  nurses, librarians, counselors, as well as paraeducators and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical.

Educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school. It is available at myschoolmyvoice.nea.org along with additional supports that are rooted in the seven NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria, which addresses the research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps.

John Ross, pictured with South Carolina Gubernatorial Candidate James Smith and his running mate, Mandy Norrell, lobbies for more school funding at South Carolina’s State House during The SCEA’s Lobby Day.

But Ross returned later that afternoon and joined the SCEA because “I was inspired by the recent movement of educators across the nation—those in Arizona, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma—inspired by the fact that they had rallied together and said ‘enough was enough.’”

Ross had had “enough” of inadequate public-school funding. Since 2010, South Carolina schools have been underfunded by $4.4 billion, according to Statehouse Report analyses.

“My position as a stem lab instructor was cut because we couldn’t afford to keep it,” Ross says, “and this is where kids get the hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get in regular classrooms. It’s heart breaking.”

On the Go

Soon after signing on, Ross attended trainings from the NEA and the SCEA that have helped sharpen his leadership skills and speak up about his experiences and the resources needed for every student to succeed. He uses every opportunity to speak up, too.

In July, for example, Ross shared via Facebook how the SCEA sent him to the GOP’s Silver Elephant Dinner in Columbia. There, he met his state representative who asked Ross what he could do for him.

“I told him politely, he could help me by passing on to his fellow representatives that one out of every five educators has a part time job, and while we are appreciative of the one percent raise, we would certainly appreciate a larger percentage in the future, for I—like many of my fellow educators—work weekends to ensure that I am able to put food in the mouths of my babes.”

In June, the South Carolina House and state Senate budget negotiators gave teachers a 1 percent pay raise, pushing the new starting salary to $32,000.

Ross credits the association for his new voice. “While I am a relatively new member of the SCEA, I am grateful for the assistance it has provided me. That assistance has allowed me to find my voice, stand in front of my elected officials, and tell them that we want better for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves,” he wrote.

Ross also has been to college campuses to speak with aspiring educators about the importance of voting. He’s lobbied for more school funding at the state capitol and protested school budget cuts. Equally important, he’s been on social media, spreading the word about the happenings around his local, state, and national associations.

People need to understand that it requires effort to make change occur…but we need to come together under a banner of some sort—whether it’s the SCEA or #SCforEd. And it needs more than a few hundred teachers. It needs to be thousands of us at the state house making our presence known.”

One conversation around ESSA and educator voice led John Ross to join millions of other NEA members to stand up for their students and their profession. And, the association provides the kind of space and support for educators and allies to work together toward realizing common goals.

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Evangelical Leader To Teach Christian Ethics Course After Dramatic Fall From Grace

A prominent Southern Baptist leader fired in May over his handling of seminary students’ rape allegations has found a new gig ― teaching Christian ethics.

Paige Patterson, former president of Texas’ Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, will co-teach a one-week course called “Christian Ethics: The Bible and Moral Issues” at North Carolina’s Southern Evangelical Seminary this month, Religion News Service reports. 

The course promises to teach seminary students how to apply the “timeless truths of God’s Word to the moral issues of our day,” according to the school’s president, Richard Land, who will be co-teaching.

“I am more than honored to team-teach the class with my friend and colleague Dr. Paige Patterson,” Land said in a statement. “SES is delighted to be able to offer Christians both here and overseas this unique opportunity to be taught by one of the most significant Evangelical leaders of the past half-century.”

Patterson’s fall from grace came after the recirculation of comments he’d made in the past that appeared to objectify a teenage girl’s body and advise women to remain in abusive marriages. After weeks of criticism from evangelical women over the disturbing comments, Patterson was fired from his seminary job in May over his handling of rape allegations brought to him by two female seminary students in 2003 and 2015. 

Patterson, through a lawyer, has denied that he mishandled the students’ cases.

The controversy around Patterson sent shockwaves through the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination. Patterson had been a towering figure in the group. He served as president of the SBC for two terms and is credited with helping to steer Southern Baptists toward greater conservatism. 

Patterson hasn’t avoided the spotlight since his ouster from the Texas seminary. He’s been invited to numerous speaking engagements, according to RNS. 

In September, he was invited to speak at a revival meeting in Alabama, where The Washington Post reported he spent time at the pulpit body shaming an unnamed woman for being overweight and denouncing women who falsely accuse men of sexual misconduct. Studies have shown that the rate of false allegations of sexual assault is as low as 2 percent. 

Southern Evangelical Seminary, which is not affiliated with the SBC, praised Patterson in its statement as the “architect of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptists with 60 years of ministry experience.”

The statement added: “Patterson brings a lifetime of leadership and pastoral expertise to his ministry as evangelist, educator and theologian.” 

The Christian ethics course begins on Oct. 15, on Southern Evangelical Seminary’s Charlotte campus.

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The Duchess of Cambridge Tells Girl That Cameras Are On Her Because She’s ‘Special’

The Duchess of Cambridge used a photo op Tuesday as an opportunity to praise a young girl.

The royal, formerly known as Kate Middleton, was hanging out with kids at the Sayers Croft Forest School and Wildlife Garden in London when one of them asked her about all the photographers snapping away.

“Why are they picturing you?” the little girl asked, according to People.

“They’re picturing you ’cause you’re special!” Kate responded in the Royal Family Channel clip below.

The casually dressed royal was attending her first big solo engagement since giving birth to Louis, her third child with Prince William, in April, Time reported.

Kate reportedly has a “penchant for gardening” and participated in a similar outing in November, E! News noted previously.

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