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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could cursive be making a comeback? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first grade remained a daily nightmare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Educators Share their Most Memorable Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Student Gardeners Win Big at Agricultural Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing the Holiday Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Garden at Every School?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to Start a School Garden?

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

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Teacher Claims Catholic School Fired Her For Getting Pregnant Before Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNEP 16 / Screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My classroom teacher can’t fix them.”

“My mom/dad can’t fix them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Case for Collaboration is Clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Started

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

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

nea charter schools policy

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

But what’s the path to get started?

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

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

Collaboration Works

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

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

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

Combative to Collaborative

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

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

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

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

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

Teamwork and Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piers Robinson/YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piers Robinson/YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piers Robinson/YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tough Road From Foster Care To College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Proctor for Hechinger/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Proctor for Hechinger/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Proctor for Hechinger/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Complaint Targets School That Banned Child With Dreadlocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Do Teachers Get the Most Respect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: Global Teacher Status Index 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dual-Language Immersion Programs Boost Student Success

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

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

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

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

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

Two-Way Language Learning

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage Language Learners: Spanish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage Language Learners: Hmong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The New Title IX: Cross-Examination of Rape Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In California, A County Of Children Without Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Annie Finney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A child is not a revolving door’

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

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refining the model

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

‘They try to keep your family together’

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

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My writing,” said Brandon.

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

‘Over here they take the learning more seriously’

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

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

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

Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Khadija said: “Fix it yourself.”

‘I wish I were your daughter’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet The First Undocumented Immigrant Rhodes Scholar In History

Harvard University senior Jin Kyu Park has not only been awarded one of the most prestigious scholarships but made history in the process. 

The Rhodes Trust announced on Saturday that he is among the 2019 class of Rhodes Scholarship winners, making him the first undocumented immigrant to receive the accolade. 

This is the first year the Rhodes Scholarship accepted applications from those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Park, a DACA recipient from the Flushing neighborhood of New York City, told HuffPost that it took some time for the achievement to sink in.  

“I felt still ― just an incredibly still silence. I felt neither happy nor sad. I think I didn’t actually register that I had won this thing until a few hours after and everything had calmed down and I began to settle into my emotions,” he said. “Then the stillness gave way to a wave of gratitude, thankfulness and love for my parents, my community, the city of New York and my country.”

The molecular and cellular biology major boasts a resume that’s nothing short of remarkable. In addition to his responsibilities as a student, he juggles volunteering for his nonprofit organization Higher Dreams, which provides resources to undocumented students looking to go to college, and the Harvard Phillips Brooks House Association Chinatown Citizenship program, which offers naturalization assistance in Boston.

And as if that weren’t enough, he serves as the managing editor of The Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal as well as a research assistant at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. He’s also a chapter leader of Define American, a nonprofit media and culture organization that aims to challenge the media’s depiction of immigrants. 

While Park’s professional aspirations lie in the medical field, so much of his extracurricular work around immigration draws from his life experience. He moved with his family from South Korea to the U.S. when he was 7 years old. His father took up jobs in Korean restaurants, and his mother worked in nail salons. 

“So if you’ve ever eaten at a Korean restaurant or received a mani-pedi in New York City, congratulations. Like it or not, you may have partially subsidized the education of what Fox News would call an illegal alien,” Park quipped during a speech in front of Harvard’s class of 2018.

His status affected his navigation of society, and he wasn’t always so open about his immigrant background. He revealed to HuffPost that growing up, he was instructed to avoid “fooling around next to police or other law enforcement” and to never disclose where he’s from so as to not invite discussion of his immigration status. 

Today, Park is an outspoken advocate for the undocumented community, and he said he feels that the mainstream media is due for a much more nuanced, complex discussion around immigration. The topic is often cast as a Latinx issue, yet Asian-Americans are the fastest growing immigrant population in the U.S., and he pointed out that the term “undocumented immigrant” doesn’t often conjure images of Korean-Americans like him. Yet the experiences of the unauthorized population shouldn’t be boiled down to just race or ethnicity, he said. 

“Immigration in America has always been racialized. Latinx folks are disproportionately affected by immigration enforcement, but I think being undocumented as a social condition affects all undocumented immigrants in some very common, intersectional ways,” he said. “There is always that fear and feeling of not really being able to tell our full story or living in our truth. I think it’s important to complicate prevailing narratives regarding undocumented immigrants.”

He added that telling authentic stories of the undocumented population is particularly crucial “at a time when the president of the United States is weaponizing immigrant narratives for an incredibly harmful agenda.” 

With the scholarship, Park has an education at Oxford University in England to look forward to after graduation. He has some solid advice for other undocumented students who may be having a difficult time under the current administration: Never forget your roots.

“Keep going. And understand that your story is beautiful and powerful,” he said. ”When things become difficult, think of your community ― your family, friends, mentors and partners.”

He said that visits to his father in the restaurants where he worked always kept him grounded. 

“He works as a line cook, often 10 to 12 hours a day, making sure that I have a shot at full opportunity in America,” he said. “When I hold his hand, rough and blistered from the work he does day in and day out, I am reminded of the tremendous hardships he endured to get me where I am today.”

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Swastika Found Painted Over Pittsburgh Memorial At Duke University

A mural at Duke University dedicated to victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was vandalized with a swastika Sunday night, school officials confirmed.

University President Vincent Price called the defacement of the memorial at Duke’s East Campus Bridge a “craven and cowardly act.”

“That it should occur in such a visible, public location at Duke should be a matter of grave concern to us all,” Price said in a letter to the campus community Monday.

Students often use Duke’s East Campus Bridge and the tunnel underneath it as a public forum, the Associated Press reports. Last month, Jewish students created a memorial for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in the space, listing the names of the 11 victims in black paint. The students also included a gold Star of David and the phrase, “We must build this world from love,” in Hebrew and English.  

The red swastika was painted directly over the Star of David. 

Olivia Levine, a Jewish student who helped paint the original memorial mural, told Duke’s student newspaper that she was deeply upset by the vandalism.

“I was just torn apart. I started crying,” Levine told The Chronicle on Monday. “I didn’t know how to react to it, because I was so angry about it.”

Price said the school will “continue to provide additional security” at Duke’s Jewish life center. Administrators also plan to install security cameras near the East Campus Bridge, which Price said “has unfortunately become a focus of attention for those who seek to promote hatred and intimidation.”

The Chronicle reports that a student found a swastika etched onto a bathroom door in a school building in October. A pumpkin carved with a swastika was reportedly found on campus during Halloween. 

The red swastika found at the East Campus Bridge this week was painted over on Monday morning, Duke’s public affairs department told HuffPost in an email. The school didn’t have an update on who was responsible for the vandalism. 

The vandalism at Duke comes amid reports of a nationwide spike in anti-Semitic incidents. Swastikas, an ancient symbol co-opted by the Nazis, have been spotted on college campuses in recent years, and used to desecrate Jewish cemeteries and synagogues.

The Anti-Defamation League recorded 204 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in 2017, up from 108 in 2016. The 2017 total included 114 reports of vandalism on college and university campuses. 

Jewish Life at Duke, a division of the university’s student affairs department, wrote in a Facebook post that some students are “feeling under attack” after the incident on campus. But the department urged students to stay strong. 

“Acts of hate like this one seek to instill fear in us and seek to divide us. We are here to say to the cowardly painter of the swastika, a person who used the cover of darkness to scrawl a hasty bit of violent graffiti and then to dash away: we are not afraid of you,” the department staff wrote on Facebook. “We are a community of strength, of vibrancy, of creativity, and of love.

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Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied, And What To Do About It

One of the hardest parts of being a parent or caregiver can be letting go. It can be both exciting and scary to see your kids grow up, make their own decisions and build friendships. And if a bully enters the picture, it’s difficult to know exactly what to do.

HuffPost spoke to experts with backgrounds in anti-bullying initiatives about the signs many children display if they’re being bullied at school, at extracurricular activities, online or elsewhere. These experts also shared helpful advice about what parents can do to resolve the situation.

What are the signs of bullying?

It’s important for parents to keep in mind that there’s “nothing that’s an absolutely 100 percent tell” that a child is being bullied, said Elizabeth Englander, founder and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University.

“One of the things that suggests a child might be in distress is if they are having problems sleeping or having problems eating, and those kinds of problems happen with lots of different issues,” she said.

Of course, these sorts of symptoms are important for parents and caretakers to follow up on whether they’re associated with bullying or not. Many of the signs of bullying our experts shared are rooted in one thing: change.

Irene van der Zande, founder and executive director of Kidpower, a nonprofit focused on child safety, told HuffPost that kids who are being bullied often display a change in behavior. For example, they might be more fearful or aggressive.

“That can be a symptom of bullying,” she said. “Sometimes they’re acting out what is happening to them at school.”

If school is where the bullying takes place, parents might find that their kid feels well during the weekend and sick during the week, van der Zande said. She also noted that if a child suddenly gets embarrassed about something that wouldn’t normally trigger such feelings, it might be a reflection of “some hurtful teasing” the child is experiencing.

Parents should pay attention if they find that their child is now dismissing friends they used to hang out with or rejecting activities they used to enjoy, said Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Changes in sleep patterns can not only be harmful for children, but also a sign of the child’s distress, she added.

It’s also important to be aware of the language kids might use.

“They might not say, ‘Someone is bullying me,’” Hertzog said. “They might use the word ‘drama,’ like, ‘There’s drama at school.’ There might be that eye roll or they might say, ‘Nobody likes me at school.’”

What about cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is just one part of the general bullying landscape, but the anonymity that comes with online communication and the inexperience many adults have with kids’ social media platforms mean it often earns extra attention in our technology-filled society. Since many kids, even those in elementary school, now have cell phones and other devices, it’s even more difficult for the adults in their lives to access certain spaces in which the child might be facing disrespect or teasing.

“Historically, before kids had a phone in their hand, [bullying] happened in places where adults weren’t; it was out of sight of adults,” Hertzog said. “Now it happens with a phone in their hand, sitting there right in the classroom, in an inappropriate text or a group chat … in places that we don’t, as adults, have access to. It follows that same premise that bullying happens outside of adults.”

As a result, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center offers several resources specifically on cyberbullying, including advice for teaching kids about cyber safety and how to document the abuse they encounter. Kidpower and the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center also feature helpful guides and technology agreements for adults navigating this landscape with the kids in their lives.

“They might not say, ‘Someone is bullying me.’ They might use the word ‘drama,’ like, ‘There’s drama at school.’ There might be that eye roll or they might say, ‘Nobody likes me at school.’”

– Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center focuses on keeping children safe online through its parental control technology that monitors the content on kids’ devices. Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan told HuffPost that cyberbullying can come in the form of hurtful rumors, impersonations through social media accounts, relentless teasing, explicit images being shared without consent and more. She advised caretakers to encourage kids to reconsider the content they share online.

“When you leave school, you don’t leave that behind. When you leave a party, you don’t leave that behind,” she said. “It follows you because you have a device that receives constant communication.”

So what can parents do?

Whether the teasing and disrespect occurs in the classroom, at a sports game, online or elsewhere, there are helpful actions parents can take to be proactive about bullying and address it head-on.

Hertzog recommended that parents speak to teachers, since they often spend more time with their kids than anyone else during the week. Educators can fill caretakers in on any changing behaviors they might be seeing among students.

Hertzog also offered a helpful example of what her family did when her now-adult son, who has Down syndrome and is the inspiration behind much of her work with PACER Center, started kindergarten. She helped teach students at her son’s school about him and his medical history and made sure she got to know the staff. She soon learned that there is “an incredible amount of empathy in kids.”

“It really became about social inclusion and friendship,” she said. “What started as trying to prevent bullying became a beautiful representation of what happens when you provide a structured program, structured content for kids.”

If parents get word that their child is having issues with bullying, it’s crucial, as van der Zande noted, that they manage their emotional and impulsive reactions, and instead learn how to help in the most effective way.

“If you run down to the school in your pajamas the minute that your child tells you somebody was mean to them at school,” she said, “you’re going to have less credibility at school and you’re also going to have less credibility with your child.”

Every expert we spoke with agreed that one of the most important things parents can do is build a foundation so if something is happening at school, on the soccer field or online, their child will feel comfortable coming to them for help and sharing their problems. Kids will go to “people they find helpful and supportive,” said Englander.

For a starting point, van der Zande suggested asking, “Is there anything that you’ve been wondering or worrying about that you haven’t told me?”

“And the first words out of your mouth are, ‘Thank you for telling me,’” she said. “Then you listen, and then you say, ‘Thank you. You’re doing a really good job of explaining this.’ You look for what the child did that was right. You don’t tell them what they did that was wrong.”

Kirk Smalley, founder of Stand for the Silent, appeared at HuffPost’s How To Raise A Kid conference. In the video below, he discusses how he’s helping kids after his son died by suicide as a result of being bullied.

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Why You Should Teach Your Kids The Real Words For Private Parts

There’s no shortage of serious conversations parents should have with their children. And in the age of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, one fundamental lesson is the importance of our bodies and bodily autonomy.

“Body awareness talks are the earliest conversations parents can have with young children to support their health and safety,” sex educator Melissa Carnagey said. Conversations about body parts and bodily autonomy lay the foundation for understanding consent and sexual misconduct.

To inform these early discussions, HuffPost spoke to Carnagey and sex educator Lydia M. Bowers about the best ways to explore the topic of private parts and bodily autonomy with young kids.

Here are their expert-backed guidelines and tips for parents and caregivers to keep in mind.

Use The Proper Terms For Body Parts

“Body parts are body parts are body parts,” Bowers said, emphasizing that “penis,” “testicles,” “vulva” and “vagina” are not bad words. Parents should become comfortable using these terms or the corresponding words if they speak a language other than English at home.

“Often without hesitation, caregivers will use accurate terms for body parts like elbow, knee and nose, so parts like the penis, vulva, vagina and anus should be no different,” said Carnagey.

There are several reasons children should learn the proper terms for private parts instead of nicknames. One is that having the right language and context helps kids communicate clearly about their bodies. This is important in the context of telling a doctor or caregiver where something hurts or itches.

“When we avoid saying words, we instill a sense of shame, of something to be avoided or hidden.”

– Lydia M. Bowers, sex educator

“Using accurate terms also better prepares them to talk confidently about changes they may experience to their body as they grow, especially to medical providers or in settings where they may be learning about their health,” Carnagey added.

“When we avoid saying words, we instill a sense of shame, of something to be avoided or hidden,” Bowers said. She added that using the correct terms is useful in teaching kids how to keep their bodies clean and healthy. “For proper hygiene, there’s a difference in how the bottom or the penis or the vulva are wiped and washed.”

Avoid Cutesy Language

Although it is tempting to use euphemisms and cutesy language when talking to little kids about their bodies, this can lead to problems.

“One issue is that there are so many alternate terms and many of them have other meanings. This can be risky because it can lead to a child being misunderstood by others, especially if they have experienced unsafe touch to that part of their body and need to report it,” said Carnagey.

Kids should be able to identify body parts as private and correctly name them so that they can communicate if they’ve been touched inappropriately.

“We sometimes give nicknames for body parts ― like ‘piggies’ and ‘noggin.’ But just like we also teach children those parts are actually called ‘toes’ and ‘head,’ they need to know real private-part terms as well,” Bowers explained. “If we’re using cutesy names because we’re embarrassed or ashamed to say the actual terms, we’re perpetuating the idea that some body parts are dirty, bad or shameful.”

Promote Bodily Autonomy In Everyday Situations

“Creating a home culture where everyone’s body boundaries are respected is an important step,” Carnagey said. Parents can do this by not forcing their kids to share affection with others and by getting in the habit of asking for touch ― for example, saying “May I give you a hug?” rather than “Give me a hug.”

Carnagey advised that parents not dismiss unwanted touch between siblings or family members as play.

“In our home, for example, we have an agreement that no one should have to repeat ‘no’ or ‘stop’ before the boundary is respected,” she explained. “It may take some reminding and redirecting at first, but when it’s consistently practiced, children become more mindful of the boundaries of others and come to expect theirs to be respected as well.”

Parents and caregivers can promote bodily autonomy in everyday circumstances like mealtimes. “When a child says that they are full or finished eating, avoiding a power struggle by not forcing them to take one more bite or finish their plate honors what their body is telling them,” said Carnagey.

Bowers pointed out that there are opportunities to teach these lessons while reading books or watching movies. Parents can say things like, “Should that prince have kissed the princess when she was sleeping? She wasn’t able to say yes or no.”

According to her, there are times that parents should not insist on asking for permission, however, like when changing diapers, taking kids to the doctor to receive medical care and bathing young children before they’re able to do it on their own.

“If we ask a child, ‘May I change your diaper?’ and they respond with ‘no,’ we’re left with two options. Either we violate their consent or we leave them in a dirty diaper, which is a health and safety hazard,” she explained. “Instead, we talk through with them. ‘It’s time to change your diaper. Your body did its job to get that out, and now we’re going to take off the dirty diaper. I’m going to use this wipe. …’ We can still show them that their body is worth respect, that we will be intentional and inform of the process.”

Use Books And Videos

Many children’s books promote themes of bodily autonomy and safety. Bowers and Carnagey recommended Jayneen Sanders’ books, especially No Means No!, Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept and My Body! What I Say Goes! Sanders also has a book geared toward caregivers called Body Safety Education.

Educate to Empower Publishing

Many children’s books — for example, Jayneen Sanders’ My Body! What I Say Goes! — promote themes of bodily autonomy and safety.

Educate2Empower Publishing, Sanders’ publisher, is a great resource for families because it is an imprint specializing in children’s books on body safety, consent, gender equality, respectful relationships and social and emotional intelligence.

Carnagey’s Sex Positive Families website features a reading list of over 100 books on sexual health for children and families, including many that tackle consent and bodily autonomy.

Bowers is a fan of What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. “It’s a great basic intro into how babies are made, using the terms ‘sperm,’ ‘egg,’ ‘uterus’ and ‘vagina,’” she said. She also recommended C Is for Consent and Miles Is the Boss of His Body.

Beyond books, the Animated Child, an enrichment center in Virginia, offers a video version of My Body! What I Say Goes! and others on consent and safety. Amaze produces useful videos to inform these kinds of conversations as well.

Teach Kids To Trust Their Instincts

There are ways to help kids learn to trust their instincts, which can be a fundamental step in teaching bodily autonomy and contextualizing difficult experiences.

“Being in the habit of checking in and making space to hear from them how they are doing in a moment is a great way to help increase their body awareness and language around their experiences.”

– Melissa Carnagey, sex educator

Carnagey suggested teaching kids to identify their feelings. Parents and caregivers can do this by asking questions like “How are you feeling right now?” or pointing out when they notice shifts in body language with statements like “I see that you’re frowning. Tell me what you’re feeling.”

“Being in the habit of checking in and making space to hear from them how they are doing in a moment is a great way to help increase their body awareness and language around their experiences,” she said. “This can make them more confident communicators and advocates for their wants and needs along their journey.”

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This Teen Dreamed Of Being Turned ‘Into A Girl.’ They Were Just Crowned Homecoming Queen.

When Dylan Ligier was little, they, like many young kids, left wishes for the tooth fairy in return for a lost tooth.

But Dylan wasn’t looking for money, their father, J.D. Ligier, told HuffPost. They wanted instead for the tooth fairy “to turn him into a girl.” 

Dylan, who is now in their first year of high school and uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” said they always felt like a girl inside. They began taking steps to live as their authentic self last year but put the process on pause after feeling it wasn’t the right time and fearing they would not be accepted. That changed, however, after they were named homecoming queen at their New Orleans high school ― the first person in the city to receive such an honor who was not assigned female at birth. 

“Winning homecoming queen, wearing a dress and makeup out in public, knowing everyone would know and being more exposed and getting over the fear of judgment is what makes me want to keep going,” Dylan said. 

They also credit the ongoing support of friends and family with their comfort moving forward in their transition at this time and said they wanted to share their story to help other kids who might not be so lucky to have the same sense of community rallying around them.

As part of the two-day homecoming festivities, Dylan bought their first gown and got their hair and makeup done by people in the community who offered their services after hearing their story. New Orleans–based photographer Scott Saltzman was on hand to capture the exciting events, which included a dance and game. Dylan wore a beautiful suit to attend the latter and was walked to their spot on the homecoming court by their dad. 

Dylan and J.D. walk on court for the homecoming game.

To help with costs associated with the events, J.D. set up a GoFundMe page, which as of Friday had almost doubled its $850 goal. Dylan’s decision to share their story publicly has gotten overwhelming support on the page’s comment section. There has been some negativity, but J.D. and Dylan said they remain optimistic about the word spreading. 

A hairstylist and makeup artist offered their services to Dylan for the big day.

“Our page had over 13,000 views and 198 shares, with only about six negative comments, so not too bad,” J.D. said.

“We really want to get the message out there so we can help other kids like me,” said Dylan. 

A hairstylist and makeup artist lent their services to Dylan for the big day.&nbsp;

Dylan’s transition has meant an adjustment for the family. J.D. took gender studies courses so he would be prepared and informed about what Dylan was going through when the time came, and while the two of them acknowledge the current political climate can be daunting, they are steadfast in their belief that sharing their story will help normalize ― and thus make it harder to discount ― transgender people.

Dylan is New Orleans' first transgender homecoming&nbsp;queen.

“I’m really grateful that my child is growing up in a time now where there is clearly a lot more acceptance than there ever was when I was a kid,” J.D. said.

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Why It’s Important To Keep Our Educational Borders Open

By Jen E. Clarke, executive director, One To World

Corporate conversations around improving diversity and inclusion have become more critical in recent years, fueled by the charged political atmosphere of the Me Too movement, athletes taking a knee, border barriers and more. Less prominent, but critically important still, is the threat to a boundary that’s not as visible: the “open borders” in education that have historically allowed for some of the brightest minds to enrich our campuses.

I know this because the organization I lead, One To World, has served international students, Fulbright scholars and international educators for the past four decades at more than 65 colleges and universities in the New York metropolitan area. Every day, we spearhead programs that bring unofficial global ambassadors into American schools, homes and workplaces.

What the U.S. has to offer is unique — not just world-class academic programs, but also the freedom inherent in the experience of studying at our nation’s campuses. However, with the recent twists and turns in immigration and foreign policy, there’s a real concern that the U.S., while aiming to be “great again,” is becoming less competitive in the international higher education market, in which it previously had the pole position. 

It is this concern that led me to join the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion as a signatory, to add our organization’s unique mission of fostering intercultural exchange to the broader campaign of workplace acceptance. Addressing global differences at schools and campuses can set the foundation for employees and executives to be more culturally sensitive and open.

High-quality higher education and the dynamism of the New York City region have made the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut the biggest magnet for international students, with New York alone drawing over 100,000 annually to its renowned institutions.

But in 2016, for the first time in over a decade, international student enrollment in the U.S. began declining. Between the fall of 2017 and 2018, new enrollments of international students were down by 5.5 percent at the graduate level across the nation, according to the 2018 “Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange” issued by the Institute of International Education. At the undergraduate level, new enrollments were down 6.3 percent across the U.S. during that same period. We are concerned that this decline will only continue.

Currently, thousands of international scholars in the New York City area are pursuing degrees in science, math and other STEM-related fields of studies, even as fewer Americans are selecting these career paths.  These STEM paths give birth to innovation, new discoveries and advances that will transform economies. In fact, some of the best-known start-ups were founded by international students: SpaceX, Eventbrite, WeWork and Stripe, to name just a few.

Included in the ranks of international scholars are the elite Fulbright grantees from around the world. Each year, the New York area draws over 800 of these international talents, who have overcome rigorous, highly competitive stakes to be chosen to represent their countries at our institutions. They join their American classmates in pursuing traditional, as well as leading-edge degrees, ranging from business and law, to integrated digital media and robotic software engineering.

Following their studies, many Fulbrighters will return to their hometowns to take up leading roles in government or the private sector. One To World is designated by the Department of State as the official coordinator of Fulbright programs in the New York area, and I can tell you that the Fulbright scholars  arrive full of enthusiasm to embrace their academic goals, and also to build bridges between their home countries and the American communities beyond their campuses.

We set up informal dinners inside homes for them; bring them into New York’s leading boardrooms, to our elite military institutions, like West Point; and into public school classrooms. They and other international students are unofficial ambassadors to American K-12 students, peers, professionals and families. And vice versa.

This was the intent of Senator J. William Fulbright when he founded the educational exchange program after World War II. He believed that creating a tipping point of people who had actually visited each other’s countries and experienced one another’s cultures would prevent future conflicts.

One To World has witnessed the benefits of these cultural exchanges directly. We know international students increase global fluency on our campuses, are a potential source of top talent for global and American firms and contribute to the economic health of local businesses and the cities in which they reside.

Without having more welcoming policies toward international visitors, including students, we risk losing this important resource and “soft power” abroad. Other countries are dangling more attractive visa regulations, offering after-graduation work options and financial assistance. Meanwhile, the U.S. is implementing travel bans and stricter visa requirements with longer processing times, making it harder for students to come with ease.

For all of these reasons, we’re concerned to see classroom seats being filled by fewer and fewer international students. Closing off the educational borders will only serve to cut us off from becoming more culturally competent, make our world a little less compassionate and rob us of diverse knowledge and connections.

Last week, I joined our academic partners in celebrating International Education Week, which included the inaugural International Education Day at the United Nations. It’s a welcome annual spotlight, and in these uncertain times, especially meaningful to us, as it gave us an opportunity to advocate for open educational borders before a global audience.

Diversity and inclusion has often  been thought about in the context of the American experience. But with technology shrinking the world into one global village, we believe that real inclusion must embrace cultures from all over.

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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Want to Prevent Harassment and Assault in Schools? Listen to Students.

For more than a year, the U.S. has engaged in a much needed public dialogue about sexual harassment in the workplace, and the need to hold perpetrators accountable. The conversation marks a long overdue cultural shift toward a movement that has been driven largely by survivors of harassment and assault who have bravely gone public with their stories via the #MeToo movement.

As a result, painful questions have begun to haunt educators and parents: “What about #MeToo at school? Do some schools unwittingly foster a culture of sexual harassment and abuse? How can school administrators, educators, students and parents open up a discussion and address such issues?” Before the national conversation began, one California community was already addressing the issue via Alliance for Girls, an organization based in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2016, the non-profit conducted focus groups with 74 girls of color who attend Oakland public schools in low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods. The project was created to hear the girls’ thoughts on improving school discipline policies, but the discussions quickly veered.

Facilitators were shocked by what they heard.

In the Oakland Unified School District, some male elementary students had created a tradition they called “Slap Ass Fridays.” It was so pervasive, said one 4th-grade girl, that she and all her friends would stand with their backs against a wall every recess and lunch period to avoid being slapped.

“Sexual harassment and assault starts really early,” says Emma Myerson, founding executive director of Alliance for Girls. “I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary to think that in third grade and fourth grade girls are experiencing real assault from their peers.”

Other girls talked about how boys in their schools regularly called them “bitches,” “sluts,” or “hos.” Still others talked about unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors.

“We are all hypersexualized by society,” said one older girl. “Every male that you have some type of relationship with will think he is entitled to you—you are here as a girl of color for that reason, to be sexual— that’s the worst stereotype.”

It’s not just in Oakland. According to research from the American Association of University Women, nearly half of students in grades seven through 12 reported that they had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment in the 2010 –11 school year. Girls were harassed at a higher rate than boys, and more likely to say that the incidents caused them to have trouble sleeping and made them want to skip to school.

Brave students from across the country shared their stories of harassment
and abuse at school under the #MeTooK12 hashtag, launched in January 2018 by the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

#metoo at school

Alliance for Girls’ Student Leadership Team (Photo:

Unequal Treatment Among Victims

While all girls face harassment and assault, when it comes to reporting incidents, girls of color often face more difficult challenges than white girls.

“In the research we’ve looked at, there hasn’t necessarily been a significant discrepancy in the prevalence of sexual harassment between girls of color and white girls,” says Elizabeth Tang of the National Women’s Law Center.

“But when girls of color, particularly black and Latina girls, report that they’ve been sexually assaulted, schools aren’t responding to them in the same way. They’re disproportionately being ignored, disbelieved, and even punished.”

Tang attributed this in part to negative stereotypes about black girls being louder or more angry. “If a young woman is having her bra snapped in class and a boy keeps doing it and she slaps him back,” says Tang, “she could be suspended because suddenly now she’s the aggressor in the situation. Because now she’s the angry black girl.”

There is also a Catch-22 of school “push-out”: Students who have experienced harassment or assault are chronically absent if they don’t feel safe at school, or face discriminatory and excessive discipline or suspensions.

The result? Their absenteeism rises even more, and they fall further behind in class.

“If you want girls to stay in school, you need to give them the supports they need to stay in school,” says Tang.

“That can mean extra time on tests, that can be homework extensions. It means not disciplining them for skipping school because they don’t feel safe at school. Because then they miss even more school and that makes no sense.”

Momentum for Change

When they occur in school, sexual harassment and sexual violence are both a type of civil rights violation. Unfortunately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to roll back civil rights protections established during the previous administration to support survivors and make more equitable proceedings related to sexual harassment and violence.

“Rollback of these critical protections for survivors is discriminatory on the basis of sex, and it is arbitrary and capricious,” says Myerson. “But those are a floor, not a ceiling.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life. It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really matters.” – Emma Myerson, founding Executive Director, Alliance for Girls

States can still go above and beyond what’s happening now along the federal landscape, and they can restore those protections at the state and local level.”

Alliance for Girls worked closely with Oakland’s students, administrators, parents and community organizations to implement a stronger, revamped sexual harassment policy. Under the new policy, each school has a designated point person who handles sexual harassment and assault complaints, and the reporting process for students, educators and parents is clearly delineated.

The model policy—find it at—is a starting point that communities can use to create a foundation upon which to build a final policy that includes the perspectives of all key stakeholders — including students, educators, administrators, schools boards, parents and community organizations Alliance for Girls also created “Meeting the Needs of Girls,” a toolkit for educators that outlines steps and suggestions for creating healthy relationships with girls. This includes making sure they have someone at school with whom they feel comfortable discussing problems.

For an individual girl who has been harrassed or abused, it can be hugely important to find one adult at school who truly listens.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life,” says Myerson. “It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really

For resources that can help your school empower girls, end sexual harassment and assault, and protect students’ civil rights, visit

sexual assault in schoolsThe Secret of Sexual Assault in Schools

Student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happens with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses. It’s happening at every level of education from preK to college.

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Michael Bloomberg Donates $1.8 Billion To Johns Hopkins University For Financial Aid

Billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg is donating a record $1.8 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to offer more financial aid to low- and middle-income students.

“I want to be sure that the school that gave me a chance will be able to permanently open that same door of opportunity for others,” Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, wrote in a New York Times op-ed Sunday. The donation, apparently the largest ever to a higher education institution, will allow Johns Hopkins to be permanently “need-blind,” meaning that applicants’ financial situations are only looked at after they’re accepted. 

Bloomberg said he attended Hopkins thanks to a National Defense student loan.

“My Hopkins diploma opened up doors that otherwise would have been closed, and allowed me to live the American dream,” he wrote.

He implored other schools to expand financial aid offerings and encouraged initiatives like his CollegePoint foundation that help lower-income students apply to college.

“Our dedicated financial aid endowment was simply too small,” Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said. “Now, as a consequence of Mike Bloomberg’s extraordinary gift, we will be fully and permanently need-blind in our admissions and be able to substantially enrich the level of direct assistance we provide to our undergraduate students and their families.”

Starting in fall 2019, the Baltimore-based university will do away with student loans, replacing them entirely with scholarships, Daniels said. The funds will also provide immediate loan relief to existing students and will reduce family contributions to financial aid in order to eventually create a student body with 20 percent eligible for federal Pell grants by 2023 (which only provides a maximum of $6,095 per year per student).

Bloomberg is reportedly considering a 2020 presidential run, and changed his voter registration from Republican to Democrat last month.

“We need Democrats to provide the checks and balance our nation so badly needs,” he said.

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