COUNTDOWN TO SCHOOL KICKOFF

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Retail & wholesale advertising suggests the new school year kickoff is just days away with limited time remaining to make those last minute purchases of backpacks, binders, pens, pencils and all the various fresh new supplies. I know as child I loved the look and smell of those neatly arranged colorful crayons in my very own Crayola box. A new first day of school outfit always got my children excited for their first day on which they woke early and dressed without nagging, slipped their well stocked heavy backpacks on without complaint and traipsed happily off to the school bus in their spanking new sneakers.

By the end of the first week, enthusiasm began to diminish exponentially in the weeks that followed. The alarm rang too early, the backpacks were too heavy, the lunches “sucked” and the bus ride made them nauseous.

I believe one root to the declining attitude is routine, what kids often refer to as BORING.  7 AM alarm, bus, school, home, snack, homework, dinner, showers, bed. All to begin again the next day. So what can we parents and educators do as partners to keep the enthusiasm alive?While every day cannot be the first with all the fresh new supplies and the excitement of new teachers, we can try to help prevent the boredom associated with routine.

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Here are my 5 tips to happy school days.

  1. Set Goals. Ask your children to set 3 goals for themselves (one academic, one social and one athletic) to be achieved in the first quarter of the year (approx. 10 weeks). Mark the date of the end of the first quarter on your calendar, so they can see the end in site. These goals need to be realistic but challenging. While working toward straight A’s may be unrealistic, improving grades from the previous year in just one subject may be quite doable. Just as joining a social club may not fit every personality, finding one new friend may be just right for another. And while everyone is not athletically gifted, everyone can add one form of physical exercise to their daily activities. Think about these goals with your children and how each one might be achieved. Have them write these goals down, seal them in an envelope and tape the envelope to the inside of the their binders as a reminder. At the end of the quarter open that envelope. See how well they did and set new goals for the next quarter.
  2. Refresh supplies & save work.
    Every week or two, clean out those backpacks stuffed with loose papers, gum wrappers and broken pencils. Discard the unnecessary clutter. Replace those once beautiful crayons with a fresh box and those pencil stubs with new ones. Give your child a fresh clean folder to save favorite work and a special place to keep it.
  3. Change up the morning routine. At home try breakfast in bed, or special breakfast 4ibogkpbtday, a surprise sleep in a bit longer day and drive the kids to school. At school plan special days: pajama day, dress as book character day, inside out day, riddle days with solutions revealed at lunchtime.
  4. Change up the after school routine. Think about after school special treats: ice cream, bowling, skating, library visit, movies, etc. Make it a surprise or something to look forward to. Whatever will keep your child excited.
  5. Reward! Discuss what’s being done to help achieve those goals. Reward even the smallest steps forward. Reminder: There is nothing children want more than to please their parents and to be loved unconditionally. Recognize the challenge of achieving their goals and show them your pride in their efforts.
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THE NYC HIGH SCHOOL ADMISSIONS CHALLENGE

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The NYC high school application process designed under Mayor Bloomberg was intended to level the academic field, offering equal opportunities to all students regardless of economics, language, or academic achievement. But as many of my followers may know, this process is anything but equitable and is often a nightmare even for the most savvy parents. Mayor de Blasio just last week called the system “too complicated,” but offered no suggestion for ways to help ease students through the process.

It takes the most experienced parents along with teachers and guidance counselors to help guide students through this complicated quagmire. For those who don’t yet know, here’s how it works.

At the end of 7th grade students are sent home with The NYC Department of Education’s High School Directory—a 600 page book listing over 400 schools with over 700 programs. They are instructed to use the summer to read through the tomb and be prepared to select their top 12 choices, in priority order, by December 1 of their 8th grade year.

That’s a lot! These students are 12 maybe 13 years old. To know surprise, I’ve since learned many books never even make it home.

So what can we do as educators and parents to help our students through this important  process. Here are my top ten tips.

  1. Start early: Using the The Essential Guide to NYC High School Admissions 7277704-mechanical-old-fashioned-alarm-clock-with-red-hands-and-purple-caseworkbook. With adult support, students should ease into the process in the beginning of 7th grade by simply identifying their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and goals. Starting early gives them time to think, to explore and to ask others for their help.
  2. Find the best SHSAT (Student High School Admissions Test for the 8 of the 9 Specialized High Schools) & TACHS (Test for Admissions to Catholic High Schools) test prep classes for your student. Everybody is eligible to take these tests! Prep courses are offered throughout all 5 boroughs of the city. Do your homework on this. When? EARLY!  Your student can begin classes a year in advance. Yes, a year in advance to be able to compete for the best schools in the city to meet their needs and goals. The test is a administered to 8th graders in early fall, so plan ahead. Students just have to tell their guidance counselors they want to to register for the tests to be enrolled. Take advantage of Education Chancellor Farina’s newest initiative to use outreach teams to increase the number of SHSAT test takers from the under represented population.
  3. Introduce 7th graders to the NYC High School Directory. When? EARLY! Show them how the book is organized and the identical layout of each school page so they learn how to weed through the directory to find the best schools for themselves.
  4. Explore Charter, Private and Catholic School options. Remember your application to 12 public high schools does not prohibit you from applying to charter, private and Catholic schools also! Take advantage of all your options.
  5. Get organized: By the end of 7th grade students should have a workspace setup organized-desk-clip-art-771540where they can do their research, save materials and prepare their applications. This can be as simple as a shoebox filled with necessary supplies kept in a safe corner of your home. But it’s important that they have clearly defined space that’s theirs where they know they can find their materials when they sit down to work.  Remember my mantra: Organization is the key success. And I promise you it is!
  6. Create a portfolio of your work. Many schools ask for samples of your academic and artistic accomplishments. Begin early saving them in a safe place.
  7. Attend the DOE High School Family Workshop in your borough in July to learn the latest information. These are helpful informative sessions and shouldn’t be missed.
  8. Attend School Fairs in September and be sure to sign in when you visit a school table. Just showing your interest in the school in this manner can give you a leg up on admissions.
  9. Attend City Wide High School Fairs, Borough Fairs, and School Open Houses.
  10. Make appointments for school visits. When? EARLY! By early, here, I mean the day, the hour their website is open to registering. There are limited spots and they fill up very quickly!

One extra piece of advice:

Get your copy of the New 2017-18 Edition of The Essential Guide to NYC High School Admissions  

  1. It is a valuable tool designed to help guide students through this process.
  2. It begins with simple lessons for students to identify their strengths, weaknesses and goals.
  3. It guides students all the way through to the completion of public, private and Catholic school applications.
  4. It prepares students for interviews and auditions.
  5. It has a sample essay format to follow if needed.
  6. And it even offers a sample thank you note to write as a followup to school visits, interviews or auditions.
  7. It includes information about preparing for the SHSAT & TACHS exams.
  8. It offers important details about applying to Catholic, private and charter schools.
  9. It lists a host handy resources to help students and families through the complex process.
  10. It is available through amazon.com at $9.95 and for a limited time at a 40% discount directly from the printer. Just send me an email, and I will be happy to send you ordering instructions and the discount code.

 

The Value of Challenge

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It has become increasing apparent that selective admission to high schools is a sophisticated method of segregation. Students in low income neighborhoods and whose parents are non-native English speakers struggle to gain admission to highly rated schools and are often forced to settle for neighborhood schools, where they are left unmotivated, in environments where safety is more important than education.

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes are most often offered in the best schools to the highest achievers with the most ambitious parents and to those who can afford the test fees and tutorial support if needed. Results have shown these students to continue on a successful academic path, rising above the average, better prepared for the college experience.

However, in a recent study reported by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post, he found that all students regardless of economic background, when given the opportunity to be challenged by AP and IB classes actually have thrived in these challenging learning environments, and they were found to be far more likely to succeed in college.

The IDEA Public Schools in Texas “with over 30,000 mostly low-income students” have found success in requiring all students to take AP classes. Along with other similar programs across the nation, under achieving students of low income families have proven to be successful in raising the bar for achievement and college success. It is true these students must be nurtured into these programs just as we nurture learning from infancy. One cannot walk before crawling or read without language. But these students participating in supportive and gradually challenging environments have been found to thrive in the AP and IB programs.

This great news should be spread across the nation to all parents, educators and governments whose funding is necessary to make these opportunities available to all students regardless of ability to pay. But as often found with good news, there comes a glitch. Matthews reports that last year Congress severely cut funds directed for low-income students.

So I return you to my previous blog (Grooming for the Future) and encourage educators and government leaders to be a part of this successful grooming process. We cannot settle for mediocrity or even less simply because of economic status. Join me in speaking out, reminding our elected officials, school boards, PTA’s, school principals and teachers that studies continue to prove challenged students far exceed their environmental expectations. The gift of education is essential to our children and we must work together to challenge all of our children to succeed, reach for new goals, and not settle for mediocrity or even less.

Grooming for the Future

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While visiting the LBJ Memorial Library in Austin, Texas, I became keenly aware of the role Mama Johnson played in her son’s life. Following the life story of Lyndon Baines Johnson through annotated photographs, I had an epiphany. Lyndon wasn’t born in presidential shoes, he was a baby and toddler who cried when he was unhappy and whimpered when he didn’t get his way. He was a teen who argued with his parents and challenged their discipline. But Mama Johnson took her role seriously while grooming young Lyndon into a leader, a diplomat and ultimately the President of the United States. With foresight she saved the highlights of his childhood and growing accomplishments in organized folders knowing she was grooming her son for successful future.

The Johnson’s may have had an advantage. Their wealth and political influence certainly helped lead the way to LBJ’s future, but he would not have been the man he was without the childhood building blocks of integrity, self-confidence and independence his mother instilled upon him. She groomed a son for his future, challenging him to rise above his academic difficulties and to pursue his political passion.

As an educator and family coach, I often face parents anxious about their children’s futures. With tear filled eyes they focus on the academic and social challenges their children face. I find myself too often reminding them that it is not our job to raise the perfect child, but to help our children find their passion and to love them unconditionally.

Little Lyndon was not perfect. He struggled all the way through school. But Mama Johnson focused on discovering his passion and paving the path to success.

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We all want our children to be successful too, and the the road to success begins at infancy. We surround our babies with colorful stimulation, musical sounds and warm embraces. As they grow, we talk and read to them building their language skills and encouraging exploration while keeping them safe and loved.

Yes, there are challenges like colicky babies and fussy eaters, resistant huggers, and more serious physical and social obstacles. But children are more than their challenges. They are all innocent, sweet, little beings needing to feel unconditional love and stimulation. By focusing on the positive children become more than their disabilities. And as they grow we need to help them find their passions and welcome their differences.

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Our role as parents is to guide our children through life with its joys and struggles while assuring our children of their safety and our love. And our job never ends. We need to continue to enrich our children and challenge them as we did when they were infants and toddlers. We need to continue to read to them, with them, discuss, ask questions, and build the important life skills of integrity, independence and compassion.

Mama Johnson raised Lyndon with foresight and compassion. She inspired me to look to the future while raising my children, and I share that same goal with you.

Best of luck.

NYC High School Admissions

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Since the NYC Public High School acceptance letters were sent out  last week, the process has been the subject of multiple news articles. Not only is the process confusing at best, it is also discriminatory.

The 600 page NYC High School Directory (offered in 10 languages) is given to every 7th grader at the end of the school year with instructions to read through the 700 programs offered and select their top 12 choices to place on their applications by December 1. Imagine a 12-year-old being given this challenging assignment to complete independently. Without the assist of a guidance counselor, teacher or a savvy parent, many students simply give up and just apply to their zone school if they have one. Otherwise they may be assigned to a below average school outside their district. Why can’t students and parents obtain help from teachers or counselors to guide them through this process?

The system was designed with good intentions to give all students the option to apply to programs throughout the 5 boroughs. While the idea  sounds equitable on paper, in practice it is anything but. Appointment times to visit schools are limited and only the most informed parents know to call for these appointments early in the school year.  The requirements beyond reading the directory and making school visits often include required parent participation. How can low-income parents be expected to take time off from work for school visits?

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To apply to 8 of the most prestigious Specialized High Schools, students are required to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole measure for acceptance. Previous achievement and recommendations are not even considered. And to top it off, there is no in school preparation for this test. Most students begin taking costly classes outside of school, a year in advance to prepare for the SHSAT. How are low-income families expected to pay for these costly classes and arrange for their children to get to and from the centers where they are offered?

The challenges and stresses throughout this process are enormous even for the best students with hyper-vigilant parents. For those who lack understanding of the process, their children suffer the consequences. What can we do to help?

Schools must:

And parents must:

 

“Weather” to Educate!

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Baltimore County students began their first week of school on August 24. Many smiling faces headed out doors that day. Children with freshly cut hair, new shoes and school supplies stuffed in backpacks hanging from their shoulders headed off excited to start the school year, meet their teachers and reconnect with old friends.  Even the many reluctant tweens and teens were quietly enthusiastic.

Teachers know the first days of school set the mood for the year to come, and rested, energized and stoked with new ideas to share, they generally greet students with matching excitement.

That rosy picture, however, soon dulled in the schools where under the new Baltimore County ruling schools without air-conditioning must not open or must close early on days where the heat index reached over 90 degrees. As a result many schools were forced to close for 2 of the first 5 days, and the next was a repeat performance.

We all know consistency is essential to learning. How much learning can we expect if a teacher can’t fully relay lessons plans without interruptions? And how long can that anticipated enthusiasm last when children are home, many alone, with new supplies still stuffed in their backpacks.

While heat is a problem, I am certain there are better methods for dealing with these conditions than closing schools and leaving children under educated and often home alone with idle hands.   Already the superintendent is speaking of asking for a waiver of make-up days and we haven’t even begun to see the possible winter weather closures or the June heat closures. Are we sacrificing our children’s educations to weather conditions? This is 2016 in the most developed nation in the world. Can we not find a better solution than neglect?

Children need to be in school, learning, exploring, sharing with friends. I am not an engineer. But I am certain large fans, possible portable air conditioners and jugs of cool water could help relieve the heat conditions in the classroom enough to make it comfortable for learning. I encourage parents to join with their PTA’s and work together to change this unacceptable ruling that is sacrificing our children’s education.

 

SMART KID, CAN’T READ

Below is a guest post written by Lorna Kaufman, PhD, is a developmental psychologist in the Greater Boston area. She is the co-auhor of Author of Smart Kid, Can’t Read – 5 Steps any parent can take to help

How Do I Know If My Child Is A Struggling Reader?

Jackson’s mother was worried. Jackson was nearing the end of the 2nd grade but he didn’t seem to be catching on to reading. He loved math and was a really good soccer player but he hated to read – he said it was “boring”. His 2nd grade teacher said not to worry; he was very smart and would learn when he was ready. Besides, boys were often slower than girls when it came to reading.

It is very common for parents to be confused about whether their child is struggling to learn to read when they are in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. They see their child struggling but the teacher advises that he will be fine. What should you do?

There are several steps that parents can take to determine whether their concerns are justified:

  1. Monitor your child’s work that he brings home from school. You can learn a lot about the reading instruction by going over these papers with your child. Ask him to read the papers or stories out loud for you. Jackson was very resistant and did not like to read out loud; this attempt often ended in a tantrum. Children should be able to read the work they bring home from school since it generally represents what they have been working on in class. If your child does not bring papers home ask the teacher to show you his work.
  2. Speak with the teacher. Ask questions about what reading group he is in. If there are no reading groups, ask how his reading level compares with that of the other children in the class. Jackson’s teacher did not have reading groups but admitted that he was in the lower half of the class in reading skills, although there were other children who were having more trouble than he was having.
  3. Go to the library and ask the librarian for grade level books on a topic that interests your child. Librarians can be very helpful in guiding you to such books. See if your child can read the book out loud with you.
  4. Read the National Academy of Sciences guidelines for what every child should know in reading at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. These guidelines were written by a panel of reading experts and define the reading skills that should be mastered at the end of those early years of school as children are learning to read. You can find a summary of those guidelines on our website: SmartKidCantRead.com.
  5. Administer the tests that have been designed for parents to give to their children at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. This will give you a good idea of whether your concerns are justified and whether you need to take the next step and have your child evaluated. You can find these tests on our website along with videos that show you how to administer the tests: SmartKidCantRead.com. When Jackson’s mother administered the Grade 2 test to him, it became clear to her that he did not have the skills expected of a child at the end of the 2nd grade. He missed nearly half of the words on the word list and had significant trouble reading the first passage.

Jackson’s mother had her answer. It was clear that he was struggling and falling behind his grade level peers. She decided that she needed to seek help for Jackson.

This article is posted with the permission of  Dr. Kaufman, Phd.

  • President of the New England Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, President of the Massachusetts Council for Learning Disabilities,
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association, Chairman of the New England Joint Conference on Learning Disabilities, and Member of the Governor’s Special Education Advisory Group for Massachusetts.
  • Professor at in the Graduate Language and Literacy Program at Simmons College in Boston and in the School of Education at Wheelock College.
  • Psychologist in Boston Children’s Hospital, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, and the Learning Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • Author of several articles regarding family and reading challenges