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.

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.

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:

 

THE BEST TIPS TO INSPIRE STUDENT MINDS

 

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This past weekend I read the  Bam Radio 10 Education Ideas tweet filled with education related inspirational platitudes offering no methods, ideas, suggested teaching techniques. Sure children can be compared to snowflakes, each uniquely different, but unlike snowflakes children have minds, minds that welcome inspiration, creativity and love. And to inspire those minds teachers themselves must be inspired. Those that are open to new ideas and welcome challenges, new adventures, “novel” explorations are the ones who best inspire our children. I encourage teachers to never stop learning, creating and exploring and to share those goals with their students with more than words but with actions. Each week I hope to share a 5-10 minute warmup to help open minds to new adventures in learning.

This week I suggest reading a short poem aloud and encourage students to illustrate their thoughts through words or pictures. Join me by sharing your ideas with me and my readers. Those little “snowflakes” are ours together to help grow into a blizzard of inspiring thoughts and creative ideas and actions.