Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Advanced Placement for All

We recently had an interesting conversation with a New York City Department of Education (DOE) administrator, who shared his experiences with the DOE AP for All Program. The DOE has put extensive resources towards expanding access to Advanced Placement Exams, which measure college level competency and can reduce the number of courses required for graduation at some colleges.  At some NYC high schools, they are introducing AP classes for the first time, and at others they are expanding from two or three courses to eight or nine. Since this takes a lot of work from teachers and a lot of materials, the DOE provides funding to participating schools to encourage and support involvement. The DOE has stated that its goal is that by fall 2021, students at all high schools will have access to a full slate of at least five AP classes, thereby increasing college and career readiness for all students.

AP Exams are administered by the College Board, which charges $94 for each exam. NYC schools cover some or all of the cost of the exam for their students.

In addition to funding, the DOE provides ongoing training and curriculum to all partner schools. Week-long trainings in the summer, with workshops and updates throughout the year, help first-time and repeating AP class teachers to build the best curriculum. They also provide extra support to students at Saturday Study Sessions where students receive additional support to prepare for exams. This all comes together to provide access to a high-quality AP Course experience for students who may not have previously had the opportunity. The "For All" focus also means schools are pushed to allow access to those not traditionally scheduled for AP classes, like ENL (English as a New Language) students or students with disabilities.

Having all students take AP exams has had a mixed result in some states, as noted in a NY Times article from 2017. However, the College Board reported, that same year, that in New York City, "The number of students taking and scoring a 3 or higher increased in every borough, and across all ethnic groups." And 2018 data from the DOE shows gains in both numbers of students taking AP exams and passing them.

Computer Science for All, Algebra for All, and College Access for All are similar, full service type initiatives that provide funding to schools, materials to teachers, support for students, and training for all involved parties. These types of programs were previously limited only to specialized schools or to certain groups of students, but the ideal in the DOE now is that every student is deserving of these opportunities. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Working with Schools

We often speak about our work with students and with families. But we also work with schools, in a number of different ways.

For most students we see, an important step even before we begin our evaluation process is to review information that has been prepared in the past by the school, generally IEPs and report cards. Then, we ask parents to provide the school/teacher(s) with several questionnaires (some proprietary and some standardized) dealing with academic and behavior issues. These are designed to give us a better sense of how a child is doing in school. It is important to keep in mind that some families prefer not to involve their child's school in the assessment process, at least not at this point. Although information from the school is very helpful, we understand and respect parents' preferences when they want to move ahead without letting their school know they are having their child assessed.

Sometimes, especially for very young students, there are reasons to visit a student's classroom for an observation as part of the assessment process. The findings of this visit are included as part of the information we use when creating the student's profile and preparing our report of our findings and recommendations.

Once the assessment is finished and our finalized report has been prepared, we generally speak to the school (in a conference call that includes the parents) about our findings. This call is included in our assessment fee and is done at no additional charge. If the family will be seeking -- or revising -- an IEP, we can arrange to have Dr. Yellin join the meeting by phone to explain our findings and recommendations. We have found this to be a very effective way for the school to understand what we have learned about the student and what strategies, services, supports, and accommodations we recommend.
Sometimes, our work with a school will begin when the school reaches out to us to ask us to evaluate a specific student, or when parents tell us that their school has urged them to come to us with their child who has been struggling.

We also go into schools -- and school districts -- to do professional development and to speak to parent groups. We have several talks to parent groups scheduled for March and April. Check our calendar in the next couple of weeks for full details. Dr. Yellin will speak to local parent groups at no charge.

Finally, our evaluations include an advocacy consultation with our attorney Susan Yellin, Esq., where appropriate. That consultation often includes suggestions for schools that may be a good fit for a particular student. Both Dr. and Mrs. Yellin regularly visit schools in the region and are familiar with many programs that will work well for the students we see.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Signs It May be Time to Change Schools

I have been preparing for a webinar I will be presenting for ADDitude Magazine on March 6th on"A Parent’s Guide to Changing Schools: How to Find the Best Match for Your Student with ADHD or LD" and thinking about what parents need to consider and do before deciding to move their child to a different school.

We aren't talking here about the natural progression from elementary to middle to high school, or the need to move schools as part of a family move from one place to another -- whether in the same school district or across the country. We've addressed these issues before for students with IEPs and there are specific rules to be followed for such moves.

What can be most difficult for families is determining whether their current school is meeting their child's needs and, if not, what can be done to make things better. Whether parental concerns are based on lack of academic progress, social or emotional issues, safety, or distance, there are usually steps that can and should be taken before a decision to change schools is made. 

The first step is generally to meet with your child's teacher, even if the teacher may be part of the problem. See for yourself what the teacher is like (if you haven't already met him/her) and get the teacher's take on the issues that concern you. If the teacher is unwilling or unable to make changes to address your concerns, consider whether a meeting with the principal or another administrator might be helpful. Such meetings can be useful if you want to switch your child to another class or teacher or to have your child placed in a special program -- a gifted track, a bi-lingual class, or a class of diverse learners with a regular and special education teacher in one room. 

But, sometimes these steps are insufficient. If the problems your child is facing are academic or behavioral, this is the time to request an evaluation to determine whether she or he meets the criteria for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504. The evaluation is the first step in this process. The IDEA also provides for a functional behavioral assessment for children whose behavior is of concern. 

Another issue that might make your child's current school problematic is bullying. In New York City, children who are bullied may be entitled to a transfer to a different school. Our colleagues at Advocates for Children have created an excellent guide to recognizing and dealing with bullying and the right to a transfer.

What about issues that your child's school or district can't really change in the short term? Is your child's class size simply too large? Does the school or the area in which it is located have safety issues? Is it too long a trip for your child to get to school? Does he or she have a talent or skill that the school can do little to support? Or might your child have an IEP and need a specific service, such as speech and language therapy or a reading teacher with training in dyslexia remediation, that your school does not provide and is unwilling or unable to offer? These situations may be reasons to consider changing schools. We'll address the steps to take to make such a change in a later blog post -- and in our March 6th webinar. We hope you listen in and submit your questions. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Night-time Screen Use and Sleep

Any child or teen who has access to an iPad, tablet, or smart phone seems to have it glued to their hand, giving it up reluctantly only when parents or teachers insist. 

We often recommend e-books for the students we see hear at The Yellin Center who have difficulty with printed material. They are great ways to allow students to access material they might not be able to read on their own and to keep up with both class content and the latest popular book series that their friends might be discussing. However, our recommendation is always accompanied by a reminder that using an e-reader before bedtime can affect sleep.

A newly released study (this open access study shows up as an abstract, but the full text is available from this link as a free download) which looked at data from over 6600 11 to 12-year-olds from in and around London who reported any use of Screen Based Media Devices (SBMD - mobile phone, tablet, laptop, television etc) supports our cautionary recommendation.

The goal of the researchers was to look at the impact of SBMD in both dark and artificially lit rooms and to determine whether and how such use affected sleep and what scientists call "health-related quality of life" (HRQOL). Scientists found that the subjects "... who used mobile phones or watched television at night-time with the light on in the room experienced worse sleep outcomes than adolescents who did not use these devices at night-time. However, the effects were even greater when device use occurred in darkness." In addition, any kind of night-time use of even one SBMD was "... associated with poor sleep quality on all dimensions including experiencing difficulty falling asleep."

These findings may provide the push needed to get teens to put away their devices at bedtime -- and, hopefully, can influence their parents as well. Sleep well!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

52 Conversations for Social-Emotional Development

A short piece in Ed., the always interesting magazine published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), led us to a new tool for parents and teachers to support children's social-emotional development. Jenny Woo, a recent graduate of HGSE and a parent herself, created "52 Essential Conversations" for children -- and adults -- ages five and up.

The cards cover such broad areas as responsible decision-making and social awareness, and are designed to be used in a variety of ways -- as conversation starters at home, as writing prompts or circle time discussion topics in a classroom, or even in a psychologist's office.

Woo designed the cards to follow the framework of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, which has established national standards for "research, practice, and policy, to equip educators and policymakers with the knowledge and resources to advance social and emotional learning in equitable learning environments". She explains, in a video, that she had recently lost a friend to cancer and had been thinking about what life guidelines she would want to leave for her own children. She set up a Kickstarter campaign and brought the cards to market last year.

Talking to kids isn't always easy. This tool can be a valuable way to start a conversation and share your values with the children in your life.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Research Roundup

Several interesting research studies have come to our attention lately. All of them have to do with children -- their health, development, and school performance. And that's what "Mind, Brain, and Education" is all about. We hope you find them interesting too.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that what it calls "aversive disciplinary strategies", including all forms of corporal punishment, yelling at, and shaming children, are not effective in the long term in changing children's behavior. Perhaps even more important is that researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children. The AAP offers guidance in best practice for discipline. 

  • A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, which included more than 400,000 children throughout the U.S., found that rates of diagnosis and treatment of ADHD are higher among children born in August than among children born in September in states with a September 1 cutoff for kindergarten entry. In other words, it is the relative youth of these kindergarten children compared to their classmates, who can be almost a full year older, that can be the basis of an ADHD diagnosis. 

  • Much has been written about the dangers of e-cigarettes and youth, noting the fact that the flavored nicotine products in many of these devices are highly attractive to younger users and can rapidly lead to nicotine addiction. The Juul brand, with its appealing flavors and slim design has been especially criticized. However, individuals who are currently smoking cigarettes -- which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, included nearly 8 of every 100 high school students (7.6%)  in 2017 who reported that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days - a decrease from 15.8% in 2011) -- may find that e-cigarettes can help them quit, even more so than nicotine patches or gums, according to a new study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Help with Behavioral and Emotional Problems

It is not uncommon for learning difficulties occur together with emotional or behavioral issues -- often described as co-morbid conditions. Anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and attention deficits can all have a negative impact on how a student learns and manages in the classroom. On the other hand, students who struggle in school because of a learning disability -- things like difficulty reading, understanding, writing, or math -- may also become anxious, depressed, or have difficulty paying attention in class.

Part of our evaluation process for every student is a review of their emotions and behavior. We assess these using a number of tools, which can include interviews with students and parents; questionnaires from the student, their parents, and their teachers; standardized measures, and projective testing.

Our commitment to students' mental health has grown steadily over the years. Several years ago, Dr. Yellin participated in a mini-fellowship delivered in collaboration with an organization now know as Project Teach (formerly Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for Primary Care), intended to equip pediatricians with the knowledge and skills needed to address more of their patient’s mental health needs, consistent with the best evidence-based therapies, to improve the mental health of children and adolescents. The goals of this mini-fellowship were:
  1. to train pediatricians and other primary care providers to correctly identify and differentiate among pediatric behavioral health problems such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, aggression, mood disorders, and psychosis; 
  2. To provide the fellowship participants with training in effectively managing psychopharmacology: selecting medications, initiating and tapering dosages, monitoring improvements, and identifying and minimizing medication side effects; and  
  3. To provide the participants with ongoing real-time consultation and mentorship by child psychiatrists at university-based Departments of Psychiatry.
This training had enabled us to expand our capacity here at The Yellin Center for meeting more of our patients' mental health needs, including psychopharmacology. This is an important aspect of the support we provide to families, especially in light of the continuing shortage of pediatric psychiatrists.

In addition to the work we do to support the emotional and behavioral needs of the students with whom we work, there are national organizations that provide important resources to individuals and families. 

We have written before about the resources and supports offered by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Active Minds for individuals struggling with mental illness. Both of these organizations have as their mission the support of the roughly 20 percent of individuals in this country who have a mental illness. Active Minds focuses its work on young people, especially those on college campuses, while the work of NAMI is more broadly based. But both do important work for this population and their families and friends.

One resource families may find helpful is the Basics Program from NAMI, a "first step" for families who are dealing with a child who may have mental illness -- or who may just be going through a "difficult phase". By learning from other parents about ways to deal with these issues as a family, things may improve for both parents and their child.