Monday, July 8, 2019

Summer Subjects

We've noted before that the questions that families ask us tend to come in bunches. Many of them are seasonal, and lately we have been asked lots of questions that relate to changes that families may make over the summer and to summer activities. We thought these might be of general interest, so are sharing them with our readers.

Moving
For many families, summer is the ideal time to move. There will be less disruption in school and by the time the new school year begins, everyone will be unpacked and ready to roll. But what about families where children have IEPs? These have been worked out with the student's current school. But how does a child get an IEP by the time classes start in her new school?

Fortunately, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out very specific rules for all kinds of moves -- to a new school within the same district, to a new district, or even to a different state. You can read one of our prior blogs- What Happens to My Child's IEP When We Move? to learn the details that may apply to your family. 

College Road Trip
Back in 2010, we wrote about a summer activity for many families whose children are approaching college age -- the College Road Trip. Take a look at our timeless suggestions for ways to get the most out of your travels to college campuses. And remember, even if your trip isn't focused on visiting colleges, any road trip can include a stop at a local campus, even if it is not somewhere your student plans to apply. Seeing a variety of campuses helps give context to what different schools look and feel like. 

Summer Vacation
We also have suggestions for Making the Most of Summer Vacation, tips like how to get ready for a new school, ways to keep skills fresh, and how to handle summer assignments. [Hint: don't wait for the last minute!]

Summer Skills Building
We've also got tips for ways to use the summer break to build vocabulary skills, phonics, and to improve math skills with a tool called Dreambox. 

Sun Safety
Finally, we have suggestions on keeping kids safe in the summer sun. It's not always easy to get children to use sunscreen or to cover up, but the evidence is overwhelming about the dangers of too much sun exposure over time. 

So, enjoy your summer, which is flying along way too quickly!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Changes Coming to NYC School Discipline

One of our favorite quotes from a NYC public high school administrator is that "Kids do dumb stuff." To be fully honest, he didn't say "stuff", but we assume our readers can make the substitution.

He uses this statement to describe the kinds of things that students do that can get them into trouble: fighting, smoking, wearing disruptive clothing, cutting class or unexcused absences, setting off alarms, misusing school property, gambling, and even "engaging in verbally rude or disrespectful behavior", something that teens can do with regularity. These are behaviors that school personnel are trained to deal with and often do so very effectively. However, since 1998, overall responsibility for school safety has been in the hands of the NYPD, primarily through its School Safety Division. These officers are in charge of security, such as building access, and can also get involved in incidents of student misbehavior either because they witness them or because school administrators seek their involvement. It is important to note that School Safety Officers receive special training in dealing with students and generally are familiar with a particular school and its students.

A major issue with having the NYPD in charge of school discipline is that it perpetuates the “school-to-prison pipeline,” described by the American Civil Liberties Union as "a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems." In recent years, arrests by School Safety Officers have declined. As noted in a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) looking at the 20017-18 school year,  School Safety Officers"were responsible for less than 20% of arrests and just 5% of summonses." The report stressed, however, that regular NYPD officers "who are not members of the School Safety Division continue to arrest kids with near total discretion" and that "369 arrests in schools (32% of the total) were for alleged incidents that occurred off school grounds and had no relationship to the school, indicating that the NYPD is using schools as a place to locate and arrest young people."

There is also substantial racial disparity in the students who are arrested and in the use of handcuffs, even when an incident doesn't ultimately result in an arrest. These are laid out clearly in the charts in the NYCLU report. 

All of this serves as background to a new agreement which will go into effect when schools open in the fall. This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the NYC Department of Education, the NYPD, and the City of New York is designed for "keeping schools safe places of learning; ensuring that discipline is administered fairly; eliminating disparities and inconsistencies in the punishment of students, and eliminating the use of summons and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety."

Among the changes in policy and practice set forth in the MOU are:

  • Police officers should not arrest or issue summons to students "whenever possible" for "low level" offenses such as disorderly conduct, graffiti, or possession of marijuana. 
  • School staff are not to involve either the School Safety Officers or the NYPD when students commit infractions such as clothing violations, cutting class, lateness, smoking, lying, or gambling (unless they can't be handled safely).
  • Both School Safety Officers and the NYPD, to the full extent practicable, in instances not requiring immediate arrest or other immediate action, shall consult with the principal of a school  prior to placing a student under arrest, or issuing to such student any form of criminal process on school grounds. Further, in the course of any such consultation, officers shall take into account any information provided by the principal.
  • Limits will be placed on use of handcuffs.
  • Both School Safety Officers and NYPD officers will receive additional training in areas relevant to dealing with students.
Although not included in the MOU, NYC will be hiring 85 new social workers for schools. In addition, schools will be using restorative justice practices that emphasize defusing conflict over suspensions in all middle and high schools starting in the next school year. Finally,  Mayor DiBlasio has also proposed that out of school suspensions be reduced to a maximum of 20 days from 180 days. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

KIDS + TRUCKS = FUN

When your blogger was the parent of young children, any large vehicle was a source of excitement. Bulldozers, fire engines, tow trucks, and cement mixers were fascinating to my kids and I went out of my way to point them out when they came past or parked near our home. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to re-live that experience when I attended the District of Columbia's 11th Annual City-Wide Truck Touch Event.


The morning-long event featured approximately 30 municipal vehicles used to clean and repair streets, change traffic lights, collect refuse, clear snow, provide emergency services, administer mobile health care, and more. Children (and the young at heart) were welcome to climb on all the vehicles, which sat in the large parking lot surrounding the old R.F.K. sports stadium. Doors were wide open and welcoming and uniformed D.C. employees were present in abundance. Horns, sirens, and all buttons were available for pushing, and the noise could get deafening -- but no grown-ups had a discouraging word. Questions were answered:  What was the biggest vehicle towed by a huge tow truck? A fully loaded cement mixer that had overturned on the highway -- and  explanations about the work of the truck operators and emergency workers were enthusiastically answered.

But this event wasn't just for fun. Grownups had a chance to register to vote, to enter the elementary school lottery, to learn about the municipal water supply, and other important activities. There was free water and shaved ice for all and free lunches for all children. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning, for folks to bond with their neighbors, and for children of all ages to get to know and become comfortable with the public employees -- firemen, police officers, sanitation crews, bus drivers and more -- who work in their neighborhoods. If your town hasn't yet tried this event, it might be worth looking into!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Pride Month - Resources for Students, Families, and Educators

This June marks the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the uprising at a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village, that marked the beginning of the gay rights movement in the U.S. Out of this event has grown the Pride Movement, encompassing a broad array of individuals; both Presidents Clinton and Obama issued Presidential Proclamations declaring the month of June to be Pride Month.

The Pride Movement has expanded over the years and now seeks to promote education, legal rights, acceptance, and self-fulfillment for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or gender non-conforming (LGBTQ).


Advocates for Children of New York has created an excellent LGBTQ Education Guide, setting out the rights of LGBTQ students in New York City Public Schools. The Guide is very detailed, giving specific contact information and covering such topics as bullying and harassment, transfers for safety and other reasons, the rights of students who do not live with their families, and how students can change their names. This is a valuable resource for students, parents, and educators.

Still another helpful resource is from our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics, which has a Section on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health and Wellness. In a section of the AAP website dedicated to Adolescent Sexual Health, there are links to excellent resources for physicians and other health providers and a link to a policy statement that includes ways to make medical care welcoming to all young people and for pediatricians to obtain and share needed information to help support LGBTQ young people (and parents) and to provide them with the care they need.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Shining a Light on NYC Special Education Crisis

Anyone dealing with special education laws in New York City -- parents, attorneys, teachers, schools, and hearing officers -- knows that this is a system in crisis. Too few hearing officers, extensive delays, even too few hearing rooms (all of which are located in often inconvenient downtown Brooklyn) are just a few of the issues apparent to those who are seeking legal intervention to obtain the services and setting that children with disabilities are entitled to under law, specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Now, thanks to a report prepared by an outside consultant, Deusdedi Merced of Special Education Solutions, LLC, and made public by The City, the full extent of the problems with this system and how these problems impact students and families is being made clear. The report was initially commissioned in early 2018 by the New York State Department of Education and the consultant was charged with examining the policies, procedures, and practices relating to impartial hearings in New York City. According to Mr. Merced, a well-regarded attorney who has served in roles in all aspects of the special education system in New York, D.C., and elsewhere, delays in completing this report were "directly attributed to actions taken by the New York City Independent Hearing Office and/or New York City Department of Education."

When the 49 page report was issued on February 22, 2019 it was only released after a public document disclosure request by The City was granted. The news of the report with a link to its contents appeared in yesterday's edition of The City.

In addition to the discussion of the report in The City, there is another piece about the report, its findings, and the current state of special education proceedings in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Both news reports make for a quick and concerning read. The report itself is dense with information, but some crucial findings include:

  • New York State has almost as many due process complaints (the initial step to contest an issue under the IDEA) filed each year as the next six largest states combined; 90 percent of these are filed in New York City.
  • Logistical issues abound:  On an average day there are 122 hearings scheduled but there are only 10 hearing rooms. Hearing rooms often lack sufficient furniture and are poorly ventilated.
  • Hearing officers are poorly compensated and there are frequent recusals. There are insufficient hearing officers for the number of matters. Hearing officers are appointed without anyone checking on their availability (few do this as a full time career).
  • Failure to use uncontested methods -- mediation - or to keep students in their current uncontested placements adds to the burdens on the system. 
The report urges prompt action -- by both NY City and NY State -- to keep this vital avenue for parental redress open and functioning. We hope someone is listening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Calling In" to Build Classroom Tolerance and Learning

We are living in an era when statements that are racist, sexist, cruel, or just ignorant or unkind, are no longer given a pass in our society -- and that's a real step towards making a better world. But "calling out" people who make such offensive statements can often involve harsh language and humiliation. And when an inappropriate (or worse) statement is made in a classroom setting, it is important that teachers respond in a way that not only challenges or corrects the statement, but also educates the speaker and the listeners.

 
An excellent discussion of a technique for handling such situations in a classroom appears in an article by Loretta J. Ross in the Spring issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine - "Speaking Up Without Tearing Down". Ms. Ross proposes that when teachers are faced with language or an argument that is wrong or offensive, that rather than "calling out" the student, that the teacher "call in". As she explains, 

"Calling in is speaking up without tearing down. A call-in can happen publicly or privately, but its key feature is that it’s done with love. Instead of shaming someone who’s made a mistake, we can patiently ask questions to explore what was going on and why the speaker chose their harmful language. 

"Call-ins are agreements between people who work together to consciously help each other expand their perspectives. They encourage us to recognize our requirements for growth, to admit our mistakes and to commit to doing better. Calling in cannot minimize harm and trauma already inflicted, but it can get to the root of why the injury occurred, and it can stop it from happening again."

Ms. Ross makes clear that calling in is not for every situation. She notes that when people use bigotry, fear, or lies to hurt others, that they should be called out for such speech or conduct. But she explains that a classroom is a special setting, where mistakes and misunderstandings need to be acknowledged and opportunities for learning abound. She gives a number of examples as to how a teacher can begin "a call in conversation" to address offensive or ignorant statements, and to educate and enlighten his or her students. Her examples include:

  • “I need to stop you there because something you just said is not accurate.”
  • “I’m having a reaction to that comment. Let’s go back for a minute.”
  • “Do you think you would say that if someone from that group was with us in the room?”
  • “There’s some history behind that expression you just used that you might not know about.”
  • “In this class, we hold each other accountable. So we need to talk about why that joke isn’t funny.”
This article should be required reading for every educator -- and everyone who lives or works with others. 



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Skip-Counting – The Threes & Sixes, Plus a Game

Today's post winds up our "From the Trenches" series by Colorado classroom teacher and former Yellin Center Learning Specialist Beth Guadagni. In Beth's prior posts, she explained how our brains learn math facts and how she uses songs to help her students -- all of whom have dyslexia -- learn the fours multiplication facts.

Our last post gave background and instructions for teaching multiplication facts for four and eight. Using different songs, Beth explains how the same techniques can be used to teach the math facts for threes and sixes.

Skip-Counting by Threes

“Three” is repeated three times to get the rhythm to work out. We add “and thirty-six” at the end in the same way people add “and many more” to the “Happy Birthday” song. Jazz hands, while optional, are highly recommended.

Row,                   row,                      row                      your                     boat,

Three,                 three,                   three,                   six,                        nine


Gently                down                    the                       stream,

Twelve,               fifteen,                   
eighteen                        


Merrily,             merrily,                   merrily,                 merrily,

Twenty-one                 Twenty-four                   Twenty-seven


Life is but a dream.


Thirty   thirty-three


…and thirty-siiiiix!




Skip-Counting by Sixes


Happy                birthday                to                     you,

Six                      twelve                    eighteen          twenty-four


Happy                birthday                to        you,
thirty                  thirty-six               forty-two


Happy                birthday               dear           [name]

Forty-eight               and                 fifty-four


Happy                birthday                 to you!

Sixty                   sixty-six                 seventy-two!

Game: Domino Draw

Purpose:
To give students practice applying skip-counting sequences to real math problems.

Materials for the game:
A set of dominos, turned face-down or in a bag.
Procedure:
If you don’t plan to play long enough to go through a whole set of dominos, use a timer so that students play for a set amount of time. Be sure, once it goes off, that everyone has had the same number of turns.
There are two variations here.

1. To target the sequence students are learning:
On his turn, each player draws a domino at random. He adds the number of dots on the domino, then multiplies that number by the sequence you’ve been practicing. For example, if his domino had 11 dots on it and you were practicing the threes, he’d get a product of 33 and earn 33 points.

2. Once students have learned all the sequences, try this variation:
On her turn, each player draws two dominos at random. She adds the number of dots on each domino, then multiplies them together. For example, if one domino had four dots on it and the other had twelve, she’d get a product of 48 and earn 48 points.