Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In the more than ten years we have been writing this blog, we have written a post before each Thanksgiving, sharing information, expressing gratitude, or both.

Last year we wrote about Thanksgiving books for children, and it's not too late to pop into your local bookstore (if you still have one!) to pick one of these up for the children you will be seeing. An older post, from 2011, also contains book ideas relating to the holiday. We also shared a link to the site from Scholastic that parents can use to help discuss the origins and meaning of the holiday with their school-age children.

Countering all these classic versions of the holiday, is a piece from The New York Times a couple of years ago, "fact checking" many of the aspects of the traditional story of Thanksgiving.

But whether or not your perspective on Thanksgiving is historically accurate, taking a day for gratitude is something we all can do. The things that make each of us grateful may vary, but here are some of the things we are grateful for, especially this year.

First, we're grateful for babies, both in our own family and in our Yellin Center family. Your blogger can attest that while parenthood has its blessings, there is nothing to compare with being a grandparent. And Dr. Yellin would agree.

We are also grateful for our larger family, especially for Aunt Karen, who has hosted our extended clan for an all-day celebration for as long as we can remember, opening her home (and view of the Macy's parade) not just to family and friends, but to friends of friends who come just for the parade. Here's to calm winds and high flying balloons tomorrow!

We're grateful for all our family members who put love over politics, and who manage to stay in the same room with one another even though we do not all share the same viewpoints. And, despite not discussing politics, we never run out of things to talk about. 

We're incredibly grateful for our Yellin Center staff, clinical and administrative. They all make the experience of the families and students who come to The Yellin Center welcoming and professional and our work would not be possible without their skill, dedication, and good nature. Thank you!

We are grateful for the many schools and organizations who seek guidance, training, and information from us and who invite Dr. Yellin to give talks and professional development programs. He always finds these enormously gratifying. 

Finally, we are grateful for the families and students who come to The Yellin Center, who share their struggles and allow us to work with them. We are grateful for your trust and hope that our work has made your lives and the lives of your children better. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 15, 2019

High School Newspapers

A recent walk down memory lane -- a tour of your blogger's high school as part of a reunion weekend -- served as a reminder of how big a role working on my high school newspaper played in my high school experience. It was a great way to build confidence, to learn the inner workings of the school, and (as a senior) to guide younger students in the skills needed for producing the monthly paper on time.

These skills translated to work on my college paper -- where a large sign in the chaotic newsroom proclaimed "This is a Daily, Not a Weekly!" By then there was real news to report -- strife on campus, sit-ins, and an activist student body in a turbulent era. Some of the folks I met during that time went on to careers in journalism, while others became doctors, lawyers, and even a producer of Law and Order.

It was with particular interest, therefore, that I read a recent article in Chalkbeat highlighting a New York City high school teacher, Dennis Mihalsky, who started a journalism class and a school newspaper at the City College Academy of the Arts in Inwood. Part of his motivation, the Chalkbeat piece explains, was to heighten his students' awareness of events going on around them in their school and community. And, not surprisingly, to counter the reliance his students placed on social media as a source of information.

The venture has proven to be a success, with students coming up with ideas for stories that would have an impact on the life of their school. The paper publication was something very tangible for the students and they are learning to realize the importance of this kind of journalism.

Building on this success, Mr. Mihalsky has founded a nonprofit organization, Students Disrupting, whose mission is  "to bring student newspapers to every high school in the city through training, advising, and supporting students, teachers, and administrators, helping them find their voice, deepen their thought, and seek the truth." Students Disrupting notes that only 12.5 percent of NYC public schools have student newspapers and a key part of its mission is to support students and teachers who want to increase that number. Does your school (or your child's school) have a newspaper? If not, maybe it's time to start one. If you have 26 minutes, you may enjoy hearing from Dennis Mihalsky about how he started his school's newspaper.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

School Travel Safety

Our last blog looked at issues relating to early school start times and the new California law that prohibits start times for middle school students before 8 a.m. and for high school students before 8:30 a.m. But no matter what time your child begins his or her school day, being safe on the way to and from school is an important issue to everyone to keep in mind.

Safety concerns start on the way out the door in the morning and continue until students arrive at their homes at the end of the day, which for some students with after-school sports or activities can be as late as 6 or 7 pm. Our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics cite research from The National Research Council  Transportation Research Board, Committee on School Transportation Safetthat broke down the ways that students travel to and from school during the regular school day. These modes of travel included passenger vehicle with adult driver, 45%; school buses, 25%, other buses, 2%; passenger vehicle with teen driver, 14%; bicycle, 2%; and walking, 12%. Not included in these figures are transportation after regular school hours or for extracurricular activities. These after hours trips are often done after dark and can involve longer distances (to sporting events or tournaments outside of the home district); they have a disproportionately high occurrence of crashes.

What can parents do to make travel to and from school safer?

  • Make sure young children are accompanied by a parent, caretaker, or responsible older sibling while walking to or from school or the bus stop
  • Remind children that the bus stop is not a playground and that running around, which can often end up in the adjacent road, can be dangerous
  • Dawn and dusk are the most difficult times of day for motorists to see pedestrians. As the days shorten, make sure your child is wearing at least some reflective clothing so he or she is highly visible
  • Work with your PTA or other group to make sure your school has implemented appropriate safety measures -- crossing guards, dismissal and arrival procedures, and safety training as part of the curriculum -- to provide children age-appropriate safe travel
  • Support graduated driving licences for teens. Teenage drivers should pass not just the State road test, but Mom or Dad's road test as well. That may mean that driving privileges are delayed until a teen demonstrates sufficient maturity and judgment to understand that the consequences of distracted driving can be deadly. 
  • Model good driving practices yourself; never text or use your phone or otherwise drive with distractions and always wear seat belts. We've written before about steps to safer teen driving. Speed, having passengers in the car, and failure to wear seat belts are some of the driving practices that pose the most risk to teens.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark and Early Mornings

A recent social media post from a relative in Florida lamented his son's early school start time. "Somebody has to get on the bus way too early. Middle school boys were like a pack of zombies lingering around the bus stop staring at their phones," he noted. "It will be nice when we change the clocks and I won't have to turn on the outside lights when he leaves the house in the morning."

But light or dark [and remember that this Saturday night we turn our clocks back one hour, so it will be lighter in the morning -- but will get dark as early as 4:30 pm later in November and even earlier in December], there is nothing to be done about the shorter days that winter brings.

What can be addressed, and what California has decided to do over the next three years, is change the start time of school for students. A new law mandates that most middle and high schools in California begin not earlier than 8 and 8:30 a.m., respectively. The law contains exemptions for some rural schools and its gradual implementation is designed to allow time for new teacher contracts to reflect the change in schedules.

We have written numerous times about the need for adequate sleep for children of all ages; just search "sleep" in the subject box on the right-hand side of this post. Many of our discussions of sleep are based on research referenced by our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics, that 

“ [it is] ... clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life. [In addition] studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Preliminary calculations of the cost-benefit issues associated with later school times indicate that "the benefits of later start times far out-weigh the immediate costs" in just two years.

As California implements its new policy and researchers examine the impact on student health and achievement, they will also be looking at the economic issues involved in this major state-wide shift. We will continue to follow this issue as it evolves over the next several years.