Monday, January 31, 2011

KidoInfo Event: Parenting Simply, March 7 @ Local 121

"Parenting Simply," hosted by KidoInfo and scheduled to take place at 6:30 on March 7 at Local 121, will gather thoughtful experts and many of you to think about the question “What can I do to simplify and create a meaningful lifestyle for myself and my family?” I have the honor of moderating the panel of experts who are the stars of the night, and I am really excited about the evening.

Here's the description of the event from Kidoinfo site:
Kidoinfo presents a panel discussion on Parenting Simply, the second conversation in our 2010-2011 Series. The experts on our panel have backgrounds in child development, food and nutrition, education, and life-work balance.
Join the conversation. Panelists will share their tips and ideas on how to foster balance and peace of mind. All involved will walk away from the event with ideas and inspiration.
Since parenting is challenging enough and finding a babysitter for a night out may be costly, this event is free! Appetizers included. Cash bar. Hope you can join us! Space is limited. Pre-register here.
 The panelists are Janice O'Donnell - Executive Director, Providence Children’s Museum, Johnanna Corcoran - Family Enrichment Consultant, My Familytopia, and Hannah Marcotti - Holistic Health Coach, Hannah’s Harvest. Note I am the moderator - not an expert! I think about ways to keep balance in our family life all the time, and I know that the path to this is often defined by adherence to simplicity, but anyone who knows me knows well that I hardly have it figured out. I don't think that many of us do have it figured out.

So let's gather on March 7 and figure it out together. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

it's an ill wind that blows no good (sense about parenting)

Today's Providence Journal features "The Polarized World of Parenting," an editorial by Brown Medical School researcher and developmental psychologist Richard Rende that precisely captures why a description of sound, effective parenting would likely fail to ignite a Tiger Mother book buying/hand wringing hurricane.

Rende provides a canny analysis of the publishing industry and his take on the kind of information we really need to help us raise happy, resilient, successful kids:
What we need is less hype and more information. Do substantial numbers of kids suffer from depression and anxiety? Yes. Are teens particularly vulnerable to the effects of stress? Yes. Does this mean that kids can’t be expected to excel? No. Is it wrong to foster excellence? No. Do we have answers from research and clinical practice? Yes, we have some. For example, it’s been shown for decades that authoritative parenting — a combination of having a close and nurturing relationship with a child, maintaining an open line of communication and respect, and consistently upholding high expectations — is the most effective way to raise a happy and successful child. That said, we have a pressing need to understand how the modern realities of the scholastic and social worlds may be putting a strain on achieving balance in our parenting. One way to do this is to have open dialogues and exchanges of ideas between parents and other interested parties, not brash statements and the taking of sides.
A meaningful, substantive book on authoritative parenting, as Rende outlines it, may not be hot stuff. It may not impel reaction from here, there (<--- Marjorie Ingall's delicious take on Tiger agita), and everywhere, but it easily could be engaging and excellent. The open, balanced dialogue that Rende advocates: not so easy, but essential.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bridgeport, CT Superintendent speaking at RIC on 2/15

My friend Lorraine Lalli forwarded an email about an upcoming event sponsored by Rhode Island College's Unity Center featuring Dr. John Ramos, Sr., Superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools. Info from the email follows. I am not familiar with Dr. Ramos' work in Bridgeport (a city that faces challenges similar to and sometimes more daunting than those in Providence) nor with his work here in Providence, so am not necessarily endorsing this; since it seems interesting, I am sharing. Let me know if you're going. I'm planning to be there and would love to say hi to blog readers.
You are cordially invited to join Rhode Island College in welcoming Dr. John Ramos, Sr., Superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools for a very special talk, "Designing Education for Our Times."
Dr. Ramos is a nationally recognized leader known for his approach to re-designing public education. He proactively advocates for the creation of a new model of education that accounts for global connections and social, cultural, and economic factors now facing our society.

Once called "The Healer" of the Watertown CT School District and and now highly regarded in Bridgeport for his encoragement of students and teachers to "Expect Great Things" and take pride in their accomplishments, Dr. Ramos' insight, perspective, and experience will inform and inspire all education shareholders including administrators, community leaders, undergraduate teacher candidates as well as graduate and doctoral candidates.

In addition to his relevance on the national education scene, Dr. Ramos has a history in Rhode Island as the former principal/director for the Alternative Learning Project High School in Providence, Director of Minority Student Affairs for the University of Rhode Island and Program Director for the Rhode Island Department of Education. He also held positions at the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island, the Urban League of Rhode Island, and Hospital Trust National Bank.

Please join us on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Alger Hall 110 on the Rhode Island College campus to share in this experience.

There will be a question and answer opportunity and light refreshments.

RSVP to politely required by Friday, February 11th.

Rain/snow date March 1st.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Choosing Middle Schools: A Visit to Nathan Bishop - February's East Side Monthly Column

East Side Monthly's February 2011 issue is out in print and online; for this issue, I wrote about visiting Nathan Bishop Middle School, our neighborhood middle school, in preparation for my son Elias' move to sixth grade. I wanted to know more about the ways the school supported students as they grew as learners and as well-rounded people, and had a great conversation with Amy Battisti, one of Bishop's guidance counselors. I hope I did her work justice. I also touch on the decision we're making between Bishop and Nathanel Greene Middle School's advanced academic program, about which there's more to say for sure.

Here's the column as I wrote it--the version in East Side Monthly is slightly edited. You can find it online at on page 39.

Choosing Middle Schools: A Visit to Nathan Bishop

My oldest son will be entering middle school next year. While still puzzling over our alarmingly swift arrival at this stage (Weren’t you just in kindergarten, kid?) we organized ourselves to look at middle schools. Since kindergarten, he has been generally content and successful at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School on Camp Street. Given his track record, our values, and other factors (three kids, this economy, any expectation of affording college) we’re staying on the public school path.

Along with most or all other East Side addresses, we fall well within Nathan Bishop Middle School’s zone. Next year’s class of 208 sixth graders will complete Nathan Bishop’s student body, which has grown one grade per year since the school reopened in 2008. Most readers will remember that Bishop was deeply troubled. Poorly attended by East Siders of all economic strata, neighborhoods, and races, it was not serving most its students effectively. After the Providence Public Schools shuttered Bishop in 2006, the East Side Public Education Coalition led a public demand for its reopening. As a result of advocacy, historical preservation requirements, pre-recession economics, high-quality educational architects, and constructive collaboration with Providence Public Schools leadership, a thoroughly and thoughtfully renovated Nathan Bishop Middle School emerged with new leadership, staff members, and intentions.

As my son and I observed when we spent an evening in the building at an exceptionally well-attended open house, Bishop’s renovation is state of the art, utilizing technology and design to create fruitful conditions for learning. Bishop’s brand-new spiffiness also created conditions for crankiness, at least for me, because it contrasts so jarringly with the timeworn settings of most other public schools in Providence—thereby demonstrating the predominant lack of access to suitable facilities for teaching and learning. But a column devoted to educational infrastructure investment is a task for another day. Back to Bishop.

After the open house and additional conversations with Bishop’s staff members and students, my son is fired up. Many of his MLK Elementary classmates chose Bishop, and he is looking forward to joining neighborhood buddies who have attended other elementary schools. His verve seems to be adding fuel to his occasionally flickering fire to excel academically.

Still, I have questions. How will he and his peers reinforce habits of cooperation, work on his social skills, and continue to respect and reach out beyond race, class, and other differences? How will the educators at Bishop encourage him to step on the gas academically, build lifelong learning skills and habits, and take risks? What support will he receive? What challenges will he be likely to experience so that he won’t coast or settle for “good enough?”

In order to dig more deeply, I met with Amy Battisti, one of Bishop’s two guidance counselors; when Bishop gains its third class in the fall, the school will have three counselors. An East Side resident hired in 2008, Battisti works with the current seventh graders and will move with them to eighth grade. By design, she knows each of her 210 students well. Four days a week, she eats lunch with students. She meets with every student in this low-stakes way three or four times annually. “Those lunches really pay off,” she says. “When something happens, they have that person they’ve already chatted with.” Battisti and her fellow guidance counselors also serve as a bridge between home and school in order to facilitate interaction among each student’s family members and six teachers.  Through 15-20 phone calls per day, numerous emails, and before-school meetings, Bishop’s guidance staff members spend a third of their time communicating with families.

Bishop’s student population is approximately one-third Hispanic, one-third African American, and one-third white and Asian; students come from the East Side and citywide. The school serves a large group of English Language Learners; many families speak Spanish at home. A range of students receives special education services. Over 60 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Elements of the school’s culture, such as the highly visible code of conduct featured on signs in hallways and classrooms, indicate understanding of the opportunities and challenges of such multifaceted diversity, as well as the developmental needs of young adolescents to learn without fear, a fundamental precondition for success for all of us.

Battisti’s collaborates with teachers to assess student progress and provide intervention as needed, and she walked me through the academic support strategies that Providence’s middle school curriculum provides for struggling learners. Clearly, it’s too soon to use long-term indicators such as high school graduation rates to determine whether the district’s newly implemented curriculum—which is the same at all of Providence public middle schools except for Nathanael Greene Middle School’s Advanced Academics program—will produce the results needed to close existing achievement gaps and propel all students to success in high school and beyond.

We also discussed the ways Bishop’s educators provide challenges for students who exceed expectations and crave additional challenge. Some of Bishop’s teachers have opted to innovate within science, math, and English courses for those students who demonstrate aptitude and effort. This approach differs from Greene’s program in two ways: it’s implemented within the school as a result of educator initiative rather than as a policy-driven district program, and its “a la carte” approach provides opportunities for student-specific differentiation.

I took careful note of these differences, as we will be deciding between Bishop and Greene’s Advanced Academic program, should my son be accepted. We visited Greene as well; my son was able to visualize success there, though he feels strongly that he would prefer to stay in the neighborhood—or, as he puts it, sleep until 7:00am rather than get on the bus then. I’ll let you know where he ends up. Either way, I am grateful that through the efforts of Battisti and her colleagues, Bishop has become a place for teaching and learning for young people within and beyond the East Side.

Update: Please see this post for a correction from Bishop teacher Theresa Fox that points out that my assertion that Greene has a different curriculum from the other Providence middle schools is not accurate.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Voices from Last Night's Regents' Diploma Hearing

As I mentioned yesterday, I wasn't able to be at the Rhode Island Board of Regents hearing on the proposed changes for Rhode Island's high school graduation system. I'm gratified to post a report on the evening from Aaron Regunberg. Aaron, a junior at Brown, is a force for good in politics and education. He recently worked as an organizer on Angel Taveras' campaign and is actively supporting Hope High School students as they fight to maintain the schedules and structures that allowed them favorable conditions for learning. Here's his report:
What I saw at the hearing tonight was at the same time one of the most beautiful and the most frustrating spectacles I've experienced in a long time. On the one hand, it was absolutely inspiring to see so many different Rhode Islanders come together to fight for the type of education system they believed in. The PCTA auditorium was completely packed--there were students, parents, teachers, administrators, concerned citizens, black and white and brown, all protesting with one voice. That in itself should be pretty powerful evidence; one speaker said that he had never seen such a consensus, that he was there fighting next to people he had never agreed with before. And of course, it was particularly powerful to hear so many students committed enough to their education to come out on a freezing night like tonight to speak truth to power.

But as beautiful as the protest was, it was also immensely frustrating, because I had seen it all before. This was the third such hearing, not counting the initial mass protest in Narragansett at the beginning of the month. And none of these outpourings of anger, none of the valid and rationally articulated criticism had seemed to have any effect on any of the decision-makers. I was at the Regents' work session last Thursday, and listened as the Commissioner told the Board that nothing any of these different stakeholders had been saying was valid because it was all based on a belief that minority students are not able to achieve.

This shockingly ignorant statement allows these people to dismiss all of the arguments that students, parents, and educators are making--that tying graduation to a single test is horrifying; that even if it weren't horrifying in general, the NECAP is a horrifyingly bad test to use as it was designed specifically to not be used to test individual achievement; and that creating a tiered diploma system is inequality incarnate.

That's what everyone was saying. I just don't think the Regents particularly heard.
Thanks, Aaron (and happy birthday!).

The other big news story from last night's hearing--the first, as Aaron reported, was the powerful presence of young people, parents, and concerned citizens speaking out--was Providence Public Schools Superintendent Tom Brady's statement opposing the imposition of NECAP partial proficiency as a graduation requirement. Click here for Brady's entire testimony (in PDF form); here's a part:
I would also like to address the proposed proficiency measures for high school graduation and the dire consequences for many Providence students who are currently in their junior year.  Our current graduation policy was written to comply with RIDE’s 2008 Regulations Guidance which clearly states “that districts will evaluate the results of the state assessments in those areas in conjunction with the other components of the proficiency...”  RIDE staff on more than one occasion made public comments confirming that the NECAP was only one component of this conjunctive system, and that failure to achieve partial proficiency would not result in a failure to graduate.
With this mid-stream change from what has been consistently communicated by RIDE, students in the class of 2012 are at-risk of not graduating and would be afforded limited opportunity to improve.  While we are already implementing intensive interventions and supports to continually improve student achievement, there is not sufficient time, resources and direction from RIDE to create a comprehensive, personalized support system to ensure the type of growth students will need to graduate.  Also of note, is that Rhode Island, unlike other states, can only administer its standardized assessment once per year, affording students only one “re-take.”  
The ProJo's story on the hearing, "Students say diploma plan is unfair," is here.

P.S.: So far, there's school in Providence tomorrow. No snow day (yet). As I just said to my kids as I sent them up to bed, "Sorry, kids."

P.P.S.: And now, in news just delivered in a Facebook post from Mayor Angel Taveras, no school tomorrow. Snow day. Sleep in, kids!

"Kindergarten Freak Out" panel discussion, Saturday 1/29

On Saturday, January 29, I'll be participating in a panel discussion hosted by Child's Play Preschool. Titled "Kindergarten Freak Out," it is, of course designed to forestall any possible freakouts through the power of sharing good information. It's a discussion featuring me, Kira Greene (a PPSD parent who knows all and everything about registering your kid for school - here's an article that Kira and I co-wrote last year for on the nuances of the registration process - stay tuned for an update sometime in the coming weeks) and Deborah Gutman, a local MD familiar with the educational needs of students with special needs. As a parent with an incoming kindergartener myself, and as a person demonstrably obsessed with the process of choosing schools, I am, of course, looking forward to it!

"Kindergarten Freak Out" will take place on 1/29, 9-11am, at Child's Play Preschool, 269 Angell Street. We've been warned that parking is challenging, so now you are warned. The organizers are asking for a $5 donation to cover costs and breakfast will be served.

Click on the image of the flier for more details and registration information.

Monday, January 24, 2011

RI Graduation Requirements: Be Aware of Effects of Proposed Changes

Many of you who are dialed in to education in Rhode Island are already closely following and participating in the statewide discussion about the proposal to create a high school graduation system that will use the NECAP (the New England Common Assessment Program, a system of standardized testing shared by Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire) as a gatekeeper starting in 2012. The Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education is considering this proposal now, and if you don't do anything else, please consider attending the Regents' hearing that's being held tomorrow, Tuesday, January 25, 5:00pm at Providence Career & Technical Academy, 91 Fricker Street, to hear what those that are able to be there have to say on the issue. Their voices will be many and mighty. And I will be bummed out, as it looks like circumstances are conspiring to prevent me from being there.

This change, being described as a "three-tier system," will alter graduation regulations passed in 2008--that is, graduation regulations that most current high school students, teachers, administrators, and families have held as their expectations. A significant percentage of all current 11th graders suddenly face the real prospect that they will below the third tier and therefore be denied a diploma if they cannot pass the NECAP's math and English tests with at least partial proficiency. (For an explanation of the factors that determine the three proposed diploma levels, see this ProJo article--there's a good explanation midway through.)

The central concern that many educators and others have voiced at Regents' meetings and hearings held earlier this month is that NECAP wasn't designed for this use. As the Rhode Island Department of Education explains, the NECAP is in place to provide "information to school administrators, teachers, and parents to help them make informed decisions about student instructional needs." The NECAP a significant small slice, and has real meaning, but it was not intended to be a defining measure of graduation.   

There's been a huge reaction to the proposal, and I suggest you check out some of what's available to help you think through the issue. Five highlights below:

1. "Future of Rhode Island Students" vividly describes what the proposed changes will mean for many students who, as of now, are successfully on their way toward graduation:

Was that not great? "Future of Rhode Island Students" was made by Mike McCarthy, a second-year student at College Unbound. GoLocalProv ran a story on McCarthy and his motivation for making the video, which is a powerful example of what students can do, an example of the sort of exhibition of mastery that our state's current graduation policy clearly values.

2. Here's a powerful statement from last week's hearing in South Kingston from a Providence teacher identified as Mary (those in the know, please send me more info about Mary so I can properly credit her).

3. The ProJo has been covering this issue--here's the latest, and here's a breakdown of statewide NECAP scores that demonstrates the impact statewide on those students current testing below proficient.

4. Facebook is doing its part to organize those who want to express concern through the "This Is Not the Test, This Is Not the Time" group.

5. And for a useful demonstration on how it's possible to express concern about the hasty implementation of this policy while still expressing support for the overall direction of Rhode Island education under Commissioner Deborah Gist, check out this GoLocalProvidence interview with state rep/House Speaker Gordon Fox.

Please attend tomorrow night's hearing if you can, and please take some time to determine for yourself if you think this is the best move for our state.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PPSD evening activities cancelled tonight

Just got a Parent Link call reporting that tonight's Providence Public Schools evening activities, including the school board meeting, athletic events, and a financial aid workshop to be held at PCTA are canceled due to the slippery, icy mess out there. Stay home if you can, and stay safe!

Family/parent meeting with R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, Thurs. 1/20, 6:00pm, Providence Career & Technical Academy

One of the ways to have a stake in what happens in our public schools is to show up to learn more and speak up for what you believe in. In that spirit, here is information about an event that--despite any truly abysmal weather that may linger--I hope you consider attend with friends (and kids! who can also be your friends!). It's for parents/family members from all communities in Rhode Island, not just Providence.

Robin Adams is a Providence Public Schools parent and leader of PPSD's Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), a group of representatives from public school PTOs/parent groups that meets monthly. Robin developed questions for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and has worked with the PAC and PPSD's Office of Family and Community Engagement to create an event on Thursday, January 20, at 6:00pm that will allow parents and family members from Providence and across Rhode Island to talk with Commissioner Gist about the impact of Rhode Island's Race to the Top funds, parent/family involvement, and school reform.

The meeting will take place at the Providence Career & Technical Academy  (PCTA), 41 Fricker Street, Providence 02903 (near Classical High School, entrance on Cranston Street across from Citizens Bank. Children’s activities for ages 5-12 will be provided. Spanish language translation services will also be provided. 

Please attend! It will be a unique and compelling event; I am interested in meeting connected and curious parents from communities beyond Providence, and grateful that this is an event organized by families, for families. Thanks to Robin, the PPSD PAC leadership, the Office of Family and Community Engagement, and Commissioner Gist for making it happen. Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - Ideas and Resources

Dr. King mosaic in the lobby of MLK Elementary School in Providence created by mosaic artist Jess Regelson and MLK students. Image source:
It's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and many of you are planning ways to learn more about the life, legacy, and lasting impact of Dr. King with your kids and community. If you're getting ready for the day and need some practical inspiration, here you go.

Today, the kids and I are going to do three MLK Day-related activities:

1. We're going to the Providence Children's Museum for its annual MLK celebration with performances and special civil rights exhibits. We've never done this before, somehow, so today's the day.

2. As we have in the past, we're going to watch and listen to this video of Dr. King delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Of the various video versions available, I like this one from the National Archives' documentation of the March on Washington. It contextualizes the speech with video of the marchers and the scene in ways that provides hints of what it might have felt like to be there.  Based on past years' experience, I am going to give the guys the option to color/draw during the speech; this version is only 10 minutes but that can be a lot of a four-year old to sit through. Some coloring to channel squirminess helps those of us who want to focus and I figure that hearing Dr. King's words is what matters. I have downloaded images of Dr. King ready for coloring from here, and you can find many more by Googling MLK + printable coloring.

This video of "I Have a Dream" is the third of three parts from the National Archives on the March. Maybe not today, but soon, I want to watch parts one and two with the kids, too, and get their thoughts on what they think the event was for and what it felt like to be there.

3. Inspired by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, and in particular the MLK 25 Challenge, we're going to make our own list of the ways we as individuals and a family want to help people around us. I am super-curious about what the boys will come up with and will share when we've made our list.

Other resources and ideas:

As in past years, Kidoinfo has links to local events and books on Dr. King's life and work. In addition to the three wonderful books that Kidoinfo suggests, Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a wonderful resource.

The ProJo features a link to listings of MLK Day events around Rhode Island and south-eastern Massachusetts, some kid-oriented, some not, and the ProJo has an article on Rhode Island-based MLK Day events here.

Use today with your kids to honor and think about Dr. King, and please share how you're planning to spend the day, or what you did, in the comments.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Day Again. This time with worries.

In Providence and many other towns in Rhode Island, school is canceled for the second day in a row due to a whopper of a storm that hit us yesterday. I am not at all second guessing the decision, and with that, I note the obvious, that this is challenging for many families. Most adults, I will assume, need to go to work. I have an un-reschedulable obligation that takes me away all day, so am immensely grateful that husband is 1. here, 2. has a job that makes it possible for him to work from home at times like this, and 3. it's just my two older kids who have the day off. We caught a break: the Jewish Community Center of Rhode Island preschool, where my youngest son is a student, is open, which means both that he can go and that my older guys can still attend their regular afterschool program/afterschool classes, which they can walk to on their own. Elias, who is 10, has Dungeons and Dragons today. He has expressed zero regret about missing school, but when D & D seemed threatened, handwringing commenced. Happily, it's on, and he and his 7 year old brother Leo are old/able enough to take themselves outside for snowballs/sledding/whatever without direct hands-on from Kevin. Have fun, boys!

Enough about us. As I mentioned, I am aware that there are many families who are struggling today to figure out how their kids will spend the day while adults are at work, and many more families are likely feeling cooped up due to lack of safe run-around space and/or warm coats and other winter gear. Providence Community Libraries branches are open today, and I bet they'll be well-utilized. Mostly, families and relatives are probably making a lot of "you take them in the morning and I'll take them in the afternoon" deals, and probably, unfortunately, there are probably some kids who will be left alone who would have benefited from adult supervision and interaction. And I hope that every kid gets enough to eat: many kids rely on free breakfast and free/reduced price lunch. I do not know the ways in which which social service networks in Providence's neighborhoods and other towns fill this gap at times like this: something very worth investigating and understanding.

I also suspect that some families just have not gotten the word and that right now, there are some kids freezing their tootsies off waiting for the school bus, which will not come. Providence public school families find out about school closings through the local broadcast media, which likely not all were partaking of last night/early this morning, and through the district's Parent Link robocall system. We were called last night and wicked early this morning. But that system only works if it has families correct numbers, and many families either 1. haven't returned emergency contact forms or 2. haven't updated contact info when it's changed. I hope that everyone got the message. Again, as I mentioned on Tuesday, you can sign up for a school closing text message through the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association here and the info will go to your mobile phone, an easier prospect than home phones for many. 

Making the decision to close schools for another day was made in the name of safety; I hope that the result doesn't cause any kids to be in any danger.


I just glanced at the stats for this blog from the past 24 hours. Here's the list of the top 10 search keywords people used to get to the blog:
  • is there school for providence public school tomorrow?
  • is there school in providence tomorrow
  • there's school tomorrow in providence
  • are providence public school open on january 13
  • are providence public schools open jan 13?
  • is there school for providence tomorrow?
  • is there school in providence tommorow
  • is there school tomorrow for providence public schools
  • lists of providence ri school closing tomorrow
Clearly, people were on the hunt for good info. I really wish I'd posted a quick update last night when we found out that school was out. Will do from now on.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow day tomorrow! For real!

Yawgoo Bliss
Hey, it's going to snow a whole lot tonight and tomorrow. You will be running around getting your milk and bread, and every convenience helps, so many thanks to Kidoinfo for a tweet about the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association's school closing alerts, sent as a text when schools close for inclement weather. It's awesome. Click here to sign up.

    If you'd rather get your school closing info the old-fashioned way, here's a list of media outlets through which the Providence Public Schools (and likely all other Rhode Island districts and schools) broadcast school delays and closings.

    No matter how you find out about whether there's a snow day tomorrow, Update: there's a snow day tomorrow, which you probably already know, though if I broke news, I celebrate a tiny act of journalism. Have fun in the snow, and stay safe and warm.

    Speaking of school closings: Providence Public Schools are closed next week on Monday, 1/17 and Tuesday, 1/18. Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and Tuesday is a district-wide professional development day. Plan accordingly!

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    If only I were a tougher mother, this kid would stop throwing up

    Given the hour, that there's no way I will write the coherent couple of paragraphs that I'd hoped to crank out in response to "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," the Wall Street Journal's recent excerpt of Amy Chua's new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which, as represented by the excerpt, is a strictly no-excuses approach to parenting that's engineered to produced high-achieving kids. The fairly terrifying excerpt is engendering major buzz on the internets. I'm not normally one for a bandwagon, but this particular piece caught my interest, I had been sketching out a response that analyzed this approach to parental partnership in academic achievement, and whether an isolated focus on academics could possibly be the best approach to every kid in every school situation.

    But then, my four year old, Henry, was sent home from preschool with a stomach bug and in terms of anything that requires sustained thought, like a couple of coherent paragraphs, my battleship is sunk. I suspect that Chua would handle this situation quite differently. She'd have no trouble making her deadlines. I imagine she'd harangue her child into finding the fortitude and character necessary to stop upchucking.

    Clearly, Henry just isn't trying hard enough. It actually seems like he's not trying to stop at all. I can't imagine he's enjoying being sick, but I am probably reinforcing his weakness by allowing him to watch TV. Chua reports that her children don't watch TV, presumably not even when sick, which they probably never are, possibly terrorized by the wrath that would descend for allowing their immune systems to be anything but perfect.

    My willingness to needle Chua without giving her ideas their proper due indicates that this isn't my approach. I am actually a tough-ass (not by Chua-ian standards, of course) mom on many fronts, including sick days and TV. I'm about to sign off and go turn off the TV and read with him, so I will wrap this up by saying that I wonder how schools handle a parent like Chua and her fellow tiger mothers (and, I suppose, fathers), and I wonder if there's anything truly redeeming or worthy of attention in her approach? Parenting approach, not sure, though I may break down and read the whole book so I can respond more fairly. In terms of her marketing approach, I am taking avid notes. Thanks for the tips, Professor Chua; that you've gotten me and many others to promote your book is awesome. Emulate, I surely will. And now I need to go and read to this poor sick kid, who I think is just great, bad tummy and all.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Storm in Narragansett

    Yesterday, with many others, I got myself to Narragansett High School for the Rhode Island Board of Regents meeting. Unfortunately, I then had to get myself back to Providence long before the meeting ended; nearly an hour and a half in, public comments were still happening, most devoted to protesting the Regents' proposed changes in the Rhode Island high school diploma requirements and the proposal to institute a three-tiered diploma system. This new system would go into effect for this year's high school juniors and would, with its over-reliance on NECAP scores to determine diploma status, severely and inequitably penalize students of color and from low-income backgrounds, as well as English language learner and students receiving special education services. More here from ProJo's Jennifer Jordan on the public outcry against the proposed changes and the Regents' decision to move forward into public hearings, which will happen later this month.

    Today's ProJo also shared a shocker that happened later during the meeting. Linda Borg reports that the Board of Regents voted to stay Commissioner Deborah Gist's ruling in favor of restoring essential common planning time to Hope High School teachers, a resource that the Providence Public Schools administration removed from the school last year and which students, with the counsel and action of attorney Miriam Weizenbaum, successfully fought. The Regents' approval of Gist's ruling was viewed by many as a foregone conclusion, as it had been endorsed by a Regents' subcommittee and was clearly in good legal standing. I don't know enough to be authoritative, but it sure seems that the Regents' reversal, based (as Borg reports) on changes that may happen in the future, is specious.

    This decision is terribly unfair to Hope High School's students, who understand and have fought for what works in their school, and to all students in Providence who can benefit from the innovation and experience that's been a factor in Hope's successes. I don't fathom why the Regents are aligning against proven innovation and effectiveness, and am exceedingly grateful for the students and attorney Weizenbaum for continuing to fight for that which school staff members are legally entitled.

    Check out Tom Hoffman's blog for more on both of these stories.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    "Play is the work of children." -Captain Kangaroo

    Let there be no maximum to the number of pots and lids in service of fun!
    "Effort to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum" appeared in today's New York Times and is worth highlighting in connection with "Recess, Play, and Learning" posted here earlier this week. Yeah, it has some hallmarks of a trend story, but it resonated with me, and was also a little bit sad, so here's my two cents (really, more like one and a half. It's been a long day and I am nearly played out.)

    This article explores the role of parents/family members in instigating, promulgating, and promoting imaginative playtime for kids, and it hits on some key truths. Adults in kids' lives need to create the right conditions. For kids to have imagination-driven fun, they need to shut down the screens. Though, of course, television and other media can be powerful generators of play, as exemplified by my own kids' elaborate Clone Wars and Wipeout games. And we need to be cool with messiness. Not a problem in our house. Messiness abides.

    The article drives by and briefly pauses on the subjects of school recess and the rigidity of kindergarten. I don't think that the majority of parents comply with reduced recess time during the school day as submissively as the article suggests. The parents and family members that I know do not, though we need to be more present in discussions about the role of play/downtime/recess in the school day. A topic for the near future.

    At the same time, not all of the parents and family members I know are prepared to take up the play slack in the ways the article suggests; I resist the notion that play in schools is no longer worth fighting for and it's up to us at home from henceforth. It's not either/or. It's both. It has to be, because there are plenty of kids who don't live in households that are prepared to get messy, who don't have parents/caregivers who have any kind of time or energy to teach kids how to play capture the flag (not that I could do so - in fact, our dinner table conversation last night was nearly completely devoted to Leo and Elias explaining the rules and strategies of capture the flag to me) or build couch forts. We can't give up on play during the school day for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that it definitively enhances learning and academic performance. 

    What do you think? Do you play with your kids? How do you do it? Do you believe you need to teach them ways to play? How chaos-tolerant are you in the midst of kids' play? Do you think that the increased intensity of school/more media/more structure/perceptions and realities of less safe outdoor environments have affected kids' play? Share your thoughts in the comments? Thanks!

    Three final notes:

    1. Thanks to Lisa Belkin for the great Captain Kangaroo quotation.

    2. As I was Googling for this post, I ran across The American Journal of Play. Is that not awesome!

    3. If you're not yet hip to Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids blog, now's your chance to fix that. Skenazy busts up myths and unfounded anxiety that get in the way of kids' ability to play, imagine, have some place, explore, and, you know, be kids. Have fun.


    Save Recess came across my radar just this minute. It's a blog created by a parent in Florida arguing against reduced recess at her kids' school. Looks like she has a petition and is prepared to stand up for her kids' right to, you know, be kids. So, there's one example of parent/family activism on behalf of recess per se, as opposed to play at other times of the day (which is also necessary but not a replacement). Share more with me, if you're aware of any.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Upcoming Providence Elementary School Tours at King and Gregorian

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, the two public elementary schools that serve the greater East Side of Providence and students throughout the city, are offering school tours for prospective families. The King and Gregorian Parent Teacher Organizations are sponsoring the tours at their schools and hope that you visit both schools in order to determine the best fit for your child.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School serves pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and is located at 35 Camp Street. Tours at King are on the following dates:

    Friday, 1/7, 9:30am
    Friday, 1/21, 9:30am
    Friday, 2/4, 9:30am
    Tuesday, 2/15, 6:30pm
    Friday, 3/4, 9:30am
    Friday, 3/18, 9:30am 

    Please email or call the school at 401-456-9398 to sign up for a tour of King.
    Vartan Gregorian Elementary School serves pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and is located at 455 Wickenden Street. Tours at Gregorian are on the following dates:

    January 11 at 10:00 am
    February 1 at 10:00 am
    March 1 at 10:00 am

    To sign up for a tour, please email or call Kathy Crain at 787-3678.

    Kindergarten registration is coming up soon! Click here for a Providence Schools blog post from last month that provides a link to the registration calendar and overview of the process.

    Recess, Play and Learning: January 2011's East Side Monthly column

    A version of this piece originally ran in January 2011's East Side Monthly print and online editions. This version is similar but a bit longer and with linked resources.

    Recess, Play, and Learning

    More often than not, in response to “Hey guys, what happened at school today,” recess is my elementary school-aged kids’ number one topic. Their daily 10 minutes of recess often results in 10 minutes of real-time recess retelling. Eventually, until I found ways to ask the right questions about math, science, reading, art, library and other learning opportunities they might have experienced between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, this apparent recess fixation troubled me. Was recess the only aspect their days (aside from gym, another topic discussed with wild enthusiasm) that my kids valued? However, I no longer interpret their passion for recess as a devaluation of the other 350 minutes of their school days. Quite the opposite: without those 10 minutes, they and their peers would likely get far less out of the rest of the school day. Their animated retelling of those action-packed minutes on the playground contrasts starkly with the larger reality of many schools, in which recess clings to a tenuous existence. In Providence and across urban school districts nationwide, recess has become a scare commodity that kids need more than ever.

    This didn’t happen because adults decided, Scrooge-style, to take all the fun out of kids’ lives. The educators with whom I’ve talked about this understand comprehensively that kids need some “down time” to be at their best. To provide 10 minutes of recess, school administrators, teachers, aides, and other adults in charge of the school day face significant obstacles. The most pressing is the challenge of the clock. State and district mandates for formal, structured teaching and learning occupy most of the available 360 minutes of the standard elementary school day. There’s a whole lot to cover, learn and get through, and in most schools, educators feel fierce pressure to accomplish that within relatively few hours. Most teachers and administrators are well aware of the tension between fulfilling academic requirements and creating the opportunities for playtime that allow kids to recharge and refocus. I commend them for preserving any amount of playtime during the school day, as well as finding ways to infuse fun and elements of play within their curriculum and pedagogy.

    I acknowledge that the young people in your lives may not be as recess-obsessed as mine. And of course my kids express high regard for science experiments, field trips, and engaging math, reading, and other classroom-based experiences. What your kids discuss at your dinner table may vary. What don’t vary are those necessities that recess and, ideally, other aspects of kids’ days ought to fulfill: physical movement, conflict resolution, play, creativity, and autonomy.  Schools often find ways to infuse play into teaching and learning in ways that clearly benefit most kids academically and developmentally. That’s essential, but it’s not the same as unstructured, unenforced, undirected, and unevaluated down time. Generally speaking, kids are better off as a result of the few minutes that they run around or otherwise let off steam on most days. As documented in "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior," published in the February 2009 volume of Pediatrics, the American Association of Pediatrics’ journal, when kids have time for recess—at least 15 minutes per day—there’s a clear correlation between unstructured play and academic achievement.

    Obviously, recess as traditionally understood and practiced is not always paradise. Some schools do not have safe outdoor or indoor space. Other schools lack the resources required to supervise kids properly, which can result in injuries and anti-social behavior. And others mistreat recess, using it as a punitive measure by withholding it when kids make poor behavioral decisions (sadly, that is when they often most urgently need a short break to refocus and regroup). Under these circumstances, coupled with mandates about how time needs to be used during the school day, making already endangered recess extinct can seem like the most reasonable option.

    Fortunately, some schools are focusing on finding ways to incorporate the benefits of recess in new ways. Some have opted for forms of structured recess that use the services of a “recess coach” who provides organized games and activities to keep kids active with fewer possibilities of injury or conflict. While cost and lack of self-structured imagination-driven downtime make this a difficult option for many schools, it’s a choice that is working well in some situations. (For more on recess coaches and related resources, check out Playworks, a national organization dedicated to connecting opportunities for fun and learning in children’s lives.)

    Other schools take a more organic approach, finding ways to build clear connections between play and learning with the understanding that play is a main way that kids process what they’re learning and the challenges they’re facing. For a beautiful, detailed portrait of attention to play and its role in meaningful teaching and learning, treat yourself to Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground, by Deborah Meier, Brenda S. Engel, and Beth Taylor (Teacher College Press, 2010). Playing for Keeps provides a detailed and rich portrait of the cognitive and social value of play at Mission Hill School, a public elementary and middle school in Boston, and offers thoughtful ways for adults and kids to integrate play and learning with a particular focus on outdoors discovery and the delights of kids imaginations.

    Ultimately, because more instructional time, however necessary, cannot come at the costs of what makes instruction effective, we need systemic changes that will allow play and learning to coexist in mutually beneficial ways. An expanded school day, sometimes described as extended learning time, is one such option that is beginning to gain some traction in Rhode Island (head up: this links to a useful policy brief from Rhode Island After School Plus Alliance that's in PDF form). Under the right conditions, which must include adequate funding to pay educators for their additional time, a more comprehensive school day can add tremendous benefit to kids’ learning and lives, especially when it provides a variety of school- and community-based options for learning and engagement. Many kids with whom I have spoken would gladly trade more time in school overall for a pace that allows more breathing room. Let’s listen to them and act accordingly to create better conditions for teaching and learning.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Education front and center for Mayor Taveras

    I was delighted to be part of the crowd that witnessed Angel Taveras' inauguration this afternoon as the 37th mayor of Providence, and our first Hispanic mayor. I enjoyed a moment of photojournalism, result to the left, and appreciated the extra pair of socks I'd put on this morning. It was chilly out there! But the sun was shining on our city today in all possible ways.

    Providence public school students played prominent roles in the inauguration ceremony itself, which featured third graders from Mary Fogarty Elementary School reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and a recitation of Richard Wilbur's "On Freedom's Ground" by Classical High School student Amber Rose Johnson, the 2010 Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

    Taveras' speech* emphasized his commitment to education, declaring that Providence's schools will "become the envy of American urban education." I particularly appreciated Taveras' discussion of the idea that our city's schools cannot be "one size fits all." To insist that they be otherwise is to deny the value of the diversity of the people of our city. That diversity is in fact our greatest asset, and to honor it, we must identify a wide range of what works for all of our schools in all of our neighborhood serving all of our young people and their families.

    Carrying his education first message into the week, Taveras is holding inaugural neighborhood events at the schools that he attended (details here). Taveras is living proof of the force that strong schools and caring, challenging teachers can be in the life of a young person. He needs to transfer the power of his personal narrative into policies and momentum that will allow all young people the same kind of positive experiences and corresponding opportunities for achievement. With Mayor Taveras and many others, I want to be a part of creating a system of education in our city in which our children attend school to become their best selves, knowing how to use their minds and able to translate skills and knowledge into self-sufficiency, participation, and meaningful contributions as they move into adulthood.

    I just returned from the inauguration celebration at the Convention Center all hopped up on the great music and energy. Tomorrow, once we all settle down, I'll remain hopeful, excited, and ready to join our new mayor to get to work to make it happen.
    Felicitaciones, bienvenido, y gracias, Mayor Taveras!

    *GoLocalProv has the full transcript of Taveras' speech. Read it if you weren't there or haven't heard it yet.