Friday, June 29, 2012

Broadband Rhode Island Digital Literacy Program

Image from here

Earlier this year, here, I wrote about the possibilities of school-based digital learning and the challenges that inequitable access to technological resources and skills pose to those possibilities.

Since then, the Broadband Rhode Island Digital Literacy program has gotten off the ground. Found online at, the BBRI Digital Literacy program aims to educate Rhode Islanders who lack access to and information about technology through a freely available curriculum, volunteer instructors, and face-to-face classes based in communities and locations where the need for digital literacy education is highest.

You may want to take a class, become an instructor, or connect an organization that you're a part of with BBRI's work. I am not currently involved personally, but think that the initiative is a great addition to our state's education resources. Check it out and help spread the word.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

thoughts from the sidelines, part 1

Readers of this blog know that I was on hiatus for much of the spring due to the demands of Little League. Three kids on three different teams added lots of logistics to our already busy lives. As I previously have hastened to clarify, I am not complaining. Every scrap of evidence indicates that my sons adore playing baseball, and most spring evenings, there's nowhere I'd rather be than watching them and their teammates do their thing. I see Little League season as nine weeks of insanity in which we are totally invested, knowing that the demands of that  investment will ease after the last All Star and playoff games. As much as I deeply dig it, I was eager for the end of the season in mid-June so we could get back to some semblance of a routine that, for example, allowed us to eat dinner together before nearly 8:00pm.

A couple of weeks ago, when that end was in sight, a curve ball came our way. The truly awesome volunteer coaches who run our neighborhood Little League got organized to pull together teams for a summer tournament that will, eventually, produce a local team that proceeds to a regional tournament that will, eventually, feed into the Little League World Series. Our oldest and middle sons were chosen for the 11-12 year old and 9-10 year old teams. Practices started the day after the last playoff game, with the double elimination tournament starting in late June (on Thursday of this week! 2 days from now!) and running for a few weeks. 

Of course, the guys were totally up for it, superproud and thrilled they had the chance to keep playing. And so were we--not only my husband and I but the bigger we of grandparents, friends, relatives, teachers, coworkers, pretty much anyone with whom any of us struck up a conversation. This tiny thing, their participation on these teams, gave me a glimpse into what athletic success means to people. It's something to celebrate for which most of us have a shared cultural context. 

I am proud of my kids in a thousand specific ways that have not one thing to do with measurable achievement, of course. Just to name three: I am proud of the way my oldest son took on a great deal of responsibility around the house when I started a job with a long commute last year. I am proud of the compassion, empathy, and peacemaking skills that my middle son possesses and values. I am proud of my youngest son's prodigious Lego skills and his ability to focus on what he's building for hours on end in order to achieve his vision. 

These are the things that matter most to me. Nevertheless, I found myself sharing this baseball tournament team news widely and loudly, and really enjoying people's positive reactions. I know full well that their baseball prowess has little to do with their parents. Our support and enthusiasm have made their participation possible. But the fact that the guys are good athletes who are willing to put in hours of practice--that's all them, and we celebrate them for this milestone which will very likely be over quickly. Yes, it disrupted our summer fairly significantly. We changed the dates of our summer vacation, which camps they are attending, and the hours we work. We're still eating dinner at 8:00pm when we want to eat together. My poor littlest kid, who is six - he is one tired guy and he isn't even playing. 

This has given me a peek into what the life of a sports parent - not a soccer mom, but whatever is beyond that - must feel like. And we aren't doing any of the crazy stuff. We have drawn the line at travel teams. While the guys do neighborhood sports camps, we aren't seeking out superfancy training options, and we don't plan to do so. Sometimes, people who are enthusiastic about developing kids into competitive athletes will look at the guys and suggest that we pursue these things. But right now: no. I am happy about this tournament thing, but it's as much additional disruption as we can take.

It's not easy to draw that line, and I suspect it won't get any easier as they get older and want to keep playing. I worry that we're putting our needs for convenience and a stable family life ahead of their pursuit of their passions, though I also know it would be all too easy to put them in a situation in which they could overdo it and be dealing with overuse injuries and/or burnout as teenagers. I'm just starting to discover what parents of kid athletes know very well, that figuring out what's best for your kid is tricky.

Enough for today, though there's way more to say about this and I'll be pursuing that in upcoming blog posts.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Final 2012-2013 Providence Public Schools calendar

Last month, in this post, I was all hot and bothered about the Providence School Board's inability to approve the 2012-2013 calendar. I am now, belatedly, following up to say that the board did indeed vote on this and the final version of the calendar can be found here as a PDF and below for your school year planning purposes.

Some observations:
  • Wow, that is one fragmented September. Parents with work outside of the home, plan your vacations accordingly (doing just that earlier today is what reminded me to share the final version).
  • The Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are back. Wonder why? They were gone for the past 2 years (or so).
  • Not one month without at least one school day off which means...
  • The end of the year is late - June 19. I sure do want some snow after last year's no-snow winter, but let's not hope for much (nor hurricanes or any other dramatic weather or disasters) or kids will be in school for-ev-er.
Okay, back to your regularly scheduled summer. Happy first day! And longest day of the year. Go enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Time to Unwind - July East Side Monthly column

I wrote these thoughts on summer learning for the July 2012 issue of East Side Monthly which is available here online and in all of the usual locations around town. 

Time to Unwind
Illustration by Jessica Pollak
For most of us who parent and teach school-aged kids, July stands alone – pristine summer perfection, entirely unsullied by formal schooling. Kids are happily enjoying not doing homework and not worrying about grades – and parents share that pleasure. It’s lovely to say, “Hey kid, what’s shaking?” in greeting to my children rather that barking, “Have you done your homework?” (That had become my rote greeting for most of the school year.) I do not miss that at all. Likewise, teachers are appreciating freedom from homework grading, lesson planning and the relentless focus on their students’ intellectual development. For many teachers, July is a time to engage in intensive professional development and to savor the unique pleasure of thinking uninterrupted thoughts.
Some argue that a summer break is an obsolete hangover from a mainly agrarian society. We don’t need to keep our kids’ days free to work on the farm. Indeed, a long break from school during the summer does not make much sense nowadays. Viewed through the lens of the well-documented phenomenon of summer learning loss, our current extended school summer vacations jeopardize academic achievement, particularly among struggling students and English language learners. In response to the threat posed by so many weeks away from formal learning, many summer programs feature some core area subject support, and families are encouraged to make sure that children read and practice math skills. Some kids will come home with a folder of worksheets meant for keeping their heads in the school game and most will have a summer reading list for optional or mandatory summer- time consumption.
Oh, those summer reading lists languishing on our kitchen bulletin board, now obscured by camp schedules and Iggy’s Doughboys coupons. My kids disdain those summer reading lists. Those books, thoughtfully and lovingly chosen by librarians and teachers, are roundly ignored. The cleverest thing I could do, really, is to hide the damn lists and artfully leave the books in our home’s lounging and leisure spots. (Note to self: you could still do this; it’s not as if the kids have actually looked at the lists.) Then my children may well read some of those books because reading per se is not a problem. They read plenty, sometimes even voraciously. They are easy readers, these kids. What they are not, in the summer, is the least bit interested in being told what to read.
These children are generally compliant and often enthusiastic students during the academic year. But when summer vacation starts, they are wildly resistant to the intrusion of anything with the whiff of formal education.
Instead, they are learning all kinds of things in ways that the frantically paced school year doesn’t permit. In camp, they learn archery and art. At home, they read when and what they want to. They learn to skateboard. They take piano lessons, with enough time and space in the day to get into a good routine of practicing without a lot of other competing demands. They work on their fantasy baseball teams and play plenty of real baseball games. They are planning a backyard party for their friends that will be, I hear, epic. They are allowing their minds to settle where they may, which, at least for a few weeks of the year, seems right.
Chats with friends – all full-time working parents like us with elementary and middle school aged kids – have yielded fairly similar responses. All of us agree that a little bit goes a long way during the summer. Some kids actually love the summer reading lists and rip through them, often encouraged by programs that provided prizes and recognition for the most prolific readers. Many parents spoke highly of regular library visits and the Providence Public Library Summer Reading Program; its theme this year is “Dream Big, Read!” which sounds excellent. You can visit a library branch or the Providence Public Library website for more. Others are experimenting with online learning. We’re doing that. With our kids, we have been having fun with math learning on the Khan Academy website.
And of course, what’s right in the summer is different for every family and every child. One friend mentioned that her kid, who has ADHD, needs a little more structure, which she provides by saying, “Let’s get half-an-hour of reading done before you watch television today.” Another friend has kids in a dual-language elementary school and wants to keep the parts of their brains engaged in Spanish language learning up to speed, so she plans to work on that.
What all of us are looking forward to the most is time to hang out with our kids. An unrushed (except perhaps by the need to evade mosquitoes) picnic dinner in the backyard, with s’mores made in a firepit; this cannot be beat, and cannot be had with any regularity during the rush of the school year. We’re making memories, and I think that counts for a lot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

back for summer vacation...almost

At least I provided some fair warning that I'd be gone. I didn't expect to be a month's worth of gone, but attention had to be paid to work, the end of the school year (which was last Thursday, June 14), and baseball x 3.

As these things happen, now that school is over, I have more time to think and write about it. So here we re-begin. But first, a vacation day with the kids at
The one in MA, not the one in RI.
It's not going to be hot enough but one must seize one's fun while one may. We think it's a good day for fun seizing precisely because (not going to be superhot) + (some school districts are still in session) = no lines.

So, tomorrow, after a dozen trips down the water slide clear my head, back to thinking about schools.

Happy summer, everyone!