Category Archives: Parent Resources

An hour is not enough

Erahm Christopher at Trevor Browne High School Friday.

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Bullying is a big issue in the media and on school campuses. When I was a kid, a bully was someone who sought you out, harassed, harangued and beat you up for no other reason than because they could and took delight in it. Normally though, friends came to your aid and/or the bully would catch a fist to the nose or some other humiliation and the problem would go away.

The auditorium at Trevor Browne with the video screen to show the Teen Truth Live video. (photo is a composite of two images)

Charles Calhoun, an Arizona Special Olympics athlete spoke about how he had been excluded because of his disability.

I went to an assembly at Trevor G Browne High School Friday led by Erahm Christopher of Teen Truth Live. Though bullying was the buzzword upon which the assembly was advertised, the definition of bullying was enlarged to encompass many behaviors found in a school setting. Slides during the video included, “Spreading a Rumor is Bullying”, “Excluding someone is Bullying”, as well as the obvious, “A Physical Attack is Bullying.” Just the rumor aspect alone would label nearly everyone as a bully.

I talked to Erahm after the assembly and he said that bullying is the hot button so principals want to see bullying in the title of the presentation. That’s he says we ”get our foot in the door and deliver our message.”

His message was that kids feel alienated and disconnected from their peers and from their parents. They have no one to turn to except maybe other students who are equally disconnected and in the extreme case act out their aggression. The only way to make things better was to be a positive force in the community by doing something as simple as not calling someone a name, or making fun of them for their appearance, background or disability. And to say something, tell someone and do something if there is a problem. It sounded a lot like “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Browne spoke about being bullied because she was different. Chelsy is part of the Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify.

Christopher started his mission of building community after the Columbine shooting in 1999 when he found that kids just wanted someone who would listen to them.

In Michael Moore’s documentary on the Columbine shootings and the culture of guns and violence in America, “Bowling for Columbine”, the rock musician Marilyn Manson, whose violent stage persona has been blamed for violent behavior, is asked what he would have said to students at Columbine. His response is probably the most logical of anyone Moore interviewed in the documentary, says, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

That was Erahm’s message to the students at Trevor Browne, North High and North Canyon, the three schools he visited during his swing through the Valley: Tell someone how you are feeling before you do something you’ll regret. And to the community as a whole take the time to pay attention to the people in their community, as people are hurting and need to be included. Hence the notion that exclusion is bullying.

Christopher related his experience from high school how he had been physically threatened by another student and was on the verge of taking a shotgun to school but as luck would have it his brother noticed something was wrong, looked in his gym bag where he had stashed the gun, stopped him. His brother said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” His parents were told, they called the police and the boy who had threatened Erahm was arrested.

Teen Truth Live was there because Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify wants to include within prevention bullying, the idea that excluding special needs students or using the “r-word” is also part of positive community building. Special Athlete Charles Calhoun, and Project Unity partner Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Brown spoke about their experiences being bullied and excluded by family, friend and peers.

Students signify whether they have been bullied or bullied another student.

The assembly only lasted 50 minutes as that was all the school could allot to the presentation that normally runs 70 minutes. Christopher had to take out much of the interactive sections to save time. To be effective, Christopher admits the message needs to be heard for more than for 50 minutes. Schools that embrace the entire program do pre- and post-assembly activities as well as offer the presentation to the parents. Building a supportive community takes more than 50 or 70 minutes, during one afternoon in the school gymnasium.

During the presentation, Erahm Christopher asked kids to stand raise their hands if they had been bullied in any way. Then he had them sit down if they had ever bullied anyone whether by saying something, or excluding them or even by physically attacking them. This student and a few others on the other side of he room remained standing.

If kids feel disconnected and alienated as the video suggests, where are the parents? A child’s first connection is their own family and especially their parents. So it it that parents are working more than ever? During the recession of the early 1980s  two-career households started to become the norm, and households became busier. And with the recent recession, parents struggle to find and keep jobs, making live even busier and more hectic.

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Lawyers in your pocket

The US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. photo: tbanneck/ Flickr.com

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics.org because she realized people don’t know much about how our government works. Civics-oriented video games developed by iCivics can educate and interest people in the structure and process of government.

The latest news is that O’Connor has created a game for the iPad called Pocket Law Firm. Okay, so O’Connor didn’t do the actual coding or game design herself, but her experience on the bench clearly played a guiding role. In the the game you run a law firm and argue constitutional cases.

Your law firm can win perks like more lawyers to handle more cases, a coffee machine, waiting room upgrades and advertisements to drive more clients to your Pocket Law Firm.

The game is free to download from iTunes for a limited time. They don’t say how limited, or what constitutes limited or if there is any precedence in video game law defining limited–oh man, I need a law firm in my pocket to file an injunction to keep it free until I get an iPad.

For those of us without iPads, there are 18 games on the iCivics website dealing with the constitution, government and the law.

RAK staff writer Vicki Louk Balint interviewed Justice O’Connor in 2009. See Sandra Day O’Connor: Cyber civics from an irrefutable source.

Daniel Friedman

Parents act to improve student performance and school rating

Schools are rated by the Arizona Department of Education through an A-F Accountability System. From an ADE document explaining the system, “To hold schools accountable in a fair and equitable fashion, each school is equally evaluated both on how many of its students are passing AIMS each year and how much its students academically grow each year. Other factors such as dropout rate, graduation rate and English language learner reclassification rate are taken into consideration, when applicable.”

The Peoria Unified School District sent us a press release about a group of parents at Frontier Elementary School who decided that being three points shy of an “A” rating was not going to cut it. From a parent group communication on the Frontier website, “Performance impacts our property values, community stability and the future success of our children.”

The parents decided to do something about the school rating. Because the AIMS test results are the rating measurement, a typical reaction is more focus on AIMS test skills through kill-and-drill worksheets and teaching to the test. Instead, the parents are taking a much more holistic, long-term view by encouraging their children to read more, watch less television, study more, exercise more, choose healthier foods, do a few extra math problems, read the newspaper, etc. They call it the Just 3 More! campaign

They made bingo cards with activities students can do to win prizes. The result is that parents get their children to focus on overall better study habits and lifestyle choices. There is plenty of research showing parent involvement in students’ education has positive results, so the Just 3 More! campaign will likely succeed.

The program continues through April, when the AIMS test is given, but it will likely pay off for a lot longer.

Your price may vary

A college education is an expensive proposition. College costs have increased far faster than inflation and many students graduate to find there aren’t jobs matching their level of education and they have crushing debt.

But still the value of an education goes beyond employment prospects and a college degree definitely opens doors closed to non-graduates. But still, it’s expensive.

Prescott College

When I was touring colleges with my kids every campus seemed to be building a new science center, student union or some complex guaranteed make them look newer and shinier than the thousands of other institutes of higher-priced learning.

Truthfully, schools need students in their classrooms and so they offer grants, gifts and scholarships to get qualified student to enroll. A high percentage of students enrolling get some sort of grant or scholarship to go along with the student jobs and loans they’ll need.

If your child is among the best and the brightest students, they may receive a scholarship or grant regardless of the parents’ income just because his or her awesomeness casts a golden glow across the land.

Most families need a combination of financial aid, loans, grants and scholarships in addition to helping their child choose an affordable school.

The College Board has a Net Price Calculator  that factors in the various expenses and funds available to students for participating schools to show the actual estimated cost of a year at college, not just tuition.

Just for fun I chose Prescott College because it is the only Arizona school using College Board’s calculator and Kenyon College in Ohio because it’s an excellent but expensive school. To be fair, I don’t know much about Prescott College other than what I read on their website yesterday, but it looks progressive and innovative.

Prescott College lists their estimated cost of attendance per year as $38, 814. Equal to the cost of a very nice new car. Kenyon lists their estimated cost of attendance as $57,910, which is like a really nice new car you’d likely have to sell to send your kid to attend Kenyon.

Kenyon College

Both schools offer grants, scholarships and gift aid. Just for fun I entered numbers into the calculator for both schools for a family of four that earned $60,000 per year with just a few thousand in savings, a mortgage and another child following the first one to school in a couple years.

The estimated cost after grants, scholarships and aid from Prescott College came to $10, 714. Still a chunk of money to cough up every year but still, not a mind-boggling number.

The Kenyon College cost after grants, scholarships and aid came to $12,180, which surprised the heck out of me. The two schools are almost $20,000 apart expense-wise and now less than $2,000 apart. Maybe there will be money left over to buy a car?

I also entered numbers for a family of four making $125,000, ample savings, solid interest and dividend income, and lots of equity in their home. The calculator said, sorry, you’re own your own.

Clearly, colleges want kids to attend that qualify and they have money to offer to get them there. Someone has to use those new science buildings.

Oddly though the Kenyon calculation only listed $280 in personal expenses. For a kid from Arizona the costs for cold-weather clothing will be more much than that the first year. Prescott College listed $2,650 in expenses, which is more realistic.

Both only listed transportation costs as $1,000 or so, which for Prescott is reasonable, as it is only a short car ride away from the valley. For Kenyon though, there’s at least two round-trip plane tickets each year unless parents want to drive to Ohio and back, twice, or tell their new collegian they have to stay at school over winter break.

Here’s an interesting article from U.S. News The College Solution blog about Net Price Calculators. Apparently all schools needed to have them on their websites by Oct. 29, 2011 as per Congressional mandate.

Story by Daniel Friedman

Prescott College photo credit: Flickr.com
Kenon College photo credit: Flickr.com

PTA podcasts

The National PTA (Parent Teacher Association) is a child advocacy organization especially in the area of parent involvement in their child’s education. The organization offers a series of podcasts on its website addressing such issues as child safety, PTA fundraising, the drop-out problem, flu prevention and PTA advocacy strategies.

New podcasts are posted to the site every other Tuesday. Shows range in length from three to 10 minutes and include include interviews with national experts and parent leaders and success stories from across the country.

Sorting out ADHD and Asperger’s disorder

This artwork came from the Facebook page "Artists with Asperger's"

Developmental pediatrician Raun Melmed, M.D. will speak at Lexis Preparatory School from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

The school is located at at 12753 N. Scottsdale Rd. in Scottsdale, behind the Jewish Community Center Campus.

Melmed’s talk, “Sorting It All Out: Diagnosing ADHD and Asperger’s Disorder” will clarify differences between ADHD and Asperger’s Disorder.

The presentation is free. RSVP to Lexis Prep at 480-391-3901 or glazic@lexisprep.

The presentation is sponsored by Lexis Preparatory School, the Melmed Center and Pediatric Speech& Language Specialists.

Free curriculum material online

I downloaded the 526-page first grade eBook from the Head of the Class website to see what was there. It lists all the skills covered for first grade, like “Knows the ‘sk’ Initial Consonant Blend,” “Completes Story Problems Using Single-Digit Subtraction with Illustrations” or “Uses Glue and Glitter to Create a Spider and Its Web.” The eBook also has worksheets for activities to teach concepts in the curriculum with teaching process cues and supplemental resources on the Head of the Class website.

The supplemental resources include videos and multimedia presentations on the web with activities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and participate in the lesson.

After you register on the website, you’ll find a lot of material available free. There is some advertising, and some supplemental materials will be sold through the site, but basically it’s available at no charge.

I watched a nine-minute video featuring Miss Ana on how to make a bird out of clay for one of the art projects. Max and Happy, Max’s dog, are two characters who show up in illustrations and lessons on the website and they made a “live” appearance in the video. The video was clear and concise and professionally made and edited.

Clearly a lot of time and effort went into content for Head of the Class, which currently covers preschool through fifth grade. Head of the Class software will help you monitor your children’s progress and keep track of what they have done. If parents are looking for curriculum materials for homeschooling or to supplement their child’s school curriculum to reinforce skills, this website is valuable — but still it takes a lot of work, direction and guidance for a parent to make it work for their child.

Update: Curriculum content for Preschool and Kindergarten has been added to the site as well as information on pregnancy, and developmental activities for newborns to age three.

The Pregnancy thru toddler material is available at PregnancyThroughToddler.com.

All photos are screen grabs from the Head of the Class website.

Dan Friedman