And So It Begins…

And So It Begins…

Tales from a Mom on the Search for a Private School!

By “Mrs. Jane Schoolfinder”
Jane is going to tell it like it is, not everyone likes that, so the anonymity as she searches for a school for her child is warranted

It is that time of year in our house — we are gearing up to “start” the search for private schools for our daughter. Start. Ha! What a silly notion! The “start” for these schools started well before this summer. We have an older child who is already in private school and the search for that school started well before the summer of his placement year. These searches start in a great number of ways. They start at casual dinners with friends. They start as informal internet searches for private schools in your geographic area. You start to look to the administrators and teachers at your current schools for guidance. You solicit information from just about anyone who will talk to you about it. It can all be very time consuming and all-encompassing without you even realizing it!

What we learned from our first go around with the private school search is this: it is not about you. That can sound obvious and a little patronizing on the surface, but trust us, it is not. The school that you are searching for has to be the right fit for your child. It has to meet there needs, socially, academically and emotionally. It is not about how you feel about the school. Of course you need to be comfortable and confident that the staff and administration at said school are well equipped to provide the appropriate education for your child, but you are not the student in question.

Once we removed ourselves from the vision, it became ABUNDANTLY clear that the school we really wanted our child to attend was not the right place for him. We were looking at a place we thought our family would fit in and evaluating the reasons we wanted that school over others had nothing to do with the academic, social or emotional needs of our child. The school he attends is as great a school as the other, with another added bonus: our child LOVES it there and our family fits in great!

Another lesson learned: look at your child’s weaknesses. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That saying, while it is a cliché, is helpful when evaluating a school. Whether you are picking a school for an issue in your child’s development, for a shorter period of time, or through 12th grade, you should evaluate where your child struggles. It is that evaluation that will help you pick a place that will be nurturing and empathetic to him/her. It is that place that will build a foundation of strong skills and character that will help him/her be successful later in their educational career.

A helpful tool that we used when evaluating our children’s strengths and weaknesses, was to ask people who knew them best to describe them. We asked grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends’ parents, and close friends of mine. It was amazingly helpful and gratifying to hear their descriptions.  We asked for clarification at times and applied some of their words to describe traits our children possess that we could not recall the right word.

It was a humbling experience with some responses as well. It was those responses that were not the easiest to hear, that allowed me to take a different look at our child. Often times we want our children to be the smartest, fastest, strongest, best at whatever they are doing.  With the competitive nature of school applications, we can overlook the things at which our children are not the best. Asking people to talk to you about your children can be eye-opening and helpful in being honest with yourself about your child’s wants and needs.

So it is that time again. We are starting the tours of the local private schools in September with our daughter in mind. As a spirited, funny, active and spunky girl there are several places we have in mind. We think she will do best in a place that cultivates a quest for knowledge of all kinds and can continue to teach her to be a self-starter with an inquisitive nature.

Juggling College, Child Care Leaves Millennials Impoverished

Juggling College, Child Care Leaves Millennials Impoverished

by Allie Bidwell, Education reporter for U.S. News & World Report

People say millennials are a lot of things – more educated, more entitled, more likely to have student debt. They’re also more likely to be parents, oftentimes while they’re working toward earning a college degree.

Samantha Maggiani, 25, is completing her master’s degree in social work from Texas State University next month. She’s juggled being a full-time student with also holding a full-time internship and being a full-time mother to her 4-year-old son, Kenneth. Maggiani became pregnant toward the end of her general education coursework at a local community college, and started her work toward a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston–Downtown with a newborn child in January 2012. Although she was able to rely on her boyfriend – her son’s father – to work enough to pay the bills, the three were far from any family who could help babysit, and Maggiani found herself constantly balancing school with her parental duties.

“There were often times I couldn’t go to school because I couldn’t find a babysitter,” she says. “I couldn’t have my boyfriend not work because he was the breadwinner, he was paying the bills. So school kind of took the back burner to living, basically.”

A new report from the youth advocacy group Young Invincibles highlights the obstacles many young parents face, including the startling fact that they’re significantly more likely than past generations to be living in poverty. The report, written by Konrad Mugglestone, found 1 in 5 millennial parents lives in poverty. Among the 4.8 million college students who have children, nearly 43 percent – around 2 million students – lived below the federal poverty line during the 2011-12 school year, according to data from the Department of Education.

That’s because young parents, particularly college students, have several financial responsibilities to balance, and few resources to help.

“When you have a kid, obviously you have a lot less time in your day,” Mugglestone says. “You need to probably be working to support them, and if you’re trying to go to school as well, you’re really not going to have that many hours to devote to your education.”

Added responsibilities and a lack of support is particularly a problem for student parents – research has shown that family responsibilities are among the top reasons students with children drop out of college.

But there are more student parents than ever before. While the proportion of student parents has remained relatively stable, the absolute number has jumped from around 3.2 million in 1995 to 4.8 million in 2011, according to a data analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. At the same time, federal funding for campus-based child care hasn’t kept pace. Despite the burgeoning number of student parents, the proportion of community colleges with child care on campus has fallen from a high of 53 percent in 2003-04 to 46 percent in 2013; the proportion of public four-year colleges with child care resources decreased from 54 percent to 51 percent in about the same time.

And even when colleges and universities do have child care options on campus, they’re often very pricey and sometimes even more expensive than options outside of the school, says Barbara Gault, vice president and executive director of the institute.

Colleges and universities “don’t necessarily see the link between investing in campus child care and student success,” she says. “They sometimes see it more as an extra, a perk, something that’s the first thing to cut if they need to trim the budget, or something that somehow should be paying for itself.”

It’s also a problem that many colleges don’t have solid statistics on how many of their students have dependent children, Gault says. What’s more, many college education reforms pushed by large foundations and the Obama administration, Gault says, are more focused on improving curriculum and learning, delivering online education and addressing issues with adult basic education, but less focused on supports for students, such as accessible child care.  READ MORE



Cheating Problem? Rethink Assessment

Cheating Problem? Rethink Assessment

by Neal Brown, Green Acres School, Head of School

At schools such as Green Acres, we are focused on teaching children “how to think, not just what to think.” In the same way, we are less interested in filling students’ minds with information than we are in opening them up to new understandings about themselves and about the world around them.

And, ultimately, while we ensure that our students leave our school after 8th grade with the skills that they need to be successful in high school and beyond, we are equally interested in instilling in each student a love of learning for learning’s sake. Rather than seeing school as a game to be cynically played in order to achieve the highest grade or to please the teacher, we aim for our students to develop a genuine interest in the material and a sense of satisfaction in the act of learning.

The evidence for widespread cynicism about learning is nowhere more acute than in the all-too-common examples of cheating at schools and colleges. Students are most often seen as the root of this problem; however, teachers and schools/colleges also bear some of the blame. In a recent article from The Atlantic, former teacher Jessica Lahey shows ways in which schools both contribute to cheating and have the power to lessen instances of cheating.

In “A Classroom Where No One Cheats,” she cites the causes of cheating explored in Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty by James M. Lan. Lan points to the pressure students experience to compete against one another for scores or grades. While some degree of competition in school (and life) is inevitable, students often internalize the message that getting a good grade and out-competing one’s classmates is much more important than learning/mastering the material. This seems especially true in schools where tests have high stakes consequences and where they are over-used to determine student understanding at the expense of other types of assessments.

So how can educators and parents create an environment that engages children in learning for learning’s sake, while also preparing them for the pressure of grades and testing? One way is to ensure that a range of assessments is being used to measure student mastery. Among these assessments should be ones that authentically measure not just what student know, but what they can do with this knowledge. There should be opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity, rather than simply to find “the answer,” and there should be opportunities for students to interact with classmates and the teacher in completing assessed tasks, rather than overly assessing what a student knows by him or herself in a traditional paper and pencil assessment.

Of course this isn’t just a recipe to avoid the problem of cheating; it’s an approach to teaching and assessing students that acknowledges that what a student can do in context, what he or she can create that is unique, what he or she can discover with input from others, and what he or she gains from reflecting upon a learning experience has the most lasting value. It’s also an approach that enables a school to communicate to students the value it places on teaching skills and understandings that are in many ways inseparable from what is valued outside of school. We know that students, especially beginning in middle school, need to prepare for tests and for other closed-ended assignments; however, these should represent only a fraction of how students are motivated to learn and how their success is assessed. This approach also demonstrates to students that while learning and any type of true accomplishment is often challenging, it also can be joyful, creative, and assessed in a less-pressured environment—one also were cheating would less likely thrive.

While it would be impossible to claim that students at Green Acres School or other progressive school never cheat, I would argue that students in these environments spend more time focused on learning and less time worried about competition. I also would suggest that teachers in these schools spend less time determining what students don’t know or figuring out which students know more than the others—and much more time, as Lahey says, “catching students in the act of learning.”



By “J”, a Child Care Center Director
For the safety and security of the children and to provide a “real” perspective on child care, “J” has chosen to remain anonymous….for now.

It’s unnatural for adults.

It’s abnormal-if you will.

Thank God for children.

It’s incredible when you put some thought into the fact that children are born unbiased. They come into the world non-corrupt. Unscathed human beings. I find joy in seeing kids doing something that so many years of civilized existence could never produce – unity. Strong word huh? It’s a powerful word and an even stronger act. From toddlers to pre-k children I see children play, work, and most impressively stick together. Never underestimate the power of a connection built on the love of Transformers. I’ve meet many princesses in my early educational day, but to see so many work together is a rarity indeed.

I did a classroom observation last week for one of the preschool classrooms. I say my hellos and hugs as I enter and try to fade into the wall to watch the learning take place. Centers/Areas were set with theme related tasks and the students went to their chosen areas. A decent mix of boys and girls begin to communicate on the task at hand. White, Chinese, African-American, Samoan, they all work together. They laugh, they debate, they ask questions, they unite. After a few minutes the children regroup with new partners and start the dance all over again.

The innocence of not knowing bias is…productive. As someone who has worked in childcare for almost ten years now I don’t take the miracle of being surrounded by colorless love for granted. I taught middle schoolers for 3 years and despite the obvious hormonal issues pre-teens have, they come with a bucket full of preconceived unfounded notions. From age two to five children’s personalities shine like the sun, meaning it’s here and bright, whether you like it or not. The beautiful side to that is seeing the purity of experiencing socialization for the first time. It’s new, it’s raw, it’s the opposite of adulthood.

When I ask the class what they are learning today I get a variety of answers. To the teachers’ credit every answer was in the ballpark of what the lesson called for. I noticed that when I called on some of the quieter students they would shyly and slowly answer. I’d pause and nod waiting for them to finish which was clearly a bit too slow for their classmates who would blurt it out. One young lady got up during my Q&A and sat next to a student who hadn’t shared yet and whispered in his ear. She then raised her hand and let me know that her classmate wanted to share something. He did. Word for word she whispered the answers in his ear and he would repeat them to me. He was proud to share and she was proud to share with him. Small but powerful. Just like the word.