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Archive for the ‘Hot Topics’ Category

Creating Climates of Respect

Monday, September 1st, 2014

By Jo Ann Freiberg, Ph.D. with Eve Kessler, Esq.

With a new school year comes this important reminder that school bullying is a significant and pervasive problem in the United States, affecting at least 20% of students, with over one-third of those cases involving kids with learning and other disabilities.

For children that are vulnerable to bullying, conventional empowerment strategies alone are not enough. To protect them, a more comprehensive approach is needed—one that not only builds individual skills, but also ensures a safe environment where anti-bullying preventive practices are systematically implemented and enforced by schools and communities.

The true antidote for bullying is the creation of climates of respect—safe physical, emotional, and intellectual environments that do not tolerate cruelty and mean behaviors. 

Because youngsters imitate the behaviors modeled by adults, fostering a safe school culture must be a system-wide endeavor that includes administrators, principals, teachers, coaches, staff, and the parents and siblings of bullies, their targets, and the bystanders who witness their acts. The change must begin at the top. From elementary school through high school, administrators must learn what it takes to ensure a safe school climate for all students, leading the effort to build awareness, implement reform, require accountability, and maintain vigilance.

Building Climates of Respect

Understanding what respect looks, sounds, and feels like is essential if true climates of respect are to be achieved. When students feel they are a valued part of the school, are happy to be there, have friends with whom they feel close and empathetic, and are treated fairly by teachers and adults, they feel a sense of safety. Then risky behaviors fall away, and they are better able to learn.

Respect is reciprocal. Demanding it may result in obedience, but not respect. Respect must be given for it to be received. It is an earned quality and happens in a particular hierarchy: Only when adults are modeling respect toward each other and toward children will children ever respect adults and one another.

To be respectful, children must be taught to show common courtesy, and to listen (not just “wait to talk”). They must be willing to address difficult issues rather than ignore them, be empathetic, and understand and accept differences in others. They must treat others fairly and appropriately, be honest, forthright and trustworthy, recognize that adults are fallible, and learn to give heartfelt apologies.

Adults’ Role

Bullying is an adult problem, because adults allow it to happen. Parents and teachers must take responsibility to make it “cool to be kind” and let kids know that meanness is not okay. There is no excuse for toxic classrooms with sarcastic, mean-spirited teachers. Instead the classroom should be a place for children to find mentors who understand and appreciate differences in others, value respect, and treat everyone fairly. For example, some teachers have students make contracts in which everyone agrees to treat others the way they wish to be treated and those breaching the contract are told publicly that they are not being appropriate.

Kids must learn ways to help and appreciate others, be more caring and compassionate, ask for help to stop meanness, and apologize when necessary. They must be taught that while they don’t have to be everyone’s friend, they are responsible for not hurting anyone.

It is common for a child to feel alone and helpless when someone is mean to him or when he watches another child being bullied. But he must understand that he has the right to be safe as well as the responsibility as an ally to help others be safe. It’s vital that children realize they are not alone and that they should not keep their feelings to themselves. When children do not take immediate action to inform an adult that bullying behavior is occurring, the harmful behavior is destined to continue and likely to escalate.  

 

 

 

Calling All Kids with a STEM Interest

Monday, August 18th, 2014

For children with LD and ADHD, fostering their gifts and talents is an important, yet often-overlooked strategy in helping promote their success in school, and feeling good about themselves.

This summer, Sikorsky Aircraft offers an opportunity to encourage your child’s interest in the STEM areas—science, technology, engineering, and math. For the fourth year in a row the company is sponsoring a national contest, challenging kids ages 9-16 to design a Helicopter of the Future.

This year’s winner will receive the Igor Sikorsky Youth Innovator Award, along with a $1,000 scholarship. In addition, he or she will be flown to the company’s Connecticut headquarters and given a tour of the facility, including an up-close look at how the Blackhawk and Seahawk military helicopters are made. Runners-up will receive a prize pack.

To enter the competition, budding innovators can apply at www.helicopter2050.com. Entries will be judged based on uniqueness, creativity, and the description of the invention/idea. For example last year’s winner, 15-year-old Vance Hudson from Collierville, TN designed a helicopter that could be reconfigured for a variety of missions, depending on the need.

This year’s contest ends September 30, 2014. To learn more see the 4th Annual Helicopter 2050 Challenge homepage.

Cisco CEO John Chambers Says His Dyslexia Is An Advantage

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Parents struggling to help their child with dyslexia will take heart at the July 24th article in Business Insider on Cisco CEO John Chambers. Chambers, one of the most influential figures in the tech industry today, has dyslexia and has become a spokesperson for others with the learning disability.

Despite his immense success, Chambers admits in the Business Insider interview that his hands still get clammy when he talks about his dyslexia—an indication of how deep the scars are for those stigmatized by LD as a child.

In third and fourth grade, my teachers thought I may not go to college. I had two parents who were doctors and my mom was valedictorian in multiple classes. My parents always told me, “you’re smart” and that’s nice from love, but that’s not what you see.

Chambers is not one of those tech giants that dropped out of school. To the contrary, he was able to manage his dyslexia well enough to earn multiple degrees on his way to fame and fortune.

Like many other successful people with dyslexia, Chambers believes the learning disability is a strength as much as a weakness:

It would surprise you how many government and business leaders have dyslexia. Some people view it as a weakness and maybe it is. What dyslexia forces you to do, you don’t go A, B, C, D, E … to Z. I can go A, B … Z with speed.

Because of my weakness I’ve learned other ways to accomplish the same goal with faster speed. So in math, I can do equations faster by eliminating the wrong answers quicker than I can get the right answer.

It’s easy for me to see how a business proposition is going to play out, or who our next-generation competitors are, from taking this data point from this customer and another data point from another customer … and jump to Z. So it’s definitely an advantage.

While not all our children will grow up to be Fortune 500 CEOs, Chambers’ story is an important reminder that when children with learning disabilities receive appropriate interventions they can reach their full potential—whatever that may be.

To read more excerpts from the Business Insider interview, Cisco CEO John Chambers: My Dyslexia Is A Weakness AND A Strength go to http://www.businessinsider.com/cisco-ceo-john-chambers-talks-dyslexia-2014-7#ixzz38bWftH7t

Evaluating States on What Matters for Students in Special Education

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Last year the Department of Education (DOE) changed the way it evaluated how well states meet the needs of students with learning and other disabilities. The old measure focused on compliance with the myriad rules set forth by the DOE (e.g. whether students were tested for special education in a timely manner); the new framework focuses on how well students in special education are being educated—the heart of the matter.

Based on the new “results-driven accountability” standards, far fewer states are adequately serving students with disabilities. According to a report in Education Week,

Last year, 39 states were deemed as meeting department requirements under the compliance-focused evaluation framework.…This year, when rated under the new evaluation framework, only 15 states  fell into the “meets requirements” category, based on data collected for the 2012-13 school year, the department said. An additional 32 states were categorized as “needs assistance.” Three states—California, Delaware, and Texas—plus the District of Columbia fell into the “needs intervention” category. 

Changing the Focus

The new measures were implemented because the DOE was not seeing meaningful academic progress under the old standards, explained Melody Musgrove, director of the office of special education programs. “Even though we have been improving in terms of compliance, because that’s what we’ve been focusing on, we were not seeing that same type of improvement across reading, and math, and graduation rates, and post-school outcomes for students with disabilities.”

According to Education Week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told members of the press that, “Evaluating states on the academic performance of students with disabilities—rather than focusing on how states comply with deadlines and paperwork—is an important shift away from ‘complacency.’”

Smart Kids Plays Role in Disability Empowerment Campaign

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

We are very pleased to participate in Mediaplanet’s Disability Empowerment campaign, launched on Friday, June 20th to raise awareness about overcoming obstacles faced by those with a disability. Smart Kids is being featured in this digital campaign alongside industry associations and public figures such as Daymond John, Henry Winkler, and others who share their personal experiences, triumphs and awareness efforts.

We invite you to view the article contributed to this campaign by our Executive Director, Jane Ross – including a sneak peek at images from the animated short, 10 Million Kids to be released at the end of the summer – at http://www.disabilityempowermentnews.com/support/10-tips-for-parents-with-children-with-learning-disabilities

The campaign was distributed through the Washington Post on June 20th and is published online at www.disabilityempowermentnews.com. To read the full campaign, click here: http://bit.ly/1kUN4SV

 

Changes to the ACT

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

No sooner did the makers of the SAT announce planned changes to their college aptitude test, than ACT Inc. chimed in with changes of their own to the popular ACT college-entrance exam.

According to Education Week’s College Bound blog, plans are under way to offer several new features designed to provide students with insights to enhance their learning. Included in the upgrades, currently planned for spring of 2015, are the following features:

  • A revised optional writing test that will give students more detailed feedback through four sub-scores (ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use).
  • Indicators of career readiness, which will show “students where they need to improve on specific skills sought by employers.”
  • An indicator designed to help students understand their ability to comprehend complex text.
  • A STEM score that will combine their math and science performance.

While ACT recognizes that these changes are not radical, they are hoping “to provide more meaningful insights to students to help inform instruction,” said ACT executive Paul Weeks.

For information on which test may be more appropriate for your college-bound student with LD, see SAT v. ACT: What Are the Differences.

Opinion: Community Colleges Must Change to Meet the Needs of Students with LD

Monday, June 9th, 2014

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED         

With the average annual cost of private and public colleges nearing $41,000 and $18,500 respectively, community college, witha price tag of around $10,500 per year, is an alluring bargain. For parents of teens with LD, the ability to provide continued supervision and emotional support as their teens adjust to a more challenging environment adds to the appeal. For those parents community college seems to be a “low-cost”and “low-risk option,” which helps explain why 71% of all public school students with LD attend two-year colleges. In theory, community college appears to be an ideal choice. But looks are deceiving.

As both the parent of a son with LD and ADHD and a professional who worked at a community college, I say with conviction that parents who enroll their teens with learning disabilities in community college do so with a false sense of security.

Beneath the Surface

Yes, community colleges have a disability services office. Yes, they provide accommodations to students who present documentation. Yes, they have a tutoring center for college students-at-large. Yet, with all these seeming “safety nets”how does one explain why my community college—a state-of-the-art facility with cutting-edge technology and a claim to be “dedicated to fostering the growth of all we serve”—has a graduation rate of “14% in 150% of normal time?” Why does the average 3-year graduation rate for community colleges hover in the low 20% range, with many far below that?

It is true that many apathetic students, jobless and with poor high-school records, enroll in community college as a holding tank, simply biding their time until they figure out what they want to do. Their aimlessness contributes to the high failure rate. However, among the vast number of students with LD who are otherwise capable and choose to be in college, community college fails them. Let me provide some anecdotal evidence.

When I was first hired in 1993 as the part-time sole Learning Specialist at the local community college, fewer students with disabilities were choosing to disclose. As a result, I was able to see self-selected freshmen three times per week for individual hourly appointments. They came of their own volition because they were determined. I kept a file on each student, enabling us to pick up where we left off and track progress. Back then, I was able to get students through their developmental and introductory courses.

For years, I witnessed tentative students, with weak skills upon entering, gradually morph into confident, independent learners. Just as important, they learned how to navigate the college system successfully. I had a sense of accomplishment when I saw my students attain associate degrees, and I attended graduations with pride. Moreover, most of these graduates transferred to 4-year colleges, some with partial scholarships! Students who succeed in community college are proven entities and considered good financial risks by transfer institutions, and the sky is the limit in terms of transfer possibilities and dollars offered.

Meaningful Support

What transpired during these student appointments? Depending upon their needs, I taught students how to use a monthly/weekly academic planner to manage time for homework, tests, long-term assignments, and personal responsibilities; how to read and interpret a college textbook; active study techniques that thwart boredom and promote long-term memory; note-taking and test-taking strategies; self-advocacy skills, etc.

My opinions regarding my students’ needs were influenced by the support my son was receiving simultaneously as a student enrolled in Northeastern University’s special program for students with learning disabilities. I saw how the services he received lead to his metamorphosis, and it became very clear what I wanted for my students.

An additional element I saw as critical to my students’ success was personalized academic advising. Since I was the one most familiar with their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles, I felt strongly about advising them myself. Although each student, upon admission, received an academic advisor in the ironically-named Student Success Center, my students had particular needs about which these advisors knew nothing. I requested they see me instead.

I hand-picked classes based on each student’s learning style, the professor’s teaching style and reputation for dealing with students who learned differently, as well as the time of day that was optimal for the student.

Just as Northeastern did for my son, I made sure my students’ credit loads weren’t overwhelming, allowing them to experience success, gain confidence, and be enthusiastic about continuing. I balanced schedules with both challenging and less-challenging classes, always trying to insert a “hook”(a course of high interest) that would make them want to return.

I taught students the principle of taking easier classes on Tuesday/Thursday (90-minute classes) versus more difficult ones on Monday/Wednesday/Friday (60 minutes in length). Educational theory says that short, frequent exposures are more effective for learning difficult material.

I emphasized the importance of students knowing their academic status in all classes at any particular time in the semester by asking their professors. I wanted no surprises. I advised them when withdrawing from a class was a wise option, and I discouraged them from taking difficult classes during the short 5-week summer sessions. I helped match their interests and strengths to potential careers, so they could visualize the possibilities.

Finally, but not of least importance, I was their personal cheerleader. Whenever they hit that inevitable bump in the road common to all students, I lifted their spirits by reminding them of their strengths and how far they had come. I said if they did not leave my office feeling better than when they walked in, I had not done my job well enough.

Creeping Culture of Failure

By the year 2000, I saw the start of significant change. The number of students presenting documentation to our office was increasing rapidly, as was the demand for my services. I could no longer see students three times per week and worried that I would no longer establish that personal connection.

By 2006, I could see students just once in three weeks, yet the college continued to keep me as a part-time employee. Accordingly, I began to see a pattern of increased failure which I reported to the higher-ups. I told them my students were falling through the cracks for lack of support. I offered to look for a grant to provide our office with personnel trained to supplement my services. For whatever reason, my boss prohibited me from exploring that option—exasperating, in light of the fact that the college seemed to have programs in place for other “at risk”populations. Was not the mission of a community college to serve all learners?

The college took tuition from these students yet refused to provide support services to help them succeed. Not only did parents lose their money, students lost their self-esteem. Sadly, both arrived at the erroneous conclusion that “college was not a possibility.” In many cases, parents and students were left with loan debt and nothing to show for their investment—in effect leaving them worse off than had they never even tried.

Misguided Priorities

As for my frustration, I gave it one more shot by appealing to the most important concern of many colleges—their bottom line. My arguments suggesting that greater support would result in retaining more full-time students, and even attract others from nearby counties fell on deaf ears.

I was mystified, and that is when I resigned. This was do-able, yet the college expressed no interest. Through the administrative grapevine, I learned that the community college preferred to be seen as “elite”rather than a college catering to the needs of students with LD. I was replaced by a full-time person—not a Learning Specialist—who was responsible for devoting half of his hours to helping with administrative duties, effectively reducing the help for our students.

I imagine misconceptions still exist, even among educated community college administrators, regarding students with learning differences—that they simply are not capable, so why throw money at them. On the surface, it seems incongruous that the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution that attracts the world’s best and brightest, has eight people on staff to serve students with LD, while our community college, teeming with students with disabilities, has but two.

Until community colleges become similarly enlightened, they will remain a waste of taxpayer dollars and a major pitfall that many unsuspecting LD students and their parents would be well advised to avoid.

Joan M. Azarva runs Conquer College with LD, a website for parents of college-bound students with learning differences. She also has a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs that focuses on helping students make the successful transition from high school to college.

Related Smart Kids Link

 

Early School Start Times Are Not Good for Students

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Early school start times are hazardous to your child’s health. That’s the conclusion of sleep expert Paul Kelly, Ph.D., who recently joined policy analyst Clark Lee, J.D., in publishing a report calling for later school start times—particularly for schools that serve adolescents.

Using two decades of research to bolster their argument, Kelly and Lee claim:

  • Research shows adolescents, driven to later wake/sleep times by their biological clocks, lose as much as an average of 2.7 hours of sleep on school days.
  • There is virtually unanimous agreement in the research community that later start times in adolescent education would produce a positive change in adolescent learning, health and safety.
  • Few, if any, educational interventions are so strongly supported by research evidence from so many different disciplines and experts in the field.

Citing multiple studies, Kelly and Clark make a strong case for the deleterious effect inadequate sleep has on adolescents and young adults including impaired learning. “A 2013 study found that subjects restricted to six hours or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to two nights of total sleep deprivation.” For students struggling with learning issues not enough sleep may increase their daily challenges.

In addition to poorer learning outcomes, not enough sleep is associated with increased risk of accidents and injuries, obesity, depression, and sleep disorders. Adolescents (and adults) who are sleep-deprived are more likely to indulge in “risky behaviors to control sleep including the use of sleep medications and depressants such as alcohol at night and stimulants during the day (including coffee and other highly caffeinated drinks and smoking).”

Recognizing the difficulties in changing community norms, the authors nonetheless challenge the powers that be to find ways to amend their policies:

Despite the substantial body of evidence from scientific, medical and education research supporting later school starts, almost all adolescent education in the United States currently has early start times. This leaves states, school districts and other responsible bodies in the untenable position of defending a current practice that has been demonstrated to be detrimental to student learning, health and safety. It seems prudent for these parties to demonstrate a greater awareness of the issues, engage with other stakeholders and consider some of the options for reasonable and appropriate changes.

For more details, see Later School Start Times in Adolescence: Time for Change by Paul Kelley and Clark Lee, in Education Commission of the States.

 

Ways to Thank Your Child’s Teacher

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Just because Teacher Appreciation Week is over, doesn’t mean you (and your child) have to wait another year to express your appreciation to the professionals who work with your child day in and day out.

In an article in BusinessWire, Dr. Eve Breier, chair of the University of Phoenix College of Education, notes that “Parents can certainly appreciate their children’s teachers by reinforcing academic and behavioral expectations at home.” But, adds Breier, “Learning how to support teachers year-round is the best form of recognition.” To do that she offers the following suggestions:

  1. Send a thank-you note. Write a letter and encourage your child to write one too.
  2. Tweet for teacher! Use social media to thank your child’s teacher publicly and highlight what they have done throughout the year.
  3. Give the gift of reading. Buy a book to add to the classroom library that is reflective of the teacher and the impact he or she has on students.
  4. Help them get organized. Parents and students can offer their time to help teachers reorganize materials and supplies that have come undone throughout the year.
  5. Create a visual. Have your child draw or paint a poster or collage with words that describe the teacher and mention fun and successful activities from the past year.

Getting Involved Throughout the Year

  1. Volunteer in class. If you are unable to volunteer in the class, be sure to have regular communication with your child’s teacher.
  2. Get civic. Become involved in the PTA, serve as classroom parent and advocate for other parents to become involved. Work with your child’s teacher to create a Professional Learning Community (PLC) among parents who meet regularly to discuss key topics, including curriculum and Common Core State Standards.
  3. Chaperone a field trip. This is a great way to assist the teacher while enjoying a unique educational experience alongside your child.
  4. Be engaged. Many teachers and schools post lesson plans and school activities online and provide opportunities for parents to be involved in classroom and school discussions.
  5. Ask! Simply ask the teacher how you can contribute to the class in the most supportive way possible.

 

 

Wide Disparities in Graduation Rates Remain for Students in Special Education

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Graduation rates are steadily increasing, but for students with disabilities the gap remains large.

According to data released by the Institute of Education Sciences, 80% of students graduated high school in 2012, representing an “historic” high, and a slight improvement over 79% for the prior year.

This latest overall 4-year graduation rate reflects slight improvements among most segments of the student population measured: minorities, students in special education, disadvantaged students, and English Language learners.

Gap for Special Education Students

The gap, however, remains wide between those students and their white and Asian peers. For example, the on-time graduation rate for students in special education was 61%—an increase from 59% the previous year. By contrast, the rate for white students was 86%, and for Asian students it was 88%.

Although the trend is positive, these numbers show that there is still a great deal more work to be done to ensure that all students, including those with learning disabilities, graduate on time.