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Educati Educati tion on A SPECIAL SECTION OF THE RECORD-RE VIE W ✍ JANUARY 20, 2012 Can cramming be avoided? By EVE MARX W e’ve all been there: it’s the night before a big exam or college or graduate school qualifications test and we’re frantic, attempting to absorb the mass of information we know we should have learned over a prolonged, steady period of time. As horrible as those up-all-night cramming sessions may be in our memory, it’s even more painful to relive the feeling again watching our offspring repeat the process. Some of us, unfortunately, never truly abandon the practice of cramming and as adults find ourselves force-feeding information into our brains throughout our entire professional lives, cramming the night before a big presentation, an important interview or any time at all when the pressure’s on to show our mastery of any subject. The term “cramming” is a slang word that’s been around for a long time. The British also call the same behavior “mugging” or “swotting.” No matter the subject, cramming is the practice of working intensively to absorb large volumes of informational material in a short amount of time. And while many students resort to cramming the night before a test, the practice is generally condemned by professional educators because hurried coverage of material tends to result in poor long-term retention and an inability to fully master content. While cramming is most popular with high school and college students, they’re hardly alone doing it. With academic performance pressure now trained on even the youngest students, children as young as 5 or 6 are now often subjected to cramming, largely by their own parents. What’s more, the practice of cramming is so widely assimilated into the culture, dozens of sites on the Web, including YouTube, offer videos on the best ways to do it. Dr. Patricia Wagner, director of Katonah Tutoring Club, said cramming can be avoided by better study habits. “With effective study skills, cramming can and should be avoided, as a habit,” Dr. Wagner said. An important reason, especially among teens and adolescents, she said why all-night study sessions and cramming should be avoided is because it leads to sleep deprivation. “Sleep deprivation leads to negative effects on the cortex, the part of the brain which is responsible for storing information,” Dr. Wagner said, citing a 2001 study at Harvard Medical School on the subject. “More than a half hour off a person’s normal sleep schedule may begin to affect memory retention. Cramming also leads to confusing facts already learned and increases stress levels.” And yet, of course, underprepared students will resort to cramming, Dr. Wagner said. “The reasons students cram are THE PLAN TO PAY FOR COLLEGE T By JACKIE LUPO his year, an in-state student attending one of the State University of New York (SUNY) colleges will pay about $21,000 in tuition, room and board, and expenses. A student attending Colgate University, a private liberal arts college in upstate New York, will pay over $55,000. An out-of-state student attending a large state school such as the University of North Carolina will have to come up with about $41,000. Those are the costs for this year. College costs are rising at between 5-8 percent per year, outstripping the rate of inflation. At this rate it will cost half a million dollars or more to send today’s toddlers to Harvard. Are average families really expected to come up with this kind of money? The answer is, they are — and they aren’t. According to the College Board, about 2 out of 3 full-time undergraduates get some kind of financial aid, generally a combination of grants, scholarships, loans and jobs. Federal loans account for about 39 percent of all financial aid dollars. But families who don’t want their kids to be saddled with enormous loans need to think about saving. It’s never too late, and it’s also never too early. The sooner the better “At the rate costs are going up, families can’t even keep pace,” said Tom Ausfahl, principal at Greystone Wealth Advisors LLC in Mount Kisco. “Given what college costs are today, it’s pretty hard for most parents to foot the bill. Very few people are able to raise 100 percent of what they need for college. The sooner you can start saving the better.” Try this scenario: According to the nifty college savings calculator on the website, suppose your child is a year old and you want to have enough money to send him or her to a college that costs $50,000 a year today. Let’s say you assume that college costs are going to increase by 6 percent each year and that you will earn 3 percent after tax each year in your savings fund. Under those assumptions, you would have to contribute $2,111 monthly every year for the next 17 years. If you Continued page 3A INSIDE Notebook ..............2A, 7A Online learning The growth of digital classrooms ................... 4A College move The why, when and how of transferring ................. 5A Learning language Bolstering second-language skills at every age ......... 6A Continued page 2A Ready for kindergarten? your child, your decision A By MARy LEGRAND sk pretty much any parent of a preschooler and they’ll say they’ve heard, at least once, that holding a child — particularly a boy or a youngster with a late birthday — back from starting kindergarten at the “normal” time will give him or her an edge when it comes to socialization, academics and sports. A number of child development experts, including some Westchester educators, say there can be advantages, but there are also points to be made on both sides of this rather long-ranging debate. (Several years ago we ran a story from the elementary schools’ point of view and the consensus was that if the kids are of age, they are ready.) Some of the educators of youngsters interviewed for this story said they’ve been approached by parents hoping to hold a child back; others say they’ve never been in that specific situation. Underlying the issue are the confusing differences in age restrictions for children entering kindergarten — the cut-off dates change from school district to school district, state to state. Karen Potz, director of the South Salem Nursery School, said in her 20 years at South Salem she’s never been approached by a parent who said, “This is what I’d like to do with my child.” Instead, Potz said, “I’ve had parents come in to ask us what we thought of a child’s readiness. Parents might repeat the statement that holding a child back gives that child an edge or is better for sports — they kind of repeat what’s out there — but I can’t really say it’s been a motivating factor for parents bringing up the subject.” Potz, who says she comes from a “developmentally ready point of view,” acknowledged that some 4- and 5-year-old preschoolers who might not be ready to enter kindergarten “just send out huge red flags. It’s nothing to do with intelligence, but perhaps socially they’re not all that comfortable. They might feel a little bit overwhelmed still in preschool, so the next step, in September, can be very frightening for them.” The parent of four grown children, Potz likened children entering kindergarten at one age only to the ability of all 20-somethings to be at the same place in their careers or social lives. “It’s very hard for these little ones,” she said. “I don’t know of any other area where everybody has to step up and be the same at the same point of time — like on Sept. 1 of your 28th year you have to have achieved this.” Teachers and administrators at South Salem Nursery School work with the Katonah-Lewisboro School District to ensure as many preschoolers as possible are up to speed before entering kindergarten in the district. “We meet with the kindergarten teachers, have workshops to stay on top of how the elementary school curriculums are changing,” Potz said. “In the 20 years I’ve been at South Salem the New York State regulations have changed dramatically, and these changes have been passed down to the school districts.” Children who “won’t have playdates or won’t go places with their daddy are on the radar screen for kindergarten readiness,” Potz said. “Sometimes parents listen and sometimes they don’t. I really do believe that parents have to go with their feelings, their gut reaction about their own child. In my time at South Salem I’ve never had a parent come back to me and say it was a mistake to hold the child back, but I have had parents come to me and say they wish they’d listened, because the child is now struggling.” Diane Chevian, in charge of primary classes and admissions coordinator at Hudson Country Montessori School in New Rochelle, was even more direct when asked about keeping a late-birthday child back from entering kindergarten. “I can tell you what I tell parents all the time: for any child whose birthday is in October through December, you’re giving the child a gift by that extra year, not only just now, but when you think about them in high school and being the youngest socially, then going to college at 17 rather than 18,” Chevian said. The held-back child “can enter first grade socializing more and not having to concentrate on that aspect of life,” Chevian said. “In my 20-plus years, the parents I’ve encouraged to do that have come back and said it’s been the best choice they’ve done for their child. Other parents who didn’t follow our advice have come back and said they should have held the child back, that he’s not mature enough and not ready.” Chevian said the Montessori philosophy, “to follow the child,” in her words, means there’s not a set curriculum or even level of development all children should reach by the same age. “We have goals,” she said, “and once they reach those goals we can go beyond that, whereas in the public schools some district kindergartens are more academically oriented than others.” Sue Tolchin, director of early childhood education at the Westchester Reform Temple Early Childhood Center in Scarsdale, said the decisionmaking process begins with the center’s “excellent relationship” with teachers and principals at neighboring schools. “There is yearly communication, things they want us either to continue to do or to improve on,” she said. “We’re all on the same page. My feeling is there’s a huge fear or scare — or need, it seems — in Westchester, not necessarily just Scarsdale, to hold your child back and give them an extra year for various reasons.” Instead, children must be looked at as unique individuals, Tolchin said. “Holding back for various issues does not necessarily guarantee a child’s success later on,” she said. “You have to know the specific things you’re looking at — reading readiness, knowing letters or numbers is not enough of a reason to make a decision one way or another. A boy with a late birthday could be a very bright child, could be a real doer, but he happens to have a November or December birthday or is small. It’s not enough of an edge to hold him back.” There are no proven statistics that holding back “for the wrong reasons” gives a child any future advantage, Tolchin said. Rather, “if a child is having trouble socializing, making friends, listening, transitioning — if they still haven’t developed those Continued page 2A

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