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E M A H S

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FEAR

Fall 2012

HIN PUS

CAL ERS P WHIS D AT E H LAUG PERS WHIS

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bullying

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Standing up to

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SA HURTAMES N R E ANG

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L A N O I T O M TRANSFORMING LIVES E

Eliminating bullying in our schools by empowering bystanders to intervene

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CONTENTS

This is the 150th anniversary of the

Dr. Douglas J. Palmer Dean

Morrill Act, which established land-grant universities like Texas A&M University throughout the United States. Consistent with the land-grant mission of our university, the teaching, research and service activities of the College of Education and Human Development transform the lives of individuals in our state and across the nation.

Standing up to

On the cover:

bullying Every seven minutes a child is bullied at school, and what’s more is that the U.S. Department of Justice finds that in 85 percent of bullying situations, peers are present, but no one steps in to help. But researchers in the College of Education and Human Development have identified that bystander intervention, specifically from school-aged peers, can make all the difference in helping to stop or eliminate the bullying altogether. Read more on how children are being educated and encouraged to stand up against bullying on pages 3 - 8.

The healthy development of our children is of critical importance to the future of our state and nation. In this publication, you will have an opportunity to learn about the significant work of our faculty and students to address a diversity of issues that impact child development.

Jim Lyle

The issue of bullying in today’s public school classrooms has become a widespread topic addressed in a variety of forums, including special TV programs, educational blogs and social media. We know that in order for children to feel safe at school, administrators, teachers and school-aged peers need to have the tools and information available to reduce the frequency and impact of bullying.

Dr. Douglas J. Palmer, Dean Dr. Becky Carr, Assistant Dean for Finance and Administrative Services Jenna Kujawski, Director of Communications and Public Relations

Stay connected education.tamu.edu facebook.com/TAMU.Education youtube.com/AggieEducation tx.ag/aggie_ed_flickr

1 TRANSFORMING LIVES

TRANSFORMING LIVES Writers: Jenna Kujawski, Holly Lambert and Angela Lin Designer: Vicky Nelson

The same can be said for the short- and long-term effects of childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 3 children is obese or overweight before their 5th birthday. This statistic is staggering, and given that obese children are more likely to become obese adults, it demonstrates the need for health reform and education in the early months and years of a child’s life. Over the past three years, physical and health education requirements have been cut from Texas public schools, so it is crucial that universities take a proactive stance in providing a healthy school environment for our children.

3

Many of our faculty and students are investigating parenting, classroom teaching, school leadership practices and non-classroom experiences that support students’ educational achievement and development. This publication contains a sample of their work that has informed professional practice and policy.

9

Helping children to become successful adults is one of the most significant goals of the College of Education and Human Development. As I reflect on our mission as part of our land-grant heritage to provide a practical education coupled with dedicated service and lifechanging solutions that directly impact the daily lives of the people of Texas, I am privileged to be a part of the innovative work of our faculty and students to truly transform the lives of so many. All the best, Doug

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Eliminating bullying in our schools by empowering bystanders to intervene

Addressing childhood obesity: one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese

Identifying three key factors that contribute to a child’s success at school

19 23 28

Detecting and improving reading difficulties in at-risk children through early intervention

Activity programs provide fun and social experiences for children with disabilities

The key to well-adjusted and high-achieving children is a parenting style that balances being strict with being responsive TRANSFORMING LIVES

2


Y E L N LO

S SPER

s T T ED A TION O ELY H U R AUGH EM

R A FE

E R T D IS

E T HA

Every seven minutes a child is bullied at school, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Standing up to

bullying

Unfortunately,

Eliminating bullying in our schools by empowering bystanders to intervene

this alarming statistic isn’t really all that surprising given that our national news is flooded with stories about kids whose lives are affected — or ended — by the trauma of bullying. Although most of the attention is focused on the victim or the bully, the one person who seems to make the greatest difference ‘on the ground’ is the bystander.

“Turning a blind eye creates an environment where bullying is not actively disapproved and where there is little to no consequence for the bully,” Blake says. “Bullying continues because the behavior is reinforced by peers. If I tell a joke and everyone laughs, will I tell that joke again? Yes. If I tell a joke and no one laughs, will I tell that joke again? Probably not.”

“Bullying is a social process that involves more than just the bully and the victim. It also involves bystanders — those who witness acts of bullying,” says Jamilia Blake, assistant professor of school psychology. “When a bystander chooses not to intervene, the bully often wins.”

Empowering peer bystanders to intervene in bullying situations is just what Blake and her team hope to accomplish with their most recent research endeavor.

14

Jim Lyle

ou to f

And more times than not, adds Blake, the bystander chooses to ignore the situation altogether. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice finds that in 85 percent of bullying situations, peers are present, but no one steps in to help.

Funded by a grant from the Society for the Study of School Psychology, Blake, along with Jan Hughes, professor of school psychology, and Michael Stephenson, professor of communication, is working to develop an effective bullying prevention program to incorporate in schools across Texas.

3 TRANSFORMING LIVES

students

report being bullied

TRANSFORMING LIVES

4


SHAM

R A E F S LO

AL TION EMO

E

S E N D T A R S U H Jim Lyle

“Bullying is a national epidemic that plagues our schools.”

But before they can develop a prevention program, the team has to first find out what influences children’s willingness to intervene in bullying situations.

“Research says that in order to reduce bullying you have to transform passive bystanders into active defenders,” Blake says. “But little is known about what actually influences children to take a stand against bullies.”

5 TRANSFORMING LIVES

“Research says that in order to reduce bullying you have to transform passive bystanders into active defenders,” Blake says. “But little is known about what actually influences children to take a stand against bullies.” The team collaborated with child actors from the Brazos Valley Troupe, a family performing arts program, to create videos showcasing bullying scenarios with one of four responses from the bystander:

1) standing up for the victim, 2) informing an adult, 3) joining the bully or 4) doing nothing, which was the most common. The videos were then shown to third and fourth graders in Kids Klub, a recreation

based after-school program hosted by the City of College Station and College Station ISD. The participants were asked to put themselves in the place of the bystander in each video and asked numerous questions about what would happen to them if they acted in a similar way as the bystander. “We wanted to get feedback from children on whether or not the situations depicted in the videos realistically capture what happens in schools. We also wanted children to tell us if the strategies we present in our videos are effective or if they make things worse for children who choose to intervene,” Blake explains. The children’s reactions to the videos will help the team identify the cognitive processes that influence children’s

judgments as to whether or not to intervene. The second goal of the study is to pilot a media-based bullying prevention program to reduce bullying by empowering bystanders to act on behalf of the victim. “Current anti-bullying messages have been ineffective in reducing school-age bullying,” Blake says. “We suspect this is because anti-bullying messages are often delivered by adults, but are not fully endorsed by peers. While the coordination of bullying prevention and intervention should be adult-driven, the message should come from the kids.” Because kids can relate to other kids, the team enlisted the help of third and fourth graders enrolled in Kids Klub at Creekview Elementary in College Station ISD to create a pilot video in which the children take a stand against bullying.

What can parents do? First, it is important that parents encourage their child to communicate with them. Parents should realize that the child may be embarrassed or ashamed; thus, parents need to react in a way that is sympathetic and understanding. Second, parents can talk about strategies to deal with bullies. Parents can role-play scenarios with their child to build their confidence. Finally, it is important that parents collaborate with schools to address the bullying problem. Parents should know the school policy on bullying and whether or not the school is adequately addressing the problem. If the problem escalates, professional help may be sought; however, working with school officials should be the first strategy. TRANSFORMING LIVES

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bullying

Jim Lyle

Bullying Intervention

ing signs : Watch for these warn aged clothing • Ripped, torn or dam possessions • Loss of intere per formance

, books or other

sed academic st in school or decrea classmates outside

social activities and • Withdrawal from l of schoo lar activities leisure or extracurricu • Loss of interest in to go to school • Afraid or unwilling iet y sed irritabilit y or anx • Mood swings, increa te • Changes in appeti • Changes in sleep pat

terns

and • Changes in friends

greater preference to

be alone

The final video was shown to students in Kids Klub programs throughout College Station schools. Although currently involved in the data collection stage, Blake expects that with the help of the video aid, the children will be more likely to stand up against bullying. The team anticipates that watching older and ‘cooler’ students defending victims will positively alter bystanders’ perceptions to think that defending

victims is the appropriate and acceptable action. It will take a few years to develop an empirically valid prevention program, but the team’s end goal is to develop and implement the program in schools statewide. Bullying generally begins to escalate in the fifth and sixth grade, Blake notes. Therefore, the team would like to create a program that works in elementary and middle school to prevent the problem from reaching that heightened stage. In research featured in the Journal of School Violence, Blake surveyed 602 school counselors and psychologists nationally to identify intervention practices used to

address bullying in schools. What she found was that school practitioners are offered limited guidance and training opportunities surrounding the best methods to address bullying and victimization. With this information in mind, the team is also looking into the possibility of using the findings from this study to train professionals on how to intervene in bullying situations. “Bullying is a national epidemic that plagues our schools,” Blake says. “I hope our final prevention program can effectively encourage bystanders to begin advocating for the victim and, ultimately, diminish the occurrence of bullying across the state and beyond.”

Watch a video of Dr. Jamilia Blake discuss cyber bullying and the ethnic differences in student aggression by visiting http://bit.ly/blake_bullying

T HUR

“The kids created their own bullying situation, developed characters, filmed the video and took ownership of the project, hopefully changing their perception of bullying and also increasing their confidence to intervene,” Blake says.

LONE

Is your child being bullied?

NA E A M A N I NG

Y L E N LO

L L A C ISPERS E

WH GHED A LAU ERS TRANSFORMING LIVES

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Obesity rates in the United States have tripled in the last 30 years.

In a world where children are starving, it is hard to imagine

Combating childhood

that any child could be obese. But in today’s society, childhood obesity is a reality. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates in the United States have tripled in the last 30 years. In fact, just four years ago, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Using two approaches to silence this national epidemic, including changes to policy and identification of emotional eating behaviors

One-third

of children and adolescents are

Instead of walking to school and playing outside until dinner, kids ride the bus and rush home to sit in front of the TV, play video games or search the Internet.

overweight or obese

One in 7

low-income preschool-aged children is

obese

Obese children are

more likely

become

to obese adults

How

did this

happen? 9 TRANSFORMING LIVES

TRANSFORMING LIVES

10


Children today lead very different lifestyles than their parents. Instead of walking to school and playing outside until dinner, kids ride the bus and rush home to sit in front of the TV, play video games or search the Internet. With less and less time to prepare home-cooked meals, fast food has become a way of life for many families. And children today eat and snack more than generations before them. To combat this problem, the state of Texas has implemented a number of policies that focus on the environmental factors that contribute to childhood obesity. E. Lisako McKyer, associate professor of health education, is part of a multidisciplinary research team charged with reviewing two of these policies.

Two New Policies

The first is the implementation of Texas Safe Routes to School, which supports finding ways for children to safely walk and bike to school. The second is a change to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food assistance to lowincome families, to include healthier options in their food packages.

McKyer notes that WIC participants previously could not use their WIC benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a number of whole-grain products. This has changed recently. “What we’re expecting to see is that retailers will have changed how they display the products in accordance with WIC policies. Whole-grain products that were below eye-level will now be more prominently displayed,” McKyer says. Because shoppers are naturally inclined to grab the first product they see on the shelf, McKyer believes this WIC change will have larger implications.

The Texas Safe Routes to School program supports finding ways for children to safely walk and bike to school.

“A policy that was designed to influence a subset of people really does have a larger impact because everyone shops at these stores, not just WIC shoppers,” McKyer says. “Here’s an example of a policy that is meant to impact at-risk people having beneficial effects at the population level.” McKyer expects to see significant results in the areas where the policies overlap. In theory, these regions will have more children exercising by walking or biking to school and eating more nutritious foods. The idea is that by creating an environment where healthy life choices are easier to make, children and adults will reap the health benefits.

Change in WIC benefits

We’re expecting to see retailers change how they display fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a number of whole-grain products. in accordance with WIC policies.

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The idea is that by creating an environment where

healthy life choices are easier to make, children and adults will reap the

health benefits.

Associate professor and developmental psychologist Jeffrey Liew has a different approach in mind. He and Marisol Perez, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor, have spent the past two years collecting data to identify the factors that may contribute to young children’s emotional eating, which can lead to obesity or eating disorders later in life. The team’s goal is to determine both risk and protective factors that are important for interventions to target in fostering healthy eating habits among children. Their research, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is innovative in its combination of research regarding child development, emotional eating and obesity that leads to the theory that problems with emotion regulation predisposes children to emotional eating (i.e., the tendency to eat when not hungry to cope with stress or negative emotions), which can then predispose them to become overweight.

13 TRANSFORMING LIVES

Liew explains that in addition to collecting physiological and behavioral data, parents provided information on their feeding styles and practices of their children. “Developmental research tells us that obese children generally do not grow out of their obesity when they become adolescents, and ethnic disparities have been observed, with higher incidences of overweight children among Hispanics than Caucasians,” Liew says.

“We are focusing our attention on childhood and parenting factors that may either protect children against or put children at risk for future overweight problems, and will examine whether these protective and risk factors for emotional eating are similar or different across ethnic groups.”

EAT “By combining the parenting and developmental aspects of eating, we hope to develop a cost-effective program for parents to teach their children to better regulate their emotions and not use food as a coping mechanism,” Perez explains. During the two-year study, approximately 250 children — half white, half non-white — were assessed on their performance in several tasks that cause a variety of emotions mimicking children’s everyday experiences while connected to physiological equipment that monitors their ECG and breathing. The children were also asked to participate in a task designed to observe not only how much they eat but what types of foods they eat.

www.letsmove.gov

Liew and Perez are in the process of analyzing the data and will have preliminary findings ready to share this fall and spring on the parenting and child factors that are associated with children’s emotional eating and weight status. “We are interested in developing tools for parents on how to better teach their children to regulate their emotions and how to not emotionally eat,” Perez says. “If effective, the program could reduce or prevent childhood obesity.”

Watch a video of Dr. Jeffrey Liew talk about children’s emotional eating and its affect on obesity by visiting http://bit.ly/liew_obesity

healthy. TAKE action. GET active.

Childhood obesity is a national concern, but one that can be combated if we all do our part to stop it. Launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, Let’s Move! is a far-reaching initiative that is committed to educating our country on the risks associated with allowing our children to be overweight and finding solutions so that children born today can grow up with the tools to live a healthier and successful future. The First Lady’s mission is to make sure everyone — parents, elected officials, schools,

health care professionals, faith-based and community-based organizations, and private companies — understands they have an important role in reducing childhood obesity. Researchers at Texas A&M University recognize their role in helping to identify factors that can lead to the reduction of obese children across the nation as well as finding preventive solutions and interventions to put our children on the right path to a healthy future from the very beginning.

TRANSFORMING LIVES

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Helping kids become

successful

Identifying three key factors that contribute to a child’s success at school

1

“Finding the time to even read to children when parents work long hours or different shifts can be difficult.”

Effect of the home environment on retention

All parents want their children to be successful. From the moment they step onto that yellow school bus for their first day of kindergarten, parents want their children to do well in school, make straight As, participate in sports and be well liked by their classmates. But it doesn’t end there. Parents also want their children to grow into fine adults, graduate from college, get a well-paying job and start their own families. Unfortunately, parents can’t control everything about their children, especially how well they perform in school. In fact, education faculty in the College of Education & Human Development have identified multiple factors that contribute to and shape the success of children during their school-aged years. And guess what? Parenting is just one factor. The presence or absence of supportive teachers and principals is also critical in determining a child’s achievement in school.

15 TRANSFORMING LIVES

According to Victor Willson and Jan Hughes, professors of educational psychology, early school failure has longterm negative influences on a person’s behavior, academic performance and eventual occupation. They suggest that parents who are more involved with their child’s schooling can help reduce the risk of their child being retained. “One simple approach parents can take is to communicate regularly with teachers and take responsibility to monitor their children’s school work and activities,” Hughes says. As part of a study that was published in the Elementary School Journal, the pair studied a sample of 784 children to see how psychological and social variables contribute to grade retention. Every child had below-average literacy performance in kindergarten or at the beginning of

first grade and were assessed on academic competence, school context, home environment and other variables. Of the 784 students, 165 were not promoted to the next grade level. “We wanted to see how the 165 students retained in first grade differed from their promoted classmates,” Willson explains. “Academic competence — not demographics, psychosocial or behavioral problems — was found to be the primary determiner of retention.”

Even after considering the child’s achievement levels, certain parenting practices and beliefs can directly affect the likelihood that a child will be retained. “Children whose parents are directly involved in their children’s schooling and who advocate for them are more likely to be promoted,” Hughes adds. “Children whose parents are less involved with their children’s schooling but who have a generally positive view of the school are more likely to be retained.”

Hughes adds that home and environmental conditions, such as economic disadvantage, are also predictors of grade retention. “Economic stressors affect parents’ time with their children and hinder opportunities for learning,” she says. TRANSFORMING LIVES

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3

The Balanced Leadership Program positively impacts principals’ learning of leadership practices that are linked to student achievement.

Impact of successful school leaders

Effective school leaders set the tone for high academic expectations. School districts need principals who lead by example, work to positively impact classroom instruction and achievement, and develop relationships with students, teachers and community members.

2

Children need supportive teachers

“The strongest predictor of a child’s success is their achievement the previous year,” Hughes says. “Children who have a supportive relationship with their teacher, one where they feel a sense of acceptance and security, are more likely to work hard in school, follow rules and persist when they get stuck on problems. The children are also more likely to perceive themselves as more academically social capable.”

“A positive and emotional These findings, published online in relationship with Child Development, are the result the teacher has of a National Institutes of Health study by Hughes and associate its impact on professor of educational psyachievement indirectly chology Oi-man Kwok. The two have followed the same sample by its effect on of academically at-risk children children’s motivation from three Texas school districts and behavioral for more than 10 years, beginning when the children entered the first engagement in grade in 2000 and 2001. They sought the classroom.” to find whether the experience of a warm and supportive teacher predicts the next year’s achievement. And the answer they concluded was that teachers do play a vital role in establishing positive learning environments.

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“A positive social and emotional relationship with the teacher has its impact on achievement indirectly by its effect on children’s motivation and behavioral engagement in the classroom,” Hughes explains. “But even more exciting is how patterns of supportive or conflicting relationships with teachers throughout the elementary years impact expected achievement in middle school.” The study also found that a nurturing teacher-student relationship has the largest effect on children who have a poor ability to regulate their own behavior. This includes students who temperamentally are impulsive, have a hard time stopping and thinking, and tend to rush through things.

A study focused on developing the leadership skills of principals has identified positive changes in principal behaviors that research links to student achievement. As part of the study, half of the 78 elementary school principals from northern Michigan were asked to participate in Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning’s Balanced Leadership Program, an intensive, twoyear professional development program that addresses three key challenges of school leadership: improving school culture and climate, managing change, and focusing efforts on improving student learning. “The Balanced Leadership Program is designed to teach these principals about the research and prepare them to use it

to make changes that improve learning in their schools,” says Roger Goddard, professor of K-12 administration and director of the Education Leadership Research Center. “The program provides them with the tools for change but lets them decide how to actually use these tools in their own schools.”

Districts need principals who lead by example, work to positively impact classroom instruction and achievement, and develop relationships with students, teachers and community members. What is important to note is that after receiving just 50 percent of the training, principals participating in the Balanced Leadership Program were already reporting positive effects. According to Goddard, principals receiving the training reported higher levels of knowledge and involvement in their school’s

curriculum, instruction and assessment programs, higher levels of efficacy and a greater likelihood to create a positive school climate. Furthermore, turnover rates in these schools were five times lower than in those schools not experiencing the program (Two principal departures vs. 10). Although preliminary, researchers at both Texas A&M and the University of Michigan concluded the Balanced Leadership Program has the potential to create long-term changes in principals’ job performance, school climate, teacher practice and student learning. “Changes in educator behavior are often hard to produce,” Goddard explains. “Our evaluation shows the Balanced Leadership Program positively impacts principals’ learning of leadership practices that are linked to student achievement. We know that as lifelong learners, these principals can benefit from further development, and in the end, we all want to help schools and the students they serve.”

Children who have a poor ability to regulate behavior in the first grade generally don’t learn as much from the first to second grade as do children with good regulation. That is true, notes Hughes, unless the child has a supportive relationship with the teacher. “If a supportive teacher is present in the classroom, even a child with poor ability to regulate will learn just as much as a child with good regulation skills,” Hughes adds. “A warm and supportive teacher-student relationship completely compensates for poor regulation.”

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18


Jean Wulfson

Detecting and improving reading difficulties in at-risk children through early intervention

r

Helping children

ead

It is critical for at-risk children to receive reading intervention early and consistently.

For many students, the reading instruction they receive in the general classroom is sufficient, but roughly one-fourth of children need something more. According to Deborah Simmons, professor of special education, timing is everything. If children are not solid readers by the end of first grade, the odds are not in their favor to become successful readers.

A wise doctor once said “The more that you read,

the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Yes, this doctor just so happens to be the famous Dr. Seuss, but he could not have been more right. Learning to read opens a window to the world of learning and is essential for the mental growth of every young child. Unfortunately, learning to read doesn’t come easy for all.

“It’s really difficult to catch a moving target, and that’s what is happening in the early grades for atrisk students. The curriculum is pretty aggressive, so children who fall behind early often find themselves unable to keep pace,” says Simmons. “We have a finite amount of time where we can make significant jump starts in children’s reading development.”

at h t re o em h “T 19 TRANSFORMING LIVES

d a e r u o y

.

you will kno s g n i w e th r o em h t ,

As part of Project Early Reading Intervention, Simmons and her team of researchers collaborate

ore you m e Th

learn , th

with school districts in their respective states to study how children respond to different reading interventions. The study reinforces how critical it is for at-risk children to receive reading intervention early and consistently. The researchers compared the efficacy of two reading interventions — a commercial program called Early Reading Intervention (ERI) and a typical school-designed intervention program. In the study, 206 children in Texas and Connecticut received reading intervention practice sessions for 30 minutes per day for approximately 100 sessions. “What we found was both groups — the schooldesigned intervention and ERI — did really well by the end of kindergarten,” Simmons says. “Both reading interventions brought the majority of children up to reading levels that positioned them to be successful in later grades.”

e mo re

places you’ll go.” TRANSFORMING LIVES

20


Jean Wulfson

The results, published in the journal Exceptional Children, indicate that many students identified as at risk for early reading problems benefited from the supplemental programs typically taught in schools. However, children who were most at risk at the beginning of kindergarten responded best to a reading method that was systematic and clear, like ERI. Simmons speculates that ERI provides these at-risk students with the organized instruction, practice and integration of important skills they need to be successful readers. The ERI curriculum is based on educational research and includes the elements that are necessary for children to learn how to read words and

sentences, Simmons notes. It emphasizes phonemic awareness — the ability to hear, identify and manipulate sounds in words — and alphabetic principals — the recognition that letters represent sounds that can be combined to form words. “ERI has a great deal of teacher modeling and opportunities for children to respond frequently and get teacher feedback,” she says. “Its sequence of lessons offer activities that build on one another and is designed for students to be successful.” Simmons adds, “We’re learning that if schools provide that extra support in kindergarten, we can get the majority of children out of risk for reading difficulties.”

As part of a commitment to the educational reading development of local youth, the College of Education & Human Development’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture engages in a number of reading development programs.

21 TRANSFORMING LIVES

at h t re o em h “T

a e r you

.

ou will kn y s g n i th o e r o w m e h d, t

The Texas A&M Reading Clinic pairs local students needing extra reading help with graduate students who are studying reading education. To improve their students’ reading, the tutors administer assessments to test reading skills, and based upon the results, create a profile and learning goals for each student. The tutors produce lessons tailored to their students’ reading levels, strengths and weaknesses. The Reading Clinic also provides the graduate students, many of which are classroom teachers, with a valuable learning opportunity.

e more you h T

lear n,

Reads & Counts is a program that puts Texas A&M students in local classrooms and after-school programs to help public school children with math and reading. The work-study program employs more than 170 students from across the university. Having Reads & Counts tutors available is an asset to classroom teachers who might not have the time to give struggling students individualized attention while providing general classroom instruction. The program not only provides valuable work experience for college students, it also makes a difference in the lives of local school children.

the

mor e

places you’ll go.” TRANSFORMING LIVES

22


Taking learning

outside

the classroom for all children

Out-of-classroom activity programs provide fun and social experiences for children with disabilities The classic learning environment is simple to describe. Students sit at desks and keep their eyes focused on the teacher at the front of the room. But learning, both formal and informal, takes place outside the classroom as well. And for children with disabilities, the opportunity to step out of their routine can be a life-changing experience.

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SPLASH allows our students to work oneon-one with a child with a disability and form a personal connection.

Since the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, educators have been carefully crafting educational curriculum that fits the needs of all children. This includes the incorporation of physical education, which is core in establishing a comprehensive approach to creating active and healthy children. According to the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, “children who participate in regular physical activities develop the knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes and confidence needed to be active for life while providing a welcome outlet for children to be creative and release pentup energy.” Faculty and students in the College of Education and Human Development know that these skills are even that much more important for children with special needs, which is why a variety of activity programs have been developed with these children in mind.

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SPLASH, the Texas A&M Special Populations Learn Aquatics with Aggie Students Helping, is a five-week water activity program that gives local children with disabilities a venue for exercise and entertainment while providing invaluable hands-on training to Aggies entering the teaching and health professions to work with and accommodate for individuals with disabilities. “SPLASH allows our students to work one-on-one with a child with a disability and form a personal connection,” says Lucinda Thelen, an instructional professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M. “We now have future educators that see the person first instead of the disability first.”

support, children involved in SPLASH can go above and beyond what is expected of them. “Not only are the children given the opportunity to develop new swimming skills, but they are able to develop their social skills too,” says Abrameit, “Each week, our children tell us that they count down the days until Tuesday night comes again.”

At Camp LIFE, we focus on what kids can do, not what they cannot do.

Children who participate in SPLASH engage in water activities designed specifically for them. The children are taught to swim while Aggie students perform individual assessments of their swimming skills and develop lesson plans to guide each week’s activities.

Another program that provides experiences for children with special needs, Camp LIFE has served more than 550 children with disabilities throughout Texas.

Lisa Abrameit ’12, a kinesiology major and teaching assistant for the adapted physical activity course, stresses how with the right motivational strategies and

In operation for more than seven years, the camp also welcomes the siblings of these children, so that together, these children and their brothers and sisters

have an opportunity to participate in a unique camping adventure. Created by former student Sterling Leija ’03, Camp LIFE hosts campers twice a year at the barrier free facilities of Camp For All in Burton, Texas. An acronym for Leadership, Independence and Friends through Experiences, the name identifies the foundation of what kids learn while at camp. “During my time as a student at Texas A&M, I realized that camping opportunities for children with severe and multiple disabilities was limited in the local community,” says Leija. “At Camp LIFE, campers become leaders, gain great strides of independence, develop true friendships and have new experiences,” says Amy Sharp, director of the Family Support Network at Texas A&M, who worked with Leija and Camp For All to found Camp LIFE in 2004. Camp LIFE gives campers the choice to participate in every activity you would see at any other traditional camp. Campers can experience horseback riding,

fishing, archery, the zip line and rope course activities, as well as a petting zoo, canoeing, dancing and even karaoke. “We have campers who tell you they cannot do an activity because of their disability, and the look of excitement when they realize they actually can is thrilling,” says Leija. “At Camp LIFE, we focus on what kids can do, not what they cannot do.” The camp is staffed by pre-service special education students at Texas A&M who have the rare opportunity to experience a weekend supporting children like those they will one day serve in the classroom. Availability of a one-to-one counselor to camper ratio ensures that each camper with a disability receives the support he or she needs to fully participate in all activities. Additionally, sibling campers enjoy an extra dose of attention not always available to them when their parents are understandably busy caring for their child who has special needs.

Heather Moutray’s 8-year-old son Colin has attended Camp LIFE twice, first in the fall of 2011 and again in the spring of 2012. To Moutray’s surprise, Colin conquered his fear of heights during his first stay at Camp LIFE, climbing the rock wall and zip lining down. “I didn’t worry about him that weekend, and while I missed my son, he was at camp getting one-on-one attention,” says Moutray. “Colin’s experience at Camp LIFE made him feel like he could take on the world — one rock wall at a time — and experience success, just like everyone else. As a parent, that’s the biggest gift of this experience, to see my child come home confident, happy and knowing that he can meet challenges head on, and experience victory.” Experiences like SPLASH and Camp LIFE give children with disabilities an opportunity that just can’t be learned in the classroom — the chance to just be kids.

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The key to well-adjusted and highachieving children is a parenting style that balances being strict with being responsive

Autism Autism is a disorder that affects the development of the brain, specifically with social and communication skills. This tends to start happening in the first three years of a child’s life and can affect the child’s social interaction, communication skills and certain behaviors. Studies indicate that more than 60 percent of these children are unable to communicate their wants, needs and thoughts verbally. Through the Autism, Assessment, Research and Intervention Clinic, a partnership between the Texas A&M Center on Disability and Development and Easter Seals East Texas, Jennifer Ganz, associate professor of special education, and other researchers have implemented several augmentative

and alternative communication (AAC) devices to help children with speech and language disabilities express their thoughts and emotions.

Success like this is just what Ganz and the clinic team hope to see more of in future clinics.

Autism affects more

boys than girls ial interaction soc

mmunica al co tio b r n ve

parenting

In the local Bryan clinic, iPads are incorporated into daily lessons so that iPad-based AAC apps can be used as teaching aids. Recently, the clinic saw success of such AAC strategies for a 3-year-old child with autism when a therapist using an AAC app taught a young child to speak in sentences. Once the child saw the pictures and heard the device say the words, she began imitating full sentences.

end play pret

1 in 88 children is diagnosed by age 8

This has risen from 1 in 110 in 2006

l commun i erba c a tio n-v n no

U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention

27 TRANSFORMING LIVES

A balanced approach to

Amy Chua’s daughters were not allowed to attend sleepovers or be in school plays, watch television or play video games, choose their own extracurricular activities, or get a grade less than an A. So what did they do? Practice piano and violin for hours on end. And listen to their mom.

FAMILY INCOME EDUCATION & LIFESTYLE do not affect the risk of autism Most parents suspect something is wrong at 18 months Most parents seek help by age 2

Chua, a Yale law professor, book author and quintessential tiger mom, catapulted the issue of strict parenting styles into public consciousness with her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In the book, Chua details her journey as a mother raising two daughters “the Chinese way,” as she says. Her account of rearing the girls under an extremely strict regime has created a media buzz surrounding the controversial book.

This attention has left many parents thinking Chua’s tiger-like approach to parenting may be the best way to produce successful children. However, Jeffrey Liew, associate professor and developmental psychologist, says that strict and overly controlling parenting can have a variety of negative outcomes on the child. Liew stresses that current research on child and human development indicates that harsh and psychologically controlling parenting is consistently associated with a host of negative developmental consequences.

“In the Chinese culture, the tiger is the living symbol of strength and power that elicits both fear and respect…such a tiger-like approach to parenting is believed by some to be the optimal approach to raising successful children.” TRANSFORMING LIVES

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Parents need to be strict, but keep in mind that limits and standards also need to be

“In the Chinese culture, the tiger is the living symbol of strength and power that elicits both fear and respect,” Liew says. “Accordingly, such a tiger-like approach to parenting is believed by some to be the optimal approach to raising successful children.”

Funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Liew and his research team studied 100 Chinese American families in the Houston metropolitan area about the role of parenting practices and their affect on adolescents’ developmental and academic outcomes.

Liew says that a parenting style like that of the tiger mom may be one way to develop high-achieving children, but that success comes at a significant cost, including the social-emotional well-being and mental health of the child.

The team found that among Chinese Americans, parenting styles that promote adolescents’ independence and self-regulation predict not only positive mental health and adjustment outcomes, but also academic achievement. Of note, this success comes without risking the social-emotional well-being of the child.

Parents who use a high degree of psychological control over their children, such as personal attacks, erratic emotional behavior, guilt induction or love withdrawal, do not raise the most successful children if the impact on children’s social and emotional development or mental health is taken into consideration, Liew adds. The wide public interest in the message of Chua’s tiger mom book sparked Liew’s latest research endeavor on the consequences of strict parenting.

“Overly controlling and intrusive parenting negatively impacts children in a variety of ways,” Liew explains. “The problem is that there has been extremely limited research on Asian Americans and ethnic minority children and youth. Our research is part of an effort to fill that gap and contribute to the existing research literature on parenting practices and child outcomes for families with diverse cultural backgrounds.”

Rather than using psychological control such as fear, intimidation and punishment to discipline children, Liew believes parents could try endorsing clear standards and limits with high expectations, while also being supportive of children’s needs. This includes creating opportunities for children to make their own wise choices and learn responsible decision making, rather than being forced or pressured by parents. “To nurture children to become healthy, well adjusted and high achieving, parents need to balance being strict with being responsive to children’s developmental needs, which includes allowing them opportunities for independence,” he says. So the next time a child disobeys, doesn’t master the piano on the first attempt or makes a less-than-perfect birthday card, parents should think twice before name calling or even threatening to take away a stuffed animal. It’s the kids whose parents are caring, loving and strict that are raised to be the most successful and high-achieving children.

Among Chinese Americans, parenting styles that promote adolescents’ independence and self-regulation predict not only positive mental health and adjustment outcomes, but also academic achievement.

reasonable. If you set a limit or standard with your child, parents have to be ready and able to follow through on enforcing those limits and standards if needed. For example, suppose that you promise your child a family trip to Disneyland if she or he maintains good grades in school. Parents need to ask themselves whether they are ready and able to either deliver or withhold on that promise depending on the conditions agreed upon with their child. Children will learn to Recognizing Discipline respect you if you are accountable for your children for can be viewed as words and actions. their effort on a a parenting method task is as important to teach children as the outcome or personally and socially performance on that responsible behaviors. task. For example, if your Be Kind, Yet In contrast, punishment child showed persistent Firm and focuses on reducing or effort and interest in stopping an unwanted Consistent completing a school behavior but is ineffective project and in teaching children received a lower desired behaviors. grade on the Use Celebrate assignment Discipline, than expected, the Positive Not celebrate that Punishment effort and accomplishment.

Tips for

Positive Parenting

Separate the Child from the Behavior

When your child misbehaves, communicate that you are disappointed with their behavior rather than in them as a person. Criticizing your child for who they are rather than for what they do would negatively impact their self-concept and self-esteem. For example, instead of saying, “You are a bad daughter or bad son because you fight with your siblings all the time,” try saying, “I don’t like how you fight with your siblings, and your sister and brother feel pain when you hit them. Please don’t hurt your siblings.”

Constructively Teach Responsibility

Responsible decision-making is considered one of the social and emotional learning core competencies. Teach responsibility by giving children frequent opportunities to practice making ethical, constructive choices and decisions about personal and social behavior. For example, instead of saying, “You got a bad grade and you are grounded from playing with your friends until you do better in school,” try saying, “I know you like to spend time with your friends but doing well in school is equally important. Let’s talk about how you could plan your time so that you could study and continue playing with your friends.” TRANSFORMING LIVES

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2012 College Magazine