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KID CHEFS’ LUNCHBOX FAVORITES

BACK to SCHOOL

23 Cool

FASHIONS

Opt In or Out?

Standardized test debate

TIMEOUT FOR TECH A+ SUPPLIES TIPS FOR 9th GRADERS

FALL 2016

SPECIAL

K -12 ISSUE


Back to school made easy Keep your home healthy during the hustle and bustle of back to school. Get CloroxÂŽ Disinfecting Wipes and kill 99.999% of bacteria*. Perfect for the classroom and for your home.

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BACKto SCHOOL FALL 2016

42

STANDARDIZED TESTING

History adds context to a national debate

FEATURES

22

THINKSTOCK

STYLE SMARTS

ON THE COVER: Get set for a

brand new school year with this exciting issue.

Kick off the new school year with fashion-forward looks

38

UNSCHOOLERS

Families opt out of traditional education

50

TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS

The classrooms of the future are here today

3


BACKto SCHOOL FALL 2016

UP FRONT A+ supplies

10

Teaching with tech

12

Healthy lunchboxes

12

Stock up on all the tools necessary for success Electronic products help educate young learners

One-stop shopping

20

Money tips

Target tries new ways to engage guests

DESIGNERS Ashleigh Carter Miranda Pellicano Gina Toole Saunders Lisa M. Zilka

It’s never too early to teach your child to save

88

Kindergarten

62

Redshirting

The pros and cons of delaying start of school

Kind kids

8

Teaching youngsters the value of compassion

74

Inclusive schools

Finding a good fit for your special-needs child

Recess debate

Physical activity plays a healthy social role

Middle School 76

Limiting screen time

80

Expert advice

Help kids take a break from their gadgets

What graduating eighthgraders need to know

All product prices and availability are subject to change.

4 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Matt Alderton, Karen Asp, Mary Helen Berg, Laura Castañeda, Hollie Deese, Denise DiFulco, Maisy Fernandez, Chrystle Fiedler, Quinn Kelley, Katherine Reynolds Lewis, Diana Lambdin Meyer, Marissa Rodriguez, Melanie Schwed, Debbie Swanson, Kristi Valentini, Stephanie Anderson Witmer CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER Mark Lipczynski

Elementary 68

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com

EDITORS Elizabeth Neus Hannah Prince Lori Santos Sara Schwartz Tracy L. Scott

DEPARTMENTS 56

DIRECTOR Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com

MANAGING EDITOR Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com

Three kid chefs share their food favorites

16

PREMIUM PUBLICATION

High School 84

Beyond the farm

Agricultural education plants firm roots

Health 88

Ahead of the game

92

Learn about lice

Concussions remain a concern in youth sports Get the facts before your child is affected

ADVERTISING VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Justine Goodwin | (703) 854-5444 jgoodwin@usatoday.com

FINANCE BILLING COORDINATOR Julie Marco Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved herein, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the written consent of USA TODAY. The editors and publisher are not responsible for any unsolicited materials.

This is a product of

School Spirit 96

Character tales

Top 10 school mascots

PRINTED IN THE USA

GREG GAYNE/FOX ; U BRAND ; TARGET

8

Master Chef Junior winners share lunch ideas kids and moms will love.


Extraordinarily DELICIOUS

The Bullseye Design is a registered trademark of Target Brands, Inc.


BACK TO SCHOOL

UP FRONT

SHOPPING 8 | TECHNOLOGY 10

| FOOD 12 |

BUSINESS 16 | FINANCES 20

THINKSTOCK

Heads up! As autumn and annual return-toclass rites approach, read on to get the new school year off to a great start!

19


up front | school supplies

‘S’ is for Supplies

1

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Fill your book bag with these cool school tools BY MAISY FERNANDEZ

LET’S BE HONEST: ONE of the best things about going back to school is the chance to freshen up the supply arsenal and discover new items that reflect this year’s personal tastes. Take a look at some of the newest offerings for fall.

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1 Stay colorful and organized with U Brands fun flags paper clips, 24 for $3, Target 2 Dipped ruler, $1.99 each, Target 3 Sharpie paint marker, $2.50 each, Target 4 These personal pens add some fun to finding a writing utensil. U Brands novelty squirrel pens, $1.50 each, Target 5 Easily identify lunch boxes, water bottles, sports equipment and more with these trendy, personalized name stickers, $21 for 45 labels, mabelslabels.com 6 Creative types can customize their supplies using the three-count Kraft journal set, $5.99, Target 7 U Brands elephant paper clips, 30 for $4, Target 8 Kids can be a class cut-up with Divoga kids scissors, $4.99, Office Depot and OfficeMax 9 Glam up your child’s supply stash with the Kate Spade gold-stripe pencil pouch, which includes an eraser, ruler, sharpener and two fun pencils, $30, katespade.com 10 The Texas Instruments TI-30X IIS two-line scientific calculator is professional-grade and handles a variety of math calculations, $12.93, amazon.com 11 Scotch/3M Washi Tape, $2.99 each, Target

8 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

COURTESY OF THE COMPANIES

9


BoisePaper.com Boise POLARIS and Paper with Purpose are trademarks of Boise White Paper, L.L.C. or its afďŹ liates. BOISE is a trademark of Boise Cascade Company. Box Tops for Education and associated words and designs are trademarks of General Mills, used under license. Š General Mills


up front | technology

1

Teach with Tech Educational electronics keep young minds focused on learning

6

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BY QUINN KELLEY

WHAT BETTER WAY TO help tech-savvy kids transition from the lazy days of summer to a lesson-laden school year than with gadgets? These electronics make learning fun. 5 3

4

Teach and Talk Exploration Laptop

keeps early learners occupied with math games, word puzzles and brain teasers. $31.49, overstock.com

2

The Boogie Board LCD writing tablet with stylus holder is great for homework. $39.99, brookstone.com

10 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

3

The Kidz Delight

Tech-Too My First 2-in-1 Tablet

can be used as a standalone tablet or with keyboard. $44.99, online only at kohls.com

4

Sprout Channel Cubby 7-inch HD 16GB tablet with headphones comes preloaded with games, video clips, crafts and more. $129.96, qvc.com

5

The LeapFrog Epic 7-inch Android-based tablet has 16GB of memory and an interactive homescreen. $139.99, Target

6

With the Mattel ThingMaker,

kids can design toys in an app and create them with the wireless 3-D printer. Preorder for $299.99 at bestbuy.com

COURTESY OF THE COMPANIES

1

Discovery Kids


up front | food

Lunch prep with MasterChef Junior

Kid-Created, Kid-Approved MasterChef Junior winners make lunchtime delicious BY HOLLIE DEESE

12 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

sandwiches and orange slices. “She used to sometimes write notes on napkins and I’d be off on my way,” says Alexander, who will be working dinner service at a SoHo restaurant this summer. One lunch staple Alexander’s mom used to make that he still loves is a panini sandwich, pressed with whatever is on hand in the kitchen. GROCERY RUN “I would add grilled Young chef Nathan Odom chicken with says taking some pasta,” children on he says. a trip to the “That’s one of store can help my favorite them feel things to eat engaged in for lunch the family’s now.” food choices For Season and make 3 chamthem want to be involved pion Nathan in meal Odom, 14, preparation. helping his mom make his lunches at home was actually the springboard to further his interest in cooking without the pressure of pleasing other palates. “The older I got, the more adventurous I got,” says the San Diego teen. “I tended to put a little bit more elaborate things in my lunchboxes just because it was an opportunity to practice the stuff I wanted to learn

ALEX ANDER WEISS SE A SON 1 CH A MPION PESTO CHICKEN PANINI Ingredients:

2 slices bread of your choice ¼ cup prepared basil pesto 1 cooked chicken breast, sliced 3-4 slices of fresh mozzarella 2 T. soft unsalted butter Optional: fire-roasted bell peppers STEP 1

Spread a generous amount of pesto on each piece of bread. Layer chicken slices, peppers and mozzarella. Top with the other piece of bread. STEP 2

Butter both sides of the bread. Place sandwich on panini grill or skillet. Once the sandwich is evenly browned, remove from the panini press, then slice. THINKSTOCK; GREG GAYNE/FOX

A

ddison Smith, 11, doesn’t like sandwiches in her packed lunch. Or strawberries. Or pears. But it’s not because she’s a picky eater — it’s because they just don’t withstand hours in a lunchbox. “Strawberries get mushy, and pears get mealy,” Addison says. So instead of those lunchbox staples, she prefers to prepare things like a thermos of lentil soup or goat cheese rolled up in salami and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Addison, who lives in River Forest, Ill., won Season 4 of the kids cooking competition show MasterChef Junior when she was just 9, blowing away even the notoriously hard-to-please chef and show judge Gordon Ramsay with her natural talent in the kitchen. Today she carries her lunch every day of the week except Friday when her school has “Fun Lunches,” and she usually has a hand in what’s served. “I have a very big range of different things that I eat, but it’s kind of hard to find things that I love,” she says. “And I don’t like the same thing every day.” New Yorker Alexander Weiss, 16, won the first season of the show in 2013. He takes advantage of his school’s incredible lunch program most days now — a recent meal included roasted chicken with couscous salad and garlic green beans — but remembers fondly the days his mom packed him Nutella


13


up front | food

14 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

NATHAN ODOM

ADDISON SMITH

SE A SON 3 CH A MPION

SE A SON 4 CH A MPION

LUNCHBOX STYLE CROQUE MONSIEUR

SALAMI & GOAT CHEESE ROLLS

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

2 T. finely grated Gruyere cheese ¼ cup mayonnaise 2 tsp. Dijon mustard French bread Sliced ham

Round slices of hard salami Goat cheese cut into strips Balsamic vinegar STEP 1

Place salami slices on a plate.

Gruyere Dijon Aioli:

2 T. finely grated Gruyere cheese ¼ cup mayonnaise 2 tsp. Dijon mustard STEP 1

Whisk together cheese, mayo and mustard until well combined.

STEP 2

Place 1-2 pieces of goat cheese on each piece of salami and spread length-wise. STEP 3

STEP 2

Roll the salami into a tube and place each piece in one section of bento box, or any small container.

Spread on bread and top with sliced ham.

STEP 4

If you’d like to take this recipe a step further, make your own mayonnaise by mixing one cup of oil, an egg, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper in a tall container, and using a hand blender until emulsified. If you don’t have a stick blender, you can just place the ingredients in a regular blender, setting it to high until the mixture is pale white and creamy.

Drizzle a small amount of balsamic vinegar over the salami rolls.

MIX IT UP!

Pair any of these recipes suggested by three past MasterChef Junior winners with cherry tomatoes, pretzels, clementines, cucumber slices, apple slices, carrots, hummus, olives or crackers.

THINKSTOCK; GREG GAYNE/FOX

how to make. Since you’re making it for yourself, you don’t really have to worry about making small mistakes that your family wouldn’t necessarily want to eat.” When it comes to lunchtime, all of the former show contestants say variety is important for a successful meal. Nathan says being included on grocery trips is key for kids looking to guide their parents in mixing it up. “I almost always go shopping with my mom whenever we go out to get groceries because I really like having a bit of a say on what ingredients are circulating throughout the house,” Nathan says. “I really like cooking with the same kind of things my mom does, but there’s some ingredients that I prefer in my dishes that she doesn’t necessarily want to buy.” Alexander agrees that his input helps to spice things up. “My mom made sure to ask me what I would want the day before, and sometimes she would just surprise me,” he says. “My mom made sure to change it up every other day.” Healthy options are important to all the winners, and not just because their parents say so. They truly enjoy what food can do for their bodies, and swap out junk food for options that make delicious sense. For instance, Addison likes wasabi crackers instead of potato chips. “I think that it’s important (that lunch) be a well-balanced meal that your kid will still enjoy, because if I didn’t enjoy the meals then I would probably not have eaten them,” Alexander says. And everyone agrees cookies are OK once in a while — as long as they are homemade.


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up front | business

Target Practices Major changes are coming to the retailer as it focuses on grocery and customer service BY HADLEY MALCOLM

16 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

BACK-TOSCHOOL SHOPPING Ready for the annual supply shopping spree? Look for cool school items and trendy fashions on pages 8, 10 and 22.

Target is making Many of these new services are significant changes already being tested, such as more to many of its stores visual merchandising throughout nationwide to the store. For example, parents and improve customers’ kids can expect to see the perfect shopping outfit for the first day of school experience. being sported by mannequins in the kids’ department. Customers can also expect major changes in Target’s grocery selection, where, says CEO Brian Cornell, the company “will transform virtually every element of the business.” That means more organic products and fresh produce for lunchboxes.

JOE SCARNICI/GETTY IMAGES; THINKSTOCK

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hen parents head to Target stores next year to stock up on back-to-school supplies — pencils, notebooks, jeans, tops and the like — their experience will not be the same as today. It will be easier, less frustrating and more convenient, executives say. Starting a shopping trip through Target’s app or online and finishing it in a store will become more seamless, with text notifications when online orders for in-store pickup are ready; dedicated areas of the store will be created for these orders. Online orders will ship faster, as Target’s brick-andmortar stores are revamped to double as fulfillment centers. Those capabilities are part of the plan by Target executives who want the chain to become the ultimate onestop grocery, apparel and housewares destination for families as it continues its transformation to become a more digitally focused, personalized and reliable retailer. The company is testing more personalized customer service and better inventory management that will keep shelves stocked more consistently. Store floor space also is being reorganized to highlight merchandise in more appealing ways.


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ANOTHER CHANGE IN THE PIPELINE Target is simplifying its loyalty program, hoping to attract more customers to its coupon app Cartwheel and REDCard credit/debit card. Target also is testing a REDPerks program in North Carolina, based on a point system for dollars spent.

All of these changes are part of Target’s bid to grow sales by 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent this year and by at least 3 percent annually in 2017. Target has proved to be a powerful force in retail since Cornell came to the company in 2014 and helped refocus its priorities and aggressively tackle growth in digital traffic, sales and experiences. The retailer renewed its focus on style, both in apparel and home decor. It made a commitment to offer better baby and kids merchandise, including a new genderneutral kids brand called Pillowfort that launched in late February and has already seen double-digit growth. Still, executives readily admit that Target has some missteps to address. Shelves are too often empty; lack of options in grocery have left customers “underwhelmed and disappointed,” he adds; and customer service isn’t specialized enough.

18 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

Aiming to increase “We have to be sales by 2017, focused on driving Target is testing traffic to our stores and new services at business to our site,” select locations Cornell says. “We’re and attempting to making sure we’re improve identified focused on innovation, problem areas. we’re elevating our focus on trend, we’re certainly elevating the quality we’re putting back in the product.” Target has seen considerable success with smaller stores in cities and around college campuses, opening nine in 2015. At least one is open near Penn State University and more are planned near several Boston colleges this year. The stores aren’t meant to be glorified convenience shops, says Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan. “This isn’t a stop-and-go-pick-up-some-food (destination). It’s really about bringing the totality of Target to that neighborhood.”

ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES; THINKSTOCK

up front | business


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nutrient gaps in every member’s daily diet. From our great tasting Adult Gummies to Nature Made Kids First (only available at Target), let Nature Made vitamins and supplements help support the nutritional needs of your family.

KIDS FIRST® *Find those Nature Made USP verified gummies at NatureMade.com/USP †These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


up front | finances

The Meaning of Money Life lessons help children become fiscally savvy BY MARY HELEN BERG

Kids can understand the concepts of value and exchange even at the tender age of 3.” — BETH KOBLINER, author and financial expert

according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But if you’re like most parents, talking about money is a little like homework or the sex talk — something essential that you’d rather avoid. The start of a new school year is a perfect time to begin the conversation. Author and financial expert Beth Kobliner suggests talking about money early and often. “Research shows that kids can understand the concepts of value and exchange even at the tender age of 3,” says Kobliner, who served on the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young

FINANCIAL AIDS These resources can make it easy to become cash-smart.

20 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

Americans from 2010 to 2013. With most parents managing what little money their children receive, it may not seem practical to teach them about saving so young. But Neale S. Godfrey, chair of the Children’s Financial Network, offers tips on how to make wise money decisions. Set up four clear containers where your kids can stash their cash. Then divide money into charitable donations, spending, and medium- and long-term savings, advises Godfrey, author of New York Times bestseller Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children. Parents can teach kids to manage finances by including them in purchasing decisions. Take kids to the store, gas station or bank to show them how money works in the real world and teach them to compare costs and understand concepts such as bank interest, says Variny Yim, regional director for the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. “Money doesn’t have to be this big, heavy conversation that’s laden with guilt and fear,” Yim says. “It actually can be about taking advantage of these everyday teachable money moments.”

MONEY AS YOU GROW

‘THE OPPOSITE OF SPOILED’

This national initiative offers financial tips for all ages. consumerfinance. gov/moneyasyougrow

Author Ron Lieber offers advice to help parents raise financially responsible young adults. $10.72, amazon.com

THINKSTOCK; JAMES IACOBELLI

I

t’s time to have “The Talk” with your kids. Not the one about the birds and the bees. The one about banks, budgets and Benjamins. You’re the biggest influence on your kids when it comes to understanding the value of a dollar,


Dollars & Sense

THINKSTOCK

Age-appropriate tips to teach children how to manage money

EARN

SAVE

SPEND

GIVE

Ages 5-10

Deciding whether to give an allowance is up to you, but it’s one way to introduce how to earn money, says Variny Yim, with the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Help your child save “quick cash” to spend on spur-ofthe-moment treats, says author Neale S. Godfrey, and let other funds build for more expensive items.

Ask your kids to clip coupons. Help them create a shopping list and talk about wants vs. needs. Show them how to compare prices as they shop. If they want an item that’s not on the shopping list, they can pay for it from their “quick cash” savings.

Make charity personal and ageappropriate. If your young one loves animals, for example, she can donate to an animal shelter.

Ages 11-13

Encourage your budding entrepreneur to operate a lemonade stand or garage sale or find work babysitting, dog walking or doing odd jobs.

Take a trip to your local bank branch and open a savings account for your child.

Explain the difference between generic and brandname products. Ask your child to calculate the tip at a restaurant. Introduce the concept of taxes. Godfrey recommends a family “tax jar” that takes 15 percent of earnings for household expenses.

Walk the talk. Volunteer with your kids at the charity they support. Handson experience gives them a connection to their contributions.

Ages 14-18

Urge your teen to earn a paycheck by taking on a summer job. It will be valuable life experience as well as a great addition to her college application. If your teen lands a nonpaying internship, consider paying her “salary,” Godfrey says.

Open a modest brokerage account and ask your teen to research and pick companies to invest in. Have your teen help with research into college expenses and investigate student loans.

Ask your child to pay his own cellphone bill or if he drives, have him pay for gas or insurance. Introduce him to debit cards, checkbooks and ATMs. Teach him how to make a budget. Don’t hand your teen your credit card unless you like unpleasant surprises.

Respect your teen’s chosen charities. Passion for a cause may point them toward a college major or even a career.

21


Study in

22 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016


style

Start off the year in fashions that will get great grades PHOTOGRAPHY BY JERALD COUNCIL

ALL PRODUCT PRICES AND AVAILABILITY ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

23


kid styles

classic School supplies provided by Office Depot and OfficeMax.

j Sean John faux-leather and tulle moto dress, $29.99 and Tommy Hilfiger Kayleigh signature flats, $39, both at macys.com

24 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

j 1969 white denim jacket, $69.95, 1969 short-sleeve tee, $19.99, and flower-print skirt, $26.95, all at Gap; Mad Love Lydia canvas slip-on shoes, $19.99 at Target


kid styles

j Cherokee button-down plaid shirt, $12.99, and dyed slub V-neck tee, $7, both at Target; Urban Pipeline messenger cargo shorts, $19.99 at Kohl’s j Graphic long-sleeve T-shirt, $16.95 at Gap; Circo drawstring shorts, $5 at Target; Vans Winston shoes, $49.99 at Kohl’s

sporty

j Short-sleeve printed tee, $6 at Gap; Circo pull-on camo shorts, $14.99 at target.com

26 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016


kid styles

Clockwise, from top left: j Cherokee colorblock polo, $7.99 at Target j 1969 longsleeve sweater, $34.95, and slim-fit denim jeans, $69.95, both at Gap j Epic Threads lace-detail top, $26, and Sean John fashion jogger pants, $32, both at macys.com; Skechers Skech Appeal Prancy Dance athletic shoes, $54.99 at Kohl’s j Urban Pipeline pique polo, $24, and Levi’s 511 slimfit jeans, $44, both at Kohl’s j Urban Pipeline striped pique polo, $24, and Nike Flex Experience 4 running shoes, $65, both at Kohl’s; Cherokee boot-cut denim jeans, $12.99 at Target

28 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

cool


teen styles

j Polo Ralph Lauren plaid long-sleeve shirt, $125 at Macy’s; 1969 slim-fit jeans, $69.95, and slip-on sneakers, $39.95, both at Gap

j Blue camo utility jacket, $99.95, 1969 Always Skinny jeans, $69.95, and ballet shoes, $69.95, all at Gap

30 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

den


im

j American Rag terry-denim jacket, $69.50, Celebrity Pink super-skinny jeans, $44, and G by Guess Opall high-top sneakers, $69, all at macys.com

j 1969 selvedge skinny-fit jeans, $108 at Gap; Nike Revolution 3 running shoes, $60 at Kohl’s

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teen styles

j American Rag faux-suede laser-cutout vest, $59.50, and Free People Over and Under printed wideleg pants, $128, both at macys.com j Sean John cargo jogger pants, $89.50 at macys.com

trendy 32 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016


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camo

teen styles

j Pretty Rebellious V-neck T-shirt, $24 at Macy’s; SO camo legging, $8.99 at Kohl’s; G by Guess Opall high-top sneakers, $69 at macys. com

34 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

j American Rag printed-trim parka vest, $69.50, Tinseltown camo print skinny jeans, $49, and Style & Co. Jenell booties, $79.50, all at macys.com

j Gstar fleece shawl sweater, $75 at macys.com

j Bar III field jacket, $79.50 and Rewash printed drawstring-waist ruched pants, $39, both at macys.com


ONE SOFT TISSUE IS ALL IT TAKES

3 smart ways to save for back-to-school REDcard

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teen styles

active

j SO colorblock zip-front hoodie, $24.99, and heathered leggings, $8.99, both at Kohl’s; Skechers Burst Chukka flat knit running sneakers, $74.99 at Macy’s

36 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

j Core trainer long-sleeve crew, $39.95 at Gap; Nike Revolution 3 running shoes, $60 at Kohl’s

j Under Armour activewear pullover, $39.99, activewear tee, $24.99, and Nike jogging pants, $65, all at Macy’s


38 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016


SKIPPING SCHOOL With parents’ blessings, some children forgo traditional classrooms and design their own educational experience

STORY BY MARISSA RODRIGUEZ PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK LIPCZYNSKI

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The Lopez family — Elisa Marie, 11, dad Carlos, mom Alicia and Emilio, 8 — play a video game at their Phoenix home as part of the children’s unschooling experience.

y 8 a.m. on any given weekday from September to June, bells have rung, backpacks are hung, and millions of children are sitting at their school desks ready to begin the academic rigors of the day. Elisa Marie and Emilio Lopez of Phoenix, however, may very well still be sleeping. When they wake is determined by their internal clocks and learning commences when their curiosity sparks. At ages 11 and 8, the Lopez children have never attended school, taken a pop quiz or spent hours at the kitchen table hunched over homework. They are unschoolers, members of a growing number of families who opt out of traditional schooling in favor of a new approach to interest-led, individualized learning. Unschooling, which is legal in all 50 states but may be subject to certain regulations, allows children to indulge their natural curiosity without applying timetables to their learning. Parents trust that the children’s inherent curiosity will lead them to new and exciting topics, and largely reject the concept of forcing a child to conform to a one-size-fits-all curriculum in favor of customizing learning to the individual child. “Because we see learning everywhere, we don’t dedicate a special time or certain hours to learning,” says Alicia Gonzalez-Lopez, mother to Elisa Marie and Emilio. “My role is to be providing opportunities to learn. I didn’t have to know everything; I could be learning

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SKIPPING SCHOOL alongside her.” There is no typical day for the Lopez children and many others like them. (The U.S. Department of Education estimates that there are nearly 2 million homeschooled children, of which 10 percent are estimated to be unschooled.) One day may see Elisa Marie and Emilio at a theater or museum, another spent on a play date and another invested in gaming or crafting. As a stay-at-home mom, Gonzalez-Lopez helps guide them and tackle each interest, and seeks out resources for learning, including books, movies, YouTube or classes. She makes it a point to integrate her children into the world in hopes they learn to better understand it, as opposed to sequestering them in a classroom where they are taught about it. “Unschooling is allowing your children as much freedom to explore the world as you can bear as a parent,” says Patrick Farenga, author and president of Holt GWS, an organization dedicated to continuing the mission and teachings of the late John Holt, considered to be a founder of the unschooling movement. Farenga, a leading expert on unschooling, advocates for learning outside the compulsory schooling environment, which he argues runs contrary to the way

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children learn naturally, which is initially through play and exploration. “Kindergarten, which used to be play-based, is now pre-academic. Preschool is now pre-, preacademic,” says Farenga. “We have completely lost how children learn, and we think that they only learn what we teach them. They learn so much more than that.”

PARENTS AS FACILITATORS Unschoolers contend that what children learn best is what they discover themselves. The parental role is to help them develop their inherent talents and interests. Parents don’t need to be education experts, Farenga says, but they do need to be facilitators and advocates for their children’s individual learning journey. “It’s a completely different paradigm,” says Rachel Miller, who unschools her 13-year-old son, Cam, and 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, in Katy, Texas. As they’ve grown, Miller has helped her children move from interest to interest. When they were younger, she led twice weekly outings to the zoo or museums. Now she helps nurture her son’s interest in gaming, anime and the Internet, as well as her daughter’s love of art and computers.

“UNSCHOOLING IS ALLOWING YOUR CHILDREN AS MUCH FREEDOM TO EXPLORE THE WORLD AS YOU CAN BEAR AS A PARENT.” — PATRICK FARENGA, AUTHOR AND UNSCHOOLING EXPERT


“Instead of making assumptions or dictating what is best for them and under what conditions they will thrive, we spent their early years watching and paying attention to figure that out,” she notes. Miller trusts that Cam and Olivia will learn the skills they need at the pace and in the style that’s right for them. “On the surface, it seems very easy, but (some) don’t realize how much effort unschooling requires,” she says. “It would be much easier to stick my kids on a bus and let someone else take care of (their education) than it is to really get to know them and hunt down resources for them. It’s a full-time job.” Their education is as much about mastering skills and satisfying curiosity as it is about learning how to learn, think independently and understand consequences. “They don’t have the skills to evaluate their options because no one has ever given them options before,” she says. “I think your social skills atrophy if someone is micromanaging them for you.” Unschooling critics argue that removing children from conventional school robs them of opportunities to grow those social skills. Not so, say unschoolers.

“We have such a problem with bullying in schools. Why on earth do we think that’s where (children) need to be to learn social skills?” says Sue Patterson, a homeschooling coach, unschooling mentor and author. She insists that unschooled children have ample opportunity to develop social skills in their families and the world around them. “You don’t learn it sitting in a classroom where you are encouraged not to socialize,” she says. For some unschooling parents, it’s that type of rigid environment that makes it impossible for their children to succeed.

A LEAP OF FAITH Joan Concilio’s daughter, Sarah, struggled in school from first grade. She was confused by directions, suffered from headaches and grew increasingly anxious. Concilio and her then-husband were in constant communication with teachers about Sarah’s performance and well-being. But, by the time she reached sixth grade, things had reached a breaking point. Although Concilio had worked with the school to develop an individual education program, or IEP — a plan schools are required to provide to address the needs of any child who receives special

“I THINK YOUR SOCIAL SKILLS ATROPHY IF SOMEONE IS MICROMANAGING THEM FOR YOU,” — RACHEL MILLER, MOTHER AND UNSCHOOLER

education services — for Sarah’s learning disabilities, school was not working. “She was sick to her stomach; she was in remedial classes,” she says. “She had so much anxiety she could barely leave her room.” The family refers to the day Sarah finally left school as their “leap day,” because it was an enormous leap of faith. “We decided to stop doing what’s not working,” she says. “But we discovered what was working. She has a deep interest in robotics and would ask questions like, ‘Is the Mars Rover a robot? Why? What makes it a robot?’ ” Every day gave Concilio an opportunity to help Sarah find out more and she’s chronicled the journey via her website

UnschoolRules.com. At home, Sarah’s natural intelligence blossomed and she developed interests in politics and the current presidential race, British history and 4-H. “In public school, her giftedness was masked by her challenges, then she would feel bored and dumb,” says Concilio. “When she is engaged, it creates a positive learning spiral where one question leads to another.” When students are told school is their only option and yet perform poorly, they become anxious and miserable. “But they are told they must endure,” says Patterson. “If I could shout from the rooftops, I would say, ‘You don’t have to!’ “The challenge parents have is to divorce themselves from the narrative that the school’s approach to learning is the only path to success.” What’s more, college is a very real option for unschoolers. Many go on to earn degrees. Success without school is possible, and parents shouldn’t have to sacrifice their relationship with their children on the altar of education, says Farenga. “Education is a byproduct of a good relationship between you, your child and the world around them.”

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HITS

THE ROAD TO COMMON EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS IS BESET WITH OPPOSITION, CONFUSION

THINKSTOCK

BY K ATHERINE REYNOLDS LEWIS

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ail biting, stress headaches, sleepless nights

or all of the above. Standardized testing — and its side effects — has been part of the U.S. public education system for decades. But lately, the Common Core curriculum and revamped tests are coming under fire. Critics say the new tests put too much

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instructional time and encourage educators to emphasize rote memorization — teaching to the test — in lieu of meaningful learning. By several measures, the K-12 school system is failing many of our children: — Only 28 percent of the high school graduates who have taken the ACT meet all four college-readiness benchmarks (English, reading, math and science), according to a 2015 report by the Iowa City, Iowa, organization that manages the testing program. — Nearly 1 in 4 high school graduates can’t pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test, a standardized test that measures math and reading skills to meet the minimum academic standards required to enlist, according to an analysis by the Education Trust, a nonprofit group advocating for higher educational achievement. These stats are proving political fodder during an election year, with both parties advocating for education reform. Critics of testing are

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picketing schools and urging parents to opt their children out of tests. Celebrities are taking on the issue from both sides: Actor Matt Damon, the son of an educator, and comedian Louis C.K., who tweeted about his children’s stress over testing, have spoken against the over-reliance on standardized tests; actress Eva Longoria and musician John Legend are among those who helped fund an ad in support of standardized testing. What’s a parent to do? Here’s the history behind standardized testing, so parents can decide on which side of the debate they stand.

2002

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND

For years, states designed and administered standardized tests without much interference from the federal government. But amid

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TESTING BY THE NUMBERS

Grading practices are uneven ... from school to school, from state to state.” — KATI HAYCOCK, CEO of the Education Trust

growing concern about racial inequity in education and the U.S. falling behind international competitors, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law in 2002. It was the most sweeping reform of education since 1965, the year President Johnson’s War on Poverty created the Title I program and significantly expanded federal funding for education. NCLB required states to test students in math and reading every year from third through eighth grades, and at least once from grades 10 through 12, with results broken out by race and subgroups, such as English-language learners and students with disabilities. The law called for states to bring every child to the “proficient” level by the

2013-14 school year, while giving states the prerogative to define proficiency and decide which tests to use. States have fallen short of this goal, with Massachusetts doing the best at only 50 percent of students proficient this year. Low-performing schools risked losing students to a better public school, or even closure. Over time, educators realized that the law encouraged schools to focus on two numbers — scores on rudimentary English, language arts and literacy, and math tests — which often meant drilling basic skills and facts at the expense of a broader education. “When you teach to a test or even prep for a test, educators are taken away from some of the good work they could be doing helping students learn,” says Elizabeth Green, author of Building a Better Teacher and co-founder of Chalkbeat, a news site covering education.

Percentage of high school graduates who have taken the ACT and meet all four college-readiness benchmarks (English, reading, math and science)

Number of high school graduates who can’t pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test

Number of mandatory standardized tests the average U.S. student in a big-city public school will take between preschool and high school graduation

Number of students in 29 states and Washington, D.C., who took Common Core-aligned tests

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SHOULD YOUR CHILD OPT OUT OF TESTS? Parents following news about the opt-out movement naturally ask: Should I refuse to allow my child to be tested? First, understand where your state and school district fall in the Common Core continuum. Do local teachers and principals oppose your child’s standardized tests? Or have they found ways to make them work for your school? If you don’t live in a school district

2009

COMMON CORE

While the reforms of NCLB were taking hold, another movement was gathering steam. Unlike most developed countries, the U.S. had never required that every child acquire a specified set of skills and body of knowledge. So a third-grade math curriculum in Massachusetts could look quite different than one in Tennessee. But with young people in Asia, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe pulling ahead of U.S. students on international measures of achievement from the 1990s until today, a bipartisan group of governors and educational leaders in 2009 launched an effort to write a set of curriculum standards for English and math. Thus, the Common Core was born. While many people equate the Common Core with the new wave of standardized tests, it was actually a separate initiative. The idea was to create a voluntary set of standards for curriculum that would prepare students for

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with a strong opt-out movement, you can write to legislators and government officials to voice your opinion. Or connect with activists in your area through groups such as FairTest (fairtest. org) and United Opt Out (unitedoptout. com) that organize people to protest the standardized test. The consequences vary from state to state, but few are felt by individual children. Opting out may hurt school funding and deny school districts data needed to address gaps in education or achievement. — Katherine Reynolds Lewis

college and the working world. Proponents sought to increase the level of rigor in classrooms and develop students’ conceptual understanding and critical thinking skills, to rival other countries’ educational systems. The standards were published in 2010; as of 2016, all but eight states and Puerto Rico have adopted them. The bipartisan Common Core concept soon became a political one with President Obama’s signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a law the White House says is designed to “boost the economy by investing in critical sectors, including education.” Tucked into the bill, which became law less than a month after Obama took office in 2009, was the Race to the Top grant program, which would provide more than $4 billion to motivate states to adopt common standards, facilitate public charter schools and begin evaluating teachers and principals based on students’ performance. Meanwhile, congressional reauthorization of the NCLB law had stalled. In an attempt

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to ease tension while lawmakers debated the law, the Obama administration decided in 2011 to give states waivers that exempted them from consequences for low-performing schools, with three conditions. First, they had to focus more resources on the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and those where a segment of the student body was lagging. Second, they had to implement higher standards for all children, which lent support to the Common Core effort. And third, schools had to begin evaluating individual teachers using test data. “Now, in addition to pressure on schools, there was pressure on teachers. That’s when the backlash started,” says Dana Goldstein, a journalist and author of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. “In order to get at the weakest of the weak teachers, we ended up scaring the other 95 percent.” Educators were in a no-win situation. They didn’t yet have tests that would assess students against the more rigorous standards, and teachers and schools were facing penalties for students falling short. “You still had these bad, dumbeddown NCLB tests but they had high stakes for teachers,” Goldstein says. “This is the era where we begin to see teachers’ unions and parents say: ‘There’s too much testing; bad tests; and they’re too high-stakes.’ ” In response, advocates of tests say they provide important data to hold schools accountable for educating all students and closing the achievement gap. “Grading practices are uneven from teacher to teacher, from school to school, from state to state,” says Kati Haycock, CEO of the Education Trust. “If you don’t also have an objective independent measure of how your child is doing, you don’t have everything you need to argue for your kid.”

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When you teach to a test ... educators are taken away from some of the good work they could be doing helping students learn.” — ELIZABETH GREEN, author and co-founder of Chalkbeat

2015

OPT-OUT MOVEMENT

The average U.S. student in a big-city public school will take 112 mandatory standardized exams between pre-K and high school graduation, which breaks down to roughly eight tests per year — many of them redundant — taking a total 20 and 25 hours, according to a 2015 study by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the nation’s largest urban school districts. About 12 million students in 29 states and Washington, D.C., took Common Core-aligned tests last year. Some parents are saying no to testing. They’re backed by teachers’ unions opposed to tying students’ test results to teacher pay and career progress. Last year, this opposition coalesced into opt-out protests across the country when parents refused to allow more than half a million

children to take standardized tests. In New York state, a whopping 20 percent of eligible students opted out, as did students in Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. And the movement is gaining traction in Florida, Indiana and Texas. “I’m opting my students out of standardized testing because I think it’s the lazy way to figure out what’s happening in the school,” says Ronda Belen, a Denver mother of Faruq, 15; Amir, 11; Fatima, 5; and Ihsaan, 3. This past spring, the only one of her children subject to standardized testing — Amir — sat out. Given that scores aren’t available until well after the school year ends, she feels the test results add no value to her kids’ education. “There should be more individualized instruction,” she says. Firm numbers for how many students opted out in spring 2016 won’t be available until later this year. Reasons for opting out vary across the country, with many activists concerned about test-writing corporations driving the process and others protesting a rush to administer tests before teachers have a chance to digest and implement new curricula. Adding to the complicated picture, last year Congress reauthorized NCLB, renaming it the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gave states more flexibility in choosing curriculum standards and deciding how to measure student learning and progress. Notably, it eliminated the tie between teacher evaluations and student outcomes. Chalkbeat’s Green sees irony in the turmoil caused in implementing common standards, which aim to reduce chaos in the long term. “It’s a really good thing that we’re elevating standards,” she says. “There definitely have been costs along the way as we figure out as a country the best way to implement this goal.”


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Digital natives grew up with smartphones. Now, they’re finally getting smart classrooms. BY MATT ALDERTON

THE EAR-ASSAILING SOUND OF chalk on a chalkboard. The woody aroma of pencil-sharpener dust. The dog-eared pages of old textbooks. The blinding light of an overhead projector. These are just a few of the classroom quirks that 21st-century students may never experience. Instead, they’ll suffer

through slow download speeds, frozen screens and drained batteries — minor inconveniences that pale in comparison to the promise of digital learning: an experience that’s infinitely more interactive, engaging and immersive than analog education. It may seem light years in the future,

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SMART CLASSROOMS

Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland, observes students from Church Lane Elementary using digital resources provided by Discovery Education.

COOL CLASSROOMS In 2010, Florida’s Sarasota County Schools began transitioning to “classrooms of tomorrow” known as TechActive classrooms. According to the school district, it’s so far transformed 224 middleschool classrooms, including all those for math and science and approximately half of those dedicated to language arts and

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social studies Instead of individual desks and blackboards, TechActive classrooms feature U-shaped workstations designed for small-group collaboration. At each is a touchscreen computer where students can gather to solve math problems or scrutinize data and images broadcast by wireless graphing calculators and digital microscopes. “It’s all about peer collaboration and communication,” explains Joe Binswanger, director of information technology for Sarasota County schools. “When you use technology for technology’s sake, it ends up on the shelf pretty quickly. But when you use it to complement strong instruction, it becomes an intricate part of the day-to-day lesson.”

T E C H N O LOGICAL TRIUMPHS When technology is coupled with instructional design, the benefits are numerous, according to former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education, whose “Future Ready Schools” framework helps schools implement digital learning opportunities. In 2014, the organization sponsored an analysis of more than 70 recent studies on technology-supported learning and concluded that the right mix of technology and instruction in

“You can’t just put a bunch of laptops in the classroom and say, ‘Go for it.’ Using technology in education takes work.” SARI FACTOR, CEO OF EDGENUITY

BALTIMORE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

but the transition in many schools is already underway. In fact, spending on computer hardware was up last school year in nearly half (46 percent) of all U.S. school districts, according to market research firm MDR. Collectively, K-12 schools’ information technology budgets soared to $4.7 billion in 2015, reports another firm, IDC Government Insights. “I would estimate that my classroom is about 95 percent digitally based,” says Edward Steinhauser, who teaches at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, Calif. “Ed tech” is about much more than whiz-bang devices, agrees Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity, a Phoenix-based company that provides online curriculums to schools. “There has been a huge influx of hardware into schools, but you can’t just put a bunch of laptops in the classroom and say, ‘Go for it,’” she says. “Using technology in education takes work.”


SMART CLASSROOMS

SYSTEM ERRORS Ed tech isn’t without flaws. Skeptics worry about the diminishment of teachers. “There’s certainly a fear with technology that we won’t need teachers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Factor says. “There’s some things a computer does really well, like gathering data and giving immediate feedback, but a computer can’t tell if a student got a bad score because he’s having a bad day, because he didn’t get enough sleep or because there’s a problem at home. … It’s the blending of what teachers do well with what computers do well that’s really powerful.” Then there’s the cost, which in some cases has created a “digital divide” between wealthy and disadvantaged school districts. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate program has helped by giving disadvantaged schools deep discounts — as much as 90 percent off — on high-speed Internet service. “Last year, the FCC expanded the amount of E-rate’s funding (by $1.5 billion to $3.9 billion a year),” Wise says. “The result is that within five years, 99 percent

of all classrooms in this country will now have access to high-speed broadband.” Another FCC program, Lifeline, targets the “homework gap.” “A lot of kids don’t have Internet access at home; we’ve got to figure out how they can get it so they can continue learning at home,” Wise says. “Lifeline is a program targeted to low-income families, who (under new FCC rules) are eligible to apply for assistance to pay for Internet access at home.”

Three next-gen tools that promise to change education for the better:

T E A C H I NG THE FUTURE Concerns are real. But so are the opportunities — not the least of which is improved digital literacy, according to Cliff Green, vice president of education and strategic partnerships at digital curriculum provider Learning.com and treasurer of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing digital learning in schools. “Millennials spend 35 hours a week consuming digital content, but 58 percent of them have low technology skills,” says Green, citing a 2015 study of 16- to 34-yearolds by STEM-literacy organization Change the Equation. “We see kids as digital natives, so we assume — wrongly so — that they’re digitally literate. The truth is, they know how to swipe, but they don’t know how to type, and those are skills they need to be successful (in the workforce).” History teacher Steinhauser agrees. Along with historical facts, he makes a point of teaches computing skills like finding and vetting credible online information sources. “We live in the 21st century. If we continue to teach like it’s 1950, we’re not doing the job at schools that we’re supposed to be doing.”

“When you use (technology) to complement strong instruction, it becomes an intricate part of the day-to-day lesson.” JOE BINSWAN G E R , D I R E C T O R O F I N F O R MATION TECHNOLOGY FOR S A R A S O T A C O U N T Y ( F L A . ) SCHOOLS

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Schoolroom tech tools

Google Expeditions Students use smartphones and virtual reality viewers to explore 360-degree environments such as the bottom of the ocean or the surface of Mars. google.com/ expeditions

Digital textbooks Available across three subjects — science, math and social studies — Discovery Education’s Techbook digital textbooks can be accessed via computer or tablet. discovery education.com

3-D explorations The Smithsonian Institution’s SIx3D program offers digital 3-D models of some of its most important artifacts to be viewed online or downloaded and printed on a 3-D printer. 3d.si.edu — Matt Alderton

THINKSTOCK

classrooms can decrease behavioral problems as well as improve high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Wise attributes the positive outcomes to personalized learning. In social studies, for instance, students studying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can click a link and watch a video of his “I Have a Dream” speech while reading about it. “There’s a wide variety of multimedia that can bring courses to life with realworld examples that make things relevant for kids,” Factor says. “It keeps students engaged, and engagement is the key.”


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kindergarten

Right Time for Kindergarten? Parents, experts cite pros and cons for 'redshirting’ children in hopes of getting a head start

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uite a few parents of rising kindergarteners with late birthdays — those who might end up being among the youngest in their class — are delaying their children’s entry into elementary school for a year, hoping that sending older children into

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the classroom will benefit them academically, emotionally and physically. In some cases, the parents are hoping to give their children an edge over their classmates. The practice, known as “redshirting,” may help children who are not mature enough to handle the structure and

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kindergarten

“There’s a beauty in children being kids ... and not (having) so much going on. If that means having another year in pre-K, awesome.”

social complexity of the classroom, or who may be physically smaller than their classmates. Alina Adams, author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten, hosts in-home admissions workshops for parents and says more than one-third of the families she works with are facing the redshirt decision. The New York City public schools’ cutoff date of Dec. 31 is one of the latest in the country. Adams says parents who have children born in the late fall, but who don’t want them to start kindergarten before age 5, struggle. “Some parents do genuinely believe that being a year older will mean the child will get the material that’s being taught in the classroom quicker and that will build their self-esteem, whereas the child who comes in on the younger side is immature and doesn’t have the ability to sit still and focus for the same period of time,” she says. And they may have a point. According to a 2012 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who are in the youngest third of the class are 50 percent more likely to be prescribed stimulants to manage symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, between the ages of 7 and 14.

New York psychiatrist Carly Snyder took into account her own understanding of child development, appropriate growth and socialization when she decided to redshirt her son, whose birthday falls in July. And now that he just finished second grade, she knows it was the right decision — for them. “He is confident, has tons of friends and is outgoing and engaging,” Snyder says. “He started pre-K timid and unsure of himself because other kids were (more advanced in) reading and writing than he was and he felt behind the ball. Now he’s one of the best in his class and feels good about himself. ... There’s a beauty in children being kids, and playing, and just enjoying the time they have to not be scheduled and not have so much going on. If that means having another year in pre-K, awesome.” Lain Ehman held her son Ben back, having him complete two years of kindergarten. He was ready to move forward academically, but Ehman did not think he was prepared emotionally and physically. Looking back years later, Ehman said the extra year of kindergarten was beneficial for Ben, who was recently admitted to Stanford University, and is scheduled to

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CARLY SNYDER, PSYCHIATRIST

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kindergarten

“I think it’s particularly important for boys, who tend to mature physically later than girls anyway.”

graduate in 2020. “At the time we wondered if he would be bored in school, but the idea of him being one of the oldest, rather than one of the youngest, in his class was a big draw,” Ehman says. “I think it’s particularly important for boys, who tend to mature physically later than girls anyway. We also knew that sports would be important to him, and an extra year of growth and maturity could only help him on the field.” According to Rebecca Palacios, a founding director and former vice chairwoman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, kindergarten readiness comes in a variety of ways. A pre-K program can be key in getting them there. “It comes in being physically able to control their emotions and their body functions; being able to tend to themselves,” she says. “When you think about it, going to school is really strange to little children after they’ve been in a family for a while; so (is) learning a routine and how to talk to one another. Do they know the difference between a letter and number? Can they hold a book the right way?” DELAY CAN POSE CHALLENGES Of course redshirting is not for everyone, especially girls, for whom Adams says the worries may not arise until middle and high school. “You might have a young 13-yearold in the same grade with an

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older 15-year-old and then, there’s concerns about peer pressure and again, physical issues,” she says. It’s something school social worker Cori Magnotta, 32, knows well. Her mom didn’t put her in kindergarten until she was nearly 6. Kids would tease her about being held back. But things really got worse for her later when she hit 5’11” at age 13. It even drove her away from playing basketball. “I was the first fourth-grader to ever play in the seventh-grade tournament, but by the time I was in seventh grade, the parents actually voted to disqualify me because I was almost six feet tall,” she says. “(My teammates) didn’t want to play with me, so I ended up throwing in the towel. “I resented my parents my entire educational career for redshirting me. I was bullied relentlessly and always felt I was in the wrong grade all the way through high school.” Stacy R. Gill-Phillips, CEO of West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School, thinks parents need to evaluate the child to determine what is best, not act out of their own fears. “The important thing is for parents to understand that the best experience happens when children are comfortable socially, not necessarily academically or athletically,” she says. “When they’re fitting in with the social group of their peers is when they function the best.”

THINKSTOCK

— LAIN EHMAN, PARENT


kindergarten

Teaching Kids to be Kind Learning how to be mindful and compassionate has many benefits

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ducating kids doesn’t have to stop with the ABCs. In fact, the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison provides a kindness curriculum that teaches mindfulness and thoughtfulness as positive antidotes to the stresses of school, such as academic performance, making friends and fitting in. The goal of the program, developed in 2010 by mindfulness teacher Laura Pinger, is to teach children empathy and compas-

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sion, enabling them to feel more understood, creating a more peaceful school environment and meaningful connections between students, teachers and parents. “Everyone is born with a biological propensity, an innate seed for kindness and compassion, but it requires nurturing to grow and these programs are a way to do that,” says Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds and author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. “Just a

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Laura Pinger, creator of a kindness curriculum for the Center for Healthy Minds, leads mindfulness exercises in a Wisconsin preschool classroom.

few hours of these practices can actually change the brain.” Young brains such as those in preschool are extremely impressionable. “Neuro-scientific research shows that the brain undergoes three major periods of increased plasticity (during the) first two decades of life: around birth, between the ages of 5 and 7 and adolescence,” says Davidson. “For this reason, children find it easier to learn skills like a new language or how to play a musical instrument. The same may be true for social and emotional skills.” KINDNESS IN THE CLASSROOM To date, the 12-week kindness curriculum has been used in six public schools in Wisconsin. Twice a week for 20 to 30 minutes, preschool students learn how

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to be more mindful and kind through exercises, activities, books and songs from a center instructor. “The foundation is mindfulness of body, breath, feelings and emotions and the world around us,” says Lisa Flook, a Center for Healthy Minds associate scientist. “But the curriculum is created so ... that kids can participate in an age-appropriate way.” So, while an adult might sit and observe breathing for 30 minutes, kids do a practice called Belly Buddies, where a small stone is placed on their stomachs as they lay on the floor. “As they inhale and exhale they watch the movement of the stone,” says Flook. “It makes (mindfulness) more concrete for kids.” So does the “mind jar.” “It’s a plastic jar filled with water, glycerin and glitter

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PEACE WANDS Students use wands, one with a heart and one with a star, in exercises to help them express feelings.

Preschool students at a Wisconsin school listen as mindfulness experts Laura Pinger, left, and Lisa Flook talk about empathy and compassion.

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to represent the thoughts and emotions in our minds,” says Wisconsin preschool teacher Kim Smith. “Students shake the jar, put it down and then pay attention to how the sparkles or emotions settle down.” In another exercise, students hold peace wands, one with a heart and one with a star. “The child with the heart wand speaks from the heart, while the other child who has the star listens and then repeats back what was said,” says Smith. This helps students express their feelings,

KIDS REAP KIND BENEFITS Initial results published in Developmental Psychology in 2015 show that this unique program improves kids’ grades (because of social and emotional development), cognitive abilities and relationship skills. Kids also were able to think flexibly and delay gratification, which are both important life skills. Encouraged by the positive results, Smith and others have continued to teach segments of the curriculum. “It helps kids to be the best listener, learner and friend they can be,” says Smith. This positive energy has spread to the entire school. “Every day, the entire school, all 600 of us take time out to be aware of the breath, or do an affirmation.” Kids are quick to pass the lessons along, teachers say. “Say a parent is in the car, and gets aggravated by another driver, the kids will say to the parents, ‘Just breathe,’” says Smith. “So the parents are learning the lessons from their kids.” The Center for Healthy Minds aims to expand the program to other schools. “We want to bring this type of training to the world,” says Davidson.

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improves attention and builds feelings of compassion.


Making the Case for Inclusion Schools that incorporate special education benefit all students, but finding them takes effort BY LAURA CASTAÑEDA

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E

lena Polansky was living in Chicago with her family and looking for a school that could serve the needs of her eldest daughter, Sophia, who uses a wheelchair and is nonverbal. Her search led her to the CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School, which she believed offered the vital educational and supplemental services her special-needs daughter required. After Sophia was admitted to the school, Polansky and her three children moved more than 1,700 miles west to be nearer to the Woodland Hills, Calif., school. CHIME stands for Community Honoring Inclusive Model Education. “At CHIME, if you asked her friends to tell you about Sophia,

no one would say, ‘She’s in a wheelchair.’ They would say, ‘She’s a big flirt, she has long brown hair, she’s really funny and she causes lots of trouble,’” says Polansky, adding that her daughter is now a thriving high school senior — and a cheerleader. Since 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has required that special-needs students spend as much time as possible with peers who do not receive special education. And research shows that inclusive schools like CHIME are better academically, socially and emotionally for all students. However, finding schools that practice true inclusion can be challenging. Too many still pull special-needs students out of general education classrooms

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Katie Robinson, a science teacher at CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School, instructs seventhgraders on lab safety. and offer watered-down versions of the curriculum, says Frances Stetson, president of the Houstonbased educational consulting firm Stetson & Associates Inc. “Separate is not equal,” says Stetson, adding that inclusion is one of the most complex yet growing civil-rights issues facing education today. The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that 1 in 5 children in the U.S. have brain-based learning and attention issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, among others. And those numbers rise if students with physical, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are included.

To be sure, teaching all children in one setting can be challenging. But CHIME gets high marks on inclusion, which means integrating students with special needs into the general-education environment at least 80 percent of the time. At CHIME, for example, it’s 100 percent, says executive director Erin Studer. “There are no pullout or special day classes,” she notes. “All services and supports are brought to students and integrated into the general-education environment. Everyone learns with age-level peers all together, all day long.” Inclusion has many benefits, says Barbara Trader, executive director of TASH, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group working to advance inclusive practices. “For more than 30 years, research has shown that all students — with and without disabilities — do better when taught in the same classrooms with

In addition to your local and state school districts’ websites, check the following sites to learn about education rights for students with autism, ADHD, learning differences and physical, intellectual and/ or developmental disabilities:

At CHIME, if you asked her friends to tell you about Sophia, no one would say, ‘She’s in a wheelchair.’ ” — ELENA POLANSKY, mother of a special-needs student

same-age peers,” she says. “This kind of school culture improves teacher responsiveness to a wide array of unique learning needs and helps students develop into socially conscious, empathetic adults.” Shane Martin, dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Education in Los Angeles, agrees. “We are preparing this generation of young people to be active citizens and contributors to our

The Arc thearc.org CHADD chadd.org Inclusive Schools Network inclusivechools.org National Autism Association autismsafety.org National Disability Rights Network ndrn.org SWIFT swiftschools.org TASH tash.org U.S. Department of Education Special Education and Rehabilitative Services www2.ed.gov/policy/ speced/leg/edpicks. jhtml?src=rtxxx Understood understood.org Wrightslaw wrightslaw.com


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society,” he says. “They’re going to encounter a whole range of people with gifts, abilities and disabilities. It’s helpful and positive if they are introduced to them all through school.” Real inclusion involves all children, not just those with disabilities. It brings together general and special education in new ways to address each and every student, says Amy McCart, director of technical assistance for the SWIFT Center at the University of Kansas, which helps K-8 schools implement inclusive academic instruction. “At SWIFT, general and special educators work in concert, supporting one another for the benefit of all students. We can no longer rely on segmented or separate buildings or classrooms,” she says. Finding an inclusive school can be challenging, however, especially because of the range of

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districts across the U.S. Some schools, like CHIME, admit students via lottery only. Others require students to live within a geographical location. EDUCATE, INVESTIGATE AND ADVOCATE

The Internet is an invaluable tool to learn about your rights and find appropriate resources. Start with the U.S. Department of Education, and move on to general websites from groups such as Understood.org, a free online resource for parents of children with learning and attention issues and the Inclusive Schools Network, which promotes inclusive educational practices (inclusiveschools. org). You can also check with your local school district. Next, go to sites that are specific to your child’s needs, such as the National Autism Association. Once you identify a

1 in 5 Number of children in the U.S. that have brain-based learning and attention issues such as ADHD or dyslexia

school, visit the campus or schedule a phone call with an administrator or head of special education. TASH’s Trader recommends asking the following: Does the school state a commitment to inclusion in its mission? Do general and special education teachers collaborate and co-teach? Do you see evidence of students with disabilities as full members of the school? What kinds of support are available to teachers? Parents should also find out how a school discusses “difference” with children, says Bob Cunningham, an adviser for Understood.org. “What kinds of things (does the school) actually do to help a child feel included?” he asks. Getting into the right school is just the first step. You must advocate for your child and learn to work as a team with educators. Christine Stephan of Harrisonburg, Va., was homeschooling her 13-year-old son, Oliver, who has autism and is nonverbal. When Oliver decided he wanted to go to a traditional school, she met with the superintendent. “He saw my perspective, understood inclusion and suggested a way forward,” she says. “It’s not yet an inclusive environment, but they are working at it.” It takes time and energy to find the right school, but the payoff can be profound. Johanna Korpinen looked extensively for a school for her 9-year-old daughter, Emilia, who is autistic and nonverbal. Then she found CHIME. Thanks to a speech therapist and an iPad with voice recognition, Korpinen says her daughter started “talking” in kindergarten. “All of a sudden, I heard a girl’s voice on the iPad. ‘My name is Emilia.’ I burst into tears. It was the first time I heard my child’s voice,” she says.

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CHIME Institute teacher Megan Holmes helps a fifth-grade student at Schwarzenegger Community School.


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elementary school

Navigating the Special-Education Process To get it right, it really does take a village BY LORI SANTOS

I

Remember it’s a team. Everyone is a member. Be open and willing.” — LUCY NOLAN, physical therapist

just might be possible. I was skeptical that she would not crash into a wall; Nolan wasn’t. While many children will have disabilities that are less obvious or limiting, the process is the same for all public school students. The key to the IEP is that it’s a document designed, indeed mandated by law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), to deal only with the needs of your child. You have a big role and are always accorded a seat at the table with lots of teachers, therapists, specialists, administrators and other professionals. For me, that meant listening

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n the world of public school children with disabilities, part of my world, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the foundation of doing the best you can for your unique child. It takes a lot of collaboration, patience and learning. It’s important to know this living document will change to reflect your student’s development. Buckle up for a multiyear, ongoing process and know there are great people out there who are knowledgeable about ways to tackle problems and get the most out of the public school system. And remember, your child — like all children — changes, and you adapt. One of my three daughters turned 21 and graduated in June from Walt Whitman High School in Maryland’s Montgomery County. Severely handicapped at birth, she benefited greatly from the process (including learning to drive and navigate a mechanized wheelchair with her one working arm!) because of an IEP and some resourceful people — notably physical therapist Lucy Nolan — who thought it


a lot and then insisting that my nonverbal, but very social, daughter, get placed in the least restrictive environment, or LRE, which means she got as much time as possible with non-disabled kids. Good for all sides! At one of the first meetings, when it was suggested that my daughter attend a school for extremely disabled children where there was little, if any, talking, I had to speak up and remind those involved that her IEP goals included social interaction with her peers. Had I not been vocal, she likely wouldn’t have been enrolled in the special-ed program at her home school where she flourished. I learned the IEP process by navigating it with my daughter. Here are some tips from people in the process that can help other parents. uBefore the meeting, request a draft of the IEP to review and make a list of questions. uAt the meeting, focus on collaboration, not confrontation. Do not assume school employees are out to shortchange your child. uAsk questions: What progress has my child made toward goals? Is there something else we should be doing? uBe open to trying strategies the school team recommends. uDon’t get defensive. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. uAsk how best you can support at home what they are doing at school. uFollow up after the meeting whenever you have questions.

And keep talking, all the time, all year long. Ask for regular progress reports so you can respond quickly if your child is struggling. uMaribeth Tamulevich, a special education teacher in Montgomery County at Hoover Middle School, says it’s also important to make sure your child has been assigned a case manager who has reviewed your child’s IEP and is familiar with his or her strengths, needs and special services. uIf your child is in secondary school, make sure officials know he or she has an IEP and that they are familiar with the accommodations he or she is entitled to. Secondary students should have a schedule and plan in place on Day 1. So parents should check in (email or phone call) with the case manager, especially if transitioning to a new school. u“Education takes collaboration,” Tamulevich says. “Don’t be afraid to ask how you can help or share suggestions that have helped your child be successful in the past.” uNolan, the physical therapist, offers tips for school staff, as well. She says school representatives must let parents convey what is important to them and communicate, too, avoiding the words “you should” and remembering that an IEP meeting may be a very emotional time. “Remember, it’s a team. Everyone is a member. Be open and willing,” Nolan advises. And above all, “trust in yourself. You know your child better than anyone.”

10 STEPS OF AN IEP 1

Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services. 2

Child is evaluated. 3

Eligibility is decided, with parents’ input. 4

Within 30 days, the IEP team must meet to write a plan. 5

IEP meeting is scheduled. 6

IEP meeting takes place, with parents (and student, when appropriate). IEP is written. 7

Parents must give consent. If they do not agree with the IEP, they can attempt to work out differences with the team, ask for mediation or, in extreme cases, file a complaint with the state Department of Education. 8

Services must begin as soon as possible and the child’s progress toward annual goals must be measured. 9

The team must review the IEP at least annually (more often if the parents or the school request it) and revise as needed.

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10

The child must be re-evaluated for eligibility every three years. Source: U.S. Department of Education

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A Role for Recess Movement aims to increase playtime during the school day

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n any given afternoon in schoolyards across the country, children can be seen and heard running and playing during a time many adults recall fondly as recess. But this treasured school-day respite is a scenario that has been all but eradicated at a growing number of schools for reasons ranging from academic to social. Heather Mellet has heard it all when it comes to why her children can’t have more than 10 minutes of recess a day at their school in Winter Park, Fla. She’s been told art and music would have to be eliminated to make time in the schedule. She was even warned it was a bad idea because kids might get bullied. “Kids get bullied in the cafeteria,” says the mother of two. “Are you going to make them stop eating?” Mellet is among an increasingly vocal group of parents and educators

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nationwide advocating for more recess or a return of the activity time to schools where it has been reduced or eliminated. The 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 82.8 percent of elementary schools provided daily recess for all grades indoors, while fewer than two-thirds of middle schools and only 26.5 percent of high schools offered physical activity breaks outside of physical education. From 2000 through 2014, the number of schools where students had recess immediately after lunch — a time when it’s often scheduled — dropped from 42.3 percent to 26.2 percent. In many cases, the fight for recess has gone from the schoolyard to state legislatures. In the past year, Florida, New Jersey and Rhode Island all introduced legislation mandating recess, generally defined as planned time during the school day for free play and supervised physical activity. Of those, New Jersey’s has gone the furthest: It was passed by the state legislature, but Gov. Chris Christie killed it with a pocket veto. In Rhode Island, a recess bill passed the House earlier this year and is awaiting Senate consideration.

While some states have recommendations for recess, few mandate it. In 2012, Connecticut required schools to provide 20 minutes of recess a day for grades K-6. Ideally, students should receive 15 to 30 minutes of recess and 30 to 45 minutes of gym daily, says Cathy Ramstetter, founder of Successful Healthy Children, a nonprofit that promotes health and wellness in elementary schools. Surveys show the time allotted for recess has dropped, with some districts forgoing it entirely. “This started with the whole testing craze,” says Mellet. “It’s gotten so out of control.” Mellet and several other parents founded a Facebook group that boasts more than 5,500 members who support a daily 20-minute unstructured recess period for all elementary school students in Florida. In some school districts, highstakes reading and math testing has in fact squeezed out subjects like social studies and science, in addition to recess, says Robyn Conrad Hansen, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “Kids need to have recess not only outside, but inside,” she said. “They need brain breaks.”

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BY DENISE DIFULCO


Aside from the physical benefits of recess, parents and some educators point to research indicating students have much to gain from unstructured playtime. Rulessetting and conflict resolution on the playground, for instance, foster social and emotional growth. If you’re playing kickball and the ball goes out of bounds after hitting a pothole, how do you decide whether it’s a foul? “That’s only learned face-to-face, child-to-child,” says Robert Murray, president-elect of the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

‘N Kids, works with schools to incorporate more physical activity and play as a way of improving academic achievement. Debbie Rhea, professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University and LiiNK Project founder, studied the educational model in Finland, where students take 15-minute breaks every hour all the way through high school. After learning that Finnish students who took frequent breaks generally were happier, less anxious and performing well academically,

Kids need to have recess not only outside, but inside. They need brain breaks.” — ROBYN CONRAD HANSEN, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals

“That’s not learned in class. That has to be experienced.” Some studies demonstrate other desirable outcomes with longer recess periods, including better attention span and behavior, as well as increased memory, Murray says. In Texas, the LiiNK Project, which stands for Let’s Inspire Innovation

Rhea wanted to adapt a similar model in the United States. Rhea says gaining all the benefits seen in other countries is not as simple as introducing more free play, although the 14 schools participating in the LiiNK Project this fall will all offer four, 15-minute recess periods each day. In Finland, religion is

also taught three times a week, emphasizing character development. LiiNK emulates that, but with three character lessons weekly instead of religion. But it contains another critical piece as well, Rhea says: training for educators. “There’s too much pressure put on outcomes, so it’s really a behavior change from the superintendents all the way down,” she says. That’s also why she thinks legislating recess could potentially backfire. “I’d rather see us do local control,” she says. “Every school is different. Every principal is different.” But as long as those individual schools continue to limit or ban recess, the pushback from parents like Mellet is unlikely to end. “There’s a huge return on investment,” she says. “I think people are beginning to see that now that we’ve elevated the conversation.”

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Powering Down How parents can keep kids’ screen time in check BY DEBBIE SWANSON

D

uring lazy summer months, some parents allow their children unlimited access to computer games, online videos or social media sites. But come the school year, those endless hours staring at a screen can come at the expense of academic or social endeavors. While most parents are in favor of imposing limits on recreational screen time, enforcing those rules is often easier said than done. Here are some guidelines to achieving balance.

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LEAD BY EXAMPLE Most child psychologists agree that the best way to cultivate good behavior is by being a role model. Parents or guardians should start by examining their own habits. If you’re always tinkering with your phone or tablet, you may be setting an example you don’t want them to follow. Also, assess family time. If everyone only focuses on their hand-held devices when they’re in the same space, that means not much socializing is going on. If adjustments are in order, voice your intentions aloud, suggests Mindy Solomon, a child psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “For example, tell them, ‘I’m tired of my phone interrupting family dinners; I’m going to put it away at mealtime.’”

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TAKE A HOLISTIC APPROACH Announcing that screen time is going to be limited will likely invoke resistance (to put it mildly). Experts suggest taking an approach such as helping children foster skills in time management and making wise decisions. Children as young as preschool age can begin getting involved in time management, says Sarah Greenwell, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. “Let them take part in setting daily goals. You can even turn it into a game; they can help plan how long an activity will take.” Elementary schoolchildren, often enthused about the approaching school year, may willingly sacrifice screens to accommodate other endeavors — sports, Scouts, school clubs and even homework. With a middleor high schooler, the approach should be more

collaborative. “The older child will respond best if they have some say in the matter. Form solutions together, and listen to what your child thinks,” says Solomon. “Talk about a related article you read, or something you’ve heard in the news.”

3 STICK TO THE PLAN Consider age, personal preferences and motivation in finding a strategy that works for your child. For example, if your child learns best by seeing things explained, a chart might be the best tool. If they need specific, static boundaries, daily time limits may work. (See tips at right for ideas from other parents.) Next, be ready to enforce whatever rules you agree upon. “Three things: Be consistent, predictable and have follow-through,” says Greenwell. “Both parents should use similar language — ‘No screens until homework is done.’ Don’t

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negotiate — if kids know that you’re a rock, you don’t budge, they won’t bother asking. And finally, impose consequences if you have to.” Older children may try to test your limits — insisting their computer time was spent on homework, or misusing digital devices while parents are at work. Trust your instincts, says Solomon. “If you just don’t feel right, or you discover a problem, speak up. Tell them that if they’re not cooperating, they’ll lose the privilege, or you’ll move the computer to a more public setting.” Just like any other area of your child’s life — diet, friends, sports — you’d step up if technology began to overpower other important aspects. It might seem more difficult to gain control over the broad influence of computers. But by being a positive role model and teaching time management skills, your child will learn to adopt a balanced life.

WHAT DO OTHER PARENTS DO? Need ideas? Here’s a glimpse into what works for some:

GIVE ‘EM A STAR Stella Hervey Birrell, who lives in Scotland with her two boys, ages 5 and 7, tracks her sons’ screen time with stars. “(They receive) three a day, each representing 10 minutes. Poor behavior means loss of a star, and good behavior earns stars back. Sometimes, extras are rewarded for especially great days,” she says.

XBOX UNLIMITED Rafael Avila, of New York, found success by not limiting his boys’ use of the Xbox. Instead, he set certain expectations for the school year: “Straight-A average, play two sports and do well in music studies, and a 10 p.m. bedtime.” The 16- and 12-year-olds have upheld their end of the bargain.

SCREEN-FREE SOLUTIONEK Hollis Heavenrich-Jones and husband Mike Jones tried to shift their 10-year-old’s interest back to schoolwork by implementing a screen-free school week. “He’s getting his homework done and doing well on tests, but we haven’t backed down,” the Chicago-area mom says, adding that they’re hoping he’ll begin to use the time to explore other interests.

KEEP IT IN THE KITCHEN Seattle parents Anita and Joe Lavine remain nearby when their fourth- and fifth-graders are at the computer. “We intentionally have it set up in the kitchen, where we all spend time,” says Anita. After homework, the children ask before switching to recreational usage.

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middle school

A Brave New World Tips for rising ninth-graders on how to navigate high school BY MELANIE SCHWED

A

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s a sixth-grade teacher, each year I welcome a new crop of students fresh out of elementary school. My job is to introduce them to the world of middle school: how to keep track of seven classes with seven different teachers, open their lockers and socialize with classmates they might be meeting for the first time. It is a daunting task to mold these bumbling, helpless newbies into the high-school-ready students they should be when they leave. But every year, I watch a group of eighth-graders move on, mature and brace themselves for the new challenges that await them. They’ve learned how to fill out a Scantron form and maybe even how to email a teacher using proper punctuation. What can I say to these students to prepare them for high school? Do I tell them how to avoid being stuffed into a locker? Do I offer advice on who to sit with in the cafeteria? Instead of seeing high school through the lens of a ‘90s teen movie, I asked for tips from middle school and high school educators in the Washington, D.C., area’s highlyranked Montgomery County School District, some of whom I work with and others who taught me.

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Get involved. “If you are going to a big high school, there is something for everyone,” says Peter Kenah, a teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md. Find activities at school you enjoy. You will be seen as a more well-rounded candidate to colleges, and learn important lessons about responsibility and working with others.

Keep it classy on social media. Your posts, comments, pictures and overall presence will follow you for the rest of your life. Be cautious and courteous. Don’t be a bully. Never post something you wouldn’t want your grandma to read. And never write anything to or about people that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to their faces.

Make professional connections. The first step? Writing that proper email. This may seem like common knowledge, but emails from students along the lines of “hey ms schwed this is emily from your 4th pd what is the hw” are not uncommon.

Interact with your teachers. Walt Whitman’s Sheryl Freedman agrees it is key: “If students can find concrete ways to connect with their teachers and form meaningful relationships with them, they will have a much easier time asking for help when needed and will be more successful in general.”

Enjoy what you have in front of you. The four years will fly by. Never again will you have such easy access to your friends and family at once. Never again will you have the major opportunities you are offered through your high school. Take advantage of it! And appreciate it. You will look back fondly on these days.

Don’t procrastinate. Starting things early is an important skill. Start off strong by taking initiative and tackle your assignments as soon as possible. It will save you a whole lot of stress and allow time for sleep.

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Figure out how you learn best. Schools across the country are focusing on what’s called growth mindset. That’s when students and educators emphasize skills to help students be successful in life, not just encourage content knowledge. That means: Learn you are in control of your effort and attitude. If you work hard, you can do whatever you set your mind to. As freshmen enter high school, “they need to have a better sense of strategies that allow them to learn best,” Freedman adds. Is it easier for you to hear directions, to see them written down or to look at a picture? “If rising high school students could all have a crash course in what is happening in their brains, how to maximize their memories and how to space out their learning, there would be a much higher success rate the first year of high school,” she says.

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Learn to say no. You will be entering a whole new realm of social, academic and extracurricular possibilities. You should try different things and discover what is best for you, but don’t be tempted to take on too much. Find a balance. “Academics alone do not a high school experience make,” advises Kirk Shipley, a social studies teacher at Walt Whitman.


From Seed to

STEM School programs nurture students’ interest in agriculture BY STEPHANIE ANDERSON WITMER

A

dozen students in Meagan Slates’ plant sciences class at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa., cluster in small groups in the school’s greenhouse. In a previous class, they’d trimmed the meristems of coleus plants, and now they’re measuring new growth with rulers. The coleus are among the few plants in the greenhouse after the school’s annual plant sale, but a week earlier, it had been teeming with flowers, vegetables and bedding plants that the students had grown themselves.

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“They started at the beginning of the semester planting seeds, transplanted things into different containers and grew them for our plant sale,” says Slates. “They got a feel for how a greenhouse would run.” Next door in the workshop, the Engines I class is busy rebuilding lawn mower engines. Across the room, a shed built by the construction class is nearly finished, while welding bays stand empty, ready for students. It’s a fully functioning, professional-level workshop, just as the greenhouse is a working plantproduction facility. Learning by doing is the norm rather than the exception in Penn Manor’s Agriculture Education program. This hands-on learning approach, plus the opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment and technology, are big reasons Penn Manor’s program has become increasingly popular. Many elementary, middle and secondary schools are integrating some form of farming or gardening into their classrooms and cafeterias. The chance to connect kids more closely with science, technology, engineering and mathematics — disciplines known as STEM — and other

educational concepts as well as to the food they eat is among the reasons why. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2015 Farm to School Census surveyed more than 42,500 schools in 5,254 districts nationwide. Forty-two percent of those districts reported participating in some farm-to-school activities, such as school gardens, local-food sourcing for students’ meals or curriculum integration. The roughly 200 students in Penn Manor’s Ag-Ed program also belong to its chapter of the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America). While Penn Manor’s and FFA’s goals are to raise the next generation of farmers — the average age of American farmers is 58 years old, and getting older, according to the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture — the field of agriculture affords more than just one career path. “We try to advertise agriculture education as not just farming,” says Neil Fellenbaum, a teacher in Penn Manor’s Ag-Ed program. “When most people hear the word ‘agriculture,’ they think we’re all going to be farmers, growing and harvesting crops. But agriculture is much,

JAIME GUERRERO; THINKSTOCK

high school


FIRST HARVEST Students at Schurz High School in Chicago show off some greens grown in the school’s Food Science Lab.

We try to advertise agriculture education as not just farming.”

JESSICA SCHWARTZ; THINKSTOCK

— NEIL FELLENBAUM, Penn Manor High School teacher

much more than that.” Agriculture offers a hands-on way to study STEM, and provides an avenue to hundreds of potential careers in biology, chemistry, veterinary science, environmental policy, food science and nutrition, entrepreneurship and more. And the job sector is growing. A recent study by Purdue University estimates about 57,900 new jobs in agriculture- and environmental-related fields will open annually between 2015 and 2020. Right now, thousands of these positions go unfilled.

At Schurz High School, in northwest Chicago’s Old Irving Park neighborhood, a different type of agriculture program is taking root. Marketing executive, trained chef and local resident Jaime Guerrero was searching for a space to expand his home aquaponic and hydroponic farm to accommodate larger quantities of herbs and greens and give back to his community. At the same time, Schurz principal Dan Kramer was looking for innovative programs that could connect the school to the

neighborhood. Kramer took Guerrero on a tour. The last stop was an old shop classroom — dubbed the worst room in the school. “The teachers all hated it,” Kramer says. “It has very high ceilings, with glass at the top, tons of exposed pipework. It can get very hot in there, and it leaks when it rains. I took Jaime in there, and his eyes just lit up. What he saw was a greenhouse.” Within two weeks, in October 2015,

Guerrero had moved in his equipment, and the Food Science Lab was up and running, using hydroponics and aquaponics to grow lettuces, herbs and microgreens — shoots of salad plants such as arugula and celery. The first harvest took place a month later. The lab splits its weekly harvests between a local food pantry and the school’s cafeteria. In its pilot year, students worked in the Food Science

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Lab on a volunteer basis. American science Next year, the lab will curricula by focusing host formal botany and on hands-on, inquiryenvironmental-studies based learning and the classes. Art, math, interconnectedness of language arts the four main and business branches classes also of science. benefit from Number of new In-school its presence programs jobs expected on campus, can reach annually in Kramer says. and inspire Already agriculture- and those typically Schurz environmental- underreprestudents sented in both related fields, are learning STEM and 2015-2020 valuable STEM agriculture, skills, from namely — PURDUE managing women and UNIVERSITY the pH of the students of water to building and color. The Food Science maintaining the growLab is a perfect example, ing systems. The lab as Schurz’s population has partnered with the is mostly low-income Massachusetts Institute and 90 percent Latino, of Technology’s (MIT) says Kramer. urban-farming program, Echoing Penn Manor’s called CityFARM. In Fellenbaum, Guerrero the past year, MIT has says the mission of the developed “smart farms Food Science Lab is to in a box,” as Guerrero “encourage, nurture describes them, called and certify the nextfood computers. They gen farmer,” who’s use robotic systems to versed in traditional control and monitor agricultural methods climate, energy and and techniques as well plant growth inside of a as modern innovations, growing chamber. The technology and issues Schurz students are related to sustainability, constructing their own, environmental impact with MIT’s guidance. and nutrition. Experiential learning The lab provides a like this is a major head start, says Kramer. component of the Next “This is the future, Generation Science and if we can get our Standards — a series kids started on it, then of goals developed by a we’re doing exactly 26-state consortium and what we’re supposed to intended to innovate be doing as schools.”

57,900

86 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

THINKSTOCK; JAIME GUERRERO

Schurz High School students prepare a salad of microgreens grown using hydroponics and aquaponics in the school’s Food Science Lab.


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health

Concussion Concerns Head injuries are a serious issue. But are they reason enough to keep kids out of sports? BY KRISTI VALENTINI

88 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

THINKSTOCK

R

eady to share carpool duty and spend weekends in the stands watching your athlete? Wait. Before you sign your child up for intense practices, body slams and end zone victory dances, you should know how contact sports can affect your child’s future. We’re not talking just about college scholarships or pro contracts, but potential brain damage. Mark Cupp, a youth sports coach and father of three in Corona, Calif., knows firsthand how scary it is dealing with the aftermath of a head injury. After his 13-year-old son finished playing his last season of Pop Warner football, he started complaining of headaches, dizzy spells and trouble keeping his balance. Cupp was surprised when the doctor diagnosed his son with post-concussive syndrome. “There wasn’t one big hit that we can say caused it,” says Cupp. “And the symptoms didn’t start until two months after his last game.” His son spent the following four months in rehabilitative therapy. “It was difficult to see my son struggling with his mental capacity. You take for granted you’re going to wake up and feel clear. He would wake up and feel foggy. That’s not a safe feeling, and you wouldn’t want your kid to feel like that,” says Cupp. “It kind of breaks your heart.”


I9 SPORTS

Concerns about concussions are prevalent in sports other than football, including soccer.

WHY THERE’S INCREASING WORRY The long-term effects of concussions were the subject of the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovers a connection between brain damage and the repeated concussions suffered by NFL players. And the Esquire Network’s reality show Friday Night Tykes centered on the uber-competitive youth football culture in Texas. However, it’s not just pop culture that’s creating concern among parents whose kids play sports. The recent deaths of NFL players Junior Seau, 43, and Tyler Sash, 27, who were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by hits to the head, similar to Alzheimer’s disease, dealt a blow to the football world. Recently, several players have decided to retire early, citing concerns about the impact of football collisions. Fear of sports-related brain damage isn’t confined to football. Other professional athletes, such as mixed martial arts fighters as well as hockey and soccer players, have found cause for concern. U.S. soccer star Brandi Chastain is leading the Safer Soccer Initiative, a campaign aimed at youth sports hoping to eliminate the practice of making head contact with the ball — a move that accounts for

one-third of concussions in youth soccer. Both Chastain and Abby Wambach, a soccer champion who suffered a concussion after heading a ball during a World Cup game, announced they will be WARNING! donating their brains to researchers looking at how If your child head injuries affect brain health. gets a head inNow, a new study by Boston University School of jury, he or she Medicine indicates that youth who have repeated should sit out blows to the head (in this case by playing tackle from any physifootball before the age of 12) may be more likely cal activity until to develop CTE, which has been shown to lead to evaluated by a a loss of cognitive function for NFL players and doctor. Once boxers years or decades after they’ve retired. injured, further “It used to be thought that young brains had head trauma exceptional healing ability. Turns out, young is possible, according to brains probably damage exceptionally easily. The the American evidence is converging on the idea that collision Academy of sports — where the intention is to hit other players Pediatrics. or objects with great force — (have) a huge and harmful effect on the developing brain,” says Steven Miles, professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota. For girls, the risk is doubled, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that evaluated concussion data for athletes in 25 high schools over an 11-year period. It found that girls had about twice the chance of getting a concussion as boys in the

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WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR Concussion symptoms can show up immediately or hours or days after a head injury. Tell your child that any time he or she takes a knock to the head or has any of these symptoms to immediately report it to a coach, referee or to you: uTrouble concentrating uTrouble remembering uConfused or forgetful about recent events uSlow to answer questions uChanges in mood — irritable, sad, emotional uDrowsiness uSleeping more or less than usual uTrouble falling asleep

SOURCE: AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS

same or similar sport (baseball, softball, basketball, soccer). In fact, girls soccer had the second highest rate of concussions overall, ranking just below football. WHAT SCHOOLS ARE DOING In response to mounting evidence that concussions have the potential to cause long-term damage and have a devastating effect on young brains, every state in the U.S. plus Washington, D.C., has passed a “return to play” law, which varies in stringency by state and aims to reduce youth sports concussions. The law includes rules calling for immediate removal of injured athletes from play, prohibiting same-day activity after a suspected concussion and requiring a doctor’s clearance to return. Some states also require that awareness materials be provided to kids and their parents, that coaches complete concussion trainings; and in some cases, that athletes undergo baseline testing at the start of the season so, if injured, they can be more accurately assessed. HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD Whether you’re considering a new activity for your child or are already a part of a sport squad,

90 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

TYPICAL

WITH IMPACT

A concussion occurs when a sudden movement or a blow to the body or head causes the brain to bounce around, leading to cell damage or chemical changes in the brain.

SOURCE: CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

you can reduce the likelihood of your child experiencing a head injury. Ask school officials or the coach what measures are taken to protect athletes. Also, “parents should look for noncontact sports, especially for children at a younger age,” advises Keith Smith, former cornerback for the NFL’s Detroit Lions and owner of an i9 Sports youth league in the Atlanta area. “Let them develop the skills without the tackling and KEEP SPORTS IN THE MIX head-butts.” While concussions are a major concern, But while concussions are sports allow children to gain benefits a serious problem, don’t let such as teamwork, sportsmanship, fitness your apprehension sideline and social skills. your child. Playing sports can help kids stay fit, build character and develop social skills. “All my life I played sports and I’ve learned so much — how to work hard, how to work with others,” shares Smith. “Everything you do on the field relates to going to the classroom and to working in a job.”

THINKSTOCK; I9 SPORTS

uHeadache uNausea or vomiting uDizziness or balance problems uDouble or blurry vision uSensitivity to light uSensitivity to noise uFeeling dazed or stunned uFeeling mentally “foggy”


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health

The Lowdown on Lice Concern about these critters is real, but education is the best medicine BY K AREN ASP

92 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

stereotypes you’ve heard about lice — including how they’re a sign of uncleanliness — aren’t true. Here are the facts about lice, including what to do if your child is affected. THE BASICS ABOUT LICE It’s easy to assume lice are seasonal. After all, it’s usually not until school starts — and then for the next nine months — that you hear much about them. But to understand lice, it helps to know a bit about their biology. For starters, these parasitic insects are called head lice because they’re found only on scalps and only in people. Contrary to popular belief, head lice usually won’t survive on, feed on or be transported by dogs or other nonhuman beings. “Head lice will starve before they feed on another animal,” says Richard J. Pollack, entomologist and instructor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and senior environmental public health officer at Harvard.

THINKSTOCK

Y

ou expect your kids to bring home projects they’ve done at school and of course, homework. But there’s one thing you’d rather not have tag along: head lice. The fact is an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur annually in children between the ages of 3 and 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even more troubling, reports have surfaced about “super” lice, that have become resistant to existing treatments. That could be cause for panic, especially now that school is about to start. How much, though, should you worry about lice? They are absolutely a nuisance, but a health threat? Not so much. “Head lice have never been linked to any disease transmission (and we have two millenniums’ worth of data) and aren’t a public health hazard,” says William J. Steinbach, professor of pediatrics and molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University Medical Center. In addition, most of the


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health

— RICHARD R. POLLACK, Entomologist

Head lice love scalps because they have direct access to blood and surfaces on which they can set up camp, namely hair. While head lice are present year-round, it’s direct contact that allows them to spread. “They’re transmitted by head-to-head contact,” Steinbach says. Because young kids have such close contact with each other, lice are more prevalent in the younger population. Of course, anybody can get lice if the circumstances are right, as lice don’t discriminate when it comes to age. Lice also don’t care whether you’re rich or poor, have long or short hair or wash your hair daily or once a week. “Getting lice has nothing to do with cleanliness,” Pollack says. Once lice invade a scalp, they lay eggs called nits, which often look like dandruff. Once nits become adults about seven days later, they’ve grown to roughly the size of a sesame seed, have six legs (though they can’t jump or fly, Steinbach says) and appear tan to grayishwhite. The life span is about 30 days, but without access to human blood, lice will die within one to two days, according to the CDC.

94 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

DEALING WITH A CASE OF LICE So what do you do if you find lice on your child’s head? Don’t panic. “Lice pale in comparison to what your kids could come home with,” Pollack says, adding that kids shouldn’t be taken out of school because of lice. After all, “lice don’t transmit anything other than hysteria.” More importantly, don’t blame or punish your child, or treat them like a pariah, says Pollack. But take action. Although head lice are mainly transmitted by direct head-to-head contact, in rare instances, they may transmit to pillowcases, Steinbach says. So washing sheets (and other items) that had contact with the affected child 24 to 48 hours before you begin treatment is wise. Next, combat the actual lice with a louse comb. Combing your child’s hair several times a week is also good preventive maintenance. If combing doesn’t work, you can buy over-thecounter medications. One application is typically recommended, followed by combing wet hair, and a second application on day nine. “These medications

are safe, FDA-approved and should work for the majority of cases,” Steinbach says. In some instances, however, lice have become resistant to treatments, which is why people began calling them super lice, albeit inaccurately. “There’s nothing super about them,” Pollack says. “Whether it’s lice, fleas, mosquitoes or another insect, all of them naturally undergo mutations and as a result, some will develop the ability to survive medications.” If you’re not seeing results from at-home treatments, talk to your pediatrician about using prescription medications, Steinbach says. Parents might also be tempted to try nit-picking salons, which have been popping up around the country. These can be pricey, and could utilize products that haven’t been vetted for safety or efficacy, Pollack advises. Lastly, avoid the urge to treat every child in your house. Instead, check all of your kids, and treat only if they have issues, Steinbach says. But do advise your infected child not to share combs or hats with any other kids, a habit they should already be practicing. As your children go back to school, so, too, might head lice. But it’s no different than any other time of year, and if your kids do wind up with lice, there may be a surprising silver lining. “It’s the sign of a socialized kid,” Pollack says.

WHAT TO DO WHEN LICE STRIKES

USE A COMB “A good comb is all you need to get lice out of the hair,” says Deborah Altschuler, president of the National Pediculosis Association.

OVER-THECOUNTER Doctors recommend treatments that contain 1 percent permethrin or pyrethins.

PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION If your child developed an infection as a result of scratching, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

WASH ALL BEDDING Although rare, lice may transmit to pillowcases, so consider washing bedding in hot water.

THINKSTOCK

Lice pale in comparison to what your kids could come home with. Lice don’t transmit anything other than hysteria.”


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school spirit

ANIMALS OR ANIMAL-LIKE CHARACTERS WAMPUS CATS

TURKEYS

Making of a Mascot

It’s a milestone year for the St. Mary’s Episcopal Turkey in Memphis. In 1976, two seniors — including Tennessee’s current first lady, Crissy Haslam — at this all-girls school started a campaign to replace its “Belles” mascot with a silly, albeit temporary one. The joke stuck and the Mighty Turkey turns 40 this year.

These offbeat characters represent school pride

Half woman/half cat, the history of the wampus cat has roots in the Cherokee culture. As legend has it, a medicine man turned a woman into this creature as punishment. Numerous schools in the U.S. call themselves the Wampus Cats, but none in the Carolinas or eastern Tennessee, the ancestral home of the Cherokee people.

FRUIT & OTHER EDIBLES

BY DIANA LAMBDIN MEYER

I

n the coming weeks, parents will spend an estimated $220 per K-12 child for back-to-school clothes, based on 2015 figures from the National Retail Federation. However, that figure does not include the amount of money families pay for T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other gear touting school colors and mascots. These mascots, some silly and others more serious, are a part of our identity, giving a glimpse into our local community, its history and in some cases its sense of humor. Here are just a few of the more unusual school mascots to which children and parents proudly boast their loyalty and devotion.

HUMANINSPIRED FIGURES RESORTERS

APPLEKNOCKERS

Elkhart Lake, Wis., is a lovely resort community in the eastern part of the state. Striking fear in the hearts of its rivals, the Resorter mascot wears sunglasses, a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, flip-flops and a camera around his neck — a formidable sight in Wisconsin in the winter.

The southern Illinois community of Cobden is known for its many apple and peach orchards. The Appleknockers mascot is a historic nod to the town’s early fruit pickers who were tough, hardworking souls known by that descriptive moniker. PRETZELS

NIMRODS

The very northern Illinois community of Freeport was settled by German immigrants who brought their love of beer and pretzels with them. By the late 1880s, the city became known as Pretzel City and the high school adopted the twisty treat as a mascot.

The word “nimrod” is an insult that Bugs Bunny flung at Elmer Fudd. But in the Bible, Nimrod was a mighty hunter. The Watersmeet Township School District in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and in a community of hunters, chose the biblical version as its mascot.

Top 10 High School Mascots According to the book Go Huskies!

1

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Eagles

Tigers

Bulldogs

Panthers

Wildcats

Warriors

Indians

Hawks

Bears

Pirates

96 BACK TO SCHOOL | FALL 2016

LISA BUSER PHOTOGRAPHY; THINKSTOCK

Beat Felix the Cat! by Emerson B. Houck, the most popular high school mascots are:


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