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David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: A better form of "sexting"?

Sometimes providing the right support for healthy kids means using unconventional means. Over at The Future of Education is Here, the blog of the Knowledgeworks Foundation, Eric Grant celebrates a growing number of programs that use text messages to provide answers to sex education questions.

These programs typically act as a supplement to education students may be receiving in school and demonstrate an innovative way to support kids by talking with them using a medium they're comfortable with. It's a long way from the old papers-in-the-hat method of anonymous health class question time, and less awkward to boot.

Beyond sex ed, this example is also inspiring to educators looking to reach kids in new and unconventional ways, regardless of the subject matter.

How can schools do a better job of meeting kids' needs using new media?

David Snyder

Give up now? New research on sending the right message on college

What impact does the cost of college—and kids' perception of their ability to afford higher education—have on our kids? Is their motivation, outlook, and achievement affected?

A new study in the journal Psychological Science looks at this question. As reported in the Learning First Alliance's Public School Insights blog, the study found that low-income kids who were provided with financial aid information had a "more open mindset to their future" than either kids provided with information on the high cost of college or no information at all. Although not especially surprising, the findings do underline the benefits of providing information on such options to kids and, more broadly, of making higher education more accessible to all students.

Kevin Carey at The Quick and the Ed (always a good source for higher-ed policy insights) posted Monday on the ever-increasing level of panic among new parents, noting media reports that "college will eventually become so expensive that parents need to to start socking money away from pretty much the moment their eyes first lock across a crowded restaurant."

Have we created a climate that ultimately discourages high achievement by making the cost of advancement seem impossibly high? With stories like this out there, educators can help stem the fear by supporting kids with information and guidance. Higher education isn't easy to finance for many folks, but neither is it completely out of reach. (The larger policy question of how to actually make higher education more affordable is a topic for another post.)

Do your students feel college is unattainable? What can be done to fight this perception?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: The Importance of the Arts

Lucia Brawley, an actress who has appeared in such TV shows as ER and Law & Order, is a passionate advocate for the importance of arts education. In her blog on the Huffington Post, she shares compelling stories of how arts education has affected students and how dedicated advocates have fought to keep arts education accessible to all kids.

Brawley recalls Mordecai, a boy she met in an after-school program in 2003, who loved the piano but lacked resources to pursue it. He has since thrived in a performing arts high school. She relates the success of California's Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership (AAAL) in engaging the business and philanthropic community to fund arts in California schools when state funds for arts were reduced.

It's clear that when she talks about the power of arts to "save lives," she's speaking from the heart. She shares personal memories of growing up in New York and seeing a local theater troupe perform in city neighborhoods on a stage that unfolded from the back of a truck, with the performance space marked off by police tape, and the influence such experiences had on her. But her blog also conveys a clear-eyed practicality, and she stresses the need for research to demonstrate the impact of arts on student success.

How have you seen the arts affect your students?

David Snyder

New research finds affirmations reduce achievement gap

Can seemingly simple writing exercises significantly impact achievement among African American students? A new study published in Science seems to suggest that they might.

The controlled, randomized study, which was reported on by Education Week blog Curriculum Matters, followed groups of students in three schools and tracked their performance for two years following a series of writing "affirmations," in which the students reflected on their personal values and interests.

The results are encouraging: African American students who participated performed more strongly than those who did not, and the difference was even larger for low-performing students. The authors hypothesize that the affirmations helped increase confidence and counter stereotypes. 

In other words, as we know around here, emotionally healthy students are more able to be successful—and these interventions provide a promising approach to educators looking to support their students.

How have you been successful in supporting the self-confidence of your students, particularly those who have struggled in class?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: What's News Online

Are you depressed by the daily drumbeat of bad news from the newspaper industry? Blogger Adam Fletcher has some news to cheer you up. He's enthused about the widespread phenomenon of youth engagement with new media to report on and connect to their communities.

Fletcher points to "a raging underground energy running frenetically throughout the media/activist community, and that energy is the power of youth voice." He maintains a page listing organizations that host media programs to support these kids, including Just Think, "youth-produced informational media about topics ranging from hip-hop music to consumer rights," and HarlemLive, "a journalism, technology and leadership program that teaches students ages 13 to 21 how to run an online newspaper."

These sites are great examples of programs that channel new technologies into creative programs to support student learning and engagement. For text- and Twitter-happy students, these are clear paths to rewarding Web 2.0 work that can have real impact in their communities. 

Do you have a story of student-led online journalism working in your school?

David Snyder

Stressed out: New research explores the impact of stress on achievement

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at the connection between poverty and achievement and finds that higher stress levels associated with poverty have a negative impact on some cognitive functions.

Science blog The Frontal Cortex summarizes the findings:

The scientists measured stress by looking at the "allostatic load" of the subjects when age 9 and 13, which is based on variables like blood pressure and levels of stress hormone, such as cortisol and norepinephrine. When the children were 17, they were given a simple test that measures working memory, which in this case meant temporarily remembering a sequence of random digits...The scientists uncovered a statistically significant link: the longer children had been poor, the worse their working memory. Furthermore, levels of chronic stress seemed to be the causal factor.

The findings of this study reinforce the message of the Whole Child Initiative: that we must work to ensure every child is healthy, safe, supported, challenged, and engaged. Stressed-out kids will find it harder to learn and thrive, whether they're hungry, feel unsafe, or lack a supportive adult to turn to. 

What is your school doing to combat stress?

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Touchy Schools

A school that bans hugs? File this under crazy-but-basically-true: Motherlode picks up on the story of East Shore Middle School in Milford, Conn., which has issued a "no-touch" policy in the wake of an incident in which a student was taken to the emergency room after suffering a kick to the groin.

Admittedly, this is a serious incident, but the school's response has some parents and students up in arms. The principal sent a letter stating that "observed behaviors of concern recently exhibited include kicking others in the groin area, grabbing and touching of others in personal areas, hugging and horseplay. Physical contact is prohibited to keep all students safe in the learning environment."

One voice of protest is the blog Free-Range Kids: "Maybe it's all part of this weird, 'Protect children from everything, at any cost, no matter how small the threat and no matter how ridiculous the imposition' society we're in." A Motherlode commenter adds, "Episodes like this reflect school administrators who have simply given up on being able to think for themselves and apply common sense."

Clearly, schools face a difficult task in protecting kids from physical harm. But what happens to kids' emotional health when all touching—even high fives, some kids report—is outlawed?

David Snyder

What's effective in reducing dropouts?

What works in reducing high school dropouts? A recent study by the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy looked at 11 high schools in Massachusetts that showed declining dropout rates in an attempt to answer this question.

What did they find? In a state where around one in five students doesn't graduate in four years, the schools that managed to lower the rate shared a few characteristics. The schools didn't just focus on academic supports; rather, they worked to "foster increased engagement in schools", developing personalized strategies that recognized the social and emotional needs of students, and worked to connect high school to college and careers.

See the related policy brief for detailed information on the schools and their practices, such as the use of data to identify and support students at risk of dropping out.

What is your school or district doing to support kids at risk of dropping out? 

David Snyder

Whole Child Blogwatch: Full Service Spans the Globe

Full-service community schools, which work with families and the community to provide support systems to kids beyond what schools alone typically offer, are a hot topic these days. (For a detailed look at the topic, see the Summer 2008 Infobrief). One of the most extensive and publicized efforts has been Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone, which President Obama has indicated he'd like to see replicated in "Promise Neighborhoods".

Eariler this week, guest blogger Christopher Frascella at The Quick and the Ed used President Obama's interest in full-service schools as a springboard to explore what other efforts at such programs internationally tell us about successful implementation.

For example, he explains the importance of establishing a realistic plan for the scope and scale of a project, citing France's Zones d'Education Prioritaire as an example of a program that took on too much too rapidly and thus became less effective. He also describes lessons learned from Scotland's Integrated Community Schools, who benefited from an external Integration Manager to coordinate with community services. In the case of Parramore Kidz Zone in the Orlando area, efforts to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program faced difficultly due to existing data reporting models that didn't fit with the project's scope.

As full-service community schools working to meet the needs of kids beyond academics continue to proliferate, we welcome comparative efforts to learn from the lessons of other projects around the globe.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to successful full-service community schools?

David Snyder

Minnesota schools are letting kids take a stand

Sitting still can be hard at times for all of us—including kids in class. For some students, keeping from fidgeting at their desks can be a serious distraction from the important work of learning. To address this issue, a few enterprising schools are experimenting with innovative furniture that adjusts to the needs of each child, reports the New York Times.

The story focuses on a 6th grade classroom at Marine Elementary School in Marine on St. Croix, Minn., full of desks teacher Abby Brown worked with a local ergonomic furniture company to design:

The stand-up desks come with swinging footrests, and with adjustable stools allowing children to switch between sitting and standing as their moods dictate.

"At least you can wiggle when you want to," said Sarah Langer, 12.

As the desks have spread throughout the country, praise for them has piled up. Teachers cite back relief from not bending over as often, fewer students distracted or dozing off, and the feeling of empowerment the desks give kids.

Do they really make a difference, or are they a fad? Fortunately, researchers at the University of Minnesota are conducting research in an attempt to answer that question.

Do you believe these desks could make a significant difference for kids?

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