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Melissa Mellor

What to Do About the Flu

Districts and schools across the country are bracing for H1N1 as the new school year begins. The virus took hold in dozens of camps this summer, prompting concerns among school officials that kids will be bringing more than new backpacks and notebooks with them at the start of the school year.

From Nashville to New York, schools seem to be taking to heart new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed to curb the spread of the flu while minimizing disruptions to learning. They're educating students about proper hygiene, communicating to parents the importance of keeping their sick children at home at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, and making preparations to separate ill students and staff or selectively close schools with high-risk populations should the need arise.

What's less apparent from news accounts is how schools are planning to ensure that learning continues if the virus spreads widely, forcing closures.

A couple of anecdotes demonstrate the possibilities. According to a Baltimore Sun article, Maryland's Anne Arundel County Public Schools has prepared contingency plans in case schools are closed. Over the summer, officials considered how they could offer homework assignments or teach online. The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles Unified School District is contemplating various methods of continuing children's education by delivering lessons and instructions through public access television, automated phone calls, the Internet, and the mail.

ASCD is creating a special Web page that will provide educators with a variety of resources and information about the latest H1N1 developments and advice on how to minimize the virus's affect on student learning. The page will go live on ASCD's Web site later this week.

UPDATE (Aug. 19): The H1N1 page is now live at

How is your school preparing for the flu, both in terms of preventing its spread and facilitating continuous learning in the case of an outbreak? Share your strategies below; select stories might be highlighted on ASCD's H1N1 Web page.

Melissa Mellor

In Defense of Whole Child Education: Response to NSDC's Hayes Mizell

A recent National Staff Development Council blog post by NSDC Distinguished Senior Fellow Hayes Mizell contends that "both sides are flawed in the student achievement versus whole child debate." Here at the Whole Child Blog, we are asking, "what debate?" Improving student achievement and supporting the whole child go hand in hand. Kids simply won't achieve if we don't ensure they are healthy and safe, consider their social and emotional needs, tap into their interests, and demonstrate real-world application of the knowledge and skills we want them to acquire. Moreover, standards, testing, and accountability are necessary, if not sufficient, components of a strong and equitable whole child–centered education system.

Debate question aside, Mizell raises valid concerns about the difficulties of implementing a whole child approach given the realities of public schools. He's right: schools can't do it all. That's why we consistently encourage schools to enter into strategic partnerships with community organizations, service agencies, and other groups to help meet the needs of the whole child and boost student performance.

Iroquois Ridge High School in Ontario, Canada, an ASCD Healthy School Communities pilot site, works with a range of community partners—from the Halton Learning Foundation, a charitable organization that supports students in need through nutrition and literacy programming and scholarships, to YouthNet, a mental health promotion program. All of its partners contribute to Iroquois's mission to develop students who are actively engaged global citizens and learners. The result is that almost all Iroquois students are performing at or above desired achievement levels and the vast majority participate in at least one club, team, or organized group.

But collaborating with partners isn't the only way to support whole child education. In his blog post, Mizell makes the important point that helping educators embrace and implement a more comprehensive approach requires professional development. ASCD has a long commitment to capacity-building professional development for educators. We support professional development that is sustainable and customized, addresses specific student learning needs, engages educators in ongoing learning, and includes an evaluation component. And to specifically help educators address the whole child, ASCD has created professional development resources like the Whole Child action tool and has supported networks of schools and districts, such as the Healthy School Communities pilot sites.

Instead of writing the script for a heated and artificial point–counterpoint debate that pits student achievement against the whole child, let's focus on creating an actionable master plan for systemic reform that improves student achievement and ultimately prepares students for meaningful employment, postsecondary education, and active participation as citizens.

We want to know what you think. Are student achievement and the whole child opposing approaches? How can ASCD help districts, schools, and educators support the whole child and strengthen student achievement?

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child in the News: Supreme Court Affirms Student Rights

Today's Supreme Court decision that the strip search of student Savana Redding was a violation of the Fourth Amendment is a clear affirmation of student rights and a stirring lesson about civics, law, and students' constitutional protections.

But it's difficult to call anyone in the particular case of Safford Unified School District v. Redding a winner.

Certainly not the school district officials who have battled this case in court for years and have faced severe public disapproval over their decision to strip-search a 13-year-old girl for prescription-strength ibuprofen.

Not April Redding, Savana's mother, whose trust in school officials was broken after the incident and who has spent the past few years fighting for her daughter's rights in court.

And not Savana Redding, who was so traumatized by her experience that she didn't return to school after the incident and is still dealing with the emotional repercussions. She eventually transferred to other schools but never earned her high school diploma.

ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter says, "We firmly believe this case highlights how intrusive student searches undermine the essential relationship between school personnel and students and their families, which should be built on mutual trust and understanding."

The good news is that the case sets an important and much needed precedent for school officials. Savana Redding says she is pleased with the ruling because she doesn't want other students to go through what she experienced. Experts agree that school officials, formerly given wide latitude to search for contraband in schools, will now have to carefully consider the intrusiveness of their searches and avoid strip searches except for the rarest and most extreme circumstances when the safety of other students and staff is in serious and imminent jeopardy. 

Educators have plenty of disciplinary tools and measures to ensure student safety, as well as an obligation to act well before a strip search would ever be needed. Schools should  

  • Prevent behavioral issues by teaching students to make appropriate choices.
  • Foster strong, trusting school climates and an open dialogue between students and adults.
  • Proactively involve parents and students in determining appropriate and solution-focused disciplinary action.

What do you think about the Supreme Court's decision? How can schools and parents work together to ensure the safety of all students while respecting individual student rights?

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child in the News: The Importance of Freshman Year

A Portland, Ore., study of the city's high school class of 2004 found that 47 percent of the students dropped out before earning their diplomas and just 21 percent of the city's students who finished 9th grade with five credits or fewer eventually earned a diploma. As a result, Portland spent $1.25 million during the 2007–08 school year on extra help for the 9th graders identified as most likely to struggle. Unfortunately, the effort wasn't too successful; half the students targeted for the assistance failed three or more classes that year.

The Oregonian followed three Portland freshmen over the course of this school year to find out whether the city's redoubled efforts to support struggling 9th graders had an impact.

Sam Steadman dug herself into an early hole by smoking pot and ditching class, but summer school and intensive support classes helped her refocus and ultimately gain two years of reading knowledge and skills. Ivan Haskins-Murphy had trouble paying attention in class but after taking up boxing and eating healthier, he became more focused. Elmer Ayala switched schools midyear; the shorter commute and a supportive new counselor were positive changes.

Some common themes emerged from the three students' stories:

  • Personalized instruction and attention works. Knowing that at least one adult in the school cares can make a huge difference.
  • Good teachers who are committed, care, and challenge their students are key.
  • Relevance is a must. When a kid sees how his A in sports medicine translates into a possible future career as a vet technician, for example, he has a tangible goal to work toward.
  • A student's health, family support, and even seemingly minor external factors like the length of a school commute profoundly matter.

What strategies is your school using to support students who have fallen behind? Is the emphasis on drill and kill catch-up, or do the efforts reflect a whole child approach?

Melissa Mellor

Communicating About the Stimulus

Last month, I attended the Education Writers Association annual conference, and it was clear that reporters and the public have a lot of questions about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or stimulus package, and its implications for education. In particular, they want to know how local schools and districts will spend the money to support student achievement.

In anticipation of the tough questions that educators could receive and in recognition that the economy has dramatically reduced the capacity of some schools and districts, ASCD has developed a communications tool kit (PDF) for educators. The tool kit will help educators advocate for the best use of their stimulus funds, highlight the importance of capacity-building professional development, and communicate transparent messages about their fund allocations.

The tool kit, which is aligned with ASCD's Planning the Possible report, includes

  • Backgrounders, key messages, and answers to tough questions about the stimulus package, as well as school improvement and capacity-building professional development.
  • A sample op-ed about the stimulus and capacity-building professional development that educators can customize and localize.
  • A customizable PowerPoint presentation.

Educators have a unique opportunity to drive school improvement with their stimulus dollars, and we are committed to helping you advocate for education policies and practices that are sound, sustainable, and centered on the whole child. Check out all of ASCD's resources related to the stimulus.

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child In the News: Great Teaching and Community Support Is the Answer

I saw Social Services almost as much as I saw my mother, who was always drunk. Her best friends, alcohol and money, were always there for her. She spent so much time with them, she couldn't raise my little sister and me. Social Services always came to talk to me at school. They asked questions about my family. My response? A lie, always. —Karen Kaldenbach, 18-year-old high school senior in Arlington County, Va.

So begins Jay Mathews's Washington Post column published earlier this week. Mathews describes the national debate over how best to improve schools, with some saying the focus should be on improving teaching and others countering that teachers cannot possibly reach kids who are hungry, sick, or without the necessary supports at home. He uses Karen Kaldenbach's story to suggest that the answer isn't an either/or proposition. Instead, he writes, "only a deft mix of great teaching and energetic social services can do the job, particularly for children in the deepest trouble."

In Kaldenbach's case, her foster mom, federal student aid policy, a state and university program to help high school students become the first in their families to go to college, and local teachers and counselors together have made the difference. The senior is heading to George Mason University, and she has earned awards and scholarships along the way.

Tune in to next week's Whole Child Podcast to learn more about how schools and communities can partner to meet the needs of the whole child.

How has your school worked with community organizations, health groups, and other service providers to comprehensively support students? Do you have an example of how a coordinated web of services has helped a child you know?

Melissa Mellor

Parents in Support of the Whole Child

The National PTA recently signed on as a Whole Child Partner, joining more than 40 other partner organizations that represent a broad swath of the education, arts, and health and wellness fields.

Here at the Whole Child Blog, we feel our partnership with the PTA is significant because the Whole Child Initiative is grounded in the belief that responsibility for educating and supporting the whole child neither starts nor stops at the schoolhouse door. That means businesses, community agencies, policymakers, and families must align with schools to provide conditions that support learning for each student. In short, educators can't do it alone.

Moreover, outside of educators, parents are the single largest group visiting this Web site. More than 40 percent of our online visitors identify themselves as parents, a percentage that has steadily grown since we launched this site just over two years ago. To meet the needs of these parents, we will post critical PTA resources on this site. Meanwhile, the PTA will distribute information about the Whole Child Initiative to every attendee at their June Annual Conference.

Educators: Does your school encourage and support parent involvement beyond the typical opportunities for parent-teacher conferences and field trip chaperoning?

Parents: Do you feel welcome to contribute at your child's school in ways that significantly shape the climate and curriculum?



Melissa Mellor

Planning the Possible: How Schools Can Use Stimulus Dollars for Lasting Impact

ASCD's new report, "Planning the Possible: How Schools Can Use Stimulus Dollars for Lasting Impact," stimuluscover.jpginforms educators about the ins and outs of the stimulus package, including how the funding is to be used. It also describes how sustained, capacity-building professional development can elevate teacher effectiveness and improve student achievement, making it a smart use of stimulus dollars. The report answers questions like

  • How is the stimulus funding being distributed?
  • For each distribution "bucket," what are the potential uses for funds?
  • How much money will each state get?
  • What are the stipulations about how funds can't be used?
  • What are the spending deadlines?
  • Why invest in professional development, and what are the features of effective PD?

Here at the Whole Child Blog, we believe districts and schools that engage in consistent and coordinated planning for the use of their stimulus funding can help ensure that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. We also believe an emphasis on the whole child is imperative to student achievement and even more critical in times of economic stress.

Check out ASCD's other ARRA resources.

How is your district or school planning to use its stimulus dollars? Do you have ideas for smart and efficient uses of stimulus funds that will support the whole child?

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child in the News: One City's Attempt to Reinvent the School Lunch

"You cannot have the expectation that a teacher can teach if the kid is hungry or jacked up on sugar. My job is to put healthy kids in front of teachers so they can teach," says Tony Geraci, Baltimore City Public Schools' new food service director, in a recent Washington Post article.

Geraci is backing up his words with actions. He's created Great Kids Farm, a 33-acre farm with greenhouses; a vegetable garden and orchard; and pigs, chickens, and goats. The farm helps kids learn about where food comes from, teaches them about career opportunities, and will help jumpstart school gardens throughout the city. Geraci plans to launch three student-run restaurants—called Great Kids Café—that will serve the farm's produce. Grants from Baltimore's office of career and technical education will pay students to manage the restaurants.

And the food service director hasn't forgotten about school lunches. He's prioritizing the use of local food suppliers to provide kids with fresh food at reasonable prices. He's also building student buy-in. Geraci asks middle school students to help design menus or create music playlists that match the ethnic theme of a menu. In elementary schools, cafeterias are offering sample cups filled with healthy fruits and veggies that kids may never have had before and could be hesitant to try. Kids earn stars for each bite they sample and might even find a new favorite food in the process.

Some of the city's schools have already begun their own efforts to teach kids about healthy food. Students at Baltimore's Barclay Elementary School, one of ASCD's 11 Healthy School Communities pilot sites, have been growing their own food in earth boxes and raised bed gardens. They've used the produce to create healthy meals for themselves.

Watch a video about Barclay's efforts.

We'd like to hear from you! What has your school done to teach students about healthy food and provide them with nutritious school meals?

Melissa Mellor

Upcoming Special Edition Whole Child Podcast: Understanding the Education Stimulus Package

Edited April 16, 2009: The special edition Whole Child Podcast on the education stimulus package is ready for download at

Tomorrow, tune in to our special edition Whole Child Podcast on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package. The podcast episode will outline the stimulus plan for education and describe how the $100 billion allocated for education programs can be used for school improvement activities, including capacity-building professional development.

  • David Griffith, ASCD director of public policy, will explain the time line and intent for how the education stimulus dollars are being allocated. He'll describe how the money can be used to not only save teachers' jobs and keep class sizes down, but also to improve standards and assessments, enhance data systems, increase teacher effectiveness, and turn around low-performing schools.
  • Ann Cunningham-Morris, ASCD director of professional development, will describe what capacity-building professional development is and how it can be implemented. She'll also explain how such professional development is critical to school improvement and its sustainability, which makes it an appropriate use of the education stimulus dollars.

This podcast episode is one of many free resources related to the stimulus package that we're putting together for educators. Listen to the podcast to learn about our other resources, and visit our Education Stimulus Resource Web page for more information.

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