Author Archive

Melissa Mellor

Who's Your Favorite Teacher?

Usually I devote my every-other-Thursday blog post to a news item of relevance to whole child education. Lately it seems these posts have focused on the grim news of education budget cuts. So this week I've decided to take a break from abandoned dropout recovery programs and the shrinking of school support staffs to blog about a much cheerier subject: Favorite teachers.

Everyone has had at least one amazing teacher who's sparked passion for a subject, provided support through tough times, or went that extra mile to explain a tough concept. My favorite teacher is Mrs. Karolak, who taught me English literature and creative writing in high school. She wasn't a universal favorite because she was tough, but I loved her for stretching my writing skills and for her masterful facilitation of wide-ranging and thoughtful classroom discussions.

May 3-9, 2009 is National Teacher Appreciation Week, and Phi Delta Kappa, one of our whole child partners, is sponsoring a Chalk Walk to honor great teachers. All the money raised will be used for scholarships and other programs to help ensure we have more great teachers in the future.

Find out if there is a local Chalk Walk in your area and register to participate. You can also add the name of your favorite teacher and comments about him/her to PDK's "Chalkboard of Honor." And if you provide an address for your favorite teacher, PDK will send a personalized letter telling that teacher he or she has been honored by you.

Here at the WC Blog, we also want to know who your favorite teacher is and why. Did she or he help ensure you were healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged?

Melissa Mellor

Today's Whole Child Podcast: Meeting the Needs of English Language Learners

The April Whole Child Podcast is now available for download. Chris Swanson from Education Week's Editorial Projects in Education Research Center kicks off the episode by sharing findings from Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population. He discusses how the English language learner (ELL) population is an incredibly diverse group that speaks more than 100 languages, shares the surprising finding that more than two-thirds of English-language learners are native born, and talks about the worrisome achievement gaps between ELL students and their peers.

Next, Margarita Gonzalez Amador, an English language program coordinator from the Los Angeles Unified School District, describes her district's efforts to support its 240,000 ELL students. She talks about the importance of providing support and information to parents so that they're empowered to advocate on behalf of their children and ask the right questions about their achievement. She also describes L.A. Unified's movement towards school-focused professional development that is targeted to each school's individual needs and strives for continuous improvement in student performance.

Evangeline Barela, a dual-language second-grade teacher at Columbia Elementary (Las Cruces Public Schools) in New Mexico, closes the podcast with a description of how her school supports ELL students in the classroom. Columbia offers both English immersion programs, in which students are taught only in English, and dual-language classrooms, in which students are taught in their native languages during their first semester and in their second language during their second semester. Barela explains the differences, including the pros and cons, between the two approaches and describes the difficulties associated with testing English language learners.

Download the Whole Child Podcast today! After listening to the podcast, share how your school and community are meeting the needs of English language learners in the comments below.

Melissa Mellor

Music and Arts Education: What's the True Story?

An article from the Dallas Morning News has stirred up debate among music and arts educators. The article cites a recent government report that reveals 90 percent of elementary teachers surveyed stated art and music curriculum remained the same from 2004 to 2007. The article suggests the report's findings mean No Child Left Behind has had less of an impact on the narrowing of the curriculum than oft thought.

But the article fails to emphasize that teachers at schools identified as needing improvement and those with higher percentages of minority students were more likely to report a reduction in music and arts instruction time. In addition, the report indicates that some principals have replaced music and arts instruction during the school day with after-school options, while still others have allowed students to be pulled from arts classes for remediation. These practices deny students—especially those who might particularly benefit from arts education—the opportunity to learn in different ways.

Moreover, the report itself conflicts with existing research. In 2005, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) found 22 percent of school districts had reduced instructional time for art and music. In 2006, CEP revealed 71 percent of schools had cut music programs.

Richard Kessler over at Dewey21C has raised some interesting questions about the report's research methodology, as well as some of the leaps the Dallas Morning News article made about the report's conclusions.

What do you think? Has music and arts instruction changed in your school or district? If so, how has it changed?

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child in the News: Budget Woes Chip Away at Whole Child Education

News publications across the country are filled with sad examples of the recession's effect on district and school budgets. And it seems like many of the first programs to go are those with a special focus on engaging children.

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Times reported that L.A.'s three-year-old Diploma Project is destined for the chopping block. The program has received praise for its efforts to assign counselors to at-risk middle and high school students, including those who have failed classes or the state exit exam, exhibited behavior problems, or frequently miss school. The counselors also help kids who have already dropped out return to school.

But the program's $10 million price tag is too much and Superintendent Ramon Cortines thinks there are more efficient ways to provide students with the support systems they need.

Meanwhile, New York City's Dancing Classrooms program—featured in the 2005 movie "Mad Hot Ballroom"—anticipates it may have to cut services to several schools if it doesn't find a way to raise more cash.

And Education Week reports that many school districts are downsizing or eliminating school sports programs. The article quotes the athletic director of Florida's St. Lucie County district, who believes his district's athletics program keeps kids off the street and engages them in positive experiences. He says the district's sports program is the "best dropout prevention program available."

Is your school or district making cuts? If so, what programs or services have been eliminated? Do you think your school or district officials made the right call?

Melissa Mellor

Remember to Ask the Kids

During their ASCD Annual Conference session, "Understanding, Evaluating, and Shaping School Climate for the Whole Child," Molly McCloskey, from ASCD, and Jonathan Cohen, from the Center for Social and Emotional Education, discussed the importance of school climate, how to measure it well, and how to use school climate data to make school improvements. McCloskey shared the following story with attendees:

A middle school was struggling with students arriving late to class. School personnel tried all the traditional methods of discipline. They sent the kids they caught in the hall after the bell rang to detention; they informed parents about the problem. Nothing worked. Finally they turned the issue over to the student council, which decided to conduct a quick student survey. The survey findings revealed the root of the problem: There were no clocks in the school's hallways.

According to McCloskey, the moral of that story is to regularly talk with students about school climate and school issues. Cohen also emphasized this point. He said schools should survey students, parents, and all school personnel about school climate because surprising and meaningful discrepancies can be discovered in which the adults' perceptions of climate significantly differ from the kids'.

Other session highlights:

  • It's important to assess all of the dimensions that color and shape school climate (safety, relationships, teaching and learning, and the environment).
  • Disaggregate your school climate data by age, racial background, etc.
  • Positive school climate is strongly correlated with, and to some extent, predictive of high-quality teaching and academic achievement.
  • Measurement should be part of a process of continuous learning and school climate improvement. This is in stark contrast to the attitude, "It's April. We're supposed to do the climate survey."
  • Address issues raised by school climate measurement through a no-fault framework in which the focus is on solving problems and not assigning blame.
Melissa Mellor

The Whole Child Podcast Goes Live at ASCD's Annual Conference

The Whole Child Podcast was recorded live at ASCD's Annual Conference yesterday. Host Molly McCloskey tasked the two guests, Tim Waters, president and CEO of Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, and Joe DiMartino, founder and president of the Center for Secondary School Redesign, with providing advice on how to close the "believing, doing gap." In other words, how do we move from believing all children need to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged to actually making that happen?

Waters tackled Molly's challenge from an education leadership perspective, and DiMartino approached it from the angle of high school redesign. One powerful theme that emerged during the conversation was the fact that time should be a variable, while learning should be the constant.

Our live audience asked a number of great questions, including:

  • How can the Whole Child Initiative redefine success from achievement on math and reading tests to ensuring all kids are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged?
  • What do elementary schools need to change to better prepare their students for success in redesigned high schools?
  • What is mastery and how can it be judged?
  • How can we advance the conversation about the purpose of education to create active and engaged citizens?

Download the March Whole Child Podcast to hear how our guests addressed these and other questions.

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child in The News: Is a Healthy Lunch a Right or a Privilege?

The recession has forced many schools and districts to make tough decisions about where to cut spending and how to use their resources efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, a couple of districts may have made money-saving decisions that will negatively impact not only students' health, but also their feelings of safety and support and their ability to stay engaged and challenged.

USA Today reports that some districts, including those serving Albuquerque, N.Mex.; Chula Vista, Calif.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Lynwood, Wash., are withholding hot meals from kids whose parents aren't paying the lunch tab and giving them cold cheese sandwiches instead.

It's common sense that hungry kids face greater obstacles in achieving at high levels. And the shame that kids may feel when they're pulled from the lunch line to receive an alternative meal isn't going to help them stay focused and confident in the classroom.

Schools and districts might not be able to solve this problem (and other problems related to the declining economy) on their own. In Albuquerque, unpaid lunch charges were on pace to reach $300,000 by the end of the year, which is almost six times more than its unpaid lunch charges in 2006. That's $300,000 the district can't afford to lose. Here at the WC Blog, we believe districts facing this issue can partner with their local communities to make sure every kid—not just those from families who can afford it—receives a nutritious, well-balanced meal.

There's got to be a better way. How can these schools partner with their communities to ensure that a healthy lunch is not a privilege but the right of each child?

Melissa Mellor

Whole Child in the News: A County in Flux over Its High School Start Time

A recent article in the Washington Post demonstrates that it's not always easy to determine which education policies will do the most to support the development of the whole child. The article describes how Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools is weighing the pros and cons of a proposal to push back high school start times to give teenagers more opportunity to sleep. Sounds good; right? Kids will be healthier because they'll get more sleep, and they'll be more engaged in their classes as a result. What's more, the school system has designed a cost-free and efficient start schedule.

But some parents have expressed concerns that the new schedule could jeopardize kids' involvement in after-school sports and clubs, which also promote student health and engagement. Some sports, like swimming, use facilities operated by the county, and the schedule change could pose problems in balancing school and community use of the facilities. And safety could be compromised if kids are practicing sports or heading home in the dark.

So what's Fairfax County to do? Here at the Whole Child Blog, we emphasize that it's not enough to put in place a jumble of uncoordinated activities to try to make sure kids are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. This means that if the later start time in Fairfax is approved, the school system will need to work hard to ensure that sports and clubs are still available to kids and that the participating kids will have options to get safely home after dark.

Another important point is that decisions like this one shouldn't be made in isolation. It's critical for students, parents, and the community to have the opportunity to express their opinions and influence the decision-making process. It seems like Fairfax is on the right track; the article states the school system will collect public opinion via several town hall meetings and electronic surveys for parents, students, staff members and others before it makes the decision.

Has your community faced a tough educational decision like the one Fairfax County is facing? What was the decision and, in your opinion, was it the right one? Were you given the opportunity to voice your thoughts?

Melissa Mellor

Take Action Now: Help Maintain Education Funding Levels in the Stimulus Bill

Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are working with more than a dozen other senators to propose an amendment to slash education funding levels in the stimulus bill. This amendment will cut billions of dollars from a number of critical education programs, including IDEA, Title I State Grants, Head Start, and Teacher Quality Partnership Grants.

Moreover, the amendment will completely eliminate $40 billion in additional education funding set aside for states to use for programs under the No Child Left Behind Act, IDEA, and/or Perkins Career Technical Education.

In sum, the Nelson-Collins amendment seeks to reduce current education funding in the stimulus bill by more than $50 billion!

Education is our nation's surest path to long-term economic prosperity. But districts and schools across the country are being forced to eliminate programs and lay off educators and support staff. Sufficient resources for education must be a fundamental component of any stimulus plan to help the economy recover. A well-educated workforce is a productive workforce. And a productive workforce is the surest way to grow our economy again.

Demand that your senators reject the Nelson-Collins Amendment and preserve the existing investment levels for education by sending a customized message we have prepared for you. Or call 1-202-224-3121 to reach your senator's office through the Senate Switchboard.

Melissa Mellor

School Counselors: Making a Difference for the Whole Child

Last week we blogged about a program in Colorado aimed at increasing the number of school counselors across the state. We described how the program is based on the belief that students must feel supported by caring and qualified adults to learn at high levels.

School counselors are now in the news again because it's National School Counseling Week. Sponsored by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), National School Counselor Week is intended to "highlight the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career."

ASCA also just announced its school counselor of the year: Julie Hartline, a school counselor from Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga. Hartline was chosen in part because of a number of initiatives she has introduced, including the creation of Campbell High School's Career Center, which provides students—many of them first-generation college applicants—with individualized postsecondary guidance. And Hartline's work to establish a Counseling Advisory Council with community, parent, and school representation reflects our belief that a broad array of individuals, from business leaders to parents to community members, need to support schools in efforts to develop the whole child.

Has a school counselor influenced your life or the life of a child you care about? How did that counselor make a difference?

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