Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Radio Commentary

Halloween comes tomorrow, and it is a favorite day for young and old alike.  
Adults can take precautions to make sure that the children who go out “trick or treating” have a safe, enjoyable evening. 
For starters, parents should make sure children wear well-fitted clothing and shoes.  They should be encouraged to use makeup rather than masks that can obstruct vision in the dark.
Children should also carry flashlights, and wear light-colored costumes that can easily been seen by cars.
Children should be selective regarding the homes they visit. It’s best to have at least one adult accompany each group of children. 
If children are old enough to be out on their own, parents should know the general path they plan to take, and all children should have a specific time limit for when they are to return.
There are also several “don’ts” for children to heed:  Children should not enter any home; they should stay outside, on the front steps. 
They should only go to homes that have lights on. They should not eat any candy before an adult inspects it. Unwrapped items should be pitched.
Make sure children know to be on the lookout for cars when they cross streets and driveways.
Finally, adults should remember to take extra precautions when driving on Halloween night because children will be everywhere.
It can be a safe, harmless, enjoyable evening for all who take part if simple precautions are followed. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Testing will help

Radio  Commentary

Testing will accompany a child from preschool through college and beyond. It is a fact of life.
Fortunately, there are a number of practical things parents can do to help children prepare for tests:
•  Be aware of class schedules for tests.
•  Keep in touch with your child’s teacher about progress and any areas of concern.
•  Read school newsletters and note information about standardized and state testing.
•  Encourage habits that contribute to successful test-taking. These include setting aside quiet time each evening to review the day’s assignments and do homework.
•  The night before a test, discuss what it will cover and be sure your child takes time to review and study.
•  It’s a good idea to have an evening meal together. If the topic of the test comes up, be your child’s best encourager.
•  Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep and has time for a nutritious breakfast.
Whether it is a short quiz or a big exam, these simple measures can help any child feel better going into a test.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Decrease in biking

Radio Commentary

Just a few generations ago, in the 1950s and 60s, half of all children bicycled or walked to school. Today, only one in ten does so.
In fact, even among school-age children who live within two miles of school, only about two percent ride bicycles to get there. These figures have implications for health, fitness, and safety.
The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition cites several major reasons for the decline:
• As we widened roads for cars, we decreased safety for bikers and walkers, leading to a lack of area for children to walk and bike safely.
• Excessive media stories about the dangers of child abductions, gun violence, drugs, and other real-but-overblown-concerns add to a sense of danger and worry for parents.
The truth is that automobiles are by far a bigger threat to children than all these other potential threats combined.
• With both parents working, for longer hours, many try to compensate through the perceived ‘gift’ of driving children around.
These changes have contributed to increased rates of obesity among young people.
They have also helped foster a loss the independence that comes from bicycling.
As was the case with recycling and smoking, it will take shifts of awareness and attitude to change the current condition. We should all try to help.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Student stress

Radio Commentary

A study shows that school-based stress hits students hard at all ages and grade levels.
In the study, students named more than 300 stress factors they felt at school. The number one stress was schoolwork itself. 
Contrary to myth, most students work hard at school and want to do well. Having difficulty can cause a great deal of stress.
More girls than boys cited social stresses and peer pressure about their appearances. More boys than girls said they felt anxious about discipline. This dovetails with studies that show more boys are disciplined than girls.
Also listed were the stresses ranging from riding the bus to preparing for a career.
Clearly no student can lead a stress-free life — plus, it would be terrible preparation for the real world. But we know that an overload of stress can cause physical and emotional problems that compound the situation.
For this reason, it is a good idea to reduce some of the stress in children’s lives. Methods include using alternative forms of discipline and increasing cooperative activities.
It’s also critical to understand that each child is different, and matures at a different rate.
This knowledge prevents us from creating one-size-fits-all situations where deviations from the norm create an additional form of undue stress.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fire-arms at home

Radio Commentary

More than 22 million U.S. children live in homes with firearms.
In 43 percent of those homes, the guns are not locked up or fitted with trigger locks, according to a national survey.
The study, reported in the "American Journal of Public Health," analyzed gun storage practices in six thousand nine hundred households with children.
The study found that nine percent of homes keep firearms unlocked, and loaded. Those homes represent 1.7 million children.
Another 4% of the homes have guns that are unlocked and have ammunition nearby.
That means that about 2.6 million children had firearms stored in a way most accessible to children, said the study.
Researchers found that many parents know guns should be locked up but there is a disconnect between knowledge and action.
They may think the top shelf of a closet or a sock drawer is secure. But children are notoriously curious and may find them anyway.
Experts say parents should look at their own firearm storage and ask pointed questions about weapons at their friends' homes as well.
This is one area where it’s not possible to be too cautious.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Parent role

Radio Commentary

            It’s good to remember that parents can play a major role in helping prepare children for the challenges of homework and class work: 
            •  Make sure your child begins each day with a good breakfast, and then try to arrange to have snacks and other meals at regular times. This helps small bodies adjust and react at maximum capacity.
            •  Inform your child of your schedule at home and on the job. This helps establish a sense of time, consistency and order.
            •  Read with your child every day that you can. Newspapers, short stories, and books can all be the basis of enjoyable shared experiences. 
            •  If possible, set aside a specific time each day for homework. 
Tell your child that homework is a number one priority, and make sure you mean it. But also remember to be flexible if soccer practice or band tryouts fall during homework time. Together set a new time for that day.
Don’t do your children’s homework, but be sure they know you are available for help. Serve as a “consultant.”
            •  When your child is studying for a test, discourage “cramming” the night before. Instead, ask your child to bring a textbook home every other night and teach you what he or she has learned in school. 
            The most important point for parents to remember, at all times, is that their positive attitude toward homework, teachers, and school can have great influence on their child’s success.
            And that’s the bottom line for all of us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Managing anger

Radio Commentary

Everybody gets angry. But you can help your child take responsibility for heading off angry outbursts.
            Start by asking your child what situations seem to make him angry. He might say:
•  When I lose a game.
•  When someone says something untrue about me.
•  When my little brother uses my things.
•  When I want to do something that I can’t.
            Then brainstorm alternatives with your child about how to diffuse the emotions.
            Ask, for example, “If you’re losing a game and you know that can make you angry, what might you do instead?”
            One technique is to help think of a few phrases your child can repeat over and over until the anger subsides, such as, “It’s only a game,” or “I can stay cool about this.”
            You should also help your child practice things he can say to others to get out of a situation where he’s likely to get angry.
He might say, for example, “I have to go home now,” or “I’m too mad to talk about this right now.”
            Other suggestions to help a child control anger might include listening to music, running around the yard to wear off some energy, or writing a story about the situation.
With parents’ help, most children can learn to take responsibility for managing their anger before it gets out of hand. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Halloween Safety

Radio Commentary

For many children, Halloween is a favorite day of the year. Some get very excited about the costume, the adventure of going house to house, and the “payoff” of treats.
A few simple precautions can help keep Halloween a day of innocent fun.
Parents should encourage young children to “trick-or-treat” when there is still light outside. They should wear a costume that makes it easier for them to walk, see, and be seen.
If older children are going out at night, make sure their costume is light in color or has reflective material. They should carry a flashlight so they can see easily.
Masks can impair vision and keep children from seeing completely. For that reason, younger children should be advised to remove their masks before crossing the street. Better yet, consider using makeup instead.
Company is always a good idea. Even older children should trick-or-treat in groups.
It’s important to plan a trick-or-treat route ahead of time, so children are sure to walk down streets with adequate lighting. They should be instructed to cross only at corners — and never between parked cars or mid-block.
They should also keep an eye out for cars backing out of driveways.
Finally, young people should wait until they get home to sort, check, and eat their treats. It’s best to look at the treats in the light and make sure the wrappings are intact and haven’t been tampered with.
These simple precautions can keep Halloween safe and fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How parents can help

Radio Commentary

Sparking a child’s curiosity can be key to lifelong learning. Parents can help.
Make up trivia games that you can all play regularly, even when you’re on the run. Give children a chance to experiment around the house with measuring, cooking, repairing broken items, and other activities that required finding and using information.
Also, be sure to know what’s going on in school. Attend school events. Your presence will show your children that you’re interested in their school life and value it. 
Ask children for detailed descriptions of what they’re studying at school.
You should also help children establish a sense of ethics. Have the courage to say NO when children’s interests are not acceptable.
As children get older, continue to uphold firm, clear limits. But gradually give them more chances to make choices and live with the consequences.
It is easier to set these standards in first and second grades than in preteen years. But there are also ways to encourage preteens to stick to standards of behavior.
Teach children of all ages to say “thank you” and write thank-you letters when appropriate. Tell them stories of justice. Teach them that there is a right and a wrong way to do things.
In these areas, parents are the most important teachers of all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

School success tips

 Radio Commentary

        We all know the traditional advice given to children on how to succeed in school: study hard, pay attention in class, do all assignments.
These are important actions for success in school, and all children should follow that advice as a basis for academic achievement.
But parents can help children improve success in school by making them aware of other basics that have an effect in more subtle areas of attitude and behavior.
For example it is good advice to tell young people the following:
• Sit close to the front or near the center of the class, if seats are not assigned. This helps avoid distractions.
• Be interested in what the teacher is saying. Sit up straight and look the teacher in the eye. 
• Be on time for class. Bring all needed supplies.
• Raise your hand and volunteer answers frequently. This helps you stay engaged.
• Ask questions when you don’t understand something. Better to clarify it right away than let the confusion grow.
• Take notes. Write down all directions and assignments so you don’t have to trust your memory.
• Offer to help the teacher when needed.
• Be sure to say thanks when the teacher has gone out of the way to help.
These basics won’t solve all the problems children face in school, but they set a climate conducive to learning and they position a child well to achieve success.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reaching kids

Radio Commentary

            A great quote says: “Either we teach our children, or we abandon the future to chance and nonsense.”
            You don’t have to tell that to parents or educators. Both groups seem well aware of the responsibilities placed squarely on their shoulders.
            A Gallup Poll on Americans’ attitudes toward public schools once again confirmed a perception that has held steady for more than three decades: the public gives only average marks to the nation’s public schools, but predominantly As or Bs to the schools their own children attend.
            We hear the reports about the demise of public education, but what parents see for their own children — for whom they are the world’s harshest critics — they rate above average or excellent.
            Educators recognize that challenges remain. Until all students reach their potential, hard work remains to be done. Efforts are constantly made to reach every child at every level.
The one irrefutable concept we have learned from research over the years is that every child learns differently.
            Some must read information to “get” it. Others must hear it, and others need hands-on approaches.
Still others do much better in small groups, while some require the one-to-one attention of a teacher or tutor. Most need a mix of techniques for different materials.
            The trick for educators lies in identifying the needs for each student and providing teaching strategies to meet those various needs.
            That is the challenge, and the goal, so that we do not “abandon the future to chance and nonsense.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

Self-esteem tips

Radio Commentary

There was a time when no one even considered a child’s self-esteem. Shame and blame were acceptable forms of child rearing and schooling. Feelings were never considered.
Then several studies showed that children with higher self-esteem actually performed better. They were less afraid to ask questions if they didn’t understand. They were less afraid to try to tackle difficult problems.
They had more perseverance when things went wrong. And they generally were more successful as a result of this.
Then the tables turned again.
Somehow efforts at building self-esteem were blamed for low test scores. Building a child’s self-esteem took a back seat to drilling the basics.
The truth is that self-esteem is important, and those who have it still outperform those who don’t.
So here are some tips for parents who want to help their children:
• Give your child responsibility. Encourage volunteerism. Doing good makes one feel good.
• Develop a social network that includes family, friends, school, and the community.
• Never humiliate your child. Try to use only constructive criticism, emphasizing that no one is perfect and that everyone can learn from mistakes.
And finally, let your love be unconditional, based on the child’s worth, rather than on specific “successes.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Teen search for identity

Radio Commentary

Young children tend to accept the values of their parents without question. They have been exposed to few alternatives and rely on their parents for what is right and wrong.
            As children grow older, however, they begin to think about a variety of options and they are apt to question the values around them. This is a normal process almost all teens will go through in eventually making those values their own.
The act of questioning should not be viewed as a challenge to the beliefs of the parents. Rather, it is a normal means of consolidating a set of values that will become incorporated into the practices of a lifetime.
            Friends are important in this process as young people compare alternatives. Teenagers need reactions, and their fellow teens give honest opinions and listen. Friends provide sympathetic eyes and ears as they all try new roles and entertain new ideas.
            The key for parents is to shore up their teen’s self-confidence and not over-react to ideas that might be floated out just for effect.
            Teens who are unsure of themselves, and want to be accepted, are more likely to give in to negative peer pressure. They want to be liked and they want their ideas approved of. They will seek that approval wherever they can find it.
Teens who have plenty of confidence will be affected by input from their friends but are less likely to be dominated by it. They have a sense of inner strength and self–worth that they will not want to jeopardize.
            So be sure to show your teens you love and respect them. Knowing they can count on you helps with their decision-making, and helps keep them grounded in the values of the family unit.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Promoting culture of reading

Radio Commentary

        What can parents do to excite their children about school and learning? A former national Teacher of the Year provided the following suggestions.
First, he said, promote a culture of reading at home. Reading is the gateway to all knowledge and is fundamental to academic excellence.
Computers are wonderful tools, but they cannot replace books. Reading stimulates the imagination and encourages creative thinking.
So read with your children. Discuss the books and articles in the car, while walking to schools, and at the dinner table.
Turn reading into a pleasant event by taking children to libraries and bookstores once a week. 
        Give them an allowance and let them choose the books they want without questioning what they’ve chosen.  
        Don’t insist that they always read “educational” material. A lifelong love of reading can start with almost any book or magazine.  
Stimulate your children’s curiosity. Children need to be encouraged to ask “Why?” when they don’t understand something. Learning is a constant process and children sometimes think this process is over once they have an answer.
They need to be taught to prove and push for more answers. So when children ask “Why”? don’t respond with a pat answer. Ask “What do you think?  Or “Why do you think that’s so?”  Or, “I’m not sure; let’s look it up.”
The goal is to spark their curiosity so that it becomes fun to learn information.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Finland avoids testing, outscores everyone

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

Newspaper Column

The United States is the most extraordinary country on earth. No argument there. Our daunting list of accomplishments spans virtually every field and enterprise, culminating year after year, as one small example, in our dominating number of Nobel Prizes. Our main strength is that we constantly strive to do better, and to look for excellent practices to help us reach even greater heights.
In terms of our educational delivery system, our top students are still the best in the world. Our test averages, when all students are included, tend more toward the middle on international rankings. Explanations abound on why this is the case, but it is still a goal to improve those standings. As we continue to strive to do better for all our students, it could be instructive to look at what is happening these days in Finland.
First, some facts: Finland started to transform its education system about 40 years ago as part of an economic recovery plan. By the year 2000, Finnish students scored best in the world in reading on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), a test of 15-year-olds in more than 40 countries. By 2003, Finnish students also led the world in math. By 2006, they led in science among 57 countries. Three years later, the most recent data available shows they were second in science, third in reading, and sixth in math among about a half million students around the globe. 
Some more facts: Finland does not require standardized tests, and has no ranking system for students, schools, or regions. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect,” said one principal. 
Schools are publicly funded and the people in the government agencies running them, from top to bottom, are all educators. Teachers nationwide contributed to a curriculum that provided guidelines, not mandates. “The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town,” wrote Lynnell Hancock, a teacher at Columbia Graduate School. “The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world.”
One teacher explained, “We prepared children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.”
Children learn Finnish and Swedish plus one other language, usually beginning at age 9. Every teacher is required to earn a five-year master’s degree in theory and practice, at state expense, effectively being granted status on par with doctors and lawyers in the country.
More facts: Finnish teachers spend fewer hours at school and less time in classrooms than American teachers, using the extra time refining curriculum and assessing students. Children spend much more time playing outside, even in the cold Finnish winters. There is little homework. Schooling starts at age 7. Wrote one teacher: “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”
Perhaps the major differences are social rather than academic. Finnish children do not come to school hungry or homeless. “Schools provide food, medical care, counseling, and taxi service if needed,” wrote Columbia’s Hancock, “and student health care is free.” Finland provides preschool for all five-year-olds, with an emphasis on play and socializing.
In terms of special education, almost all students are mainstreamed, learning beside students who don’t require those services. Finnish as a Second Language students receive intensive instruction from skilled experts.
Interestingly, the neighboring country of Norway, which is similar in size, uses standardized tests and a system more similar to ours. Like American PISA scores, Norway’s are in the middle ranges.
Again, the Finnish educational success story started in the ‘60s when the Parliament chose public education as the country’s best shot at economic recovery. “It was simply the idea that … if we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive,” wrote Pasi Sahlberg, of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Many of these measures would not be feasible or maybe even desirable in our country. And it’s important to emphasize that we continue to take steps to improve our own delivery systems. Our new Common Core curriculum is widely praised as moving both learning and assessment in the right direction. 
Finland’s model does raise an important question, however, regarding our lurch toward test scores as the sole tool of accountability. Especially in times of constricted resources, this laser-like focus on test scores has stripped many of our students of access to music, art, critical thinking skills, and the joy of learning. It has also diminished our respect for teachers as the able professionals who are best equipped to evaluate and instruct our young people. 
It is worth contemplating whether this tradeoff has been for the better, especially in light of the facts on Finland.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Innovations in Education

October 2012 Venoco Inc. Crystal Apple Award Winners
Alejandra Arandovich
Courtney Brewer
Dr. Kathleen Boomer
Laurie Graack
Coleen Hefley
Melanie Sutton Hodgon
Julie Padfield
Georgie Perkins
Victor Prato
Nancy Wood

Monday, October 8, 2012

School and skills

Radio Commentary

There is no thrill quite like the one that comes from mastering a challenge.
Remember the first time you realized the marks on a page were words, and you could understand them?
Or the first time you looked through a microscope, played an instrument, or understood what someone was saying in another language?
U.S. schools seek to give that same opportunity to every child every day by helping students set high standards and specific goals.
Education also gives students life skills like self-discipline, patience, and the importance of sharing. Students learn to pay attention when others are speaking.
Many schools also teach children how to solve disagreements through conflict resolution. Extracurricular activities, from student government offices to volunteer projects, also offer chances to learn life skills.
Wrote author Tomas Henry Huxley: “Perhaps the most valuable result of education is the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do, when they ought to be done, whether you like it or not.”
And former Xerox CEO David Kearns, added: “Education not only imparts the great lessons of history, citizenship, and science, it teaches people to think, to solve problems, to take risks, to be an entrepreneur, and an innovator.”
That is, in fact, the great strength of the American public school system and always has been. It’s worthy of our support.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A community for kids

Radio Commentary

Sometimes we want so much for our children, and our community’s children, that doing what’s best for them can seem overwhelming.
There are too many bases to cover; too many areas to support or protect to make sure our children get our best efforts.
It can help to focus our energies on a shared vision. 
A publication called Helping Kids Succeed has a great approach.
It asks us to imagine living in a community where all young people feel loved and supported by their families and neighbors, with many positive, caring places to go.
• Where all young people know what is expected of them — what actions are acceptable and not acceptable. And where they see adults set good examples in those areas;
• A community where all young people believe that education and life-long learning are important, and have strong values that guide their actions;
• A community where all young people have skills to make healthy choices and have good relationships; where all young people feel strong, worthwhile, and connected to some purpose in life.
Finally it asks us to imagine a community where all young people are really valued by everyone.
Imagine the richness of life for everyone in such a community.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Noah's Ark

Radio Commentary

            Some of the most insightful pieces we receive come anonymously.
The newsletter of the KIDS Network once printed an inspirational piece, author unknown, which was submitted by one of the group’s members. Though we don’t know the original author, we feel the sentiments bear repeating.
            The piece is called “Everything I need to know I learned on Noah’s Ark.”
Don’t miss the boat.
Remember that we are all in the same boat.
Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
Don’t listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Build your future on high ground.
For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
Speed isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the rabbits.
When you’re stressed, float awhile.
And finally…
No matter how big the storm, there’s always a rainbow waiting.
Collaboration has always been key; it is now more important than ever.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Road to readiness

Radio Commentary

            It is a worthy national education goal that every child comes to school ready to learn. But we are not yet nearly to that point.
One researcher examined the steps that must be taken to make it happen, and determined that the quality of the parent-child relationship is key to language development.
Children need rich verbal experiences to draw from as they enter school. Parents should talk to their children all the time and read to them as often as possible.
 Parents should share stories, and ask open-ended questions to spur thinking skills.
This helps get children excited about learning new things.
            According to the research, there are several preconditions required for learning.
Good health comes first. Then come unhurried time with family, safe and supportive environments, and special help for families in desperate need.
These are commonsense items, but unfortunately not always in great supply.
            Wrote the researcher: “These principles are deceptively simple. Assuring that every child has the opportunity to learn requires collaboration among community and health care agencies, families, and schools.”
            It involves institutions and neighborhoods working together for basic needs.
It is a promise unfulfilled in this country at this time, but it is a worthy goal to pursue for all our children.
This is the road to readiness. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Views of parent conferences

Radio Commentary

From a child’s standpoint, a parent-teacher conference brings two important parts of the child’s life closer together – school and home.
Children usually feel good that their teacher and parents know each other because they are all such important influences and role models.
            As a result, after the conference, parents usually are better able to help their child with school work. 
During the conference, teachers can show parents learning growth that has taken place. Plus, teachers can pass on enjoyable details or special concerns about learning.
            In turn, parents can learn of special services available for children who need them. 
They can find out how individual differences are taken into account in teaching and how that can apply to their child.
            For their part, parents can help teachers learn more about home activities and situations that affect learning. 
The teacher can be more effective when positive feelings exist between home and school. For this reason, parent/teacher conferences create a win-win situation that goes far beyond the specific exchange of information that takes place.
            They set a tone of cooperation and support that can be very influential on a child’s attitude toward learning. 
They also establish lines of communication that can prove critical in times of challenge. It’s a win/win for all involved.