Thursday, July 31, 2014

Safety instructions

Radio Commentary

Concepts of trust and danger, which are virtually meaningless to a two-year-old, make perfect sense to older children.
It is critical that parents use safety instructions that are appropriate to a child’s age if they want them to be followed.

For example, two-year-olds respond to rules and are old enough to know that certain actions bring their parents’ disapproval. Express strong disapproval if a child wanders away at the mall. Two is also a good age at which to plant the idea that some actions require permission.
Three-year-olds begin to understand the concept of trust. Tell them exactly whom they can turn to for specific kinds of help — the babysitter, a neighbor, etc.

Four-year-olds are risk-takers, so this is an important time to reinforce safety rules and step up supervision. Children at this age can begin to understand that not every person they meet is trustworthy.

At five, children start school and interact with many new people, including older children who could be intimidating or unkind. It’s a good time for parents to reinforce positive perceptions of people.

By six, most children have begun to develop intuition. This is the time to encourage them to trust their own instincts: If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Using age appropriate instructions significantly increases the likelihood that your instructions will be followed. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kids have easy access to tobacco and alcohol

Newspaper column

Several months ago, the state of California launched “Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community,” a statewide campaign to improve health by informing Californians about the impact stores have in marketing unhealthy products.
In tandem with that effort, Santa Barbara County’s Public Health Department studied tobacco, alcohol, and food sales in local stores countywide. It was the first time all three kinds of products were analyzed together.

The results were cause for concern: The county found that young people have amazingly easy access to tobacco and alcohol near schools. In fact, the study found that it’s often as easy for young people to buy tobacco as candy bars.

Tobacco products are sold next to candies at checkout areas in nearly half the stores in this state, whether small convenience stores, supermarkets, drug stores, or big box stores. In all, 7,400 stores were included in the statewide study.

The goal was to see how the availability of products could impact health.

In gathering the data for the study, it became clear that small flavored cigars or cigarillos are growing in popularity. In Santa Barbara County alone nearly 80 percent of tobacco outlets, mostly located near schools, sell these products. Nationally, it has been reported that two out of five middle school students who smoke use cigarillos. The most popular brand costs less than $1 at most sites.

Other novelty products that are enticing to young people include alcopops, which are alcoholic drinks that resemble soda or sparkling juice drinks. The county’s study showed that these products are sold at 91 percent of tobacco outlets countywide, which is higher than the state average. More than half the stores had alcohol ads near candy and toys, or at a child’s eye level.

More than 66 percent of the tobacco retailers surveyed are closer than 1,000 feet to a school. This means that our young people are exposed to unhealthy products regularly. Only about 10 percent of the stories surveyed advertised healthy foods.

Of course we all see these messages every day to the point where we tune them out and don’t even notice. That is not necessarily the case with young people. The unhealthy messages that bombard kids, and the ads for unhealthy products, surround young people and become difficult for them to ignore.

Dr. Takashi Wada, deputy health officer and director of the county’s Public Health Department, said it best:  “We all need to be more aware of these influences in our neighborhoods.” He said it’s important to work with store owners, families, and community partners to protect our young people and make our communities healthier.

We strongly applaud the Public Health Department for these important efforts to help improve the health of our young people.

Parents and teens

Radio Commentary

A national study of adolescents found that parents have a critical role to play in helping children through a period of life that can be filled with dangers.

Not surprisingly, the study found that teens who feel loved and understood, and who feel that parents pay attention to them, were less likely to engage in dangerous behaviors.

There are four things parents can do to help their teens, according to the study:
  1. Set high academic expectations. Let teens know that school is important — and back up your words by setting homework times and talking with teachers.
  2. Be accessible. The presence of parents in the home at specific times of day made teens less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Those times were in the morning, after school, at dinner, and at bedtime.
  3. Send clear messages about avoiding drugs, alcohol, and sex. Peers strongly influence teens, but parents also play a critical role.
  4. Lock up alcohol. Most teens have their first drinks at home. The presence of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes in the home significantly increase the likelihood that teens will use these substances.
These findings by the National Study of Adolescent Health offer a common-sense approach for parents as they attempt to help their teens through some difficult years.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summertime activities

Radio Commentary

Summertime can provide an important break for young students. But studies show that those who remain active learners are better prepared to return to academic studies in the fall.

Reading, writing, math, and science activities can take on a new perspective when experienced as part of summertime fun.

Here are some ways you can help:

Promote creativity and build muscle control with a pail of water and a brush. On a warm day, take your children to the driveway or sidewalk and encourage them to write anything at all. Talk about what they’ve written. Hose it off when it’s time to clean up.

Encourage summer reading. Find books or magazines geared to your child’s interests. Topics with natural appeal would cover cars, musical groups and singers, and relationships.

Ask about your child’s career interests. Chances are there’s a magazine or book on the subject.

Bring the outdoors inside. Collect leaves, rocks, seashells, and bugs. Grow plants from raw potatoes, avocado seeds, and pineapple tops.

Design a scavenger hunt for your children. Have them look for items like acorns, twigs, small rocks, feathers, tree bark, dandelions. Then read or talk about all the items.

Here’s a variation for indoors:

Write certain words on small pieces of paper or index cards, like “chair” “circle,” “red,” or “animal.” Have children place the words on something in the house that matches that description. “Circle” could go on a plate, and “animal” could go on a picture of a dog.

Even mistakes can be fun. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summertime reading

Radio Commentary

Experts agree that children who read during the summer gain reading skills, while those who do not can lose some of them.
As children’s first and most important teachers, parents have a major role to play in motivating children to read during the summer.
Here are some tips to help keep your child learning and reading.

Combine activities with books. Summer leaves lots of time for children to enjoy fun activities such as going to the park, seeing a movie, or going to the beach.
Why not also encourage them to read a book about the activity?

If you’re going to a baseball game, suggest your children read a book about their favorite player beforehand. In the car or over a hot dog, you’ll have lots of time to talk about the book and the game.

Visit the library. If your child doesn’t have a library card, summer is a great time to sign up. In addition to a wide selection of books to borrow, many libraries have fun, child-friendly summer reading programs.

Lead by example. Read the newspaper at breakfast, pick up a magazine at the doctor’s office, and stuff a paperback in your beach bag.

If young people see the adults around them reading often, they will understand that literature can be a fun and important part of their summer days.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Car safety tips

Radio Commentary

More parents are traveling with ever-younger children in tow these days. When it comes to travel safety, there are two practices that could save a young life.

First, when traveling in a car, always secure an infant in a car seat in the back seat.

The rear of a car is a far safer place in the event of an accident. Above all, never use an infant seat in the front of a car that has a passenger-side air bag.

If the bag deploys, it can seriously hurt the infant by striking the back of the safety seat and causing injury.

In a case where an older car only has lap belts in the rear, or shoulder straps that cross over the neck or face of a toddler, it is still important to use a safety belt.

In fact, any belt is better than no belt. Use a booster seat for a young child who has outgrown an infant seat. This will raise the child so that the shoulder strap crosses the chest, not the neck.

If the rear seat has no shoulder straps, buy a booster seat with a harness or a shield. These devices have saved young lives.

Of course, preventive and defensive driving is always the best bet — and drivers should take special precautions when traveling with young passengers.

But sometimes unforeseeable circumstances occur, or other drivers are not exercising the same care as you are.

At those times, it is far better to be prepared and to make sure a child is adequately protected.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

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.

We can begin to feel that there are too many bases to cover, and 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 valued by everyone.

Imagine the richness of life for everyone in such a community.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hope and help

Radio Commentary

Addiction plays no favorites. It assaults individuals of every walk of life. Every color. Every socioeconomic group. Almost every age.

It seduces people with short-term euphoria and trades that off for lifelong agonies. It is an illness that victimizes not only the addicts but also everyone who loves them, works with them, teaches them, or cares about them in any way.

And addiction doesn’t just happen to “other people.” It happens to our friends, our neighbors, our children, and our loved ones.

If you, a relative, or a friend has a problem, remember that you are not alone. Help is available. Never give up on anyone.

Here are some phone numbers that could help. Call:

  • The Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, 963-1433; 
  • Alcoholics Anonymous, 962-3332; 
  • The Daniel Bryant Youth and Family Treatment Center adolescent program, 730-7575.

Many people say their agony was prolonged because they didn’t know where to turn for help.

It’s essential to know that thousands of county residents and relatives have received referrals for the treatment they needed through these organizations, and they remain ready to help anyone in need.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No child left inside

Radio Commentary

It’s hard to believe it has come to this, but childhood is no longer synonymous with outdoor play.

Children are spending an average of 45 hours a week in front of a screen – televisions, computers, computer games. They are not spending time outdoors.

Children know how to build websites at a very early age, but not necessarily forts or tree houses.

Nature is becoming something on a television channel, not something in their backyard.

Research has confirmed what our grandmothers always said: “Go play outside. It’s good for you.”

It turns out that nature is important to children’s development in every major way —intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically.

Playing in nature is especially important to help children increase their capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual development.

For children’s sake, parents need to be sure they play outdoors at least some of the time.

Leave No Child Inside is the name of a nationwide movement aiming to do just that, but parental encouragement is still the best way to reconnect kids with nature.

It’s an easy way to make a positive difference in children’s development in so many areas. Just send them outside in a safe area to play. They’ll figure out what to do. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Listening ladder

Radio Commentary

Listening is a critical skill for success. It is often in short supply, which makes it all the more valuable.

In fact, becoming a better listener is beneficial to anyone who wants to communicate effectively.

Listening well helps build stronger relationships, and is useful in resolving disputes. Most importantly, listening is the real key to acquiring knowledge.

Here are six steps that can help anyone become a more skilled listener and climb the ladder of success. The six steps spell out L-A-D-D-E-R.
  • For “L”: Look at the person who is speaking to you.
  • For “A”: Ask questions to make sure you understand.
  • For “D”: Don’t interrupt.
  • For the next “D”: Don’t change the subject.
  • For “E”: Empathize with the speaker. Try to feel what they are feeling.
  • For “R”: Respond verbally and nonverbally, with nods, smiles, and spoken responses.
Going through these steps can help anyone become a better listener, and for students that is an especially helpful tool. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Social skills

Radio Commentary

The skills required in a classroom are many and varied.
Children need to know how to take turns, make compromises, approach unfamiliar children, obey those in authority, and be generally nice to others.
Only then are they are socially ready to learn. But no one is born with these skills. They come from repeated interactions with other children at an early age.
Keep in mind that not all the interactions must be positive and pleasant. Children need to understand that others can be unfair and unkind, but that they should not act that way in return.

If young children are never exposed to adversity, they will be much less prepared to deal with it when it arises in situations both inside and outside the classroom.
We like to protect our children from unpleasantness, but at some point they must be able to deal with life’s adversities as well.

So let your children interact with others, and don’t be too quick to intervene in the normal squabbles that can arise.

As long as all seems within normal bounds, let them work it out. They will learn valuable lessons in the process.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Boating, sun safety

Radio Commentary

Summertime usually involves water recreation, which can be a source of great family fun. It also poses some dangers.

So it is important to teach your children water safety rules, to help protect them when boating, swimming, or enjoying other water sports.

First, have children learn to swim, but never alone — use the buddy system.

They should know the items that can be used to help save someone in trouble — a rope, an oar, a branch, or a life preserver, for example.

They should never swim where there is no lifeguard on duty. When on a boat, they should always wear a life jacket and stay seated.

Another great danger associated with water sports has to do with the sun. Many people believe that a tan looks healthy, but prolonged exposure to the summer sun can be very dangerous.

In fact, excessive sun exposure during the first 20 years of life is a key risk factor for all skin cancer. And young children are especially vulnerable
To help protect your children, keep infants up to six months old out of the sun or shaded from it. For young children, use sunscreen liberally, at least 30 minutes before exposure, and reapply often.

Use extra protection in areas with reflective surfaces such as water.

And beware: A cloud cover only partially reduces radiation. Skin won’t feel warm until it is already too late.

With the right precautions, summer can be a time of fun and enjoyment for all ages.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beating the heat

Newspaper column

Summer is the season for heat. Though early summer can traditionally be a foggy season in Santa Barbara County, late summer days are more often fog-free and can get very warm. When young people are caught up in the excitement of playing games outside or even a leisurely bike ride around the neighborhood, they might not notice the temperature rising. But their bodies will notice the heat anyway.
Under normal conditions, the body’s natural control mechanisms — skin, vascular system, and perspiration — help the body adjust to the heat. But those systems could fail if exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods.
Here are some tips to help young people — or those just young at heart — beat the heat:
  • Limit exercise or strenuous physical activity to the coolest part of the day — usually early morning or late evening.
  • Have children wear loose-fitting clothing that’s both lightweight and light in color. Choose clothing that draws perspiration away from the skin to keep the body cooler, such as cotton t-shirts or shorts. The new perspiration-wicking fabrics also are effective.
  • Have children drink plenty of water, and don’t wait until they’re thirsty to take a drink. The thirst mechanism kicks in only after a body is significantly depleted of fluids. If exercising heavily in hot weather, aim for two to four glasses — or 16 to 32 ounces — every hour.
  • Children should stay away from liquids that contain caffeine or lots of sugar — these actually cause a body to lose more fluid. Also, know that drinks that are too cold might cause stomach cramps.
  • It’s always a good idea to take a break in a shady area to cool down.
  • Don’t overdo it. Start slowly and increase the pace gradually. In weather that’s extremely hot and humid, it is best to avoid exercising at too high a level. What’s normal activity on a cool day might be dangerous on a hot day.
  • Everyone should always wear sunscreen. It’s harder for the body to keep sunburned skin cool. Hats help keep the sun off the face and head, providing protection from sunburn and keeping the body cooler, too.
And parents should always be mindful of high heat inside a parked car when leaving a child there for any length of time, because those results could prove fatal, even when outdoor temperatures seem relatively low.

It’s important for parents to know the symptoms of heat-related illness. If you don’t pay attention to the warning signs, the body’s natural cooling system could begin to fail, and that could lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke.

If a child starts to feel overheated, activity should stop immediately. The child should rest in a cool, shaded area and drink plenty of fluids. If heat cramps have started, massaging sore muscles may help alleviate some of the pain. These are all good ways to beat the heat. 

Road rage

Radio Commentary

It seems that more and more drivers are acting out their anger when they get behind the wheel.

After they've been cut off, tailgated, or slowed down by a car in front of them, these angry drivers can even commit acts of violence.

Teaching your children about road rage, and how to prevent it, is vital to their health and well-being.

One study of more than 10,000 incidents of aggressive driving revealed that at least 200 people were killed and another 12,600 people were injured because of driver anger.

Remember that you are a role model for your children. Keep your anger in check, and model behavior for your teens that shows them how to be a safe driver.

One good rule: Don't take actions that might offend other drivers. These might include cutting drivers off, driving slowly in the left lane, or tailgating. Avoid these actions at all costs.

Also, don't engage. One angry driver can't start a fight unless another one is willing to join in. So take a deep breath and move on.

It also helps to “steer clear.” Give angry drivers lots of room and avoid eye contact. If an angry driver is following you or using a car as a weapon against you, call for help if possible.

Anger-management courses have helped many individuals gain insight and practical techniques to keep their tempers under control.

When your children are riding in the car with you, remember that they will copy your behavior. Be a good role model for their sake as well as for your own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer tips

Radio Commentary

During the summer and year-round, it’s good to bolster the three R’s for your children. To start, have your children keep a diary of their activities.

Also take time every day for the whole family to read. Even 10 or 15 minutes is fine. Have your children follow a favorite newspaper comic strip.

It’s also fun to have them write letters or send postcards to relatives and friends.

For math reinforcement, they can review cash register receipts, checking for accuracy when you’re unloading groceries.

You can also teach youngsters to compute gas mileage. If you hold a yard sale, allow them to make change.

You can also help children get organized. Have them start a collection. It could be rocks, stamps, baseball cards, bottle caps, labels, marbles, leaves, or bugs.

Have the children arrange them in some orderly fashion by categories, by color, or alphabetically. They could even keep a written log to go along with the collection.

You can also ask youngsters to organize photos in an album by date or activity.

Or, they can save newspaper or magazine photos of favorite athletes or heroes to create a scrapbook. These ideas can add to summer fun while bolstering the 3 R’s.

Monday, July 14, 2014

TV rules

Radio Commentary

In setting up rules about television viewing — especially over the summer — be sure to monitor what your children watch.

Encourage them to choose programs that make them think; that are free of violence and sex; and that feature characters whose values are similar to yours.

When watching TV with your children, ask questions like, “Why do you think that person did what he did?” Encourage your children to ask questions as well, and answer them honestly.

Limit overall television viewing time. During commercials, review what you just watched and ask children to predict what will happen next.

Turn off the television if you see things on it that you don’t like — but be sure to explain to your child why you are doing so. Say: “I don’t like what those people are doing because . . .”

Remember that when children are watching TV it takes them away from other activities like reading and sports. Plan games, trips to the library, and trips to parks and playgrounds to take the place of TV.

Once you’ve established a basic foundation for TV viewing, try to find new ways of using the television to teach and to have fun. Television can help teach your child geography and math, for example.

Have reference materials or a computer near the TV so additional information is available. Have your child look up new words in a dictionary, or look at an atlas to find places mentioned in a show. This way it’s fun and educational.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Beating the heat

Radio Commentary

In the excitement of a good pickup basketball game or even a leisurely game of tag, children might not notice the temperature rising.

But as the day progresses, their bodies react to the heat, and if children aren’t careful, they could come down with heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

The body’s natural control mechanisms normally adjust to the heat. But those systems could fail if exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods.

Here are some tips for beating the heat and staying cool:

  • Limit most exercise or at least the most strenuous exercise to the coolest part of the day — early morning or late afternoon.

  • Have children wear clothing that’s loose, lightweight and light-colored. Choose clothing that draws perspiration away from the skin to keep the body cooler — cotton T-shirts and shorts, for example.

  • Make sure children drink plenty of water–don’t wait until they say they’re thirsty to take a drink. The thirst mechanism kicks in only after a body is too depleted. If children are exercising heavily in hot weather, aim for two to four glasses every hour.

  • Stay away from liquids that contain caffeine or lots of sugar — these actually cause the body to lose more fluid. Also, remember that a drink that is too cold might cause stomach cramps.

  • Make sure children periodically take a break in a shady area to cool down.

These are all smart, effective practices for beating the heat.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Public funding for schools

Radio Commentary

Early in our nation’s history, some taxpayers accepted the principle of public schooling but balked at government funding of schools.

The early proponents of public schools won the discussion by making some strong points:
They asserted that the education of all children is a vital public interest and, more to the point, a shared responsibility.

They believed that public funding was critical to give schools a consistent base of support and make them accountable to the American people.

These early advocates also felt that public funding would lessen inequities in education and that it would help ensure a basic level of quality among all schools.

They felt that public responsibility for education would improve opportunities for children whose schooling was neglected.

In 1903, the civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois wrote:

“Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it, unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work – it must teach Life.”

These points formed the strong basis for public schooling that endures to this day. Consistent public funding and a shared responsibility for educating all of our children must always remain core values.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Prediction skills

Radio Commentary

Reading skills are often enhanced through the use of prediction skills.

Good readers use prediction throughout their reading. They constantly anticipate what will happen next.

When reading with your child, find time to have the child write down what he or she thinks is going to take place.

Do this at the end of a chapter or in between the illustrations of a picture book.

Beginning readers need stories that are highly predictable. This predictability may take the form of rhyme, repetition, or patterned language.

Help children write down their prediction of the next word in a sequence.

They can then compare their choice with the one in the book.
One good exercise is to make up short stories and have children write several endings.

You can then talk about which ending is “most predictable” or “most unbelievable” or “most inventive.”

Experts agree: When helping your child become a strong reader, writing down predictions can be a valuable tool for improved reading skills. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Schools of Thought - Diane Adam

Guest: Diane Adam
Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum

Local Leaders - Mona Miyasato

Guest: Mona Miyasato
CEO, County of Santa Barbara

Local Leaders - Bob Hatch

Guest: Bob Hatch
Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce
Orcutt School Board

Helping a cause

Radio Commentary

It’s important for children to learn how to be good citizens, and one of the best teaching methods is for parents to model the right behavior.

One good place to start is to find at least one cause or need in your community where you can volunteer your help.

Let your children know why you think that area is important, and spell out for them how you are trying to help. Let your child join you if he or she wants.

Most children will be eager to become involved — but don’t force it if they’re not.

It’s important to let each child choose where and how to help, so they can take ownership in the progress that is made.

Opportunities range from helping other young people or senior citizens, to helping animals, or tackling an environmental project.

It’s also good to find and share success stories with your children.

It’s easy for any one of us to become overwhelmed by the problems in the community or the world. But the truth is that individuals can and do make a difference.

Talk to your children about the importance of joining forces. Encourage them to involve their friends or classmates in tackling big projects such as a creek or playground cleanup.

All these activities help reinforce the actions of good citizens. They help plant the seeds that individuals make a difference, and that in a democratic society we all have a responsibility to do things “for the good of the order.”

Monday, July 7, 2014

Talking with Teachers - John Hood

Guest: John Hood
Allan Hancock College

Cirone on Schools - Laura Davidson

Guest: Laura Davidson
Central Coast Library Council

Pool safety

Radio Commentary

Swimming pools are a great place for children to have fun and get exercise. But they can also pose some dangers.

The American Red Cross has important safety tips for supervising children anytime they are at a pool or pond:

Never let a child swim alone. Constant supervision is a must.

Never leave a child unattended in the pool area — even for the length of time it takes to answer a telephone.

Pool owners should make sure there is fencing around the pool, with a locked gate.

Deep and shallow sections of the pool should be clearly marked and separated with a line if weak swimmers or non-swimmers use the pool.

Anyone supervising children near water should know simple reaching techniques for rescues.

These can include extending a towel, shirt, branch, or pole to the swimmer, or throwing a life preserver or other buoyant object.
It is also important to know how to administer CPR.

With water safety always in mind, everyone can have fun at the pool this summer. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Summertime activities K-3

Radio Commentary

Young students need activities that help them learn and stay sharp over the summer, and parents can choose from many simple ones for their children who are in kindergarten through the third grade.

Sorting and stacking helps teach classification skills. Ask your child to match and stack dishes of similar sizes and shapes.
Also have children sort silverware — forks with forks, spoons with spoons.
This is like recognizing the shapes of letters and numbers.

You can also use comic strips to help with writing.
Cut apart the segments of a strip and ask your child to arrange them in order.
Then ask your child to say the words of the characters out loud.

It also helps to encourage hypothesizing or guessing.
Use objects such as soap, a dry sock, a bottle of shampoo, and a wet sponge. Ask which objects will float when dropped into water in a sink or bathtub.
Then drop the objects into the water one by one to see what happens.

This all helps make learning fun, and it keeps young minds active over the summer months.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mothers’ degrees

Radio Commentary

High standards and accountability are critical to school reform, and I strongly support both these areas.
I do worry that using test scores as the sole measure of progress can mask the more complete picture. Here’s a quiz we often use to illustrate the point:
Which of the following factors is the most accurate predictor of a school’s standardized test scores?

A. The quality of the teaching staff
B. The percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches
C. The number of children who moved from another school during the year
D. The average number of hours volunteered each week 
E. The number of mothers who hold a college degree.

The answer is E.
Nationwide, schools with the highest number of mothers with college degrees have the highest test scores. No other factor correlates as highly.

But the answer is also ‘all of the above,’ because ALL these factors correlate with test scores.
Everyone agrees we must have a means to evaluate how well a student has grasped the subject matter that’s been taught, and good tests do just that.
But sometimes it is hard for students to show on a test what they really know quite well. The problem is dealing with the way a question is asked, not the information itself.

We need to know which students are truly falling short in knowledge so that we can help them succeed. The correlating factors remind us that when it comes to achievement, test scores can never tell us the whole story.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cyber danger: What parents need to know

Newspaper Column

Technology and social media comprise the one area where most parents are less savvy and skilled than their children. Most of the time, that doesn’t matter. The Internet can be a wonderful source of information, resources, and roads to new worlds of wonder.

It can also be a very dangerous place.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley recently had some of her top staff members make presentations to school district superintendents from throughout Santa Barbara County, to help bring them up to speed about the newest dangers to young people and the ways we can better protect our children.

The answer, as always, is education — letting parents and young people understand the scope of the issue and how to deal with it.

Take cyber bullying as one example. Children, especially adolescents, can be horribly cruel to each other because their feelings of empathy are not yet fully developed. The capacity to inflict real harm has always been present, but with the proliferation of social media that cruelty can now become constant. It can arrive via text message, email, or Internet postings and it can bombard a young person day and night. Tragically, we are hearing more stories of young people driven to suicide because they could no longer stand the shame, the embarrassment, or the pain of the constant harassment.
Adding to the problem, cyberspace provides anonymity that can embolden teens to be cruel. The hateful messages can escalate. Fortunately, in Santa Barbara County, law enforcement is pursuing vigorous action against these types of crimes. All young people and parents should be made aware of that.

Every time anyone engages with a digital system, that action can be traced. Law enforcement has the tools to track these actions and is committed to doing so in our county. The hope is that the mere knowledge of this fact could deter some young people from taking part.

“Sexting” is another perilous action for teens, who tend to think the first person they love is the one they will be with forever. For example, a young teen girl might decide or be persuaded to send sexual images through her cell phone to a boyfriend who she assumes will be her husband some day. When the pair breaks up, the boy might still have that image, and if the breakup was contentious, he could post the photo or otherwise share it.

This trouble is double-edged. The young woman, feeling humiliated and shamed, could become depressed or even suicidal. The young man, who had possession of and possibly distributed child pornography, can be charged with a felony and required to register as a sex offender in California. He certainly will not be going to the college he wanted.

Young people simply don’t know the dangers of what they consider normal behavior. Anyone familiar with the story of former New York congressman Anthony Weiner knows that this behavior is not even reserved for young people. But teens, in particular, can do stupid things that have a major impact on the rest of their lives.

A third area of concern is online grooming by predators. These deviants can assume the persona of a young man or woman and stalk a teen online, pretending to be a friend or love interest. Pictures posted online include geo-data, which contains the longitude and latitude of the spot where the photo was taken. It’s not hard for a predator to find his prey in person.

It is possible to set protections on Facebook so that this information cannot be accessed. It’s also a good idea for families to have computers in a communal room. Most important of all, for all these issues, parents should have open, honest conversations with their teens about what goes on online and what the very real consequences can be.

Parents need to teach their children to be responsible and aware of the consequences of what they do, in the cyber world and everywhere.

The solution isn’t to shelter teens from technology – that would be impossible. The solution is to help them learn how to use technology responsibly. 

Differences of opinion

Radio Commentary

There will come a time when you and your child have different opinions. It’s inevitable.

Accept this fact and understand that depending on a child’s age, personality traits, and peer influences, he or she is certain to see things from a different perspective at times.

Accept these differences of opinion and use the opportunity to discuss the topic in question.

Encourage independent thinking and listening to others. Getting to know people better and understanding their perspectives are vital to future emotional and psychological well-being.
It’s also very healthy and affirming for children to hear you say these words when appropriate: “You’re right – I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
When children grasp the idea that we can always learn something new and see something from another point of view, they are more likely to keep open minds as they engage in a spirited defense of their own beliefs.

Help them flesh out their arguments and approach issues from different sides. Show them that everyone is entitled to an opinion but that not all opinions are equally valid, especially if they are based on emotion or misconceptions, rather than fact.

A thoughtful debate is often very educational and stimulating. Helping your children become articulate, thoughtful, and respectful will help them at all stages of their lives. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Good citizens

Radio Commentary

In a few days, when we celebrate our nation’s independence, it’s good to remember that home is every child’s first community. What children see there influences greatly how they interact in the broader communities of their neighborhood, school, and ultimately the world.

Parents can have an enormous impact in helping young people become good citizens of their communities. Here’s how:

First, stay informed. Keep up with community concerns, beginning in your own neighborhood and extending to global issues.

Let your child see you using a variety of sources for your information: friends and neighbors, newspapers and magazines, radio and television, and responsible online sites.

Explain why it is important to vote in local, state, and national elections, and that at age 18 he or she will have this right and responsibility.

Find at least one cause in the community where you can volunteer to help. Let your children know why you think it is important and how you are trying to help. Let them join you if they want.

Opportunities range from helping other children or seniors, to helping animals or an environmental project. Share success stories with your children.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by problems in the community or the world, but individuals do make a difference.

Talk about the importance of joining forces for the greater good. That’s what has always made this nation great.