Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Children and crises

Radio Commentary

Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, or an earthquake in a far-off place, or a fire or a shooting closer to home, or an airplane crash, parents and other caregivers must meet the challenge of reassuring children during times of crisis.

The way caregivers respond has a huge impact on how children will be affected.

To help, a booklet from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, called When Terrible Things Happen: A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Their Children, offers some good advice.

For example, infants and toddlers, ages zero to three, can’t understand how a crisis or a loss has changed their environment.

But they can recognize and respond to changes in adult behavior.

The best thing you can do for infants and toddlers is to keep a routine and resume normal activities as soon as possible.
Pre-school children, ages three to five, may not talk about their feelings openly. Talking while playing games can help children of this age group express their thoughts more easily.
School-age children, five to 12 years old, have more understanding of how and why things happen. They will want to ask questions. Parents can help by talking, listening and answering their questions honestly and directly.

We cannot control a natural disaster or local catastrophe. We can only control how we react to them, especially with our children. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Teen search for identity

Radio Commentary

Limiting children’s exposure to objectionable material is a top priority for parents. A good start is to resist putting TVs or computers in your children’s bedrooms.

Instead, put the TV and computer in areas of the house where everyone has access to them.  Choose a place where you can talk with your pre-teens and they can talk with you about what they’re watching on TV or doing online.

There is little doubt that TV and Internet content can overload preteens with violent, confusing images.

By having the TV and computer in a common area, you can all enjoy them and discuss content together.

Don’t underestimate the power of your influence. Children will rarely thank you for your sound advice or act grateful when you set limits, but chances are really good they will listen and act accordingly.

Children want to know the opinions and values of their parents. They are only likely to tune out when adults lecture, preach, or scold. For this reason, it can be helpful to express opinions indirectly.

For example, in commenting on a sit-com character’s behavior, you could say, “It looks like she’s being awfully irresponsible about her friend’s safety.” See what kind of discussion you can generate with your child.

When you’re just talking about a TV character, your children are less likely to get defensive. Success is more likely if you approach these topics in a non-threatening, open manner.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Voting essential

Radio Commentary

With political campaigns in full swing, we know that education will continue to be a primary focus for candidates.

Polls show the public considers education a very high priority, and candidates will be quick to zero in on these concerns. Much will be said about how to support and improve our schools.

But campaign words will not solve the challenges our schools face. How do we hold politicians accountable for their sound-bite promises and lofty rhetoric?

Recent history shows that we must do a far better job of demanding accountability for our children.

 With all the promises, the task forces, the reform measures, and the best or worst of intentions, what kind of real progress and results have we seen in the past few decades?

Are American schools better off than they were before all these efforts?

Have we committed the necessary resources and leadership to our nation’s classrooms so that problems can be truly overcome?

Have we provided even half the needed funding for key early childhood programs that prepare our children to succeed in school?

In the long run, ensuring a positive future for our kids depends on each of us doing our part as individuals.

We must learn the facts about the candidate’s actual records on these issues, and we should vote accordingly.

In addition to supporting family values, we must also support community values. Our future, and that of our children, depends on our own accountability in this area.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Helping students

Radio Commentary

Parent involvement with children’s education increases the chances for success in school.

Studies show that children whose parents are involved in education are more motivated in the classroom. And motivated children become students with many opportunities for a bright future.

But just how do parents go about walking that fine line between being helpful and over-managing their children’s school work?

Here are some guidelines that have proven helpful for some parents:

  • Read with your children every day. You can read school assignments, or books that are just for fun.
  • Provide enrichment materials, like children’s books, magazines and educational toys. Be sure to show your own delight in reading.
  • Provide quiet, private work spaces where children can study undisturbed and monitored. Insist that no TV is playing within earshot. Try to limit phone calls during homework time as well.
  • Keep those workspaces well-stocked with all the supplies needed to complete assignments. This would include pencils, pens, erasers, staplers, paper, a good lamp, and access to support resources.
  • Help your children schedule homework into their daily routine of sports, music, family events, and long-term projects. Sometimes the prominent placement of a large calendar can make a big difference.
  • Reward good grades with recognition and praise for the effort.
Involved parents DO make a difference.

Education supporters to be honored - Students to receive computers at luncheon

News release

The Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau are hosting their annual Business Appreciation luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Elks Lodge from noon to 1:30 p.m. The theme for this year’s event is Partnerships Are Sweet! It is an opportunity to thank the many local companies, nonprofit organizations and individuals who support our schools and want all students to experience the sweet smell of success on their educational journeys.

Companies, nonprofit agencies, and individuals provide schools with resources, awards and incentives for students, plus food for school activities. Many business leaders also share their time and expertise by participating in career days and the Principal For a Day programs. These activities help teachers give students the skills needed for success, and the luncheon is an annual event to show that appreciation.

The following people, businesses and nonprofit organizations are among those who will be honored on Oct. 8 for their contributions to the listed school districts:

  • Georgia Schrager will be honored by the Allan Hancock College Foundation
  • Colette Hadley will be recognized by the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council
  • Altrusa International Foundation will be thanked by the Guadalupe Union School District
  • Del Taco #833 will be honored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office’s Special Ed Department
  • The Assistance League of Santa Barbara will be recognized by the Santa Maria-Bonita School District
  • Rabobank, N.A. will be thanked by the Orcutt Union School District
  • Plantel Nurseries will be recognized by the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District

The Partnerships Are Sweet! luncheon will include the distribution of eight computers through the Computer Connections program, a joint venture between the Industry Education Council and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce. More than 200 students and their families have received new computer packages through the program for under-served children. This year’s major sponsors were the Wells Fargo Bank Foundation, Santa Maria Energy, LLC, and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau.

For reservations, please contact the Chamber at register@santamaria.com, or call Jennifer at 925-2403. For questions about the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council and their partnerships, contact Peggy Greer, SMVIEC Liaison at peggreer@sbceo.org or at 349-0443.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

E-cigarettes a danger for young people

Newspaper column

If you don’t know what a “vape pen” or a “cloud pen” or a “hookah pen” is, your teenagers or even pre-teens probably do. These are some of the various names for e-cigarettes — battery-operated cigarettes that contain an atomizer that vaporizes a liquid form of nicotine. The liquid comes in an individual cartridge, and is flavored with chocolate, peppermint, pina colada, cotton candy, or mint chip, among other appealing flavors. In a pocket, it looks like a pen.

These pens emit no smoke and no smoking odor. In fact, they are sweet-smelling, which makes their use easier to hide.

These devices are unregulated at the federal level and many people fear that the “cool” image they convey could undo years of efforts to stem the tide of teenage smoking.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last year that the percentage of students in grades 6 to 12 who had tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent. Of the 1.78 million students nationwide who reported experimenting with electronic cigarettes, 160,000 said they had never used conventional cigarettes.

Nationally, 38 states prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the Federal Drug Administration proposed a rule that would include devices like electronic cigarettes under the category of tobacco products, which means they could be regulated at that level as well. In the meantime, children under 18 can easily access these products through independent sellers like eBay.

E-cigarettes have helped millions of adults cut back on smoking, but the effects on young people remain worrisome. Said Brian King, a senior advisor in the CDC’s office on smoking and health, “We know from past experience with other tobacco products that flavoring can mask the harshness of these products and make them appealing and enticing.” Add the sleek look, and these devices become “cool” to young people.

Also, because these devices are not yet considered tobacco products by the federal government, there is no restriction on advertising campaigns, which often feature celebrities and children’s characters to entice young people.

The reason the federal government has not yet issued regulations is that use of the product didn’t really gain strength until about 2009, which means there are not yet enough longitudinal studies on the potential long-term health effects. But nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, is a major component of these devices and the data is clear on its effects.

Said CDC’s Brian King: “We know that nicotine has adverse health effects on the adolescent brain. A lot of these products are advertised as containing no nicotine, but laboratory testing has shown that they actually do.”

He added that besides nicotine, some e-cigarettes contain potentially hazardous chemicals such as metals, low-level nitrosamines, and formaldehyde. Others have cited the presence of cadmium, and benzene. Some young people have inserted illegal substances like marijuana into the pens.

School districts are currently adjusting tobacco-free policies to include this new product, as a pro-active means to safeguard children’s health.

The biggest worry at the moment, by researchers studying the effects of these devices, is that they will “revive the popular smoking culture that has taken decades to dismantle.”

As has always been the case in the past, education is the best antidote — providing parents and young people alike with an awareness of the issue and the dangers.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has pointed interested individuals to this website: http://no-smoke.org/learnmore.php?id=645 and is happy to provide further information for those who write to: phdtobacco@sbcphd.org.

Call the teacher

Radio Commentary

If you suspect that your child is having a problem in school, in any area, how do you know when you should call your child’s teacher?

It might be useful to know that most teachers say they want to know what’s going on in their students’ lives.
Chances are that if you’ve noticed a problem, your child’s teacher has noticed something is wrong, too.

By working together, you and the teacher may be able to come up with a good solution for your child.

When should a parent call a teacher?
Call if you see a dramatic change in your child’s behavior — if a happy child becomes withdrawn, or a friendly child wants to be alone.

Call if your child’s grades drop suddenly, for no apparent reason.

You should also call if there’s been a change in your family. A new marriage, a divorce, or a new baby all can affect schoolwork and can indicate that other problems might follow if not addressed.

Good communication between teacher and parent can make a world of difference, and can provide the opportunity for a solution that is supported by all involved.
In the long run, your child gains the most from this type of collaboration.

If in doubt, make the call.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Preparing for effective conferences

Radio Commentary

Parent-teacher conferences can be a very helpful means of communication. To increase their effectiveness, parents should consider some preliminary steps.

First, take time before the conference to think about your child’s strengths, challenges, study habits, and classmates.

Ask your child: What do you like about the classroom? What would you like to change? Do you understand the work? Do you feel you’re doing well? What makes you think so?

There are also several questions a parent should ask the teacher during the conference: What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses? How can I help him improve? Is my child working up to his ability? If not, why do you think so and how can I help?

Is my child’s schoolwork progressing as it should? If not, how can I help her catch up? If my child is already ahead of other students, what will challenge or encourage her?

How does my child get along with other students? Does he take part in groups? Is he unusually shy or aggressive?

Are there any special behavior or learning concerns I need to know about?

What kinds of tests will be given this year? What are the tests supposed to tell?

Is my child’s homework turned in on time, and does it meet your expectations? How much time should be spent on homework each night?

Remember, teachers and parents share the same goal: Both want the child to learn and succeed. Together, they can become a powerful force for positive change in the life of a child.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Testing purposes

Radio Commentary

Tests are an important part of a child’s education. Still, it is important to keep in mind what tests can and cannot show.

A test can indicate what a student knows about a given subject. It can also show the types of reasoning a student finds difficult or easy to do.

A test can also reveal what a student still needs to learn. It can point out weaknesses and challenges, and show where further instruction could make a difference.

What a test cannot show is how hard a student has tried. It can’t show the amount of studying that took place or the effort that was put into trying to learn the material.

For some students, it takes little effort to do well on tests. They instinctively know what kinds of answers are being sought by the nature of the questions.

Others study very hard but find it more difficult to show what they know, so they may not score as well.

Parents need to make sure children know that whatever they score on a test, they are stilled loved. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget and very important to children who are trying hard to do their best.

All children want to do well on tests. But realistically, they simply won’t be able to do so 100 percent of the time.

Make sure your children know you support their efforts, not just the numbers they are able to attain.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Resolving homework problems

Radio Commentary

Homework hassles can often be avoided when parents value, monitor, and guide their children’s work.

But sometimes this help is not enough. Problems can still arise. If they do, teachers, parents, and students may need to work together to resolve them.

You may want to contact the teacher:

  • If your children are unwilling to do their assignments.
  • If the instructions are unclear.
  • If you can’t seem to help your child get organized to tackle the assignments.
  • If neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of an assignment.
  • If the assignments are frequently too hard or too easy.
  • Or if your child has missed school and needs to make up work.

Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a problem. Give the teacher a chance to work out the issue. Be sure to give the teacher’s suggestions a chance to work.

Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit, understanding that the teacher wants to help your child, even if you disagree about the method.

It’s easier to solve problems if teachers and parents view each other cooperatively.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parent help with testing

Radio Commentary

Public schools have always strived to fulfill their mission of helping students improve their skills and reach their full potential. Accountability has always been an important priority.

In current times, accountability is focused almost exclusively on test scores.

Supporters of testing contend that tests will lead to increased accountability and measurable results.

Opponents argue that average scores on high-stakes testing do not indicate how far a given teacher or school has taken a group of students from where they started. The scores don’t show the progress that was made for the individual student.

We also hear of strong political support balanced by some grassroots opposition. Clearly, there is controversy.

Nonetheless, right now high-stakes assessments are the most influential measure. They are required of all schools and students in our state, and there are rewards and sanctions depending on the average outcome.
Some young people are “naturals” at test-taking. They can sail through tests without stress. For many others, the taking of national and state standardized tests can be a time of high frustration and anxiety.

Four traits can help children feel confident about tests throughout their school careers: Being Receptive, Relaxed, Ready, and Rested. Parents who help nurture these traits can help their children succeed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Das Williams interviews CEO of Dons Net Café at Santa Barbara High School

News release

Assemblymember Das Williams helped the Dons Net Café select a new student CEO last week. Williams interviewed student Amazing Grace Llanos for the position of Dons Net Café CEO, modeling current best practices in the business context. The Dons Net Café is a unique program that enables students to “start up” a variety of philanthropic businesses and ventures that serve people around the world. In this two-period class at Santa Barbara High School, each student has his or her own position in the DNC’s governance and operation structure, as well as a venture they support.
At the beginning of each term, the students of the Dons Net Café participate in interviews to determine their roles and responsibilities in the class. All interviews are conducted by local business partners in the Santa Barbara community. Das Williams was chosen to interview the CEO candidate in the presence of classmates, school administration, and business supporters. Before the interview, Williams gave a brief lesson on interview etiquette, how to conserve water in the current drought, and strategies to obtain financial aid students may need for college.

The Dons Net Café, a Regional Occupational Program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is a student-run business that represents a 21-year commitment to inspire students to create positive social and environmental change through ethical commerce. These efforts are represented through participation in Virtual Enterprise, Voluntary Income Taxes Assistance (VITA), Roots and Shoots, and Service Learning. All profits benefit students and associated projects because they believe in “Doin’ Some Good in the World.”

Further information is available by contacting Lee Knodel (Mrs. B.) at 963-8597 or by email at sbdons@hotmail.com.

What parents should know about HS

Radio Commentary

What do parents need to know about high school?

Beyond the school calendar and what classes your students will take, you should also be familiar with graduation requirements and which classes prepare students for college and careers.

It’s important for parents to understand the school’s academic and social standards.

Here are some tips for staying informed:

  • Obtain and read everything the school offers. Gather newsletters, handbooks, notices and course descriptions, most of which is also available on the school’s website. Read it all.
  • Get to know the staff. Know everyone from the principal and school support personnel to the teachers. Make an appointment for face-to-face meetings. Plan your questions before you arrive.  
  • Talk to other parents. Information about special programs, scholarships and required classes can all come from other parents. It is especially helpful to talk to parents who have older children.
  • Ask questions. That’s your right. And the staff at local high schools are eager to answer all your questions.
  • Finally, check homework. You can get a lot of information by seeing activities and assignments.
Looking at schoolwork not only lets you know what your child is doing, it also tells him or her that you believe school is important.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Avoid spoiling

Radio Commentary

Parents want to provide the best they can for their children, but many of them don’t know how to go about giving their children what they want without spoiling them.

Some well-meaning moms and dads can’t bear to see their children sad or disappointed, so they give them everything they ask for.

Remember that it’s possible to set limits so that children are less likely to become overly indulged.
Children are not always able to make the distinction between what they want and what they need. Parents have to do it for them, even if it makes children temporarily unhappy.

First, make sure that “no” means “no”  — not “maybe.”
If you’re at all ambivalent, children will easily pick up on it. They sense when you are uncomfortable saying no to them.

When you don’t send a clear message, you actually reinforce pleading, whining, and even tantrums.

Remember that all children test their parents. That’s their way of finding out if you really mean what you say. So act secure about saying ‘no’ when you have to.
Of course it can feel very uncomfortable to deny children their desires. But children who get everything they want are not necessarily happier for it. Life will not always be so kind over the long haul.

In fact, children feel much more secure when boundaries are clear and parents are consistent about the decisions they make.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Computer donations needed for local families

News release

Computers for Families is requesting computers for the coming school year from local business and individuals. The program seeks dual core or Pentium IV PCs capable of running Windows 7, as well as flat screen monitors, USB mice, USB keyboards, and power cables. Donated computers are refurbished and distributed to local elementary students and their families who do not have access to technology.

Computers for Families is a project of the Santa Barbara County Education Office and the Santa Barbara Partners in Education. During its 18-year history, the program has refurbished more than 10,000 computers, distributing them through 30 local elementary school networks to students in need. The program serves a secondary purpose of reusing hardware that may otherwise end up as landfill.

The program is the beneficiary of many local businesses, such as Citrix Santa Barbara:

Said Vic Walton, Senior Manager of IT Support, Citrix Santa Barbara, “Citrix Santa Barbara is proud to partner with Computers for Families as we direct our surplus equipment to families in our community. It’s a wonderful way for us to reach out to our neighbors and provide them with the technology that is increasingly important in this interconnected world. We’re happy to put older but still viable equipment to work for families rather than in a landfill, and Computers for Families makes that easy.”

Individuals or businesses with computers to donate are welcome to drop them off at the loading dock at the Santa Barbara Education Office at 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. For additional information please contact Kris Mainland White, Computers for Families Coordinator at 964-4710, ext. 5400 or cff@sbceo.org.

Passion for learning

Radio Commentary

Turning children into lifelong learners can be the ultimate joy for teachers and parents alike.

The benefits of this effort will continue to emerge throughout an entire lifetime.

Getting A’s is a great feeling for a student. But in the long run, generating a genuine curiosity and desire to learn can make a bigger difference than any grade on a test.

Imagine the potential of children who are curious about the world around them and who are happy with themselves.
That combination can lead to success in almost any arena.

Parents and teachers have the power to set the tone for a child’s academic accomplishments.

Praise children for their effort, for working independently, and for the energy they’ve spent in achieving a goal.

The process of studying well and learning deeply should be the highest priority.

If you look behind good grades you will often find a great deal of love and support.

Your children deserve the best chance to become true, lifelong learners.
Help maintain their enthusiasm for gaining knowledge, not just good grades.

Friday, September 12, 2014

62nd annual Breakfast with the Authors slated for Saturday, Oct. 4

News release

Members of the community will be able to enjoy a delicious quiche brunch and conversation with world-renowned children’s authors and illustrators at the 62nd annual Breakfast with the Authors sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4, in the SBCEO auditorium, 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road.

Confirmed authors and illustrators include Caroline Arnold, Susan Casey, Mel Gilden, Heidi Gill, Joan Bransfield Graham, Valerie Hobbs, Amy Goldman Koss, Sara Louise Kras, Robin Mellom, Alexis O’Neill, Marianne Richmond, Sherry Shahan, Greg Trine, and Eugene Yelchin.

Registration deadline is Sept. 26. Pre-registration is required and can be done online at http://sbceo.org/s/BWA2014Reg. More information and registration materials are available at http://sbceo.org/s/BWA2014 or by contacting Rose Koller at 964-4711, ext. 5222, or rkoller@sbceo.org.

Starting early

Radio Commentary

From early on, children should have books to read, people reading to them often, and the chance to see others reading and writing.
Children should also be encouraged to talk about books they know, adding their own story lines or creating new endings.

The home environment has a significant impact on reading. Make sure it is filled with printed material.

Put up some signs around the house that use the child’s name. Have toys like alphabet refrigerator magnets. Label common objects with word cards.

Several Internet sites publish lists of wonderful children’s books.

There is no substitute for a caring adult who takes time with a child.

Vocabulary, language skills, and knowledge about the world are gained during interesting conversations with responsible, caring adults.

In daily life, parents should point out and read words that appear in a child’s environment — store signs, labels, TV titles.
Have your toddlers share in making grocery lists and checking them off at the store. Sing songs and tell stories whenever the opportunity arises.

Above all, talk to your child whenever possible. Simply hearing the rhythms and sounds of language helps with reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Science skills

Radio Commentary

The principles of science form an umbrella over almost everything we do. Many educators feel that science is also one of the most innately interesting subject areas for children.
But sometimes a sheer love of science can get bogged down in the details of memorization of abstract concepts.

To help your child develop an interest in science, try these tips:
  • Discuss family eating habits in terms of how the body uses various kinds of food. The body can be viewed as a machine, and food as the fuel.
  • Encourage children to tinker with old clocks or broken appliances to see what makes them “tick” — after you have removed all electrical cords.
  • Try to hide any distaste you might have for your child’s interest in insects, scummy water, and other unappetizing aspects of nature. Children often find these natural items fascinating and should be encouraged to learn about their environment. 
  • Demonstrate scientific thinking by challenging general statements with the question, “How do you know that’s true?” It helps children understand the difference between opinion and fact.
  • Encourage any interest in collecting rocks, leaves, shells, or other natural objects. Provide a place to display and observe the collections.
Explore the many opportunities for science-related outings in our own county, so you can make learning a fun family affair.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lofty goals

Radio Commentary

Recognizing the importance of education to our national well-being, the early leaders of our country created publicly funded schools to educate children from all walks of life.

They were seeking to do more than just teach children reading, writing, and math.

They believed that a system of publicly supported schools ought to accomplish seven major goals:

  • prepare people to become responsible citizens
  • improve social conditions
  • promote cultural unity
  • help people become economically self-sufficient
  • enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives
  • dispel inequities in education, and
  • ensure a basic quality level among schools

These goals are worthy of our great democracy. But they are hard to measure.

In fact, many of these goals can only be evaluated over a span of many years, when we can finally see how students have applied their learning.

We hear critics of public schools call for alternatives that shift funding and responsibility for education to the private sector. And we hear calls for ever-more reliance on test scores to measure school achievement.

When we weigh these ideas, it is important to remember the whole picture of what we seek from public education.

We need to weigh suggestions against the lofty goals we had in mind when public education was first conceived. They remain essential in a democratic

Still the best investment of all time

Newspaper column

Columnist Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times recently used the story of a 14-year-old girl in Vietnam to underscore the point — proved true countless times in countless ways — that education is the best investment of all time for a family and for a society.

We take so much for granted in our nation, especially about our schools. Yet this country was founded by people with foresight and wisdom that has withstood the test of time. Among the genius strokes our Founding Fathers crafted for the new nation was the radical notion of free public education. They believed that every adult member of a community should fund the education of all the community’s children, as a way of ensuring that the community would continue to flourish and thrive.

It was simple: Free public education for all, as a shared obligation and a rich reward. It resulted in a trained work force, informed electorate, and ongoing expertise in matters of sustenance and survival.

Kristoff reinforced the point by telling the story of a malnourished Vietnamese teen who woke early every morning in a daunting effort to get an education. After he first wrote of her plight, his readers donated $750,000 to the aid organization that was helping her, Room to Read.

Two years later, Kristoff returned to see what had become of that effort, right after the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls. The stories became merged by the fact that the obstacles facing girls’ education exist worldwide. In rural Vietnam, though girls do not face kidnapping to obstruct their efforts to obtain an education, they do face enormous pressure to stop their schooling at age 15 to start working and help their impoverished families.

As Kristoff wrote, “Poverty holds far more girls hostage worldwide than any warlord.”

The young girl Kristoff wrote about was one such example, coming from a family in deep poverty and ill health. Her mother had died of cancer, leaving behind large medical debts. Her father moved to the city for higher pay, returning only on weekends. So at 14, this young girl became the head of the household.

Kristoff said that schooling became possible only because “Room to Read” paid for school fees, books, a uniform, school bag and bicycle, while also providing a broad range of counseling and training.”

When Kristoff returned to see what the money had wrought, he found the girl, now 16, near the top of her 11th grade class. She still wakes at 3:30 every morning and commutes an hour each way to school. She has only one uniform, which she washes in a bucket each evening and hopes it will dry by morning.

Her plan is to continue to the university to study economics and her school administrator believes she will do it. “She is very poor, but very tough and is making an incredible effort to succeed,” he said.

Wrote Kristoff: “The bottom line is that a village girl of prodigious talent is now a star at a good school and potentially headed for college and a professional career because readers were willing to invest in her.”

Then came his major point: “It puzzles me in my travels that the donors who invest most in education are fundamentalist Wahhabi Muslims from Saudi Arabia. Often in Africa and Asia, I see madrassas that they have established to inculcate reactionary attitudes, because they understand that education is the best tool kit to change societies. We don’t even compete.”

He added: “If a single aid group like Room to Read can create opportunity for millions around the globe, think what we could do as a nation.”

Resources are a major factor, but so are our society’s attitudes toward education.

Kristoff mentioned to the young Vietnamese girl that American students might not be happy to wake up at 3:30 a.m. and that in fact many are tardy to schools that are located much closer than hers. She was shocked.

“Education is the priority for me, so getting up very early, going a long way — those are very minor inconveniences when I’m able to pursue an education,” she told him.

Americans used to know and deeply appreciate the value of education. We have wandered from those visions of our Founding Fathers, who knew that free public education for all was the best and only reliable foundation of an enduring democracy.

It is worth restating again and again: Public education has always been the glue that binds us together. Supporting it is still the best investment for our shared future.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Schools 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 knowledge about 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 also 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 deserves our support.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Good parent books

Radio Commentary

Raising children is not a science, and no single book on the subject has all the answers. Many experts — and many parents — disagree on the best practices. Still, it can be comforting and helpful to read the parenting “classics.”
For generations, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care was considered the gold standard of advice, and many people still use it that way.   Others disagree.
The following books have also been best-sellers for years:
The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp, provides sensible and sweet solutions for new parents.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish, offers respectful advice to lessen stress in family interactions.
John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby focuses on infancy through age 5.  
1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, by Thomas Phelan, gives three easy steps to help kids cooperate.
Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen, has been helping frustrated parents for more than 25 years.
And finally, The Baby Book, by Dr. William Sears and three other members of his family, offers sound advice on physical, medical, and emotional needs.
At the end of the day, after reading some of these classics for reference and conventional wisdom, it’s important to trust your heart and your judgment. No one knows your children better than you do.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Study skills support

Radio Commentary

Researchers agree that parents who coach their children in essential study skills can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.

Parents can help by having a time and place for designated studies. They should stress the child’s sense of responsibility in completing all assignments thoroughly and accurately.

Some specific skills that parents can support include the following:

  • For time management — help students list goals and schedule deadlines. Discuss ways to maintain that schedule day in and day out, even when other activities seem to interfere.
  • For reference materials and libraries — take children to the library and show them how to find and use the reference materials available. 

Becoming comfortable with a library helps enormously as children’s academic assignments become more complex.

  • For listening skills — children can practice listening to instructions and other verbal messages at home. Remind them that there is a difference between hearing and truly listening.
  • For oral presentations — encourage children to discuss their activities, and practice oral reports at home. 

The more comfortable they become with the techniques of oral presentations at home, the more successful they will be in the classroom when those skills are needed.

Home is where study skills are learned and refined, with parents’ help. Helping children develop these skills will yield lasting, long-term benefits, while helping your children become life-long learners.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

After school sports

Radio Commentary

After-school sports can be the best part of a student’s day, but they can also cause problems or become a source of high levels of stress.

Clearly there are many benefits involved with sports. Here are some of the many positives:

  • Sports help students keep fit and active.
  • They can help develop self-esteem through achievements on the field.
  • They help students learn the value of teamwork, one of the most valuable skills a young person can develop.

Here are some of the possible challenges for students who play sports:

  • Some students believe if they are good in sports, they don’t have to work hard in school. They become popular or well regarded for their athletic abilities and feel that is good enough.
  • Some students find sports highly stressful if they cannot perform to their own expectations or those of their family or teammates.
  • And some students want to win at any cost, no matter what. Let your child know that winning is not the only thing that matters.

The value of effort, teamwork, good sportsmanship and improved skills should all be sources of pride as well. Those are the real lessons to be learned from school sports.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Talking with Teachers - Lee Knodel

Guest: Lee Knodel
Santa Barbara High School

Cirone on Schools - Deborah Larazolo

Guest: Deborah Larazolo
Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital

Family involvement

Radio Commentary

When people hear the term “parental involvement in school,” they usually think it means taking part in PTA activities, helping to chaperone field trips, or volunteering in the classroom.

It’s important to remember that another form of parental involvement is even more crucial — taking part in education at home.
This means encouraging children to read, monitoring their homework, reading to them, placing reasonable restrictions on TV viewing, and making sure they go to school every day.
It also means talking to children about why school is important.

Many children do not always get such attention. In some cases, both parents are working and are simply too tired at night or are not inclined to do so. In single-parent families, often it is impossible for a parent to cover all these bases.

Many modern children spend at least as much time watching TV as they do in school. And, of course, if students don’t attend school regularly, they can’t benefit from what it offers.

Parents have to be around the house to supervise; they have to put pressure on their children to turn off the TV and do their homework or read. They have to make sure their kids go to school even when there is some small reason for staying home.

This kind of parental involvement is hard work, and relentless work, because it must be constant. But it’s hard to think of anything more important parents can do for their children.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sleep for teens

Radio Commentary

For years parents and educators have known that many teens do not get enough sleep to meet their health needs. Now there is a new culprit: their cell phones.

Parents may be unaware that many teens sleep with their cell phones by their side, answering calls or text messaging throughout the night.

Research has documented that, on average, teenagers have traditionally gotten about two hours less sleep every night than they need. This increases their risk of accidents and makes them moody.

In the past, this was caused by teens generally staying up too late and waking too early for the needs of their bodies. But these figures were calculated BEFORE the prevalence of cell phones.

According to research, teen bodies need nine hours and fifteen minutes of sleep per night. Prior to the advent of cell phones as bedmates, teens were getting an average of only seven hours of sleep per night. Now the numbers are far lower.

And fitful sleep, in short bursts, is not as healthful as uninterrupted sleep, so the health implications are far more grave than ever.

For example, of the estimated 100,000 car crashes a year linked to drowsy driving, almost half involve drivers age 16-24, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What’s more, like all of us, teens get more emotional when they are sleep-deprived.

The best thing a parent can do to help teens get the sleep they need is to make sure there is no cell phone by their side when they go to bed. Period. Turn it off and take it away. It’s good parenting.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Detail skills

Radio Commentary

People generally talk about reading and writing in the same breath. Certainly, many of the skills that make children successful in one subject make them good in the other.

For example, one important reading skill that benefits from writing practice is identification of details.

Parents should encourage children to provide details in their own written and verbal stories. This will help them become more aware of the way other authors use detail.

One writing exercise requiring detail is to have children give directions. Ask them to write very specifically how to get from home to school, or how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When children write thank-you notes to friends or relatives, have them describe in detail the gift they received and how they will use it.

You can also have children use a clipboard when watching TV. Have them jot down ad slogans that use good details.

They might write down phrases such as “the brightest, sharpest photos” or “crispy, crunchy crackers.”

Children can also take the clipboard along on family outings. Ask them to describe the “prettiest” thing they see on the trip, or the “most unusual.” Then challenge them to list as many details and descriptions as they can.

One way teachers measure improvement in young writers is to look at their use of details. The same is also true for improving reading comprehension: details matter.