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By Kaitlyn Smith

Kaitlyn Smith served three years on the Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee and she is a current student at the University of Northern Colorado. Kaitlyn has been involved with Special Olympics for eight years and is an advocate for inclusion and acceptance for all.

On Thursday July 31st, my Special Olympics adventures took me to a new place: The White House.

 President Obama and the First Lady graciously offered to host a dinner in Celebration of the Special Olympics Unified Generation, and I was beyond honored and humbled to be invited to take part in the celebration. Throughout the evening I had the opportunity to speak with amazing individuals, such as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Jordin Sparks, Jason Derulo, Michelle Kwan, Maria Shriver, constituents from ESPN and Coke, and the list goes on. We were served an immaculate meal, and the evening ended with an amazing private performance by Katy Perry. ...

By Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

When did a politically driven view of school nutrition begin to overtake visible realities? Trays of uneaten cafeteria food thrown in the trash. Hungry kids. Struggling school food-service programs. Peel back the good intentions and the celebrity-fueled support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, and you'll see the practical realities many school districts and students face. Legislation enacted without a practical understanding of its consequences truly fails America's public schoolchildren.

That's why the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address the unintended consequences of the Act.

The real story of school districts trying to put nutrition regulation into practice has been drowned out by the political noise surrounding the issue. ...

We either pay by investing in capacity building to reduce out of school suspensions now, or we pay later as a society as students go from schools to prisons. This succinct assessment, offered by San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Richard A. Carranza on a recent AASA webinar, highlights the importance of supporting school staff so they can meet students’ social emotional and behavioral needs while keeping them in a safe academic environment. Out of school suspensions (OSS) are a risk factor in predicting the likelihood that a student will drop out of school and of later involvement with the justice system, and these suspensions disproportionately affect minority students. To break the school to prison pipeline, district leaders need to develop and implement effective supports for students and staff alike. ...

By Jill Cook, Assistant Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

School counselors matter. Those of us close to the profession know and recognize the work our nation’s preK–12 school counselors do every day to enrich students’ academic and social/emotional development.

But in recent weeks, as federal officials look for ways to expand college access for all students, the role of the professional school counselor has taken center stage in ways not seen in a half century.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the American School Counselor Association conference this summer in Orlando, praising the work of school counselors as part of her Reach Higher Initiative promoting college enrollment. At the conference, Mrs. Obama announced plans to recognize that work by honoring ASCA’s School Counselor of the Year at the White House. ...

By Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Learning Forward

National education reports often have difficulty getting attention, but that was not the case when the Gallup polling organization released State of America's Schools.  Rather than prescribing technocratic approaches for improving education, the report focused on the "human elements" that drive student achievement.

According to Gallup, the factors of engagement, relationships, collaboration, hope, and trust are essential for learning and high performance. This is true not only for students, but also for teachers.

In fact, the report's headline grabber was that nearly 70% of teachers "are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are unlikely to devote much discretionary effort to their work."  Among reasons for teachers' lack of engagement, two stand out. In a Gallup survey of employees in 14 different occupational categories, K-12 teachers "were dead last ... in saying their 'supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.' " ...

By Morgan Lang, Unified Partner from Special Olympics Maryland 

Morgan, a high school student in Calvert County MD, recently competed in unified basketball at the Special Olympics USA Game in New Jersey. Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. The teams are comprised of similar age and ability matching of unified partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities) and Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities). Click here to learn more about Unified Sports.

Below is a poem Morgan wrote about being a unified partner and how the Special Olympics athletes have impacted her life. ...

Mark White is the incoming President of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). He began his career as a principal 25 years ago, after serving as a classroom teacher for six years, and he is eminently qualified to share best practices and recommendations as a long-serving building leader. Mr. White has been the principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wisconsin, since 1990. He has served as President of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators and held a variety of positions with NAESP, including State Representative and Federal Relations Coordinator. He is in his third year on the NAESP Board of Directors, representing Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Principal White was kind enough to share key insights and advice on a diverse array of topics, including supporting new teachers, creating a safe school climate, the need for elementary principals to have background in early childhood development, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In his comments, he exemplifies a respect for teachers, appreciation for the critical role parental support plays in a child’s education, and the need to communicate with the local community. LFA is deeply appreciative for Principal White’s contribution to our interview series.

Public School Insights (PSI): You’ve been a principal for 25 years. How have principal needs changed in the past decade or so? And what advice would you give to newer principals who are starting out?

White: The role of the principal has shifted dramatically in the past decade.  The need for a refined set of leadership skills by principals has never been more important.  The expectations by the community, parents, and staff point directly to the principal’s office.  With those high expectations comes great responsibility and resulting possibility.  The education community has never been more open to innovation and creativity on the part of principals.  Along with the openness comes increased expectations and accountability ...

By Terry Pickeral, Project UNIFY Senior Consultant

Through my work with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I recently had the privilege of visiting elementary, middle and high schools throughout the nation. I was able to see how they integrate social inclusion and the impact they make on all students. The corresponding Social Inclusion Lessons From the Field report can be found by clicking here.

One of the unique characteristics of Special Olympics Project UNIFY is a focus on creating socially inclusive schools by ensuring all students are encouraged and supported to be “agents of change” where all students are capable of being leaders. All students deserve the opportunity to experience an engaging school and community environment that recognizes their gifts and shares them with others. ...

By Jenn Kauffman, NEA Health Information Network

"She's blue!"

I was three-years-old, and my mother had minutes before given me a walnut to snack on as I rode in the backseat during a family road trip. I was suddenly quiet - unusually so for a talkative toddler - and when she turned around, she realized I had stopped breathing.

I was experiencing anaphylaxis - a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. My reaction had been triggered by a tree nut food allergy - one of the 8 most common food allergy triggers in the U.S.

Food allergies can be a scary event not only for the estimated 15 million Americans like me who have a food allergy, but also for family, educators, co-workers and friends who witness an allergic reaction. Awareness, education and prevention can literally save a life.  The National Education Association Health Information Network produced "The Food Allergy Book" in English and in Spanish to help school staff and families be prepared in the case of ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I’m sitting here trying to convince myself to go to class. Class begins in two hours, and I am not ready. I have not studied. I have not finished the homework. Actually, I’m not even certain what homework I was supposed to do. I’m worried that the teacher will call on me and that I won’t be ready. I don’t want to be embarrassed. Again.

Maybe I’ll just skip class. Maybe I’ll drop the course.

Not being the best student in class is new territory for me. I have always excelled in class, and I expected to excel in this one as well. How wrong I was!

When I decided to go to Haiti this winter (see my article on p. 76 of the May 2014 Kappan) and learned I would lead a PDK trip to Amsterdam and Paris next fall, the time seemed right to brush up on my French. With ...

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