A Texas high school offers students support and an array of rigorous learning opportunities; student achievement scores show their efforts are paying off.
School Community Communication
[First published April 22, 2008]
In a few days, a new and expanded edition of Richard Louv’sLast Child in the Woods, will hit bookstores around the country. Louv’s book has fueled an international movement to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” children’s growing alienation from the natural world. (Louv’s term for the disorder is quickly catching on, turning up in major newspapers, on television, and even in a February cartoon by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed.)
A quotation from our recent telephone interview with Louv elegantly captures the thrust of his argument: “[T]he message we’re sending kids is that nature is in the past and probably doesn’t count anymore, the future’s in electronics, the boogeyman lives in the woods, and playing outdoors is probably illicit and possibly illegal.”
Development is choking off access to nature, kids are succumbing to the attractions of television and computers, and—yes—time for school recess has dwindled dramatically in the past decade. To make matters worse, Louv argues, parents, educators, and even environmentalists have been complicit in erecting barriers to the natural world. We keep our children indoors to protect them from real or (very often) imagined dangers, we regulate and confine their play, and we tell them to not to disturb delicate flowers, quiet streams or pristine undergrowth.
Louv does find encouraging signs of change in the rapid growth of “Leave No Child Indoors” movements around the country. (Many movement leaders credit Louv’s book for greatly accelerating that growth.) Nature is far too elemental a human need, he argues, for Nature Deficit Disorder to grow unchecked. For an overview of "No Child Left Inside" initiatives around the country, see the Children and Nature Network.
Hear a recording of highlights from the interview (5 minutes):
Or check out the transcript below:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: What, in a nutshell, is the central argument of Last Child in the Woods?
LOUV: The central argument is that you have an increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature. And that this has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of ...
Partnering with the Community to Ensure Student Health: Montrose County School District RE-1J’s School-Based Health Clinics
[Editor's note: This is the second in a series of three posts on school-based health centers. Yesterday we briefly reviewed evidence supporting the use of these clinics. Today, Linda Gann talks about how her district founded two such centers. Soon Jennifer Danielson will take us through a day in the life of a nurse practitioner and tell us how her school-based health center has impacted kids.]
School-based health clinics have shown a great deal of promise in improving health outcomes for students, decreasing Medicaid costs at a time when every penny counts and even in potentially raising academic outcomes for low-income students. But yet there are only about 2,000 school-based health clinics (SBHCs) in the United States. Why don’t more districts take this approach? Does it seem too expensive? Too risky? Too separate from the district’s academic mission?
We recently spoke to Linda Gann, Communications and Special Project Coordinator in Colorado’s Montrose County School District RE-1J, to learn more about how her district came to embrace SBHCs. She also told us about her experience planning and implementing the district’s first school-based health clinic three years ago and its second a few months ago. Some keys to their success? The clinics get all their funding outside the general fund. They keep the community engaged in and informed about these efforts. And they consider not only the physical but also the mental health needs of students.
SBHCs alone will not close the achievement gap. But in Montrose, they are part of a broad strategy to address the needs of its growing Hispanic community. And that strategy appears to be working—for example, the district has a 20% higher graduation rate for Hispanic students than the state does.
Here's the story as Gann told it to us in a recent phone conversation.
About Montrose County School District RE-1J
I think from a researcher’s standpoint our district is almost a perfect universe, as far as data analysis goes. We are located in west central Colorado. We are five hours away from Denver. We are about 1,100 square miles, with two distinct communities. Montrose is about 30,000 people. Olathe is probably about 8,000 people. So we are not very large. And we are separated from our neighboring districts by open space, so it is really easy to tell where our school district stops and another one starts.
In our district, we have 6,500 students. District-wide, 54% receive a free or reduced price lunch. But on the south end of our district, which is close to the ski resort of Telluride, the houses are larger, and there are more families considered upper middle class. The free and reduced price lunch population at the elementary school in that area is about 11%. On the north end of our district, the free and reduced price lunch population is 80%. ...
Mike Town is a man with a mission. This Washington state environmental science teacher has spent the past 25 years educating students on environmental issues. His students do real-world projects designed to show the relevance of science, get them thinking about the environmental impact of their actions, and introduce them to the emerging green job sector.
One such project is the Cool School Challenge, a model he helped develop that engages students and teachers in reducing their school's greenhouse gas emissions. Now available for free on the web, this approach has saved over 1.6 million pounds of CO2 nationwide (and saved Redmond High School more than $100,000 over the past three years). And he and his students are scaling up the concept in their community, joining forces with the local government for the “Eco-Office Challenge.” ...
When the President's Blueprint for Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act appeared last month, Chuck Saylors was struck by what he didn't see: much attention to parent engagement. The President's budget proposal had already seemed to eliminate the Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), the only federal program devoted solely to parent engagement in schools. (The Learning First Alliance just released a statement urging a much stronger federal focus on parent engagement.)
Saylors recently told us about the National PTA's work to make parent and family enagement a national priority. Despite his disappointment with the Blueprint, Saylors is optimistic. The administration seems ready to listen, he told us, and the PTA is not about to let up on its fight for parents.
Public School Insights: What are the biggest legislative priorities this year at PTA?
Saylors: There are several things on the agenda, but I am going to say that the reauthorization of ESEA is probably the issue of the day for us. We want to make sure that ESEA is reauthorized in a timely manner and we want to do everything that we can to get parents involved in the process. There are a lot of components to the legislation that need to be addressed, and we want to make sure that a parent voice is at the table.
Public School Insights: Is your sense that the blueprint the Obama administration offered for this reauthorization included the parent voice?
Saylors: I have to admit that I'm very disappointed that it was not more direct in including parental engagement. There are some brief references, but as the leader of the PTA I can tell you that I am very disappointed in the fact that there's not more concrete reference to parental engagement in the blueprint.
That being said, I have to publicly admit that PTA does have a good working relationship with the administration and we are very thankful for that. But this is ...
No one disputes the powerful role that schools play in children’s lives. But schools shouldn’t go it alone in eliminating poverty and inequity in America.
Recent years have witnessed a surge of interest in efforts to create much stronger ties between schools and other providers of services for children. The Harlem Children’s Zone has captured the nation’s attention for its “cradle to career” focus on children’s well being. President Obama has pledged to support similar models to bring schools and communities together around the needs of young people.
One such model is Ready by 21, an effort to build community partnerships that support children from birth to adulthood, in school and out of school. The goal of this initiative? Prepare young people for college, work and life by the age of 21.
We recently spoke with three people who gave us a closer look at this project. Dan Domenech is the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, a member of the Ready by 21 ® National Partnership. Shelley Berman is superintendent of Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville), which recently began a Ready by 21 effort to enhance its longstanding work to strengthen relationships between schools and communities. Rob Schamberg implemented a Ready by 21 effort when he was superintendent of California’s Black Oak Mine Unified School District. He is now an executive with the Forum for Youth Investment, which is the lead national partner in the Ready by 21 approach.
All three delivered a common message: As local budgets shrink and youth investments dry up, better coordination of local resources has become more important than ever.
What Exactly is Ready by 21?
Domenech described it well:
[Ready by 21] is a community-based approach that recognizes that, as important as the schools are—and as important as an education is—they are not the only elements ... of the ability of the child to succeed. There are other very significant factors, such as the ability of a family to have proper healthcare and live in an environment that is conducive for a child to learn. Nutrition, childcare, early childhood education…. Ready by 21 recognizes that all of these factors must come together in ...
When Principal Theresa Mattison came to Carstens Elementary in 1997 “achievement was zero.” Student behavior was a problem. Some staff seemed uncommitted. As parent liaison Abby Phelps puts it, “This school was in the middle of chaos.”
Today Carstens is a beacon of light for the surrounding community. It is one of the top-performing schools in Detroit. In 2009 third graders at this school—where 98% of students are from high poverty homes—outscored the state as a whole on all tested subjects.
How did the school turn itself around? School staff points to the leadership of Dr. Mattison. Dr. Mattison points back to her incredible staff. And everyone recognizes the importance of meeting more than just the academic needs of students.
Members of the Carstens community recently told us the school’s story. In on the conversation were Principal Theresa Mattison, parent liaison Abby Phelps, school social worker Gail Nawrock, and teachers Barbara Haug, Vannessa Jones, Rebecca Kelly and Violet Kiricovski.
Public School Insights: How would you describe Carstens Elementary?
Violet Kiricovski: Carstens shares the Comer philosophy. And we all work together. Teamwork really is our strong point.
Rebecca Kelly: The way I would describe Carstens is that it is actually more than a school. I just saw a presentation in which they described it as a “beacon of light.” And the parents, the families, the students and the businesses are all working together.
Abby Phelps: Carstens incorporates a city philosophy. We offer all services. We have it all.
Public School Insights: What kind of a population does the school serve?
Barbara Haug: We serve a deserving population. Statistically, they are considered high poverty—98% of them come from high poverty homes. And our population is about 98% African-American. But we do not think that statistics are something that describes somebody’s potential. It just describes the situation that needs to be considered when you look at the needs of the individual child or the children. What it boils down to is that they are children who deserve a good education.
Public School Insights: What was student achievement like back in the 1990s?
Theresa Mattison: Achievement was zero…We had people who did not care and it was very, very, very hard. But it is not hard anymore, because everyone cares and everyone shares leadership and responsibility.
Abby Phelps: Having been affiliated with Carstens before Dr. Mattison got here, I can tell you that this school was in the middle of chaos. And I am not exaggerating. I have been here since 1989. The capacity of the teachers and their concern ...
Long Beach Unified School District in California has long been recognized as a model urban school system. Winner of the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2003, it has been a finalist for that award five times.
The district hasn’t achieved this success by flitting from reform to reform or looking for silver bullets. Rather, it has spent most of the past two decades building on the same educational strategies, focusing on data, community buy-in and staff development. We recently spoke to Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser (who has spent the past 28 years in the district as a teacher, principal, deputy superintendent and, since 2002, superintendent) about the “Long Beach way.”
Public School Insights: What prompted Long Beach to undertake big reforms for its kids in the first place?
Steinhauser: We've been on this long journey since about 1992. What really prompted it at that time was a massive economic meltdown. Our city was closing its naval base. And McDonnell Douglas [a major area employer] was going through a massive shutdown. They laid off 35,000 employees over a two year period. Also, if you remember, those were the days of major civil unrest in the LA area. We were having massive flight from our system, mainly of Caucasian students.
Basically what we did was say, “Okay. We have got to stop this.” So our board adopted several major initiatives. We implemented K-8 uniforms. We were the first district in California to end social promotion. We introduced a program called the 3rd Grade Reading Initiative to help with that goal, and we also developed a policy that eighth-graders who had two or more Fs could not go on to high school. And we launched a major partnership called Seamless Education with our local junior college and ...
The language of economics is quickly replacing the language of schooling, and that might not bode well for our children in the long term.
Two recent studies suggest that all the recent educonomic talk might thwart children's performance in the long run. (I learned about both studies from Newsweek's Nurture Shock blog).
The first found that students who focus more on test scores than on the inherent value of learning don't retain much of what they get by heart for a test. No big surprise there.
The second found that students do worse on tests when they believe they are competing with many people. By contrast, they "work harder, and do better, when they are up against just a few people." The study's authors speculate that students are more motivated to succeed when the competition is personal, when there are "fewer people in the race."
So the common language of school reform might actually take some wind out of students' sails. All that focus on test scores, especially those test-prep classes and rallies, might actually smother the urge to learn. And all that time we spend warning students that they're up against millions of Chinese and Indian geniuses? It may be counterproductive.
Reformers will no doubt heave exasperated sighs if they read this. High-flown ...
Ricardo LeBlanc-Esparza rose to national fame for turning around a classic hard-luck school. A key ingredient of his success? Parent engagement. Yesterday, he told us about his work to bring the parent engagement gospel to schools around the country.
The Current State of Parent Engagement in Public Schools
Public School Insights: As people who've read our website before know, you've gained national prominence by helping turn around Granger High School in Washington State. What lessons did you learn from that experience that you really carry around with you now?
Esparza: There are so many lessons. It's hard to say. Public education is so big when you talk about instruction, curriculum, discipline and motivation. The piece that I really want to talk about is the whole family involvement/engagement piece.
I have traveled across the country, from Pennsylvania to Florida to Iowa to Arizona to Texas. Our public schools truly are lacking true public or parent involvement, engagement—whatever you want to call it when parents are active participants in the whole educational process.
Public School Insights: Exactly problems are you seeing in the schools that lack this engagement?
Esparza: I guess I need to frame that question…Because when I look at public schools, I see they typically meet the needs of the middle class and above population.
My wife is a principal of a K-8 magnet school for gifted and talented students. She told me a story that ...
The PTA is about far more than suburban bake sales and school carnivals. The national organization has been moving aggressively in recent years to bring more urban families into the fold. It has been getting more fathers involved. And it has embraced a robust policy agenda to ensure all children equal opportunities to succeed.
National PTA’s first-ever male president recently spoke with us about these efforts. He also told us about his journey from volunteer hot dog duty at his son’s elementary school to the helm of one of the largest volunteer organizations in the country.
Download the full interview here, or use the audioplayer (~14:22 min).
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You can also read the interview transcript:
A Place for Fathers
Public School Insights: It’s been widely noted that you are the first male president in the National PTA’s history of 113 years. What do you think is the significance of that?
Saylors: For an association that started as the National Congress of Mothers, I’m very proud of the fact that we are moving in the direction that we are. I follow in the footsteps of a number of ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
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