Friday, September 22, 2017

Can We Do a Better Job Raising Our Kids?

As you know I read a lot about teenagers, from how to teach them to become leaders to things about their social-emotional well-being and psychology.  I also read a lot about parenting as I work with parents of teens on a daily basis and I am also still a parent of a teenager.  Everyone has an opinion on parenting, and there is one indisputable truth: previous generations have a lot of advice for each succeeding generation in terms of what they need to do better!  It is kind of like how we like to say this generation of teens are worse than the one before, and they were worse than the one before that!  

I have said in a variety of settings that I do not believe that kids today are a whole lot different than the kids I had when I started teaching in 1985, or for that matter, when I started high school in 1977!  What has changed is how parents parent.  I ran across a blog written by Victoria Prooday, an occupational therapist, called Your OT.  She addresses the environmental factors that young people face in many families and the impact that they are having on kids.  There is also some good advice and things that parents can do to raise stronger, more independent, and capable kids.  Take a few minutes to read this one!

The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It’s More Than Racism

During the week of July 4, 2016 Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota were shot and killed by law enforcement officers.  Unfortunately these two shootings just seemed to be two more in a long line of violent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement.  While there was a lot of attention for a week or two on the news, like has happened so many times before, the nation moved on to something else.  

When the history books are written about this time in our nation’s history, it will be interesting to see if the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray are mentioned, and whether the use of excessive force on behalf of law enforcement is even considered an issue.  It will also be interesting to see if in those same history books whether or not the "2000-teens" will be noted for a period of racial intolerance and strife, or maybe a continuation of a civil rights movement that has been going on in our country since the 1950’s.  Or maybe we are on the front end of some other type of a movement or cultural shift in America.

From a personal perspective I have sat in the comfort of my living room in a house in a small town in a rural part of the Midwest, and I have watched these news reports, including those that reported on these shootings and the aftermath, and thought, “How is this still happening in 21st-century America?”  We recently had an African-American serve as President, and we have had women serve at high levels of government, as well as CEOs of major corporations and leaders in a number of other fields.  No, I was not under the illusion that we lived in a nation of equality, but I thought we were further down the road than this.  The level of violence we have in our country is incredible, and it seems that since the 2016 election people have become more bold, advocating taking the law into one’s own hands.  

Along these lines I have found some of the response to the Black Lives Matter movement interesting, as well as disheartening.  What I find most interesting are I guess what you would call counter-movements, specifically those who bang the drum that All Lives Matter, as well as those who show up with signs and placards that Police Lives Matter.  Maybe I am too simplistic, but duh!  Of course all lives matter!  Of course the lives of police men and women matter!  No one said that they don’t believe that!  When a minority group of people are oppressed, like African-Americans have been since they were brought to this nation, they can only hope to get action by drawing attention to their plight.  Their efforts to have change or discourse would not have much impact if they didn’t focus on their group.  Would it make a difference if their movement took on the moniker Black Lives Matter Too?

I am frustrated that people blame the media and say that they are sensationalizing it, and that a liberal bias places the focus on minority issues and do not tell the whole story.  Well, according to, police killed more than 100 unarmed black people in 2015.  That is 5 times the rate of unarmed white people killed by law enforcement.  That is not fake news, and that is not the result of biased, liberal journalism.  It is a fact, and yet there has seemed to be little concern about doing anything to bring about positive change.  The gun advocates immediately take to the airwaves and within hours after a shooting start defending the right to own guns and do not seem at all bothered by the fact that once again a human being has been killed.

As I write this we have just had three unusually hot days in a row in early June.  I am old enough to remember some of those hot summers when cities in this country burned due to racial strife.  It happened in the 60’s and again in the 90’s.  In each case there was discontent to the extent that a spark set off rioting, looting, arson, and death.  Will this be another one of those hot summers where something will happen because of the racial intolerance that still exists in our country?  At one point I thought we might be past having to worry about that, but right now I would not be surprised if it happened again.  

As a young boy I was fortunate to live in a community with a great deal of diversity for a couple of years, and then moved to one of the larger cities in Iowa where I played with kids from different ethnic backgrounds and skin colors.  There is no doubt that I have some racial bias as I think it is nearly impossible in our culture not to.  But I thank my mother in particular for teaching me respect for others and tolerance for differences.  That said I would have thought that by now our country would share that value, but we’re not there yet.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Should We Start School Later In The Day?

Some of you have perhaps read that there is evidence that says it would be better for student learning if we started school later in the morning.  It has been a topic discussed for at least 15 years, but not until recently has there been a strong piece of research that supports this notion, or a call for change from a reputable institution.  That has changed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a report based on data collected from the 2011-2012 school year looking at over 39,700 secondary level school students in the United States.  The results may not surprise people, though one questions whether they will have any impact.

So what did the CDC have to say?  First off, they reported that the average school start time in the United States was 8:03 a.m.  That is not much different than the start time we have at NFVHS, which is 8:15 a.m.  That said, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), high school age students need up to 9.5 hours of sleep per day.  Working backward, the would require that they go to bed somewhere around 9:30 or 10-o’clock at night.  But we know they don’t do that, and we should not be surprised because the AAP also notes that because of their natural sleep rhythms, it is very difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.  So with the fact they generally cannot go to sleep until 11:00 p.m. and have to start school around 8:00, we have a generation of teenagers that are sleep deprived, and when one considers that many of our students are up and participating in  our strength and conditioning program at 6:00 in the morning, or rehearsing for drill team, jazz band, chamber choir, or any other number of before school activities, one has to question whether this is the best schedule to use.  

Would our students be more productive and learn at a higher level if we moved our start time later in the morning?  If research says that they would, why don’t we?  Let’s got back to the chalkboard and look at the math.  With the data above, and working backwards, it would appear that the optimal time to start the school day for high school students would be 9:30 to 10:00 a.m.  I based that on 9.5 hours of sleep and students getting to sleep at 11:00 p.m.  And, I am giving them an hour to take care of their morning routine and get to school.  Then it comes down to whether we have before school activities, something that I believe we would have to do based on the wide range of opportunities that our students have.  If we started those no earlier than 8:30, then theoretically students would get around 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep, which is significantly more than the majority get now.  Otherwise, we would look at a 10:30 a.m. start and I find it hard to believe there would be any support for this.

Before we dig into the “whys” there is a little more information to consider.  Within the past 18 months the Des Moines Public Schools looked at moving their start times later, with the district’s high schools starting at 8:30 a.m.  At the writing of this article, their five high schools start their day at 7:40 and end at 2:35 in the afternoon.  That is significantly earlier than what we are accustomed to at NFVHS.  However, may metropolitan schools start earlier than 8:00 in the morning, some as early as 7:15, which contributes to the average start time in our country being 8:03 a.m.  We would also need to decide how long we want our school day to go, and thus how late we would finish up.  Would it be so bad to have school end at 4:30 or 5:00?  Isn’t 9-to-5 more in line with the average work day?  Maybe we just need a big shift.  Few kids go home after school and have chores to do outside that require daylight, so that wouldn’t be much of an issue.

There are five issues that I see that would need to be addressed.
  • The first is whether a change like this would apply to elementary students too, and if not, the logistics and costs associated with transportation.  The research shows that it is the adolescent that is sleep deprived, not the younger students.  
  • At the high school, a later end of the day would see significant loss of instruction time when students have to leave early for extracurricular activities.  Now, when kids have to leave for school events before the end of the day they usually miss less than thirty minutes of class.  Extending the day will be more lost class time as it is doubtful that those start times for activities will change much, or can change much.  
  • The third issue applies to elementary kids, but some high school kids too.  Some parents already leave early in the morning, and drop their kids off well before the start of school.  For elementary kids that would force the expense of child care before school.  Where this becomes a problem for high school kids is that they  may be the ones that provide the child care.  They will not be getting that valuable sleep their bodies need. 
  • Some people will argue that this would result in less family time at home in the evening, though I question how much there is now with family members having their collective noses stuck in their electronic device.  I am all for quality family time, and for those households where it exists, this would be a negative.  
  • Finally, old people have routines and habits, and there is resistance from teachers and other adults to a change like this.  They come from the old school belief that a person needs to be out of bed and going early in the morning.  We see all kinds of examples of that at schools today, and thus, that would be a significant change.
Honestly, there has been very little conversation of moving the start time back in our district.  Nothing more than off-the-cuff comments whenever something new is said about it in the media.  Our conversations over the years has had more to do with making busing work than anything else.  We have had conversation about the early morning activities that take place before the start of the day.  Many people have questioned the 6:00 a.m. start to our strength and conditioning program, and perhaps on a handful of occasions over the past eight years there has been a complaint about early morning practices and rehearsals after a late night event.  There have probably been more complaints about Early Bird PE than other morning activities, though we have moved it to a little bit later start.  I find that interesting because it is totally an elective class option.  No student is required to take Early Bird PE!  This said, we should have more conversation if we truly want to do what is in the best interest of our students and their learning.  I for one would be in favor of a change to a later start time at the high school, and I’m an early morning guy.  I see a lot of kids come through those doors in the morning that are not ready for a day of learning.  I am very curious as to what parents and students would think, but in my opinion, this is a case where we need to put the students first.  After all, they’re the reason we do what we do.