Who are you trusting with their brain?

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My children started school today, and all around the country there are parents buying school supplies, new clothes, bookbags and countless electronic devices in order to prepare their children for the new school year. We spend so much time and money getting the “things” we need, but what is just as important for me is knowing the teachers, administrators and other support staff who influence the intellect and emotional health of my children for the majority of their day. As fortunate as we are to have access to a noteworthy school district and staff, I am still very aware that my children will be surrounded by children who will not look like them, teachers who will not look like them and more than likely the only people of color they will see are in the cafeteria or cleaning up after them throughout the day. It’s unfortunate that most of those in the schools they attend have never had the experience of being a “minority” or having a close relationship with someone of another ethnicity or religion. These truths concern me more than whether they have the correct number of sharpened pencils. Each year as August comes to a close, I being to make my presence known to those who will hold my children’s hearts and brains captive for six or seven hours each day. I have had enough experiences throughout the years with school systems (both public and private) and have learned the hard way that everyone hired as a teacher/administrator does not necessarily have my child’s best interest at heart. I will share a few tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned that have helped me get the school year off to a great start:

  1. Take advantage of your access to teachers the week before school starts : Most of your child’s teachers are at school the week prior to the first day of school, preparing their classroom for the kids as well as any open house events happening in the school. Take advantage of this time that they will be able to read email without interruption and send a quick “Hello, I’m XYZ’s parent, nice to meet you” email. This is a great time to quickly mention any emotions your child has about the new year as well as any emotional, intellectual or health issues that may challenge the teacher, good or not so good. The email I send for my middle schooler is much shorter than the one for my second grader, and if it is a new teacher,  I also will attach my “This is My Kid” note to the email which I’ll explain below.
  2. Type up a one or two paragraph note about your child that you can update from year to year: I started it in Preschool because it was requested by one of the teachers, and I’ve kept it up each year. Some people may think it’s too much but I believe that someone who has my child’s time and attention for the majority of their waking hours should know more about them than their name and address. I include a little about their favorite things and subjects, but more importantly, what helps them transition, how they handle change, any allergies or health issues, any extraordinary emotional issues that may distract them as well as what motivates them to learn. I have found that their teachers have really found the information to be extremely helpful. 
  3. Make every open house and/or back to school night: I know, who wants to work all day, fight traffic to get home to get dinner and then go back out at night to the school. Ugh! Not my favorite thing to do, but a great way to show not only the teachers, but your child that you have a vested interest in their happiness and success in school. You’re showing them that you care about where they sit, who they interact with, how long it takes to get from class to class and what books they use. You get to put a face to the teacher’s names, see how their teacher interacts with their students and feel their energy (yes, I said it…but energy transfers to your kid). It’s also a subtle message to those who interact with your student that you care about what’s going on at school and that you are ready and willing to work together as a team to make sure it’s a good experience for your child. I can’t stress how important this is. Your presence is a powerful statement.
  4. Keep a folder for each child: The beginning of the year causes an influx of paperwork and procedures that make my head spin! When I purchase their school supplies, I also purchase a two-pocket folder for the year that I use to keep track of all of the correspondence from their school. One side has paperwork etc that I need to act on and return to school, and the other side has information I need to keep such as school procedures, daily schedules, calendars, teacher contact information, report cards and any other teacher correspondence that I need to refer to throughout the year. Whew! I get exhausted just thinking about it, so the folder helps, believe me!
  5. Don’t assume everyone has your child’s best interest at heart: I can’t stress this one enough. I was paying for my son to attend a Montessori school that refused to customize his educational goals even after he achieved a 99 percentile on the IQ test administered by the State. The director wouldn’t even discuss his score with me and that was the last year he attended that school. Don’t assume that your child’s teacher is not biased just because he/she is a teacher; don’t assume your child’s teacher has ever had diversity training, don’t assume the social studies class will teach the truth about American History, don’t assume that your child will be treated fairly or even better because he/she is gifted or “bright”. Don’t assume that your child is being treated fairly. Talk to your children about their day, let them know how they should be treated and teach them to have the same expectations of their teachers. Hold their teachers accountable and make them aware of your expectations, just as they make their expectations clear to the students at the beginning of the year. Stay abreast of your child’s progress and don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send an email if you feel they are not receiving the help/support or enhancement that they need to succeed. Check out the school website, and take the time to get information about any awards, special programs or scholarships for which your son/daughter may be eligible. I have had several situations where their teacher did not nominated them. I must say that I have been fortunate to have had wonderful experiences in our school district, but there have been a few who have been a challenge. 
  6. Help your child look forward to their first day: Both of my children were nervous about their first day, but I try to set up some fun activities the week before school starts as an attempt to lessen the anxiety. If there is an Open House at their school, I attend it with them. If their teacher sends a welcome letter, I share it with them and ask them how it makes them feel. We go to the store and they each get to pick out a “have a great school year” gift or other small token; it serves as a constant reminder of my support of and belief in them. Of course there’s the back to school day outfit that they get to pick out and on the morning of their first day of school, I add something special to their breakfast. The evening of their first day, we go out to a celebratory dinner, whether it be pizza or someplace a more classy, they get to pick and even dress up if they’d like. It gives us a chance to talk about their day and serves as my way of showing them how important their education is to me and that I share their excitement. 

After you do all of the above, go to your nearest coffee shop or masseuse (or both!) and celebrate yourself for the amazing job you’ve done to get them and their brains in good hands! I hope these tidbits have helped. Please feel free to comment and add any methods that help your child/ren get off to a positive start.  Wishing you a successful school year! 

SaveBlackBoys.org

James Hilley_Art Exhibit 2010

My son recently had the opportunity to attend the summer science institute, a program at The Franklin Institute. He LOVES science and math and thrives in those environments so although it would have meant a 40 minute drive into the city and back each day, I was willing to make the sacrifice for him as an investment in his future.  By God’s grace, my youngest brother, who also travels into the city every day for work offered to have him stay with him during the week and he would be responsible for transporting him back and forth to camp. What a relief! If my tween was going to experience being away from home for the first time, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation than for him to be with a family member who just happens to have a houseful of boys for him to hang with. Win. Win.

Well, he had the time of his life visiting waste management plants, meeting kids his age, working with petri dishes and laughing with his Uncle “T”.  I missed him but as an independent mom,  I am learning to let go and trust the village and accept that there are lessons that I cannot teach him. Sometimes the village is family, and sometimes it comes in the form of an unexpected phone call from a major museum about a  subsidized science program that is the perfect fit for my kid. I accept it all and give thanks.

In the meantime, I spent some much-needed quality time with my daughter. We have a special bond, but because of some other issues going on in her life she has a yearning for nurturing that I normally have to divide between the two children. We did the typical girlie things and talked about her beauty, her gifts and how to respond to girls who laugh at her hair when she wears it out in a curly natural style (I’ll tackle that subject in another post!). We took ‘selfies’ and the Black Girls Rock t-shirts that I ordered the previous week came in the mail and she said that she felt like we were sisters. Win. Win.

When my son came home, full of testosterone and erupting with information about his two weeks at science camp and spending time with his uncle, aunt and cousins he was surprisingly clingy. He had a ball but actually missed his nagging mom and his overly dramatic sister! We’ve since spent many an evening with him huddled up next to me on the couch after I tucked his sister into bed, watching anything from Transformers to the Cooking channel. He is really a great kid, and extremely bright but the reality is that too many kids just like him go missing, get lost in foster care or the criminal system, or just expire on the streets. And although we live in the suburbs which lowers his risk somewhat he as a young, gifted black boy is still very much a target. So when I recently came across this website, Save Black Boys.org, and saw the t-shirts, I thought of the matching shirts worn by my daughter and myself the previous week. What better way to show my love and support of my son and to keep our boys in the forefront of the minds of all that meet us, than to get matching t-shirts for my son and I as well. We all need to save our black boys;  they too are America’s promise. They too hold the key to making this a great nation. Each time we lose one, we lose  ourselves because we all are one. We need to save them from being racially profiled, save their minds, save their souls, save their self-esteem, save their pride, save their brilliance, save their masculinity, save their lives. What will you do to show them that we care? How will we save them? If you don’t have time to write your congressman, mentor, start an non profit or teach, you can show your solidarity. I am not connected to this program in any way, I just love their boldness and the shirt is nice too! 🙂

Get yours here:

http://saveblackboys.org/pages/about-us?customer_posted=true

‘We struggle’: Local African-American leaders say they are ‘desperate’ to save their children

‘We struggle’: Local African-American leaders say they are ‘desperate’ to save their children.

20 most segregated states for black students

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Wow..thanks to American Promise for this information!

Make Summer Learning Fun

wpid-20140704_214339.jpgWell, it’s the second week of July and I can’t believe we’re half way through the summer! It’s difficult to achieve the correct balance between fun and learning during the school year since there is so little time, so I am always searching for ways to incorporate both during the summer months. Rare is the child who actually wants to learn during the summer – they feel that it’s their time “off” from school and the mere suggestion of doing anything, including getting up early for camp results in huffs and puffs and why’s and ‘why can’t we’s. And that’s when I remind them that they have off from school, but mom still has to work! Fortunately, I have some flexibility with my work schedule, so I try to sign them up for mostly afternoon camps and use the morning as time to do other activities. My daughter is artistically talented and my son is academically talented so it’s more than a challenge to find something that they both enjoy at the same time. But I love a challenge, and I pride myself in finding and creating mini-adventures that we can take during the summer, aside from the normal museums, summer festivals, parks and playgrounds. We have some fun times and I always try to end the summer with a vacation at the beach which gives them solace and serves as a huge incentive to complain less and listen more. For the past few years, I’ve found it works best if at the beginning of summer, I lay the ground rules for our summer days and I thought I’d share them with you:

  1. Reading Comes First –  My kids know the #1 house rule is that no electronics are turned on until they’ve completed at least 30 minutes of reading. It’s not a popular rule, but it keeps their brain exercised and gives me at least 30 minutes of peace and quiet in the morning! The way I make this fun is to take them on a trip to the book store at the beginning of the summer, give them a budget and let them pick out anything they’d like. Two books have to be on their school reading list and the other two can be anything from a journal to a comic book or anything inbetween. We also visit the free library several times throughout the summer. My son loves to read so it’s not an issue with him so much; my daughter would rather have her teeth pulled. She didn’t want to feel like she was still in school, so with her I decided to take another angle. I showed her that she could log her reading time on the Media Upper Providence Free Library website and get prizes and she has been excited ever since. 
  2. Exercise – The other rule is that they (we) have to get in at least an hour of exercise, and since we have a large trampoline in our yard it’s usually the first choice. They also have the option of riding their bikes, going to the nearby playground, gardening or playing in our yard. On rainy days I throw a big towel near the back door, put their rain boots and coats on them and let them make mud pies and search for rain puddles. The also have the option of playing Wii Sports or Just Dance, or we head to the Local YMCA to swim. If they resist I remind them that I will be happy to find them other options like washing laundry, vacuuming their room or emptying the dishwasher, which usually gets them out the door quickly!
  3. LImited Computer/TV Time – My fifth grade teacher used to remind us that the same shows that come on in the school year are shown as repeats during the summer…and she was right! During the school week the television is on maybe for an hour a night, so they tend to overdose during the summer. It is summer, so I will allow more staring at the tube longer than usual, but after the first hour, it’s time to take a break and do something else. The computer can sometimes be a welcome escape, but also an information overload, especially for intense personalities, so I encourage it to be used mostly for playing math games, Free Rice which helps them learn vocabulary as well as help to end world hunger and reading books on Storia or Kindle. They get to spend an hour or so at the beginning of the summer researching the internet for the best kids websites for the subjects that interest them. Hoagie’s Gifted website is a great starting point for such discovery. 
  4. Summer Wish Jar – Last year I started a summer wish jar. I gave the kids about five pieces of paper each and gave them time to think of things that they’d like to do during the summer that we normally don’t have time to do. The wishes can range from spending the day in their PJs to a nature walk in the park, to a day at the beach. I let them know that it cannot be anything extremely expensive and we will most likely not have time for everything but it gives me a good idea of what they’d like to do before September arrives. I am always touched when I see a paper that says “movie with mom” or something similar, and those nights popping popcorn and staying home make some of the most indelible summer memories!
  5. Summer Journal – Every few weeks, to help them keep up with their writing skills, I encourage them to write about their summer (good or bad) thus far. I give them the choice of whether they want me to read it, or keep it private (although I usually read it anyway), and it’s a pressure-free way to keep them writing during the summer. 
  6. Forget the Rules Days – Yes, I try to buy organic, gluten free, infuse reading, exercise and teachable moments into their summers but every once in a while, I have an impromptu, forget the rules day. They kids never know when it’s coming, but I may take a day off from work and we stay in our pjs, watch way too much television and order take out all day. Or we all put on our rainboots and I drive around the town like a flash mob looking for the largest puddles. The other night, after I came home from work and fixed a healthy, gluten-free dinner, I announced that we were going to take a quick run to the Wawa before the thunderstorm passed through and everyone could pick their favorite dessert. When we got home, I suggested we all climb up on the trampoline to eat our goodies and watch the cloud formations. My kids looked at me in disbelief but were so excited to see me climb up, lay back and gaze at the clouds. They forget that I too was a child. And the best part of being a parent is that if you let them be children, they will always help you remember and guide you back to that special place of childhood wonder. 

Everyone carries memories of their childhood with them throughout their life, and although I can’t shield them from the stresses and disappointments in life, my wish is that their good memories outweigh the bad. The challenge is finding the balance between being a responsible adult/parent while allowing them to be perfectly children. And while you are doing that, you are teaching them more than reading, writing and arithmetic, you are also teaching one of life’s most valuable lessons..balance. 

How do you plan to make summer learning fun for your children?

 

Apps Parents Should Know About

Whisper App

I’ve come across articles similar to this in the past few months (see below) and since I am not tech-savy I appreciate that there are those who are concerned for the safety of our children in this new age of social media . I do have a Facebook account, and Instagram and a Twitter account, but if I have anything to do with it, my children will have neither of them until they are in high school (and even beyond depending on how the tools of communication in our society change by then). Every day you see a news blur about an abducted child, or missing/exploited teenager and I believe it is much more prevalent today with Apps that not only allow unidentified strangers to contact our children but also track them by GPS and lure them into their adult world. I see how easily my own children can be obsessed with the games they play on their tablets and it’s clear to me that the more time they spend staring at their screens, the less time they spend reading a book, riding their bikes, being aware of their surroundings and having normal, healthy conversations and relationships with friends and family.

Call me old-school, but even during the summer months my kids know that they don’t turn on the television, laptop or Kindle until they’ve read at least 15 minutes. It gets their brain going and also guarantees me at least 15 minutes of quiet time in the morning! Hey, I’m human. I am fortunate to be able to have extra time with them right now since I am working primarily from home and I know that this arrangement may not last forever which is why I try to instill the importance and love of reading in them at an early age. Of course we have fun during the summer. We all get to sleep in, we go to the movies, swim at the Y, they go to the local arts summer camp, sports camp and they watch much more television than they do during the school year. I try to provide them with memories that will last for decades, and for me it’s all about balance. I believe the more I keep them feeling connected at home, the less they will look to outside sources.

Again, I’m not judging anyone else’s parenting styles or choices but just trying to bring awareness and information. I may be the only one in my community unaware of the potential of these seemingly harmless apps, but somehow I doubt it. I hope that after reading this, one more parent is aware and checking in on their child’s social media activities and that it may lead to one less kid being abducted from their front step and if so, my work here is done.  Wishing you and your children a fun and safe summer!

Apps Parents Should Know About | Dangerous Apps for Kids – FamilyEducation.com.

 

Expand your village; get support for your young male warrior!

BMDS 2014

BMDS 2014 my son (l) James and his cousin, Hammad.

I grew up with three brothers so I admire and understand men more than many friends of mine who didn’t grow up with brothers.  But as much insight I may have into them, I am not a man and cannot provide my son with all of the tools he needs to thrive in school, in the community and in social media. My son’s father is not as knowledgeable , so I search for outlets and resources for my soon to be teenager so that he can get the support he needs as he begins to navigate through this maze of  hormones, peer pressure and girls!

Thank goodness I came across the Black Male Development Symposium. I believe I read about it on someone’s Facebook post and was intrigued. I visited the website and immediately got excited about all of the different workshops that they offered. For an extremely low price (and some attended for free if they were members of a community-based tutoring or development program), your son is able to attend a full day of workshops AND receive lunch! There were close to 400 young black men in attendance from middle school through college age, and extremely popular concurrent workshops for parents. The unconventional workshop subjects for the young men ranged from learning to play the drum  and navigating rap music lyrics to  managing social media, creating your own black superhero, creating your own comic strip and what to say and what not to say if you were stopped by the police. There were also the typical workshops geared towards college preparation and navigating the college campus as well as peer pressure and bullying in middle school.

I was so impressed with the quality of the information provided as well as the experienced workshop presenters and I am already looking forward to going next year and getting someone to take care of my daughter so that I can attend the parent workshops! My brother facilitated a workshop on Mothers raising boys, and there were other workshops to help with college applications and educating parents on the safety of the social media sites that are popular with our youth. Even if my son’s father were more involved, I would still have urged him to attend this symposium. I try to allow him to make his own decisions, since he is twelve so I showed him the website and let him have the final say (even though I had already signed him up!) He did have a baseball game and Mandarin Chinese class the same day as the Symposium, but he chose to forgo his normal Saturday activities and I supported his decision. And as one friend reminded me, “this happens only once a year.”

The organizers have posted a few pictures and videos from this year’s Symposium and plan to post more so I would visit their website  www.blackmaledevelopment.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BlackMaleDevelopment to get an idea of the quantity and quality of information available. My son is still talking about it.

Hope to see you there next year!