The Need for Child Advocates in Our Schools

I’m almost exhausted from reading the numerous articles, surveys and studies written about the inequities in the school system when it comes to identifying and supporting both gifted and talented students of color. I am sharing the article below because it has a lot of valid and important information and insight. I have one extremely gifted child and one extremely talented child. They are both gifted, one intellectually and one creatively. My son was reading chapter books and starting multiplication tables at the age of six. My daughter, a Harry Potter fanatic started piano lessons at the age of 3, could read sheet music by the age of 4 and has started working on both original songs and book ideas. You would assume from the brief introduction that my son would have easily been identified as gifted and would have had no problem with access. If so, your assumptions are wrong. His pediatrician warned me at the age of 2, that knowing all of his colors and shapes and counting to 20 was not normal for a two year old and suggested Montessori school. The Montessori school told me he had a problem focusing, not realizing he was bored. One of the teacher’s assistants suggested I get him tested after I tried countless times to get the schools’ Director to accelerate him to no avail. I did my research and found out the only way to have him tested without paying was to register him with the district as if I were preparing to enroll him into public school for Kindergarten. I took her advice and he scored off the charts on his IQ test. I sent a copy of the report to the Director and not only did she not acknowledge his accomplishment but still refused to provide any specialized curriculum for him. As you can imagine I was frustrated and furious because I was paying full private school tuition and my child was not being supported. He graduated from their Pre-K program and we never looked back. I read the book A Nation Deceived, which changed my mindset about acceleration and realized then that he needed to skip first grade. My next step was to set up an appointment with the Principal, Psychologist and Gifted Instruction Director of the public school he would attend. Advocacy.

I was fortunate to attend a seminar on Educating Black Boys in Suburban School Districts, and met Dr. Juan Baughn, a former assistant to the Secretary of Education in PA. I shared my story about my son and mention the upcoming meeting and he offered to attend the meeting to assist me in my appeal to have my son skipped. Advocacy. Dr. Baughn did not request a fee and I never saw him again, but his presence at the meeting assured success and an appropriate individualized program for my son. The district was hesitant to admit it but at the time, out of all four elementary schools in the entire district, my son was the only African American male in the gifted program. I would bet money that at the time he graduated from middle school, the statistic was the same.

Bottom line is it takes time, money and resources to advocate for our the best interest of our students, especially students of color who are in suburban school districts where there are hardly any administrators or teachers of color able to look out for their best interest. I was fortunate as an entrepreneur to have the time to do the research and attend numerous meetings and phone conversations during the work day. Most working parents don’t. We need to have third parties inside the schools who are there to identify and support the parents as advocates for our children to be sure they are supported intellectually, creatively and emotionally.

I am always happy to share my experience and resources with any parents facing concerns and needing support for their gifted or talented child. This article I believe has great information and insight, yet I hope one day there is no need for these words to be written. Let me know your thoughts…

A direct quote from the article written by Staff Writer Madhu Krishnamurthy : “Nationally, among the reasons for the under-representation of minority and low-income students in gifted programs are the use of subjective teacher referrals in the identification process and lack of parent advocacy, experts say.”

‘”When given an enriching academic environment and emotional support, gifted students despite their background, go on to achieve incredible things,” said Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development and professor of education and social policy. “It’s our responsibility to close the gap for these kids.”‘

http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160330/news/160339961/

Walking Away: My Unschooling Journey

Today would be the last day I walked my eight year old daughter to her school and walked away. I live directly across the street from her elementary school, the same school my son, now thirteen, attended when he was just six years old. As I walked away today, it occurred to me that not only have my children been a constant fixture at the school, but so have I. For the past eight years I have volunteered almost every school week in either of their classrooms. In addition I dedicated several weeks each year as chairperson of their MLK Day of Service, Co-facilitator of parenting workshops and for several years held positions on their PTG (Parent Teacher Group) Board. I am a staunch supporter of the public school system and I adore the children that I have had the fortune to cross paths over the years, yet it is time for me to walk away and take my daughter with me. I am walking away from the beautiful, dedicated

++teachers, parents and administrators I’ve met over the years as well as the snobby suburban self-righteous and often underlying racist ones. I am walking away from seven hours of free child care each day of the week as well as the teachers who sometimes send my child home in tears because they just “don’t have time to ” help her understand a concept in the way that she needs to learn it. I’m walking away from the convenience of sending her walking to school as well as the anxiety-driven nausea and headaches she is sent home with like stale lunch in her backpack. No one cares about the quiet trauma that is brewing in the psyche of these young children when they are pressured with more homework and testing than I’ve seen in eight years.

I never thought I could do this. As a single parent with no parents or grandparents to lean on, I didn’t think I had an option. I didn’t see any way I could have her learn at home when I had to work at least part time outside of the home and maybe even more if I was to afford the child care and/or alternative school that she would now need. I felt selfish because I didn’t want to give up my free time during the day when I had no clients and could pamper myself. I couldn’t afford to send her to an alternative school because they were expensive and seemingly out of reach for someone self-employed and a full time mom. And then the day came that my daughter came home and asked me the question “Mom, do you think I’m stupid?”. And I knew that it didn’t matter what I thought I could or couldn’t do, I had to. To be continued….

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New FB page listing FREE programs for families in Philly

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We Love the idea of having a central place to access cultural and educational programs in Philadelphia for children and families that are FREE! Please visit https://m.facebook.com/freeinphilly ,  “like” the page and select notifications to stay updated on new content. You can also follow them on Twitter @Free_In_Philly. The website is coming soon! Thank you Barbara Lanell for creating and updating this wonderful resource for parents!

Check out @AfrAmParenting’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/AfrAmParenting/status/701035052331888641?s=09

900AM WURD MOJO SHOW 2.12.16 – Homeschooling Feature

Listen in to this important roundtable discussion held this past Friday on homeschooling and how different families are meeting their children’s educational needs.

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https://m.soundcloud.com/900amwurd/mojo-21216-homeschooling-feature-pt-2

The Psychology Behind Your Mess: Why Creative Geniuses Often Flourish in Clutter

It’s funny I had just posted yesterday about not wanting someone to film me in my day to day life because of the clutter in my home and  this article by Anna Bashedly pops into my Facebook news feed. I grew up in a home where children were seen and not heard and we each had chores that had to do with keeping the house clean. As the only girl I spent more hours that I’d like to remember doing dishes for a house of six people, dusting as well as keeping my room clean as my assigned chores. Today I despise doing dishes (unless I’m at someone else’s house) to the extent that I would rather go to the store to purchase dish washer detergent before I’d tackle a sink full of dishes by hand. Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that ten years as the household dishwasher has brought me to this point! The ironic thing about being the “duster” of the family is that twenty years ago I found out that dust and mold are my major allergens and being around a large quantity of either can give me a full blown allergic reaction. I have to wear a contractor’s dust mask to clean my house. I say this all to say that I am not a neat freak, I usually hire someone to clean my home and I was afraid I had passed my disdain for cleaning to my children. I felt guilty until I learned about the connection between gifted and talented minds and what others see as clutter.

I once attended a conference sponsored by S.E.N.G. Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted to get insight into my son who at the age of four figured out how to count to 400 in Mandarin. One of the speakers spoke to us parents about not shaming our children because their rooms appeared to be “messy” all of the time. He told us that creative minds cannot start with a blank canvas and that what seems like clutter to us is inspiration and organization to them. I specifically remember him saying “unless there’s an old moldy slice of pizza under the bed, shut the door and leave his room alone!”. It’s a struggle but I do exactly that. Every few weeks I survey his room when he’s not there for moldy food and so far so good. I don’t invade his room, I ask him to collect his dirty clothes and bring them down to be washed, and I ask that he leave a path to the closet so I can use it for storage. I remember trying to “tidy up” his room and he would get so frustrated because although it looked like piles to me, he had his own method of organization and if I asked him to get something out of his room, he knew exactly where to go to put his fingers on it. I used to worry that I was creating a nightmare for his future wife but now I realize that allowing creative space for him to discover the cure for cancer is a better use of my concerns for his future.

Source: The Psychology Behind Your Mess: Why Creative Geniuses Often Flourish in Clutter

150 Ways to Show Kids You Care: #104

wpid-img_103493663980444.jpegThis is the second post in a series based on the pamphlet “150 Ways to Show Kids You Care” (see previous post for link). I choose one of the items and share how I apply it with my children. Today as my son walked out the door to catch his bus my eyes fell on #104; Visit their school. This seems like a simple, no-brainer, but in this economy where many parents are working long days and sometimes two or three jobs, it’s very difficult to take the time off to visit their child’s school. I fortunately am self-employed and can schedule my clients around important meetings and/or events at my childrens’ school. I can’t stress enough the importance of showing up occasionally at your child’s school. Both administrators and teachers (not just your child’s teacher but the teachers who may have your child in their class in the future) are paying attention and notice the parents that walk the halls occasionally, volunteer at school events and reach out to the teacher if there is an issue at school. The idiom “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” is actually true. When you have a presence at your child’s school the teachers see you as a partner and supporter of not just your child but of the teacher and the school as a whole. Your presence also allows the school to become familiar with you as a positive contribution to the school and not just a parent who complains or shows up only when there is an issue with your child.

It doesn’t mean you have to volunteer to be the President of the PTG or the Classroom mom, but let the teacher know that you can make yourself available to help out with advanced notice a few times a year. Show up to a few PTG meetings in the evening, send email or notes to your child’s teacher once a month just to check in and give a compliment or suggestion. Buy an extra family-sized pack of snacks or a box of pencils at the beginning of the school year (or mid-year) and send them in with your student. Volunteer to chair or co-chair one of the school’s fundraisers, or at least sign up to support the event. If you are unable to visit your child’s school ask a sibling, parent or even grandparent to stand in your place. Maintain a presence in some manner and believe me when there is an issue at school, everyone involved will be more supportive, more inclined to hear you when they see you as an involved parent. They will also keep your child in mind when other educational and/or extra-curricular opportunities are available because they know that you will support them in their endeavors. The most important reason to show up is because your child is watching. They may not say it but it makes them feel loved and protected and more motivated when they know you care enough to take the time to support them at school.

Believe me, it works! Let me know how it works for you.

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!