By Brittany Brady, CNN
(CNN) - Asked which school meals were their favorites, students at a public school in the New York borough of Queens don't say chicken fingers or meatballs. Instead, they name rice and kidney beans, black bean quesadillas or tofu with Chinese noodles.
"Whoever thought they would hear a third-grader saying that they liked tofu and Chinese noodles?" asked Dennis Walcott, New York City schools chancellor.
Walcott was at the Active Learning Elementary School this week to celebrate its move to all-vegetarian meals five days a week. The school of nearly 400 students, from pre-kindergarten to third grade, was founded five years ago on the principle that a healthy lifestyle leads to strong academic achievement.
"We decided on a vision where health and nutrition would be a part of educating the whole child," school principal Bob Groff said.
The school's focus on healthier meals began three years ago when Groff noticed a majority of students were bringing their own vegetarian meals. The school went meatless three days a week about a year and a half ago. It also tested meals on a small group of students, gathering feedback and changing the menu accordingly.
Active Learning's student body may be more accustomed to vegetarian diets than most, with 85% of the students being Asian and another 10% Hispanic, said Margie Feinberg, spokeswoman for the New York Department of Education.
"Rice was a staple of many of their home foods," Groff said of the students.
(CNN) - Pam Mathers was a half-mile away from the Boston Marathon finish line when bombs exploded Monday. The Michigan resident wasn't injured, but she didn't finish the race. Students back at Hamilton Elementary School in Troy, Michigan, where Mathers is principal, didn't want her months of training to end without celebration. They created a symbolic finish line so they could cheer her on, CNN affiliate WDIV reported.
(CNN) - Three struggling elementary schools in Yonkers, New York, are dramatically reducing the length of summer vacation in an attempt to turn the institutions around.
The schools days will be longer, and summer vacation will last only one month, starting August 1.
Some parents are upset, saying it cuts down on valuable family time, and kids' opportunities to participate in summer sports and activities. A researcher argues that kids aren't robots, and can benefit from a break.
But Bernard Pierorazio, superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools, say the decision is made.
"We have to do something different," he said.
What do you think? Would shorter summers would help your children learn, or improve their schools? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter @CNNschools.
By Jareen Imam, CNN
(CNN) - Inside her Oxford, Ohio, kindergarten classroom, Christine Milders has 24 cubbies, 24 tables and 24 seats. It's a perfect fit for her 24 little students, no more.
But come next fall, she expects that number will grow to 30. That's when forced federal spending cuts, also known as the sequester, will kick in and start chipping away at education funding.
"Where will I put six more students?" Milders asked. "My young learners come to my classroom with little or no school experience. I not only need to meet their academic needs, but their social and emotional needs as well."
The government is set to cut $85 billion through the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Of that money, $2.5 billion will be coming out of the Department of Education's $70 billion budget.
Uncertainties surround how these large cuts will affect schools, because the decisions will be made on the state and local levels. But with budget cuts looming, many teachers like Milders are wondering what's left to cut.
Milders, who has taught kindergarten for 17 years, worries that more cuts to education will not only affect her students' ability to learn and grow, but also fears she will eventually be replaced by a younger and cheaper teacher, as she put it. "It happens often," she said.
(CNN) - One of Wendy Killian's young students was ill. Eight-year-old Nicole Miller was born with a genetic disorder and in need of a kidney transplant. The girl was exhausted and often missed class, although her parents did their best to keep her up to speed.
During a parent-teacher conference, Killian asked Nicole's mom, what does your daughter need in a donor?
As she listed off the requirements for a match, "I just kept thinking, 'Huh. That's me,'" said Killian, a teacher at Mansfield Christian School in Ohio.
Now, she's preparing her students to work with a substitute teacher, and preparing her own sons to face her recuperation.
When the hospital calls, Killian will be giving Nicole a kidney.
By Josh Levs, Ed Payne and Ashley Fantz, CNN
(CNN) - A Colorado school's ruling over a transgender child has sparked questions that could affect schools all over the country.
Which bathroom should be used by a child who identifies as a different gender from his or her body? Where's the line between accommodation and discrimination? At what point is a child old enough for that to even be an issue?
The case focuses on Coy Mathis, a 6-year-old born with a boy's body. She identifies as a girl, and her family is raising her as a girl.
In kindergarten, she used the girl's bathroom with no problem, the family says. But this year, with Coy in first grade, the principal called to set up a meeting to discuss bathroom use. In advance of the meeting, the family asked what the policies are.
"We were told that there were no written policies and that the options would be for Coy to use the boys' restroom or the staff bathroom or the nurse's bathroom for the sick children, which were both on the opposite end of the building," Coy's father, Jeremy Mathis, said on CNN's "Starting Point" on Thursday.
That "would stigmatize her, having to be the only one having to go to a different bathroom, so we weren't OK with that."
The family contacted the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. When an attorney with that group could not work something out with the school, the group filed a state civil rights complaint on the family's behalf.
In the meantime, Coy is being home schooled - partly because her parents fear bullies may make fun of her.
"The district firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue," the school district's attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said in a written statement. "However, the district believes the appropriate and proper forum for discussing the issues identified in the charge is through the Division of Civil Rights process. The district is preparing a response to the charge which it will submit to the division. Therefore, the district will not comment further on this matter out of respect for the process which the parents have initiated."
The school calls Coy a girl as the family wishes, Dude said.
(CNN) - Just like she did during the first half of the school year, first-grader Coy Mathis wants to use the girls' restroom at her Colorado elementary school. But school officials won't let her.
The reason? Coy is transgendered, born with male sex organs but a child who identifies herself as female.
She dressed as a girl for most of last year. And her passport and state-issued identification recognize her as female.
In December, the Fountain-Fort Carson School District informed Coy's parents that Coy would be barred from using the girls' restrooms at Eagleside Elementary in Fountain after winter break.
She could instead use the boys' bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse's bathroom, the district said.
In making the decision, the district "took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls' bathroom would have as Coy grew older," attorney W. Kelly Dude said."However, I'm certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls' restroom."
Coy's parents see it differently.
(CNN) - For the first time since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Christine Wilford plans do something remarkable on Thursday that once was routine: drop her child off at school.
The last time her 7-year-old son, Richie, was in class was on December 14, when a gunman smashed his way into his school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 children and adults.
As shots rang out, Richie's teacher locked the door and huddled her students into the corner as the shooter roamed the hallways, wielding an AR-15 assault rifle and firing.
When it appeared safe, the children were then hurried away to a nearby fire station, where teary parents either reunited with their sons and daughters or learned that they had been killed.
Nearly a month later, Wilford said her son still has trouble sleeping and is often scared by loud noises.
But on Thursday, he will join hundreds of other Newtown students returning to class for the first time since the tragedy.
"We think it's good he's going back," Wilford said. "If I leave my child anywhere, I'm leaving a piece of my heart, so it's difficult to leave him."
But Richie apparently isn't afraid and says he's looking forward to seeing his friends, she said.
Instead, Richie and his classmates are expected to travel to Chalk Hill Middle School in the nearby town of Monroe, where a green-and-white banner greeting the children hangs on a fence.
By Radina Gigova, CNN
Decatur, Georgia (CNN) - Most students are not exactly thrilled when it comes to school and homework but three international fifth-graders might be an exception to the rule.
Igey Muzeleya, 11, grew up in Tanzania. His family moved to the United States six years ago to escape the wave of violence.
Eleven-year-old Aung Zawl is from Myanmar, also known as Burma. He has been living in the U.S. for about two years.
Paria Foroughi, 10, was born in Iran. Her parents wanted better educational opportunities for their children and the family also immigrated to America.
Muzeleya, Zawl and Foroughi are students at the International Community School in Decatur, Georgia, and they rarely miss a day of school.
"I like the school, because it's a fun place to be, fun place to learn and it's really cool to be in the school with all your friends," Muzeleya said.
“I like all the classes,” Foroughi said. “They all teach you something interesting, something that I haven’t learned before.”
The charter school enrolls about 270 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The real challenge, though, is educating students from more than 30 countries, some of whom have never before attended school or don't speak English.
by John Martin, CNN
Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community. Some comments have been edited for space or clarity.
(CNN) – Donna McClintock, the chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. wrote last week's op-ed on redshirting kindergartners. You may have heard the term applied to college football players, but this isn't a sports story. Academic redshirting means holding a child back from school until he or she is ready. In the U.S., most kindergartners are five-year olds, so a redshirted kindergartner is usually six. McClintock says that when asking whether to redshirt a young child, "parents and educators must determine what that answer is by considering his individual needs and development and not by blindly following a trend."
Some readers questioned whether any child should ever be redshirted:
Rob Breisch: I can honestly say by my own example that it's far better not to redshirt your children – you are causing a life of issues from being not good enough for anyone's standards,and your children will face ridicule all their lives about it. So do them and yourself a favor – advance them and if required spend more time helping them learn.You can destroy a child by just setting them back like it's no big deal. Your child is not a toy nor a rat – so treat them with more respect and dignity and reach out and help them along – but don't make them repeat any grade!
Scott B: I know holding my kid back would be a very last resort. Regardless of what the article says, I went to school and remember how some of those held back kids were treated. About the only time it was a good thing was when they had a car before most of the class. Also, unless the kid simply can't cut it, I'd rather they be in a learning environment that challenges them more than I would want them to get better grades.
Amy: Everyone says "each child is different," and that's certainly true to some extent; however, there is a tendency for some parents to think that their child is particularly unique, different, special, etc. and must be treated differently (i.e. holding him/her back) because of that dazzling uniqueness.... With respect, I think some parents (especially moms) need to stop obsessing about this. Kids are more capable than many parents give them credit for.
Jeanne: What really annoys me is the parents who hold their kids back, so their kids are more than a year older than my kid, and then they claim that the curriculum isn't challenging enough. That is because your 7 1/2-year-old is supposed to be doing second grade work, not first grade.... So then the kid needs differentiated instruction, special trips to the library, and reading enrichment. Meanwhile my age appropriate 5-year-old summer birthday learns at the pace of the curriculum, because that is the age it is designed for. No, she's not special or advanced like your kid, but hey, she's a year and a half younger, and would have gone nuts being stuck in preschool another year. I still think my kid is getting the better end of the deal.