By Wendy Sachs, Special to CNN
(CNN) - About a year ago, I sat in the auditorium at South Orange Middle School in suburban New Jersey and listened to the cheerful principal prepare the incoming sixth-grade parents for what would lie ahead. The big, bad dreaded middle school years were upon us. After the principal posted his Twitter handle so we could get his feed on our digital devices, he then tried to assure the jittery crowd that middle school isn't as awful as it used to be.
Leave your own baggage behind folks; we're in a gentler, more tolerant era.
Check out the new site, CNN.com/parenting!
Not only has social media and modern communication like Twitter and e-mail opened access to teachers and staff, but a trickle-down effect of our progressive age apparently inoculates kids from some of the horrors of those hormonally charged and awkward adolescent years. Bullying is a big no-no at school, a punishable crime in New Jersey that the school administration, fortunately, takes seriously. It's unlikely for kids to be pushed into lockers or stripped naked at gym. But the fear that your kid would be the school loser or have the dreaded "cheese touch" courtesy of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series - well, that's something that even an aggressive, politically correct school policy can't prevent.
Despite the principal's peppy speech, we remained skeptical. Parents know that middle school can be another circle of hell. We know it, because we've all lived it.
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By Marina Carver, CNN
(CNN) – A group of 15 New York City principals announced last week that starting with the 2014-2015 school year, they will no longer use state test scores as part of their middle and high school admissions criteria.
In a letter sent to parents, teachers, principals and education officials, the principals said the tests were “inauthentic” and take away time “for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing.”
This year’s New York state standardized test was introduced as being aligned for the first time with Common Core Standards - the new national standards that have been adopted in 45 states. The tests were administered to students in third grade through eighth grade in April and are used by some selective New York middle and high schools when considering admission.
Common Core encouraged many teachers and administrators at first, including Stacy Goldstein, a principal who signed the letter and the director of School of Future's middle school in Manhattan.
“We like it because it focuses on critical thinking and reading across a lot of texts,” she said of the education standards. “We were hoping the test itself would reflect more meaningful work, but it didn’t.”
The principals’ letter expressed that disappointment: “The length, structure and timing caused many students to rush through the tests in an attempt to finish, get stuck on confusing questions, and not complete the test or even get to more authentic parts like the writing assessment,” they wrote.
“We’re not just worried about the kids’ scores going down, we’re concerned about the validity of the test itself,” Goldstein added. “We didn’t want this letter interpreted as principals just concerned about the test scores, so we wanted to get it out before the scores are released.”
By Ben Brumfield, CNN
(CNN) - Sorry, kid. No money, no lunch.
Students at an Attleboro, Massachusetts, middle school went hungry this week, if they had a negative balance on their pre-paid lunch cards.
Five cents of debt was enough for cafeteria employees at the Coehlo Middle School to instruct kids at least one day this week to dump out the food they would have normally eaten, CNN affiliate WJAR in Rhode Island reported.
About 25 children left the lunchroom with empty stomachs, said Whitson's Culinary Group in a statement. The company runs the school's cafeteria.
Parents were appalled. So was the principal. So was Whitson's.
"I told them this is bullying; that's neglect, child abuse," said parent Jo-An Blanchard.
Principal Andrew Boles apologized and blamed the culinary company. "My expectation is that every child, every adult, every parent, every student, every teacher is respected in this building, and that didn't happen yesterday because of Whitson's," he told WJAR.
Tokyo (CNN) - On the surface, it resembles just about any other high school in Japan - or any high school in most places around the world.
Students sit quietly studying math, science and English; some struggle to stay focused, looking at the clock and waiting for the bell to ring. When the school day ends, some move out to the sports fields for rugby or soccer practice, while others study music in emptying hallways.
What makes this school different is the pictures of two men scattered throughout the building - portraits of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and previous leader Kim Jong Il.
The Tokyo Korean Middle and High School, which is currently home to 650 students, is one of 10 high schools in Japan with long standing ties to North Korea.
It's something the school's principal, Gil-ung Shin, is very open about.
"Yes, North Korea has given us financial support over the years, sending us money and textbooks," he says.
The school also organizes annual trips to Pyongyang, where students are given highly orchestrated tours of the reclusive North Korean capital.
But the students we spoke with laughed at suggestions from some quarters that they are being trained as spies.
"People think we're being brain-washed. We're not. We just want to study Korean culture and language," 17-year-old Kyong Rae Ha says.
This is the first in a two-part series about recovery from Superstorm Sandy. The first story follows one student as his family struggles to keep kids in class while trying to rebuild. The second story shows how one school, Scholars' Academy, is faring after the storm.
By Rose Arce, CNN
New York (CNN) - The sky is still dark when 13-year-old Ryan Panetta wakes in his temporary apartment beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. The one-bedroom loaner has just a queen-sized bed, a couch and a folding table; he shares it all with his parents and three siblings.
He has traveled a long way from his family's beachfront bungalow to this high-rise housing. After Superstorm Sandy, his house near the Rockaways in Queens is just a shell. His new daily commute - from makeshift home to temporary school - can take up to two hours.
“I’m tired, really tired,” he said at 6 a.m. one day in early December, already awake for a half-hour.
“It’s pretty hard. It's just adjusting to the new school, the long commutes in the morning to get to school, waking up really early to get ready for school and rebuilding the house. It's tough,” he said, his eyes red from sleep and sadness. “The house is destroyed and every time I look in there, it's like, ‘Wow. I never thought a storm could do that much.'”
Weeks after Sandy hit, Ryan is one of many still living through the ongoing aftermath of the storm. He's one of 73,000 students initially displaced from their schools, one of about 5,400 still attending classes in borrowed spaces. His double loss - home and school - means his life is in upheaval.
“We lost so much. All our things, the stove I’ve cooked so many meals on, the home my children were born in, the kids’ toys, everything except, thank God, the most valuable thing in the world, our kids,” said Karen Panetta, Ryan’s mother. “We can rebuild everything else. And we will.”
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - For many parents and teachers, it’s the first opportunity of the school year to sit down face to face and discuss everything from curriculum to issues that arise in the classroom. Here are some tips from both sides of the desk on how to make the most of a parent-teacher conference.
Do your homework
Talking to your child before the conference to find out if he has any questions or concerns of his own can give you ideas of what to address with the teacher. A good next step: having a physical list of questions.
The National PTA says that the “questions you ask during the conference can help you express your hopes for the student’s success in class and for the teacher.”
It’s an idea echoed by Ryan Koczot, an award-winning middle school teacher in North Carolina. “Parents should come to the conference prepared (note pad, pen, list of questions) - just like teachers should be prepared (information on the child, progress report, questions for the parent).” This will help get everyone on the same page.
(CNN) - During the average school day, teachers are with children as many waking hours as parents are. But many educators believe there’s a short in the communication lines between themselves and parents. When asked what they’d want parents to know about education, not all of the teachers we spoke to wished to be named - but they did share many common concerns from the classroom.
1. We're on the same team
First and foremost, teachers want students to thrive in the classroom, and they could use your help.
Jennifer Bell, a 7th grade social studies teacher in Tennessee, suggests that parents do all they can to ensure that students are doing their homework, exercising, eating well and sleeping. Whether students come to class tired or ready to learn can hinge on parents’ involvement. “We need their support,” she says. “We can’t do this on our own.”
In the words of an elementary school teacher from Georgia, “We are professionals. Teaching children is our area of expertise. Your child benefits more when you support me.”
And while educators expect students to make mistakes, Mississippi teacher Beth Wilbanks Smith asks parents to help them learn from those mistakes. “They will grow to be productive citizens if we all work as a unified force,” she writes.
By Cindi Rigsbee, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Cindi Rigsbee is the 2009 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and a National Teacher of the Year Finalist. A National Board Certified Teacher, Cindi is the author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make. She is also a member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Teacher Leaders Network. Her website is cindirigsbee.com.
Recently I’ve had the honor of watching children take a monumental step in their lives; I’ve watched them begin middle school. Believe me, there is nothing like the face of a sixth-grader, fresh from being the oldest and tallest at the elementary school, as they walk into an enormous middle school and try to master a schedule that moves them from class to class and struggle with a combination lock that fights back. Just today I recognized panic on a face, and after some investigation I understood: the lunchbox was missing!
But not to worry. These guys will be fine. In no time, they’ll be attending their first school dance with their friends, cheering on the upper classmen at sporting events, and proudly playing their shiny new band instruments at a concert. Educators in the building will support them and nurture them, and soon they’ll be independent and self-sufficient.
Sometimes the real concern is not about what happens inside the middle or high school. The real concern is centered on the wonderful people who send their kids to the bus stop or drop them off at school and then leave to go about their jobs and daily routines. On many days they count down the hours waiting anxiously to ask, “How was your day? What did you learn? Have you made any friends?”
The ones who can be the most anxious? The parents.
As an educator who hangs out in a middle school hallway on a daily basis, and as a parent who hasn’t forgotten my children’s middle school and high school years, I believe there are some strategies that may soothe your anxiety somewhat. Here’s how to make the transition easier … for you and for your child.
by Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - “School is boring,” say about half of American students who routinely skip. But when asked what they’re doing instead of attending class, most say they’re just hanging out with their friends or sleeping.
A survey recently published at Getschooled.com cites data that as many as 7 million students - about 15% of the K-12 population - are out of school 18 or more days of the school year. And many of them don’t think skipping school will impact their future.
That’s not in line with reality. The study points out that students who skip more than 10 days of school are significantly (about 20%) less likely to get a high school diploma. And they’re 25% less likely to enroll in higher education.
Can parents have an impact here? Absolutely. In fact, parental encouragement to attend school was the most widely cited factor in what would make students want to go to class diligently.
But many of those surveyed said their parents didn’t even know when students skipped. In fact, 42% said their parents either never knew or rarely knew when their kids were absent from school; another 24% added that parents knew “sometimes.” So parental engagement and knowledge of children’s whereabouts seem key to keeping kids in class.
Students also said that encouragement from anyone to whom they felt a personal connection, from teachers to coaches to celebrities, could influence better attendance. “If we - parents, educators, and even celebrities - show them we truly care about them, their aspirations and frustrations, they will be more likely to care about making it to school,” writes Marie Groark, executive director of the Get Schooled Foundation.
Other solutions: Those surveyed said they wanted to see a “clear connection” between their classes and the jobs they’d like down the road. They also cited a better understanding of consequences, greater support of teachers, and more friends at school as factors that could make them attend more often.
By Amy Roberts and Caitlin Stark, CNN Library
(CNN) - It’s back to school time. Starting dates around the U.S. vary by state and district: Some schools started on different dates in August, while others start this week. As we embark on the 2012-2013 academic year, here’s a numerical snapshot of education in the U.S.
54.7 million – Number of students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools, both public and private, in the U.S. in 2011.
3.7 million – Elementary and secondary school teachers working in U.S. schools in 2011.
$11,467 – The estimated average amount a typical public school will spend on each student in 2012-2013.
31.8 million – Number of children who received free or reduced price lunches through the National School Lunch Program in 2011.
3.4 million – Students expected to graduate from high school in the 2012-2013 school year.
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at email@example.com