February 8th, 2013
04:22 PM ET

How students stayed safe after gunman boarded Alabama bus

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - The drama began last week when a gunman boarded a Dale County, Alabama, school bus, shot and killed the driver and grabbed a 5-year-old boy. It ended days later with the boy, Ethan, rescued from a bunker where he was held hostage, and his 65-year-old abductor dead.

Now that Ethan is safe, even celebrating his 6th birthday this week, officials are poring over the details of how the case unfolded, starting on the school bus.

It played out over 4½ minutes, a scene captured by a camera mounted at the front of the bus. It's a security measure common on buses now.

Witnesses and officials who reviewed the recording said Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded the bus with a gun and handed a note to the driver demanding to take several children. The driver, Charles Poland, refused. He stood, placing himself between the gunman and the students.

Meanwhile, older students opened an emergency exit on the back of the bus and ran away from the bus. They knew what to do: Twice-per-year emergency drills reminded them how to evacuate.

Follow CNN's Schools of Thought blog on Twitter, @CNNschools.

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February 8th, 2013
12:30 PM ET

Some ACT tests canceled by winter storm heading toward Northeast

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) potentially historic winter storm closing in on the Northeast is causing some ACT achievement test cancellations a move that could delay about 12,000 students scheduled to start the test at 8 a.m. ET Saturday.

There are about 190 ACT test sites in the path of the storm, and 103 had canceled by Friday afternoon, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said. Tests were canceled in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The test dates will be rescheduled, usually at the same testing site or another one nearby, as soon as possible, Colby said. If students aren't available on the retake date, they'll be able to take the ACT on the next national testing date, April 13.

Local test officials make the decision on whether to cancel. Test takers can check with their testing sites at ACTstudent.org or by calling 319-337-1270 or 319-337-1510.

"We will be updating our website continually and getting those cancellations up there as soon as we get them, probably into the night and perhaps into the morning," Colby said.

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Newbery, Caldecott awards announced, coming to library waitlists near you
Jon Klassen's "This Is Not My Hat" won the 75-year-old Caldecott Medal for illustration.
January 28th, 2013
04:09 PM ET

Newbery, Caldecott awards announced, coming to library waitlists near you

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

Courtesy American Library Association(CNN) – The latest round of books you'll be seeing in your kid's backpack and waiting for at the library was announced Monday. That is, the American Library Association named the winners of its annual youth media awards, including its oldest and best-known prizes, the Newbery and Caldecott medals.

The Newbery Medal went to “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate. It's a fictional story about Ivan, a real-life gorilla who lived for years in a cage in a circus-themed mall before moving to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.

In its 75th years, the Caldecott Medal went to “This Is Not My Hat," written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. It's the story of a little fish who tries to get away with the hat of a much larger fish. Klassen also illustrated the Caldecott honor book, "Extra Yarn."

"Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon," by Steve Sheinkin and "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe," by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, also received multiple honors from the library association on Monday. Katherine Paterson, author of "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved," received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for "substantial and lasting" contributions to children's literature. Tamora Pierce, author of "The Song of the Lioness," won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

The award announcements lit up Twitter as teachers and librarians streamed the awards announcement live, and classes watched to see how their  mock Caldecott and Newbery votes held up.

The awards are big business, too, meaning prominent placement for winners on bookstore and library displays.

“Receiving a Caldecott Medal practically guarantees that the winning title will remain in print and on library and bookstore shelves for decades to come,” the library association posted on its website.

Here’s a list of winners:

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40 years later, 'Free to Be ... You and Me' at school
Roberta Flack, Michael Jackson and Marlo Thomas starred in the 1974 Emmy-winning "Free to Be ... You and Me" TV special.
January 24th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

40 years later, 'Free to Be ... You and Me' at school

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) Think back to the age before GoldieBlox, before gender-neutral Easy-Bake ovens, before “My Princess Boy" or “It Gets Better.” Way before apps for infants, TV networks for toddlers or even "Schoolhouse Rock" on Saturday mornings.

That’d bring you to the early 1970s, when an album in a bright pink sleeve was passed among teachers, parents, librarians and kids. It was called “Free to Be … You and Me,” and record players around the country spun songs such as “William’s Doll,” “Parents are People” and “It’s All Right to Cry.”

When it debuted in 1972, there was nothing else like it at least, nothing so popular. It was feminist and multicultural; an early childhood education in empathy; multimedia before anybody used the word. There was the gold record album, a best-selling book and in 1974, an Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV special that starred its creator, Marlo Thomas, “and friends” literally, her formidable list of famous pals, including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carl Reiner, Rosey Grier and young Michael Jackson.

More than 40 years later, there's nostalgia in its opening chords and a legacy that still courses through classrooms.

“Children memorized every lyric and asked their parents and teacher to play the record over and over again,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a Ms. magazine co-founder, wrote in the 2012 book "When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made."

“It challenged teachers to face up to their entrenched, often unacknowledged, gender biases and to cast a more critical eye on the books they were assigning, whom they called on most often in class, whom they allowed to dominate the block corner or the dress-up box.”

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Filed under: Early childhood education • Educational toys • Gender • Girl Rising • Issues • Music
January 23rd, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Tell your story: What's in the way of your education?

(CNN) - We know education can change the world - but all over the world, even in the place you live, there are obstacles in the way of girls making that happen.

CNN Films' "Girl Rising," airing in spring 2013, follows nine remarkable girls in nine countries in their quest for an education. Throughout the year, CNN will highlight their stories, and the stories of others' around the world making a difference in education.

We bet you've got a story to tell, too. Making it through years of schooling and life lessons is tough everywhere, including cities, towns and counties around the United States. Or maybe it's OK for you, but it was tougher for your mom, your grandma, your teacher, your church leader, your role model. Maybe your sister or daughter is struggling now, or your next door neighbor, your lab partner, your roommate, your teammate.

What's your story? We invite you to share your personal experience about a challenge you faced in getting an education, or to interview a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother - any girl or woman in your community - about her biggest challenge, and how she overcame it.

Sign into CNN iReport, record a video or write about the experience and include an original photo. Your story could be featured on CNN.com.

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Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate what really keeps kids safe at school
Schools of Thought readers weighed in on school security this week with more than 1,000 comments.
January 18th, 2013
01:59 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate what really keeps kids safe at school

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) – In a matter of hours in December, conversations around education stopped being about standardized testing, food allergies and teacher pay. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, everybody wanted to know: What's keeping the kids in my life safe at school?

Should school staffers carry guns? Or should every school have an armed police officer? Do guns have any place on school grounds?

How does mental health fit into school safety?

And is it possible that schools and parents are overreacting and could that hurt kids?

This week, CNN's Schools of Thought published several perspectives on school security, giving those who work or have kids in school a chance to explain what's happening in school hallways and offices around the country.

Schools of Thought readers had their own experiences and opinions to share, too. Readers posted more than 1,000 comments debating what reasonable school security policies and resources should look like whether they be guns, police, psychologists or a hard look from knowledgeable community members.

David Thweatt, superintendent of schools in Harrold, Texas, described how his small, rural district implemented a plan to allow some staff members to carry concealed weapons in addition to other security members.

Several readers said they liked that Thweatt's "Guardian Plan" took time to vet and train staff members who wanted to carry guns.

icequeen75: "I think what this administrator (does) makes sense. It is a well thought plan that has the good guys with guns but also extensive training. I also think while we are putting guns in the hands of the good guys, we also need to think of ways to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys.

Encouraged: "Agree 100% with this article. As a kid growing up in suburban Jersey, I definitely knew my school was safer because of the presence of armed security officers. All the more better if there were more trained, but covert, armed personnel. … The poor little ones lost at Newtown deserve their memory honored by providing the means for every student in this country to know he or she is safe and protected when entering a school."

aviva1964: "I really don't know what the big deal is. Many schools already have armed guards. ... Kids see security guards at banks, at stadiums, at airports security at school does not equate to your kids going to school in a prison, nor will it make your kid afraid to go to school. It might make them less afraid."

But many argued that guns have no place in schools, especially in the hands of those hired and trained to educate kids.

Scott B: "I love my kids enough to not want them to go to school prisons."

TomGI: "As long as the decision to arm the school staff is fully disclosed then fine with me. I want to be informed so I can pull my kids out of there. I don't want my kids going to a school with armed staff. There are alternatives to that, and I want to avail myself of them."

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January 9th, 2013
02:48 PM ET

Guns, guards and posses: Schools try new security strategies

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - It's not the first time this has happened: Students return to school after a few weeks off, and a few things have changed. Maybe the gym floor got a shine, the new physics teacher arrived - or there's an adult with a gun.

As students across the country returned to school this week, some schools implemented new security policies or brought in new personnel. Some are temporary or pilot programs. Others are refreshes of existing plans and training.

In Utah and Texas, some educators trained in shooting or self-defense. Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio put a "posse" of armed volunteers around school perimeters. The National Rifle Association said all schools should immediately have armed officers, later adding that schools should decide for themselves how to protect children.

It's all in reaction to the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staffers were killed.

“This is Columbine déjà vu,” said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant who works with school districts across the country. For weeks he's been hearing from schools that want to review emergency plans, train staff or invest in technology they hope will increase security.

"I’m happy to see these conversations happening now," Trump said. "I’m frustrated you couldn’t pay someone to have those conversations the day before Sandy Hook."

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What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?
Michelle Rhee visited the Noyes Education Campus in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
January 8th, 2013
04:40 PM ET

What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Michelle Rhee hasn't run the Washington, D.C., public schools since 2010, but her time in charge, and her every move in education since, still draw cheers from some and ire from others.

"Rhee is one of worst friends and best enemies of public education," user david esmay commented on an opinion piece by Rhee and former New York schools leader Joel Klein on CNN's Schools of Thought on Monday. Rhee and Klein wrote about a new report from StudentsFirst, the non-profit Rhee heads, which graded states' education policies.

"She's only a standout because she has the political backing to make her so. Her policies in Washington area schools are falling apart now that she and her drive to find funding are gone," William commented.

"I don't see how anyone can take this report or Ms. Rhee seriously," commenter Christine wrote about the StudentsFirst report.

"The Education of Michelle Rhee," a documentary airing Tuesday night on PBS, follows Rhee's time leading Washington, D.C., schools, and examines her legacy there. "Frontline" correspondent John Merrow followed Rhee on her trip to a school warehouses filled with hard-to-get supplies, to the firing of a  school principal and to rallies celebrating higher test scores, some of which are now in question.

Through it all, Rhee still speaks boldly about education and her ideas. Here are five quotes from the film that offer a taste of how Rhee ran the D.C. schools, and what she's done since.

“I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools ... and no, I have never run a school district before."

This is how Rhee introduced herself to teachers in Washington, D.C., in 2007. Rhee had spent a few years teaching in a rough Baltimore neighborhood and a decade in education reform, but was a "virtual unknown," when Mayor Adrian Fenty picked her to run the D.C. schools. Her style was direct and her objectives clear - make Washington's school's better, even if it meant changing laws, firing people, closing schools and making adults unhappy.

"We’re not running this school district through the democratic process."

Indeed, after some initial excitement, many adults were unhappy. Scenes show parents angry about school closures, district leaders angry that she defied their instructions, teachers angry about layoffs and firings. Teachers interviewed for the film said Rhee didn't consider that some kids live in extreme poverty or have fallen so far behind that they'd need more than one year to catch up.

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December 31st, 2012
07:08 PM ET

American, Chinese marching bands unite for Rose Parade

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Some 20 years ago, when Troy Gunter was a new band director, he had the crazy idea that his high school students should someday march in the Rose Parade.

It’s a lofty goal for any band. The annual march through Pasadena began in 1890 and evolved into a New Year’s Day spectacle of music, flowers and football watched by 700,000 along the route and 39 million more on TV.

Gunter's school, Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California, grew from a few hundred kids to more than a thousand. The private school's marching band ballooned to about 150 students and evolved into the school's Conservatory of the Arts. Over the years, the marching band took on more competitions, longer parades and overseas travel.

A few years ago, when Gunter and the band returned from a trip to Cambodia, an idea struck: Why not apply to the Rose Parade now, with an international partner?

Problem was, they didn’t really know any overseas bands. They weren’t sure how they could practice together, let alone organize for the grandest stage a high school marching band can reach.

With the 2013 parade deadline looming, they got in touch with Beijing’s No. 57 High School. The band’s director, Lu Jin, was familiar with the Rose Parade, and his band had played a few major events, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Through a contact of a contact of a contact, we got together,” Gunter said. “It was like a blind date.”

Without ever meeting, Gunter, who doesn’t speak Chinese, and Lu Jin, who doesn’t speak English, agreed to go for it.

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December 17th, 2012
04:30 AM ET

What really makes schools safer?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Sandy Hook Elementary School probably did everything right. Its staff and teachers worked every day to create a climate that valued kindness and posted the plan for all to see. They had lockdown drills that trained everyone to stay low and quiet in the event of an emergency. A security system introduced this year required visitors to ring a bell, sign-in and perhaps produce a photo ID. After 9:30 a.m., the doors were locked.

And now it's the home of the one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Twenty children dead and eight adults, including the shooter.

Those who know the world of school security are already predicting what comes next: A strong reaction - maybe an overreaction - by parents, schools and legislators who want to take action. Politicians will be elected on platforms of school safety. Vendors will turn up with technology and plans to sell. Schools will rewrite their crisis plans and run extra drills.

It happened after the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, and again after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

And within a few months or years, it'll be back to cutting security budgets and fighting for time to train staff and teachers.

"The vast majority have a crisis plan on paper. It's much more common that we find those plans are collecting dust on the shelf and they're not a part of the culture or the practice," said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant. "I don't believe we need to throw out the book of best practices on school safety. I think we do need to focus our resources, times and conversation back on the fundamentals."

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