5 tips for a better parent-teacher conference
October 18th, 2012
04:20 AM ET

5 tips for a better parent-teacher conference

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.
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5 things teachers want parents to know
October 10th, 2012
04:18 AM ET

5 things teachers want parents to know

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(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.
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September 30th, 2012
11:32 AM ET

Bullied Michigan teen shines as homecoming princess

By Chris Welch, CNN

West Branch, Michigan (CNN) - Whitney Kropp, the teen thrust into the spotlight after her peers nominated her for the school homecoming court as a prank, attended coronation Friday night surrounded by cheering fans.

Donning a red dress, she beamed as she clutched a bouquet of flowers.

"I had thoughts about not coming [still tonight]," the 16-year-old told reporters after halftime of the homecoming game.

"I just thought maybe I won't have fun, but ... I'm having actually a lot of fun right now."

"I'm so happy - this is so much right now for me," she added.

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Filed under: Bullying • Character education • High school • Practice • video
My View: Parenting the secondary student: We’re not in elementary school anymore
September 27th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

My View: Parenting the secondary student: We’re not in elementary school anymore

Courtesy Kent Murray PhotographyBy 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.
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September 26th, 2012
01:09 PM ET

Worthy homecoming for bullied teen

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) - At Ogemaw Heights High School, one student shocked by the announcement of homecoming court was a girl named to be on it.

Whitney Kropp was not the most popular student at her West Branch, Michigan school. Described by the Detroit News as a “free spirit,” Kropp, with her bleached hair and alternative style, says she had been picked on in the past.

She’d shaken it off like so many others do, but the bullying she’d faced reached a new low earlier this month, when some of her classmates decided that nominating an unpopular girl to the traditionally popular court would be a good prank.

Kropp, of course, wasn’t in on the joke. When she heard her name announced in connection with homecoming, she was elated. Her mother said it never crossed Whitney’s mind that it could’ve been a prank; the 16-year-old was too happy.

Shortly after she discovered the truth that night, her mother found her in tears.

At the very least, Kropp was planning to skip homecoming. She said she’d felt betrayed and that she wasn’t a worthy student at Ogemaw Heights High.

Her mother and some of her friends had a different take: They told her to go to the dance anyway - that it would be the best way to get back at those who’d bullied her.

Kropp decided they were right. So did her community.

As word of the prank got around quickly in Kropp’s small town, her phone started ringing. People were calling just to encourage her.

Then, local businesses stepped in. One offered to cover the cost of Kropp’s homecoming dress. Another started planning her dinner. A local salon is picking up the cost of her hair, her makeup, her nails, and “anything else she wants,” according to the owners.

“Because so many people came together…it just turned right around,” said Bernice Kropp, Whitney’s mother.
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Filed under: Bullying • Carl Azuz • Character education • CNN Student News • High school
September 24th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

New York schools offer 'morning after' pill to students

(CNN) - Since January 2011, more than 1,100 New York City students from 14 schools have gotten "morning after" and other birth control pills - from school.

The pilot program, called Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health, provides the birth control measures at schools where students are known to have a higher rate of pregnancy and less access to healthcare. In New York City, nearly half of teens have had sexual intercourse, CNN's Alina Cho reports, and seven out of 10 pregnant girls drop out.

"We are committed to trying new approaches ... to improve a situation that can have negative consequences that last a lifetime," New York's health department said in a statement.

The program, which now operates in 13 schools, is facing some criticism.

Students don't need permission from parents to get the pills, unless parents opt-out of the program through letters mailed and sent home with students. Some question whether parents have seen the letters and are aware of the program. All New York City schools already distribute free condoms.

What do you think? Should schools make the "morning after" pill and other birth control measures available to students?

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Why students skip school
September 14th, 2012
01:20 PM ET

Why students skip school

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.

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Back to school by the numbers
September 4th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

Back to school by the numbers

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.

Grades K-12

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.
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My View: It’s never too late to begin flipping your classroom
Stacey Roshan (left) and her mom, Wendy Roshan, are math teachers at two different schools who "flipped" their AP calculus classes.
August 24th, 2012
04:15 AM ET

My View: It’s never too late to begin flipping your classroom

By Stacey Roshan and Wendy Roshan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stacey Roshan is the daughter of Wendy Roshan. Stacey is a math teacher at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. Wendy is a math teacher at the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia.

Stacey: Soon after graduating from college, I decided to follow in my mother's career path and become a high school math teacher. My mom helped me with this transition to the teaching world, as I had no prior educational training. I looked to her for guidance on things such as structure, timing and pacing. As I began teaching, I mimicked a lot of what my mom was doing, but with a modern spin – I was always looking for technology that I could use in the classroom.

By my second year, I was teaching AP calculus. While I enjoyed teaching these students, my classroom sometimes felt like a stress bomb waiting to explode. (I am overly sensitive to stressed-out students because I was one myself.) So when the end of the class period felt like stepping off of a treadmill that had been running at full speed for 45 minutes, I knew I had a problem. I had talked as quickly as I could, and students had responded with as many questions as they could get in, but most of the time they had many unanswered questions and frequently found it necessary to come in after school for extra instruction.

That summer, two awesome things happened that would change everything.
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August 22nd, 2012
12:02 AM ET

Survey: 17% of high schoolers drink, smoke, use drugs during school day

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) - About 17% of American high school students drink, smoke or use drugs during the school day, a new survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University says.

It's no surprise to their classmates, either: 86% say they know the 2.8 million who are abusing substances during the day, according to the latest version of the center's annual back-to-school survey. The estimate is based on information gleaned from telephone interviews with about 1,000 kids ages 12 to 17.

The survey found that 44% of high school students know a classmate who sells drugs at school, and 60% say that drugs are available on campus. Marijuana was the most-sold on school grounds, students said, as well as prescription drugs, cocaine and ecstasy.

Here are some factors that can increase substance abuse, according to the survey.

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