Parents, Prepare to Begin the New School Year NOW

Parents, if you have school-aged children and you already know the school that they will attend for the upcoming  year, then you can begin preparing both your child and yourself  now-before the 1st day of school. There are things to be done, besides shopping for new clothes and school supplies in order to be ready for that first day. You can begin to make a list of any and all questions you may have for the teachers and staff as it pertains to your child and yourself, as well.

Whether this a new school for your child or a familiar one, you must be actively involved with those teachers-your child’s teacher in particular. You want that teacher to know your name and your face. The teacher must know that, no matter what your education level, culture or language of origin, your child’s best interest is your main concern. Make some time to visit the school, and introduce yourself to the teacher-with or  without your child.

A few days prior to Day One, staff will be in the school building preparing for the children. A most opportune time for intros will be then. If you don’t know the name of your child’s teacher this year, then when you arrive at the school, visit the main office, and ask someone. You want to know where your child will report on that first day.

Should you get the chance to meet your child’s teacher before school starts officially:

  •  Ask him or her, after you introduce yourself, of course, whether there are any specific demands or requests related to the curriculum, behavior, expectations, etc…
  • Ask about the types of established routines, , and tell the teacher a little something about your child. Mention any allergies, likes or dislikes, special talents, nicknames[or given name pronunciation]The idea is to exchange information , establish a relationship with the teachers and begin partnering in collaboration to maximize your child’s learning growth and achievement.
  • Tell your child’s teacher about your child’s specific personality traits, too. Is your child shy, talkative, bossy[a natural leader] or wear prescription eyeglasses, etc…?

If you are a working parent, outside of the home, you may wish to:

  • Tell the teacher what your normal availability is for emergencies or reporting concerns. Similarly, you may want to ask him or her what times are best for you to reach out, whether during or after school hours. Once again, the idea is to familiarize yourself with the facilities, the floor plan and it is a good for the school-based staff to understand that you are an engaged and involved parent, both in and outside of school.
  • Ask to see the textbooks that will be used to supplement your child’s learning instruction during the year, checking for unedited affirmation in facts and inclusiveness. If you are a person ‘of color’, then I would like to suggest that you ask your child’s teacher to utilize culturally rich and relevant diverse resources to guide instructional strategies and content. In fact, parents should insist upon a curriculum fully-embedded in diversely represented examples to illustrate instruction and reinforce pedagogy in the classroom-every classroom.

spotlightIt is vital that children see themselves and others who look like them in their classroom instruction during the school day-all children. It will greatly enrich their experiences and power up their learning, resilience and intrinsic motivation. This is especially important for children of color. Culturally relevant instruction will certainly encourage and enhance learner engagement and reduce potential boredom or behavior problems. Every child needs to receive a healthy balance of mirrors and windows, and children of color rarely are exposed to their mirrors[reflections in others who look like them] in school settings. This highlights the critical need for immediate everyday access to culturally affirming materials and resources. To help prepare your child for the upcoming school year the following tips will also help:

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Set up a sleep routine. It’s best to establish bedtimes and wake-up times at least two weeks in advance of the start of school. By the first  day of school, your child’s body will have become accustomed to the schedule and oversleeping or insufficient sleep at night will be one less worry.

Plan healthy lunches and snacks. The better you plan out the meals in your home, the healthier choices you will make for your kids. When you pack protein-rich snacks and lunches, balanced with fruits, vegetables, and other wholesome items, you ensure that your children will have the energy and brainpower to make it through each school day.

Organize clothing. Of course you will need to donate or otherwise get rid of the clothing that your kids have outgrown, but you should also take the time to carefully organize what is left. From there, decide what items you may need more of before school begins.

Designate a ‘school stuff’ area. Find a central spot to store everything related to school, including backpacks, outfits or school uniforms and a dry erase calendar with family/school schedules. Try to keep this area free of clutter and other non-school items so that you and your child can find what you might need, when you need it—and quickly. Have them help you stock it with school-related items and keep it clean and functional.

Talk about bullying. Research shows that one in three kids experience bullying at some point in their school career—and in the increasingly digital world, the consequences can be extreme. Make sure your children understand the right way to treat their peers, and when to speak up if they see someone else being bullied. Also make sure they know when to come to you if they feel they are being bullied. Talk about classroom behavior and your expectations of good conduct at all times, also.

Talk about classroom etiquette. Encourage your child to speak up, raise their hands and to be unafraid to ask questions to the teacher when they are unsure or don’t fully understand a concept. It is far better to review that which is misunderstood than it is to allow teachers to assume that everyone is on the same page. It becomes more difficult for your child to catch up or move on to another lesson.

Ask your child to talk about any concerns. The start of school is exciting, but can also bring some anxiety—especially when it comes to the unknown. Take a few minutes to ask what your chilare most looking forward to during the school year, and what things may be worrying them. By giving them a forum to express their concerns, you can help them work through any worries in advance of school starting and clear up any issues that could lead to a bumpy start to the year.

 

Have a great school year, and have an engaged school year! Get as involved as you possibly can in all things learning and school. Teachers need to see you there, for in your absence, many often make an erroneous assumption that you do not care. Today’s parent, whether limited English proficiency, education level or time, MUST not feel intimidated by school staff-the experts on learning- because parents are THE quintessential experts on their children first. When both work together, learning at school is made more meaningful to you, your child, and educators. So collaborate with teachers, attend meetings, visit the school regularly[and unannounced, too], ask questions, address concerns, and be your child’s best advocate. Lastly, continue to build your own capacity to support your child’s development and your own as well.

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Countering the ‘Alt-Right’ on Campus: A Guide

Once again, in light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, we have reached a critical point in our American democracy. We are being challenged by our freedoms of speech, rights of assembly, and our individual beliefs. The central point of our society is the assurance of the rights of each citizen to enjoy the freedoms afforded by the democratic tenets. However we view the events of late, it is nonetheless troubling to witness in the 21st Century. Young adults, much too young to have experienced life in this country that once characterized that which they believe is their Alt-Right/Nationalist/Klan mission,  are in active defense of an inhumane ‘past’  racist ideology.

Where did we go wrong, and where are we continuing to fail our children? What have they learned in school? What do we send our children to school for? This!Educators everywhere must reflect on their role and the information that we  impart or omit and neglect to include among the core curriculum— standards adopted by school districts nationwide.

When the President of the United States of America asks the question “Did George Washington have slaves?”, we should be convinced that it is in schools, in the classrooms, that we have got to do better.

Get this guide from SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center, to help schools counter and prevent ‘Alt-Right’ movements from invading campuses…..

via SPLC Releases Campus Guide to Countering ‘Alt-Right’ | Teaching Tolerance

The Iceberg Concept of Culture

Icebergs are famously disproportionate in terms of visibility. You can see the top 10%, but 90% of its mass is below the surface. Culture is similar. You can observe about 10% of it, but to comprehend the rest, you have to go deeper. This is known as the iceberg model of culture. It was developed by anthropologist Edward T. Hall who, in the 1970s, defined many of our fundamental ideas about culture today. Hall’s model has provided a great way for us to capture the complexity of human cultures.

The need for mindful awareness or sensitivity to the ‘essence’ of others beyond the immediately visible is critical, especially when we are engaging and interacting with the diverse cultures represented in the classrooms of today. This means that we must be mindful and cognizant of the existence of the layers of culture that are at surface and those aspects below the surface as nuanced characteristics.  In other words, for an iceberg, there is the part that lays above the water line-above the surface, that we can immediately and clearly recognize as being an iceberg. The iceberg that we see and identify as such is merely a small part of that total iceberg as it is. In this case,  it is about culture.

When you first interact with a new culture, the top 10% is clearly evident. This is the part of culture that you can identify with your five senses. These things matter. The visible aspects of culture are important parts of how cultures interact and maintain their sense of unity. However, they also tend to be fluid. Recipes and games and arts can all change over time, and language shifts with each generation. Therefore, we can say that the cultural facets of the top 10% of the culture iceberg have a relatively low emotional load. They matter to people, but they can also be changed and altered without challenging the existence of a culture or  ideas about who they are.

We aren’t able to see exactly what lays just under the surface nor can we see all aspects of culture when we rely upon the surface indicators alone. There is much more to icebergs and culture than meets the eye. We, as human beings and social creatures, aren’t that simple. Neither are icebergs. If the surface answers the ‘what’ and the ‘simple who’ questions about a culture, then the below surface levels answer the ‘why’s’, and ‘how’s’ and the more complex ‘who’s’.                                                                                                           There is surface culture and there is deep culture, and the characteristics considered below the surface are the unspoken and unconscious rules of culture which are deeply submerged. The above the surface, immediately recognizable characteristics of culture is what we see when we’re introduced to a new group of people, but it’s literally just the tip of the iceberg. The minute we dip below the surface, things get more intense.

In Hall’s model, the 90% of culture that is below the surface can be divided into two categories. The first are those things which are near the surface, but still hidden. We can think of these as the unspoken rules of a society. unspoken rules are nonverbally communicated, like the way we show emotions, personal space, manners, and even our definitions of beauty. These aspects are just below the surface and takes time for an outsider to understand, as they aren’t immediately visible. The emotional load is heavier, and so attempts to change or alter them, will leave people to believe their culture is being threatened or misappropriated.

Cultures are defined more by what is unseen than seen. The surface is the place where limited information about a group of people becomes generalized and become stereotyped characteristics, which is unfair and unfortunate. It is a greater level of ignorance that perpetuates all negative stereotypes, and as an iceberg, 90% of pertinent aspects that define culture is unseen, unspoken and reaching those levels defies any immaculate perceptions, assumptions or stereotypes.

As the saying goes,” You can’t judge a book by its cover.”, for many times, it isn’t until we have read beyond the surface, that a plot emerges or we can truly understand an individual or a cultural group.

At the core of an iceberg, a culture, or even an individual who in essence, is a mini surface level reflection of their cultural group, is where the bulk of what defines it is found. At the core of culture there are concepts of self, childrearing, definitions of adulthood, gender roles[sex, age, class], family or kinship networks, and the tempo of society. These are the subconscious parts of culture that people adhere to without much conscious thought;  the values that define a culture.  To understand them, one would have to live among this culture for a long time to become absolutely fluid in the values. Should they change, it would fundamentally change what that culture is. Therefore, the heaviest emotional load is held at this level.

Relevance, you ask? To understand what culture really is, what it means to the group to which one belongs, is not easily acquired. Similarly, to understand any individual fully, is to first realize that humans are not one dimensional in any aspect. To stereotype a group based upon limited information or limited experience among that group, is to endeavor in ignorance.

Humans are social beings, and belonging to a group is an inherent desire and also a primary need. Children have a need to feel they belong, and as they/we age, that need becomes expressed differently, as it spreads outward into the greater society, which exists in groups or ‘sub’ cultures, too. Work, school, teams, neighborhoods, etc… all have what we term ‘cultures’. The message here is to acquire cultural competence, sensitivity, awareness, responsiveness and proficiency before endeavoring to presume intimate knowledge of any one person or group or family who stands before us.

Until we have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, NEVER ASSUME or judge. Never assume an understanding of someone’s life, unless lived, too. Never assume an understanding of someone’s pain, unless felt, too. Never assume an understanding of attitude or behavior, unless in the same or similar context, you can relate. Empathize, ask questions, seek understanding, be observant and actively listen.  Go ahead-immerse yourself!

College and Your Mental Health Matters

Recently, I heard a tragic story of a young man, a college student, who attended my daughter’s alma mater, Penn State University. This young man was a vibrant and active student on  the State College campus. Upon hindsight and without detailing a very personal family tragedy,  this young man had displayed behaviors and attitudes indicative of a mental health matter. While with his friends one night, he either jumped or fell from a balcony. Fortunately he survived, but he lived as a quadriplegic, unable to speak until his death at age 22. I wonder whether this could have been avoided if this young man had received critical counseling interventions. There were signs of course, that if recognized, could have been  addressed-if his friends only knew what they were.

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The onset of mental health conditions tend to emerge before age 24 and one in five young adults will experience a condition during college.  College is part academic development, career development and personal development. We tend to focus on the first two, and forget that-youngsters are emerging and young adults. Many  youngsters experience -living on their own, away from parents, familiar surroundings, and though there are controlled, and structured settings and accommodations like campus housing and student dormitories, little focus is placed on psychological adjustments, attitudes, or total mental health and comprehensive wellness.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[SAMHSA] in partnership with National Alliance on Mental Illness[NAMI] have just released guidance on mental health specifically during the college years. They suggest that we start the conversation-talk about mental health, destigmatize conditions and not attach blame, but rather offer help and resources, listen, and educate yourself and others about what a mental health disorder looks, feels and sounds like.

Very important to note is that mental health conditions are not  uncommon, and that you nor anyone else should feel alone. There is always someone who can relate, will listen and will provide the necessary assistance in order to help people manage a diagnosis and cope with a mental health condition if present.

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Feeling down or depressed? That’s ok, unless the feelings persist, last too long, are accompanied by other disturbing feelings, or you feel as though you can’t manage your daily life. No matter what, do not ever give up on yourself or your ability to come out of this  temporary ‘funk’ landing on the brighter side of life.  But, if deemed serious, you can manage that, too.

The highlights the importance of seeking help from someone you trust. You may come to understand that it may be due to ‘Freshman Depression'[which could occur at any time, not only freshman year], mid-term jitters, lack of sleep, an argument with a good friend, and relatively minor, non-alarming life circumstances. Until you have a conversation with an adult or professional, you won’t know how serious it may be.

Seek out someone with whom you can talk through the feelings or thoughts or behaviors that are disturbing to you. It is extremely important that you educate yourself and others about the warning signs of mental health conditions. Talk through and about your feelings, learn to recognize the signs, and tell someone, whether it is for you or a friend.

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Some symptoms or feelings may be considered within the range of ‘normal’, and can be attributed to recent changes or stressors in your life that can underlie coping behavior changes like poor eating habits-lack of appetite or overeating. Could be fear, anxiety, or a recent loss. You won’t know unless you start the conversation. Find the on-campus counseling center or seek off-campus counseling services. Or go to the school’s medical station/office[every school has one], since physical health and mental health are often related.

Let’s save lives, for it may be yours, mine or a perfect stranger. Be informed, and educate others, too. No one should suffer in silence, or feel that they are alone. Start the conversation at your school, in your community, or in your home.

Keep these thoughts in mind when you start your conversation:

Mental health conditions are common. In fact, one in five young adults will experience a mental health condition during college. If you develop a mental illness, remember that you are not alone.

Exercise, sleep and diet are important. Your physical health and mental health are connected and impact one another. Remember to take care of your body in order to take care of your mind.

Know where and when to seek help, and who to talk to. Make yourself aware of resources and care options on and off campus. If you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to the counseling center or a trusted advisor.

Understand your health privacy laws. Devise a plan on whether and how you will allow your school to share sensitive information about your mental health with your family or a trusted adult. Find out if your school has an authorization form, or use the one included in our guide.

There are warning signs. Verse yourself on the warning signs of mental health conditions and how to respond. Being informed can save lives. Get the guide!