Let’s Create a Culture of Family-Centered Practices in School Settings

greet parents

For professional educators, serving children in schools means serving the family as well, and we must adopt practices which will move school systems, procedures, perspectives, protocols and program policies, towards being family-centered in the framework of teaching and learning. The elements of family-centered practices all work towards empowering families with the knowledge and skills to make the best decisions  for their children and the family as a unit. When parents are empowered, they feel in control; a palpable sense of agency.They also become more invested when they feel they are respected as experts and collaborators in the educational planning process.

Professionals must recognize that when they develop a relationship with a child, they are also developing a relationship with the child’s family. The more collaborative the relationship is with families, the more invested and engaged the child becomes in the classroom and learning and achievement potential is optimized. Collaboration is the key, and successful relationships require hard work. When the life of a child is at stake, there is no room for failure-it is not an option.

An essential component of family-centered practice is collaboration in decision-making. As a model of partnership, family-centered practice has as its underlying philosophy the belief that
families are pivotal in the lives of children and should be empowered to engage in decision making
for them.
It actually has its origins in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in that it recognizes that children exist within a wider context of family,
community and society where at every level the ecological system is interconnected. In this ecological system, the child, the family and the
environment are inseparable and what affects one member of the system impacts on the other members.  Each member of the system, and their relationships, are in turn influenced by the broader social, political and educational policies. It is this broader system (mesosystem) that shapes the perceptions, expectations and equality of the relationships that exist between the nested systems.

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Since we recognize the interconnectedness of these systems-family, child, school, community- it is logical that we likewise assume a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning at school. What empowers one system, empowers and impacts all others. “If you know better, you do better!” Today, we know better and more about the interplay between learning at home and learning at school. When all are aligned, we maximize successful learning outcomes, we enhance life quality for families, strengthen communities, and position our society and its citizens to thrive in a global economy-the global village.

What remains baffling, however, is why it seems to be such reluctance to ‘share’ power and expand the instructional audience to include families, adult caregivers, and diversity. There is an incredible difference between giving away power and sharing power.

Family-centered practices do not mean that the experts in education are relinquishing their expertise to the parents, whose expertise is in their child, culture and unique strengths they possess. Instead, we are asking that professional educators, whose knowledge, experience and expertise lies in their chosen specializations, share their knowledge and benefits from their expertise with families-a collaboration.

Family-centered practices is a partnership, an alliance between systems of care, where knowledge is shared, goals are mutually identified, designed and collaboratively implemented. When parents and families understand your purpose, recognize common interests, and are given the tools and skills to support and fully align with them, children fare better, relationships become more meaningful,
and come to life in the classroom, the home and the community at large-inseparably.

The pathway to this end is through authenticity, trust, respect and reciprocal communication.With a focus on strengths and solutions- finding, we must adopt a genuine appreciation for diversity, culture, language, family structure, etc… Unless and until we can honestly say that we understand the impact of our own culture and cultural experiences, as it influences our cultural lens, we are challenged to engage in family-centered practices with cultural competence.

Cultural competence is also at the core of family-centered practices, when working with children and their families. To respectfully teach and engage a child in learning is to respect and engage that child’s family and with that child’s culture. Demonstrating respect for the culture is to recognize the differences, acknowledge the similarities, and communicate, in conversation or classroom instruction, responsively. This brings us to ‘mirrors and windows’. Children require, not maybe, but definitely, require in their best interests, a healthy balance of both mirrors and windows in the classroom, within a curriculum framed by a broad and inclusive lens.

Eurocentricity and windows-focused curricula and instruction defy the ‘whole child-whole family’ philosophy, and is harmful to the comprehensive growth and development of children. It also negates our responsibility to empower every child and his or her family, as well. If diversity is represented in a school community, especially, and the instruction does not address, affirm or highlight that diversity, we are ‘mis-educating’ the child, disempowering the family and  performing a great disservice to that community.

Family-centered practices place children and families at the fore and central consideration at the core of curriculum, policy, practice, and procedural design and protocol…if indeed we endeavor to act in the best interest of children, and to help them realize their potential for school, career, and life success.

“So goes the family; So goes the nation.”... interconnectedness!

GRIEF, LOSS and SEXUAL ASSAULT: The Agony of An Untold Story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

—Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on the Road, 1969

Sexual assault survivors are among the most disenfranchised populations, coping with narratives of multiple losses, uncertainty, and grief that frequently go unacknowledged. An alleged perpetrator gleefully walks across the stage at a college graduation, cheered on by an audience, some of whom, aware of the assault, applaud nonetheless. Meanwhile, the assault survivor, disoriented and betrayed by a system and society designed to protect offenders, struggles with grief that is suffocated by a system filled with penalties  and oppressive stigma stemming from the assault. The survivor is left to contend with losses of trust and physical and emotional safety. She faces the agony of knowing that despite the perpetrator’s actions, he will experience the freedom to participate in a life of possibilities and protections with few or no social, educational, or legal sanctions—a luxury that, in an instant, was violently seized from the survivor.

Grief, loss, and social injustice are vital elements in the distinct yet intersecting stories of sexual assault and post-assault survivorship. Yet survivors must frequently cope in isolation or in programs and therapeutic settings that do not consistently account for grief and loss as central to their experiences.  These factors, related to disenfranchisement and suffocated grief among young adult females, further complicate grief and mourning processes.

Losses commonly associated with sexual assault and issues of disenfranchisement and suffocated grief that serve to further complicate coping processes for survivors are numerous, cumulative, and multilayered.

The primary loss is the pre-assault life and worldview. There are also a multitude of secondary or accompanying losses that may be both visible (e.g., friendship loss) and invisible (e.g., loss of trust).

Secondary losses in sexual assault include, but are not limited to loss of trust in self and others, as well as:

  • beliefs about the goodness of others
  • loss of self-identity, freedom, and independence
  • loss of control and autonomy, such as in the timing of reporting
  • loss of a sense of safety and security
  • loss of positive self-concept or self-esteem
  • loss of finances and job
  • loss of social capital such as friends and social networks or intimate partnerships and
  • loss of sexual interest and other sex-related losses.

In interchanges with the legal system, there may be multiple losses. There may be a loss of ability to present one’s case in court. Among cases that make it to trial, survivors may lose the ability to tell the assault narrative in a coherent and meaningful way because stories of survivors are often dismantled in court, and survivors are instead expected to respond mainly to yes or no questions[closed questions].

Additionally, there are losses of privacy and time in legal proceedings; court trials often continue for months or even years with no clear ending or resolution, which may prolong or delay grief. The grief process may be further complicated in cases where there is no conviction. Survivors are possibly re-victimized when the verdict is experienced as unjust.

Unfortunately, the losses are not finite, as there can be a continuous presence of loss that is often hidden, invisible, and ongoing in nature which may be exacerbated because the circumstances surrounding the loss result in recurrent pain, grief, or intense distress involving, for example, shame, self-consciousness, or social isolation.

With an understanding of sexual assault as a type of bereavement, offering fitting interventions that enfranchise grief become apparent, and the notion of growth through loss is problematic. It imposes a timeline upon the survivor as to the grieving process- oppressive and greatly unfair. Survivors need time to process the fact that they have been violated and to establish new norms in their ‘post-assault’ life.

Support for any and all feelings of loss is and should be a basic right, should be acknowledged as we consider it an “unearned entitlement” of survivors of sexual assault. Supports can be emotional, concrete, physical, but it is more necessary that supports are comprehensive.

As we deliver supports to sexual assault survivors, we need them to be collaborative, free from stigma or re-victimization, and environments need to be intentionally supportive. By design, it is to be expected that all settings support emotional and physical safety and ultimately, total well-being.

Fragmented services have prevailed for far too long, and this contributes to the isolation, disenfranchisement, and vulnerability often experienced by survivors. The many untold stories need to be told, heard, and prevented from becoming insurmountable barriers to restoring or attaining total wellness of survivors.

“Wellness is a positive state of being brought about by the simultaneous, balanced and synergistic satisfaction of personal, relational, and collective needs…. Wellness cannot flourish in the absence of justice, and justice is devoid of meaning in the absence of wellness.…” (Prilleltensky, Dokecki, Frieden, & Wang, 2007)

Attention to cultural frameworks must be employed in practices designed to understand disenfranchisement and complications to the grief process for survivors. It is all too often the case that unacknowledged or disenfranchised grief is related to lack of assault disclosure[the untold story] among individuals from more marginalized social locations (e.g., African American, female).

Female assault victims are at an increased risk for self-harm or harm to others, and deemed less costly than the effort required to counteract long-standing oppressive patriarchal systems. Punishment for working against privilege and the supported systems is often swift and severe.

For example, a female assault survivor on a college campus who pursues charges against a star football player, seemingly one individual, would actually be working against multiple systems of oppression (e.g., athletic system, legal system). In pursuing her basic right of recognition and justice, she may be publicly maligned and faced with a case in which the perpetrator, supported by multiple systems that reflect and reinforce male privilege and oppression of women, is not convicted.

Nuff said?!!! No. There are still too many untold stories. If you have a story to tell, speak now or later, but tell your story and own your power and your right to heal and be well.

To be continued…

 

Schools: Do Parents Want ‘Good’ or More ‘Choice’?

 

The American public-school system is one of the pillars of our democracy,  funded by taxpayers—state, local and, for the past 15 years, federal governments. The money is allocated according to the number of children in each district that it is mandated to educate. Thus, each child enrolled in a public school is worth an assigned amount of cash. If parents opt to send a child to a private school, that’s fine, their taxes still go towards  public education because public education is  also seen as a public good. Its mission is to provide education for ALL children, including children with English as a second language, children with learning and physical disabilities.

key to success

As a parent, what would you want from your child’s school? Where would you want your child to attend school if all schools were equally resourced? My choice, as a parent, would be to send my child to my neighborhood school. When my child reaches 9th grade, perhaps school choice would make more sense, because high schools often have specializations which match a child’s career interests and academic aptitude.

In the early grades, all public schools should offer the same standard of instructional quality for all children everywhere with the only differences related to location-not race, income or community. That ensures equitable educational experiences. In rural America, does school choice make sense for them? In poorer neighborhoods, school choice may always be a viable option for some parents, but why should sending my child miles away, to ride a subway or crowded bus, sometimes 2 or 3, be the only way to ensure that my child receives a good education? Is that not ridiculously inequitable at its core?

A parent should have the right to send their child to any school he or she feels aligns with their child’s particular academic, developmental, physiological  needs. Once again, when we afford every child a quality filled experience in our public school system, choice may be exercised. In financially disadvantaged neighborhoods, if we must consider the reality for so many families. For the most part, parents will have very limited choices, but to enroll their child in local schools. Unless relocating into a new area, children attend schools within their ‘zoned’ district. Sure there is school choice, but choice is only afforded to the more advantaged families.

The American Federation of Teachers enlisted Hart Research Associates to conduct an online survey, and polled parents- Hispanic, African-American, and whites on the ‘state of the schools’. Parents were asked a series of questions centered around their perspectives on public schools. When asked about school choice, overwhelmingly, parents indicated their preference for good quality neighborhood schools over school choice. The responses from the parents in the subject pool resulted in the identification of five themes:

1. Parents say public schools are helping their children achieve their full potential and expanding opportunity for low-income and minority children.

2. Parents want access to a good neighborhood public school much more than increased choice of schools. Their highest priorities for these schools are providing a safe and secure environment, developing their children’s knowledge and skills, and ensuring equal opportunity for all kids.

3. Parents worry about several trends in education today, including inadequate funding, excessive standardized testing, class size increases, cutting non-academic subjects, teacher turnover, and shifting resources from regular schools to charters and vouchers.

4. Parents disapprove of Betsy DeVos’ performance as Secretary of Education and reject her “choice” agenda. They express little confidence in either DeVos or Donald Trump as education leaders, instead looking to teachers, principals, and parent organizations for the right ideas for public education.

5. Parents’ education agenda focuses on investing in traditional public schools, with particular emphasis on expanding access to CTE programs, reducing class size, supporting struggling neighborhood schools, including art and music in curriculums, and providing health and nutrition services. They strongly oppose shifting resources from traditional public schools to fund either charter schools or vouchers.

Though this survey was not exhaustive of all parents’ opinions, the ‘randomly sampled’ participants were written as, “….national survey consisted of interviews with 1,200 public school parents (parents with children who attend a regular public school and/or a charter public school), and included subsamples of 233 African-American parents, 371 Hispanic parents, and 196 parents in major U.S. cities.”, it still serves as  an informative and very useful for education decision-makers. The people have spoken, including those non-descript ‘parents’. Was it a Freudian example or quite intentional omission of descriptor of the 196? African-American and Hispanic parents were identified in the subsample. Food for thought! 

I will leave you with these points to ponder, and consider as we move forward into the 21st Century in America. As an ABC show asks the audience, “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”

How College Students Can Be Healthy While Living with Sickle Cell Disease

 

hunter cuny

College students with sickle cell disease (SCD) can have a fun and safe college experience by taking a few safety precautions to keep themselves healthy.

SCD is an inherited blood disorder that can cause severe pain. So for students with SCD, the transition of leaving home to go to college can be a fun and exciting experience, but also challenging. By making smart health decisions, students with SCD can live full lives and enjoy their college experience. Read below to learn nine tips on how students with SCD can stay safe and healthy while at school.

What health challenges can college students with SCD face?
Pain episodes (mild to severe pain caused by SCD) are the most common health problem and the #1 cause for emergency department visits among adults with SCD. Students with SCD may also feel tired frequently, may need to take frequent breaks during exercise, and may not be able to participate in strenuous, high-impact physical activities. Students with SCD can better manage their pain episodes and other SCD-related problems by making smart health decisions.

library books

Nine Tips to Stay Healthy in College

1. Find Good Medical Care
Before arriving on campus, find a doctor who is located near your college with experience in treating people with SCD. Often, the best choice is to find a Hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood and blood diseases. However, if a Hematologist is not available in the community, find a doctor who knows how to manage and treat SCD-related health problems.

2. Maintain and Update Medical Records
Provide student health services with up-to-date medical records before arriving on campus each school year. The medical record should include a list of medicines you are taking. It is important to provide this information in the event of an emergency.

3. Practice Healthy Habits
It is important to fuel your body properly. A healthy diet can help reduce the frequency of pain and other symptoms. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day and choose healthier meal options. Snack on fruits and vegetables between classes and during late night study sessions. Make healthy eating more fun by preparing meals and snacks together with your friends.

4. Stay Active
Regular exercise is important for everyone, including people with SCD. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after any type of physical activity and remember not to overdo it. Take breaks throughout exercise routines to avoid becoming overheated. Avoid extreme temperatures. Try not to get too hot or too cold. Do not be afraid to tell yourself, a workout buddy, or a coach that you need a break.

5. Prevent Infections
Take precautions to prevent infections and illnesses. Wash your hands with soap regularly and practice good hygiene, especially while sharing spaces in dormitories, bathrooms, gyms, and classrooms. Common illnesses, such as the cold and flu, can be dangerous for people with SCD. Stay up-to-date with vaccinations (shots) before arriving on campus. Talk to your doctor about receiving flu and pneumococcal vaccines for more protection.

6. Manage Stress
A busy schedule can be overwhelming and can often lead to stress. For students with SCD, stress can lead to more severe and frequent pain episodes and dangerous health problems. Find ways to manage stress by including times for rest in your schedule. Take a break to pick up a good book, listen to music, take a walk outside, or hang out with friends.

7. Create an On-Campus Support Network
Create an on-campus support network by telling a friend, academic advisor, professor, or a health provider on campus (or any combination of these individuals) of your condition. Severe pain episodes and other complications from SCD can lead to emergencies. In the event of an emergency, the people in your on-campus support network should have the information to contact your family members and a physician if you are unable to do so yourself.
8. Connect with an Academic Advisor
Connect with an academic advisor or an on-campus counselor and tell him or her about your condition. In the event of an emergency, you may be absent from class for an extended period of time. During this time, an academic advisor can advocate for you and keep you informed by being the main point of contact for professors and school personnel.

9. Join Support Groups
Join support groups and community-based organizations for people with SCD in order to share your experiences with other people who have SCD. These groups can provide a sense of understanding and belonging, information on SCD, assistance, and support to help you manage your condition.

You can have a fun and safe college experience by making smart health decisions to help you to manage your SCD and reduce the frequency of SCD-related health problems. Now get back to class and earn that degree!

For more information and resources, go to Centers for Disease Control(CDC) at:

Healthy Living Website(https://www.cdc.gov/healthyliving)

Sickle Cell Disease Website(https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/index.html)