First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Jamie OliverQ&A with Jamie Oliver about the ‘Food Revolution’

Like Jamie Oliver or hate him, there are not a lot of celebrity chefs doing what he’s doing right now – going on television to tell Americans that they’re fat and the way schools feed their kids is shameful. Read it in the Chicago Tribune.

CDC: More risky behaviors among gay high school students

One of the first and largest national studies of the behaviors of American high school students finds that those who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are more likely than their heterosexual peers to take unhealthy risks. Read more in US News & World Report.

‘Let’s Move’ initiative underway in Indian Country

PHOENIX – Some people in Indian Country are addressing the obesity problem by simply moving. Read more in the Native Times.

Brighton forbids school staff from recommending psychotropic drugs

BRIGHTON – Brighton School District 27J says it has tightened existing policy forbidding teachers and administrators from recommending psychiatric drugs for students after a watchdog group complained. Read more in the Denver Post.

Lafayette Elementary students Lining up to plant school garden.Aurora’s fifth block students learn about gardening

More than 60 students from Boston and Crawford elementary schools took part in an exerciseabout gardening last week at the Beeler Street Community Garden. Read more in Your Hub.

Childhood trauma linked to higher rates of mental health problems and obesity

STANFORD, Calif. — New research has shown that children’s risk for learning and behavior problems and obesity rises in correlation to their level of trauma exposure, says the psychiatrist at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital who oversaw the study. The findings could encourage physicians to consider diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder rather than attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which has similar symptoms to PTSD but very different treatment. Read all about it in the Health News Digest.

Culinary camp moves school cafeterias toward fresh meals

School may be out for kids, but class is in session for food services staff members in Colorado Springs School District 11 participating in a Cook for America Culinary Boot Camp at Coronado High School.

“We’re not just opening bags of lettuce, we’re cooking for people’s most prized possession — their children,” said Denise Wojcik, kitchen manager at Trailblazer Elementary School. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

LiveWell Colorado’s plan to expand Go, Slow, Whoa! gets national honor

A LiveWell Colorado-developed business plan designed to expand the Go, Slow, Whoa program from eight Colorado schools to 258 is one of six finalists in a national competition aimed at helping nonprofits grow programs with potential.

The 2011 Business Plan Competition, sponsored by The Social Impact Exchange, required U.S.-based social sector nonprofits to outline and submit comprehensive business plans for scaling already-in-progress initiatives to serve a larger audience. If chosen as one of two winners, LiveWell Colorado will receive financial and consulting awards to support the Go, Slow, Whoa expansion.

For more information about Go, Slow, Whoa, click here.

Summer food program feeds hungry kids at area schools

DENVER – Hungry kids across the state have a place to turn this summer, thanks to food service programs working out of schools in many districts. 

In Denver, for instance, kids can get a free breakfast and lunch at about 40 school sites. Kids ages one to 18 eat for free five days a week.

“Definitely, there’s a financial benefit,” said mother Susette Balderas. Check out FOX31.

USDA encouraging wider use of summer food program

The United States Department of Agriculture has made it easier for organizations to access funds to feed children in low-income areas during the summer, officials said on Tuesday. Read more at Reuters.

U.S. schools serving healthier lunches, but falling short in P.E.

A new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bridging the Gap, reveals middle and high schools across the country are making a concerted effort to provide healthier lunch options for their students.

Thanks to the National School Lunch Program, schools are providing more fruits and vegetables and less processed and frozen foods. However, despite the increase in healthier meals, students are still not given adequate time for physical activity during and after school.

Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • Although virtually all schools offered vegetables and fresh fruits some days or most/every day, the same was also true for pizza.
  • Compared with the previous school year, more students were offered whole grains and fewer were offered french fries as part of the National School Lunch Program.
  • More than one-half of secondary students had access to snacks like candy, chips, cookies and ice cream through the National School Lunch Program.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages were available to 71 percent of middle school and 92 percent of high school students in vending machines, à la carte lines, stores or snack bars on campus.
  • Physical education was required for some part of the school year for 83 percent of middle school and only 35 percent of high school students.
  • Participation in interscholastic and intramural physical activity programs was low, especially among students at less affluent schools and schools that had a majority Black or Latino student body.

One of the more shocking pieces of information revealed in the study identified that schools and districts with students at an increased risk for obesity (based on economic status, race or ethnicity) were less likely to have a wellness policy in place.

Chefs Move to Schools celebrated in Texas

FRESNO, Calif. – Hundreds of chefs and culinary professionals converged on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol this week to mark the first anniversary of Chefs Move to Schools (CMTS).  This celebration also marked the creation of a new grant program for CMTS, administered by The Culinary Trust, the philanthropic arm of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, with initial funding from the California Table Grape Commission. Read more in the PR Newswire.

Manitou, other districts awarded funds for health programs

Manitou Springs School District 14 and five other Colorado school districts on Thursday were awarded funds to advance best practices in health and wellness.

The Colorado Legacy Foundation will give $120,000 over two years to the districts as part of an initiative that also provides guidance, financial resources and technical assistance. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

 

First Person

I’m a teacher in Memphis, and I know ‘grading floors’ aren’t a cheat — they’re a key motivator

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Shelly

Growing up, my father used to tell me not to come to him with a problem unless I had a solution.

That meant I learned quickly what kinds of solutions wouldn’t go over well — like ones involving my father and his money. His policy also meant that I had to weigh pros and cons, thinking about what I was able to do, what I wasn’t, and whom I needed help from in order to make things happen.

I sometimes wish decision-makers in Memphis had a father like mine. Because more often than not, it seems we are talking about the problems void of a solution or even possible solutions to vet.

Right now, the issue in Memphis and Shelby County Schools is the “grading floor,” or the policy of setting a lowest possible grade a teacher can assign a student. They have been temporarily banned after a controversy over high-school grade changing.

Grading floors aren’t new to teachers in Memphis, or to me, a fifth-grade teacher. I have taught and still teach students who are at least two grade levels behind. This was true when I taught fourth grade and when I taught sixth grade. Honestly, as the grade level increased, so did the gaps I saw.

More often than not, these students have been failed by a school, teacher, leader or system that did not adequately prepare them for the next grade. Meanwhile, in my classroom, I have a responsibility to teach grade-level material — adjusting it for individual students — and to grade their work accordingly.

That’s where “grading floors” come in. Without a grading floor, all of my current students would have grades below a 65 percent.

Can you imagine seeing the face of a fifth-grade boy who tried his hardest on your test, who answered all the questions you gave orally, who made connections to the text through auditory comprehension, only to receive a 0 on his paper?

I don’t have to imagine – I see similar reactions multiple times a day. Whether it’s a 65 percent or a 14 percent, it’s still an F, which signals to them “failure.” The difference between the two was summed up by Superintendent Hopson, who stated, “With a zero, it’s impossible to pass a course. It creates kids who don’t have hope, disciplinary issues; that creates a really bad scenario.”

I know that as years go by and a student’s proficiency gap increases, confidence decreases, too. With a lowered confidence comes a lower level of self-efficacy — the belief that they can do what they need to do to succeed. This, to me, is the argument for the grading floor.

In completing research for my master’s degree, I studied the correlation between reading comprehension scores and the use of a motivational curriculum. There was, as might have guessed, an increase in reading scores for students who received this additional curriculum.

So every day, I speak life into my students, who see Fs far too often in their daily lives. It is not my job as their teacher to eradicate their confidence, stifle their effort, and diminish their confidence by giving them “true” Fs.

“This is not an indication of your hard work, son. Yet, the reality is, we have to work harder,” I tell students. “We have to grind in order to make up what we’ve missed and I’m the best coach you have this year.”

In education, there are no absolutes, so I don’t propose implementing grading floors across the board. But I do understand their potential — not to make students appear more skilled than they are, or to make schools appear to be better than they are, but to keep students motivated enough to stay on track, even when it’s difficult.

If it is implemented, a grade floor must be coupled with data and other reports that provide parents, teachers, and other stakeholders with information that accurately highlights where a student is, both within the district and nationally. Parents shouldn’t see their child’s progress through rose-colored glasses, or be slapped by reality when options for their child are limited during and after high school.

But without hope, effort and attainment are impossible. If we can’t give hope to our kids, what are we here for?

I don’t have all the answers, but in the spirit of my father, don’t come with a problem unless you have a solution.

Marlena Little is a fifth-grade teacher in Memphis. A version of this piece first appeared on Memphis K-12, a blog for parents and students.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede