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5-16-12 meetingminutes

A Georgetown Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)

& GeorgetownCARES Meeting

 

https://sites.google.com/site/georgetownsepac/home (access from district website)

https://georgetownsepac.blogspot.com

 

Meeting Minutes & Notes, May 16, 2012 – 7:00 pm, PB Library

 

May 16th, 2012 – Wednesday, 7-8:30pm -  Penn Brook Library, 68 Elm St., Georgetown 01833 - A Joint Georgetown SEPAC & GeorgetownCARES Meeting: Best Practices to Help Children Manage School-Related Stress and Anxiety – Come join us for an interactive discussion led by Dr. Troy Carr, Georgetown School Psychologist – This workshop will follow up on themes of our post-film Race to Nowhere community discussion and highlight particular sources of stress for our youth in school along with helpful strategies to support our children and build their resiliency.

 

The popular film RACE TO NOWHERE, shown in Georgetown in October 2011, was a call to families, educators, and policy makers to investigate how we support student learning in a culture prone to over-testing, performance pressure, and over-scheduling. This film clearly documented the suffering that many youth remain silent about, the educators stressed and worried about how to build resilience and a love of learning when curriculum itself is so overwhelming. Overly burdensome and meaningless homework, pressure to get into the “right” college, and pressure to achieve “A’s” all contribute to one of our students’ greatest sources of stress – school! How can we help our children turn “high expectations” from pressures driving them onto a convention path into the key to their very own journey to success?

 

How is life for our children in school changing these days? Very fast, with technology leading the way. Social media sites evolve constantly, allowing for anonymous posts and put-downs that authors do not need to own up to. Texting draws students into social interactions that they are not sure how to get out of. Online grading, either Edline, PowerSchool or ParentConnect, is a new fact of life for millions of students in thousands of schools across the country.  How do we speak to our children about using these potentially powerful technologies? How do we see them ourselves, and how do they alter parent-child interactions?

 

Bullying, or the social triangles that develop between aggressors, targets, and bystanders are nothing new, but we are now realizing the long-term emotional damage and stress it causes. Can we teach our children and our students to take a more thoughtful, empathetic approach to these social interactions, both in cyberspace and the school hallways? Interpersonal and social media skills taught at a young age can provide a foundation for our children for the rest of their lives.

 

This Georgetown SEPAC/GeorgetownCARES meeting is free and open to the public. Please RSVP or direct questions to Pam Lundquist at 978-352-5407 or tenhawkway@comcast.net

 

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Anxiety and stress in school is on the rise for many of our students, as the documentary, Race to Nowhere clearly shows. Why is this? How can we help our kids?

 

The basic structure and nature of public schools today is based largely on the needs of society in the 1800’s. At that time factories and businesses wanted a public school system that would train good workers for them. So schools created factory-like conditions from which students would easily transition to work. Schools instituted rigid schedules, bells to mark the end of periods, desks, indoor classes always in the same place, skills & drills.

 

Now that our world has transitioned, our schools are in need of new ways. America, lagging behind other countries in math and science needs to develop a more experiential way of teaching.  We need to use multimodal methods to allow all students to access the curriculum material in a practical, relevant and useful way. Because success in the global workplace now demands creativity, innovation, and a deeper level of comprehension than skills & drills can provide, our whole approach to education must fundamentally change. 

 

Amidst all of this change, homeschooling has understandably become a more popular alternative.

 

Many of the curriculums we now rely on teach students vast amounts of material at a faster rate and earlier age than ever before. First and second grades today can be equated to the third and fourth grades of 30 years ago. Pressures to achieve are stronger than ever, creating stress and anxiety particularly when we push children prematurely beyond their cognitive skills. Every child develops at a different rate, thus occasionally this can happen.

 

In Norway, where students consistently score highly on tests that demonstrate their ability to conceptualize, generalize and creatively use information, both in reading and in math, teachers are highly valued. Teacher pay is high, teacher development is extensive, teachers develop their own curriculum to meet the needs of the students. The emphasis is shifted from rote learning to focused classroom activities on problem solving.

 

The KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school model, used in over 100 KIPP schools around the country, focuses on an experiential teaching model. Kids go up to the board in groups and solve problems together.  All students are expected to learn, expectations are specific, clear and high; all student effort is highly valued. The teachers give the students time to get concepts, and will teach in different modalities until all students have learned the curriculum.

 

200+ years ago, long before the public school models we have in place today, experiential learning by doing was common practice. Teaching styles were more interactive and followed the learning style of individual students more closely. Of course, class sizes were much smaller than they are today! 

 

Most teachers today feel strong pressure to get through lessons, and it’s easier when everyone sits. The normal adult attention span is 15 minutes. It’s much less for kids.

 

One audience member suggested project-based learning as being highly motivational to her daughter. The in-depth, practical, multisensory learning that takes place can lead to real pride in achievement and newly acquired knowledge.

 

Dr. Carr said that he finds that most teachers are highly motivated to help their students, they want everyone to achieve their goals. They usually embrace teacher development, instructional strategy training, and group problem-solving very well.

 

Homework stress is very common. It helps when teachers integrate homework, both before students go home and when they return to school with it complete, into class discussions. Then homework can become an active learning experience that helps the teacher and student gage and build comprehension. Homework should not be overly burdensome, if it is, students, parents and teachers all need to discuss how and why as a team dedicated to helping the student. Students tend to feel the homework is meaningful when their efforts are recognized and rewarded. A student-directed element to homework, where the student has some choice in the nature of the assignment, also engages students. The expectations and particulars of a homework assignment needs to be clearly communicated to students in a multi-modal way to ensure no misunderstandings.

 

Sometimes the physical set up of the school environment can be disabling. Classrooms with poor sound quality, so that the students cannot hear the teacher or each other create stress for students. Classrooms with no comfortable area or table space for different activities or group work create stress for students. Classrooms that are too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter are hard to focus in.  Cheerful colors, orderly classrooms can calm anxious students.

 

Online grading systems for students in middle and high schools are new technology to many across the country. Students, parents, and teachers all need to set consistent posting and checking policies. Naturally there will be misunderstandings that will cause stress for all of us “early adopters.” The information communicated about student achievements, assignments, expectations, calendars can be of enormous help to students, families and teachers. However, the dialog around what is posted needs to stay constructive and focused on how the information can be helpful.

 

Today’s technology – video games, Facebook, texting – all promise instant, quick gratification. New versions are always faster and quicker.  Social interactions via technology can be easily misinterpreted, they do not provide the whole experience that face to face interaction does, but people are reached quickly.  The habitual use of technology that many tweens and teens fall into definitely creates stress and anxiety. Put it all off as long as you can, we want kids to learn how to be social person to person as much as possible.

 

One parent said that studies show that playing video games creates pathways and ruts in children’s brains. “We’re training kids to expect that level of stimulation from everything that they do. The kind of passive response that works for them in video games won’t work for them in life.”

 

Use of technology in the classroom does get the attention and engagement of many students. Classroom technology can be an opportunity for teachers to share with students constructive ways to learn about current events, do research, and explore topics in depth. It is vital that we teach students to use technology effectively, as it certainly is here to stay.  Some video games are educational, and can be valuable tools to teach kids who love them, such as Fastmath to learn math facts. See http://teacher.scholastic.com/math-fact-fluency/fastt-math-next-generation/

 

Cyberbullying causes huge stress and anxiety. When it occurs, the damage is enormous because there is no escape from it, not at school, not at home for the targets. Impulsive aggressors with regrets can’t take back their actions, either. Ultimately, kids need to learn how to police themselves. We can help them with that. They need to understand that every electronic conversation they engage in is both public and permanent.  That impulsive hurtful comments cause damage beyond what they can imagine. When emotions are running high, all people should stay away from electronic communications until they calm down. These are hard concepts for tweens and teens to get, but the message needs to be taught over and over.

 

Texting can hijack our kids’ adolescence. Texting can be addictive; Dr. Carr knows a 23-year old who is about to lose their job because she can’t stop texting. 11 year olds can be totally addicted to texting. And the pressure to response to 500 texts a day can be enormous. The message kids get is that they are not cool if they don’t. It’s hard to do homework and keep up with texting at the same time. A good time to take away all ipods and phones is 7-8pm at night. Then the focus can be on finishing up homework and getting ready for bed. Children want to be able to tell their friends, “my parents won’t let me text any more tonight.” It takes the pressure off of them.

 

With technology/screen time, put a structure around it, develop routines, use timers to minimize conflict and set limits. Talk about an end-time. Children appreciate boundaries, they want you to set limits.

 

Consistent behavior plans help put everything into proper perspective. Kids will take between 1 day and 3 weeks to feel comfortable with new routines. They will protest at first, but the battle is important to win. Clear expectations, meaningful rewards and consequences may all be a part of the plan. When trying to minimize a behavior or replace it with a new one, the extinction curve will apply. That means that initially, the resistance will be high, kids will test you to see if you are serious. But eventually, they will fall into line.

 

Most anxious children, particularly boys, are drawn to video games, and it can be argued that children drawn to video games become anxious because they isolate themselves in their video world.

 

A parent said that she has disabled the photo function in her child’s cellphone. Inappropriate pictures have caused much angst in the cyberworld.

 

Anxiety has gone through the roof with students in school, as reported by both teachers and administrators nationwide. Students most effected by anxiety often begin to show signs in 2nd and 3rd grades, when the pace of curriculum content taught begins to challenge them.

 

What many people define as the “right college” is questionable. Expensive private colleges may have small classes, but students will graduate with substantial debt. Massachusetts State colleges are amazing, a true value. If you want to invest in education, graduate school may be the best time to do that. The name of your graduate school will trump your undergraduate college, and you want to be sure to get the best quality program. One parent said the pressure to apply to big name colleges is high, sometimes coming from the well meaning friends and family, sometimes from guidance counselors.

 

Anxiety is based on a fight or flight response. When we experience chronic stress, your adrenaline levels and cortisol levels rise, which increases blood sugar. When you or your children experience anxiety often, you want to monitor it to determine triggers and learn how to stop the negative thoughts early. Once someone is in a full-blown panic attack, you cannot help them.

 

Be conscious all day long, am I uncomfortable? Am I thinking positive thoughts, or not? Then when you do get a little anxious, you can start in with strategies to turn it around, such as distracting yourself or considering the facts you know, rather than scary possibilities. Distraction is an excellent technique for dealing with anxiety. We need to teach people who feel anxious a different way of thinking.

 

Our emotional brains will always dominate our cognitive sides; your experience of life is primarily emotional. It is much easier to recall how you felt with someone rather than what exactly they said. So finding ways to feel safer, secure, valued with others is worth the effort.

 

Most of the time, the worst thing you can do with an anxious, upset teenage boy is to keep talking with them. As parents, we need to learn to manage our own stress levels, so that we can figure out how to soothe our children and ourselves in a healthy, effective way. Break it down. Rageful behavior is often linked to and caused by underlying anxiety.  Your job is to talk to kids about it, but find the right time for them, a time when they can hear you. A time when they will feel safe to speak. A time when you can listen. That will help them manage it.

 

Get anxious kids up and moving every 15 minutes. Check out http://www.sparkpe.org/

 

Find out more about Dr. Troy Carr, Georgetown School Psychologist, at http://www.troycarr.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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