Sunday, March 20, 2011

Waiting for Superman - Issues in the public school system...

I just finished watching “Waiting for Superman,” (been meaning to watch it for ages, and just never found the time) and had a few thoughts on this documentary (and education, in general).
The filmmaker follows 5 children (all across the US) through the course of a school year. These children, and their parents, see problems in the education they are currently receiving in public schools, and are hoping for a change. The parents have all selected charter schools that they hope the kids will get into. The problem with that is that charter schools have very few openings, with hundreds of kids applying. One little guy only has a 5% chance of escaping his public school and making it into a charter school.
The parents know that their children stand a better chance of success in life if they get out of the public schools (most live in very urban areas with high rates of high school dropouts, and high rates of crime), and they pin all of their hopes into a lottery system. Can you imagine telling your 6 or 7 year old child that their only hope for getting a decent education comes in the form of a BINGO ball – the *right* BINGO ball – being pulled out of the big cage of bouncing balls? Most of the kids went with their parents on their lottery day and sat by, waiting and hoping with fingers crossed, as their future was determined by luck. The tension was so high during the drawing, with kids looking as stressed as their parents. Of the 5, only 2 actually got into the charter schools they had hoped for. Parents and kids were crying over their loss, and left feeling hopeless.
All of these parents clearly care about their children and the education they receive. I know a lot of people think that parents in urban areas don’t care about education, in general, but I don’t think that’s the truth. I think the parents want better, they just don’t have the resources to obtain better for their kids. How can the achievement gap be closed when the education system we currently have is broken? All of the “teaching to the tests,” fighting with unions, money issues, and other problems distract the teachers from being able to do their jobs and “teach.” We keep hearing how schools need more money, but in reality they are spending more than 2x the amount per student now than they were in the 70’s – and the education has gotten no better. What can solve the problems?
The charter schools showcased in this film did things that public schools can’t – or won’t – and with less money. Some had more hours in the school day; others had more days in school, home visits were made to get to know the families on a better level, strict standards were enforced, and the charter schools had more freedom to try innovative methods for reaching kids once thought unreachable. The results were amazing – the same demographic who were 15%-30% proficient in reading and math in the public schools were 60%-90% proficient in the charter school. There was a charter who didn’t see the huge increase in test scores (they had only been opened a year or so), but they saw an enormous reduction in the number of dropouts in their school. High standards were set, and the kids lived up to them. I think kids understand the expectations around them, and will live up – or down – to what people think they are capable of.
I would love to see the parents in this film homeschooling their children – each of these parents could have done a far better job than the public schools – but I know it’s not realistic to think that all parents would choose to homeschool. That being said, parents like these need better options, but how do they get them? I say get rid of NCLB, and the unions, and return the power to educate back over to the local levels. One-size-fits-all education just does not work with children, and schools can do a better job of offering what their children need if they didn’t have to worry about jumping through so many hoops to please the government.
Also, schools need to be able to actually do something about the discipline problems within their schools. This is one area the charter schools have a clear advantage – you can be kicked out of a charter if you do not obey the rules. How would you solve the discipline in the public schools? Or, better yet, how would you solve the education issue in general? Or, is American public education pretty much hopeless at this point?
Education should not depend on a system of "chance."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The ABC's of me...

My friend, Kim W., had this on her blog, and so I wanted to play along too. :-)

A. Age: almost 30
B. Bed size: Queen  
C. Chore you dislike: hmmm… my most hated chore is dishes
D. Dogs: Alice – our lab mix  
E. Essential start to your day: I like coffee, but prefer it at the end of the day, not the start.  
F. Favorite color: purple. no other color matters, LOL.
G. Gold or silver: I don’t care for jewelry. I guess I would choose gold, though.  
H. Height: 5' 10"
I. Instruments you play(ed): the trumpet – only for 4th and 5th grades, though.
J. Job title: Wife and mom – are those jobs? Writer.
K. Kids: 3 Deuce, Dakota, and Abriella.  
L. Live: In a farmhouse… out in the country…
M. Mom’s name: Carolyn
N. Nicknames: Steph. When I was younger, it was “Teff.” Kids can’t help what their families call them, I suppose. My kids are lucky – I gave them cool names and nicknames, LOL.
O. Overnight hospital stays: having babies
P. Pet peeves: People who cannot follow logic... really irritates me.
Q. Quote from a movie: "There's no crying in baseball!" ~ A League of Their Own.
R. Righty or lefty: Righty
S. Siblings: 3 older sisters and an older brother.
T. Time you wake up: too early.  
U. Underwear: nothing interesting, I promise.  
V. Vegetables you don't like: brussel sprouts - ICK
W. What makes you run late: kids.  my own absent-mindedness
X. X-rays you've had: dental, neck (chiropractor)
Y. Yummy food you make: Chocolate chip cookies, cheeseburger pie,
Z. Zoo animal favorites: penguins. they are too cute. :-)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ranting and raving...

Ok, not really, LOL, but I do need to respond to a few things. Someone involved in the vaccine debate went on her blog and misconstrued some of the things I said, and her blog will not allow me to post my response, so I am posting it here - simply because I cannot stand untruths. This will be the last post I write on this subject, because I do not want an ongoing debate. I have my reasons for not vaccinating, and they are all perfectly okay, and others have their reasons for vaccinating, and they are okay too.

Here is what she posted (if this screen shot is hard to read, you can read her full blogpost at http://craftykta.blogspot.com/2011/03/making-exception.html)

And here is my reply to her:

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should reply to you or not, but I think I will since I am being erroneously misrepresented on your blog. After my first blog post, in which I was not very clear in who I was calling irresponsible (people who make decisions as parents without knowing the risks – on either side of any argument), you wrote me a very “strongly worded” comment. I immediately wrote you an apology for me not being very clear. I wasn’t “name-calling” all people who vaccinate. I then explained that I included MYSELF in that “irresponsible” category because I did not know much of anything with my first child and I let the doctors pretty much dictate what would happen – and he was possibly harmed because of it.  
I have read all of the links you provided – I read them years ago when making my decision. I spoke to my pediatrician, read her pamphlets, and made the best decision that I can for my kids. There are many things to consider – including the known risks that come from vaccines. Kids can be harmed by them, and we cannot be na├»ve enough to think that vaccines are 100% safe.  
We don’t know if autism is caused by vaccines – in science, you cannot prove a negative. That’s like saying something can NEVER be done, because it hasn’t been done yet – but in time, it might. For me, for my children, there are too many chemicals in vaccines and I won’t risk it – let me be clear, it is the chemicals that are my biggest concern with vaccinations, not autism. Autism gave me a reason to pause and think about what was being injected into my children, but the chemicals themselves are what caused me to stop allowing my children to be vaccinated.
 I think, genetically, some people can be more susceptible to certain things (including autism) and our environmental factors can push them over the edge. I am not sure why you say that I cannot accept that your kids are vaccinated – I stated several times that it is a difficult decision, and that there are positives and negatives on both sides. We each have risks to weigh in deciding what is best for our kids, and your risks have you leaning to vaccines, while mine have me leaning away from them. There’s not a problem with that on my end – again, I said I have issues with people who do something without thinking about the why’s of what they are doing. It seems to me that you actually take the bigger issue with the fact that my kids don’t receive vaccines.
As far as the Juice Plus, I am confused by you saying that I wanted you to appease me? I never tried pushing JP on you – I simply stated (mom-to-mom) that it has worked wonders for my kids – same as I would have done with anyone who might have cause to be concerned over health issues. If I had been trying to push you to use it, I would have pointed to studies (my own kids are involved in one), or other personal experiences, and I would have pointed out that they come in chewables, since your son can’t swallow pills. I simply said, “To each his own when it comes to supplements.”
Tone can be very hard to read in writing – there is much to be said about face-to-face conversations – and so I understood where you might have thought that I was being too harsh in my first post – hence the apology from me. I do wish that you wouldn’t be so harsh in all of your replies – we all have our rights as parents to do what we feel is best. We should be able to have rational, mature conversations without resorting to sarcasm and snarky words. I have to wonder, with the tone you have taken with me, what would have happened if my son was still in the same class as your daughter? Would you have made problems for him?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What do you use to teach a child to read?

What do you use to teach reading to a 3 yr old? Ella can read a little – she has taught herself some sight words… and then other words that aren’t official “sight words,” but they are her favorite things. I don’t want her to just memorize words, though, and she is begging to be taught to read. I need a good phonics program. 

For Deuce, we tried 100 Easy Lessons at the age of 5. Cody was 2 at the time, and (just by being in the room while Deuce was working) caught on quickly – I had to send him out of the room during language arts, because he was reading and Deuce couldn’t, and it drove Deuce nuts. I then switched to Sonlight’s language arts (we were already using their Core K), and that didn’t work either. Eventually I stepped back and left Deuce alone, and he just taught himself – typical Deuce… too hardheaded to allow any help, LOL. (The week after he started reading, at age 6, he had to be tested for his IEP through the local school, and he was reading at a 4th grade level… late readers catch on VERY quickly, it seems).

Because of the ways that the boys learned, I am really not sure what to do for Ella. I have been looking at Sing, Spell, Read, and Write – anybody have any experience with that program? There’s also the Explode the Code series – I have heard lots of good things about that. I can tell that she will be easy to teach, with the right program – I just don’t want to waste money going from program to program. Opinions? Thoughts? Advice? Come on – give me your 2 cents, LOL. :-) 


Monday, March 14, 2011

How do we protect our kids?

Have you seen this news story? Apparently a psychology teacher at a high school decided to give students a sexually suggestive quiz, supposedly to prove that words that are seemingly innocent to children are considered sexual innuendo to adults. Ugh.

Who gets to decide what our children are exposed to each day? This is a tough question for any parent who has their children in a traditional school setting – trust me, I have BTDT. When children cross the threshold of the school, parents do not always know what they will encounter as they go about their day. Hopefully, it’s a day of learning and innocent fun – creative experiments in science, interesting stories in reading, and friendships on the playground.

 This isn’t always the case, though. Actually, more often than not, children will be exposed to adult themes far sooner than we are ready for. Sometimes it’s from their friends, whose families might not share the same morals as your family. That can be a hard blow to a parent, to find out at dinner that little Suzy knows about topics usually reserved for late-night television.

What if it’s not only other children sharing such grown-up thoughts? Some teachers, for some reason, think that it is their duty to expose children to ideas that might not line up with parents beliefs. Is that their right? Is it their duty, to “enlighten” children? Should sex ed be taught by the parent, or by the school? Should schools be allowed topass out condoms at will, without a parent knowing what’s going on? What if they are passing out those same condoms to 1st and 2nd graders? Is that “looking out” for the kids? They grow up fast enough without it being encouraged by the teachers, you know?

Most anyone who knows me knows that my children have been homeschooled, unschooled, charter schooled, and public schooled. I am not against traditional school settings – I think each choice is another chance for a parent to make an informed educational decision for their child, and not every option will work for every family. With that said, my personal preference is for homeschooling (most who know me, know that, also). I think that protecting the innocence of our children is becoming a losing battle these days – they are exposed to so much more than we were as kids, at very early ages. 

When we send our kids to school, teachers and classmates are getting their attention for most of their waking hours. How much time do parents really spend talking to their kids? Up and out the door by 7:15 for school to start at 7:45 – no time to talk. After-school activities last until 4:00 or later, then they head home, grab some food, do homework, play video games/watch tv/text with their friends, get a bath and go to bed. How do we combat the negative messages they are bombarded with every day? 

Personally, I have found it much easier to do when mine are homeschooled. It seems that my kids have better attitudes, their thoughts are more innocent, and they are better behaved when they do not have the constant influence of 20-30 same-aged peers. What has your experience been? Do you notice a change when school has been out for the summer, and you have more time with your kids – away from the influences at school?  Not only away from the constant influence of their peers, but being able to spend more time with their parents. What are your opinions on the best ways to protect our kids from growing up too fast?
Baseball season has FINALLY arrived! :-) I love many sports, but two have a very special place in my heart – martial arts and baseball. I have been waiting all winter for baseball season to arrive, and now I do not have to wait any longer. We had the draft this weekend, and I am pleased as punch because my kids have great coaches and some of their best friends on their teams. I know – that’s not a huge accomplishment when you live in a tiny village because you are almost certain to have friends on your team, but still, it makes me happy. :-)
Anybody want to see some baseball pics of my kids through the years? I have a fun new camera for this baseball season, with better features, so hopefully I will get nicer pics this year. :-) Like it or not, here are the old pics:
This is Cody's opening day the first year he played G-Ball (coach pitch)


Getting ready to make a run from first to second when he was 6 years old.

This was opening day of that same year. Deuce pitched to Cody that morning - to practice before the games - and hit him in the head (WITH a batting helmet on). Notice the baseball stitches on Cody's head? :-)


Ella the cheerleader.
 Deuce and Ella up in Sidney last year.
Mohawks of last year. :-)
Deuce pitching "Opening Day" when he was 9 years old.
Cody in T-Ball at age 5. I cannot get over how tiny he looks, LOL.
Deuce and part of his Sidney team during the horrific storm that popped up on us last year during a game. Note to self - the picnic shelters do not make good storm shelters when you have near-hurricane force winds. Just sayin',
Deuce in 2009.
Cody getting his 1st place trophy last year. :-)
Cody and his team in 2009 - he's number 2.
Deuce in his first year of coach pitch - he was 7.
                                                 
Ella and Shannon playing together during the games.


And now, to look forward to games starting for this year. Deuce's Sidney league games will be starting in just a couple of weeks - yay! Then the regular season for both boys starts at the beginning of May. Now to get off of here and go accomplish something in my day, LOL.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

State vaccination exemptions...


I have had several people privately email me to ask about the laws of vaccinations (I think there were afraid to get involved in the debate).  They want to know which states offer exemptions – every state does – and so I just wanted to post this link so that everyone can read up on their rights, as parents, to refuse vaccinations for their children (if they so choose). :-) http://www.nvic.org/Vaccine-Laws/state-vaccine-requirements.aspx

Friday, March 11, 2011

A little lighter now...

Ok, time for a lighter topic, LOL. Though the last topic taught me that if I want a ton of hits to my blog in just a few hours, I should mention controversial topics. What should I handle next? Gay marriage, homeschool versus public school, Senate Bill 5, stay at home mom versus work outside the home moms or chocolate versus vanilla ice cream? Ugh, maybe I should take the hard stuff later – my brain is mush tonight, LOL.
 I am enjoying a relaxing evening tonight – Shawn took Deuce and Cody over to see our friends, Mason and Joe, for a “jam session.” Ok, so even though Mason is Cody’s best friend, Deuce goes to play with Mason and Cody hangs out with Shawn and Joe. We always joke that Cody is a 35 year old man in an 8 year olds body. :-) That makes my son 5 years older than me, but whatever, LOL.  Cody hates video games and typical kids’ toys, but Mason and Deuce love the same things.  Cody would rather work on learning how to play the keyboard and make music with the men.
Abriella is hanging out on the couch – half asleep because it is almost her bedtime.  She likes when all of the guys are out of the house, because she can watch her favorite shows on the big tv.  I don’t watch much tv – except for Glee... I love Glee, LOL – and so I don’t mind letting her have it when she has a chance.  Now, let’s see if she stays awake much longer – she looks pretty wiped. Oooh… Angelina Ballerina just came on – I bet she’ll stay awake long enough to watch that, because she loves all things ballet right now.
At some point, I need to bake four dozen cookies - without eating any of them. Eek!  Maybe I should bake five dozen? I’ll do it while the guys are out of the house *grin.* :-) Our church is baking cookies for a prison ministry, and I am afraid the temptation in my kitchen is going to be far too much for me to handle, heehee.
Ok.. now to get the living room nice and tidy - the mess will drive me batty if it sits for too long. :-)

Just to clarify...

I got a rather strongly worded comment from someone on my last post (though they appeared to have erased it), and I wanted to clarify some points. Our decision to not vaccinate was not an easy one – that’s something I said in that post. There are positives and negatives on both sides. It’s all about deciding which sides pos/neg are a bigger pull for you. Since this is my blog, I obviously wrote about my bigger draw, being that I chose not to vaccinate.
When I say “blindly” and “irresponsible” I mean the parents who vaccinate without really giving it any deep thought. A lot of parents do what they assume is the only choice, without knowing all of the risks. I am very much in favor of parents having the choice, and making an educated choice by looking into the ins and outs of any given topic – in this case, vaccines.
It’s kind of like public school – a some parents just assume it’s the only option out there, even if they live in a poor district. Clearly, I am in favor of school choice – my children have done a little of everything by this point. Each time we made a switch, it was based on research and what the needs were at that time. I am not one who simply “goes with the flow,” to make things easier. I think that big decisions like that need careful research.
My oldest did receive some vaccines – and was harmed by them. I didn’t know I had a choice at the time – I was 19 and very “green,” so I just assumed the doctors knew best - it was irresponsible of me to not understand my choices better. As I gained confidence in my own ability as a parent, I realized that I needed to be more careful in what happens to my children – and so I started researching everything from school options to medical options. There are no right and wrong  decisions - as long as a parent is making an educated decision. Clearly, I stand on the side of not vaccinating my children, but I have some friends who use “selective” vaccines (doing some by not all vaccines), and some who vaccinate completely. It’s all about understanding the risks, knowing what you believe,why you believe that.

To Vaccinate or Not Vaccinate

I noticed a couple of days ago that a Facebook friend asked if anyone on hers friends list chose not to vaccinate their children, and if that choice put the public at risk. I answered and said that we do not choose to vaccinate – it was not an easy choice at all – and that my children seem to be very healthy. As a matter of fact, they did not have even the slightest cold over the whole fall/winter this year.
Whether or not you choose to vaccinate is a very personal decision, with positives and negatives on both sides of the argument. Certainly, one would reason that not vaccinating leads to a higher risk of catching measles, whooping cough, or any of the other diseases that vaccinating are thought to protect you from. Not sure that I fully agree with that – handwashing is the number one way to prevent the spread of disease and illness, and there are no risks to that (unless you accidently splash soap in your eyes, LOL).  On top of hand washing being more prevalent than in generations past, we are also more likely to disinfect our homes at the first sign of illness. We know that cleanliness can help stop the spread of disease. Is it worth it to “risk” not vaccinating?
Vaccinating has its own risks entirely – besides the side effect of fevers, aches and pains, and soreness in the area of the injection, children can develop headaches, seizures, brain injury, or worse.  Most doctors refuse to fully discuss these risks – our own pediatrician stated that there is very little conclusive proof that any of these issues can be caused by vaccines. Are you kidding me?! You think that overloading a newborns immune system with chemicals such as aluminum (known to cause Alzheimer’s), formaldehyde (not only is it used to preserve dead bodies, it is also known to cause cancer), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), phenol (a disinfectant), and other preservatives/chemicals doesn’t have some ill effect on babies and young children?
We have a generation of parents becoming more aware of the chemicals in the food our children eat – “organic” is a word proudly boasted by moms at playgroup – and yet these same moms will blindly allow a nurse to inject their children with hundreds of chemicals and preservatives without question. Where is the sense in that? At least know what is going into your children. Do the research yourself. Would you fill a bottle with the chemicals listed above and feed it to your baby? Not even in the tiniest of portions, I would imagine. So why blindly allow a doctor – who gets tremendous freebies from drug companies to push their meds – “strongly encourage” you to allow these toxins to be injected into your kids.
A lot of parents worry that they would not be able to send their kids to school if they didn’t vaccinate. Schools and doctors would love for you to believe that, but please don’t. Most any state allows for exemptions, you just need to ask for the form. Or, you could always homeschool. :-)
I am not saying to absolutely not vaccinate. I am saying that parents need to educate themselves and make responsible decisions. Don’t just go with the flow – know why you are doing what you are doing and understand the risks on either side. Being passive as a parent is, in my opinion, extremely irresponsible.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Giving blogging another whirl...

Hmmmm....  this feels vaguely familiar, and yet very new and different, all at the same time. It has been FOREVER since I blogged – and I very much miss having that online diary of everything going on. Some days it seems like the kids will NEVER leave my house and then other days (most days) I feel like they are growing up WAY too quickly – those are the days that I enjoy having a written record of the craziness that comes from raising 2 sons, a daughter, a dog, a cat, a rat, a frog, and 2 goldfish, hahaha. I think we even have plans to add a couple more cats this spring – 1 per kid. Eeek!

Today was very much a day of chaos. It seemed like everything was a joke to the boys – do they ever outgrow the typical potty humor? Every time I turn around, it seems like they are goofing off, wrestling, or telling jokes – the type that earn a raised eyebrow from Mom, LOL. Maybe tomorrow I will use duct tape over their mouths… hmmmmm… maybe I should make this post about the effectiveness of using duct tape in the raising of kids, heehee. Nah, that could only get me in trouble, and the last thing I need is something else that gets me in trouble – I do enough of that most days, anyways. ;-)

 I am knee-deep in trying to pull together the final details of our baseball league’s fundraiser – with not a minute to spare. I think that has added to the feeling of insanity around here. Besides the baseball fundraiser, we have been getting things in order for baseball season.  Ahhhh.. but I am sooo looking forward to baseball season starting. We *live* for this time of year, :-). Shawn will be coaching Cody, and we find out soon who Deuce will have as a coach. *Crossing my fingers for a good team for Deuce* :-) Is that bad of me? *sigh* Well, then, I will just have to be bad. :-D

In the midst of baseball excitement, I have a little ballerina who is excited about getting on stage for her first recital this May. I am REALLY hoping the boys don’t have games the same day as her recital – that would seriously throw a wrench in my schedule. She just loves practicing the steps she learns each week – and as much as I normally do not care for anything girly, I do find the ballerina thing to be adorable. What I really find adorable is when her big brothers help her practice. It’s so funny because they end up sounding like baseball coaches while they are working on the “fairy slide” or “Hickory Dickory Dock” steps. I almost expect Deuce to bring out a coach’s whistle one day, LOL.

Ok… that’s enough for this first attempt at getting back into blogging. :-) I need to try to get some sleep – seems that is one thing I never get enough of. :-) Night!