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New SHS Schedule Could Be Harmful To Student Wellness: A Letter From the Compact Committee

shscupolacopyThe Scarsdale High School Compact Committee, a well-respected group of administrators, teachers, and parents, wrote a letter on June 7th to the Board of Education regarding the 75 minutes added to the High School school week -- 2 minutes added to each period -- starting this September. The Committee fears that the additional time will cause more stress to students' already anxiety-filled lives and hurt student engagement, which in turn will stifle learning. They propose that the additional 75 minutes be used in way that focuses on the students and their collaborative work with teachers. The letter was discused at the July 6th Board meeting. 

Dear Ms. Maude and Mr. Wixted:

The Scarsdale High School Compact Committee is concerned about the recent agreement that mandates an additional 75 minutes to our students' already busy week. We are also concerned that instructional time is being defined in a way that runs counter to our high school wellness initiative, which has been researching and presenting information about different uses of time to personalize instruction and increase engagement. We hereby request that the Board reconsider its stance and allow us the flexibility to address the unique and individual needs at our high school. We request this flexibility so that we can pursue a schedule that works along with our wellness initiative: A schedule that allows for a student-centered definition of instructional time, a schedule that addresses the health and safety of students at the high school, and a schedule that increases engagement in traditional and alternative learning environments.

First, it is important to state that our wellness initiative predates the recent agreement and that our school was already deeply invested in the research and trends of best practices centered on reducing stress and increasing engagement in high-achieving schools. In fact, we had already planned several pilots towards the end of the 2015-16 school year and we were looking forward to using the new Learning Commons for more individualized and interdisciplinary learning. Second, it is important to note that our direction and our goals are based on solid research, best practices, and the recommendations of distinguished professionals in the educational community who have advised us that our students are exhibiting stress-related problems, including anxiety and depression, at rates higher than the national average. Finally, the agreement severely hinders our ability to address these issues and may in fact exacerbate them by adding more time to our students' already busy work-week.

As stated in our Blueprint for Student Wellness: "According to the Challenge Success Survey, when compared to similar peer schools, our students were experiencing extremely high levels of stress and academic worry (higher than all peer schools), had a higher workload and much less sleep and free time than comparable schools, showed less engagement in school, and reported health related problems such as headaches, shortness of breath, exhaustion, etc." Our work with Challenge Success and Dr. Slavin convinced us that the most important solution to our situation is to give back time to students in the form of reduced workload and testing as well as in the form of a changed schedule. In other words, to reduce student stress we need to restructure time (in the form of homework, studying, extra-curriculars, and school time), not add time to the students' day. The current schedule runs counter to this idea and to these suggestions.

During our consultation about the survey results, Denise Pope, author of Doing School , and co-founder of Challenge Success, made us aware that our students show far less engagement than is exhibited by students at similar peer schools. She suggested that our priority should be to tackle this lack of engagement by addressing the issue of time in two ways: by opening up the schedule or changing the way we use time and by reducing homework and testing. (As noted above, based on the advice from the survey, we had already begun to rethink our homework and testing policies and strategies and were well underway to piloting schedule changes until the mandate occurred.) We fear that increasing the time in each class by 2 minutes will not increase engagement and may actually decrease engagement, and we fear that without increased engagement, learning will not occur; instead, we will have kids "doing school." Furthermore, when we spoke to Denise Pope again at the Challenge Success conference in the Fall, she offered to speak to the Board and/or superintendent about the negative effects the proposed schedule change would have on our students (based on the survey data), and she offered several alternative uses of time designed to reduce stress and increase engagement.

The consensus of educational research tells us that when we build time in our school day for students to meet with teachers and other students and for teachers to plan with other teachers, we increase the quality of instruction, learning, and engagement. We also decrease the amount of work and stress that is pushed to after-school work. As Vicki Abeles says, "The inefficient use of the school day is also part of what pushes school obligations, such as assignments and tutoring, past the last bell" (56). We ask, therefore, for the freedom to continue this good and important work without restriction, as we feel our ultimate goal of increasing learning and engagement is in line with the spirit of the recent Board decision that we are concerned about. We also believe that a more efficient and student-centered use of time will reduce the stress students experience both during the school day and after school.

As you know, the Compact Committee is representative of all constituent groups at the high school and those groups are deeply invested in our ongoing wellness initiative. According to the Compact for Learning: District Plan, approved 1/25/2016, individual schools can request that a Bargaining Unit and the Board of Education consider the needs of an individual school with regard to contracts. While we are not asking to modify the addition of 75 minutes, we are asking for consideration in how we structure and define those 75 minutes for our high school based on the needs of our students made evident to us through the Challenge Success survey and our wellness initiatives. We feel we have an obligation to remind you of these needs: increasing engagement, reducing stress, and creating opportunities for student agency and personalized learning.

We strongly believe that, given the flexibility we are asking for, we can create an innovative and forward thinking schedule that meets the needs of students and schools in the 21st century and that can increase engagement and reduce stress, two things that the mandated schedule does not address. We prefer to use the additional time in a way that is more student-centered, by offering students and teachers time in the day for collaborative work. We believe that a more flexible definition of instructional time will create better opportunities for our students than adding two minutes to each class. We have explored and will continue to investigate the benefits and possibilities of advisory periods, enrichment periods, flex-time, seminar time, and passion periods, but these things cannot flourish unless we are given the opportunity to restructure the way the additional time is being used.

Sincerely,

The Scarsdale High School Compact Committee

Lauren Barton - Teacher

Kenneth Bonamo - Principal

Amanda Filley - Teacher

Oren Iosepovici - Dean

Ottilie Jarmel - Parent

Caroline Kelson - Student

Jessica Levenberg - Teacher

Karen Lucente - Support Staff

Andrea O'Gorman - Assistant Principal

George Olivier - Teacher

Jeannine Palermo - Parent

Amy Song - PTA President

Carol Wolfe -Parent

Julie Zhu - Parent

Supporting Research
Abeles, Vicki. "Opinion | Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?" The New York Times , The New York Times, 2 Jan. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/sunday/is-the-drive-for-success-making-our-children-sick. html?_r=0 . Accessed 11 May 2017

Abeles, Vicki, et al. Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation . New York, NY, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016.

Donatelle, Rebecca J. Health: the Basics. Boston, Pearson, 2015.

Hofferth, S.L,, & Sandberg, J.F. (2001). "Changes in American Children's Use of Time" in
Children at the Millennium. New York: Elsevier Science

Iosepovici, Oren, and George Olivier. "Student Wellness Overview and Recommendations."
Google Docs . Google, May-June 2016. Web. 22 May 2017.

National Education Commission on Time and Learning. (2005). Prisoners of Time. Washington, DC., Education Commission of the States. www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/64/52/6452.pdf

Pope, Denise Clark, et al. Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids . San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass, 2015.

Pope, Denise Clark. Doing School: How We are Creating a Generation of Stressed-out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2002

Sizer, Theodore R. Horace's Compromise: the Dilemma of the American High School: with a New Preface . Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co, 2004.

"Strategies for Healthy, Engaged Kids and Stronger Schools." Challenge Success , Stanford Graduate School of Education, www.challengesuccess.org/. Accessed 11 May 2017.

Bunk Notes – Listening To Your Child When It Comes To Sleep-Away Camp

camp"Do you have anyone away?" "Are you looking for next summer?" "How is he/she doing at camp?" If you have elementary school-age children, chances are you've heard or participated in a conversation recently about sleep-away camp.

Overnight camping has been a uniquely American tradition since the 1880's, when many of the full-summer camps started as a way to get kids out of the city for the summer while parents worked. In Scarsdale and surrounding communities, sending a child off to camp for the summer can feel like a rite of passage -- especially for parents who have positive memories of their own camp days.

To be sure, there are wonderful aspects to sleep-away camp. Most have a "no-phone" policy, which gives kids a needed break from the social media world. Kids spend time outside, live with others, and have opportunities to learn new skills, make friends, and gain confidence and independence. Additionally, camp provides a temporary and sanctioned break from full-time parenting.

But sleep-away camp, especially the full seven-week program, is not for every child and every family, and certainly not for every child at the same age. There are many ways for kids to grow and learn during the summer. And pressuring or even forcing a child to attend sleep-away camp when they may not be ready or truly don't want to can do more harm than good.

Summer Options

Many of the traditional day camps change their programs as the kids get older to offer more independence and many even have short overnight trips. Some take their campers to actual sleep-away camps to provide a glimpse into what it feels like to attend. If your child is truly done with "day camp" but wants to stay close to home, there are specialized sports camps, arts camps, and other options, some for the full summer and some that run for a week or two. After "graduating" from day camp, my kids participated in sports camps at local colleges, a circus camp, and even a week of Italian cooking camp at Chef Central.

If a child is ready to go away but not for seven weeks, there are shorter options too. My daughter spent two summers late in elementary school at a wonderful arts-focused day camp, broken up by a week-long sleep-away gymnastics program. She experienced living in a dorm room with another child and making decisions on her own for a period of time that felt comfortable to her, and when she came back to school in the fall, she was able to join in any sleep-away camp conversations by talking about hers.

Don't Forget Grandma!

In many places, it's the norm to stick kids on a plane or a bus to go stay with Grandma or cousins for a period of time, whether they live in another state or another country. This is a wonderful option, as it allows your kids and your parents (or siblings) to form their own relationships (without you in the middle). You get the break, and your kids get to spend time away from home but still with family.

Normal Jitters

There are times when a child really does want to go away, but bursts into tears at the bus stop. The best way to handle this is to think back to how the decision was made. Was it truly your child leading the decision to go? Has he stuck with it leading up to the morning of departure? If that is the case it's probably a normal case of the jitters and you can explain that most kids feel the same way. Give him a big hug, (hide your own tears) and assume he will be fine once he settles in to the experience. (That goes for visiting day too. One of my sons began sobbing when there were still two hours left to spend with us, but when I asked him directly if he wanted to stay at camp, without hesitation he nodded through his tears.)

What if your child is truly miserable? More often than not, this happens in a situation where the child was hesitant to begin with, or even at times expressed that he or she didn't want to go, and was convinced to try it. While others may disagree, I would never force a truly unhappy child to stay at camp, even if it messes up your summer plans!! It's not worth it. Take him home. Your child needs you, and needs to know he (or she) is not a failure because he didn't stay at camp. It may have been a bad fit, he may not have been ready, he may just be homesick – who knows? The reasons will come out eventually, and in the process, you give your child the gift of unconditional support. Don't worry about your son or daughter being bored at home, or about "next year". You will figure it out together.

A Note About Homesickness

Homesickness is a physical feeling, and it is totally normal. Kids can feel homesick even if they truly love camp and want to be there. And often (lucky for you) when they go to write you a letter, they think about home, which then brings on a huge wave of homesickness...and guess what they write about?? If you feel like your child really is happy at camp but you get a bad letter, don't panic.

Speak to the camp directors to check in. More often than not, they will set your mind at ease. It helps also to talk about homesickness with your child before they go. Together, you can write down some suggestions for when the feeling strikes – for example: get involved in another activity, go to sleep, talk to a counselor – and they can pull out the list when they need it.

Explain that most kids feel homesick at camp at some point, and that it really just means that they have wonderful loving relationships at home – a positive thing!

Let Your Child Lead

In the end, the most important thing is to take cues from your child. You may have always pictured your daughter in your camp colors leading her color war team in the next generation, and that's a hard image to let go.

But the beauty of summer is that nothing is mandatory. Think of it as a time for kids to explore different parts of themselves, and train yourself to really listen with your head and your heart to what they are saying and feeling.stonberg

Your daughter (or son) may ultimately wind up at your "alma mater," or she many not, but the fact that you gave her the space to decide on her own will go much further in the long run for her confidence and your relationship.

Author Julie Stonberg is a clinical social worker with a private practice in Hartsdale. Her three children did eventually enjoy full summer camping experiences, but it was a unique journey for each.

Same-Sex Parenting in Westchester

samesexparentsWhen I set out to write an article on same-sex parenting in Scarsdale, I did not expect to come back completely empty-handed. I received referrals for same-sex couples living in other nearby towns and I had people write to me saying they didn't know of any personally in Scarsdale but they'd be welcome and accepted with open arms. When I finally found a dad who was raising kids with his husband in Scarsdale and was willing to chat with me he ilet me know that there are actually four other gay couples raising children together within his area of Scarsdale. Is there anything that Scarsdale, as a village, can do to encourage more same-sex parents, parents-to-be and couples to move here? Is Scarsdale a "gay friendly" place to raise a family?

I had the opportunity to speak with him as well as two lesbian couples who are raising their kids in Edgemont and Mt. Vernon. Their names have been changed for privacy. Here is what they shared:

Lilly and her wife and moved to Edgemont in 2000; shortly thereafter their first child was born. "We moved from the city with the intent of having kids. We considered going to towns that had more diversity and other families with same-sex parents," she said. "We considered the river towns in Westchester as well as Montclair, New Jersey. We ultimately settled on Edgemont because we thought that even though we'd likely be the only same-sex couple here, we knew the schools were top notch and felt that although not diverse, people would be accepting of our less traditional family," she added. This actually turned out to be true on all fronts; Lilly and her wife have found Edgemont as a whole to be entirely accepting of their family and for the first 15 years here did not meet another gay couple in Edgemont.

Phoebe has been surprised at the number of gay couples she has met here in Westchester. She and her wife moved from Brooklyn after their first baby was born; like most, they needed to get out of the city and into the suburbs. "We picked lower Westchester for the commute and because it's a larger, educated population so we thought we'd probably feel less discrimination towards and more acceptance of our family," she said. They scouted the area, picked a home in Mt. Vernon and soon after had their second child. Their kids are now three and one and they are thinking of moving before the kids start elementary school to be in a better school system within Westchester.

I asked both women and the Scarsdale man how it has been so far raising kids in lower Westchester. "Starting in Kindergarten, we made it clear to the teachers that our child has two mothers," said Lilly. "From there it just became known and there was never a need to proactively announce it. No one ever flinched at all." Lilly and her wife were particularly impressed with Edgemont schools when it came time to make cards for mom/dad holidays. "They'd suggest that our kids make something for a grandfather or uncle for Father's Day and for Mother's Day they would come home with two cards, one for each of us." As far as other kids in Edgemont, "...we found that kids' values often reflect parents' values," Lilly responded. They did have fears that their kids would be bullied or singled out for having two moms but this never happened. "There have been some uncomfortable situations, like kids asking how it's even possible to have two moms," she added. She thinks Westchester County in general is accepting of LGBT families but that homophobia does still exist.

Phoebe and her wife have been pleasantly surprised with their reception in Westchester. "We've met quite a few gay couples and met two PTA heads at private religious schools that are both same-sex parents. I run the LGBT Tri-State Facebook group which has put us in touch with similar families all over Westchester. We've met LGBT people who live with their families in Yonkers, Dobbs Ferry, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, White Plains...they're everywhere." She added, "I don't think we are facing anything different here than we'd be facing anywhere else." Phoebe did once recall going to a fundraiser where a guy who had too much to drink cornered them and asked when he could meet the father. "I think he meant it as a joke," Phoebe said, "but it definitely set us back a bit." Although Phoebe didn't think it's specific to Westchester, she said that one of the hardest things for gay couples with kids is if your child doesn't biologically resemble you. This is likely an issue for parents of adopted children who are a different race or ethnicity. "People often feel like they have a right to ask uncomfortable questions."

The Scarsdale man thinks that Scarsdale is a fabulous place to raise kids as a same-sex couple. He has absolutely no complaints and believes the situation couldn't be more ideal. As a member of the community, he thinks it's a total non-issue being gay in the community. It has been remarkably inclusive. At school he has noticed that mother's day is referred to as parents' day and various inclusive book suggestions have come home that they appreciated.

Are there other towns in Westchester that seem to have more gay couples? Lilly responded, "We have friends in New Rochelle who are gay and they're definitely not the only ones in that town like we are in our town. The river towns have more diversity and more same-sex couples. That being said, I was recently out walking our dog and I bumped into a couple of guys who are a gay couple in Edgemont. They don't have kids and as far as I know they are the only other same-sex couple in-town." Phoebe lives in Mt. Vernon but sends her daughter to preschool in Bronxville. "Bronxville has never really felt comfortable for us," she said. "It has always seemed kind of stuffy. Everyone seems to love Pelham!" The Scarsdale man said that Montclair, NJ is becoming a hub for same-sex couples raising kids.

Noel D'Allacco sits on Rob Astorino's LGBT Advisory Board for Westchester County. Although not gay herself, she has been on the board for 3-4 years and advises the County Executive in cases of possible discrimination. There have been almost no issues during her tenure on the board. However during this year's gay pride parade in White Plains, cars were vandalized with hateful messages against gay people. "The biggest issues in Westchester County surrounding gay people are really with the youth counseling services and supportive things like that," Noel voiced. She encouraged anyone seeking support and a community to check out the Loft in White Plains.

So, it seems that Scarsdale remains a progressive community that has been inclusive and accepting of families with same-sex parents and would be welcome more same-sex couples/LGBT families. The Scarsdale man said that it would help for straight couples to proactively discuss the possibility of kids having two moms or two dads with school-age children. He isn't sure what the community could do to invite more same-sex couples to consider Scarsdale as a place to live and raise a family but he thought this article could help position Scarsdale as an inclusive and comfortable place to be gay and raise a family. Mostly, he wanted to say a big thank you to Scarsdale for doing exactly that.

A School Graduation Proceeds Rain and Shine

IMG 4906The rain couldn't put a damper on anyone's mood at the Scarsdale Alternative School's senior graduation. Due to SAS's small size and personal nature, its graduating ceremony was touching and personalized. Each of the A School teachers presented on a handful of advisees, telling wonderful stories about each student until all 28 have been uniquely celebrated. Well, in this case, 29. Director of the A School and A School teacher, Howard Rodstein, graduated with the class of 2017 onto retirement. It was a very emotional occasion, filled with tears and hugs. Underclassmen also contributed by presenting gifts to the seniors and organizing the event. Though the ceremony had to be moved inside in the middle, it continued to be lovely. Senior Aaron Hirsch closed the ceremony with an address to his classmates, explaining as best as he could what the A School truly means.

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Scarsdale Forum's Education Committee Solicits Residents' Views

Scarsdale-Forum-Final-Logo-Very-SmallThe Education Committee of the Scarsdale Forum has created a survey to solicit Scarsdale residents' views about school topics that they want the Education Committee to research and report upon. The results of the survey and any reports that the committee writes will be available to the public after their completion on the Forum website. According to Education Committee Co-Chair Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez, 'the Education Committee wants to write reports that are relevant and useful to the Scarsdale school administration, the Board of Education, and all Scarsdale residents. The survey can be accessed here.

At its Board of Directors meeting on June 8, 2017, incoming Forum President ML Perlman nominated Fox Meadow resident Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez and Greenacres resident Carlos Ramírez as co-chairs of the Forum's Education Committee; the Forum's Board of Directors approved their nomination. This will be Kirkendall-Rodríguez' second year as co-chair of the Education Committee. Ramírez is a member of several committees in the Forum including the Education Committee.

Kirkendall-Rodríguez holds an AB in Russian and Soviets Studies from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, an MBA in Finance and Emerging Markets from The Wharton School, and an MA in Russian and Eurasian Studies from the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania. She is a Raoul Wallenberg Fellow from Hebrew University. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, she studied in Germany, Israel, and Russia. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian and has conversational Hebrew, German, and Italian. She runs her own firm, MRV Associates, where she consults and trains on bank regulations, risk models, and capital markets globally. She has published over 150 articles on financial, energy, and education topics. At Fox Meadow Elementary, she has been one of the co-chairs for the Multicultural Fair for two years; she is secretary of the Old Scarsdale Neighborhood Association. She volunteers interviewing prospective students to Harvard College.

Carlos Ramírez earned his Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Rose. He holds a Master of Science in Internet Business Systems and a Bachelor of Science in General Accounting, with a specialization in Computers and Information Systems from Mercy College. Presently, he is working on his Master in Educational Leadership and Administration at Pace University, and is pursuing a PhD degree in Educational Leadership and Administration at Concordia University. He is also an accountant. Earlier this year, the New York State Association of School Business Officials named him Advocate of the Year for his work with public schools. He is fluent in English and Spanish and has conversational Portuguese. Ramírez is Interim Director of Technology and CIO of the Greenburgh Central School District. Under general supervision of the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction he administers, plans and coordinates the daily technological functions of the school district. Previously, Ramírez served as Coordinator of Technology Policy for the New York State Education Department in Albany. Ramírez is an active member of the Greenacres Neighborhood Association.

Kirkendall-Rodríguez and Ramírez thank Forum President Perlman and the Board of Directors for their appointment. They look forward to serving the Scarsdale community. They encourage residents to complete the school topics survey and to join the Education Committee. The Education Committee co-chairs may be reached at ScarsdaleMayra@Yahoo.com.

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