Is home schooling right for you and your child?

This week’s column addresses some of the key factors a parent will need to consider when deciding if home schooling is the right choice for their family. Parents who have successfully home schooled appear to be in agreement that home schooling requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. Additionally, there is a financial component to home schooling that may dramatically impact the lifestyle of every member of the household.

Nevertheless, despite these challenges the popularity of home schooling continues to grow and the success stories are increasing. To assist you in determining whether home schooling is workable for your family, Education Matters shares advice from a parent who has years of successful experience and a young doctoral candidate who was home schooled exclusively.

Making the decision to home school requires careful examination of a number of factors. To make a better informed decision it can be helpful for parents to ask themselves tough, soul-searching questions, advises Beverly Hernandez, a veteran home schooler who taught her own children from preschool through high school.

Question to consider include:

•Are both parents in agreement? “It is important that both parents agree to try home-schooling,” says “It is very difficult to home school if one parent is against it. If your spouse is against it at this time, try doing more research and talking to more people.”

•Are you prepared to devote a significant amount of your time to be your child’s teacher? Hernandez says parents should be aware “Home schooling tends to take up a lot of time in your day. It is more than just sitting down with books for a couple of hours. There are experiments and projects to be done, lessons to prepare, papers to grade, field trips, park days, music lessons, and the list goes on.”

•Does your family, have the financial resources to live on one or a reduced income? “Home schooling can be accomplished very inexpensively; however, it usually requires that the teaching parent not work outside of the home. Some sacrifices will need to be made if the family is used to two incomes” Hernandez says.

•Will you be intimidated by the teaching? “If you can read and write, you should be able to teach your children. The curriculum and teacher materials will help through the planning and teaching.” Hernandez recommends that, “you get help from others if you get stuck or hire tutors for the difficult subjects like chemistry, calculus, biology or algebra.”

•Is your child willing? “A willing student is always helpful, says Hernandez. “Ultimately, the decision is the parents to make, but if your child is dead against it, you might have a hard time of it.”

•Is household organization a priority? If you are “a stickler for a spotless house, you might be in for a surprise. Not only does housework need to be let go at times, but home schooling creates messes and clutter in itself.”

If after answering these questions you are leaning towards home schooling, but can’t quite make up our mind, Hernandez advises parents, “It isn’t a lifetime commitment— most families take it one year at a time.” As with most important, life-changing decisions there comes a point after careful examination when you have to move forward on faith and a sincere commitment to make it work.

Rachel Coleman is a remarkable young woman by any measure. Upon completion of high school she was accepted to Ball State University with a full tuition scholarship, graduated with highest honors in three years, and then earned a master’s degree. Currently she is Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, where she will soon complete her doctorate. What makes Rachel’s academic journey even more noteworthy is she was home schooled from kindergarten straight through to high school.

“As each of my siblings has graduated in turn, he or she has likewise headed off to university on scholarship,” says Rachel. “How did my parents achieve these results? In the eight years since I graduated from high school, I’ve had time to think about the home school education I received and what parts of it were most successful. Based on this reflection, I’ve pinpointed the ten things I think were most critical to my parents’ successful home schooling.”

It is easy to find parents willing to speak on their home schooling know-how and experiences. However, a thoughtful recollection by a former home-schooled student is rare. Next week, Rachel discusses some of the ways her parents made home schooling work for her and her siblings.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

Could Competitive Spelling ‘Bee’ Right for Your Child?

What do the words— narcolepsy, psoriasis, eczema, albumen and sanitarium have in common? You would be correct if you said each is a medical expression. But, there is another, more noteworthy connection these terms share. They are all words that won first place at the National Spelling Bee, an annual competition to find the grade-school student who could correctly spell the most words.

In the middle of the roaring twenties nine newspapers joined together to establish the National Spelling Bee. This popular test of brains over brawn will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2015. The winning words have a wide range of difficulty from a common, relatively easy spelled term like “therapy” to the obscure, polysyllabic “esquamulose” which means “not having tiny scales of the type that make up the covering of fish, reptiles, and some mammals” and “smaragdine” an adjective describing a person, place or thing emerald green in color.

Participants have the option of asking the moderator to use a word in a sentence. In addition to giving the student a few extra seconds to think, it puts the term into proper context and helps contestant to avoid spelling a similar sounding word. Here is a “tongue-in-cheek” sentence composed of winning words: Vanessa was so proud of her exotic fish collection she spent time in a sanitarium receiving therapy after discovering all her smaragdine esquamulose pets floating belly up.

Ironically the word “bee” when used to describe a spelling contest is “one of those language puzzles that has never been satisfactorily accounted for,” according to the E.W. Scripps Company, the tournament’s national sponsor. Though the exact origins are unknown, bee is “a fairly old and widely-used word, it refers to a community social gathering at which friends and neighbors join together in a single activity (sewing, quilting, barn raising, etc.) usually to help one person or family.”

Scripps claims the title of “the nation’s largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis.” Their purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives. They sponsor local spelling bee sponsors in the United States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and

Department of Defense Schools in Europe; as well as the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

Over the years the Spelling Bee has evolved into a major league competition. ESPN’s live broadcast of the tournament finals is quite popular. Here are a few tips for parents and students to spark an interest in spelling. At the very least these ideas can help students become more proficient spellers.

•Watch “Akeelah and the Bee.” It’s a great, inspirational movie. Also recommended is the documentary “Spellbound.”

•Keep a “great words” journal for every new and interesting word that you find.

•Designate a spelling wall in your home. Post, new words to the wall each day.

•For family game night, use a newspaper for a current events bee or a cookbook for a cuisine bee.

•Ask friends and neighbors to challenge you with great spelling words.

•Read great books; be entertained while effortlessly improving spelling and increasing vocabulary.

•Play Scrabble; scour the dictionary in search of words to stump family and friends.

In 2014-2015, more than 11 million students will participate in the National Spelling Bee. Generally, national competitors are veterans of several local and school-based tournaments. These three steps are excellent ways for students to get started working up to the championship.

•Step One: Learn the 100 study words for your grade level from the “2015 School Spelling Bee Study List.” Ask your teacher or school spelling bee coordinator for the study words. Your teacher obtains the study words by logging into a password-protected area of available exclusively for teachers. It is there that your teacher prints out “Study Words for (Your Grade Level).”

•Step Two: When you’ve mastered your 100 grade-specific words, you are ready to learn the words for other grade levels. Ask your teacher for the “2015 School Spelling Bee Study List”; it has a total of 450 words.

•Step Three: Get a head start on district, county, city, regional or state competition. Learn the words in “Spell It” a free online dictionary.

For information on National Spelling Bee competition requirements, parents should contact their child’s classroom teacher.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

Howard County Cybersecurity Academy students mentored by experts

Last week 20 students from Howard County Public School System’s Cybersecurity Networking Academy got a special treat when Firoozeh Azarbaidjani-Do, co-founder and CEO of Phoenix TS, the internationally acclaimed and award-winning computer training solution provider, welcomed them to a cybersecurity mentoring program. The three-hour cybersecurity training session was led by Claude Williams, expert cyber specialist at Phoenix TS.

“During their three hour session with our team,” said Azarbaidjani-Do, “the students learned about Cryptography Basics, Encryption Basics and Protocols, and they were presented with scenarios and real-world situations that required the application of learned security concepts and techniques. The training was reinforced with an encryption challenge that tested students on specific encryption techniques learned during the session.”

The students from Howard County’s Cybersecurity Networking Academy are taught by Vipul Savalia. The Academy is designed for students who have an interest in expanding their knowledge and skills related to computer hardware, software, operating systems, fundamental and advanced networking, and cybersecurity related threats and mitigation techniques. Students gain practical hands-on experience in these fields and demonstrate their ability to analyze cyber threats by using networking devices, simulation tools, software and competitions. These courses prepare students to obtain a wide variety of industry recognized IT certifications.

On hand for the training session Savalia said, “Cybersecurity is an incredibly important feature of our modern age. A day doesn’t go by without more evidence that in order to be productive and to improve our lives, we have to protect our computers, which are the lifeblood of nearly every facet of our existence.”

He continued, “These students are our future and they are demonstrating their eagerness and commitment by participating in a variety of educational opportunities, such as this mentoring program. We are creating the next generation of cyber professionals and this mentoring plays a role in achieving this goal.”

Also attending were Howard County Public School System Deputy Superintendent Linda T. Wise and Howard County Board of Education member Sandra French. After the session, Deputy Superintendent Wise and Azarbaidjani-Do awarded the students Certificates of Recognition for their accomplishment.

“The Howard County Public School System has a deep and long term commitment to providing our students with a world-class education, said Deputy Superintendent Wise. “We’re incredibly proud of our Career Academy programs, of which the Cybersecurity Networking Academy is just one. Students in the academies have the ability to earn industry certifications that give them the opportunity to obtain employment while they continue their education.”

“For example, students in the Cybersecurity Networking Academy can leave high school as a Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT). Thanks to partners like Phoenix TS, they also have the opportunity to network with professionals in the field. We are very grateful to our neighbor, Phoenix TS, for the commitment they are showing to our students, and to their futures.”

Founded in 1998, Phoenix TS provides quality customized and off-the-shelf, instructor-led technical and end-user training services around the world. The company’s management has utilized its more than 30 years of combined experience in training and consulting to provide organizations like DISA, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force with the most effective training possible.

The company’s instructors have also successfully trained more than 80,000 professionals from nearly every government agency and commercial organization, along with government agencies in foreign countries such as Korea and Germany.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes each week about educational matters because, “Only the educated are free.”

EDUCATION MATTERS: Is vocational education making a comeback?

Vocational education (VE) has long been viewed as the path of last resort for under-performing high school students. I know for a fact, school guidance counselors routinely advise students faced with academic failure to abandon college prep course for shop, food service and other vocational classes. On the other hand, I have seen “smart” kids who want to take VE courses shamed for their choice and reproached for refusing to fulfill their academic potential.

There was a time when VE classes were a part of the course of study for all high school students. In the days when college was out of financial reach for most students, the conventional wisdom was a 12 grade education should prepare everyone to get a job upon completion of high school. Looking back, it’s clear that the combination of academics and vocational training prepared graduates to seek more post high school options.

As loans, grants and other financing options provided an increasing number of students the opportunity to attend college, VE classes became a “second class” way to earn a high school diploma. Schools presented vocational classes as an alternative reserved for students who lacked the academic skills for college level work. This practice gave rise to the stigma attached to students who pursued manual labor instruction in high school.

Now, the stigmatization may be coming to an end. Vocational Education may be the next big idea. In support of this prediction, trend-watchers believe economic necessity could elevate the importance and value of VE. Jobs ready training in high school is starting to be embraced as a way of reversing the growing number of underemployed college grads. This trend could also address the increasing demand for individuals skilled in professions such as health care alliance, advanced manufacturing and high tech construction.

Here are some interesting facts about VE offered by Michael Wonacott, author of the book “Benefits of Vocational Education.” He writes, “A range of studies contain strong evidence that the generic technical skills and occupationally specific skills provided in VE increase worker productivity, skill transfer, job access, and job stability when vocational graduates find training-related jobs.

Popular misconceptions about the labor market and college, including the widespread beliefs among parents that a four-year college degree will guarantee their children a place in the middle class and that every child has the aptitude and interests to succeed in an academic four-year college degree program, may reinforce the traditional negative image of VE.“

Nevertheless, Dr. Wonacott believes “a closer look at the supply and demand in the labor market” may spark the resurgence of vocational education, and help shore up America’s place in the global economy.

The usually straightforward online publication “Business Insider” waxes poetic about the future of vocational education: “after long being left to languish, the detritus [waste product] of an industrial era, vocational education will soon be seen as the handmaiden of a new economy.”

Indeed, American economists are casting their interest to Europe for insights on how to fix our glut of chronically unemployed citizens. Several countries, including Great Britain and Germany consider the high number of out of work youth their biggest barrier to a full economic recovery. “In the European Union about a quarter of 15 to 25-year-olds are jobless. Yet, firms complain bitterly they are unable to find skilled labor: 27 percent of employers report they have had to leave a vacancy open.”

Business Insider also noted, “The university bubble is beginning to burst.

Democratizing universities has proved an expensive and inefficient way of providing mass higher education. Americans have taken on more than $1 trillion in student debt. But many grads feel they got poor value for their money: over-crowed classes— taught by PhD students not professors, subsidizing expensive research programs, and a college diploma that no longer ensures a desirable job.

Frustration with the status quo is at last leading to a burst of innovation. The Internet is well suited to vocational education: it helps reduce costs while making it easier to earn a living while doing some vocational training.”

The monetization of this trend demands careful public attention. A “new mixture of technology and different methods of teaching is attracting a host of entrants, from universities looking for customers to innovators hoping to create new businesses. Early adopters include Capella University’s FlexPath and Udacity, an online education firm that has teamed up with AT&T to provide ‘nano-degrees’— job-related qualifications that can be completed in six to 12 months for $200 a month.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”

School Safety: Backpacks, bikes and buses, Part II

The safest way for students to use their bikes is for transportation, not play. While this advice may surprise you, it comes from the Nemours Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations devoted to the health and well being of children. Bike riding can be a lot fun, but make no mistake bicycles are not toys. It is critically important that your son or daughter understands the importance of practicing basic bicycle safety.

“Every year, about 300,000 kids go to the emergency department because of bike injuries. Some of these injuries are so serious that children die, usually from head injuries.” These statistics supports the National Safety Council’s directive: “Students should always wear a helmet, even for a short ride.” The council’s research indicates traumatic head injuries can be prevented or less severe when a properly fitting helmet is worn.

The Consumer Product Safety Commissions (CPSC) offers excellent guidance on selecting and wearing a helmet. Bike helmet are so critical to your child’s well being, the U.S. government created safety standards for them. When purchasing a helmet, parents should look for a CPSC sticker. It is also recommended to remind your child a helmet will provide some protection for the face, head, and brain in case of a fall. However, it does not mean they should ride recklessly.

“A bike helmet should fit you properly,” says the CPSC. “You don’t want it too small or too big. Never wear a hat under a bike helmet. If you’re unsure if your helmet fits you well, ask someone at a bike store. Once you have the right helmet, you need to wear it the right way so it will protect you. It should be worn level and cover your forehead. Don’t tip it back so your forehead is showing.

The straps should always be fastened. If the straps are flying, it’s likely to fall off your head when you need it most. Make sure the straps are adjusted so they’re snug enough that you can’t pull or twist the helmet around on your head. Take care of your bike helmet and don’t throw it around. That could damage the helmet and it won’t protect you as well when you really need it. They don’t work as well after a major crash.”

Children who regularly ride a bike to and from school must at all times be careful to avoid an accident. In addition to looking both ways when entering traffic, obeying traffic signals and wearing reflective clothing, children must remember to always ride with attention to their surroundings. For example, a student running late may abandon their usual caution. Remind your child it’s better to be late than involved in a collision with a moving motor vehicle.

If your child rides a bus to school, you’ll be pleased to know “School buses are one of the safest forms of transportation on the road today. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, riding a bus to school is 13 times safer than riding in a passenger vehicle and 10 times safer than walking to school.

The reality of school bus safety is that more children are hurt outside the bus than inside as passengers. Most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related crashes are pedestrians, four to seven years old hit by the bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus. For this reason, it is necessary to know the proper laws and procedures for sharing the road safely with school buses.

All 50 states have a law making it illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. Traffic in both directions is required to stop. School buses use yellow flashing lights to alert motorists that they are preparing to stop to load or unload children. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm signals to motorists that the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off the bus.

Be alert! Children are unpredictable. Students walking to or from their bus are usually very comfortable with their surroundings. This makes them more likely to take risks, ignore hazards or fail to look both ways when crossing the street. Never pass a school bus on the right.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”

Backpacks, buses and bikes: Tips for eliminating school injuries

The start of a new school year is an excellent time to review precautions families can take to keep their children safe, both inside and outside the classroom. Without proper attention to basic safety measures, school can become a hazardous environment.

In researching this article, it was alarming to learn that a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found “80 percent of elementary school children visited the school nurse for an injury-related complaint.”

While it was reassuring to hear incidents resulting in the death of a student are rare the CDC says, “Approximately four million children and adolescents are injured at school per year in non-life threatening accidents.”

This figure does not include, minor falls, cuts and abrasions commonly treated during the school day and not reported to the nurse. Injuries at school are most likely to occur on playgrounds (particularly on climbing equipment), on athletic fields, and in gymnasiums.

Although transportation accidents on buses and bikes, as well traffic related incidents walking to and from school continue to pose a grave threat to students, there are other less obvious dangers to the health of youngsters.

According to the National Safety Council, injuries and strains caused by carrying over-stuffed, heavy backpacks are on the increase.

The health issues caused by improper use of a backpack are insidious. The damage to the back and spine can begin long before the child’s discomfort from pain sends an alert.

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 7,300 backpack-related injuries annually treated by hospitals and doctors. Injuries include bruises, sprains and strains to the back and shoulder and fractures.” It is estimates twice as many injuries go unreported and untreated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, “a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight. This figure may vary however, depending on the child’s body strength and fitness.”

There is also a visual first line of defense against backpack injury. Kid’s Health medical advisor, Dr. Steven Dowshen says parents who observe the following signs should take a closer look at whether their child’s backpack is too heavy:

•Changes in posture when wearing the backpack.

•Struggling to get the backpack on

or off.

•Leaning forward to carry the backpack.

•Reports of pain when wearing the backpack.

•Red marks or bruises on the shoulders

Dr. Dowshen advises parents that, “If the child has back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs it should be brought to the attention of the pediatrician.”

“A heavy backpack forces the wearer to bend forward,” says the National Safety Council. “Encourage kids to use their locker or desk frequently throughout the day instead of carrying the entire days’ worth of books in the backpack.

Make sure kids don’t tote unnecessary items— laptops, cell phones and video games can add extra pounds to a pack.

They should only carry those items that are required for the day and remove articles that can be left at home each night.

Even though it might not look as “cool” it is recommended that students, “Wear both straps. Use of one strap shifts the weight to one side, causing muscle spasms and lower back pain. By wearing two shoulder straps, the weight of the backpack is better distributed. When organizing the contents of the backpack, distribute the weight evenly. Place the heaviest items on the bottom to keep the weight off of the shoulders and maintain better posture.

Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. The size of the backpack should match the size of the child. It is also important to pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and allow free movement of the arms.”

Finally, remind your child to always use proper lifting techniques— “bend at the knees and use the legs to lift the backpack, placing one shoulder strap on at a time.”

Next week: Bus and bike safety.

Jayne Matthews Hospon writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”

How occupational therapy helps students to succeed

This week the Special Education series offers an overview of Occupational Therapy and how these services may improve your child’s life in and outside the classroom.

During the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process, occupational therapy may be recommended as part of a students’ special education program. The term, “occupational therapy” is sometimes misunderstood by parents new to the IEP process. It is easier to see the value of occupation related treatment for children when you consider that school is the primary workplace of childhood and learning is a child’s “job.”

For example, a youngster who has difficulty learning to read cannot successfully do their work as a student or child with poor eye-hand coordination may be unable or unwilling to participate in school sporting activities.

Often parents ask me to explain the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) says “both physical and occupational therapy help improve a child’s quality of life, but the difference is physical therapy deals with pain, strength, joint range of motion, endurance and gross motor functioning, whereas occupational therapy deals more with fine motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, cognitive skills, and sensory-processing deficits.”

If an occupational therapy evaluation is offered during the process of developing your child’s IEP, it would be wise to give the recommendation serious consideration. How well you prepare for the assessment will help the therapist develop a treatment plan that best suits your child’s needs. Prior to the evaluation you should receive a parent’s questionnaire. Carefully answer all questions about your child’s health, social development and the family’s medical history.

“Make certain to list any concerns about his motor skills motor skills, activities of daily living dressing, grooming, feeding), behavior and play skills. If possible arrange childcare for your other children so that you can take part in your child’s evaluation. Your child should wear comfortable clothing that allows for ease of movement. Sometimes, clothes may need to be removed, so that body parts may be examined. Remember to bring the completed case history with you to the evaluation,” says AOTA.

What should you expect during the evaluation? The AOTA advises the evaluation’s purpose is to gather information about your child’s sensory processing skills, and access ways your child’s system takes in and processes information. The evaluation includes a careful observation of the following sensory systems:

*Visual— how your child processes what he sees

*Auditory—- how your child processes what he hears

*Tactile— how your child processes what he touches

*Vestibular— how your child processes himself in motion

*Proprioceptive— how your child processes his actual movement

*Motor planning— the way your child can plan and make movements

*Self regulation— the way your child calms himself

*Visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills including handwriting, cutting with scissors, upper extremity use, strength and range of motion, and use of both hands together (bilateral skills)

*Motor control— how well your child moves, including coordination and the strength activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming and feeding self and increasing the ability to eat a variety of foods.

Once the assessment is complete, the AOTA says, “the occupational therapist will develop an individualized plan, recommend specific treatment activities, identify measurable goals and establish timelines for reaching the objectives.

The therapist may help students work on fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting skills, address hand-eye coordination to improve kids’ play and school skills, including hitting a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.

“For students with severe developmental delays the therapist will help the child learn basic tasks such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth and feeding themselves. Children with behavioral disorders will be taught ways to maintain positive behaviors in all environments, instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger, such as writing about feelings or participating in a physical activity.

The occupational therapist “teaches kids with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves, use a computer, increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting, evaluate a child’s need for specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, or identify which communication aids will assist children who have sensory and attentional issues to improve focus and social skills.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education Matters because “only the educated are free.”

Special Education: Occupational Therapy 101

In my work as a special education student advocate, I have participated in dozens of Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting. Nearly all the students were offered occupational therapy as part of their remedial services plan.

However, rarely did the school’s IEP team members explain to parents in a meaningful way the scope, purpose and benefits of occupational therapy.

Without any true understanding of the academic impact of occupational therapy, it is not surprising a parent may question why their child needs “jobs” related services. After all, it is years before a grade school student will need skills to help seek an occupation.

The fact of the matter is learning is a child’s primary occupation. According to the Bethesda Maryland based American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) a well structured, thoughtfully delivered occupational therapy plan can “help kids with various needs improve their cognitive, physical, sensory and motor skills and enhance their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.”

In a school setting, occupational therapy (OT) services are for students who are eligible for special education services. The child’s needs are identified through an evaluation by the Occupational Therapist. He or she also helps determine annual goals, identifies supports, and recommends accommodations, and hours of service needed to meet expected annual progress. These recommendations are shared at the IEP meeting.

In some instances, “students whose disability affects their participation in school but who do not qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), may be eligible to receive occupational therapy under other federal laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says AOTA.

The occupational therapist uses their skills and training “to help children to prepare for and perform important learning and school-related activities. Their goal is to ensure children fulfill their role as students.

This may include exercises to improve: social skills; academic skills math, reading and writing; behavior management; physical (eye/hand coordination); participation in sports; self-help skills; and prevocational/vocational participation.

In particular occupational therapy practitioners “are particularly skilled in facilitating student access to curricular and extracurricular activities through supports, designing and planning, and other methods. Additionally, they play a critical role in training parents, other staff members, and caregivers regarding educating students with diverse learning needs.”

The AOTA says occupational therapists have specific training in:

•Observing how a student engages in an activity.

•Providing strategies to facilitate a student’s full participation in school


•Reducing barriers that limit student participation within the school environment.

•Using assistive technology to support student success.

•Supporting the needs of students with significant challenges.

•Helping to determine methods for alternate assessment.

•Helping identify long-term goals for appropriate post-school outcomes.

•Helping plan relevant instructional activities for ongoing implementation

in the classroom.

•Assisting students in preparing for successful transition into appropriate post–high school employment, independent living, and/or further education.

The occupational therapist’s role is collaborative, says AOTA. “They work closely with a number of people to improve their student’s performance in a variety of learning environments (e.g., playgrounds, classrooms, lunchrooms, bathrooms) and optimize their performance with adaptations and accommodations.

Parents are an important part of the team. Supporting their children’s learning in and outside the classroom is essential” to achieving the best results.

Teachers and “school support staff can also play a role in the delivery of OT services by planning and developing activities and environments that include all students.

School administrators can support the success of OT by promoting safety within the school environment (e.g., physical and behavioral assistance needs). Administrators who provide training for students, staff and parents, as well as recommend equipment for schools and ways to modify existing buildings and curriculum to allow access for all.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “on the educated are free.”

Baltimore’s new curfew: New gateway to school-to-prison pipeline

Less than three months after marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision rendering state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional, the City of Baltimore is set to enact one of the country’s toughest youth curfews. Is this new law a good idea, a way to keep children safe from the dangers of Baltimore’s crime-ridden streets? Or does its enforcement have the potential to keep more poor and minority students out of the classroom and shuffle them into the criminal justice system?

Starting on August 8, 2014, it will be illegal for children under 14 to be outside their homes after 9 p.m. Young people aged 14 to 16 would be banned from being outside on school nights after 10 p.m. and on other nights after 11 p.m.

At a police officer’s discretion children who violate this law can be taken to a curfew center to await pick-up by a parent or guardian who would be required to take city-approved parenting classes.

Multiple offenders could face a $500 fine for repeat violations, up from the previous $300.

It should be noted that Baltimore has had curfew laws on the books for years; children younger than 17 could stay out until 11 p.m. on weeknights and until midnight on weekends. In the past, enforcement was sporadic but that is expected to change after next week.

As a longtime resident of Baltimore, raised by old school parents, I believe without question children should not be allowed to roam the city without adult supervision beyond nightfall. Back in the day when the streetlights came on it was “Cinderella” time. You and your friends were expected to quickly head home. It was understood families were the first line of defense for keeping children safe after dark.

These self-imposed curfews were based on widely accepted societal standards of decency and common sense. Today, the most expedient (and cheapest) way to solve social issues— once the domain of the family— is to legislate a heavy-handed approach to a complex problem caused in part by the chronic lack of parental supervision and the city’s unwillingness to direct resources to children.

I offer a few things to consider as we approach this misguided law. First, anyone who questions whether the curfew is a new portal to the school-to-prison pipeline, which is proportionately puts poor, minority students on the path to early incarceration, should ask themselves how many, if any children from affluent Baltimore neighborhoods such as Roland Park, Guilford and Federal Hill are likely to be picked up for violating curfew.

“Black children constitute 18 percent of the nation’s public school population but 40 percent of the children who are suspended or expelled,” said Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). This law opens the opportunity to paint another target on the backs of students already burdened with parents unwilling or unable to retrieve them. Work schedule conflicts, substance abuse issues, absenteeism, lack of transportation and illness could leave a child stranded for hours at the curfew center.

While working as a communication director at a W.K Kellogg Foundation neighborhood transformation site in Sandtown-Winchester, I witnessed an alarming number of children who looked no older than seven or eight out alone at night. One evening, I saw a little boy coming out of the corner store clutching a paper bag and holding the hands of two younger children. I watched as they waited for the cars to stop zooming down Fulton Avenue and when the traffic cleared the intersection they quickly crossed the street and disappeared into the darkness. It was a heartbreaking sight.

Life is hard enough for young kids who have to make their way across busy streets at night. They should be spared the trauma of being thrown into the back of a police car.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”

Verlando Brown: Scholar beats the odds, Part II

Upon meeting Verlando Brown for the first time, you would never guess this trim, self-confident graduate student received special education services in grade school to remediate stuttering. It is equally difficult to believe he once weighed 300 pounds, and suffered from low self-esteem when he was working on his undergraduate degree.

While his life has been filled with obstacles that could have held him back, Verlando has met and overcome these challenges, and more. The first person in his family to graduate college, he attended Booker T. Washington Middle School and Frederick Douglass High School, two of the city’s toughest, most dangerous public schools. After earning his undergraduate degree at Towson University, he is scheduled to complete his master’s program at the University of Baltimore in the fall of 2015.

Verlando born to and raised by a single mother in West Baltimore is a shining example of how parental-guidance, self-advocacy, tenacity and a personal commitment to excellence can produce a young man who represents hope for our troubled city.

His accomplishments speak directly to ways positive words and meaningful actions can help a child rise above systemic low expectations. From his earliest school days Verlando has been guided towards academic success by his mother’s steadfast belief that education matters. “I don’t want you to become like all the other guys on the corner just hanging out, selling drugs, dying young. I want you to get ahead in life, to be somebody.”

His mom, Catherine Young backed her words up with firm plans and measures designed to guide him away from the pitfalls that ensnare and diminish the potential of many black boys raised in West Baltimore. For example, aware that his stuttering would present a communication barrier for her bright young son, Catherine sought and secured an IEP (individual education plan.) He soon received the services needed to remediate his speech impairment.

As an undergraduate Verlando says being overweight had a direct impact on his self-esteem. In a remarkably candid conversation he revealed how self-doubt pushed him towards feelings of depression. “I was proud of my academic accomplishments, but still felt I wasn’t as good as the other students. I literally could feel the weight holding me back, keeping me from feeling good about myself.” Finally he decided to follow his mother’s example of solving problems by seeking remediation. Through a careful diet and exercise program he trimmed down and transformed his body into excellent, athletic condition.

In a recent conversation, Verlando raised and touched upon the very serious issue of depression among black male college students. Unfortunately, within the black community mental health issues affecting student performance in and outside the classroom does not receive the time and attention it deserves. I think it says a lot about this young man who is doing well, yet is concerned about problems that may prevent other black scholars from reaching their full academic potential. It is a topic that Education Matters intends to address in the fall.

In the meantime, in addition to pursuing his master’s degree Verlando was recently selected to be the Graduate Coordinator for the Office Student Activities and Orientation, in the Division of Student Affairs at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art.) He is also excited about sharing his journey with a group of under-resourced youth as guest speaker at the Baltimore Urban Alliance. He sees this as a way to inspire young people facing some of the same challenges he has overcome.

Kudos to Verlando for his efforts and best wishes for continued success in the future. It is young people like him that I dedicate this column and pin my hopes for the future of Baltimore City.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”