Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

On the Parent Diaries blog, I try to provide information that will help parents better help their children succeed in school — without going insane.

To that end, I recently came across this fabulous poem posted on the MySpace page of my daughter's friend, Olivia. It's a poem that has been traveling around the Internet, written by an unknown source, it seems.

I found it wonderful and poignant that Olivia chose to post it because despite the antics of middle school (don't get me started), it's refreshing to see that this gorgeous 8th grader and her "best friends" in the photo realize that they are growing up too fast.

So here's to you, Olivia! Keep swinging at the playground, opt for licorice cigs, and fearlessly wear skirts (just pick ones that aren't too short). All the mommies and daddies out there are rooting for you and your BFFs to hold on to the joy and innocence of childhood for as long as possible. With love.

I remember when getting high meant swinging at the playgrounds.
The worst thing your could get from boys were cooties.
Your worst enemies were your siblings.
The only drug you knew of was cough medicine.
Wearing a skirt didn’t mean you were a slut.
The only thing you smoked was licorice.
The only thing that could hurt was skinned knees.
The only things that could break were your toys.
Life was so simple and carefree.
But what I remember the most was wanting to grow up.
And now that I think about it,
All I really want to do is go back.

Entry by Hope Katz Gibbs, Inkandescent Public Relations.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Do Your Giving While You Are Still Living: Edie Fraser and Robyn Spizman Reach Out

I love the title of this new book by Washington, DC activist / philanthropist Edie Fraser and TV journalist Robyn Spizman. Not only is it a great message to send our kids, it’s a message that parents need to hear — especially in this time of economic uncertainty when more people are hoarding what they have, out of fear for the future.

“We believe the most important word in our vocabulary is love,” the authors write in the introduction. “We’re talking about the kind of love that opens our hearts to others and expects nothing in return. It inspires us to do kind and caring things even when no one is watching.”

It is that belief that inspired these two truly amazing women to give 66 leaders of some of the country’s most influential nonprofit organizations the opportunity to talk about the benefits of giving.

They include some well-known personalities such as the executive director of the Oprah Winfrey Foundations Caren Yanis, renowned musician and philanthropist Dionne Warwick, and chairman of the National Council of Negro Women Dr. Dorothy Height.

Other chapters are written by the heads of some lesser-known nonprofit organizations, such as the Gail Heyman of the National Fragile X Foundation and Terry Baugh of the DC-based organization Kidsave.

On page 204 Baugh’s partner and co-founder Randi Thompson writes: “When you ask someone if they can help the 33 million kids in the world living without families, they can’t imagine what they can do. But when you talk about the possibility of reaching out to one orphan or foster child, it’s a very different story.”

That idea captures the essence of this 289-page book, which strives to teach and encourage everyone to open their hearts and give what they can.

In fact, the book’s publisher David Hancock of Morgan James Publishing has made a commitment to donate a percentage of book sales each month to one of his favorite organizations, Habitat for Humanity.

“Habitat for Humanity is changing lives,” Hancock writes in the book. “Working in partnership with low-income families to build decent homes they can afford to buy, Habitat helps to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. So we place its logo on the back and inside of our books and give a small library of books to the new homeowners. In addition to generating funds, we are raising awareness of Habitat’s critically important work.”

The authors hope more companies reach out in similarly profound ways.

“Whether in your community or around the world, choose one or more actions that make a difference,” says co-author Spizman, one of the country’s leading gift experts who is often featured on NBCs The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC, and The Discovery Channel, among others. “Continue to search for meaningful ways to connect to causes that matter. Consider what you can do and inspire yourself and others as giving of our time, talents and treasures has never been more critical."

To buy the book, visit: www.doyourgiving.com.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Best of Both Worlds: Making the holidays happy in a house with two religions

When it comes to celebrating the holidays, my husband Michael and I have always said the more the merrier. He grew up Catholic. I grew up Jewish. And neither of us is willing to forego the teachings of our past. So we celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Easter, Passover, Channukah and Christmas!

And when I saw a query from reporter Lynn Martin looking for families that celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas, I had to respond. Lynn and I hit it off, spent some time talking, and did a photo shoot with DC photographer Steve Barrett for the magazine where the article was to run. (See image, right. Yes, we put up a Christmas tree in October. Thank you Kevin and Karen Carroll for lending us your faux evergreen!)

Alas, as it happens sometimes in big-time publications, our segment was cut from the article. But Lynn was kind enough to share what she wrote so I could post it on The Parent Diaries. (I'll admit my kids were really disappointed — me, too — but this is stuff of the real world and I figure it's good to learn the power of resiliency sooner than later!)

Following is what Lynn wrote about our attempt to "Make the best of both worlds."

Journalist Hope Katz Gibbs, 44, a veteran of Hebrew school and her husband Michael Gibbs, 54, an illustrator and former Catholic school altar boy, make sure that their shared traditions provide plenty of glow—from the candles on the menorah to the Christmas lights that bedeck their suburban Virginia home. If you want to know how well they’ve meshed their two cultures, look no further than their tree—adorned with popsicle-stick ornaments in the shape of Jewish stars.

“We’re trying to teach our children to be good, moral people,” says Hope Katz Gibbs, explaining that Anna 13, and Dylan, 9, are learning about both religions and reap the benefits of two celebrations. On Chanukah, the family lights candles, says prayers in Hebrew and enjoys a dinner that includes matzoh ball soup made from Hope’s grandmother’s recipe (the secret’s in the fresh dill and parsley seasoning.)

On Christmas, “We do the tree, the lights, and the whole Santa routine,” says husband Mike, adding that it’s one of his favorite times of year. On each occasion, they take a few, important minutes, to re-tell the story of the holiday. Hope’s mom Bobbi Katz often comes to Christmas dinner, Mike’s parents, to Chanukah. “It’s all about sharing,” says Hope. Still there are parts of the other’s celebration that neither partakes of. “I still don’t eat the Christmas ham and Mike doesn’t like gefitle fish,” she laughs.

Chanukah lasts for eight nights, and when Hope was a girl, she got small presents— a book, maybe a fuzzy pair of socks. “Mike likes to have a Christmas bonanza, and for a little while there, I felt competitive, I didn’t want the kids to think that Chanukah was a lesser holiday because they got a DVD instead of a bike.”

In the last few years they’ve cut back on presents and this year the clan is creating a new tradition: They’re going to volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen or make sandwiches for the homeless. Like so many other Americans, the Gibbs’ are getting back to basics. “It’s important to remember,” says Hope, “what the holidays are really about.”

One last thing: The night before Thanksgiving, Mike and I found a spot to make food for the homeless at the DC Jewish Community Center's "Everything but the turkey" fundraiser. Along with more than 200 other families we helped prepare a holiday feast. Our job: Make pounds and pounds of what they called "kicking coleslaw," and they weren't kidding! We made 100 pounds in 2 hours — and boy was it a blast. We'll be volunteering to prepare food again at Christmas time.

The other charity we're volunteering for in 2009 is Habitat for Humanities' Women Who Build. We're looking for donations of only $5000 by March 15 and volunteers to help us do a one-day build. If you'd like to join, sign up on the website!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Power of Staying Positive: We're Profiled by The Mom Entrepreneur and Working Mother

In addition to blogging and working as a freelance journalist, I am also the owner of Inkandescent Public Relations — a PR firm I officially launched this fall.

I left a good-paying part-time job as the leader of corporate communication for a global futurist firm to embark on this new venture, and although I had an inkling that the economy was faltering (I worked for futurists for two years, after all) I hoped for the best and took the plunge. So when our financial institutions tanked and the recession firmly took hold, I continued to stick to my plan and hope for the best.

How could I not when that's what I always tell my kids to do!

Then in October, while surfing through the hundreds of reporter queries that I daily field for my PR clients, I saw a request for stories for a column called "Lemons to Lemonade" to be posted on a terrific new blog called The Mom Entrepreneur. I responded, and the blog founder Traci Bisson and I began a wonderful conversation that became her Lemons to Lemonade Feature Number 8, which went live this week. (See my comments below.)

As a lovely bonus, Working Mother magazine picked up the story and also posted it on their website saying:

Hope Katz Gibbs, a freelance writer and journalist since 1993, recently left her job as a PR director for a futurist research firm to start Inkandescent Public Relations. She had decided to make this move long before the financial world came crashing down. She admits that the downturn has impacted her clients who currently include seven entrepreneurs who work in a variety of industries. But this mother of two is staying positive and moving ahead with an upbeat attitude and fresh ideas. Here's her story ...

How has this economy affected you, your business and your family? I picked a great time to start a business, didn’t I? Fortunately, my PR firm focuses on small businesses, mostly women-owned, and at this moment we are all feeling slightly recession proof (knock on wood). The reason, we stick to our knitting, so to speak, and because we all are sole proprietors — or have only a few employees — we aren’t suffering the way bigger businesses are struggling to get credit or meet payroll. I believe my clients are pretty savvy, and they realize that to keep their businesses growing they need to keep moving forward with their visibility efforts.

How are you making lemonade from lemons? I am taking my own advice and staying visible, launching my official website this month. In 2009, I plan to roll out a publishing company. And I’m trying to stay very positive. In high school they called me “Happy Hope”, so my reputation has been that I have a good attitude. It has kept me going through the ups and downs of life. You never know what is around the next bend, so keep moving forward – with a smile, a good laugh, great friends, and a full glass of good chardonnay.

Some of the outreach efforts I am doing on my client's behalf include:
• Improving their websites.
• Reaching out to reporters with excellent story ideas.
• Helping them develop new products (such as books) that build credibility and can eventually get them on the speaker circuit.

Any encouraging words you would like to offer mom entrepreneurs? Having been a reporter for 25 years, I know from the hundreds of articles that I’ve written that nothing ever stays the same — for any person or any company. (The recent fall of the banking / financial industry painfully proves that point.)

At 44, I look back and think of hours I wasted pouting and worrying. The hard times, I realize now, were truly stepping stones that moved me along my path. Even though some of those times were truly the pits (like getting left at the altar in 1991), they made me stronger and showed me that I could count on myself. That has been the most precious gift.

Now, instead of fretting, I choose to work hard, surround myself only with people that I truly like, and simply enjoy the ride. Money is great, but like my dad always said, “Money is round, it rolls away and it rolls back.” Knowing that perennial truth makes it easier to deal with the stinky times.


Join Traci Bison's group:www.themomentrepreneur.blogspot.com.

And look for a profile about Mom Entrepreneur Traci Bison next week on my other blog http://theparentdiaries.blogspot.com.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning

Author / educator Marc Prensky’s book begins with a warning: “You are about to hear a message that, while absolutely true, will fly in the face of prevailing wisdom about computer and video games: Computer and video games aren’t as bad as you think they are. In fact, there’s good reason to believe that they do a tremendous amount of good.”

And so it goes in Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning, a 254-page paperback published by Paragon House that outlines why, and how, the technology provided in games is actually helping prepare children for the jobs and work they’ll do as participants in the 21st century workforce.

In chapters that include, Economics and Business Lessons for a 10-year-old from a Computer Game, and Video games are our kids’ first ethics lesson, Prensky convincingly argues why it’s a good idea to let children have access to such titles as The Sims, Harvest Moon, and Zoo Tycoon.

James Paul Gee agrees. The Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote the book’s foreword, and insists, “Marc knows the power of good video games. He knows the power of the technologies behind them. He knows their potential for social revolution and what gives them their great potential for good. Most importantly, Marc knows that game designers have learned to harness deep and powerful learning — learning in the sense of problem solving, decision making, hypothesizing, and strategizing — as a form of fun, pleasure, engagement, even flow.”

How does this happen? Prensky explains in Chapter 4: “Our kids are not like us: They’re natives, we’re immigrants.”

“Today’s students—kindergarten through college—are the first generation to grow up with this new, digital, technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, DVD players, videocams, eBay, cell phones, iPods, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. As with all immigrants, some of us have adapted to our new digital environment more quickly than others. But no matter how fluent we may become, all digital immigrants retain, to some degree, our ‘accent.”

Do they really think differently? Well, yes and no, says Prensky. “We hear parents and teachers complain so often about the Digital Natives’ attention spans that the phrase ‘the attention of a gnat” has become a cliche.”

But, he points out that kids’ attention spans are not short for everything — like games, music, or anything else that actually interests them. Why? It’s the result of years of experience with digital objects they simply crave interactivity and expect and immediate response to their each and every action.

“Unfortunately, traditional schooling provides very little of this,” he insists. “It isn’t that digital natives can’t pay attention; it’s often that they choose not to. Interestingly enough, they don’t have to succeed, at least not all the time.”

What have we lost? Assuming that Prensky is right about the reprogramming of the digital native’s brain, he concedes the one area that appears at first to have been affected is their inability to reflect. “In our twitch-speed world, there seems to many to be less and less time and opportunity for reflection, and this concerns many people,” Prensky writes — adding, however, that on closser inspection reflection actually may be going on beneath the surface.

“In observing digital natives, I have come to see that reflection, like so much else in their world, is something that is simply happening faster,” he suggests. “Whenever a player loses in a computer game and has to start over, their mind races to the move that got them to that point and they ask themselves, ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘What am I going to do differently next time.’ This is reflection at its most effective, although it is rarely if ever verbalized or made conscious.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny

With the excitement surrounding Barack Obama finally settling down, I started thinking about what it is that makes him such an inspirational leader. The obvious comes to mind: He's calm and clear, profoundly reasonable, and a great storyteller who can whoop up a crowd and leave them feeling better for just having listened to him. My kids, 13 and 9, have also touched by his power — and have had the incredible experience of being part of the political process.

In a nutshell, Obama is just the kind of teacher every kid — and adult — wishes they had in school.

All this noodling reminded me of "32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny," a magical book about the big heart and impact 3rd grade teacher Phil Done has had on his students. I remember sitting in bed reading through the 288-pager, and the tale was so engaging I'd be rolling on the floor in hysterics – or so touched that a tear will suddenly appear. The book that was that darn good.

“After my first week of teaching, I knew I had to write this book,” Done explains from his home in Northern California. “But after a day of working as a third grade teacher, I had absolutely no creativity left in me. So for years the book just lived in my head.”

Then about two years ago, Done had the opportunity to teach in Eastern Europe. He learned something interesting while abroad: He didn’t have to teach his class alone. While one of the other teachers was working with the students, Done found time to write.

By 2004, the book was finished and after several attempts he finally found an agent who believed in his project. She took it to a publisher – and after a bidding war that was won my Simon & Schuster, “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny” made its way to print.

The book hit stores in August, made the back page of the highly popular “Real Simple” magazine that month, and has only received accolades from critics, readers, and even some of his old students.

“The publisher suggested I put my web address in the back of the book, and although I didn’t think that anyone would contact me I’m thrilled to find that every day I get emails from teachers, parents and the kids I used to teach,” shares Done (click here: www.phillipdone.com). “They are all so excited about the book, and they all say the book has touched them. This experience has been wonderful, but I’ll be ready to go back to the classroom next year. I miss my kids.”

Following is an expert from the introduction of Phillip Done’s “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny.” Enjoy!

I Am a Teacher

I read Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every year, and every year when Charlie finds the golden ticket and Charlotte dies, I cry.

I take slivers out of fingers and bad sports out of steal the bacon. I know when a child has gum in his mouth even when he is not chewing. I have sung “Happy Birthday” 657 times.

I hand over scissors with the handles up. My copies of “Velveteen Rabbit” and “Treasure Island” are falling apart. I can listen to one child talk about his birthday party and another talk about her sleepover and another talk about getting his stomach pumped last night – all at the same time.

I fix staplers that won’t staple and zippers that won’t zip, and I poke pins in the orange caps of glue bottles that will not pour. I hand out papers and pencils and stickers and envelopes for newly pulled teeth. I know the difference between Austria and Australia.

I plan lessons while shaving, showering, driving, eating, and sleeping. I plan lessons five minutes before the bell rings. I know what time it is when the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the nine. I say the r in library. I do not say the w in sword.

I put on Band-Aids and winter coats and school plays. I know they will not understand the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’ I know they will write ‘to’ when it should be ‘too.’ I say “Cover your mouth,” after they have coughed on me.

I know when a child does not understand. I know when a child is not telling the truth. I know when a child was up too late last night. I knew when a child needs help finding a friend.

I am a teacher.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Principal Factor: Nardos King

When it comes to how you feel about your kids' teachers, many parents have a "hope for the best" attitude. We all assume the teacher will be top-notch, highly educated and personable — and really want the best for our children. But what most educators know is that it is the principal who makes or breaks a school. They are the ones who hire the teachers, set the tone and attitude for the year, and ultimately determine the experience that the children — and the parents — will have when they walk into that building.

"Principals are the key to a school's success," says former City of Fairfax Schools Superintendent George Stepp, a man who spent more than 30 years as a teacher, principal and administrator. "If you have a bad principal, you don't have to look too far before you realize everything about the school isn't flowing right. But a good principal, well, that's the best case scenario. And you can spot a winner by simply looking at the faces of the kids. Are they happy, engaged, and succeeding in the core subjects? Are the teachers energetic, excited about their jobs and in their classrooms early each day? If so, you've got a hit on your hands."

One woman who gets kudos from Stepp is Nardos King, the principal of Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria VA. Earlier this year, she took home one of the most prestigious FCPS honors: the 2008 Outstanding First-Year Principal Award. It's one of many awards that adorn her bookshelf, and upon examination it's easy to see why.

Praised for her ability to motivate students, she set several goals when she became principal. The first was to have Mount Vernon become a positive focal point in the community. She also wanted to reach out to Hispanic parents who were underrepresented at the school. And King was determined to improve instruction — and find a way to forge relationships among students and staff members. So she met with community members and parents and challenged them to become ambassadors for the school. Then she reached out to Hispanic parents, with the help of a neighborhood church, and ultimately established Hispanic Parent Council.

She also adjusted the bell schedule to facilitate student enrichment, mediation, and mentoring — and carved out a special 30-minute class period during which all students and teachers read silently. Students can also use part of the period to consult teachers for extra help, make up tests, or complete assignments.

Where no educator has gone before?

Then last year she did what few other educators might be willing to do: She promised to cut her hair into a Mohawk if students raised their SOL scores to 80% or higher in each of the four core areas. Not only did they accomplish that, but 28 students in the class of 2007 earned the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma—the highest number in the school’s history. Last November 20, King headed to the hairdresser to make good on her promise.

“I have a passion for finding ways to address and close the achievement gap between white and minority students,” says King, who grew up in Mount Holly, NJ. “My mom is from Ethiopia and my father is American, so I had a taste of what it meant to merge two cultures when I was a child.”

She deepened that understanding after graduating from Virginia University where she got a degree in Business Information Systems in 1986. Her husband — as a second lieutenant in the US Army — whisked her off to Germany soon after the wedding. King wanted to get her teaching degree, but worked as a substitute teacher and a bank teller instead.

In 1990, the couple moved again to Lawton, Oklahoma. “My dream to teach was still there but I had a baby and no time to go back to school,” she explains. “I was hired by the school system to be an instructional assistant, but the position ended after a year and I was transferred to a library assistant position in another school. I enjoyed that position, too, but soon after was transferred to a local high schools to become the finance secretary.”

When there’s a will there’s a way

In 1995, when her husband was transferred back to the Washington, DC area, King wasn't going to let anything keep her from finding work in the classroom. First, she found a job as the secretary to an elementary school principal. Six months later she was hired at Mount Vernon to be the school's finance officer.

“As luck would have it, the principal told me about a program at George Washington University which allowed me to get my Master's in Special Education,” she shares. “I entered the program and left my finance position to take an Instructional Assistant in the Special Education Department at Mount Vernon. After a year of school, I was eligible to teach on a provisional license and was hired to teach at Mount Vernon, where I taught math to the special education students for the next four years.”

King worked her way up the system, eventually becoming a sub-school Principal at Mount Vernon. In the summer of 2006, she landed her dream job. The awards that have come since — and there are several of them — are wonderful, King says, but what is most important to her is helping at-risk kids.

“Four adult volunteers, and myself are currently working with a group of students in a program we call the 30/30 club,” she explains. “Prior to entering the program, these students were all low performing and unmotivated, but we have been successful in getting the majority of them to turn around their grades, behavior and attendance ion school. I strongly believe that building relationships with at risk students in key to the success of the program.”

King is determined to continue to be a positive role model in the years to come. She is currently studying for her PhD in Education Leadership and Policy at Virginia Tech, and hopes to one day become Assistant Superintendent — and then Superintendent — of a large school district.

“I know that if I am truly running the show, I can make a difference on hundreds of thousands of children’s lives,” she says.

We’ll let you know when King lands that job.

To learn more about the work Nardos King is doing at her high school, visit http://www.fcps.edu/MtVernonHS.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

HR expert Alice Waagen offers tips for Gen Y

I don’t know of a parent today who isn’t worried about how their children are going to fare in the future. Our young adults who have already entered the workforce are reportedly struggling to find their place — and evidence suggests that employers are struggling right alongside them.

Fortunately, Alice Waagen, PhD, president of the executive Workforce Learning, has some advice.

The founder of the leadership development company that since 1997 has provided managers and C-level executives with the skills and knowledge they need to build a more productive work environment, recently offered some tips to Washington Examiner reporter Heather Huhman on how to help Gen Y transition from the classroom to the workplace.

“A JobFox poll found Gen Y workers are perceived by recruiters as being the weakest performers among the four generations that now make up the U.S. workforce," Huhman wrote. “ What can you do to make the transition seamless and foster success?”

Waagen suggests:

Dress to impress. “Pay no attention to published corporate dress codes. Dress to the level that you aspire. Don’t wear jeans just because your fellow entry-level workers wear jeans. What does your boss wear? Match your attire to one level up the ladder.”

Listen, listen and listen. “Keep a mental monitor on all interactions and make sure that you are speaking no more than 50 percent of the time. Use electronics only when you can’t talk face to face.”

Avoid office politics.“Find a mentor, someone who is considered successful in the organization that can guide you in navigating the political waters.”

Don’t loose your outward focus. “Build and maintain a professional network outside of your organization. This network will help you know when and how to move on. Have a plan – where do you want to be in three, five and 10 years? Work your personal and professional development toward those goals.”

Build and keep a budget. “Don’t get trapped in a job you hate because you can’t afford to quit and move on.”
Get enough sleep. “You need to be alert and functioning every day for at least eight hours. You can’t do that consistently on three hours of sleep. Tardiness and absenteeism are sure career killers.”

Ultimately, Waagen is concerned about how young workers will fare in the future.

“Research shows that the single reason most organizations fail to thrive is a lack of strong people skills among those at the top,” Waagen says. “We work to ensure organizations are healthy from the top down, and ultimately if an organization has happy, energized, effective employees they find it reflected in the bottom line.”

But if Gen Y doesn’t “get with the program,” what will our workforce look like a decade from now? Waagen plans to offer more thoughts on that in her November-December newsletter, Workforce Learning, due out in a few weeks.

Log onto www.workforcelearning.com for details.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Importance of Learning Chinese

First graders in Grace Yuan’s Chinese class at Providence Elementary in Fairfax County, VA aren’t shy about showing off what they’ve learned since the start of the year. The 6-year-olds are all eager to come to the front of the class to recite their names in Chinese, the days of the week, numbers from 1-31, months of the year, the four seasons, and some basic greetings.

“I couldn’t be more impressed,” beams Providence’s Principal Joy Hanbury. “To say these students are picking up Chinese with great ease and enthusiasm is an understatement. I can’t wait to see what they’ll know by the end of the year.”

She credits the 1st graders’ success to the high-energy and creativity of Yuan, who has also helped Fairfax County Public Schools develop the curriculum for the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) Chinese program that is being integrated into the 1st grade curriculum at Providence this year.

These students will continue with the program next year when they become 2nd graders—and the new 1st grader class will begin learning Chinese. Within six years, all 1st through 6th grade students at Providence will be studying the language.

“This is very exciting,” shares Hanbury, who was eager to integrate the Chinese FLES program into the curriculum this year. “We have had the Latin program at Providence for several years and the students have benefitted tremendously from learning a second language.”

Plus, she says, by learning Chinese her students will have an increased global awareness of their school community, country, and world. “By exposing children to this challenging level 4 language early on, the students will more easily recognize difficult tonal sounds,” Hanbury explains. “Plus, this experience will enable them to understand the basic conventions of other languages.”

Why learn Chinese?

China is the world’s fourth largest economy, and continues to grow by about 9.5% a year. It is a top recipient of foreign investment—one that has become a top trading partner with the U.S. Add to that the fact that Mandarin Chinese, the language being taught at Providence and also Fairfax High (see sidebar on page 3) is the most widely spoken language in the world.
Approximately 867 million people speak Mandarin, and a total of 1.1 billion people speak other dialects of Chinese, according to Language Today. An article entitled “The 10 Most Influential Languages,” indicates English is spoken by 330 million people worldwide—followed by Spanish (300 million), Hindi/Urdu (250 million), and Arabic (200 million).

Already, most major U.S. universities are offering Chinese classes, and increasingly students from kindergarten to 12th grade are also being given the opportunity to learn Mandarin.
The reason, according to many business leaders, is that the philosophy has changed regarding how to conduct business abroad.

“When you do business with or go to other countries, be prepared to work on their terms,” says Robert Davis, who taught in China before returning to Chicago where he started a comprehensive language program. Today, about 3,500 students K-12 in southwest Chicago Public School system are learning Mandarin.

And consider this: Last year, the British Council (the United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities) conducted a research study—entitled “English Next”—that concluded the lack of students fluent in a foreign language in both Britain and the U.S. will eventually weaken the competitiveness of both countries.

The report offered dozens of reasons why students in both countries should be learning Chinese—reasons echoed by Michael Levine, executive director of education at the Asia Society in New York.

“In an age where security, competitiveness and democratic leadership depend on constructive engagement, our nation must take urgent action so that our international knowledge and language expertise is second to none,” Levine insists. “The question is when, not whether, schools are going to adjust.”

Levine recently told The Christian Science Monitor: “One doesn’t need to be proficient in Chinese languages to do business in China. But the exposure and motivation to show that one understands and respects the Chinese culture is really half the battle won.”

Rising to the challenge

Exposing students to this important culture is the reason Providence’s Hanbury began considering the opportunity to integrate Chinese into her school’s curriculum about two years ago. Fairfax High’s Principal Scott Brabrand also saw the benefits of incorporating a program into the Fairfax Academy offerings.

Both principals had full support from the City School Board. “This is a very forward-looking program,” says School Board Chairman Janice Miller. “We are thrilled that Joy and Scott took the lead and are now able to offer it to our students.”

City of Fairfax Schools Superintendent Ann Monday agrees. “Chinese provides an opportunity for our students to learn a language that is quickly becoming dominant in the world economy,” Monday says. “It also provides students a chance to learn about a culture very different from their own.”

Of course, none of this could be possible without the support of the Fairfax County Public Schools.
“We are moving away from a model that provides instruction late in a student's educational career to one that incorporates language early,” says Peter Noonan, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction for FCPS. “This will, in the end, provide a level of communicative competence that even our current, highest level students, often do not meet. This model incorporates all we know is best about language acquisition.”

Leading the charge, Noonan says, is FCPS Foreign Language Coordinator Paula Patrick. “To help us expand our foreign languages offerings, FCPS was awarded a grant of $621,000 dollars from a federal Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant to be spent over a three year period to address critical needs languages of Chinese and Arabic to ensure the students are even better prepared to understand the people who will help define the 21st century,” she explains.

The grant ends on Sept. 15, 2009, but Patrick says she is confident FCPS will continue to offer Chinese in the City Schools. “I am especially pleased that the Chinese program at FHS—which is open to all FCPS students at the Academy level—also includes partnerships with schools in China and with Georgetown University. It is great to see the entire pyramid working together to provide a quality foreign language program for the students of Fairfax City.”

Moving forward

Patrick says one of her goals is to extend language opportunities to students and parents through the use of technology.
“Ms. Yuan makes lessons available to her elementary students and parents through her Blackboard site, and Alaric Radosh extends his classroom instruction of Chinese through the use of MP3 players and other types of technology.”

Patrick is also in the process of developing a Chinese program in the Fairfax pyramid to provide students with a comprehensive language program of study they can continue into college. “We are planning to partner with Georgetown and George Mason University for student mentoring, seminars, guest speakers, and summer language camps and workshops,” says Patrick. Her ultimate goal, she says, is to have all students learn at least one foreign language—if not two or three—by the time they graduate from high school.

Mastering Chinese may lead students to these jobs:
Intelligence operations
International business / international relations
IT and computer technology
National and international security
Travel industry expert

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Safe Young Drivers

Driving on highways and winding back roads is scary enough when an experienced driver is behind the wheel — but when teens start driving, there's an increased cause for concern. Reports of teens dying behind the wheel seem to dominate the news. That’s why Phil Berardelli’s book, "Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens," is an essential read for every parent.

The Fairfax County, VA dad, former teacher and journalist originally penned the 176-page paperback in 1996. In its fourth edition, it has sold thousands of copies — and still, he says, each year far too many teens die or are harmed due to unsafe driving. In fact, he was inspired to write the book 10 years ago after an area crash killed three teens and disabled another.

"Those kids reminded me of my own two girls, who I had taught how to drive a few years before. The tragedy launched me on this course of urging parents to protect their teen drivers," says the journalist, who immediately crafted an article on the topic for The Washington Post. The piece generated so much fan mail that an editor at the Post encouraged Berardelli to turn it into a guidebook. He did, making sure his message was effective.

He designed the book with a spiral binding to sit in the lap of a parent sitting in the passenger seat. Half of the text is directed at parents; the other half talks to student drivers. Teens, however, may have a little trouble with his basic premise.

"I insist parents keep their kids from driving alone until they are 17," he says.

Why? Statistics. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 16-year-olds are up to 12 times more likely to die in a fatal crash than any other age group. They also are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to speed and take unnecessary risks.

“Sixteen is by far the most dangerous age on the road,” he says. “In fact, a 16-year-old is 12 times more likely than older drivers to die in a crash as a single occupant. Put two young teens in a vehicle, and the odds of death and injury nearly double. Three or four unsupervised teens riding together constitute a recipe for disaster.”
Despite these sobering facts, he insists that the procedure for obtaining a drivers license in most states remains minimal.
“Some states don’t even require a learner’s permit,” he shares. “Some allow the permit to be obtained before age 16. Although some states have installed graduated licensing, with sensible restrictions for the youngest drivers, many still impose only the most minimal requirements.”

Plus, Berardelli notes that only a small number of high schools operate relatively comprehensive programs that require parental involvement.

“Most have cut back driver ed. classes to the point where they can accommodate only a small portion of students,” he says. “Even the lucky ones receive only a few hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. Commercial driving schools, even the most competent and conscientious among them, cannot possibly provide complete instruction.”

Safe Young Drivers is intended for parents and teens to use together. Each new lesson addresses parental issues such as "How do I choose a car for my teen?" and provides teens with simple instruction and important tips to remember.

Berardelli admits that parents who keep their teens from venturing out on the road alone may not be the most popular person that kid’s life: "But that's not what's most important. You've spent years raising your kid, driving to countless sports practices and music lessons. Why suddenly grow impatient at the most important and potentially dangerous time of their young lives?"

The book is available at http://www.safeyoungdrivers.com.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nature vs. Nurture: A Dad's Debate

By Michael Gibbs
An Illustrator and Dad

The floor of my son's room is an almost comical testament to the life of a typical nine year old boy.

A baseball glove. Drumsticks. A Game Boy. Stuffed animals. His stash of coins. A week's worth of clothes. A Captain Underpants book. A book on scientists. Gizmos made of disassembled old toys. Stacks of his drawings, next to a toolbox filled with crayons and markers.

Two of those things stand out, for not so obvious reasons; the baseball glove and the toolbox of crayons and markers. He's very good at throwing a ball, and he's very good at creative thinking and drawing. Yet those two things also represent opposite extremes of social behavior: team sports, and solitary expression of self.

One of my jobs as father is to figure out where he's going to go in life, and help him sort things out and get there. Those symbols of wide-ranging boyhood interests littering his room will slowly get whittled down, in some cases replaced by other things, but eventually he'll choose from among them and become the man he's going to be.

Once, I had a similar collection of stuff as I went through a similar voyage of self discovery. Today, I still have my baseball glove — well-worn and containing years of memories snagged out of mid-air — but for years now, it's been catching nothing but dust. It's a metaphor for the path I chose; a path that led not to teamwork, but to the relatively solitary life of a freelance illustrator.

Illustration is a career that results in — if not calls for — solitude. Not that I'm a loner — before my freelance career, I worked in graphics departments and loved the camaraderie and close friendships I made. But I never liked collaborating. In some ways, I guess I disliked the word TEAM because there was no "I" in it. That missing "I" is not a pronoun. Rather, it stands for individualism.

That individualism came from somewhere, likely in the genes as much as something instilled, perhaps unintentionally, by my parents. As a kid, I was more interested in things like electronics kits and chemistry sets and model rockets than getting pounded into the turf in Pee Wee football. Despite the occasional smoke filled basement from an ad-libbed chemistry experiment gone awry, my folks seemed to encourage my more cerebral pursuits, and they never pushed me into team sports — in fact, it was never even suggested. Looking back, I've often lamented that decision by my parents — I loved playing pickup baseball games as a kid, and later ran track in high school — but at the same time, I wonder if it unwittingly led me into the arts, something for which I'm profoundly grateful. I found my own interests, and gravitated toward art — mostly, photography; decidedly individualistic, solitary, and not a team sport. By my teens, I had decided individualism was something to strive for, perhaps as much a desire to create something unique in life as a dread of individualism’s counterpart, a meaningless march through time as a busybody.

Some of the benefits often cited by those who encourage youth sports are cooperating with others, working with others toward a common goal, and working with people you don't like or respect. [1] [2] But in many ways, these attributes run counter to the individualism and introspection that tend to spark creativity and the unique point of view that defines successful illustrators. In art, groupthink can lead to compromise, and compromise doesn't generally lead to memorable art.

In steering clear (or being steered clear) of team sports, I went in the opposite direction, becoming a bit of a "loner," although I'd point out that, contrary to popular belief, not all loners are creepy lurkers with a pathological fear of social contact. As Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College points out, "Some people simply have a low need for affiliation. There's a big difference between the loner-by-preference and the enforced loner." [3]

I simply had a preference, at times, to travel through my own interior universe. And when I'm creating, I invariably withdraw into that interior universe, where all the good ideas are. It's part of the process. That’s not just a hunch; research by psychotherapist Elaine Aron shows that withdrawn people typically have very high sensory acuity. Because they are good at noticing subtleties that other people miss, Aron says, they are well-suited for careers that require close observation, like writing and scientific research. [3] And, I'd suggest, illustration.

So maybe my parents did me a favor, encouraging my more solitary hobbies and never mentioning sports.

I hadn't given this a lot of thought prior to that night I found myself sitting on my son's bed, tucking him in and musing over the choatic montage of his life he'd strewn about his room. Now, as I look back at the road I took — the very road my 9 year old son is now navigating — I wonder how, or if, things might have been different if I'd been introduced to Pee Wee football or Little League baseball when I was his age. Would I have been drawn to team sports, and analogously, teamwork? And conversely, did my complete lack of exposure to team sports lead to my embracing a life of relative solitude?

There's no way to know where the roads not taken might have led. I took the road that I took, with another's hand on the wheel for the early part of the trip, and become the person I am. And now I wonder who will my son become? How firmly do I grab the wheel, and when do I let go? He likes to draw. He likes to play ball. When I ask him if he wants to play organized sports, he's ambivalent — he could go either way, he says, and leaves it up to me. But as I draw on my own experience, I realize there may be more significance to that decision than meets the eye.

See what Michael grew up to do: www.michaelgibbs.com

[1] http://www.enotalone.com/article/5298.html
[2] http://ezinearticles.com/?Youth-Sports:-10-Benefits-Of-Participation&id=295977
[3] http://psychologytoday.com/articles/index.php?term=20070320-000001&page=1

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Power to Fight Cancer

BEFORE HE WAS diagnosed with brain cancer at age 31, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber could be found scarfing down a bowl of chili con carne on the elevator at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in between teaching classes and seeing patients.

"I'd sometimes add a bagel to the mix, and wash it all down with a can of Coke," admits Servan-Schreiber, the author of Anticancer: A New Way of Life, which hits bookstores in September. "It's a pretty scary mix to me now."

However, it took another bout with cancer seven years later, when he was 38, before the neuropsychiatrist could bring himself to slow down or change his habits. Although both times Servan-Schreiber—who co-founded the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and was a founding member of Doctors Without Borders in the U. S.—fought his tumor with traditional methods such as chemotherapy, the second time around he also decided to learn everything he could to help his body defend itself against the illness.

"I felt then, as I feel know, that it is completely unreasonable to try to cure cancer without the best of conventional Western medicine," the French-born physician says. "But I also firmly believe that it is completely unreasonable to rely only on this purely technical approach and neglect the natural capacity of our bodies to protect
against tumors. We can take advantage of this natural protection to either prevent the disease or enhance the benefits of treatments.”

The reality is that cancer cells lie dormant in all of us, Servan-Schreiber explains. But with some simple changes, it is possible to keep those cells from becoming life-threatening tumors. "In the West, one person in four will die of cancer, but three in four will not," he says. "Their defense mechanisms will hold out. The trick is to keep the cells from developing into life-threatening tumors by turning on the body's cancer-fighting capacities."

He points out in his book—which is part personal account, part reader-friendly biology lesson—that some foods specifically prevent or inhibit cell growth by more than 80 percent in certain cancers, such as brain, colon, lung and prostate. These cancer-inhibiting foods include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, garlic, kale, leeks and scallions.

Getting at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day is also important, he adds, as is steering clear of household cleaning products that contain alkylphenols. He also advises avoiding deodorants and antiperspirants with aluminum, and not heating foods in plastic containers made with PVCS, polystyrene or Styrofoam.

He also recommends taking time every day to do a little yoga or tai chi—anything that will calm and center the body and mind. "It's all about being conscious of what you put into your body and what you surround yourself with—including friends who have a healthy outlook and work that makes you feel good," Servan-Schreiber believes, noting that stress is another thing to be mindful of. "Stress is something you can avoid, but how you deal with it is really the key," he says.

A typical day for him now includes 20 minutes of meditation upon rising, riding his bike around Pittsburgh—or Paris, his second home—and eating an apple with ginger and soy yogurt for breakfast. He also drinks green tea instead of coffee, has an 85-percent-cocoa dark chocolate treat in the afternoon and goes for a 20- to 30-minute jog at the end of the day to get his heart rate up and his thoughts together.

"I pay a lot of attention to what I dedicate my time to in my professional and in my personal life," he concludes. "It has taken some time, but I have learned to ride out more serenely the unavoidable stresses of life."

TO HELP STAVE OFF CANCER Dr. David Servan-Schreiber recommends taking the following steps.

• Percliloroethynene (tetracliloroethylene), is used in dry cleaning. It may be possible to find dry cleaners that don't use this. Air out dry-cleaned garments for several hours before wearing.
• Don't use cleaning products that contain alkylphenols.
• Don't use deodorants and antiperspirants with aluminum.
• Don't use cosmetics, shampoo, nail polish, etc., with estrogens or placental products, parabens or phthalates.
• Don't use household pesticides and insecticides.
• Don't heat foods or liquids in plastic containers made with PVCS, polystyrene or Styrofoam, and don't prepare food in scratched Teflon pans.

• Eat grass-fed organic meat, milk, cheese yogurt and eggs.
• Reduce intake of sugar, white flour and products containing omega-6 fatty acids (sunflower oil, soybean oil, margarines, hydrogenated fats).
• Increase omega-3 intake (fish, grass- or linseed-fed animal products).
• Increase intake of anticancer products (turmeric, green tea, soy, fruits, vegetables),
• Filter tap water using a carbon filter or inverse osmosis, or drink mineral or spring water.

• Perform 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
• Expose yourself to sunlight for 20 minutes each day (or take 1,000 IU of Vitamin D per day).
• Practice a method of relaxation and self-centering (yoga, meditation, or tai chi).

Hope Katz Gibbs originally wrote this article for the September 2008 issue of The Costco Connection. She is a freelance writer in northern Virginia, and has embraced the anticancer way of life—except for giving up coffee.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Live the creative life you want

When she was a little girl, Elaina Loveland dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina. The graceful waif of a woman was a dynamic dancer, but after attending the dance program at Goucher College to study for a few years, she realized the reality of her choice might not make for an ideal career.

“It became clear that I should have gone straight to New York City to dance instead of going to college to study it,” she admits. “I also realized that my dance career would probably only last as long as my body held out—and that seemed like a bit of a gamble.”

So she opted for Plan B and became a writer—and ever since hasn’t let anything get in her way. Elaina firmly believes anyone who wants to have a creative career can do it. All they need to do is plan, prepare, and be brave enough to take the leap.

In fact, before turning 30, she penned two books on a subject:

Creative Colleges: A guide for student actors, artists, dancers, musicians and writers,was published in 2005 when Loveland was 27. She followed it up in 2007 with a sequel entitled: Creative Careers: Paths for aspiring actors, artists, dancers, musicians and writers. Both softback trade books were published by SuperCollege LLC, and are chock full of how-to-get-where-you-want-to-go information.

Creative Careers: Paths for aspiring actors, artists, dancers, musicians, and writersoffers details about types of 200 arts-related college, including suggestions on how to evaluate them, sample resumes and curriculums, and inspiring / realistic profiles of people who are living the dream. And Creative Careers dives deeper into life in a variety of fields, offering real options other than the most obvious and glamorous.

Loveland’s takeaway: “Given all the pros and cons each profession, I’d still recommend a career in the arts to anyone who truly wants one,” she says, but warns that the key to success is a willingness to sacrifice and be flexible.

Take show business. “This is not a profession for the faint hearted, or someone who can’t deal with rejection,” Loveland advises, adding that those who dream of being fashion designers are also destined to spend years in the Big Apple, “unless, of course, you are willing to just open a little boutique in your hometown or maybe a favorite seaside town.”

“You have to really know yourself,” she explains. “Finding the right career—and career path—is truly a process of elimination. What I try to show in the book is that there are a lot of ways to accomplish the goal of having a career in the arts.”

And when it comes to helping parents deal with a child who wants a career in the arts, Loveland’s advice to is to simply be supportive.

“Parents should be open-minded if their kids are interested in pursuing a career in the arts,” she says. “While there are 'starving artist' stories, not all jobs in the arts are financially unstable. The arts aren't usually a path to riches but aspiring artists can find career fulfillment and financial stability if they explore many options in the arts and carve out a niche for themselves. Ultimately, that will help them achieve both professional and personal happiness.”

For more information visit: http://www.elainaloveland.com/creative_careers.htm

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bratproofing Your Children

When college professors Janet and Lew Solomon were raising their son Michael, now 33, they were determined to teach him the value of money. On the morning of his 10th birthday, they got their chance. Young Michael came bounding down the steps and announced it would only be 6 more years until he could get a car. Lew (a lawyer who taught taxation and trusts and estates at George Washington University Law School), and Janet (a business school professor who specialized in human resources management) gave each other a sideways glance and sat Michael down for breakfast and a taste of reality.

“We didn’t want to burst his bubble—but we did want to set him on the right path for financial solvency,” Janet says today. “So we told him that we’d pay for the auto insurance on that car he was dreaming about, but that he’d be responsible for saving enough money to actually pay for the car.”

From that day forward Michael became the consummate saver. At last, on his 19th birthday, he had enough cash to buy a brand new Nissan Altima—a car he drove long after he’d made a career as a successful hedge fund manager and could have bought himself a finer ride. (When he finally did pass it along to a young man he was mentoring in the Big Brothers organization, it had more than 200,000 miles but Michael had taken such good care of it that the car was still in good working condition.)

Getting a financial grip

“To say we are proud of Michael is an understatement,” says Janet, who with Lew recently published a new book based their own experience and observations of other families in relationship to money. Entitled, Bratproofing Your Children: How to raise socially and financially responsible kids, the book is a guide to help parents get a grip on discipline and fiscal solvency.

“As a parent, you want your children to grow up to be productive, motivated, financially responsible adults,” Janet says. “But that is sometimes easier said than done. This book helps parents raise thriving kids who will grow up to become emotionally and financially mature adults by teaching them to stave off potentially negative influences of affluence from our consumer culture.”

Teaching your children well

The 200-page paperback—which is part common sense, part financial advisor, and part parenting coach—is divided into halves.

The first chunk provides insightful ideas and ideals from Janet, who offers advice on how to protect children from the potentially negative influences of wealth, including:
ß Imparting four personal character traits (high self esteem, joyfulness / optimism, serenity, hard work / thrift),
ß And three interpersonal character traits (loving kindness, forgiveness, integrity).
ß She also offers a handful of strategies to help parents successfully deal with outside influences.

The second half of the book, “How to protect your wealth from being destroyed by your children and grandchildren,” was penned by Lew and outlines some tough love financial strategies.

“Do not expect every one of your children to become a financial wizard,” Lew explains on page 85. “However, all family members need to be responsible for leaning basic financial concepts. Even if a child never develops much facility with finance, he or she should learn the big picture and feel comfortable raising questions and discussing financial matters with your (and later, their) advisors.”

Lew’ advice:
• Talk about money with your children
• Give allowances
• Have them set aside a portion of their allowance for charitable giving
• Don’t give them a credit card or ATM card
• Encourage and promote their entrepreneurial spirit (something that shows up naturally in most children between the ages of 10 and 12)

He also outlines how to better understand and communicate with an attorney, accountant, and financial planner, and how to use trusts to transfer wealth to you children and grandchildren. Additionally, he offers suggestions for handling family business succession.

Accomplishing your real goals

“Our goal in writing the book was to provide specific, practical strategies that parents can incorporate into their everyday parenting to help them raise financially fit youngsters,” Lew explains. “But the simple truth is that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent—or a perfect child.”

However, by using a little common sense and developing our instincts and expertise about spending and saving money, the authors believe they can teach all of us to raise a generation of financially savvy people.

Speaking for all the parents I know—we hope so, too.

Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/Bratproofing-Your-Children-Financially-Responsible/dp/1569803455

Friday, August 8, 2008

Obesity in Kids: What Parents Can Do

"Nearly every single possible combination of the children's meals at KFC, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box, and Chick-fil-A is too high in calories," according to Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy Director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who released a new report, "Kids Meals: Obesity on the Menu" on Aug. 4 at a press conference at the National Press Conference in Washington, DC.

Wootan explained that 93% of 1,474 possible choices at 13 top chains exceed 430 calories—an amount that is one-third of what the Institute of Medicine recommends that children aged 4 through 8 should consume in a day.

The problem, Wootan explains, is that kids are eating out more than ever and when they do they consume twice as many calories as when they eat a meal at home due to the extra saturated fat, less fiber and calcium in fast food meals vs. home-cooked ones.

Here are some other scary facts:

• Chili's has 700 possible kids' meal combinations, but 94% are too high in calories (including country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk for 1020 calories; and cheese pizza, homestyle fries, and lemonade for 1000 calories).
• KFC has a variety of side items, but their "Laptop Meals," consisting of popcorn chicken, baked beans, a biscuit, Teddy Grahams, and fruit punch has 940 calories.
• Most of the kids' meals at McDonald's and Wendy's are also too high in calories, as are the those at Burger King (92%), Dairy Queen (89%), and Arby's (69%).

Subway's kids' meals came out on the top of the study, and only a third of its Fresh Fit for Kids meals, which include a mini-sub, juice box, and apple slices, raisins, or yogurt, exceed the 430-calorie threshold.

"People may not get a heart attack until their 50s or 60s, but arteries begin to clog in childhood," explains Wootan. "Most of the kids' meals appear to be designed to put America's children on the fast track to obesity, heart attack, or diabetes."


• Wootan and the CSPI suggest that chain restaurants reformulate their existing menu items to reduce calories, saturated and trans fat, and salt.
• Chain restaurants should also reformulate their existing menu items and add healthy options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
• They should also provide nutrition information on menus and menu boards, as is required by menu labeling policies passed in New York City, San Francisco, and Portland.

For more information visit: www.cspinet.org/kidsmeals.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brain researcher Patricia Wolfe on what babies really need to develop

Pat Wolfe is worried about your toddler.“I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the growing number of parents who are concerned about getting their children into the best academic preschools to ensure they do well when they begin their formal schooling,” the leading brain researcher and author of "Brain Matters," tells The Parent Diaries. “Some are even signing their babies up before they are born. Given the research on early brain development, trying to create a ‘super baby’ or ‘super child’ doesn’t make sense. In fact, it runs counter to what we know about how a child’s brain develops.”

Here’s what Wolfe suggests:

1. Understand the science.

In the past decade, there has been an explosion of information in the field of brain research (neuroscience).

“No longer a mysterious black box as once was thought, researchers can actually see what is going on inside our skulls while we interact with our environment,” Wolfe explains, noting that contrary to an earlier belief that a baby’s brain was a blank state, scientists have discovered that learning begins before birth (babies are born recognizing their mother’s voice and music they heard while in the womb).

“We now know that young children learn faster than was ever thought possible,” she adds. “In fact, in the first three to four years the young child’s brain develops connections (synapses) between cells at an amazing rate, one that will never be duplicated again during the child’s life.”

Unfortunately, this information has been misinterpreted to mean babies and young children need extra stimulation during this critical period. “This is not only an over-simplification of the research,” Wolfe insists. “It is not true.”

2. Separate fact from fiction.

The fiction: Synapses represent learning, and the more synapses a child has the smarter he’ll be.

The fact: In truth, the brain overproduces connections in the first two years, and an important part of learning and development is to prune away the unnecessary ones. For example, Wolfe explains that babies are born with millions of cells that potentially allow them to pronounce the sounds of every language spoken in the world. “However, only the connections for sounds of the language they hear everyday are strengthened,” she says. “The ones not used are simply pruned away, which allows children to understand, and eventually speak, the language spoken at home.”

The fiction: Enriched environments are essential during the early years to develop a child’s brain to its fullest potential.

The fact: Excessive use of flash cards, workbooks, language tapes and “educational” computer games is not only inappropriate, it also deprives children of the natural interaction with their world so important to development. “As Stephen Meltzoff states in his book, The Scientist in the Crib, perhaps the question parents need to ask is not: “What is the effect of the environment on the brain?” But rather: “What is the effect of a deprived environment versus a normal or an enriched environment?”

3. Use good common sense.

Consider what truly is a deprived environment, she says. “We know the ability to speak a language is lost by about age 10 if children, because of deafness or lack of exposure to language, do not master this skill in their early years,” Wolfe notes. “Being raised in a severely impoverished environment can cause a child’s emotional growth to be stunted, as reported in the studies of Romanian orphans.”

Fortunately, most children are not raised under severely deprived conditions. But, she asks, does an enriched environment somehow change a child’s development? Is it really better? Can we produce “super babies?” Or are high-priced toys marketed to frantic parents a waste of time and money? The bottom line, Wolfe says, is that there is no proof extra stimulation is necessary for cognitive or social growth. “Rather, too much activity may result in over-stimulation and damage to a young child,” she concludes.

4. Take a simpler approach.

Parents would be helping their babies more by reading nursery rhymes and books by Dr. Seuss to the child to their little ones. “They are ideal because they introduce children to sounds that are alike, which is a natural introduction to beginning phonics,” she offers, adding that educators need to explain to parents that the human brain is innately curious and designed to learn. “Young children are driven to master their world. Hands-on play is best because it gives children a chance to explore their own interests with the support of involved adults.

5. No, TV is not evil, but ...

“Baby Einstein is not bad,” Wolfe concedes, “but raising a happy, healthy child is a matter of finding balance. Mostly, children need models of appropriate social interactions and a physically and psychologically safe haven in which to grow up.” The bottom line, she says, is to provide a rich, varied, natural environment, “and this will happen without a lot of intervention. I believe parents know instinctively what they need to do to raise their kids well. They simply need to relax and trust their own intuition.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Three Scenarios for Virtual Education

Virtual education is a concept that has mostly been embraced by adults who want to go back to school--but just can’t find the time in their schedule to get to campus. But in the years to come this trend will not only appeal to those who want to improve their skills post-college, it has the potential to change the way Americans learn, says futurist Mark Justman of the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

“Virtual education is definitely a growing trend in World I, but how it will play out depends on a variety of factors,” Justman expalins, and in an attempt to determine the most likely scenarios, Justman described three potential evolutionary paths for virtual education: digital enrichment, clicks-and-bricks hybrids, and e-tutoring.

Scenario One: Digital Enrichment

Currently, schools integrate computers into student learning via dedicated computer labs and classes, besides having computers in classrooms themselves. Continuing evolution of this practice—using information technology to enrich existing curricula—could steer the future of virtual education toward wider use of digital tools and virtual learning environments designed to supplement conventional classroom instruction.

Drivers for this scenario include:
• Mainstreaming of computer gaming. Immersive videogames and multi-user online game environments are gaining cultural influence.
• Technophile youth. Members of the millennial generation have grown up as “digital natives,” having a high comfort level with information technologies.
• Web-based collaboration tools. Tools for digital collaboration, such as blogs, wikis, and
Podcasts have become much simpler to use, and are now common in social and news-based contexts.

Potential developments in this scenario:

• Digital writing tools. This scenario implies extensive use of digital writing tools by students, for instance, in online journals using Weblogs, collaborative work using wikis, and Web publishing. “Students could move beyond social networking sites like MySpace to more sophisticated online communities that allow actual collaboration, but are still teen-oriented,” Justman says.
• Expanded virtual tools. Additional educational applications of virtual tools could include computer-generated environments for simulating historical communities, battlefields, and economies. “Simulation games could allow students to immerse themselves in historical contexts and engage in interactive decision-making,” he explains. “Students can also conduct virtual experiments—a cost-effective way to perform realistic physics, biology, or chemistry lab simulations on the desktop.”
• Cross-cultural connections. Much like social networking, the Internet could also be used in the educational arena to connect students across cultures in a deeper integration of sister-school programs and “live” language labs.

Scenario Two: Clicks-and-Bricks Hybrids

This scenario involves expanding existing class offerings by adding new, virtual online classes alongside existing teacher-led ones. Activities would still occur largely within the confines of conventional schools, but distance learning would slowly be added to the curricula, allowing for a cost effective expansion of educational offerings without significant investments in additional staff or facilities.

Drivers for this scenario include:

• Educational cost containment. Schools face perennial funding challenges, which can be exacerbated locally by rapid population growth. Virtual classes could help schools adjust to sudden or temporary increases in the number of students.
• Demand for curriculum expansion. College-bound students and their parents are demanding greater access to Advanced Placement classes and International Baccalaureate programs.
• Turnkey curricula. Commercial virtual curricula are beginning to come to market, making it easier for schools to purchase specific virtual classes as the need arises.

Potential developments in this scenario:

• More choices. By providing virtual classes onsite at existing school facilities, schools can offer a wider range of educational choices. Small rural schools can offer choices that rival those of suburban powerhouses, and virtual classes could allow more students on the college track to take more rigorous courses.
• Cheaper teachers. Teachers’ aides and assistants could replace certified teachers, especially at the high-school level, with scripted instruction and planning.
• Impact on college years. Virtual classes may have a larger impact during the college years, for after years of learning on their own, a greater proportion of students will be self-motivated. “Online classes could also replace lecture-style introductory classes, and be complemented by periodic face-to-face discussions led by graduate students,” Justman suggests.

Scenario Three: E-Tutoring

Instead of enriching or supplementing traditional instruction, virtual learning in the E-Tutoring scenario gradually begins to replace traditional instruction. E-tutoring software has several educational advantages, such as allowing learners to progress at their own pace, standardizing instruction, and simplifying routine mastery testing. It could gain a foothold through remedial instruction, and then gradually spread to other areas of the curriculum.

Drivers for this scenario include:

• Falling costs of IT. Computer costs continue to fall, as exemplified by the One Laptop per Child initiative, which has developed student laptops that cost less than $200 for Worlds 2 and 3.
• Mandatory testing. Schools are placing more emphasis on meeting testing requirements, in part driven by testing mandates like the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal educational initiative.
• Global competition. The globalized knowledge economy is elevating the competitive importance of educating highly skilled knowledge workers.

Potential developments in this scenario:

• Quantity of instructional time. E-tutoring can allow students to proceed at their own pace and therefore to take as much (or as little) time as they need to master a topic. The risk is that slower students may not complete required coursework by the end of the school term.
• Back to basics. E-tutoring is a more traditional, back-to-basics educational approach that emphasizes demonstrated skills mastery. Educators who have embraced more progressive approaches are likely to characterize e-tutoring as another form of misguided “drill and kill” pedagogy.
• Improved performance. E-tutoring could boost US students’ performance on international standardized tests due to its greater emphasis on content mastery. “However,” Justman notes, “it is unclear whether such increases in proficiency and content mastery would come at the expense of creativity and the ability to learn how to learn.”

Implications for education

According to Justman, elements from each of the three scenarios are likely to play some role in the future of virtual education, but certain scenarios may be more probable for certain types of school districts.

“Well-funded suburban school districts are likely to gravitate toward a digital enrichment approach, while under funded or rural school districts are more likely to adopt a clicks-and-bricks hybrid approach to virtual education,” he says, noting that in both cases, the approach to virtual education is an evolutionary change from conventional instructional practices.

The E-Tutoring scenario is more of a wildcard scenario—one that has a much greater potential for disruption, he believes.

“The e-tutoring approach to virtual education has potential for widespread grassroots adoption,” Justman explains. “As ‘helicopter’ parents attempt to position their children for top colleges, they could find online e-tutoring services to be a cost-effective alternative to more expensive after-schooling services like Sylvan Learning Center or Kumon.”

He believes e-tutoring services could also appeal to parents concerned about the so-called “fuzzy math” curricula, because e-tutoring approaches tend to place a stronger emphasis on more traditional measures of content mastery.

School districts concerned about demonstrating progress toward their NCLB goals could also turn to e-tutoring technologies as a more effective means for boosting student performance on standardized tests, he believes.

“If e-tutoring curricula are able to deliver measurable improvements in student learning, they have the potential to spread rapidly, driven by both concerned parents and school districts struggling with demonstrating improved learning outcomes on state standardized tests.”

Meet: Mark Justman

Mark Justman is a futurist who is focused on tracking and analyzing consumer and technology trends in the automotive, retail, and energy industries. Since receiving his MA in future studies from the University of Hawaii in 1999, Mark’s primary interest is identifying the emerging issues and discontinuities that have the potential to impede, accelerate, or modify extrapolative trends. Mark has worked at the Institute for Alternative Futures, where his project work included construction of biotechnology scenarios for the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and creation of an
Interactive forecasting tool for healthcare on behalf of the World Health Organization.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Futurist Kevin Osborn on "Helicopter Parenting"

In celebration of Father's Day 2008, we asked futurist Kevin Osborn to talk about a topic near and dear to his heart: Helicopter Parenting.

For those not familiar with the term, “helicopter parents" are those well-intentioned Gen Xers who are micromanaging their offspring not just in kindergarten and elementary school, but all the way through college and into adulthood.

Osborn, a senior analyst at the Washington, DC-based futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies, has conducted extensive research on the topic, and in his brief on the topic entitled, “Helicopter Parents: Hovering over Childhood—and Beyond,” he explains that the numbers of helicopter parents are on the rise — and that the trend will have ramifications for educators and employers alike as well as for the parents and children themselves.

“The phenomenon seems to be spreading beyond pushy preschool parents,” he explains. “As a result, some educators have called the 80 million children of baby boomers the most protected and programmed children ever.” Here’s why.

Levels of engagement

This spreading behavior goes beyond pressuring teachers to explain poor grades or asking to place their children in advanced classes, Osborn insists.

“Many of these micromanaging parents continue to overstep boundaries and attempt to control their children’s lives at every age level.”

• Elementary school—Hyper-involved and often pushy, these parents volunteer as school aides to maintain a constant presence in their children’s lives, request specific teachers year after year, and may do the bulk of work on their children’s school projects.

• High school—Helicopter parents become intrusive micromanagers, text messaging their kids in class, continuing to do their homework projects and papers for them, and writing their college application essays.

• College—Parents intervene in roommate disputes, try to register their kids for classes, and contact professors to question grades. At some schools, more parents than kids attend freshman orientation.

• Career—College career offices, corporate recruiters, and human resources departments are all reporting increased involvement and interference from parents. Reportedly, one interviewee at Boeing brought his mom into the interview.

What is driving the trend?

The reasons for the trend are complicated, but somewhat predictable, Osborn believes.

“As family sizes shrink, attention is focused more intently on the one or two children and some parents have responded by sheltering or smothering them,” he says. “Also, many baby boomers have worked hard to develop close bonds with their kids, often positioning themselves as their children’s best friends or closest confidants.”

Plus, he says, the growing spread of suburbs has made spontaneous community interaction more difficult.

“Parents who want their children to have active social lives start planning play dates and signing them up for sports and extracurricular activities at a young age. Some may never step back from these habits of active management.”

Other drivers include safety fears, a heightened sense of competition among baby boomers who fear for their children’s future economic security, and ubiquitous infotech-enabled connection. Additionally, an increasing number of college parents see themselves—in the face of soaring tuition costs—as savvy consumers and their children’s education as a product.

How will it play out?

“If seeing other parents hover compels more parents to join them to ensure that their own children don’t fall behind, the practice will likely continue to spread,” Osborn shares, noting that a number of different outcomes are possible.

• Anxiety disorders—Some children of over-involved parents are likely to become more anxious, risk-averse, and self-conscious.

• Confidence deficit—Denied the accomplishment of setting goals and achieving—or failing to achieve—these goals on their own may carry into these children’s adult years, making them less assertive, possibly less competent, and more eager to conform.

• Suing schools—If parents become more meddlesome in primary schools, the market for liability insurance for teachers will grow rapidly. The number of teachers purchasing liability insurance already jumped 25% between 2000 and 2005, according to insurer Forrest T. Jones.

There are business implications to this trend, as well, he says.

“Hovering helicopter parents want to keep strict tabs on their children, which will expand the market for ‘emergency’ mobile phones for very young children and surveillance devices for older children,” Osborn forecasts, adding that as this group ages parents will continue to want to control. “They may demand control over credit and debit cards, checking and savings accounts, and other financial services.”

From a father’s point of view

But Osborn can relate. The award-winning author and editor of more than 40 books — including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bringing Up Baby (Macmillan, 1997; 2006), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Classical Mythology (Macmillan, 1998; 2004), and The Encyclopedia of American Sports Heroes (Scholastic, 1996) — is also a father.

“Naturally all parents want the best for their children—the best education, the best job, the best life partner, the best life,” Osborn observes. “And all parents want their child to succeed and to be happy. But what many of today’s parents don’t seem to realize is that what they see as 'the best' may not be best for their children."

The surest road to happiness and success is to define—and then pursue—them oneself," Osborn believes.

"By not giving their children the room to discover and define what makes them happy and what success means to them—by not letting their children grow up—they may be leaving them rudderless—and ultimately unhappy—throughout their adult lives.”

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Future of Youth Happiness

Last year, MTV approached the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies to help them answer a question: “What makes 12- to 24-year olds happy today and going forward into the future?”

“We had some basic ideas,” says futurist Andy Hines, who headed up the study. “We figured that friends and technology would be important to this group. But how did they feel about religion, their parents, fame, and money? We began reading everything we could on the topic, and then the real research started.”

MTV also enlisted the Associated Press to add a quantitative component to our qualitative findings. Their researchers polled 1,280 more youths in the 12-to-24-age range, and in late August 2007, published a series of press releases based on this data. Here’s what they found:

The findings

Hines says that like most people, today’s youth pursue happiness through a combination of three strategies: the pleasure of the moment, relationships with family and friends, and the long-term search for meaning and purpose.

“But when we probed more deeply we discovered that, more than any generation before them, today’s young people recognize happiness is something that can and should be worked toward,” he says. “In short, we found they have a very practical approach to happiness.”

Specifically, he found they pursue this practical approach in the context of what they see as an uncertain and rapidly changing world. They realize they can’t go it alone, and are highly reliant on friends and, perhaps more than is often recognized, on family and on spirituality or faith.

Consider faith “For today’s youth, it is not about ardent conversion to a religious cause. Instead, they see faith as useful for making sense of the world, and embrace it for that reason. Same with family: this is not about a wholesale return to traditional family values; it is a practical recognition that family provides security and direction that help along the road to happiness.”

Consider family “Initially, we postulated that youth might be looking to shoot down helicopter parents who hover over their every move like Secret Service agents. To our surprise, while they do find this annoying, it is only mildly so and largely tolerable. In fact, they told us they appreciate the concern and believe parents are looking out for their best interest.”

Consider fame “Do youth want to be famous? Absolutely, the youths we interviewed but they recognize the odds are not in their favor. Celebrity life is appealing, but they are content to fall back on a more “normal” life if fame doesn’t work out.”

Consider technology “The key word here is tool, for it is a means, not an end,” Hines notes. “Moreover, because they are completely comfortable with it—it is a native language for them, not a second language like for the rest of us—they are comfortable building relationships via technology. Perhaps a quarter of youth makes little distinction between F2F and virtual relationships, and that percentage is likely to grow. But this doesn’t mean human contact is not important—au contraire.” In fact, technology is not replacing “physical” friends, Hines insists. it merely opens up a wider range of social options. Sure, a small percentage of kids overdo it, using the online world to escape from reality, but most see it as simply part of their daily routine.

The bottom line

After months of research, Hines says the essential finding is that youths are taking a more practical, proactive approach to happiness than previous generations. “On the surface they may come across as overly concerned with cool—or perhaps as cynical—but family, friends, and faith are hardly the stuff of rebels,” Hines says. “Yet they also want to make a difference. And I wouldn’t bet against them.”

Matt Catapano, senior director of programming at MTV, agrees. “What we loved about the study is that we were taking a snapshot in time,” Catapano explains. “If you look at young people overall, you see that they are incredibly optimistic about who they are, where they are going, and what their future holds. That’s a constant to being young. They will always be impulsive, indestructible, impatient, and want to have fun.”

He confides that the findings have proven significant to MTV’s directors. “We have shared the report with every department at MTV, and also bring it out when we spend time with our salespeople and advertising partners,” Catapano adds. “It now is helping our advertisers refine their campaigns, and the report is even influencing the shows we decide to put on MTV.”

For more information, visit www.socialtechnologies.com/mtv.