August 2010 Up Front

News Analysis
Education groups push new safety website

Jamie Schaefer-Wilson is a font of statistics -- depressing statistics that every school board member should know.

Nine people died and nearly 700 consumers nation-wide became seriously ill over a three-month period in 2009 from tainted peanut butter. Since 1991, 160 people -- all but a handful of them children -- have been strangled after they were caught in looped window blind cords. In 2006, a child had to have sections of his intestines removed after swallowing magnets that were part of a toy sold in stores nationwide.

That’s why Schaefer-Wilson, a consultant in the child and product safety division of Consumer Reports, pushed to start Click, Check and Protect, a campaign that provides up-to-date information on safety recalls to parents. The campaign’s website, www.clickcheck andprotect.org, features regularly updated safety alerts and information on products that have been recalled.

“A child should not be put at risk or more because we can’t get the word out,” says Schaefer-Wilson, a New York-based mother and writer who has school-age children. “These things are not just in our homes, but in our schools and child care centers as well, and we need to do everything we can to make sure people are informed.”

NSBA and the National PTA are founding partners in the National School Safety Coalition, which is spearheading the campaign with Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports and its affiliated websites. In September 2009, the two education groups were the first to join Consumers Union in launching the web-based School Safety Alert Program, which has since evolved into Click, Check, and Protect.

Anne Byrne, Northeast Regional representative on NSBA’s Board of Directors, attended an event at Consumers Union headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., to formally launch the campaign. She said it’s logical for school boards to be leaders in the effort because members “are always on the watch for ways to protect the safety and well-being of students.”

“Working with and through our state associations, as well as with parents, educators, health officials, and volunteer organizations that are similarly focused on these issues, is the best way for school boards to make sure that this kind of message reaches the public,” Byrne said. “No child should be injured or die because safety information did not get into the hands of parents, teachers, and caregivers.”

Other groups agree. Over the past year, organizations endorsing the coalition have included the American Association of School Administrators, American School Health Association, Council of Great City Schools, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of School Nurses, National Education Association, and the National School Public Relations Association. The New York State School Boards Association (NYSBA) and the New York State PTA also are coalition members, and Schaefer-Wilson is looking to further expand the group.

For each recall, the Click, Check, and Protect website provides a description of the product, how many units are on the market, the number of incidents and injuries that have been reported, where it is sold, a proposed remedy, and the contact information for the consumer.

What most consumers don’t understand is that they have options when a product is recalled, said Inez Tenenbaum, chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“People are not aware of their rights when something like this happens,” Tenenbaum said. “What people don’t realize is that once a product has been recalled, there’s a free remedy. The company that manufactured or sold the product is responsible for replacing it or refunding your money.”

Tenenbaum, the former state superintendent in South Carolina, said product recalls present the same safety concerns for schools as bullying, gangs, and environmental/air quality issues.

“No question, schools are dealing with a lot of issues these days,” Tenenbaum said. “But we have a responsibility to educate everyone about these problems, and so do you.”

Schaefer-Wilson said she started pushing for the group after realizing that schools were “the last place receiving this information.” More and more frequently, she noted, teachers are bringing more of their own supplies and goods into schools. Before they do so, they should check www.clickcheck andprotect.org to see if an item has been recalled.

“I’m sure that if you look in classrooms across this country that you will find items that have been recalled, and people just don’t realize it,” she said. “These products are dangerous for our kids. Why wouldn’t you want to get them out of your classrooms?”

For more information, go to www. clickcheckandprotect.org. In addition to the latest recall updates, the website also features instructional videos and links to free safety information found in Consumer Reports.

Glenn Cook, Editor-in-Chief


Learn more about school health and wellness

August is health, physical education, and athletics month at ASBJ, as you can see from the articles in our cover package.

We’ve published many more articles on this topic, which you can find in our online archives at www.asbj.com/TopicsArchive/HealthandWellness.aspx. Some of the articles you’ll find there include:

“The Leadership Role in School Health”
A report from Action for Healthy Kids found that educators, parents, and students are perhaps more aware of school health issues than in the past, but too little is actually being done to address these issues. Students still aren’t getting enough exercise and don’t eat a healthy diet at school. February 2009

“The Board’s Role in Sustaining School Health”
Sustainability is often the “devil in the details” that haunts many worthwhile efforts. School wellness programs are not exempt. One frequent problem is that school wellness programs can become too closely tied to a single “champion,” be it a board member, superintendent, principal, or teacher. February 2009

“School Athletics Under the Ax”
Eliminating sports doesn’t just take away a healthy, supervised activity for kids. It also robs them of lessons -- how to work as a team, manage time, set goals, and persevere -- that aren’t easily learned in classrooms. Studies show that activities like sports can focus and motivate students, and even keep them in school. January 2009

“Healthy Children Become Productive Adults”
Children will model the behavior they have learned at school for the rest of their lives. Schools are on the front line to prepare our tomorrow’s employment base. And in today’s global economy, we need clever entrepreneurs in the educational system to get kids into shape and prime them for the work force. October 2008

“Healthy Children Learn Better”
Healthy children learn better -- few statements in education are as unequivocal. We know this on a common-sense level, and the data backs it up. Research suggests that students’ health and learning are inextricably linked. Studies also show that school health programs boost students’ academic performance and improve behavior and attendance. October 2008

“Keeping Your Employees Healthy”
As medical expenses continue to soar, school districts are discovering that health promotion and intervention are sure strategies to contain cost increases. However, district officials and educators are motivated by another factor: Preaching a healthy lifestyle to students is ineffective if the adults around them aren’t doing it, too. October 2008

“Health and Your Older School Employees”
Employees over 50 are extremely valuable. They tend to be more loyal, have more experience and better attendance, be more punctual, have lower job turnover, hold a stronger commitment to quality, maintain a willingness to be mentors to new hires, and use better judgment on the job. That is, except when it comes to their own health. July 2008

“Using Technology in Phys Ed Classes”
For today’s students, technology has made life easier and more exciting. At the same time, the Internet, instant messaging, video games, and cell phones have contributed to a generation that is far less active and more obese than ever. So, for schools, the question is how to use the power of technology to drive students toward a healthier life style. March 2008   n


Talk About It
Our monthly list of topics worth discussing

More friends in school may increase achievement
A new study ties teenagers’ academic success to the number of friends they have at school. The study tracked 629 high school seniors and found that students with higher gradepoint averages had more school friends than out-of-school friends. “This is partially because in-school friends are more likely to be achievement-oriented and share and support school-related activities, including studying, because they are all in the same environment,” Melissa R. Witkow, an assistant professor of psychology at Willamette University, told Health Day. Meanwhile, more educators are questioning whether children need a “best friend” or are better off with large groups of friends, according to the New York Times. As adults have become more involved in their children’s lives -- scheduling play dates rather than allowing them to roam the neighborhood until dark -- some question whether close ties to another child hinders development and could lead to bullying and a feeling of exclusivity. “I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” Jay Jacobs, director of the Timber Lake Camp in New York, which uses “friendship coaches” to facilitate friendships in large groups, told the Times. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.” Some psychologists, though, argued in the article that children need close friendships to bolster their self-esteem and confidence and develop the skills for healthy adult relationships.

Microsoft’s School for the Future graduates first class
The closely watched School for the Future in Philadelphia, a $63 million experiment by Microsoft that seeks to revolutionize the way students use technology to learn, graduated its first class this spring. All 117 seniors were accepted to higher education institutions, although 11 needed to take summer school classes to receive their diplomas, according to The Associated Press. The school has had its issues -- including high turnover of administrators and implementation of curriculum, as well as the challenges of educating students from low-income homes who were not accustomed to high expectations and high-tech environments. In the midst of its operations, the school has also hosted thousands of visitors. “The first three years were definitely a challenge,” Microsoft liason Mary Cullinane told the AP. “They’re hitting their groove now. I’m excited to see what’s in store.”

Engineering classes for kindergarteners?
Engineering lessons increasingly are being incorporated into elementary science and other classes, even for kindergarten students, according to the New York Times. Elementary-age students are using engineering principles for assignments such as building bridges with uncooked spaghetti, launching hot air balloons from trash bags, and building a labyrinth to thwart the Big Bad Wolf from reaching the Three Little Pigs. It’s all part of a push to ensure more Americans have the skills that will be demanded by the new economy, and engineering is a field predicted to have shortages. “Supporters say that engineering reinforces math and science skills, promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks,” the Times reported.

Report says schools must boost ties to higher education
A recent report by researchers at Georgetown University further drives home the importance of students obtaining a higher education to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. The report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce showed that, by 2018 there will be thousands more jobs that require at least an associate’s degree than there will be workers -- and students today must plan to at least obtain a two-year degree to be competitive in the job market. An economic recovery will hinge on skilled jobs, says the report, called Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018: “Many people who lost jobs that required only a high school education or less will find that their relatively low-skill jobs will not come back at all, lost to automation or overseas competition.”

Schools’ donations from churches scrutinized
Several churches in Florida have adopted their local elementary schools, showering them with supplies and volunteer help, in partnerships that some say violate the separation of church and state. In some cases, church members use their newfound friendships with students and parents to push them to attend the members’ local church, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before,” Dave McClamma of The First Baptist Church at the Mall, told the Journal. “By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ.” McClamma’s church donated $5,000 in supplies to an elementary school and gave new shoes to impoverished students, and its members also volunteer as reading and math tutors. If a parent is receptive, the Journal reported, a pastor visits them at home. McClamma told the Journal that, of 30 families visited in December, 13 “came to the Lord.”

Books at home can determine child’s education level
Parents who have books in their homes will increase their children’s education level, according to a recent study, which also found that books are as important an indicator of success as the parent’s education level. The 20-year study was led by a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Science Daily reported that children of lesser-educated parents had the most to gain from having books in their homes. The study “showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (three years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education),” according to Science Daily. Both of those factors would give a child an average 3.2-year advantage in education.

Pennsylvania data system to track students from pre-K to work
Pennsylvania is building technology that will allow school officials to track the progress of their students from the time they enter preschool to their pursuit of higher education and beyond. The system will help link early childhood programs such as Head Start to expanded K-12 systems, and help create longitudinal data that will analyze the skills of the state’s work force. “The data will allow us to see if our strategies are working and what are the best instructional practices that lead to student achievement,” Thomas Gluck, the state’s acting education secretary, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pennsylvania is among 20 states sharing $250 million in economic stimulus money for statewide longitudinal data systems, according to the Post-Gazette.

Calif. schools use stimulus funds to lower utility bills
A California district is using federal stimulus funds to install solar power technologies, which officials expect to lower their electric bills by 80 percent. The San Ramon Valley Unified School District plans to save about $2 million annually by installing solar carport systems, large solar panels that provide shade for parked cars at schools, to provide electricity at six of its schools. According to an article by www.bright energy.org, a website that tracks clean energy initiatives, the solar company SunPower will partner with the district to offer lesson plans to also use the solar installations as educational tools.

College offers “incentive scholarships” to at-risk eighth-graders
Will offering four-year college scholarships to at-risk students in eighth grade help keep them focused on their academics through high school? Western Michigan University (WMU) has awarded scholarships valued at $32,000 each to 10 school districts in Michigan that serve large numbers of students from low-income families. Using criteria set by the university, school officials choose eligible students and assign a mentor to help them keep up their grades. The program was originally intended for Hispanic students, according to the Grand Rapids Press, but because state law prohibits preferential treatment based on race the university uses criteria based on free- and reduced-price lunch data. Awarding the scholarships in eighth grade gives the students enough time to prepare and get the required credits in high school, whereas awarding scholarships to seniors sometimes catches the recipients unprepared, Penny Bundy, WMU’s director of admissions, told the Press.

High school uses cheese sandwiches as punishment
Atlantic City High School in New Jersey serves cheese sandwiches -- two slices of bread and a piece of cheese -- to punish students for food fights. Despite parents’ complaints, the school stuck to its policy for three days during the week of final exams in May. Superintendent Fredrick Nickles told the Atlantic City Press that the meal was served after five students were suspended for starting a food fight. The sandwich meets the state’s nutrition requirements and sends a message to the rest of the student body, he said. Some parents were not sympathetic, however. “This is the most important week of the year. Your nutrition is the most important thing,” Antoinette Centeno told the Press.