Seattle is Lumping All its Homeless Children Into One School

A photo of Lowell Elementary School, located in Seattle's Capitol Hill district.

Lowell Elementary School, located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district.
Photo credit: Joe Wolf via Flickr Creative Commons.

Seattle students who live in Eastlake mostly go to Tops K-8, a highly rated elementary school with a park-like yard and a lake view. Unless those students’ home address is Peer80 Homeless Shelter, barely four blocks away. For all of the homeless shelters in metropolitan Seattle, the assigned elementary school is Lowell Elementary, up on Capitol Hill.

Seattle’s best estimate is that 7% of the youths in their school district lack a permanent address. At Lowell, it’s slightly over 20%. More than one in five students at this school don’t have stable housing.

Absolutely no one likes it there, it seems. Students report violence, bullying, and apathetic staff. And the staff claims they aren’t adequately supported to take care of students with special needs. The high turnover rate is both a symptom and an exacerbating factor; 15 teachers and staff members have left since the beginning of 2017.

Homeless students are more likely than the average to be in need of special accommodations. There are students with untreated mental and physical disabilities, including PTSD. A large percentage of students barely speak English. But funding matters have prevented the school from having a stable support staff.

“You got to go through the shelter life, and then you go to school with all that stuff inside: ‘Why are we still here? Why do we still have to go through this communal eating? Why don’t we have our own stuff?’ And they’re bitter, and they’re hurt, and they’re angry,” said the mother of several Lowell students.

“And so when they arrive into the classroom, they bring all that angst with them, and for the most part don’t come in with those coping skills to kind of get them to a place where they can access the learning,” said former assistant principal Na’Ceshia Holmes, one of the staff who quit this year.

With more training and a dedicated mental health staff, perhaps this school could be a light for students. But as it is, funneling the city’s growing population of homeless youth into one inadequate school is simply harmful.

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Back-to-School Safety Tips for Students and Parents

Back-to-school safety tips for children and parents

Photo: Shutterstock

These aren’t quite the days when kids of all ages were turned loose at dawn to make their own way to school by bus, foot, or bike, but plenty of young students are still given more independence for their commute than they may be prepared for. As students across the country return to school for the 2017-18 school year, police departments everywhere have a few cautions in common.

For students

Make sure that your young student can tell you what the plan is to get them to and from school every day. This is mostly about the youngest kids. Are they always picked up by the same person in the same car? Can they tell you or a teacher the full name of both parents, and what color their car is? If there are custodial issues, do they know their schedule? Do they know your phone number and address? Quiz them until they do—it’s all well and good to have a card in their backpack or data on file with the school, but it’s great to help your young student help themselves.

Also, reinforce your family rules on crossing the street with care, on helmet safety, anything that’s going to be a protection for your child. Make sure you’re following them yourself; your child is watching you for cues.

For parents:

Be careful around schools. You may be running late, stressed, or distracted with your own daily plans, but set all of that aside when you are behind the wheel near any school or school bus. Pedestrian traffic that is mostly minors can be very erratic, and it just takes a second to make a mistake that can’t be undone.

It’s worth it to make time in those first few weeks to arrive early or be able to stay a little late, to get out of your car at the school and meet the staff who manage the bus lines, school administrators, or even the parents of their friends. Making sure you know their faces and they know yours helps protect every student.

Get some other safety tips for students of all ages, and their parents, at the Red Cross website.

Cues-ED Program Teaches Children About Mental Health

A classroom full of children. A young boy towards the front is raising his hand.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

“No-one can see our thoughts, and that’s why we need to talk about them.” Out of the mouths of babes. This is how an eight-year-old student at the Oliver Goldsmith Primary School in London articulated the need for communication techniques, in a new class called Cues-Ed. Cues-Ed, taught by clinical psychologist Dr. Anna Redfern and her partner Dr. Debbie Plant, is about teaching young children how to be aware of their own mental processes and health.

Childhood mental health is a growing concern in schools. According to a survey of schools by the Association of School and College Leaders, two-thirds of teachers said that they wanted mental health services for students. What’s more is that over seventy-five-percent of teachers reported they had seen evidence of self-harm or suicidal thoughts in their classrooms.

Dr. Redfern and Dr. Plant are specifically focusing on children ages eight and nine. Using positive language and fun workbooks, their students learn about telling the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts, and about managing their moods as well as seeking help when they can’t.

One exercise, for example, involves catching little fluttering “thoughts” blown around the room (strips of paper with short phrases). This is the part where thoughts cross your mind, and the class acknowledges that what thoughts come is under very little control. But then the students sort them, identifying which ones are useful to them and which are harmful, and symbolically throw the useless ones away.

The class is not about any sort of mental health diagnoses. But it does teach the students to be mindful of their own thought patterns and emotional weather, which better prepares them to understand both their own internal workings and those of the people around them.

Currently, Dr. Redfern’s Cues-Ed program is only available in South London. A round of her courses costs nearly 4000 pounds, and has to be funded by the schools themselves, but she would love to see the program extended nationally.

How to Breach the Subject of Trump in the Classroom

A little girl writes, "No to racism" on the chalkboard.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump was announced the winner of the 2016 presidential election, students at a Royal Oak middle school in Michigan began chanting, “Build the wall!” A seventh grade girl captured the video on her cell phone and immediately sent it to her mother. Her mother then shared it on Facebook and the video went viral from there.

But this isn’t an isolated incident. At a school in Pennsylvania, a group of students held up a Trump sign as they walked through the hallway and shouted, “White power!”

At a high school in Minnesota, racist remarks were scribbled on the bathroom walls. One of the messages read, “Go back to Africa. Make America great again.”

Educators, school officials, and parents are horrified by the increased amount of bullying, harassment, and violence that this election has caused. But educators in particular feel like they’re at a loss. How does one condemn this kind of behavior without pushing one political agenda over another?

It’s tough, but it can be done. The best way to go about it is to talk about it from a historical standpoint. Students should learn about the slave trade, the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement, and immigration. From there, teachers can facilitate discussions about social justice.

Furthermore, educators should take the opportunity to teach students about hate crimes, which are a real, prosecutable offense. For older students, it may even be worthwhile to show video footage of hate crimes and talk about the legal repercussions that took place afterward. It’s not a fun discussion to have, but the role of the teacher is to teach, and this will help prepare students for the reality of the world we live in.

Obviously, this approach isn’t well suited for younger students. For grades K-5, it would be better to talk approach the subject from the angle of emotional well-being. Yes, consequences of bullying, harassing, or assaulting another student should be discussed, but students really need to learn how to be empathetic towards one another. That can only happen when students talk openly about how derogatory comments or actions make them feel.

Do you have any tips on how to approach this subject in the classroom? Please, share your thoughts below.

Can Pokémon Go Be Used As An Educational Tool?

A young boy finds a Pokémon on his cell phone.

A young boy using the Pokémon Go app. Image: MichaelJayBerlin / Shutterstock

A quick summary in case there’s someone still out there who’s not familiar with Pokemon Go: The newest installment in Pokemon’s 20-year history of video games, the popular phone app requires players to walk around the real world to find virtual locations and virtual creatures, all the while collecting, strategizing, and battling. Immediately after it’s launch in July, it surpassed Twitter to become the most-downloaded app ever, and the largest mobile game in the history of the industry.

Creator Niantic wisely chose to release the walking-based game in midsummer, but as September approaches, parents and teachers alike are curious about the game’s educational potential. On the flip side of the coin, others are worried about privacy and safety risks.

The game features local landmarks across the country as Pokéstops—places where players collect in-game items—which educators are hoping will spur a widespread interest in students who want to learn about local history and resources. Players online have been talking excitedly about discovering features of their own towns that they’d never known before.

In the words of James Gee, a researcher in educational video gaming from Arizona State University, the app “enchants the environment.” After all, it is firing up a new interest in real world surroundings. The non-gaming generation has long bemoaned youth’s alleged lack of interest in their environment. With Pokémon Go, school-aged children can rediscover their home towns, and even organize outings and clean-up events in popular places.

Players can also use features of the game to track individual Pokémon, teaching them the concepts of triangulation and orienteering. Math, too, is a part of the game for those who want to calculate which of their Pokemon will evolve into the strongest creature at which level.

The biggest concern of detractors is that of safety and privacy (players have been accosted while following the game into unsafe areas, and game play requires your phone to be tracking you at all times). But with prudence and supervision, it will be interesting to see how education becomes the next thing to enfold this social mega-phenomenon.

Test Performance Linked to Cortical Development, Income Level

Silhouette of child with colorful brain

A new study shows that income level can affect a child’s testing scores and brain development.
Image: Shutterstock

A recent study published in Psychological Science found a possible connection between cortical development in children and their performance on standardized tests. Children with thicker cortexes did better on these tests, and they were also from higher-income families.

Although the study did not explore the reasons behind these developments, there are a few possibilities. Children from higher-income families tend to have more educational support early in life and face less stress. Meanwhile, children from lower-income families tend to have more stress in their early life, less access to educational materials, and even less access to spoken language early in their development. All of these factors have been previously linked to academic performance, but they might be linked to cortical thickness as well.

In recent years, based on information form standardized test results, there has been a widening performance gap between high- and low-income students. This comes even at a time when gaps are narrowing along racial or ethnic lines. As an increasing number of families in the United States slip further down the economic ladder, this problem could be a growing one.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The authors of the study point out that the brain is quite elastic, and these structural differences are not permanent. Just because a child has a less developed cortex by middle school doesn’t mean that they’re stuck with that forever. Finding ways to help students continue to develop their abilities can offset the problem, and hopefully, those problems can be identified and addressed.

The authors are planning a follow up study in which they look at educational plans and programs that have successfully helped to close the performance gap between high- and low-income students. If possible, they want to try and trace cortical thickness as well and see if these programs, or others like them, can help to create some more parity in development.