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.

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How Do We Combat “Alternative Facts” When People Won’t Listen to Real Facts?

A picture of a female teacher with her grade school students.

Photo credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono at Flickr Creative Commons

Educators, more than anyone else, have a keen interest in tackling the issue of “alternative facts.” But it’s a tough issue to fix when it’s the U.S. government that is perpetuating it. Most of us are aware that study after study, fact after fact, have proven that many of the claims made by the current administration are blatantly false, and yet people are still buying into them.

And it seems like all the facts in the world don’t make a difference, as people carry on believing what they want instead of what is true. According to sociologists, this is steeped in a problem of which most of us are unaware. It turns out that exposing misinformed people to facts not only doesn’t usually get them to change their mind, but actually makes them reinforce their wrong beliefs.

Nobody is quite sure why this happens, though. And it’s possible, likely even, for some educators to question whether or not they and their peers might be to blame. Were these people failed by the educational system? What can we do moving forward to try and prevent such attitudes from arising in current and future students? Is there anything that can be done? Are these attitudes hard-wired or learned at home?

None of these questions have easy answers. The nature of the problem is one that will take a while to find an answer to. But researchers aren’t giving up; they are determined now more than ever to find the answers we’ve all been waiting for.

In the meantime though, perhaps the best that educators can do is continue to teach still-impressionable students the truth. A reliance on facts and critical thinking now, when kids are still learning, might be the greatest tool we have to keep people willing and able to learn in the future.

2,000 Seattle Teachers Sport “Black Lives Matter” T-Shirts

An image of the words "black lives matter" in colors resembling the American flag.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Yesterday, about 2,000 Seattle educators voiced their support for racial equality by wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts. The teachers are part of a group known as Social Equality Educators, which is a subdivision within the Seattle teachers union.

Organizers wanted to draw attention to racial disparities in the school system. Statistics from a 2007 study by the National Center for Education Statistics show that for grades 4 and 8, white students, on average, have higher test scores than black students. Specifically, white students scored at least 26 points higher than black students in all subjects.

Educators believe the disparity is due to unequal access to opportunities. For example, a study conducted by the Department of Education revealed that a quarter of the schools with the highest numbers of African American and Latino students do not offer Algebra II classes.

But that’s only the beginning. Statistics also show that black children were expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white children. Additionally, black children were more than three times as likely to be enrolled in schools where less than 60% of teachers meet certification and license prerequisites.

Statistics like these are what brought teachers and activists together to rally for educational reform. They met early in the morning at Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle to protest what they believe is an unjust education system.

“Black Lives Matter means ‘don’t leave us out,’” said 17-year-old Precious Manning, president of Chief Sealth International High School’s Black Student Union.

Since the event was not sponsored by the school district, educators were asked to leave before students started arriving. However, members of the Black Student Union elected to stay until classes began.

The latest show of solidarity caused quite the stir among the public. While most people were incredibly supportive, others voiced their concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement. Some even likened it to being a “terrorist group.”

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.

Teachers Helping Teachers (and Students)

Ruler and math text book

A new study shows that one good teacher can positively influence both other teachers and other students.
Image: Unsplash.com

Good teachers don’t just teach their material well; they elevate the benefits their students will take from education from all of their other teachers, and for years to come, by teaching them more effective ways to learn and retain. And now new research from the University of Washington College of Education implies that they’ll also improve the performance of their fellow teachers.

“Student learning is not a function of just one teacher but of the combined effort of many teachers,” said Min Sun, leader of the study presented to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

In other word, one A+ teacher in a pool of B- teachers can elevate them all to a solid A. This highlights the importance of oversight to make sure that even the worst-performing schools get their choice of teachers, not just the inexperienced, ill-adapted, or burnt-out.

Sun’s research was about putting this effect down into hard numbers. She and her colleagues looked at decades of data for math teachers in grades 3-8, mostly from standardized test scores. The calculation is complicated, but the finding is that every student in a school with a single high-performing teacher benefits, not only the students in their class. And those benefits don’t stop at grades – the likelihood of college attendance and the predictable future lifetime earnings both increase.

In 2014, the Department of Education put a call out for Teacher Equity Strategies in all 50 states to help fight the tendency of schools with a majority population of minority or low-income families to have low-performing teachers. This study’s specific intent is to provide data for a foundation for those strategies and to impress their importance on skeptics. When asked for a strategy herself, Sun proposed pairing ineffective teachers with better colleagues on a long-term basis.

Sun’s research is continuing, but the results are already pretty clear: Even one better teacher can elevate a school.

Just the Job

Teacher and students in classroom

Teachers in struggling Pennsylvania schools struck earlier this month to raise awareness about how teachers go above and beyond.
Image: Shutterstock

It was a different kind of strike in Philadelphia earlier this month. For one week, a number of elementary school teachers across the city did their jobs.

Only their jobs.

Only their jobs as stipulated by their contracts, in fact. So while they taught, graded, and cared for their students, they did not patrol the playground before school, tutor kids at lunch, or stay late with kids whose parents couldn’t be there right at the bell. No printouts in the classrooms or copy paper to make them, because that’s been coming out of the teachers’ pockets. Books purchased by teachers for their classrooms vanished, just for the week.

These actions, organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, were concurrent with a protest held at Cooke Elementary School, one of the statistically “failing” schools that the Philadelphia School District intends to hand over to a charter operator. That announcement was not received well by local teachers.

“We don’t have teachers in classrooms some years, and then they tell us that we failed,” said Christine Kolenut, one of the Cooke teachers who will be fired if that handover occurs.

The decision to make more Philadelphia schools into charter schools has not been popular with parents either. In 2014, the district allowed the parents of two schools to vote on the matter, and both votes were landslides against charters. This year, the decision was made without parent or teacher input.

The objective of the semi-strike was to force the district to recognize that teachers do much more than the contracts itemize, and that disrespecting teachers will never lead to a better-performing school.