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Monday, 14 November 2011 12:58

Grants to improve your school

Budgets are tight and schools need all the help they can get to bring in outside resources. Applying for grants is one way to help ensure that extra funds become available to your school community.

Here's one source of small grants that Insideschools just learned about. (We'll share others as we hear of them.) Citizens Committee for New York City awards grants of $500 to $3,000 to volunteer-led groups to work on projects that "bring people together and that have a positive impact on the community." The group also offers project planning assistance and skills-building workshops.

Recent awards have enabled students, parents and teachers to come together to make healthy food available in their communities, transform school lawns into community gardens, and start school recycling programs. Citizens Committee is especially looking to reach out to schools in high-poverty neighborhoods .

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 17:58

Parents to Cuomo: No more budget cuts!

"Millionaires have got to pay!" chanted public school children, parents, and teachers, who gathered for a protest outside of Gov. Andrew  Cuomo's Manhattan office on Tuesday and called for an extension of the so-called millionaire's tax.


Police kept the sidewalks clear for afternoon commuters on Third Avenue near Grand Central Terminal while dozens of protestors took turns at the mic—both real mic and the trademark Occupy Wall Street "human mic"—and aired concerns about budget cuts. Complaints included over-crowding, co-locations, cuts to after-school programs and lack of arts programs.


"The government is more interested in campaign contributions for future elections than for the welfare of New York City kids," said Ben Wides, a father and public school teacher.


"If we're going to put the energy into fundraising, we can put it into protesting, too," said Yong Lapage, whose 10-year-old daughter attends Brooklyn New School. His daughter Simone walked on stilts and carried a sign: "stand tall for education." He said his PTA raised tens of thousands of dollars to offset budget cuts last year.


Cuomo did not make an appearance, but but City Council member Brad Lander of Park Slope and his daughter showed up to support the protestors.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 11:54

Parents say: "Make millionaires pay"

"The fact that everybody wants it, that doesn't mean all that much."

So said Governor Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 17, explaining why he had decided not to extend the "millionaire's tax."

Some public school parents disagree, and they're taking their demand to Cuomo's doorstep on Election Day. They want the tax, which would generate $2.8 billion in the next fiscal year, to help offset a projected $1.4 billion budget cut aimed at city schools next year.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 27 October 2011 13:53

Parent-teacher conferences begin

Parent-teacher conferences, being held at most high schools tonight and tomorrow, offer families the opportunity to meet teachers and learn how their children are doing in class. But it's hard for harried high school parents, who must rush around large buildings in an attempt to meet every teacher, to do that in the three minutes allotted for each meeting. 

Our High School Hustle blogger Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way. Apparently, Chancellor Walcott agrees. He acknowledged as much in his Oct. 27 speech about parent engagement, likening the school conferences to "speed dating."  The department is working on strengthening the conferences, he said, and has developed a tool-kit with sample questions to ask teachers as well as tips for how to prepare. Check out 10 questions on the DOE's website and let us know what you think.

Parents who don't speak English can get free over-the-phone interpretation services at evening parent-teacher conferences. Normally translation is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling the Department of Education at 718-752-7373, ext. 4.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 27 October 2011 14:26

Poll: How to boost parent involvement?

Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott presented a five-point plan to increase parent engagement on Wednesday night, proposing the creation of "parent academies" in every borough, and the introduction of a system to rate schools' parent involvement efforts. High school Progress Reports released earlier this week showed that many graduates are not prepared to do college-level work. Walcott said on Wednesday that schools alone cannot boost college-readiness and the effort must involve students and families as well.

He delivered his agenda to an invitation-only audience of parents, Tweed officials and school staff with Jesse Mojica, the DOE's director of Family and Community Engagement, at his side. The chancellor, the grandparent of a public school student, promised to improve communication between the DOE and parents and presented a new online hub to distribute information to parents:

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 10:44

What you can do for your school

I am a lousy PA parent. I watch in awe as my peers chair meetings, organize bake sales, get street permits for carnivals, and write grants for enrichment programs, all the while juggling jobs and multiple children and various and sundry overwhelming challenges and responsibilities. I honestly don't know how they do it.

Although I manage to attend some meetings and sell my appropriate quota of raffle tickets, I am fully aware of my shortcomings in this area. And as education budgets continue to get cut, this kind of grassroots organizing is becoming more important than ever. I love the idea of supporting my school—I'm simply not very good at much of the above.

Luckily, I have an excellent role model in my house who has been compensating for his weaknesses and leveraging his strengths for as long as I can remember: Brooks. Taking a page from his play book, I try to contribute in less traditional ways. What I am good at is building websites, so my husband and I started back in 2007 which raises money for charities, including schools.

Published in News and views
Sunday, 23 October 2011 14:11

Elementary Dad: Fathers and masculinity

As a father, I’ve got less testosterone than childless men, but I'm less likely to die of heart disease.

My older-than-average age (48) means my daughter was lucky to have been conceived at all. But now that she’s here, she’s just as likely to get good grades as a child born to a younger man.

I don’t view work as my reason for existence. I may have experienced postpartum depression. I’m more likely to be in charge of a carpool.

Published in News and views
Monday, 07 November 2011 10:47

Elementary Dad: Fear of photos online

On Halloween, I played a cruel trick. As kids at my door grabbed handfuls of Skittles, I grabbed a camera, snapped a few shots of the children and yelled, “I can’t wait to post these photos on the Internet!” You should have seen the looks of horror on those faces.

The parents’ faces, I mean. Kids couldn’t care less if their photos appear online, but most parents believe any image of their child on the Internet violates their privacy and sets out a buffet table for pedophiles.

Such fears have lately gripped my daughter’s elementary school. Weeks ago, the principal sent home a note asking permission to post photos of kids (no names, just photos) doing things that show how the school is using a magnet grant. But with a dose of clumsiness that has become a Department of Education trademark, the attached release form was strangely vague. Parents were expected to fill in blanks that asked … well, no one was sure.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 13 October 2011 11:30

Bronx ed summit this weekend

Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr will join education historian Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera and other education policy heavy-hitters at the first-ever Bronx Education Summit, Saturday, Oct. 15 at Lehman College.

Dr. Ravitch will deliver the keynote speech, "Improving Education for the Children of the Bronx," in the morning, followed by break-out sessions for parents and teachers on topics including early childhood, special education and English language learning. Our own education experts Jacqueline Wayans, Insideschools assignment editor, and Kim Nauer, education project director at our parent organization the Center for New York City Affairs, will participate in a panel discussion about parent involvement from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. In the afternoon, a panel of local education policy experts will discuss education in the Bronx, "from cradle to career."

A full schedule is available on the Bronx Borough President's website, though unfortunately, at this time, it appears that registration is closed. For those looking for advice from Jacqueline Wayans, it's not too late to register for her Oct. 25 workshop at City College, "Choosing the Right School for Your Child."

Published in News and views
Thursday, 13 October 2011 11:03

New blog for special ed teachers & parents

A special education teacher, Marisa Kaplan, has launched a new blog to help parent and teachers learn about how technology can help kids learn. The blog,, also provides place for parents to ask advice--including the questions you may not have time for in your parent-teacher conferences.

Kaplan, who has taught at Manhattan School for Children as well as The Equity Project Charter School, says she wants to bridge the gap between home and school.

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