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Special ed reform backfires for some kids

Written by Aimee Sabo Thursday, 06 March 2014 16:06

Caleb,* a 14-year-old middle school student in Flatbush, has a seizure disorder and learning delays — the aftereffects of a brain cyst he had removed when he was an infant. He sometimes writes backwards and reads six or seven years below grade level. 

He should be in a special class with 12 children and a teacher certified in special education, according to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the legal document that lists the services his school must offer him. Instead, he is in a class of nearly 30 students, a mix of general education and special needs children. His mom says his teachers are doing their best to help, but they can't give him the attention he needs.

Caleb is the victim of a well-intentioned reform designed to end the unneccessary segregation of children with disabilities. Two years ago, the Department of Education declared that nearly all special needs children should be educated in their neighborhood schools, rather than being sent to special programs far from home. Across the city, children who were once assigned to so-called "self-contained" classes are now in classes with two teachers that mix general education and special needs children. Many of these children are thriving, school officials and advocates agree. But, by reducing the availability of self-contained classrooms, the reform has backfired for children who, like Caleb, need a smaller learning environment, advocates say.

Apply by March 12 for new middle schools

Written by Pamela Wheaton Tuesday, 04 March 2014 15:27

Unhappy with your middle school choices? The Education Department announced 10 new middle schools are opening next September. New applications are going out this week to 5th graders. Families that are interested in applying must fill out and return the application by Wednesday, March 12. It won't affect the application you submitted in the fall as you can be accepted both at a new school and at a school you applied to in December.

While choosing a new school over an established one is risky, several of these new schools look like promising options. The Eagle Academy for Young Men is opening another school, this time in Staten Island, the first single sex school for that borough. PS 84, a popular neighborhood school in Williamsburg is adding on middle school grades. In Manhattan's crowded District 2, two new middle schools are opening, one that offers a selective program for high-achievers. The citywide gifted program in Queens will expand to include middle school called 30th Avenue Academy at a new site.

Most of the schools should be offering information sessions before the application deadline. Check out the Department of Education's new middle school directory for contact information.

Here's a brief rundown.

Q: I AM SO LOST!! I am a high school sophomore and I am really starting to think about the whole college thing. Generally I'm shy and uncomfortable, but this year I joined Key Club (volunteering) and French Club (which consists of 3 people including myself). I want to find something in school that I can devote a lot of time to, because apparently that's what colleges are looking for, but none of the other clubs interest me. When it comes to French Club, I am even less involved because there are so few people in it. I would try asking friends to come, but they are all in Spanish. One of my friends and I spent the first three meetings or so talking with the advisor about ideas, but none of them ever worked out. I am not much of a leader either, so I don't think I could start my own club. Also I'm not very athletic, so I've just about run out of options. I don't know what to do!!

A: Take it easy! Please do not feel you have run out of options. First of all, the major thing that "colleges are looking for" is a solid transcript. Courses and grades always come first. Yes, extra-curricular activity does play a role in the admissions decision, but there is no hidden agenda. Colleges are not "looking" to see if you are athletic or creative. But they DO want to see if you are looking past yourself.

How to handle high school letter day March 10

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:14

by Joyce Szuflita

Sometime during the week of March 10 8th-graders will get a letter telling them where they have been accepted to high school.

Here's what normally happens: The kids at public schools are given sealed envelopes in school that hold the results of their SHSAT tests, whether they have been offered a seat at one of the specialized high schools and their match - if any - from their main 1-12 application. The kids are instructed to wait to open the letters when they get home. Yeah, right.

They are dismissed, and the second that they get outside the school building, they rip open the letters and there on the sidewalk in front of school, the full range of human emotion is played out in public; tragedy, euphoria, jealousy, hatred and deception all bathed in a river of tears.

High School Hustle columnist Liz Willen wrote about this several years ago -- in Choice and Crying Teens --  and the problem still persists. It is ugly and it is up to you to stop it. You must either convince your child NOT to open the letter in public (good luck) or you must be there to whisk them away to a safe place to celebrate or commiserate in private.

Looking for a job this summer?

Written by Pauline Zaldonis Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:00

If you’re a teen looking for a job this summer, consider applying to the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Young people between the ages of 14 and 24 are eligible to apply for this six-week summer employment program that runs between July and August. Participants are selected through a lottery.

Participants work up to 25 hours a week for six weeks, earning $7.25 per hour. Job sites are spread out across all five boroughs and include government agencies, hospitals, summer camps, museums, nonprofits, small businesses and retailers. Participants may also attend workshops on job readiness, career exploration, and financial literacy. For more information, visit the Department of Youth and Community Development website. The application deadline is April 25, 2014.

For more ideas about what to do during summer vacation, check out Insideschools’ new listing of free summer and after-school programs here.

68,000 families apply to kindergarten

Written by Pamela Wheaton Friday, 21 February 2014 16:17

Some 68,000 parents of children born in 2009 used the new Kindergarten Connect system between Jan. 13 and Feb. 20 to apply to kindergarten for fall 2014, the Department of Education announced on Friday afternoon. This year approximately 74,000 five-year-olds are enrolled in kindergarten.

Of those applicants, 70 percent submitted online applications, 17 percent applied over the phone and 13 percent went in person to an enrollment office.

Nearly one-fourth of the phone applicants used a translation service for 10 different languages. That was the only way for non-English-speakers to apply because online applications were only in English. Earlier this month, DNAInfo reported that some non-English-speaking parents -- and those without emails or computers -- were finding it difficult to access the system. The DOE pushed back the application deadline by nearly a week to allow more time for families to apply.

Families who missed applying online may still apply in person at an enrollment center or by calling 718-935-2009. They will get their offers in May, a month later than earlier applicants.

Charter schools have a different application and timeline. You can apply online using a common application or each's charter school's application. Those are not due until April 1.

Read the DOE's press release here.

 

New listing highlights 100+ free programs

Written by Pauline Zaldonis Friday, 21 February 2014 11:10

We’ve just launched our new listing of free and low-cost summer and after-school programs to help you take advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities offered in the city. 

The listing highlights more than 100 free and low-cost programs, including 11 in math, 41 in science, 21 in art, 21 in the humanities, and 23 in academic prep. We paid special attention to the many programs that focus on math and science, since they have the ability to get students excited about subjects that might not have sparked their interest in the classroom. Last summer we visited several programs to see what children can do after school and during the summer to get engaged in mathematical and scientific activities.

DOE extends Kindergarten Connect deadline

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 12 February 2014 15:15

With the Friday, Feb. 14 deadline looming for parents of kids born in 2009 to apply online to kindergarten, the Department of Education extended the Kindergarten Connect deadline to the following Thursday, Feb. 20.

The decision to give parents additional time to register was announced Feb. 12 by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. 

In a press release, the DOE said that the new Kindergarten Connect application process has been "hugely successful: 85 percent of parents responding to our application survey have described the process as easy or very easy." 

But the new application system has its detractors -- particularly for families who don't speak English or don't have computers or email addresses. In a report earlier this week, DNAInfo.com wrote about problems some parents are having accessing and understanding Kindergarten Connect. ""The DOE has tried to make [the process] more equitable, but actually it's isolated the families who can't keep up with all of this," Upper West Side parent Jennifer Friedman, told DNAInfo.

While parents have almost a whole week more to consider their options and fill out an application, what they won't have is more time to tour schools. All schools will be on break next week for President's Week.

How can you find out about schools? Read the profiles on Insideschools and check out our new InsideStats data on every elementary school page. Be sure to read the school comments. Our Q&A about applying is here. The DOE has directories for each borough, listing every school. Check it out online or pick one up at an enrollment office.

Enrollment offices will be open to receive kinderggarten applications from 8 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. Or call 718-935-2400. (Make sure you know the list of schools you wish to apply to before you call.) Apply online here.

Kindergarten applicants find it hard to connect

Written by DNAinfo Monday, 10 February 2014 15:42

Friday, Feb. 14 is the last day for parents of incoming kindergartners to apply to schools online via Kindergarten Connect. But parents who don't speak English, or don't have an email address, are finding it hard to connect, DNAInfo found.

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com; by Amy Zimmer and Gustavo Solis)

Maribel Vega doesn't own a computer, has no email address and speaks only Spanish — all of which made it extremely difficult to sign up her 5-year-old daughter, Ashley, for kindergarten this year.

That's because in order to use the city's Kindergarten Connect system, which went live in January and has open enrollment through Feb. 14, Vega needed to be digitally savvy, and be able to read and fill out an English-only application. Thankfully for her, she found workers at the Upper West Side's Bloomingdale Family Head Start Program to help walk her through every step of the process.

"They helped with everything," said Vega, 25, who moved to the Bronx from Mexico six years ago. "I don't know where we would have found another computer to use.

InsideStats give lowdown on K-5 schools

Written by Pamela Wheaton Thursday, 06 February 2014 09:30

If you're looking for an elementary school for your child, you want to know: Do most parents and teachers recommend the school? Is it welcoming? How many students are in a kindergarten class? Is the atmosphere calm or rowdy? How do children do on standardized tests?

Now, just in time for the Feb.14 deadline to apply to kindergarten, we've got the answers to those questions for 735 public elementary schools, including charters. Our new feature, called Insidestats, presents easy-to-read data on elementary schools on each school's profile page. For example, you can see that at popular PS 321 in Park Slope, 97 percent of the teachers think the principal is a good manager.
 
Data is drawn from the Department of Education's parent and teacher surveys as well as the results of standardized tests and other DOE statistics. (We'll have stats for schools with grades K-8 posted soon!) The new feature is similar to Insidestats for high schools and middle schools, but for elementary schools, we include information about what parents think of the school.