Wednesday, 31 July 2013 10:32

Ask Judy: My school needs peer mediation

Dear Judy,

I'm a parent who'd like to introduce a Peer Mediation Program to my daughter's principal.  Can you provide information on any services that might provide training to staff members and students alike and are approved by the NYC DOE.  

PSP (Problem solving parent)

Dear PSP,

If your principal doesn't already know about peer mediation, it's a good job for you to introduce  it to him. But principals should know, peer mediation is among several recommended steps under the city's Discipline Code to solve programs without resorting to the most exteme punishments.

With peer mediation, kids work with each other to figure out why a specific problem occurred and how students can solve it. The program not only avoids violence, it develops leadership skills in the children who attend peer mediation training. There are programs which are apt for elementary, middle and high schools.

Like other great additions to a school, it won't  just spring into action.  If you really want peer mediation in your school,  you need to start preparing now. Contact not-for-profit organizations that do peer mediation training, find out what staff they use and how much your school may have to pay. Contact schools with successful programs, to find out what school staff is needed and how they keep the program going.

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Thursday, 25 July 2013 11:15

A+NYC presents roadmap for next mayor

The next mayor must ensure fair funding for underserved schools and reduce focus on standardized tests, according to A+ NYC, a coalition of education reform organizations. Yesterday A+ NYC released the PS 2013 Education Roadmap, a proposal for the next mayor's first 100 days in office. 

Rather than view students simply as test-takers, the next mayor needs to look at the "whole child," who needs to be mentally and physically healthy, and develop social skills, they said.

A+ NYC held a highly attended July 24 event at Brooklyn Borough Hall to promote its proposal. Natasha Capers from the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) spoke to hundreds of parents, highlighting the proposal's "whole child" philosophy. "Optimal learning cannot happen without healthy bodies and safe spaces...we know this from research," Capers said.

Capers cited cuts to the arts and after school programs and rising class sizes as damaging to students' education from the "whole child" perspective. She also noted that the number of police personnel in schools is 70 percent higher than the number of guidance counselors, a statistic she believes needs to change.

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As many of my friends predicted, the decision of where to send Noodle for kindergarten has largely been made for me: After all the drama of G&T and charter school lotteries, we are right back where we started —  at our zoned elementary school, PS X. Despite all the research, school tours and panel discussions, not much has changed except my blood pressure. But even though I know that PS X is a good school—some would say very good—I can’t fight the feeling that something better is out there.

For me this something better is PS Y— a smaller, newer school that is out of zone, but ironically, one block closer to my apartment. Despite its good reputation, PS X has me a bit worried. In this large school, I worry that my high needs son may get lost in the shuffle. PS Y is half the size, and prides itself on special ed. Because PS Y is so new, they don’t yet have a waitlist of in-zone students, and when I called on a whim after my application was rejected in April, I was surprised to hear from the plucky parent coordinator that Noodle might have a shot at getting in.

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013 04:07

Spread the word! Free summer meals

As a former food stamp recipient and a mom who uses great savvy to feed my three kids, I was encouraged and empowered at this week’s Hunger Crisis Forum to hear Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City say: “No one should feel shame just because they don’t have enough money [to adequately feed their family].” The Hunger Crisis Forum took place the same week that the annual Free Summer Meals Program [PDF] kicks off.

An all-female panel of CEO’s discussed rising food prices and the increasing number of parents struggling to feed their families. In fact, they said, many educated and middle class families find themselves using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time.

At least 80% of students in NYC public school qualify for free lunch. In response to the growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture is spending $400 million on the Summer Meals Program which starts in New York City on June 27. Yet only 16 percent of eligible children are expected to participate. Why? According to speakers at the forum, that "stigma" and "embarrassment" often keep people from taking advantage of the services.

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Monday, 17 June 2013 18:09

29 new dual language programs to open

The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.

Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO. 

Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish.  But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. PerryPS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well. 

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There were thousands of disappointed families when the city finally mailed offers to elementary Gifted and Talented programs on Friday. This year a record number of children - close to 5,500 -- qualified for the five more selective citywide programs, yet only about 300 offers were made, according to the Department of Education. That means there were slots in citywide schools available for only about five percent of eligible students.

Overall, the chances of snagging a seat in either a district or citywide G&T program were slim, especially in districts where there were high numbers of eligible students. Only 68.5 percent of eligible kindergartners got an offer. Since all G&T programs begin in kindergarten, the odds of getting a seat decrease each succeeding year. For 1st grade, 51 percent of applicants received an offer; in 2nd grade, 34 percent got an offer and in 3rd grade, only 29 percent. In total, just 54 percent of applicants in those grades were offered a seat, a significant decrease from the 72 percent offered a seat in 2012. After 3rd grade, placement in G&T programs is based on standardized state test scores.

Parents must accept their offers and register by June 28 (two days after the last day of school) or forfeit their seat.

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Dear Judy,

We plan to move to NYC from South America this summer. Can we still register our 5-year-old in kindergarten?

DT

Dear DT,

Yes, of course. New York City has a kindergarten place for every child who applies, as long as you can present proof of residence in NYC and of your child's age.  Most districts have zoned elementary schools. You may register at your zoned school once school opens in September. If you already know your address, call 311, or from outside New York, 212-new york to find your zoned school. You may also enter your address in the search box on the Department of Education's website  to find the zoned school for that address. There may be other school options but you are guaranteed a place in your zoned school or one that is nearby, in case the neighborhood school is overcrowded.

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013 15:52

Advocates say "no" to de-zoning D5 and D6

At a public forum Tuesday night in Washington Heights, Community Education Council 5 President Sonia Jones said her council plans to vote "no" on a resolution to de-zone when it meets on June 13th.

Jones said CEC 5 is submitting an anti-de-zoning resolution to clearly state its position on record: “Teachers, parents and principals are standing with CEC 5 against de-zoning,” Jones said while sitting on a panel at the Public Forum on Elementary School De-zoning, hosted by Councilperson Robert Jackson, head of the City Council's education committee.

Jones acknowledged that the idea of “choice” sounds appealing, but, she said, “you don’t get to choose what school your child really goes to, because there is someone in the office who decides where your child goes.” Jones advised District 6's Community Education Council, which is also considering a de-zoning proposal, to “slow down.”

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Friday, 07 June 2013 15:55

No pre-k seats for 30% of applicants

Almost one-third of the families whose four-year-olds applied for pre-kindergarten did not win a spot in any public school program, according to the Education Department, which sent offer letters to families this week. 

This spring, 30,118 kids applied for 23,405 full and half-day seats in public schools and 29.4 percent of them did not get an offer. That percentage is slightly lower than last year, when 30.3% did not get pre-k offers for school-based programs. 

The DOE is offering about 1,500 more school-based, full-day seats for the 2013-2014 school year than it did last fall, and the city plans to continue to grow the number of pre-k seats by a total of 4,000 in the next few years, the DOE spokesperson said. But even those additional seats would not satisfy this year's demand. Furthermore, the number of families seeking public school pre-k seats is trending up: from 28,815 in 2011 and 29,072 in 2012 to more than 30,000 this year.

If your child is one of the nearly 7,000 kids who did not get a pre-k offer, you still have some options. About 1,500 full-day pre-k seats remain unfilled at public schools, according to the DOE. Nearly all of the half-day morning seats are filled but 600 seats remain unfilled in afternoon pre-k programs. A list of schools with open seats is available on the DOE website [PDF]. And thousands of seats are still available through programs in Community Based Organizations (CBOs), according to a DOE spokesperson, who said that more than 60% of the city's pre-k seats are provided by CBOs.

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Tuesday, 11 June 2013 10:00

Middle school rankings rankle parents

Many New York City families who send their children to neighborhood elementary schools are in for a rude awakening when their child reaches 5th grade and they learn that choosing a middle school is not so straightforward. Applying to middle school can be just as nerve-wracking and time consuming as applying to college.

“Kind of feels like you’re going to see Oz behind the curtain,” said a Cobble Hill dad in District 15, whose 5th grader didn't get accepted by any of the schools he applied to. “Who is making these decisions? The DOE? The middle schools?”

The answer? It depends on where you live.

Unlike high school admissions – a mostly uniform, citywide process – the middle school process is decentralized and different rules apply in different districts.

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