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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Wednesday, 17 July 2013 16:36

HS workshops ease admissons angst

On July 16, the Education Department held the first in a series of summer high school workshops for rising 8th graders and their families. The DOE hosts these workshops every summer to help 8th graders and their families prepare for the complicated high school admissions process.

Hundreds of parents, guardians and students attended the 90-minute session at Prospect Heights Educational Campus; many left saying they felt better prepared for the high school search. The workshop "gives you a starting point to look at the madness and see what you need to be doing," said Khen P. Brady, the parent of an 8th grader.

The DOE's Maurice Frumkin led the presentation, walking students through the phone book-sized high school directory and highlighting a few key recommendations for choosing a high school.

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Thursday, 27 June 2013 12:13

PTA mom "retires" with advice for parents

by Michele Herman:

Michele Herman is a writer, editor and teacher living in the Village. She writes frequently about education and community issues for The Villager. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Downtown Express.


For the past 16 years, I have been an active New York City public school parent. Most of those years I’ve served on the executive board of one P.T.A. or another, and for the past three, I’ve been a parent rep on the School Leadership Team at Stuyvesant High School.

My learning curve was considerable: when my older son entered kindergarten at P.S. 3, my first job was folding the auditorium chairs. During my younger son’s last years at Stuyvesant, when the administration was edging toward a one-size-fits-all educational approach, I was fighting hard for things I believe all kids deserve from their school: humaneness, flexibility and breadth of offerings.

Along the way I learned library software, helped hire two principals, organized writing festivals, took a ream of minutes, sent out weekly email blasts, recruited officers, made speeches, and wrote a multi-page monthly newsletter, handbooks and a manifesto. I wasn’t even close to being one of the most involved parents. I bow down before all the good-humored, overtired presidents under whom I’ve served. I bow even deeper before the parents who are working to reform the whole system.

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Why do 40 percent of New York City high school students miss a month of school each year? The Center for Court Innovation went directly to the source and asked 17 high school students serving on its Youth Justice Board to research the issue. On Tuesday night at City Hall, students made ten recommendations to Chancellor Dennis Walcott on how to reduce chronic absenteeism. Suggestions ranged from taking a closer look at school security to providing peer mentors to students who are frequently absent.

The problem is huge: More than 20 percent of New York City students in grades kindergarten through 12 are chronically absent for a month out of each year --that's five percentage points higher than the national rate.

The Youth Justice Board brings “the voices of young people into issues that affect their lives,” said Steven, a rising senior at Benjamin Bennaker High School. The diverse group of teens represented all five boroughs. The students came up with their recommendations after a year of research that included meeting with student focus groups, teachers, parents, and policy makers. One issue they identified: metal detectors and security at the front door.

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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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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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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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Finals will begin in many New York City high schools next week, and I already have a vision of what "studying,'' will look like in my household.

Banish forever any image of notebooks, highlighters, textbooks, index cards and teenagers hunched over a desk.

Instead, picture headphones or ear buds and dozens of open windows – the digital kind – with sites ranging from Facebook to i-Chat, spark notes, Twitter, Hulu or even Netflix. One hand will undoubtedly hold a cell phone with multiple text messages coming in and out.

As a parent, you may be tempted to shout: "Turn it off! You have finals! Study!"

It's most likely a losing battle; in their minds, they are studying – and to some extent, they are. How much is being retained is subject to debate.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 10:57

Parents win victory in PCB removal

The Department of Education's announcement yesterday that it will accelerate the removal of light fixtures that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from more than 730 school buildings by December 2016 is an important victory for New York City school children and their families.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by parent and advocacy groups, the city agreed to halve the timeline for the PCB removal from flourescent lights.The clean-up was supposed to be done by 2021 but the city will expedite the process to be completed in the next 3.5 years.

The renegotiated timeline is a result of more than two years of litigation brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The advocacy groups sued the DOE in 2011 over its intentions to remove the PCB contaminated fixtures over a ten year period. In March, a federal judge ruled against the city's motion to dismiss the suit, admonishing the city for its "foot-dragging" and "spurious" arguments over the clean-up of school buildings. In a stinging decision, the judge said that he was troubled over the city's dismissive attitude to potential health risks faced by children in schools with PCB-contaminated light fixtures. The settlement will require the DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and the NYLPI and the court will continue to monitor the city's work until the last light fixture is removed. 

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A catalogue arrived the other day from Urban Outfitters, the ubiquitous clothing chain that dresses so many U.S. teenagers. Along with hipster uniforms of skinny jeans, chunky jewelry and platform sandals, I saw photographs of long-limbed girls wearing shorts so skimpy they might as well have been bathing suit bottoms.

With so little left to the imagination, I couldn't help asking the teenage boys who reside in my household if this was how girls dress at their New York City public high school.

"All the time,'' was their answer, and I should not have been surprised. Since middle school, I've repeatedly noticed girls coming to school wearing not much at all.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who has taken note. A lot of New York City public school officials aren't terribly happy about the scantily clad students whose desire to shed layers increases as the weather warms up.

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