I hate doing my kid's homework, a mom's blog

Q&A with superintendent candidate Cindy Wilson

September 17, 2018

In my efforts to become a more informed voter, I chose to study the two candidates running for State Superintendent of Education; Sherri Ybarra and Cindy Wilson. After reading about them online, I became curious about a few things and wrote down several questions I wanted to ask them both. I am not one to waste time, so I contacted the two candidates.

I have not had any success in speaking with the Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra (I have left messages with two secretaries, left voicemails and sent emails). If she gets a chance to respond to me, I will blog about it.

I was able to speak with Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson (I booked an appointment via her website). She met with me and answered all of my questions. Here are my questions with the simplified version of her responses.

  • Why are you the best choice for parents?

Because I listen

  • How do you plan to improve education for ALL kids in Idaho?

Offer full-day kindergarten for all students in Idaho

Create a (non-mandatory) community partnership to offer pre-K services

  • How do you propose to improve Idaho’s reading score?

Preschool

  • What do you do to include a parent’s perspective in your decision making?

Regularly meet and talk with parents

  • How do you plan to inform parents about the success and failures in their schools?

Create a monthly newsletter accessible to all parents

Overall, the meeting was very informative. I felt like Cindy listened to me and to my questions. She took the time to explain her ideas and excitement for the future of Idaho. She told me about her 20+ years of experience in education, along with many meaningful connections she made with her students. She is passionate about improving education, and has several ideas of how to make education better throughout the state.

If you met with the two candidates, what questions would you ask?

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Do you ever do your kid’s homework?

September 12, 2018

Recently, I received an email from a very concerned high school teacher. She noticed the tagline of my blog, and asked me, “Do you really do your kids homework?”

No.

I try to encourage my kids to do as much of their homework on their own, as possible. If they get stuck or confused, I readily offer support. When they need help studying for a big test, I will ask them questions from their study guide. If they need to write a paper, I will edit their drafts. I help, I assist and I correct, but I do not do my kids’ homework.

As soon as she realized that I didn’t make a habit of completing my children’s assignments for them, she told me a very funny story.

I have had the experience of hearing parents brag in public about doing their kid’s homework, right in front of me, even though they know I am a teacher. In fact, I was attending a gathering at a business with about 50 people in attendance and the business owner related to the group how her son had been very upset about a low grade in English so she did his paper for him.  Then, referring to the teacher after the paper was returned, she said that the “b…… gave me a B on the paper!”

Be honest, do you ever do your kid’s homework? How much should parents help their kids with their homework?

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How can the state best help parents?

September 9, 2018

Sometimes I get caught up in the day to day parenting, and forget to look at the bigger picture.

On school days, I get up early to make breakfast, encourage my kids to eat, pack a healthy lunch and send them out the door (hopefully) on time. When they get home from school, we go over their homework, talk about their day, run to and from sports practices, eat dinner and try to get everyone to bed at a reasonable time. It’s busy, and sometimes, overwhelming.

Planning for my children’s future is not something we discuss on a daily basis. Not because it is not important, but because we’re busy and we don’t have the answers. I don’t know what my kids want to do after high school, where they want to go or what options they will have. There is a daunting amount of decisions that need to be made and factors to consider before my kids can make a smooth transition into higher education.

  • How do we pick the right school?
  • How  do we finance a post-secondary education?
  • Does everyone need more education after high school?
  • Do dual credit classes/concurrent credit classes really make a difference?
  • How and when do we apply for college?
  • How do we teach our kids the importance of education right now?

State education leaders recognize parents and students need help solving these questions. In 2012, Gov. Butch Otter commissioned an Educational Task Force to study and collaborate ways to improve education in Idaho. Now that the data has been collected and studied, the Educational Task Force is looking to implement a program called Guided Pathways.

The Guided Pathways program has multiple goals, with one aimed towards educating parents. The president of the State Board of Education Dr. Linda Clark wrote an article explaining a 12-week “college for parents” program in Arizona. This program would help parents plan for their child’s current- and long-term educational goals.

Debbie Critchfield, the vice president of the State Board of Education, summarized the priorities of Idaho’s program;

  1. Parent Academy
  2. Communication/Outreach to parents and students, increased parent and student engagement
  3. Transition Coordinators or Near Peers statewide (in all high schools), consistent first year postsecondary experience
  4. Parental Portal – resource for college and career advising and career exploration
  5. Common Transcripts (HS/Dual Credit)
  6. School counselor roles/duties defined (eliminate non-school counselor duties from current tasks)
  7. Simplify Advanced Opportunities administration
  8. BEST, AVID, etc. (Student Type) programs funded/provided statewide
  9. Create a uniform K-12 career exploration class
  10. Liaison/better customer service/reduce confusion (between K-12 and postsecondary)
  11. Uniform technology (including postsecondary titles for advisors, single identified point of contact, consistent use of defined transition coordinator model)
  12. Senior Projects (expand to include more career exploration/internships) – require to be more meaningful
  13. New standards of Life Skills added to existing content standards
  14. College and Career Advising Centers around the state with trained staff in college and career advising
  15. 8th grade advising overhaul (start earlier)
  16. System-like approach to school district and charter school college and career advising plans (develop best practices)

It all sounds fantastic.

But will it really happen? What will it cost? Will it be helpful to parents and children? How will they make parents aware of these taxpayer-funded programs? 

What do you think of these ideas? Which ones stand out as important or unimportant to you?

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Which school is best for your child?

September 4, 2018

What do you do when you feel like your child is not getting the education she needs?

My friend posed this question to me last week. She wasn’t asking me because she thought I had the answer. She was asking me, because she didn’t know how to find the answer.

I couldn’t tell her which school would be the best fit for her child, just like I couldn’t tell you which school would be best for your child, neither can the principal, the neighbor or Superintendent Sherri Ybarra. Your child is unique and the education your child needs is unique.

As a parent, I am the one who understands the intricacies of my child’s emotions, frustrations, hopes, dreams and preferences. I see her future potential and opportunities for growth. I do not fear that I am not involved enough in my child’s education. My fear is that I might be limiting my child’s educational growth and experiences by the school I choose to send her.

Until last year, I did not know how to compare schools around me. I didn’t know that I could pick a school based on my daughter’s educational strengths or goals. I assumed that my address was the sole determining factor in what kind of education my child would receive. I didn’t know that I could choose a school based on ISAT scores, teacher-to-student ratios, or college go-on rates. But I can, you can, and anyone can. Public schools, charter schools, alternative schools, schools of choice, online schools and even un-schooling, are all educational options here in Idaho. Find the one that works for your family.

If you want to know where to find information, I can help. You can compare the strengths and weaknesses of any schools in Idaho by looking on Idaho Ed Trends. You can see the amount of money spent per student, overall ISAT and SAT scores, and graduation rates, among other statistics. Maybe you will discover that your local school is one of the top performing schools in Idaho, or maybe you’ll learn that it is one of the 29 lowest performing schools.

You have a choice in what kind of education your child receives.

What school is best for your child?

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Breakfast is the most important meal for our kids

September 3, 2018

As parents, we hear this all of the time. There are numerous articles and studies that tell us the benefits of feeding our children breakfast before school. Some positive side effects include:

  • better listening and comprehension skills,
  • less fatigue and more energy,
  • better overall health and weight,
  • reduced behavioral problems,
  • and higher school attendance.

Feeding our children breakfast before school is very important.

Fortunately for me, I have always loved breakfast. I wake up hungry in the morning and look forward to making a beautiful breakfast (eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, whole wheat pancakes with berries). My husband, on the other hand, does not wake up hungry. He wakes up slightly “nauseous” and doesn’t eat anything until mid morning. Our kids are pretty evenly split between us. Some wake up ravenously hungry, while others are disgusted at the sight of food before 10 a.m.

During the summertime when there’s no school, I don’t mind the different preferences. Those who are hungry, wake up and eat, while the kids who aren’t, don’t. It makes for a confusing lunch time, but summer schedules tend to be wacky anyway.

Now summer is over and my kids have to get up and leave between 7:15 and 9 a.m. They no longer have the luxury of eating whenever they get hungry in the morning. If they skip breakfast, I worry that they’ll be distracted by their hunger before lunch time and struggle to pay attention in class.

I have tried to solve this problem, but it’s still a challenge. I regularly vary what I make (eggs, pancakes, bacon, crepes, toast). I ask them the night before what they want for breakfast, I offer meals-to-go for the older kids (eggs, ham and English muffin sandwich) and I look for new recipes. I try to have cheese sticks and granola balls available if they want to take some food to go. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not.

What do you make for your kids for breakfast?

  • Here are a few healthy tips from a nutritionist.
  • Feel free to message or email me if you want any recipes: [email protected]

 

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What questions do you ask your kids?

August 26, 2018

One of the reasons I enjoy the summer, is the amount of quality time I get to spend with my kids. We run errands together, we cook together, we clean together, we travel and we talk. We spend a lot of time together. In fact, by the end of summer, we are all ready for school to start.

They went back to school this week. I am happy they are back, and so are they (well, mostly).

When they get home, I am eager to hear about their day. After spending all summer together, being apart for 8-10 hours, seems really long. When they stroll through the door I ask, “how was your day?”

My older kids play school sports, so they are usually too worn out to talk. My younger kids are also exhausted from the day (and the heat), so they aren’t very interested in talking either.

I don’t mind their need for quiet and space after a long day, but I genuinely do want to talk. I ask my kids to tell me their highs and lows at dinner, but recently I found a better list of questions to ask (see below).

If you struggle getting your kids to talk about their day, maybe some of these questions will open the door. I showed my middle schooler this list last night, and he was happy to answer several questions.

  1. What made you smile today?
  2. Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  3. Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
  4. Does everyone have a friend at recess?
  5. What was the book about that your teacher read?
  6. What’s the word of the week?
  7. Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh?
  8. Did anyone cry?
  9. What did you do that was creative?
  10. What is the most popular game at recess?
  11. What was the best thing that happened today?
  12. Did you help anyone today?
  13. Did you tell anyone “thank you?”
  14. Who did you sit with at lunch?
  15. What made you laugh?
  16. Did you learn something you didn’t understand?
  17. Who inspired you today?
  18. What was the peak and the pit?
  19. What was your least favorite part of the day?
  20. Was anyone in your class gone today?
  21. Did you ever feel unsafe?
  22. What is something you heard that surprised you?
  23. What is something you saw that made you think?
  24. Who did you play with today?
  25. Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  26. What is something that challenged you?
  27. How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill?
  28. Did you like your lunch?
  29. Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
  30. Did anyone get in trouble today?
  31. How were you brave today?
  32. What questions did you ask at school today?
  33. Tell us your top two things from the day (before you can be excused from the dinner table!).
  34. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  35. What are you reading?
  36. What was the hardest rule to follow today?
  37. Teach me something I don’t know.
  38. If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  39. (For older kids):  Do you feel prepared for your history test?” or, “Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about?” (In my opinion, the key is not only the way a question is phrased, but responding in a supportive way.)
  40. Who did you share your snacks with at lunch?
  41. What made your teacher smile? What made her frown?
  42. What kind of person were you today?
  43. What made you feel happy?
  44. What made you feel proud?
  45. What made you feel loved?
  46. Did you learn any new words today?
  47. What do you hope to do before school is out for the year?
  48. If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
  49. What is your least favorite part of the school building? And favorite?
  50. If you switched places with your teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?

What questions do you ask your kids?

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What is a college education worth?

August 20, 2018

Last week was bittersweet for me. I helped my son move into his dorm at Washington State University. He wanted to go, and I was ready for him to go, but it was still hard.

Washington State was not the college he had dreamed of attending, nor was it the price that he hoped to pay. For years, he dreamed of going out-of-state to college. He wanted to experience education and life outside of Idaho, and he wanted to experience it at the University of Oregon. He knew that it was difficult to get in, so he worked hard to get good grades and took the SAT several times. During the summers, he worked full time, all in the hopes of moving to Oregon and becoming a Duck.

In the fall of his senior year, he eagerly filled out his application to Oregon. He knew he needed backup options, so he applied to a few other schools that offered reduced tuition to out-of-state residents, through the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program. When his email of acceptance at Oregon finally came, he was elated…until he calculated the cost of tuition and housing.

Oregon is not one of the schools in the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program. They offer need based scholarships, and academic scholarships, but he didn’t qualify for either. The cost of attending college out-of-state would have meant incurring nearly $100,000 of debt, just to get an undergraduate degree. The price tag of becoming a Duck was too high, so he began calculating the costs of other colleges.

He was accepted into several other schools, but immediately ruled out the most expensive ones that didn’t offer scholarships or reduced tuition. We helped him make a detailed list of the pros and cons and costs of all the colleges, and Washington became the best choice for him.

Now that he has visited the campus several times and spent his summer working long hours, he is happy to be attending WSU and paying less than he would have at Oregon. Even with the WUE scholarship, college is still expensive. He will have to use all of his savings to cover the cost of his first year. Then, he will still have to work part time during school and full time during the summer, if he hopes to avoid getting a loan.

My son is not the only high school graduate grappling with the high cost of college education. Even students who chose to go to college in Idaho, have to pay increasingly higher costs.

Education is important, but would you encourage your kids to go to college, if it meant they’d have to incur debt?

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I have a love/hate relationship with the end of summer

August 12, 2018

I love sleeping in, not worrying about homework, and staying up too late with my kids (it doesn’t even get dark until 10 p.m.). At the same time, I hate the lack of education, the wasted mornings sleeping in (see, love/hate) and the purchasing of school supplies. No matter how I feel about it, the summer is ending and the new school year is about to begin… and I need to buy school supplies.

This year, instead of printing off the school supply lists and marching off to the the store, I decided to ask a few questions first. I called the high school, the middle school and the elementary school and asked them-

  1. Who creates the list of school supplies for each class?
  2. Are there any additional class fees (for electives, honors classes, etc.)?
  3. What should a parent do, if they can’t afford to buy supplies?

When I asked the school how the teachers determined what supplies their students needed for the school year, I was surprised to learn that the teachers do not write the classroom supply list. The list was created by the district. Sometimes an individual teacher will make a special request of his/her students, but the supply list is determined at a district level.

Who creates your child’s school supply list?

In response to my question about additional class fees, I was informed that due to a lawsuit filed against the West Ada School District, class fees are no longer charged (within the district).

Do your schools charge additional class fees?

I asked what the school does for students who can’t afford to purchase school supplies. The secretary told me it was not mandatory for a student to bring supplies, but requested. If a student didn’t bring supplies, the teacher would still need those supplies.

If a student needs assistance, they should talk to the school counselor. Many schools have supplies to give to those in need (thanks to the Assistance League of Boise and the Operation School Supplies). Some schools even have supplies to give to students throughout the year.

If your schools do not have supplies to give to students in need, you can request assistance from local churches, Fill the Bus (for students in Nampa),  Back 2 School Giveaway (for students in South East Idaho) and the Boise Salvation Army.

Does your town offer school supplies for students in need? Do you have other ideas to share? 

Enjoy the final days of summer and good luck shopping for school supplies. Maybe I’ll see you at the store (but not early in the morning, I’ll be sleeping in).

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This teacher violated a parent’s trust

August 7, 2018

When I send my children off to school I expect two things; they will have ample opportunity to learn and they will be safe.

I do my best to oversee these expectations are met. I pay my taxes, I vote in local elections, I meet with teachers, I help with homework, and I volunteer in the classroom. I can’t always be present to keep an eye on the safety and education of my children, so I entrust that responsibility to the teachers and administrators.

I trust that the teachers will focus on teaching and not be abusive or overstep their bounds. I trust that they won’t have sexual relations with my children, or any of their students.

This morning, I read an article about a the high school teacher in Twin Falls who abused that trust.  He admitted to having sex with one of his 17-year-old students. He was not charged with rape, because the actions were consensual.

This is not OK.

This teacher violated the trust that is implicit in his profession. It does not matter if the relationship was consensual. It is not OK for a teacher to have an intimate relationship with a student. It is not OK for a teacher to invite a student into his or her home. It is not OK for a teacher to violate the trust that every parent gives, when they send their children to school.

How do we, as parents, safeguard our children from abuse at school?

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Are your kids getting bored?

July 18, 2018

Summer started out busy for our family. We bought a new house and moved a few days before school got out (ya, not great timing, but what can you do?). We unpacked and took our kids on a family vacation the next week. When we returned, we spent time organizing the house and teaching the kids how to do the yard work. My older kids got jobs and started training for their fall sports.

As the summer has gotten hotter, we have taken the kids camping, to the splash pad at the public park, and to the Boise River. When we want to stay inside, we color, paint, read books and play board games. I take my kids grocery shopping and teach them how to make healthy snacks (like smoothies and granola balls) and wholesome dinners (to balance out all of the less-than-healthy summer foods we have been eating). In the evenings we watch movies, play Xbox, or just hang out outside.

It sounds busy, right?

Not for my 6-year-old daughter. Just the other day she got up and quickly did her chores, all before 10 a.m. (shocking). She was so proud of getting all her work done, but didn’t know what to do with the rest her day. She came up to me, with tears in her eyes and said, “I finished all of my jobs for today. What should I do now?” I looked down at her and said, “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” She burst into tears as she said, “I don’t know, I’m just so booooored!”

Welcome to summer boredom.

Are your kids getting bored? Are you counting down the days until school starts? How are you keeping your kids busy?

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Ideas for balancing fun and education this summer

July 6, 2018

I love the summer time. I love the lazy mornings and the relaxed evenings. I love not worrying about homework or practice. I love taking my kids on road trips and taking them to play in the water. I love playing family board games and going on hikes. It’s all my favorite.

My kids love summer just as much as I do. They love sleeping in, going camping and visiting with their cousins. They love staying up late watching movies, playing xBox and Fortnite. So. Much. Fortnite.

While I am sure that someone out there can make an argument that Fortnite is educational, I’m not sure their teachers this fall, will agree.

The big question is, “how do I balance summer fun and education?” How do I encourage my kids to read, while also allowing them downtime to better their fortnite skills? Unstructured free time and education are both important.

Here are a few of my favorite summer activities that encourage education:

  1. Take a weekly trip to the library. The U.S. Department of Education states that reading daily can help kids avoid the “summer slide.” Most local libraries have summer reading programs that offer incentives and prizes.
  2. Put the kids in charge of the dinner meals for a week. All of it. Have the kids make the grocery list, go to the store, make the meal and set the table. There is always a lot of groaning and complaining, but in the end, they are very proud of their meal.
  3. Read to your kids, even the older ones.
    1. Read them one of your favorite books. My husband spent one summer reading the kids “The Princess Bride.”
    2. If you travel or go on a road trip, read them information about your destination. It’s a great way to pass the time, and it will make the trip more meaningful.
    3. Watch a movie based on a true story — then research and read about the true story. Suggestions; Adrift, Patch Adams, Remember the Titans, A Beautiful Mind, or check out this list.   

What are you favorite summer activities? How do you balance fun and education during the summer?

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What were the best and worst moments of the school year?

June 25, 2018

The last few weeks of school were very busy. My younger children had a lot of class programs and parties, and my older children had finals and exams. It was exhausting for all of us, but we finished the school year.

Now that we made it to summer break, I decided to ask my kids to evaluate the year. I wanted to know what they thought of their teachers and school in general. I wanted to know if they were glad to be done, or if they were sad to say goodbye to their teachers.

I waited until my family was on a road trip to ask them these questions (no one can avoid the conversation when stuck in a car together). I started by asking them, “Who was your favorite teacher, and why?” My high school son was quick to respond. He told me that his favorite teacher was the one who offered him extra credit at the end of the year. My middle school daughter told me that her favorite teachers were the ones who clearly loved teaching. My elementary children both loved their teachers and thought that they were amazing.

Next, I asked them what they had learned this year. I asked them about their favorite subjects (history, communications and “all of them”) and the subjects that were challenging (biology, writing and math). We talked about how last year compared to this year. We talked about the teachers who made school fun and the teachers who didn’t. We talked about the highlights and the difficult moments. We finished the conversation by discussing next year. One of my children will be moving up to high school, so we talked about the changes that she is looking forward to/worried about.

The conversations were interesting and enlightening. I learned more about my children, their teachers, their schools, their struggles and their favorites.

Have you asked your children to evaluate their school year? What were their best and worst moments? Who were their favorite teachers and why? Are they looking forward to next year?

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Thank you, middle school ‘careers class’ teachers

June 15, 2018

The teacher for the middle school “careers class” teaches her students more than just how to research careers. She teaches her students how to write a resume and the importance of obtaining letters of recommendation. She teaches them about job interviews and firm hand shakes. She helps her students understand the value of higher education and how to research colleges.

One of the final class assignments was for her students to pass two job interviews. The parents of the students were asked if they would be willing to come to the school and help interview the students. I gladly volunteered.

When I showed up, I was given a packet of information with a folder for each student. If the student had done their assignment correctly, their folder contained a resume,  two letters of recommendation and an evaluation sheet. I was asked to interview three students and then determine if I wanted to hire them on the spot, schedule a second interview, or turn them down for the job. The interviews took less than five minutes.

Each student I interviewed was very nervous. It was challenging for them to make eye contact or to give a firm handshake. They had applied for jobs that they had chosen (zoo employee, basketball coach, etc.). I tried to be kind and ask the questions with a smile. Some of the students were definitely more prepared than others and I was glad to help these students with their first job interview.

I love that this class is offered at the middle school but I wish that it was a required class. All students need to learn this information.

Because my daughter took this class, she learned how to write a resume, ask for letters of recommendation and successfully interview for a job. This class helped her to understand the importance of higher education. It helped her to see the link between the cost of college and starting salaries. When her brother began applying to colleges, she told him about the importance of researching colleges. She wanted to make sure that the college he chose had the right programs for his future career.

It has been fun and interesting to watch her grasp a better understanding of the economy and her roll in it. Thank you, middle school careers teacher!

If your school doesn’t offer this class, you might consider teaching your children how to apply for a job. Recruit some friends to interview your kids. Maybe they’ll get a job to keep them busy this summer. 😁

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Should educators influence student elections?

June 13, 2018

How much influence should educators have in student elections? They need to be part of the process, but shouldn’t the students ultimately decide who wins?

My son ran for office last year, and successfully secured a position as his class vice president. Because of his position, he was able to be a part of student council, plan school activities, help fundraise, encourage positivity at the school, and volunteer around the community. He sacrificed time, after school and on the weekends, to be a part of student council. He learned leadership and responsibility. He enjoyed the experience and decided to run for office again.

He had to go through the same strict requirements as last year, to determine if he was eligible to run for student council:

  • Be in good standing with the school administration.
  • Have at least a 3.0 GPA, with no failing grades the semester before.
  • Be enrolled in 6 credits per semester.
  • Be able to take the Student Leadership Class the following year.
  • Understand and agree to devote a significant amount of time outside of the class (weekends, lunch time and over the summer).

Once he met all of the above requirements, he filled out the application packet (requiring 50 student signatures, along with teacher and administration recommendations), campaigned for the position (with approved posters and flyers), and then waited for the students to vote.

This year he lost. My son was upset, not because he lost, but because the teachers and administrators had the ability to influence the outcome. The high school counts the student votes, but it also talleys the recommendations from the administrators.The recommendations are worth up to a total of 250 points. If the student class has roughly 400 students voting, then 250 possible recommendation points can impact the elections.

I can’t understand why the teachers or administrators would need to have any sway in the outcome of the student elections. The educators thoroughly vet the applicants prior to the election. If a student is not fit for the position on student council, then the educators can eliminate that student prior to the election.

Just to make sure I understood this process correctly, I emailed the principal and the student council teacher.

She informed of the incredible responsibilities of the elected officials and their need for teacher and administrator recommendations. I asked her if the recommendation points ever affected the election. She told me that only “in rare occasions do the teacher recommendations have any influence on the results of the candidate process.” I couldn’t verify the vote count and the recommendation numbers, due to student privacy. She also said, “teacher recommendation scores have been part of the Student Council application process since its inception at Eagle High School.”

It’s good that the students have to go through this rigorous process before they can be elected to student council. It is a big responsibility and it requires dedicated students. I question the need for recommendation “scores” that are used as part of finalizing the outcome of the elections. I question the ‘this is how we have always done it’ argument. Maybe it’s time to change.

How does your school elect its student council members?

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What does graduation mean to you?

June 7, 2018

My family ended this school year with several graduations.

One kid graduated from kindergarten, one from middle school and one from high school. Each graduation meant something different to me, and to each of my graduating kids.

My little kindergartner’s graduation was an adorable ceremony to congratulate the kids on their first year of formal education. My daughter did not attend preschool, so this was her first school experience. This year she learned how to read and write, how to listen to directions and how to explain her feelings. She learned to wait her turn at the playground and to wait several weeks for the chicks in her classroom, to hatch. She learned to color, cut and paste. Her graduation was a celebration of a successful beginning. It was an invitation to continue learning, making friends and observing the world around her.

For my middle schooler, graduating eighth grade meant something different. It signified the ending of her elementary education and the beginning of her high school education. In middle school, my daughter learned how to work a combination lock and locker.  She learned how to use the internet to research topics, submit assignments and check her grades. She learned how to type effectively, how to create a resume and how to write a research paper. She learned what it meant to represent her school by competing in school sports. She learned to ask for help and to study on her own. While she didn’t get an elaborate graduation ceremony, she did get to celebrate with her fellow classmates on the last day of middle school.

The graduation ceremony for my high school senior was unlike the others. It was momentous. Completion of high school is a large milestone in a student’s education. Based on these numbers, the average student in Idaho goes to school for about 170 days a year. Counting a year of kindergarten, 12 years of schooling equals roughly 2,200 days. That is a lot of school. When any student receives their high school diploma, we should all celebrate. The end of high school (usually) means the end of free education, free laundry and free food. It is the end of living at home and sleeping in all summer. The end of high school signifies the beginning of adulthood. It is the beginning of true independence. It is the beginning of finding a career, finding a place to live and for some, finding additional education to pursue. For my son, it also means working full-time in the summer and moving away for school in the fall.

With each of these graduations I was both happy and emotional.

I have been happy watching my kids grow and learn. I have loved looking at their artwork and their amazing class projects. I have loved listening to them at school concerts and cheering for them at athletic events. I love celebrating their educational milestones.

I was emotional at the graduations because I knew how much effort went into each one of those 2,200 days of school. Some of those days carried over into late nights, finishing projects or assignments. Some of those days involved multiple trips back and forth to the school for doctor appointments, dentist appointments, orthodontic appoints. I spent multiple hours meeting with teachers, principals and counselors, all to ensure that my kids could get the best education possible. Graduation means a lot to me and to my kids.

Do you have a graduate in the family? What does graduation mean to you?

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How do you stay focused through the end of the year?

May 23, 2018

The school year is almost over and the last few weeks always seem to be like a crazy whirlwind. Everyday I feel like I have a concert, or awards assembly, or class party to attend.

My kids are feeling the squeeze, also. They are either stressed about finals, or restless for school to be done (except for my kindergartner, who loves school).

I want to help my kids stay focused through the end of the school year. I want to make sure they get enough sleep and eat healthy meals. But I’ll be honest, I am about done, too. I want to stay up late with my kids. I want to sleep in and make breakfast as a family. I want to spend more time outside, enjoying the great weather.

What are your secrets to staying focused through the end of the year?

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Do you talk with your kids about suicide and depression?

May 22, 2018

My husband and I were talking about the school shooting in Texas when one of my high school kids came into the room. We continued to discuss the tragedy and the public response, while my son just sat and listened. He didn’t say anything, he just waited. We didn’t really know what he was waiting for, so my husband asked him if he had something he needed to talk about.

“One of my friends committed suicide tonight.”

A sudden jolt of pain and sadness rushed through my body. I didn’t have a ready response. I didn’t know the right thing to say or do, so I just asked my son how he felt. We talked with him about their friendship. We asked if he was OK and we sat for awhile, in quiet sorrow. He told us about their friendship and all of the time they had spent together. We asked him a few more questions and then thanked him for telling us. We thanked him for coming to talk to us. We told him that we loved him and gave him a hug as he headed off to bed.

Depression and suicide are really difficult issues to discuss. I know that I am not qualified to give advice, but unfortunately, I do have some experience. When my oldest was 17, he became severely depressed. His depression lead to an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. I could tell that he was struggling and in pain, but I didn’t know how to help. I constantly told him of my love for him, but that didn’t change anything. My son finally sunk so low, that he began to consider suicide. Thankfully, he reached out for help. Thankfully, we were able to talk with some counselors. Slowly, my son began having very open and honest conversations. He told me about his deepest fears and pain and I began to understand the helplessness of  depression. I began to see how suicide can seem like the only option.

Because of this experience, I learned how to have more meaningful conversations with my kids. I learned that I needed to talk with more love and less judgment. I learned to tell my kids that their value and worth is not tied to how they look, what grades they get, or how well they perform in sports. I learned to tell my kids that I love them because they are my children, not because of any good, or bad, that they do. I learned to tell them that no failure, is too big to overcome… and there will always be failure.

Do you talk with your kids about suicide and depression?

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Explore and compare data on Idaho schools

May 17, 2018

I love the spring. I love to see the trees leafing out, the grass turning green and the flowers in full color. I also love to see “for sale” signs. My family has been looking for a new house for over a year, so we are excited at the prospect of finding the right house this spring.

As we explored different homes and different neighborhoods, we also considered moving our kids to different schools. Our family moved last year, and all of our kids changed schools. This time around, we do not want our older kids to have to start over at a new school.

Our elementary kids have also enjoyed their new school this year. The teachers and administrators have done an outstanding job. Because we are moving again, I have decided to look at another elementary school, that might be closer to our new home. I am not looking into other schools because my kids are struggling, or because I am disappointed with their education.

Currently, my elementary children attend a school that focuses on the arts, with an emphasis on music and performance. The school I am considering, would be more convenient because of proximity. That is all I know.

Fortunately, I know about a special feature of Idaho Education News, called Ed Trends.  It is a online tool, specifically devoted to exploring and comparing schools. I typed in the names of the two schools that I am considering, and was easily able to see the differences. I learned that one school has 444 students and a 21-to-1, student-to-teacher ratio, while the other school has 408 students with a 16-to-1, student-to-teacher ratio. Both schools have the same per-pupil expenditure and the same amount of funding.

Another important factor that helped me differentiate the schools was test scores — Idaho Reading Indicator and ISAT. The scores from the last three years were listed side by side. By looking at the past three years of scores, I could determine if the schools were getting progressively better, or worse. If I wanted to compare high schools or middle schools, Ed Trends also has the SAT scores and go-on rates.

Now that I have this information, I can make an informed decision about what school I want my children to attend. If I want them to have more individual interaction with their teachers, then the teacher-to-student ratio would be most important. If I want my child to excel in math or English, then I will chose the school with the higher scores. The best part is, I can see the data and choose for myself. I don’t need to canvas the neighborhood asking strangers if they like the nearby school. I don’t need to spend countless hours meeting with teachers and administrators to know how their students perform.

The only difficult decision I have left is deciding how many moving boxes I’m going to need.

Is your family moving? Do you know the data for your local schools? Check it out on Idaho Education News’ Ed Trends.

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Susan B. Anthony would be proud

May 15, 2018

Last night, I asked my girls if they’d ever heard of Susan B. Anthony.

My 13-year-old wasn’t sure, but my 9-year-old jumped up and down and said, “I just learned about her in school! She helped women get the right to vote!”

I was really proud of my daughter for listening and learning at school, and for the teacher who understood the importance of teaching her class about women’s right to vote.

If you didn’t get the chance to learn about Susan B. Anthony in my daughter’s fourth-grade class, let me give you a brief synopsis of her life (thanks to Wikipedia).

Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820. She was an advocate for equality, women’s rights and an end to slavery. When she was just 17, she collected anti-slavery petitions. By the age of 32, she and a fellow female activist founded several groups forwarding the cause of equality. When she was 52, she was arrested for illegally voting in the presidential election, and fined $100 (of which she never paid). At the time of her death, age 86, she had help women achieve the right to vote in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho. Because of her actions and work with congress, in 1920 the government agreed to amend the Constitution (19th Amendment), to allow all United States citizens, regardless of their sex, the right to vote.   

Do the women of this nation realize how much power and authority Susan B. Anthony gave us, by allowing women the right to vote?

We shall someday be heeded, and when we shall have our amendment to the Constitution of the United States, everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people think that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.

Susan B. Anthony, 1894

It has been nearly 100 years since Susan B. Anthony gave women the right to vote. I wanted my daughter to know that voting was important to me. I wanted her to see the process and appreciate the power that each individual has to determine the leaders of our community, state and country.

It was also incredibly convenient that my voting place happened to be at her middle school — so I called her out of class to help me vote. I explained the process to her, the purpose of the primary elections and even had her fill in some of the bubbles for me. She entered my vote into the computer, and walked back to her class with an “I voted” sticker.

I think Susan B. Anthony would be proud.

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What is your school’s dress code?

May 7, 2018

Last spring, my daughter broke her arm (attempting a cartwheel on a trampoline). She had to wear a full-arm cast for nearly two hot and sweaty months.

With her elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, she struggled to put on regular T-shirts. Of course,  it was much easier for her to put on a sleeveless shirt. So, like a good mother, I immediately went out and bought her a few sleeveless shirts. I didn’t even consider checking the school dress code.

I realized my mistake the following day, when my daughter came home from school upset and embarrassed. Halfway through the day, one of her (male) teachers told her she was violating the school dress code, and sent her to the office. She was given a warning and told to make sure that her clothing would be appropriate in the future.

I felt bad for my daughter, and went out and got her a few larger, stretchy, T-shirts. I had to help her put on her shirts by weaving her cast through the stretched out sleeve. We were both relieved when the weekend came and she could wear her sleeveless shirts.

Now that winter is finally over, and hot summer days are right around the corner, we have to deal with the dress code again. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about customizing a wardrobe to fit a cast. We do have to worry about staying cool, without violating the dress code.

My elementary girls never worry about violating dress code. If there is a dress code, no one enforces it. The middle and high schools are not as lax. If a girl wants to wear sleeveless shirt, with shorts or a skirt (that doesn’t come halfway down her leg), she runs the risk of being sent to the office and asked to change.

I decided to check the dress codes of a few other schools, to see if they had similar dress codes. I discovered that if my daughter was attending Homedale or Boise schools, she could wear sleeveless shirts. Here is a brief summary of what I found:

West Ada schools

  • No Clothing that is sheer or does not cover the stomach, back, chest/cleavage, or undergarments.
  • No Tank tops, spaghetti straps, tube tops, off-the-shoulder shirts – shoulders must be covered.
  • No Chains connecting the wallet to a belt loop or worn anywhere on the person.
  • No Spiked clothing, belts or jewelry.
  • No attire shorter than mid-thigh length – any attire with holes/tears/frays above mid-thigh.

Homedale schools

  • No blouses, sweaters or shirts that do not cover the stomach, back and/or undergarments.
  • No loose-fitting tank-type shirts, or tops with straps that do not measure at least a dollar width, and other apparel deemed inappropriate or immodest by the staff and administration.
  • No cut-offs, shorts, and dresses must be finger-tip in length which is modest and appropriate for school time as deemed by the staff and administration. This also includes cuts, rips, or holes in any clothing that could be deemed immodest.
  • No clothing with questionable language or graphics portrayed pajamas and items of clothing portraying alcohol, tobacco and/or illegal substances.

Boise schools

  • No clothing, accessories, cosmetics, tattoos and jewelry that are immodest, disruptive, gang-related or displaying illegal or banned substances.
  • Students may not wear head coverings in school buildings during school hours, except as authorized by the principal.
  • Shoes are required at all times unless a school official indicates otherwise.

Kimberly schools

  • We expect clothes to be modest. Outer clothes to cover underwear completely.
  • Spaghetti string blouses/dresses, bare midriffs, tank tops, tube tops, off the shoulder tops, half tops, halter tops, muscle shirts, self-altered tops, or tops with plunging necklines (no cleavage) are not acceptable.
  • While standing, skirts and shorts must be not more than 3” above the top of the knees.
  • Transparent or “see through” clothes are not acceptable.
  • “Sagging” pants, pajamas, slippers, other sleepwear, hats, head coverings (including sunglasses), and excessive makeup are not acceptable.
  • Visible body piercing, nose piercing, lip piercing, or other facial piercings, magnetic jewelry/glued jewelry on the face, eyes, arms, hands, tongue or feet is also prohibited and must be removed.

Payette schools

  • All shorts, skirts, and dresses must be no shorter than the width of a dollar bill  (2 1/2 inches) above the kneecap.
  • Pants must fit properly, be worn at the waist, and have no holes above the knee.
  • Leggings are allowed ONLY under a long shirt or sweater that is no shorter than 6 inches above the kneecap.
  • All tops must have sleeves.
  • No necklines lower than a straight line from the top of the underarm to the other underarm.
  • No midriff, shoulders, cleavage or back exposed at any time.
  • No loungewear, pajamas, athletic shorts or pants, or sweatpants.

What is your school’s dress code? Do you (or your kids) agree with the limitations?

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